Return to Transcripts main page


Syria Hearings; Senate Foreign Relations Committee to Vote

Aired September 4, 2013 - 14:00   ET


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, the United States of America is not being the world's policemen. The United States of America is joining with other countries in upholding an international standard that 184 nations have joined into. Obviously we have a greater capacity. We are blessed with an extraordinarily capable military that, through the years, the American people have invested in, in order to protect our security interests.

Our security interests are directly involved in what is happening in the Middle East. Our security interests are directly threatened with respect to Assad's use of these chemical weapons. So we are building a support with international - with other countries. Among them, the Arab League, that announced its condemnation of this. Specific countries that have talked in terms of acting, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, the Qataris, the Turks, and the French. Obviously the British government sought to, felt it should. They had a different vote. But that doesn't - in fact that -- I think raises the stakes in terms of our holding ourselves accountable to a multilateral effort, to a multilateral standard in which the United States is the most technologically advanced partner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We go now to Mr. Ted Poe, chairman of the Terrorism and Nonproliferation Subcommittee.

REP. TED POE, (R), TEXAS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

We've heard a lot today about credibility of the United States. It seems to me that we have a credibility problem because our foreign policy in the Middle East is inconsistent. Our enemies really don't know what our foreign policy is. Our friends don't know what it is. And I'm not so sure Americans know what our foreign policy is in the Middle East. And we've seen it play out with different reasons, going into different countries, removing people from leadership and putting somebody else in or being approved of it - (INAUDIBLE) approved of it.

I, like my friend Mr. McCaul (ph) from Austin, are concerned about the players on both sides. There is no pure side in this civil war. You got Hezbollah, a bunch of bad guys, on one side, and you have the other terrorist groups on the other side, including al Nusra and al Shabaab (ph). I do believe that these are powerful groups on both sides. History will find out who ends up winning this civil war. And then you factor in the religious connotation in this civil war and you really do have a real problem. We do have a real problem on our hands.

My concern is now specifically, we want to do something to punish Mr. "Bad Guy" Assad. No question about it, he's a bad guy. He's wasting good air breathing. We're not going to shoot him. We're just going to shoot or shell over the bow. We're not going to take him out because we don't want to distable -- destabilize the civil war going on between two different sides, if I understand what that policy is.

So let's do that. Let's assume we do that. I'm going to ask General Dempsey this question first. Assume we do that, whatever it is, to destabilize the weapons of mass destruction. Get rid of them. I assume that's what we're trying to do, eliminate the weapons of mass destruction, even though as Secretary Hagel said, they're getting those things from Syria - from Russia, which they're going to give them more weapons? I don't know.

Assume we do that. Assad fights back. He doesn't just take it. He retaliates against us or lets Iran retaliate against Israel, all because we have come into this civil war. So, they shoot back. Then what do we do once Americans are engaged now in escalated specific strike, not by our choosing but by their choosing? Do we escalate or do we not fight back? And I know, General Dempsey, you've got a tough situation on your hands. What do we do if they literally shoot back at Americans, our friends the Israelis?

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: First, just to clarify, this isn't about eliminating chemical weapons. That's not possible given the number and the distribution of them. It's about convincing the Assad regime that it's unacceptable for them to use them. And that's the limit of this military operation.

We're postured for the possibility of retaliation. And I can assure you that our regional partners are as well.

POE: Let me just ask that question a little bit - a little more clarification from you if you can, general. I know you're in the military and you're to the point, and that's great. We're glad you're in charge. Can you see that escalating, though, with U.S. military involvement in the region? Have you made a contingency plan for that happening? Whatever their reaction is, the Syrians' reaction to us specifically, have you made contingency plans for us being in an escalated military operation in the region?

DEMPSEY: In the spirit of your compliment of my conciseness, yes.

POE: And you see - do you see escalation a possibility? U.S. military escalation in the region as a possibility?

