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PIERS MORGAN LIVE
Obama Administration Works to Convince Congress to Support Syria Strike
Aired September 2, 2013 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: This is Piers Morgan Live. I'm Wolf Blitzer in for Piers. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're looking live at Washington D.C., where the White House and the Congress, they are now locked in a tug of war and the stakes could not be higher.
The Obama administration working feverishly to try to convince members of Congress to support military strikes on Syria. The vote could come as early as next week, but the outcome right now is far from certain with so many lawmakers. Even members of the president's own party deeply skeptical.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JANICE HAHN, (D) CALIFORNIA: I think we're concerned that this is too open-ended of what the president is asking Congress to authorize.
REP. JIM HIMES, (D) CONNECTICUT: There was a lot of memories over another time when the president came and said -- or at least the president's people came and said that this was a slam dunk intelligence, and of course, that was not I think an episode that most members would ever want to repeat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Others like Senator John McCain and Lindsey Graham, they are demanding firm action.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: To hold against that resolution by Congress I think would be catastrophic because it would undermine the credibility of the United States of America and the president of United States.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: -- that's growing in the region. And for two years, the president has allowed this to become quite frankly a debacle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But with no backing from the United Nations and international allies not exactly rushing in to get a -- on board, should the United States take action alone?
I want to begin with what the White House is now calling, it's flooding this own strategy on Capitol Hill. Joining us now is Senator Bob Corker. He is the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator Corker, the Secretary of State John Kerry, the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey, they're appearing before your committee tomorrow. What do they need to say in order to justify and try to convince hesitant colleagues that this is the right thing to launch military strikes against targets in Syria?
SEN. BOB CORKER, (R) TENNESSEE: Well, they're going to have a lot of questions. Let's face it and, Wolf there are numbers of briefings that are happening in the morning at the White House. We had military leaders coming in mid-day and then of course, the hearing. But I think, three basic questions are, you know, why is military action in Syria needed at this time, what will it accomplish, and thirdly, how can we sufficiently limit it so that we don't get ourselves marred down in another war like Iraq or Afghanistan or virtually a civil war in this case.
BLITZER: Based on all of our previous conversations, everything I've heard, Senator Corker, you're on board right now with the President, you're inclined to vote yea if the resolution were right now?
CORKER: Well, I've said from day one as a result of what has happened that I would. I'm very open to supporting a surgical proportional strike. But Wolf, I've also said that I want to hear the details, I want to understand what that is going to accomplish, how we're going to go about it. Again, I do not want us to alter the policy that's stated right now where our policy is to support the vetted moderate opposition. They're on the ground and I don't want our activity regarding this issue to change that policy. And obviously, I'm going to be asking some tough questions about why we've been so slow, Wolf, in aiding this vetted opposition.
But, yes, I've said from the beginning, I'm open to this. I'm obviously, you know, trying to understand more fully what all of this would entail and I want to make sure that we limit our activities. So, we'll see if we're able to do that over the course of the next week or so.
BLITZER: Well that's a legitimate tough question you asked the Administration. What I'm going to ask the Administration officials that question, why not start supplying lethal arms to the rebels right now? They point out, you know what, there are good rebels and there are very, very bad rebels including Al-Qaeda supporters, this Al-Nusra Front. They want to make sure the weapons wind up in the right hands as opposed to the wrong hands and that's not that easy. Is that the answer you've been getting?
CORKER: Wolf, I was in the region two and a half weeks ago and I was totally embarrassed and dismayed that not a single shipment of arms has yet made its way in the vetted opposition. I was within a refugee camp on the Turkey-Syria border and was embarrassed at -- what I received there was refugees and the fact that they are let-down by the international community.
So look, I don't think that's a good answer, I think we've known for some time whose -- some of the elements are that we can get behind. As a matter of fact, we've known for over a year. So, I don't think that's a good response. I think, you know, the Administration has chosen to go about this in a covert way. They've announced to the world that they're doing it, but they're doing it covertly. And for some reason, again, it may have started over the last two and a half weeks, but when I was there, nothing yet had arrived.
