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Crisis in Syria; Debating a U.S. Strike against Syria; What's Next for U.N. in Syria Crisis?; How Reliable is U.S. Evidence of Chemical Attack?

Aired September 2, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM special report, "Crisis in Syria."

Syria's president warns the region will explode if the United States attacks his country. He's demanding proof of claims he has used poison gas against his on people.

President Obama presses Congress to approve a military strike against targets in Syria. Will his surprise strategy pay off, or will it backfire? And the U.S. right now stepping up its military presence in the Middle East. Critics though fear the president's delay in acting against Syria is dangerous.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, President Obama is laying groundwork for one of his biggest gambles in office, a congressional vote on military action against Syria. He's been holding talks with lawmakers today and reaching out to international allies. He says there is no doubt the Syrian regime crossed his red line and used chemical weapons against civilians, but he surprised the world this weekend by saying he wants congressional approval for an attack, delaying any action for at least a week, probably a whole lot longer than that.

We have CNN correspondents in countries neighboring Syria.

Arwa Damon is in Lebanon, Nic Robertson in Jordan. Jim Clancy is in Israel. David McKenzie is in China, happens to be a powerful player in this crisis as well.

But first to Arwa.

Arwa, we heard from the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, today. Update our viewers. What was his bottom line?


Seeming to be very defiant, as always. Now, this was an interview given to the French newspaper "Le Figaro." He was asked about a number of things, but a few interesting quotes we want to share with our viewers. When he was specifically asked about this alleged chemical weapons attack, he said: "I have never said whether or not the Syrian army possesses or doesn't possess such weapons. Let's suppose that our army wanted to use weapons of mass destruction. Is it possible that would do that in an area where it itself is located and where soldiers have been injured by these weapons as the inspectors from the United Nations have seen in their visit to the hospital where they are? Where is the logic?"

Additionally, he was also asked about his potential response or reaction to the possibility of a military strike by the U.S. and its allies. To that, he says: "The Middle East is a powder keg, and the fire is approaching today. One must not speak only of the Syrian response, but rather what could be produced after the first strike, because nobody can know what will happen. Everyone will lose control of the situation when the powder keg explodes. Chaos and extremism will spread. The risk of a regional war exists."

A bit of a threatening undertone to all of this as well, but a lot of the focus has been on whether or not there was a chemical attack, and a lot of talk about what the U.S. is going to do, will there be a strike, will there not be a strike. While all those conversations and debates are going on, it is very important to remind people that the death toll in Syria continues to mount.

We're talking about a total of over 100,000 people dead, Wolf, and just today, over 60 people were killed, eight amongst them children. That's why there is such urgency when it comes to trying to somehow deal with this situation there, because there are innocent lives being lost every single day.

BLITZER: The slaughter clearly continuing. Arwa Damon in Lebanon for us.

Let's go to Jordan right now. Nic Robertson is standing by.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have come into Jordan, and the kingdom there is shaky, shall we say at best.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. You have one refugee camp, Zaatari, close to the border here. There are about 140,000 refugees there.

It is now the fourth largest city in Jordan, another refugee camp, Azraq, built in the desert right now empty, but it is ready for what is expected to be more refugees coming from Syria. The concern in Jordan is the king not as popular here as he used to be. Allegations of corruption in the government, the Muslim Brotherhood pushing for change here. Discontent in the south of Jordan as well. Play into this the concern that strikes on Syria might result in retaliatory fire to Jordan, because Jordan is, in fact, helping Saudi Arabia funnel weapons into Syria, helping to train rebels, provide bases for U.S. troops with Jordanian troops train those rebels, help supply them with better weapons to fight inside Syria.

So all of that is a concern for Jordan right now. Jordan, though, however, behind the scenes hoping Saudi Arabia and the Arab League get that strong resolution that they hope can help President Obama at this time from the Arab League, but as well at the same time hope that the United States will go ahead with those strikes. That's the diplomatic word I'm hearing behind the scenes here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Jordan, where they're obviously and totally understandably very nervous, thanks very much.

The same happening in Israel right now. Jim Clancy is joining us from Jerusalem.

