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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Idaho Senator James Risch; Congress Holds Hearings on Syria Action; Interview With Tennessee Senator Bob Corker

Aired September 3, 2013 - 18:15   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So there it is.

As Senator Menendez, the chairman of the committee, pointed out, more than three-and-a-half-hours of nonstop testimony, Secretary of State John Kerry clearly dominating the response. The general, General Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, playing a relatively minor supporting role, as the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel.

It was really John Kerry, a former chairman himself of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, defending the president's decision, A., to go before Congress, seek authorization for military force in Syria and then strongly defending some sort of military force, promising it would not be another Iraq. Promising it would not be another Afghanistan. Promising no U.S. troops would be on the ground, although in response to one question, he seemed, albeit slightly, to leave that possibility open. But later he sought to shut that door.

Let's bring in Fareed Zakaria, the host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS," and Gloria Borger, our chief political analyst.

As we watched the senator and the others leave this committee room, Fareed, what did you think? By my estimate, it looks like there's the votes in the committee to pass the resolution that the president seeks. I saw at least three or four Democrats who were likely to vote nay, although you never know what they will do until the end, and at least four Republicans who were likely to vote nay. But it looks like they have a majority when the roll call takes place.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think you're right, come Wolf. I think this will probably pass. It was always likely to pass in the Senate and in this committee.

And I was struck by the fact that as you said, this was John Kerry's moment. He dominated the proceedings. He was completely at home, comfortable. At one point he welcomed Ed Markey to the Senate, which I thought was a symbol of just how comfortable he felt. He is, of course, no longer in the Senate himself.

And it should have been Markey welcoming him to the Senate. But he handled himself very smoothly, very comfortably, very assured. I thought the senators didn't do as good a job as they could have in asking tough questions. I was struck by how for the most part the questions were either softballs or very detailed, precise questions that dealt with a technical issue, as Markey's when will we get the report from the U.N. inspectors?

We didn't get a lot of questions asking about the nature of this conflict that the United States is now getting closer and closer to being actively and militarily involved in.

BLITZER: Senator Rand Paul asked some tough questions. Senator John McCain did, but you're right. Most of the questions were fairly predictable. Most of the members clearly on board, although there were several who expressed deep skepticism of what the president planned to do.

Gloria, what did you think? What stuck out in your mind?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think when there was skepticism, Wolf, it was more about the mission. We didn't hear a lot of skepticism about the quality of intelligence, about the chain of custody leading to Assad.

I think the toughest questions in a way were from Rand Paul, potential presidential candidate. There's a whole back story going on here, of course.

BLITZER: That exchange with Kerry was lively.

BORGER: Was very lively. He said, look, are you going to listen to us? Because you're finally bringing it to Congress and I like that because that's what he believes the Constitution requires. Now that you're bringing it to us, he said, will you listen to us, meaning, if we were to vote against you -- and Paul also said, by the way, I don't think it's likely we will -- but if we were to vote against you, I need a guarantee from you that you will listen to us and not go in.

And Kerry of course could not give him that assurance, said the president hasn't told him what he's decided. But it seems very clear from listening to Kerry and from listening to the president that this is a president who believes he's got to do what he's got to do. And John McCain, of course, was also asking some pretty direct questions about the mission itself.

As you know, McCain wants a much more robust mission.

BLITZER: Right. He wants to see this mission expand into an effort to remove Bashar al-Assad from power in Damascus, although he also says no boots on the ground, no troops, U.S. troops in Syria.

Dana Bash is our chief congressional correspondent.

Dana, you watched all three-and-a-half-hours like all of us did. It looks to me like the president will have the votes at least in this committee, which was totally predictable.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This is a committee that it tends to be full of more hawkish senators and others.

But I'm here with one of the Republican senators who definitely asked some of the more critical questions. And that is Senator Risch of Idaho.

Thank you very much.

Sold or not sold?

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Not sold at this point. But we have got another day of this. And in the morning, we have some more classified hearings. And I really want to give the administration the ability to make their case. I'm going to listen carefully to that. But it's a heavy lift for me right now.

BASH: I know your questioning was more about Russia. But even more broadly, what makes this such a heavy lift for you?