And so, we've stated this is our policy and yet we have not followed through. And, Wolf to me that's the only way we're going to build capacity among those good folks that you're talking about. The vetted moderate groups that we support and that is to enable them by training, equipping, and giving humanitarian aid, we've been very slow to do that. And candidly, it's one of the reasons that we find ourselves in the position we find ourselves in today.
BLITZER: I think it's going to pass in the Senate, just my assessment. But it could be problematic. What if they were to fail in the House of Representatives? What should the President do then?
CORKER: You know, Wolf, I don't know what's going to happen in either body. I really don't. And as I've said to the President and to other officials, he has got to use every ounce of energy he has to make the case to the American people which is what he's doing by coming to Congress. And candidly, I support the fact that he'd chosen to come here.
If it's not authorized by Congress, I have no idea what will happen, except, I would imagine he would not take action.
BLITZER: Just like the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, he's not taking any military action now that he was rejected by the parliament in London.
Senator Corker, we'll have live coverage here on CNN tomorrow of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing with the Secretaries of State and Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, we'll see you there then. Thanks very much for joining us.
CORKER: Well, thank you.
BLITZER: There are certainly is a division within the Democratic Party as well. Let's bring in one Democrat who says the debate about Syria will make this country stronger. She supports the President Representative, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, also chairs the Democratic National Committee. Congresswoman, thanks very much for coming in.
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, (D) FLORIDA: Welcome. Thanks for having me here. BLITZER: Explain why the President decided to require, if you will, Congressional authorization for using force to punish the Syrians, if you will, for using chemical weapons. We've got a list of a whole bunch of other examples when nothing along those lines was required. Ronald Reagan invaded Grenada in '83, no Congressional authorization. Same when George H.W. Bush did in Panama, 1989, no Congressional authorization. Bush did the same thing in Somalia in '92. Bill Clinton bombed Iraq in '98. Bill Clinton led the NATO bombing of -- the former Yugoslavia in '99, no Congressional authorization. Obama, when he -- launched Tomahawk Cruise missiles against Libya to get rid of Gadhafi's in 2011, no Congressional authorization. Why do you believe it's necessary now?
SCHULTZ: Well, let's be clear. The President is not -- does not believe that it is -- well if he is required to see Congress' authorization. What he believes is that when Congress authorizes his proposal for a limited targeted strike so that Assad understands that our response to his violation of a 100-year old international norm not to use chemical weapons against your -- either your own people or as a legitimate weapon of war, will have a certain and severe response. And that's he has to be held accountable for atrocities like that.
What President Obama has said and decided that although he knows that he has the authority to act without Congress' authorization, we're going to have a more unified and stronger response when Congress authorizes the President's proposal. The strength of the United States response with unity is going to be far more impactful not only on Assad but on the region as well, when it comes to Iran, when it comes to Hezbollah. And our national security interests are at risk here. It is imperative that Assad understand that he cannot simply act with impunity and launch chemical weapons against his own people without a severe response.
BLITZER: What happens if the President doesn't get a positive vote in the House of Representatives? What if he gets rejected there as David Cameron did in Britain?
SCHULTZ: Well, I feel confident that our colleagues, my colleagues both on the Republican side of the aisle as well as the Democratic side of the aisle are not going to jeopardize the credibility of the United States. I feel confident that we will have a majority of the House of Representatives and the Senate who will understand and authorize the President to engage in a limited targeted strike that ensures that our national security interests are protected.
But also that we respond to atrocities and exercise the moral leadership of that the United States has always led with. And for me as a mother, you know, to see that searing image of babies lined up murdered by their own government, innocent children, I mean as a Jew, Wolf, I have to tell you as a member of Congress who represents one of the largest holocaust survivor populations in the country, to me, the concept of "never again" has to mean something. And the United States morally cannot turn the other cheek.
BLITZER: Well, but what if... SCHULTZ: Too many leaders of ours have regretted that decision.
BLITZER: But you know there is no 100 percent guarantee he's going to get that vote in the House of Representatives. I think it'll get in the Senate. No guarantee in the House of Representatives. In part, not just because of, let's say, a Tea Party-type Republicans or more isolationist Republicans, but there are a whole bunch of liberal Democrats as you well know in your caucus who are going to vote against the President. They don't want to get involved in Syria. They got a lot of other issues they want to deal with here at home.