I know, Jim, they have been passing out some gas masks, mobilizing some reserves. What's the latest among the Israelis?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Israelis are not only disappointed that President Barack Obama backtracked and delayed action against Syria.

They are worried what conclusions are going to be drawn in the rest of the region in Damascus, in Tehran. In a country that has been stocking up on gas masks and keeping its military on alert, many were actually startled by President Obama suddenly pressing the pause button. Ordinary people concluded that it was an awkward time to rethink the fundamentals.

They worried about a loss of confidence, a loss of credibility. Government officials who were warned in advance by the White House very quick to point out that all of this going to Congress is part of U.S. democracy. Government ministers, though, behind the scenes have been really warned to stay silent, stay on the sidelines as this vote goes ahead. People here were really braced for something else. Nearly half of all Israelis think that they are a likely target for reprisal for Syria or one of its allies.

While Israel's own stockpile of nuclear weapons is never, ever mentioned here, very much in public view, out there for everyone to see was the conclusion of many Israelis that this whole episode is a reminder they must be ready to stand alone. All of this reflection really relates to the U.S., it relates to Israel itself. Many are also beginning to ask what will this strike mean, limited as it might be, for the people of Syria. How may it change their position, Wolf?

BLITZER: Jim Clancy reporting for us. Did an excellent piece the other day on some Syrians who were brought to hospitals in Israel for treatment, a highly unusual, extraordinary moment in that region to countries technically still very much at war. Jim Clancy, thanks very much.

From Israel, let's go to China right now. David McKenzie is watching. China a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

Can we just assume, David, that on this issue, China is totally aligned with Russia in opposition to U.S. military action?


China has a very different view from some other countries that my colleagues are (AUDIO GAP) they don't want any (AUDIO GAP) unilateral action. They made pointed remarks towards the U.S. They're not naming America by name. They said they don't want "any unilateral action." They have grave concern for any military strikes. They want the pause button hit permanently, I think.

They say they want to have the results of the U.N. chemical weapons team to come forward first and then they need discussion at the U.N. Security Council. But even if that happens, it's very unlikely China will want military action against the Assad regime. They wanted talk, not action.

And they are the biggest trading partner of Syria. They also are hungry for the oil from the region and unlikely they want anything to stop any kind of stability in that region, any wider stability from the situation getting out of control, because it could have economic impacts for China.

China has frequently voted with Russia to veto any sanctions against the Assad regime, though they aren't as directly as involved as Russia. They certainly are on the sidelines, propping up the regime, say some critics -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David McKenzie in Beijing for us, thank you very much.

Two of President Obama's toughest critics when it comes to Syria, they are now promising at least to try to help him win congressional support. Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, they met with the president, there you see a picture -- they met with the president in the Oval Office today. You see the president's national security adviser, Susan Rice, in that meeting as well, Lindsey Graham and John McCain often very fierce critics, by the way, of Susan Rice. Could have been a little bit awkward inside the Oval Office today.

The two Syria hawks warned though there could be dire consequences if the president loses a vote in Congress.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Now that a resolution is going to be before the Congress of the United States, we want to work to make that resolution something that the majority of members of both houses can support.

A rejection of that, a vote 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 the United States. None of us want that.


BLITZER: Let's bring in a leading expert on the Middle East right now. Vali Nasr is the dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Happens to be my alma mater.

But, dean, thanks very much for coming in. Let's talk a little bit about what's at stake right now. Was it a mistake from your perspective for the president a year ago to issue that red line?

VALI NASR, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: Well, now in retrospect, it looks that way. At that point in time, essentially it meant that the United States is not going to get involved in Syria regardless of what the humanitarian costs or strategic implications were unless Assad used chemical weapons.

So it was really a marker about what we were not going to do as opposed to the marker of what we were going to do. So Assad kept bumping against that red line and has now crossed it, at least according to our own intelligence. And therefore in some ways, the president probably thought that he would never get here, and now he has.

BLITZER: So what does he do now? What should he do? Like all of us, I assume you were surprised on Saturday when he said he wants the formal congressional authorization before he strikes.