DEMPSEY: Well, I can never drive the risk of escalation to zero, but I think - I think that the limited purpose, the partnerships we have in the region, the contributions that we'll seek from others, I think begins to limit that risk.

POE: One last question since I'm nearly out of time here. General Dempsey, you mentioned earlier that you're concerned about removing Assad from power. Do you want to -- will you elaborate on that? And if so, what's your elaboration?

DEMPSEY: Well, I - I still, again, separate from this conversation, which is about the limited purpose of deterring and degrading, I still am cautious about whether we should use U.S. military force in support of the opposition for the opposition, for the purpose of tipping the balance. I think there's other ways we can contribute to that through the development of a moderate opposition. But I - I remain cautious about taking the opposition's role here in the civil war.

POE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching the House Foreign Affairs Committee debating the authorization for use of force in Syria. I'm Jake Tapper. And we're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back after this.


TAPPER: I'm Jake Tapper. I want to welcome our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. This is CNN's special coverage of the crisis in Syria. You're watching, on the left side of your screen, is the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which is having a hearing featuring some of President Obama's main officials pushing forward this idea of a congressional authorization for use of force in Syria. On the right side of the screen, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has just convened to begin assembling a bill to grant that authorization. We're going to go back to the hearing on the House side right now.

REP. BRIAN HIGGINS (D), NEW YORK: Military strike so long as we don't have to do anything. The Arab League's response to this crisis is pathetically weak. And given their strategic interest, a joke.

So here we are left with trying to topple the last minority regime in the Middle East. And for the third time in a decade, entering a national civil war in that part of the world essentially alone again.

Secretary Kerry, you spoke of the history of the world's response to the use of chemical weapons. Given that history, one would think that more countries would join the U.S. in participating, not supporting, in participating in a military strike against Syria. What gives?

KERRY: Well, congressman, let me just begin very -- I'll try to be very, very quick here. First of all, I regret to say, I don't want to make this debate about what's happening in terms of regime change and the larger issues, but I just want to clarify, a fruit vendor who was tired of corruption and of being slapped around started the Arab Spring in Tunisia and they threw out a dictator that had been there for a long period of time, president. In Tahrir Square, there was a bunch of young people with their modern technology Googling each other and FaceBooking, and so forth, who organized a revolution. It wasn't the Muslim Brotherhood. It had nothing to do with religion. It had to do with a generational revolution of people looking for their freedom, their opportunity and their aspirations to be met. Same thing happened in Syria. And in Syria, that opposition was met with violence by Assad. And so that is what has happened here.

Now, the moderate opposition is, in fact, committed to democracy. It's committed to protection of all minority rights to an inclusivity. They want an election in the future of Syria. So I don't want to have a debate about that because this is not about regime change. This is about the enforcement of the standard with respect to chemical weapons. That's what this is about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to go to Matt Salmon.

KERRY: The president is asking for a limited authority to enforce that standard, not to deal with all those other issues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Matt Salmon of Arizona, chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee.


Secretary Kerry, let me first congratulate the president on bringing this matter to the Congress, as I believe he is constitutionally required to do. I, for one, am very happy that he's chosen to do this.

He said just this morning that he didn't draw a red line, the world did, with ratification of the chemical weapons convention treaty, yet where is the rest of the world in the response? Why are we looking at a near go it alone military mission? You said in your testimony that there are 34 countries who are with us. What degree are they with us and who are they specifically?

KERRY: I don't have the full list of them here, but the - I've listed a bunch of them. And the Arab League countries have condemned this. A number of them have asked to be part of a military operation. Our -- the Turks, a NATO country, have condemned it, pinned it on Assad, asked to be part of an operation. The French have volunteered to be part of an operation. There are others who have volunteered. But, frankly, and I'll let General, you know, Dempsey speak to this. We got more volunteers than we can use for this kind of an operation.