SCHULTZ: Look, I think the President was right to seek Congressional authorization because it will strengthen our response when we're unified. And I believe that my colleagues in both chambers, on both sides of the aisle, will understand, as John McCain said today, that risking the credibility of the United States by voting no. And voting this down would be catastrophic for our credibility, and I think that they are going to clearly understand that. And we'll make sure that not only that we can protect our allies in the region from the strengthening of Assad's hands, if we don't respond, like Israel and Jordan and Turkey, but also that we stand against moral obscenities, as Secretary Kerry rightly labeled this chemical weapons attack, and make sure that it's understood that you will receive a severe and certain response from the United States and our allies when you violate international norms, like Assad has.
BLITZER: And when you -- we've talked to your constituents and they asked you, Congressman, why is it the United States always that has to get involved militarily? Other countries may be cheering on the US from the sidelines but it's always US military men and women, US firepower that are called upon to do a job like this. Why can't other countries do it?
SCHULTZ: Oh, there are other countries. I mean we have, from the briefings that I've received, there are dozens of countries who are going to stand with the United States, who will engage with us on military action and also that back us up...
BLITZER: Which countries will use their military power to attack targets inside Syria?
SCHULTZ: Look, that's honestly something, Wolf I'm not of liberty to say. I mean some of what I've learned is classified, you know, some is unclassified. But what I can tell you is that there are many nations who have committed to support the United States in our action.
SCHULTZ: And that's going to be important.
BLITZER: Are you saying militarily?
BLITZER: Not just politically or vocally but militarily they will support the United States, they will go in with their F-16s, their own missiles, their firepower, and target sites in Syria?
SCHULTZ: In both military and diplomatic and political support, there are dozens of nations who had committed to back us up. But that's what I'm not at liberty to say.
BLITZER: I know dozens maybe would be...
SCHULTZ: But really...
BLITZER: ... they may be supporting us, all the actions, to see which one is actually get involved militarily if the President gives that execute order in the weeks to come. We got to leave it there.
SCHULTZ: The important thing is that we need military and moral leadership here and that's part of the United States' responsibility and President Obama. And I think the Congress will make a very strong signal that this conduct murdering, you're unfaithful (ph), mercilessly is unacceptable.
BLITZER: Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, also the Chair of the DNC, thanks very much.
Let's get a different perspective now from another Democrat, Congresswoman Janice Hahn. She's a member of the President's party but she's not convinced that the strikes in Syria are the right course. Congressman, why do you disagree so strongly with Debbie Wasserman Schultz's and with the President?
REP. JANICE HAHN, (D) CALIFORNIA: Well, of course I have great respect for my colleague, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and she's been doing this a lot longer than I have. But this is my first vote on authorizing our President to use military force against another country that hasn't attacked us. So, I took this very seriously. I took a red eye from Los Angeles and went back to Washington DC yesterday so I could have a classified briefing. I was on the phone call this morning with Senator Kerry and Secretary Hagel, Secretary Kerry and others. And I just am not convinced at this time that we ought to rush in and use military force in Syria. I'll tell you, I'm happy the President has consulted with Congress. I was one of those who signed the letter with about 200 other of my colleagues that asked the President to please let Congress weigh in on this and just as the President shouldn't make this decision divorced from the American people or Congress. I'm not making this decision, divorce from the constituents that I represent. And today, at Labor Day, picnics and parades, overwhelmingly, people came up to me and said, "Please, Congresswoman Hahn, don't take us to war. We've had enough. Why are we always the only country that goes -- that has this moral leadership?" And this was from veterans, this was from military families. I talk to a mom of an army soldier right now who said, "Please, no more war."
BLITZER: So I hear you -- what I hear what you're saying, congresswoman, if the vote were right now, you would vote no. You would say, "This is not international interest." At this time, you would vote against the President. HAHN: You know, I would. I just don't believe this is the right course to take. I'm not comfortable with the resolution that I've read that would authorize the President to use military force. It was very open-ended, it was very broad, it was, in my opinion, sound very limited in its scope or duration, and I'm worried about what happens after we strike. You know, we're -- Assad is calling the Middle East the powder keg that could explode if we strike.