NASR: Yes, I was surprised, and I think many in the region are surprised, largely because American power is not only the power of its military, it's also the power of its decision-making.

I think clarity and decisiveness here are extremely important as a signal, both to our allies, who need to have a sense of comfort in where we stand, as well as to our adversaries, who are looking to see whether they will get punished if they cross certain red lines. I think all of them looking at this see a president that doesn't want to make a decision, that is looking for political cover. He is passing foreign policy to a situation which in American politics which is riddled with gridlock.

It's not as if we have advertised to the world a very coherent and comfortable relationship between the president and Congress over the past five years. And that makes them all very uncomfortable, that the United States is not going to make foreign policy decisions very easily, and I think our allies are going to feel dejected and worried and our adversaries think that we are very gun-shy and they have a lot of room to maneuver.

BLITZER: If you listen to McCain and Lindsey Graham today, I'm sure you did, Vali, they were making the point that as important as Syria is, what's going on in Iran right now may be more important. If you're the ayatollah, or the new President Rouhani of Iran, you're watching this debate unfold here in the United States, you see some disarray among the allies, even within the Arab and Muslim world, what do you say?

NASR: I think Iran or Hezbollah would say the United States may draw red lines very easily, but it has a great deal of difficulty acting on them and that even -- even the president said, even if we hit Syria, it's going to be very limited. It's going to be a punishment for this single transgression of international law.

We really don't want to get involved in the civil war and decide its outcome, which means that they don't have to worry too much. I think often stability in the region has come from a sense of deterrence as to what is the United States going to do if they cross the red line? And I think right now, the feeling is that they have a lot of room to maneuver and the United States is doing its best not to have to get into this region, and the president really doesn't want to make a decision.

BLITZER: Vali Nasr is the dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Vali, thanks for coming in.

NASR: Thank you.

BLITZER: Pope Francis is calling for a peaceful resolution to Syria's escalating civil war, tweeting this just out today. "War never again, never again. War."

The pope, also condemning the use of chemical weapons, has proclaimed September 7 an international day of prayer and fasting devoted to the crisis.

Coming up next on our special report, potential targets in Syria. We're gaming out the possibilities in where the U.S. could hit the regime the hardest. The Syrian military has extra time to prepare for the worst. If President Obama finally gives the order to strike, will it be too late?


BLITZER: While President Obama tries to sell Congress on U.S. military action in Syria, his national security team is honing a plan of attack and keeping a very close watch on Syrian forces on the ground.

The political debate here in the United States is certainly buying some time for the Bashar al-Assad regime. Some officials fear the delay could be dangerous.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

What are you hearing over there, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, hospitals, mosques, schools, those are some of the places where some say Assad is now hiding a lot of his assets.

The defense officials are telling us that between being able to keep Syria under 24-hour surveillance and having the technology to hit specific targets means they can afford to wait until the president is ready.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Right now, U.S. military officials are refining their targets in Syria, looking at the latest intelligence to see what has been moved and where.

MCCAIN: It's much harder now than it would have if we'd have acted initially.

LAWRENCE: Senator John McCain disagrees with some officials who say U.S. intelligence and targeting technologies can overcome anything Syrian President Bashar al-Assad tries to hide.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time- sensitive.

LAWRENCE: Five Navy warships are positioned in the Eastern Mid, each armed with about 40 Tomahawk missiles. And Monday, the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz moved into the Red Sea, along with its battle group.

President Obama says General Martin Dempsey assured him strikes would be just as effective a month from now.

MCCAIN: I'm astounded when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says it doesn't matter.

LAWRENCE: Some former commanders say it most certainly does.

GEN. MICHAEL SHORT (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: A Scud battery that we could have found in the open on Saturday will now be next to a mosque 10 days from now.

LAWRENCE: Retired General Michael Short commanded the air mission over Kosovo. While some targets, like Syrian military and police headquarters, are static, Short says there's now a greater risk you hit the Defense Ministry with no defense ministers inside.

SHORT: You will have an incredible picture of the building coming down when it's struck by a couple of cruise missiles. But Assad's ability to actually command and control his military has been impacted not at all.