RISCH: Well, I have got -- the number one concern for me is that it's going to get away from us. It isn't just Syria. Syria probably has very little ability to do much harm to us. It could to our allies. Hezbollah is another real consideration.

What are they going to do, particularly with Israel? When and if that happens, this becomes a problem that it's going to be very hard to get the genie back in the bottle. So I'm really concerned about that. The other thing that really worries me about this is everybody's talking about if we don't do something, that it's going to undermine our credibility in the region.

Well, what happens if we do, do something and we don't finish off Assad? What are our allies going to say? What kind of -- Assad will crawl out from under his rock and beat his chest and say, look, I stood up to the great American war machine, and I won and here I am. What are our allies going to -- how will they respond to that?

BASH: But the other part of that argument that Secretary Kerry and others have been making is if the United States doesn't stand up even on a moral level, then what's the point? What's the point of standing for the kind of morality that the U.S. tends to stand for?

RISCH: I think you have to make decisions on a case-by-case basis. There's no question what this man did was terrible, it's awful.

But, remember, this wasn't the first time he's used gas on his people. This was classified until a few minutes ago, as Secretary Kerry said, that it's been in the teens the number of times he used gas on his people. This has been going on for some time.

BASH: But isn't that even more of a reason to try to stop him in his tracks now that the genie is out of the bottle?

RISCH: And if you're going to do that, then you ought do it, instead of doing the shot across the bow or doing some kind of limited action.

And I'm afraid that's going to undermine what people think about us in the region. But again I come back to we all know what day one's going to look like. What about day two, three, four and five? What does success look like here? That's one of the things they're having a very difficult time painting a picture for me that would be bring me to the vote.

BASH: What are you hearing from your constituents?

RISCH: Well, I think that the constituents are largely against this. Some people are adamantly against it. Most people are more moderately against it.

But I'm certainly not getting any kind of clamor at home that America ought to pull the trigger on Syria.

BASH: Senator, thank you very much. We will talk to you after your classified briefing tomorrow. I know you can't tell us the details, but maybe you can tell us our position. Thank you for stopping -- Wolf, back to you.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.

We're going to continue our special coverage. Still ahead, a high-powered debate. Should the United States strike Syria or not? Conservative Bill Kristol, Middle East analyst Robin Wright, they are both standing by.

Also, what are the Syrian rebels doing? Could they get out of an attack against the Bashar al-Assad regime? Stay with us. You're watching a special SITUATION ROOM report, "Crisis in Syria. "

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If we reject this resolution, doesn't it send a serious -- as you already said, a seriously bad message to our friends and allies alike, encourages our enemies and would dispirit our friends, particularly those fighting in Syria, but not only there, but around the world?

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I cannot emphasize enough how much they are looking to us now, making judgments about us for the long-term, and how critical the choice we make here will be not just to this question of Syria, but to the support we may or may not anticipate in the Mideast peace process, to the future of Egypt, to the transformation of the Middle East.

MCCAIN: I would also emphasize, if it's the wrong kind of resolution, it can do just as much damage, in my view.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our continuing special SITUATION ROOM report, "Crisis in Syria." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Once again, we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Joining us now, Bill Kristol -- he's the editor of "The Weekly Standard" -- and Robin Wright, Middle East analyst at the Woodrow Wilson Center here in the nation's capital.

Bill, what did you think? Did the secretary of state -- because Hagel and Dempsey were sort of little supporting actors in this testimony today. But did the secretary of state make a convincing case that there should be a vote in favor of military action in Syria?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I'm not sure he actually convinced people one way or the other, but I think the dynamics of the situation are now that more people on the Hill look at it, I think the harder it is to justify a no-vote.

BLITZER: To justify a no-vote?

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Yes. I think he will get a big vote out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a pretty big vote on the Senate floor, and that will build up momentum to the House, which is the tougher place, obviously.

BLITZER: Because, once it passes in the Senate, then it's got to go to the House.

But with the speaker of John Boehner now in favor now and Eric Cantor, the majority leader of the Republicans, in favor, what do you think?

KRISTOL: Well, there are dovish Democrats who are against and there are a lot of Republican backbenchers who are deeply distressful of President Obama's competence in executing this and his wavering back and forth over the last few weeks, months, not to say two years.