So I'm concerned about this and, you know, and I agree with what Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I, too, am a mother. I'm a grandmother. Of those images of those little babies that were killed, we're fine. But do we then respond by going in and killing more innocent people? Every military strike, no matter how targeted or surgical it is, it all has some collateral damage. Will there be another child that loses their dad or another mom who loses her son in an attack that we have instigated?
So I hate...
HAHN: ... I hate at this time to do this.
BLITZER: You represent a strong constituency out there who totally agrees with you based on everything I'm hearing as well. But do you believe that the intelligence that the Obama Administration has presented to you in classified briefings that it is 100 percent certain that the regime of Bashar al-Assad used sarin gas, poisoned gas to kill all those civilians?
HAHN: What language that I read in the classified documents and what I heard was highly confident. I never heard 100 percent sure. And I think we're all harkening back to President Bush and going into the Iraq war where we were absolutely confident that there were weapons of mass destruction. And we lost over 4,000 of Americans and never found any weapons of mass destruction.
So I don't think we've ought to rush. The President said that the joint -- the chief of -- Joint Chiefs of Staff said, "This action could be just as powerful this week, next week, a month from now," so let's not rush. I still would like to pursue a diplomatic solution. Even the Pope twitted today, "No more war. Let's find a peaceful resolution." I'd like to put all of our energy into trying to bring both sides together and solve this civil war crisis. Let's try to take a diplomatic tact. That would be -- what I would hope. I don't want to see more innocent lives killed because we're sending a message or we're trying to punish Assad.
BLITZER: That's the message we heard from Hans Blix, the former UN Weapons Inspector. He was on this program Friday night and he says exactly what you said, in effect, I'm paraphrasing, "Give peace a chance." A lot of people will agree with you Dr. Blix and a bunch of others. And we'll see what the debate unfolds. We have a lot more to discuss.
And Ms. Janice Hahn is a Democratic congresswoman from California. Thanks for joining us.
HAHN: Thanks, Wolf. I enjoyed being on your show.
BLITZER: These days, it's an uphill battle to get Congress to agree with the President seemingly about anything. So can President Obama convince them to authorize military strikes on Syria? When we come back, I'll talk to two men who know a lot about the challenges he's facing. The former UN Ambassador, Bill Richardson, and the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Retired General Wesley Clark.
BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: For every member of Congress and every member of the global community. What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?
BLITZER: That was President Obama this week and I'm Wolf Blitzer and for Piers Morgan. The President facing huge challenges at home and abroad, trying to rally support when it comes to Syria.
Joining us now, Bill Richardson, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nation and retired U.S. Army, General Wesley Clark, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander.
What a roll of a dice, what a big risky gamble you took, Ambassador Richardson, the President throwing it to Congress for authorization. You served in Congress. Do you think it's a slam dunk? He will get the House of Representatives to authorize the use of military force?
BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: Well, no, it is a political gamble. I believe in the end, he will win because this is an issue of American credibility but the danger is that a coalition of progressive Democrats, antiwar and Tea party Republicans and those that will take a partisan vote might hurt the effort in the House. In the end, I think the House will come through. I would start with a strong effort in the Senate. I think it will be close in the Senate but it should move forward.
BLITZER: Should the President have gone through this legislative route or should he have just done it without Congressional Law authorization?
RICHARDSON: Well, I command them for going this route because it think it portends for the future. He's going to need the Congress on issues like immigration, like climate change, like energy, like on budget and sequester.
So, I think what he wants to do is send the message, let's work together to deal with the problems in the country. I personally felt he already had the presidential authority that it involved limited strikes. We don't have boots in the ground that it's a targeted effort that I believe in the end will shift the military momentum but he's done it and I think it's important that domestically, the people are behind him for taking this to the Congress. Now, I think Congresswoman Hahn, she seemed very thoughtful. I think the key is going to be to convince her that there is no diplomacy here. The U.N. has strived. Russia is blocking any kind of diplomacy. Assad wants to stay. So, unless there's a change, you're going to see Hezbollah involve in. You're going to see Iran involve in. Assad will involve him himself. Israel will be hurt. Jordan will be hurting Turkey.
So, I think there's some very strong national security argument.
BLITZER: Now, Richardson's clearly supporting the president on this issue.