LAWRENCE: Wolf, Pentagon officials say they are confident because, number one, they do not think that Assad can hide some very important targets. They don't feel he has the kind of large, fortified underground bunkers that can hide big targets like airplanes and attack helicopters.

And you can't park many of those next to an urban school or a mosque. Runways are out in the open. And they think that after a couple years of intense fighting, that Assad's forces are degraded enough that even limited damage to his communications and assets will be felt by the regime -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon for us, thank you.

Let's talk a little bit more about the way Syria may be preparing right now for a potential U.S. attack.

Tom Foreman is in our virtual studio with CNN military analyst retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona.

What are you guys seeing over there, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're looking at the very information Chris was talking about a minute ago.

As you know, the Syrians are trying to discount the idea that the U.S. was ever really going to bring warships in here and start firing cruise missiles in at them. And yet every day that that discussion goes on is more time for them to prepare and to get help. One of the areas helping them out right now are the Russians, because another Russian ship has shown up here, and this one's important.


LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This is an intelligence collector.

It's pretty much state of the art. They have detached it from the Black Sea fleet. they brought it down into the Mediterranean. It's got the complete outfit of sensors. It's got ability to monitor radars, communications. It's got its own sonar system. It can effectively track the U.S. movements in the Eastern Mediterranean.

FOREMAN: It would know the moment a missile launched here?

FRANCONA: He might know before they launched because there's going to be different signatures that are coming off of those vessels as they prepare to launch.

FOREMAN: What would he do with that information?

FRANCONA: They could have as much as one, two hours' warning to the Syrians. I'm sure they have set up some sort of network where as soon as this vessel detects preparations for launch or the launch itself, that information goes straight to air defense headquarters in Damascus.

FOREMAN: One or two hours' warning, and that's because a Tomahawk missile flies a little over 500 miles an hour, and these can have a range of about 1,000 miles. So the truth is, it could take a couple hours for one to get there.

Nonetheless, these are pinpoint accurate highly reliable weapons out there carrying a 1,000-pound warhead. If you launch 200 of them, as Chris suggested a minute ago in his report, if you had 200 launched at Syria, who cares if they have two hours of warning. Against that kind of munition, does that matter?

FRANCONA: Well, it's not just two hours, because we're giving them almost 10 days' notice that this is coming. We're already seeing the Syrians start to move their high-value assets, the things they think we're going to go after, the Scuds, the chemical weapons facilities, command and control. They probably dispersed a lot of their aircraft, radars. They're all moving them and they're moving them into areas that we're not going to hit. They're going to put them near hospitals, near schools, in civilian residential areas.

FOREMAN: So even if we have an idea what we're aiming for, they're hard to get at. But let me ask you one other part about the intelligence of this, because all of this is being based on the idea of intelligence gathering and what we can know about what's going on in there. We know the Syrian government doesn't want to tell us anything. But when we talk about the insurgency, we're not talking about one group. We're talking about dozens or hundreds of groups, some of which are in fact connected to terrorists. How reliable would that be?

FRANCONA: This is a problem. If you're going use them as intelligence assets, you have to vet them, because all of them have their own interests at heart. If they're passing a piece of information to you, they may be telling you what you want to hear. They will say there's a high-value asset over here, hoping that we're going to hit that.

It may be a valid target, or it may be just something they want taken care of. So it's a difficult problem, and I don't envy the intelligence officers who have to sift through all of this.

FOREMAN: And it seems like it may be getting more difficult by the hour, not the ability of the missiles to be launched, Wolf, but for the targets to really be chosen in that environment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks very much. Colonel Francona, thanks to you as well.

Just ahead in our SITUATION ROOM special report, "Crisis in Syria," the Obama administration kicks into overdrive, making its case to members of Congress for a possible U.S. military strike. But will the lawmakers ultimately be convinced?

Plus, is the president right to take this approach, or is it too much of a political gamble? The co-hosts of the new "CROSSFIRE" program, they will debate that when we come back.


BLITZER: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM special report, "Crisis in Syria."