Having said all that, I think, when the rubber hits the road, an awful lot of Republicans are going to say, you know what? A yes-vote is difficult, unpleasant, I'm reluctantly -- it's a reluctant vote, but a no-vote would be disastrous.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What jumped out at you, Robin?

ROBIN WRIGHT, SENIOR FELLOW, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: I think what was really striking was how he tried to sell both sides on kind of the different strategies.

One, he tried to say, look, this is going to be a targeting, limited operation. But then to those who wanted more action, he said this is going to degrade their ability to carry out attacks at all. And one side limits the U.S. involvement, looks like it's a one-time thing. And the other one really opens it up for, well, if we don't degrade enough, that there might be the option of going back. The second thing that was so striking was when Secretary Kerry talked about something that's going to be talked about more about in the intelligence briefings tomorrow. And that was that the U.S. has a sense that Assad might take different kinds of actions if the U.S. strikes militarily, that they have indications that he's thought through what some other options might be. And that was intriguing.

BLITZER: All right, stand by for a moment. I want to continue this conversation.

We will take a quick break. A lot more to discuss, including this dual-pronged strategy that the secretary of state discussed today, one strategy just sort of to punish Bashar al-Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons, but a second strategy to make sure he gets -- he loses power. Much more on that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It was a historic and dramatic day, three-and-a-half- hours of testimony today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Dana Bash is our chief correspondent. She's got a special guest who just emerged from that hearing -- Dana.

BASH: That's right, Wolf. We have senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who is the top Republican on this committee.

First of all, I just spoke with one of your Republican colleagues, Senator Risch of Idaho, who is absolutely not sold. Based on what you heard, your conversations with your colleagues, do you feel that this is now -- this authorization legislation will now pass?

CORKER: Well, we will see.

I mean, we're going to -- you know, we, I think, will have a written document in about 30 minutes. And we'll move that around to committee members. And we plan to have an intelligence briefing again tomorrow at length. And then I think it's possible that we have a markup tomorrow at noon. And that's possible. We'll see.

But, look, I got a sense today of where people are in the committee. You can tell about -- by questions that were asked. And I think there's a reasonably good chance that it's going to make it out of committee, based on the types of questions and the responses that we heard today.

BASH: Now, just observing you and the chair, Senator Menendez, it looked like you were almost working on the draft while this was going on. I know you want to wait to show your other committee members, but -- but my understanding is that you will have an expiration date and will make clear that there will be no boots on the ground. Is that accurate? And anything else you can tell how you're going to narrow this broad authorization legislation?

CORKER: So, again, out of respect for the people I serve with on the committee, I think it's best that they look at the draft first. And give them a time to digest before we start talking to the media.

On the other hand, I do think that very explicitly we will want to address the boots on the ground issue. And I think that -- I think we've done that.

BASH: and just real quick, you asked the question of Secretary Kerry about boots on the ground. He seemed to fumble a little bit, saying he was thinking out loud. What did you think of his response: leaving the door open and then later trying to shut the door?

CORKER: Well, obviously, I didn't want like his thinking out loud response at all. But he did come back and close the door on that. And I think that was very useful, and I appreciated him doing it.

BASH: OK, thank you very much for stopping. I appreciate it. OK.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Dana. Thanks very much.

Let's get back to Bill Kristol, the editor of "The Weekly Standard"; Robin Wright, the Middle East analyst at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

It's fascinating the division that has emerged -- Bill, you've noticed it -- within the Republican Party on these international issues. You have Marco Rubio. You have Senator Corker, John McCain. Very tough, very forceful. They want the U.S. to take action in response to this chemical weapons attack.

But you have Rand Paul, who's very popular among a lot of Republicans, a potential 2016 candidate, taking the very opposite position. Who's got the upper hand among the Republicans?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think the internationalists do if -- if the case for nationalism...

BLITZER: And you're one of those internationalists.

KRISTOL: Yes, but if we had a president who we could trust out more to carry out a sensible and tough internationalist agenda, which I do not believe this president has done. So you're asking Republicans to tough post (ph).

Rand Paul does not have that much support. If you really break down internationalists and isolationists, there are really five senators who are Rand -- with Rand Paul. Maybe 30 or 50 House Republicans.