General Clark, you know a lot of military planners, and I have covered the military for a long time, they know that there are all these strategies going into warfare. But you don't know what's going to happen. There are going to be a lot unintended consequences as we saw, 10 years fighting in Iraq. It's been continuous to this day in Afghanistan. Are you afraid that even a limited strike could drag the United States into a prolonged conflict inside that Syrian civil war?
WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: I think the risk of that is relatively low. I think it's very important that United States takes a firm stand, underscores that stand, not only with the strike or with the support of the United States Congress behind the strike saying, "No use of chemical weapons." Some weapons are too inhumane to be used.
The United States set up this global structure in the aftermath of World War II. We defended it through deterrence and containment during the cold war. China and Russia are now beneficiaries of that. They all need to pull together with us and draw the line here. No use of chemical weapons. Now, Russia used chemical weapons in Afghanistan, they got away with it. They created terrible mischief there using chemical weapons and misery and slaughter of innocent people there.
BLITZER: And they used it against the Iranians and they used it against the Kurds in Northern Iraq as well.
Here's what Bashar al-Assad told the French news paper, we'll figure out today, General Clark. He said, "The Middle East is a powder keg, and the fire is approaching today. Everyone will lose control of the situation when the powder keg explodes. Chaos and extremism will spread. The risk of a regional war exists." Now, you think that risk is minimal if the U.S. were to get involved militarily. But if he fills himself self up against the wall and the Iranians back him, Hezbollah backs him. You don't know what he's going to do if he lashes out against Israel for example. If the Israelis retaliate massively, that's going to drag the U.S. in to a real full scale war.
CLARK: Sure, you can create a lot of scenarios. Remember, it's in his interest to portray the risks as unimaginably great. It depends on what the United States does. There's two related issues. One is a punitive strike to respond to the issues of chemical weapons. Two, three, four days of strikes, some battle damage assessment. Maybe you go in again. It's limited. It's there for a purpose.
Then, there's the issue of how do you stop the war. You'd like a diplomatic agreement. But you have on the one side, Bashar Assad who's winning right now with the support in Iran and Russia. You have no viable military structure on the other side. There are a lot of isolated groups and you don't have a political leadership that can represent those isolated military groups. They are fighting against Bashar Assad.
So, the United States has been trying to work behind the scenes to help coalesce this political leadership. So, there is a negotiating partner. So, there is someone that could come in and take over the reigns of government. There is nothing like that now. So, we need to be thinking about the diplomatic side of this. Personally, I think it's time for the Arab League to take a much larger role, not simply endorsing U.S. strike but stepping up to it's regional responsibilities.
BLITZER: I wouldn't hold your breath for that one but we'll see what happens on that front. General thanks very much. Ambassador Richardson, as usual thanks to you as well.
Senator Lindsey Graham is calling President Obama's handling of Syria and I'm quoting now "a debacle". Can the White House turn this around? Fareed Zakaria and Nick Kristof, they are coming in. We'll talk to them about what's going on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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)
BLITZER: Very strong words from Senator Lindsey Graham over at the White House today after meeting with the President in the Oval office.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in for Piers Morgan.
So, will President Obama pay a political price for a stance on Syria?
Here with us now CNN's Fareed Zakaria and the New York Times columnist, Nick Kristof, two very, very smart guys. Thanks for -- very much for coming in.
You wrote a strong column in which you said the President's handling -- the Administration's handling of Syria in your words, Fareed, a case study, "How Not to Do Foreign Policy," very strong words. FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST OF CNN' FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Well, the president has tried to have it both ways. For two years, he has been resiliently resisting calls to jump into the cauldron that is Syria. In my opinion, wisely, Syria is a very deep, complex, largely internal, largely sectarian struggle. I'm not sure what U.S. military intervention can do. But at the same time, the President has wanted to seem to be doing something or seem to be setting up these red lines which he talked about far too casually.
And, you know, he strived to at the same time be a realist and be a humanitarian. And it's a little difficult to do. And it's perhaps easier to do in Syria but right now what you're seeing is the fruits of that because they've been -- a lot of what U.S. foreign policy over the last six months has been -- is devoted to trying to make sure the President's red line language doesn't appear to be an empty threat. And so, he might have spoken carelessly. We are now in the danger of using military force carelessly to make sure that there isn't a hypocrisy there.