President Obama makes some headway with two of his toughest critics when it comes to Syria. But can he convince the rest of Congress to authorize a U.S. military attack? We're getting a preview of the debate.

Plus, the president's decision to seek congressional approval, how it could help or hurt the rest of his agenda. And the U.S. says signatures of sarin gas were found on victims in Syria. We're looking at the evidence and whether it's reliable.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Very busy, intense Labor Day holiday here in the United States, as the president of the United States tries to convince members of Congress to approve U.S. military action against Syria in response to a deadly chemical weapons attack. Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, they say they're more supportive of a limited strike against the Bashar al-Assad regime after meeting with the president in the Oval Office today. But the two longtime critics of the president when it comes to Syria say they want assurances that a strategy will be forceful, will be sustainable after delaying action for so long.


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.


BLITZER: Right now, top members -- top Democrats in Congress are working to try to narrow the scope of legislation authorizing the use of force. White House officials say they're confident about eventually hammering out an agreement.

Now some strong opinions on whether Congress should approve a military strike against Syria. We're joined by the -- by two of the co-hosts of the new CNN "CROSSFIRE," debuting, by the way, one week from today.

Stephanie Cutter was one of President Obama's top advisers. Van Jones also worked in the Obama administration. But when it comes to this issue of U.S. military action on Syria, they disagree.

Also with us, David Frum, a CNN contributor, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

You're not with the president yet, are you, Van, when it comes to authorizing U.S. military action, even without U.K., U.N., or united NATO support, are you?

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I'm not. You know, last week, I felt that if we were going to do something quick, send a signal and then build a global coalition, I was willing to be supportive. We are in a different world now. If we were to move now without even the U.K., you have an action that is both illegal, no U.N. support, illegitimate, no global coalition, and also ill-planned, with possibly a huge blowback.

I don't think we should rush into this war. I think the president was wise to have a break in the action, give us a chance to think this thing through.

BLITZER: But you totally are with the president, Stephanie, right?

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Yes. I think when a nation uses chemical weapons on its own people, it not -- just -- you know, doesn't impact the security of the people on the ground, but it impacts our security, because it sends a message to Assad, to North Korea, to Iran that it's OK to use chemical weapons. So we have to send a strong message back, that there are consequences. And if the U.N. won't act, we can act with our allies. The United States is going to lead here.

BLITZER: What about that, David?

FRUM: The United States is going to lead? Lead where?

The thing that is so haunting about this debate is that we really don't have any answer to the question what are we trying to accomplish in Syria? If you weaken the Assad regime, you strike when the people are fighting the Assad regime. Are we in favor of them taking power? I think the more we know about them, the less comfortable we are with that.

If this is, as a lot of people jokingly say -- it's a grim joke -- a war between al Qaeda and Iran, the United States -- that's a fight in which the United States does not have a dog. And...

CUTTER: I agree with that also. But I think that the difference here is the president's not advocating getting involved in a civil war, because we don't know what will happen if Assad isn't in power. We don't know that.

FRUM: The president is so beyond that.

CUTTER: And even a message to the world, we have to send a message.

FRUM: Everyone talks about this as if we are today making a decision for the first time. In fact, the United States starts supplying aid to the rebels in the spring, since the summer it's been supplying rifles. It's been supplying night goggles and communications equipment. We are going toe by toe. And what's really most alarming to me about this is the administration is telling itself, well, we're going to do cruise missiles, but we're not committed. When this whole thing fails, what's next?

CUTTER: I think those cruise missiles are going to fail in toppling his ability to use chemical weapons on his own people. I don't think the U.S. military is going to fail.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Part of the reason that we are in this mess is because we've fallen into a false dilemma. Either we do nothing, or we start firing missiles off and hoping for the best.

I don't think that it makes sense at this point for us to pretend that there are not other options on the table. This is the time. There's a break in the action now. We were moving forward with this war. There's a break in the action. Here's the thing. Why are we not talking about the other options on the table?

BLITZER: What are they? What are they, Van?