The wavering Republicans -- Risch, who's an internationalist. Risch has not voted isolationist at all.

BLITZER: He's wavering. KRISTOL: He's wavering. Why is he wavering? Because the administration has so fumbled everything over the last weeks or over the last couple of years that he's deeply doubtful that this administration will actually competently carry out this mission and achieve a real purpose.

Having said that, I think a lot of these Republicans will decide, for all their doubts about the administration, it would be even more disastrous to vote no.

BLITZER: You know, listening to the three and a half hours of mostly John Kerry talking, this was clearly his day. I couldn't help but come away, Robin -- I wonder if you did, as well -- if it's that important to deter Bashar al-Assad, to punish him, why didn't the president just do it? It probably would have been over with by now, and then they could have moved on, the way other presidents have taken military action without formal congressional authorization.

ROBIN WRIGHT, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Well, this is an issue that history is likely to debate at length. He may have taken the right step by going back to Congress, but they certainly bungled the process. It was very clumsy. What they should have done first they did last and vice versa.

It's very interesting the timing of it, however. Because the president leaves tonight for the G-20 summit of the world's 20 industrialized countries...

BLITZER: In Russia.

WRIGHT: In Russia. And for him to get the momentum beginning to shift in his direction in Washington, very skeptical Washington, despite strong polls indicating that the American public is not there yet, gives him a bit of a head wind going into these talks and could make an important difference in the kind of negotiations and the international flavor...

BLITZER: Yes.

WRIGHT: ... of what happens next, as well.

BLITZER: If I were the president and his supporters, I wouldn't get carried away yet. We always knew the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is not necessarily reflective of the entire Senate. Certainly not reflective of the House of Representatives. So let's see what happens, because there's still a question mark hovering over this entire initiative.

Robin, thanks very much.

Bill Kristol, thanks to you, as well.

A special interview with Senator John McCain. He's standing by live. We'll speak with the senator from Arizona right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's get right to the senator from Arizona, John McCain. The former Republican presidential candidate is joining us.

Senator, you think -- you think John Kerry, your old friend there from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the secretary of state, helped or hurt your cause today?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think he helped the cause of a resolution. I think he was very spirited. Not too surprisingly, he did about 98 percent of the talking. And I don't mean that in a derogatory fashion. He really, I think, as secretary of state, was the key spokesperson. So I think he did a good job.

I'm not sure it was totally convincing, but he responded to the questions pretty well. Some of his answers, I didn't think much of. But he did get the message out that we're -- the mission is -- the resolutions say we are to degrade the air defenses of Bashar Assad and, most importantly to me, bolster the opposition, providing them with the equipment and the training that they need in order to be effective against Bashar Assad.

BLITZER: When you say degrade the air defenses, is that a specific commitment as part of this military operation? That they would go after serious air defense system?

MCCAIN: Let me -- let me put it this way. I'm sorry. Let me put it in more precise fashion. Degrade their chemical weapons capability.

BLITZER: That's what I thought.

MCCAIN: You degrade -- you degrade the chemical weapons capability and the delivery systems. You don't attack the weapons themselves. Then you are attacking his air assets and his surface-to- surface missile capabilities.

So by inference, in my view, if you're taking out his capability to deliver chemical weapons, you're also taking out his capability to deliver non-chemical weapons. You see my point. It's the same deal.

BLITZER: I understand what you're saying. But you also made the point that, by advertising all of this, that the Tomahawk cruise missiles would go after these specific sites. Do you believe that the Syrians have the capability of moving some of that stuff around to avoid some serious punishment?

MCCAIN: Well, there's many reports that they're already moving a lot of them. But they can't move their airfields, which their aircraft operate on, which are one of the delivery vehicles for these chemical weapons.

But certainly, the SCUD missiles that are major deliverers, they can move them all around, including into populated areas. That was the one area where the secretary and I, my old friend, got into kind of a spirited difference of opinion. You know, the Israelis don't give many warning, and they've struck many occasions, as you know. It's just -- it's just common sense that you don't warn them and give them plenty of time to disperse. And you put more civilians in danger, of course, obviously. There are open reports saying that they're moving some of their stuff into the Russian naval base.