BLITZER: Was he speaking carelessly, the President of the United States a year ago, almost exactly a year ago when he drew that red line saying to Bashar al-Assad, "You use chemical weapons, you cross the red -- that's a game changer way," he said. Was he speaking carelessly or was he speaking thoughtfully?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: You know, we can't be sure of that but what we can be sure of is they don't seem to plot it out what would happen if that red line was crossed. And I think that isn't a cute fall ...
BLITZER: So, that was a mistake. You got to think about that.
KRISTOF: Yes. Yes.
BLITZER: If you're going to draw a red line and they go over the red line, you got to be ready for it.
ZAKARIA: And then...
KRISTOF: Yes, so you got to plan the move ahead.
ZAKARIA: And then, you are in this awkward position. As I said, for two years, you've said, "Well, American core national interests aren't involved." And now, John Kerry, and Chuck Hagel, and the President are going around saying, "No. No. No. They are involved because 1,400 people out of 100,000 dead have just been killed by chemical weapons." Maybe there's a case to be made. But you see, the tension, which is you've been steering one course for two years and now you're suddenly steering another.
BLITZER: Senators McCain and Graham emerged from the White House today saying, "It would be catastrophic if Congress didn't authorize the use of force." Would it be catastrophic?
KRISTOF: Yes, I tend to think it would be. I mean I think President Obama risked not only his own credibility but in a sense the country's as well. Now in foreign policy, you especially want self- confidence. You want predictability and I think by going to Congress he jeopardized that. Now, if he thus indeed got Congressional approval, then I think a great deal will be forgiven and he'll have a stronger hand than before.
BLITZER: Do you have any sense of which way this is moving because it could go either way.
KRISTOF: Especially in the House. I just don't know.
ZAKARIA: I think it also sets, I mean, I agree with everything they've said. It sets a strange precedent which -- this is supposed to be a cruise missile strike as far as we can tell. He said there was going to be a shot across the bow, somewhat symbolic. If for this, the president of the United States needs to go to Congress, this is changing our conception of executive power over the last 30 or 40 years. It has been, you know, settled by both parties that because of the nature of America's responsibilities in the world, the President does have the leeway to act in situations like this that are not really a full-scale war without some ...
BLITZER: There have been so many examples of American presidents using military force without congressional authorization. You remember when Ronald Reagan was president, Gadhafi was accused of bombing, you know, so -- a discotheque in Germany killing some American soldiers. He sent planes in to Tripoli and whatever, killed a whole bunch of people including some relatives of Gadhafi.
KRISTOF: Yes and then one of the good presidents for these is 1998 Desert Fox where President Clinton bombed Iraq for a few days and, you know, that wasn't your classic case where at the margins it -- probably accomplished a little bit and there's certainly no congressional authorization.
BLITZER: If this is a really relatively modest Tomahawk cruise -- cruise missile strike for two or three days, will that accomplish much in the bigger picture of the civil war in Syria?
KRISTOF: You know, I think that it actually had might. I mean, I would like to see more done including more toward arming rebels but I disagree with those who think that because it's not going to completely change the game, it's hopeless. I think there really is a value in -- in, we enforcing the norm against use of chemical weapons and I think that the Bashar al-Assad has did testing to international community.
I think there are very minimal advantages to using them and I think if he loses some of his toys, then he maybe less inclined to use them again.
BLITZER: All right, gentlemen don't go too far away. We're going to continue this conversation. When we come back, I want to know how long both of our guests think the President can wait before striking Syria.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Connecting live in Washington, D.C. on this Labor Day night. The White House and the Capitol, they are the next steps. As far as Syria is concerned, we should know in the next week or two or three what is going on. I'm Wolf Blitzer in for Piers Morgan. Fareed Zakaria and Nick Kristof are still with us.
Do you think -- you were just in Turkey, we saw your show yesterday, do you think the Turkish regime, the Turkish government would use military equipment, their NATO ally to bomb targets in Syria?