JONES: For instance, we should be calling for -- we should be calling for an arms embargo, begin to bring peace to the region. Why are we not talking about having a... BLITZER: The Russians are not going to do that.

CUTTER: They're not.

JONES: I think the problem that we have right now is that we have accepted that the only options that we have are to start firing missiles. I'd rather lose face than lose lives. Are we supposed to walk across the street and kick over a hornet's nest with no plan, because if we don't do that we're afraid if we're going to look bad? I think you're going to look bad for doing it. That's my point.

CUTTER: I do think we can send a strong message to dictators -- to Iran, to North Korea -- that if they use chemical weapons, there will be consequences. If we call for an arms embargo.

FRUM: Van, you have an idea that we can think about how we want to do something before we know what we want to do.


FRUM: One of the methods by which we do this thing that we don't know that we should want to do. The question is do you want to do it?

And certainly, of course, the United States military will be very successful in making things go boom in Syria. They will put on a fantastic show. But will the regime's ability to terrorize and commit atrocities be degraded after two days of cruise missiles? It will not. They will be able to continue to do those things. The Assad regime will take a punch. They'll shake it off. And we will be again back at the question what do we do now, only now, more embarrassed than ever and more driven to advance in a direction that we have not thought through.

JONES: We're on a slippery slope into a war. We've got to do two things. And they both are hard to do. We've got to punish the Assad regime so that they do not keep doing this and nobody else does, too (ph). We also have to get on the road to peace. And the peace is more important than the punishment in the long-term.

If we get ourselves to a posture where we find ourselves in the middle of a civil war and we've gone by ourselves -- we have no friends; we don't have the U.K., don't have the U.N.; we don't have -- you know, we are by ourselves in the middle of a civil war, because we didn't want to look bad, that looks bad.


CUTTER: I don't think the United States is acting alone here. I think that we saw a strong statement from the Arab League yesterday. France and other allies are with us. Particularly allies in the region. So we're not going alone.

And I don't understand the difference between what you said at the beginning of the conversation, that if we had acted immediately, it would be OK, versus acting now when we're more deliberate. And we're going to Congress to ensure that we've got the will of the people behind us.

BLITZER: David -- David, get your thought, because I want to just ask you one question. Go, very quickly, David.

FRUM: OK, if we are alone for all practical purposes, if that regime falls, that country cracks apart, and the scale of commitment that will be required to hold it together is going to require not the Arab League. It's going to require...

CUTTER: But we are talking about two different things here.

FRUM: It's going to require countries that write big checks and send large number of people.

BLITZER: On Friday night, I was filling in for Piers Morgan. I interviewed Dr. Hans Blix, who was the chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq 10 years ago before the U.S., that were in Iraq. He was repeatedly raising questions, skeptical about all the reports of WMD in Iraq.

Here's what he said about the current U.S. intelligence and what the U.S. needs to do. Listen to his perspective.


DR. HANS BLIX, FORMER CHIEF U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: I think the proper place to present -- present the evidence would be in the world court at the Security Council. I'm sure that the world in general would not want the U.S. or NATO or any individual states to be a world police.


BLITZER: All right. David Frum, he was right ten years ago in raising all sorts of flags about WMD in Iraq. Is he right now?

FRUM: Well, if he suggests we're going to go to U.N. Security Council, where Syria's most important ally, Russia, has a veto, and you're going to have something like a hearing in a world court, I think that's pretty fanciful.

As to what happened, the United States intelligence services are the best sources of information about what happened. But as to what we should do, that is -- that is a decision that can't be delegated to anybody else.


JONES: Hold on a second, you're saying we shouldn't even try. Now that we know more than we did a week ago, we have evidence now of sarin gas. You're saying we shouldn't even try to go to the United Nations now with the new evidence? Do you think we should...

FRUM: And then what?

JONES: And then worried about dropping the bombs, and then what? That's the problem. And then what? We have the opportunity to build a bigger coalition for action. You want President Obama to go into a war with a smaller coalition than George W. Bush had. That does not make sense.

FRUM: That's the opposite of what I just said.