BLITZER: The Israelis, by my count, they've done at least four air strikes over the past year or so when they felt that there was a potential threat. They didn't announce it in advance. They just did it. They didn't even confirm afterwards they did it, although the secretary of state today confirmed that the Israelis did do it. I heard that. I was a little surprised by his confirmation.

MCCAIN: By the way...

BLITZER: Yes. Go ahead.

MCCAIN: I suppose the Israelis are probably not real happy he announced it.

BLITZER: I don't think the secretary -- everybody knows the Israelis did it, but they never publicly talked about it before or after.

Here's the -- here's mission you have, from your perspective, from the administration's perspective: getting the American public on board. A new ABC News/"Washington Post" poll out today: Should the U.S. launch military strikes against the Syrian government? Thirty- six percent support it; 59 percent oppose it. You've got a lot of work ahead of you, Senator.

MCCAIN: I agree, Wolf. And it's got -- obviously got to do with Iraq and Afghanistan and the war weariness. I think that, really, what the president needs to do, and I recommended this to him in our meeting, that he sit there in the Oval Office at his desk and speak to the American people. Meanwhile, showing the pictures of these dead children stacked up like wood and the terrible atrocities that this guy is committing.

But also explain to the American people that this is turning into a regional conflict. It can't be confined to just Syria. It's spreading, as you know, to Jordan, to Lebanon and to -- Iraq is unraveling. And the effect that success would have, as far as Iran is concerned, who is the chief sponsor.

So I think the president needs to sit there at his desk in the Oval Office and say, "My fellow Americans, and I think that that is one of the only things that could have a significant effect."

BLITZER: There's an even greater lopsided majority opposing the U.S. supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels. Should the U.S. and the allies supply weapons to the Syrian rebels? According to this new ABC/"Washington Post" poll, only 27 percent support it, 70 percent oppose it. The president made the commitment to start doing it a few months ago, but that hasn't even started yet. Did you get a hard date from the president of the United States when you met with him yesterday when the U.S. would start delivering lethal arms to those Syrian rebels?

MCCAIN: I have been told indirectly that it's now, that it's happening now. But we're having classified briefing tomorrow by the same people. And we'll have more specific information then. And I hope that the president can un-classify that information.

Wolf, Americans are not well informed on this issue. They haven't been told by the president and our leadership exactly what's happening. They read references to it, but they don't want us to get into another conflict and lose more brave young Americans. That's why there has to be a much better explanation.

I'm going to go back to Arizona and do a bunch of town halls. But I understand why my constituents really don't really understand this and are confused, because they never got some real, hard facts. And the danger and threat that this guy poses to the whole region and therefore the world.

BLITZER: We heard a strong different view from your Republican colleague, Rand Paul. We're going to get into that a little bit. We've got some other issues to talk about involving Syria. Senator McCain, could you stand by for a moment? We'll continue this conversation after this short break.

MCCAIN: Sure.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with Senator John McCain, who's joining us live now from capitol hill. A three-and-and-half-hour hearing today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. We heard your Republican colleague, Senator Rand Paul, suggest that if there is a vote and the vote is clearly against the president, that the president should make a commitment that he would not use military force, although we didn't hear that from the secretary of state. It's likely to pass, but we don't know for sure. Do you think Rand Paul is right?

MCCAIN: Well, I think he's right in a perfect world. But I also understand why the president would not want to commit at this time because, one, we haven't even taken up the resolution and finished it, and so he doesn't know exactly what the resolution is. So, it would be hard for him to make that commitment.

But I don't think that the president should be required to telegraph what he's going to do. It would depend on the vote, depend on what the House does. You know, there are so many variables that I don't think the president should have to commit at this moment, but Rand has a point. He's a very smart guy.

BLITZER: He has a point on that specific issue, but you totally disagree with him. He doesn't want to get involved at all in Syria, and he does reflect a pretty significant point of view, not only among Republicans but a lot of Democrats, as well. Why does the United States always have to do it? Why can't the Arab League, why can't the Europeans, the NATO allies? Why is it, senator, that it's always the U.S. that is called upon to deal with these issues?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, as I said, the issue has not been explained with enough clarity and enough urgency by the president and even people like me, who are deeply concerned about this issue, and they must be.