ZAKARIA: I very much doubt it. They actually lost a plane. The Syrian shot a Turkish plane and they didn't even respond to that. So, all our allies are very anxious to have sustained Syria's military strikes against Syria, just ones that they don't have to do.
BLITZER: Just the United States --
ZAKARIA: The Americans should do all the work. They're happy to support us from way behind.
BLITZER: Is that your assessment including --
BLITZER: -- Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait, and Qatar, they all have F-16s.
BLITZER: They all have jet fighters.
KRISTOF: That's true. I mean, in fairness, I think that I don't think we're going to be using F-16s either. I think we're much likely to be using Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from well outside the country but -- so we don't have to deal with Syrian air defenses which I gather already quite robust.
BLITZER: But how long will this whole operation take to really have an effect? What you want to see is regime change, you Bashar al- Assad gone.
KRISTOF: I would like to see the civil war end. And in that case or a major spur toward negotiations. I don't know if that is feasible but that is not going to happen. I do think though that one can make Assad pay a price for using chemical weapons in ways that he will not use them again. I think that is not certain but I think it's possible.
BLITZER: Do you think it's possible?
ZAKARIA: I think you can make him pay a price for sure. I think that whether or not you can get regime change is more difficult but I would urge that we remember. Regime change won't end the civil war. It will just change its composition because after the -- let's say we topple Assad in this air strike, the next thing that's going to happen is going to be the massacre of the Alawites.
Remember the Alawites are 14 percent. They've ruled Iraq. We've seen this movie. When the Sunnis were displaced in Iraq, what happens is the next is a wave of fighting where they fight back. So, the Alawites will then become the insurgency. The Sunni groups perhaps will take over the government and you'll have a ferocious civil war, perhaps the massacre of the Alawites and then the Sunnis will fight amongst themselves.
BLITZER: Kristof, a lot of administration officials have expressed to me privately their deep concern that within the opposition, there are a lot Al Qaeda elements that seem to be on the uptick right now.
KRISTOF: Yes, I think one can -- and that's certainly true but I think one can make the argument that on the shorefront, the real Jihadist that they have gained partly because they are getting the weapons and we have not been providing weapons to more moderates. And I really think it is possible to distinguish to some degree. I mean I was just saying at the break that, you know, when we journalists go into Syria, we find moderates -- moderate rebels to take us in and to keep us --
BLITZER: But some American journalists have gone in recently including their long story in the New York Times the other day was taken by the rebels --
BLITZER: -- and tortured, for what, six months.
KRISTOF: Yes, I mean there are certainly mistakes.
ZAKARIA: And this has been the big failure of Turkish diplomacy. The Turks, very much on the side of intervention very much against Assad had been trying for two years to create a Syrian government in exile, a Syrian opposition, and they haven't been able to do it because, you know, there were about a thousand militias in Syria, they don't talk to one another, there isn't a political leadership and most clearly, there isn't a moderate democratically minded one.
BLITZER: The Syria -- the Saudis have been trying to do it as well and they haven't exactly succeeded at least in the short term. Do you want to make a final point?
KRISTOF: Yes. I mean, I guess, I would say that I think the risks of intervention are all very valid. I think though that the risks of not intervening had also been manifest at all the things we're worried about like inflaming the region, like empowering on the shorefront. Those have all happened and I think that is indeed an argument for being more aggressive in trying to make Assad pay a price.
BLITZER: And Nick Kristof, Fareed Zakaria, guys, thanks very much.
ZAKARIA: Thank you.
BLITZER: When we come back, will the battle over Syria rewrite the history books when it comes to President Obama. I talked to two men with very strong views on that.
BLITZER: Secretary of State John Kerry was on all five Sunday talk shows yesterday and he actually compared Bashar al-Assad to Adolf Hitler for allegedly using chemical gas, poison gas, against his own people. So the decisions, the stakes right now, enormous and whatever President Obama does or doesn't do in Syria, how will history view him?
Joining us now Walter Shapiro, the political columnist for Yahoo News, and Presidential Historian Douglas Brinkley.
You tweeted yesterday, Walter. You said, "This is the most important presidential act on the Constitution and warfare since Truman and Korea."
WALTER SHAPIRO, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, YAHOO NEWS: OK, this was done in the middle of the Saturday Obama speech. And the important thing is since Truman decided that we didn't need to go to Congress for the Korean War and he defined it, plain spoken Harry called it a police action, not a war.