JONES: I'm sorry. I was saying that to Stephanie. But honestly, I don't understand why, since there's now a break in the action, we wouldn't take advantage of that, to go to the United Nations, to give them the opportunity to hear what the evidence is, and then why would we rush into a war with a smaller coalition than George W. Bush did?

CUTTER: I think that there is no possible way, as David said, that Russia, who is actually supplying the weapons to Syria and stoking what's going on in Syria, will let something get through the Security Council.

I'm all for the United Nations. I've always been for the United Nations. I don't think they're going to act here. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

BLITZER: Good discussion. Good debate, guys. Thanks very much.

Underscoring the complexity of this issue, you have two former advisers to President Obama strongly disagreeing on where to go next. And David Frum, a little bit of support for the current president of the United States.

Guys, we'll continue this conversation. Thank you.

When our SITUATION ROOM special report continues, "Crisis in Syria," the United States making a strong case for military action against Syria. But what about the United Nations? We'll check in with U.N. officials. Stand by.

But first, Stephanie Cutter has a closer look at another vintage "CROSSFIRE" moment.


CUTTER: One of the most intense episodes of "CROSSFIRE" was in November of 1985. Six months earlier, the Philadelphia Police Department's attempt to evict members of a group called MOVE from their homes started a fire. They killed 11 people and destroyed 61 homes. Watch what happened when two members of MOVE joined Tom Braden and his co-host on the right, Congressman Robert Dorney (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said, and I quote, "There is no doubt that MOVE threw garbage in the streets and it's something they made." Now, I assume that you saw the members throw garbage in the streets. Was this true?

TOM BRADEN, FORMER CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Louise Jane Africa, pardon me. Look, we cannot -- we cannot all derive our knowledge by personal experience. Every newspaper reported that you threw garbage in the streets. Hundreds of able newsmen have reported that you threw garbage in the streets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can sit together, Mr. Braden, but we can't talk together. May I finish, please?



BLITZER: As the United States makes its case for military action in Syria, what's next for the United Nations? Our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is here with us. He's been covering the U.N.

And what, the weapons inspector, the lead weapons inspector is supposed to be back here reporting on what's going on. Are we expecting to get the hard, conclusive evidence that there was a chemical attack?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're being very cautious about when that will actually happen. They're not giving a timeline. They're giving us little bits of details about steps as they happen.

So tomorrow we are expecting her to brief some of the nations who wrote to the U.N. asking for more information about the inspections process. And at noon, the secretary-general will also address the non-permanent members of the Security Council about the progress of the inspectors.

Here's the more important bit. We're going to -- apparently, the samples have arrived at the laboratories in the Hague that will do the testing, and that testing is supposed to be happening within the hour now.

BLITZER: How long will it take to get the results, though?

WALSH: Hard to tell. Some experts saying a week. There's a huge amount of pressure now, though, given how the U.S. managed to go after the attack, about 11 days. They have blood and tissue samples that they were confident enough contain sarin signatures. There's a lot of pressure for them to match that timing. It's entirely possible they will. They're getting a lot of pressure.

BLITZER: Let's say they don't have a complete report for another week, or two weeks, three weeks. The U.S. has not done any military action yet. Will they bring all of this to the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council and make their presentation, and then have an open public argument over there?

WALSH: I think the belief is that once this report is put forward, the U.N. will say, "We are the independent, credible source of this kind of information." They're not assigning blame for who did it. They're just saying whether these weapons were used or not.

So people are asking why is it that Barack Obama waited for Congress to come back from their recess rather than expediting that process. Well, maybe he knows something about U.N. timing which we don't. Perhaps they may start talking once the U.N. has already given the clear signals about whether or not those chemicals were present on the ground. That's what people are looking for at the U.N. this week.

BLITZER: That's what we heard -- that's what I heard from Dr. Hans Blix. We just played it. He wants all the evidence to go before the United Nations and let the world then see the evidence and make a decision.

Nick Paton Walsh, covering this story. Thanks very much.

Still ahead in our special report, the administration's justification for wanting to attack Syria. We're going over the evidence ourselves of a chemical weapons attack, and whether all that evidence is reliable.