But second of all -- and they are war weary.

But second of all, what we're seeing and a lot of it has to do with the nation's economy is a rise in the, quote, "noninterventionists." Some call them isolationists; I will call them noninterventionists. But they have to understand and the American people have to understand that the United States of America is a unique nation. Throughout the 20th Century, it was called the American century because we led and we sacrificed, but we made the world a much better place. And no one else can lead.

And when we don't lead, there's a vacuum. And we are seeing, in my view, what the results of that vacuum and, quote, "leading from behind" is in the Middle East. It's in a state of chaos not just -- not just Syria, which is erupting into a regional conflict, but Egypt and other parts of it. We're seeing the return of al Qaeda in Iraq and movement across the Iraq and Syrian border. The killings in Iraq are higher than they've been since 2008.

So, I think we're seeing the effects of the absence of American leadership in the Middle East as we speak.

BLITZER: And Senator, on a much lighter note, you were caught today -- you know what I'm talking about, Senator. There you are. There's the picture. During the three-and-a-half-hour hearing, at one point, you were playing a little poker on your iPhone. What was that all about?

MCCAIN: Well, as much as I like -- I always listen in rapt attention constantly with remarks of my colleagues over a three-and-a- half-hour period, occasionally I get a little bored, and so I resorted. But the worst thing about it is I lost thousands of dollars on this game.

BLITZER: You what?

MCCAIN: I lost thousands of dollars.

BLITZER: What do you mean?

MCCAIN: Well, you know, it was a poker game and, you know, you play with play money, you know, the...

BLITZER: But you were playing for real -- you were playing for real money? MCCAIN: No, no! No.

BLITZER: Just wanted to clarify that, Senator. I hear you say you lost thousands of dollars.

MCCAIN: Thousands. Thousands of fake dollars.

BLITZER: Thousands of fake dollars. OK, I'm sorry. It's much better. Hey, Senator McCain, thanks very much for joining us.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, would a U.S. attack be punishing enough to prevent another poison-gas massacre? Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tom Foreman is in our virtual studio with CNN military analyst, the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, Rick Francona, taking a closer look at how effective some sort of military action against Syria would be. What are you guys seeing?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're looking specifically at this notion that Senator McCain raised about attacking the air assets there, and you think that a half dozen targets truly could make a difference.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: Although they have 20 airfields, these six air bases constitute the bulk of the combat power of the Syrian Air Force.

FOREMAN: And those air bases, if we zoom in to one of them here, some of them are very important because they have the most advanced aircraft there and most support there. What would cruise missiles hit if they targeted this?

FRANCONA: Well, you want to go after things that could make a difference. You want to go after the fuel supplies and the fueling points. You also want to hit the maintenance areas, limit their ability to generate sorties. They also would like to go out there and hit command and control resident on the base and, of course, if you can, take out the runways.

FOREMAN: So in effect what you're doing is attacking the repair stations and the fuel stations? That's how you shut down the traffic.

FRANCONA: Exactly.

FOREMAN: And this would have a real impact, because the advantage the government has had over the rebels in many cases -- in chemical attacks and everything else -- is they have air cover.

So what are the political ramifications of this and why would this possibly work? This sort of plan would allow the White House to say, yes, it punished the chemical weapons capability in a limited way. It would allow opponents of it to say at least it was a limited attack on truly military targets, and it would allow people like John McCain to say yes, it was diminishing the basic capacity of the Assad regime. All true?

FRANCONA: Absolutely. The air cover is what allows the Syrian army to be effective against the rebels.

FOREMAN: And whether or not that will overcome the public doubts, Wolf, we'll have to see.

BLITZER: Obviously, lots of questions out there.

Lots more happening tomorrow, as well. Tomorrow morning the president, U.S. time, will be in Sweden for a joint news conference. We'll have live coverage of that coming up at around 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

Later today more -- later tomorrow more congressional hearings. We'll have special coverage here on CNN throughout the day as the president continues to try to make the case for some sort of military action against targets in Syria. Critical floor debate in the House and the Senate. That's scheduled for next week. Lots at stake right now.

I'll be back later tonight, 9 p.m. Eastern, I'm filling in for Piers Morgan only here on CNN.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.