There has been a pendulum that we have eviscerated the Constitution that says only Congress can declare a war by going to Congress. In a very difficult situation with the outcome politically in this country uncertain, Obama has done more to reverse that trend than any president.
You had a (inaudible) earlier talking about eight different wars, military actions that we've launched without presidential approval -- Congressional approval in the last 30 years. And this is why this symbolically is so important.
BLITZER: Yes, you agree Doug Brinkley that this politically, historically speaking is a huge, huge moment in presidential history?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: It is, but that doesn't mean the next president's not going to have a Grenada, or Panama, or Libya, or some sort of intervention where they bypass Congress.
BLITZER: Well, I guess the question is does this undermine the next president? Let's say the president were to lose this vote in the House of Representatives. Would executive authority be undermined down the road?
BRINKLEY: No, I don't think so because it's all about the chemistry and the atmospherics of the moment. If Cameron's Great Britain took it to parliament, if that didn't blow up in President Obama's face, things might be very different right now. This looked like a president that wasn't pushing to have this happen with Congress. He simply couldn't find a coalition of the willing.
Nobody wanted to be with him and so he figured, at least instead of it being Obama's red line, it becomes Congress' red line. Hence, some of the international affairs thinks outside of our scope including the attitude of Putin in the last few years and its deep backing of Syria has just changed the dynamics. So I would look at this as a crisis of the moment not an ongoing trend.
BLITZER: What do you think, Walter, was it a mistake to do this by the President? Because a lot people say, what's wrong with waiting, right now? This is a momentous decision.
SHAPIRO: Well, I think it's a momentous decision. I think it's really important that every time a president acts without Congressional authority, there is a legal opinion that a president down the road will use.
In this case, there were no fig leaves, there was no NATO approval, there was no UN Resolution. And before Obama made the announcement, both people on the left and people on the right, both liberal constitutional professors and veterans on the Bush Administration said that this was the biggest overreach of presidential military power in history if Obama went through this without Congress.
BLITZER: How does this image, this prestige, Douglas, how does that stand right now internationally? Remember when he first took office, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in his first year as President of the United States before he actually even did anything internationally.
BRINKLEY: I think he's still respected internationally. I think what's perplexing is where's the moral outrage? I mean two people that had made their political careers on anti-war platforms, John Kerry and Barrack Obama, are trying to wake up the world to the fact that Assad is gassing his own people, and you hear our Secretary of State talking about Hitler.
Usually, you never make a Hitler analogy. But in the case of Syria, we're dealing with a very serious character Assad and all of it it's in the, you know, the entire backing of Israel that we've had, I haven't seen quite a threat like Syria using chemical weapons that close to the Israeli borders. So the President's got to sell this as a big national security issue, and I would think he's going to have a lot of rethinking to do on what is the role of -- or should we be funding NATO as we are? Is the United Nations Security Council broken when Russia is on Syria's side and China's deciding to sit this out. In fact, China criticized us today.
BLITZER: You know politics, Walter, you know Washington about as well as anyone.
What do you think? Will he have the votes in the Senate and the House? SHAPIRO: I think he will have the votes at the end of the day. But I think it's going to be a Perils of Pauline moment, and I don't think getting there is going to be pretty.
BLITZER: It's going to be -- I mean you think it's going to just win by one or two votes?
SHAPIRO: One of two -- the number of people who will say to the leadership, "I'm with you, if you absolutely need me. But if we win in the House by more than three votes and you get me to vote, yes, I'll never forgive you."
BLITZER: Walter Shapiro, thanks very much. Doug Brinkley, as usual, thanks to you as well. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Today, the endurance swimmer Diana Nyad that made history on the shores of Key West. The 64 year old became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. It took her nearly 53 hours and it was her fifth try in 35 years.
In her honor, tonight, CNN airs the documentary, "Diana Nyad: Xtreme Dream Come True." Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports tonight, 11 p.m. Easter.
I'll be back here again tomorrow night with the latest on the crisis in Syria and what this country is doing about it. That's all for us tonight. Thanks very much for watching. Anderson Cooper starts right now.