BLITZER: Secretary of State John Kerry says proof that chemical weapons attack lies in the so-called signatures of sarin found in samples taken from Syria, but how reliable are those claims? Our own Brian Todd has been taking a closer look at this part of the story. He's joining us with details of what he's learning.

What are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Obama administration is speaking in confident terms about the sources for this information. The evidence it has to make its case.

But after the disaster in Iraq, we've looked into what it takes to verify these so-called signatures.


TODD (voice-over): Samples from the bodies of victims, according to Secretary of State John Kerry, gave U.S. officials the evidence they need.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: It has tested positive for signatures of sarin.

TODD: But what are those signatures? How can we be sure this isn't a repeat of the slam-dunk that wasn't, the claim that Iraq had WMD?

Former chief U.N. weapons inspector David Kay, who's previously looked for these traces in Iraq, says a signature of sarin is not something you can see or smell.

DAVID KAY, FORMER U.N. CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Think of how any other chemical you're familiar with around the house or food substance will break down into other things. So you're not looking for smell or discoloration.

TODD (on camera): Kay says that, unlike mustard gas, sarin does not burn your skin. The victims who die from it, he says, die because, when it's breathed in, it shuts down your nerves. Then you suffocate. Experts say to find out if that's happened, to find that signature, you take blood, hair, brain tissue, clothing samples, then, a portable version of this. A gas chromatography machine that will give you spikes indicating that sarin was used.

(voice-over): But there's another key question about signatures of sarin.

(on camera): How reliable are those samples? How reliable are these tests?

KEY: If you're going to get a single sample or, say, half a dozen of samples, I think most of us would be concerned, because you're concerned about how they were collected and all. That's why the inspectors were so careful to get -- to take multiple samples from places.

TODD: Kay says nothing is 100 percent in these situations, but if the U.N. inspectors took enough samples and if they controlled them well enough, the reliability should be high.

A U.N. official we contacted wouldn't say how many samples they took or talk about methods. What we do know: many of these victims never had a chance.

(on camera): Sarin, specifically, what happens to you if you don't have one of these?

AMY SMITHSON, CENTER FOR NONPROLIFERATION STUDIES: If you don't have one of those, you're very much out of luck. Because literally, within minutes, your body will begin to shut down. It's not just the types of things that you've seen on these videos with the twitching and involves some of the difficulty seeing things and foaming at the mouth. Your body will short circuit; you'll die within minutes.


TODD: Could there be false positives in the testing of those victims? David Kay says not if you do the testing well enough. He says it's more likely you'll get inconclusive results in a given sample if the traces are minute or if there are no traces at all. And that would be because of the shelling of that area the Syrian forces did after the chemical attack -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, excellent report, as usual. Thanks very much. Brian Todd on the case of signatures of sarin gas.

Another big day in the Syria crisis. We're going to tell you what's on the agenda for tomorrow.


BLITZER: Another big day looming in the Syria crisis tomorrow. We'll have a preview of what's ahead. This is a SITUATION ROOM special report, "Crisis in Syria."


BLITZER: The Obama administration is planning to brief members of Congress on Syria and a possible U.S. military strike almost every single day this week. Certainly, a lot of action unfolding with Congress over at the White House tomorrow.

Congressional aides say President Obama will meet with the House speaker, John Boehner, and the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, in the morning. The secretary of state, John Kerry, and the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, together with the chairman of the joint chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, will all testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the afternoon. And the lead weapons inspector is expected to brief United Nations members tomorrow on the investigation into the alleged chemical weapons use in Syria.

We'll have live coverage of all of that as much as possible. I'll be anchoring our coverage around the congressional testimony tomorrow afternoon, starting at 2 p.m. Eastern when Hagel, Kerry, and General Dempsey testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

I'll be back later tonight, 9 p.m. Eastern, filling in for Piers Morgan on PIERS MORGAN LIVE. We have a lot of major guests, including Bob Corker, the Republican senator, the ranking member of the foreign relations committee that's holding that hearing tomorrow.

You can always follow us on Twitter. Follow me, @WolfBlitzer. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.