Now, in the next days, those names, as they choose to, as this evidence comes out, will be made more public. But as I said to you, we have 53 countries have already condemned the use publicly. Thirty- seven have said so publicly. And there are - I think it's a total of 34 countries or organizations have indicated that they're prepared to take action. Now, that is growing. There are more countries reviewing the evidence that we have shown. And as I said, over this time, the president has purposefully taken to come to Congress. He has asked me and the State Department to reach out to more countries and to build the kind of international support that this merits. And we will do so.

SALMON: Thank you.

I would really appreciate it if we could get a list of the countries and what assets they're willing to commit.

KERRY: (INAUDIBLE) we have it all broken down. I don't --

SALMON: And -- not now. We can get that later. I do have a question for General Dempsey.

General Dempsey, what are our goals in a military strike? The president said that the military attack would be limited in duration and scope and degrade the Assad regime's capacity to carry out future attacks on its own people. Do you believe that the use of surgical strikes will achieve the president's stated goal and can you guarantee the American people that the Assad regime will be unable to launch any further chemical warfare attacks both at home or against their neighbors after the U.S. mission is complete? And in addition, do you believe that the region will be more stable after a U.S. attack or less stable?

DEMPSEY: The mission given to me was to prepare options to attack, to deter and degrade, and that would mean targets directly linked to the control of chemical weapons, but without exposing those chemical weapons to a loss of security. Secondly, the means of delivery. And third, those things that the regime uses, for example, air defense, long range missiles and rockets in order to protect those chemical weapons or, in some cases, deliver them. So that target package is still being refined as I sit here with you.

As far as whether it will be effective. Given the limited objectives I've received, the answer is, yes, I believe we can make the military strike effective. In terms of what it will do to the region, that clearly will depend on the reaction of the Assad regime. But as I mentioned earlier, the -- our partners and the United States military is postured to deter his retaliation.

SALMON: Finally -

TAPPER: You're watching the House Foreign Relations Committee hearing about the possibility of use of force in Syria. We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back with more.


TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's live coverage of the congressional hearings on both sides of the Capitol.

We're going to go right now to the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, where Senator John McCain is talking about the authorization for use of force in Syria that is being discussed and drafted and marked up right now.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It's wrong for a law to be on the books and every president of the United States say that it's not constitutional. Well, if every president of the United States, Republican or Democrat, think it's unconstitutional, well, they challenge it in court. But they haven't. And so I thank Senator Paul for his amendment.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: One of the - one of the things that I think's misunderstood about the War Powers Act is the War Powers Act does allow the president to take action in three specific cases. One, if a war has been declared by Congress, two, if there's been statutory approval under use of authorization of force, and the third is imminent attack. It doesn't give unlimited power to the president to authorize military force. We can debate whether it's constitutional or not, but under the War Powers Act, those are the only three ways you can go. The press and the media and everybody misinterprets the War Powers Act to be 60 days and he has to report. It's true but that's not the beginning of the War Powers Act. That is one part of the War Powers Act. The initial part says the president can only go to war, imminent danger, declaration of war or statutorily approved force.

MCCAIN: Could I just say to my friend here -


MCCAIN: Could I just say to my friend in response, that third provision is what is not clear, a statutory act. We're about to enact a statutory act in the view of many of us. So it -- I don't think it's quite as clear as Senator Paul (INAUDIBLE).

Mr. Chairman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Durbin - and we're going to go back and forth now.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Mr. Chairman, this is an important proposal by the senator from Kentucky, even though it is sense (ph) in the Senate, we should take it seriously because probably the most awesome responsibility that we have as members of Congress under the Constitution. But I'd like to suggest to him that we take care in the language we use and that we use the exact language of the War Powers Resolution, as opposed to the new language, which you have added here, because I think it will create some ambiguity if we put in a new standard in terms of the president's power.

Let me be specific. At the end of your amendment you say that does not involve and then you use the words "stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." The War Powers Act says "a national emergency created by an attack on the United States, its territories or possessions or its armed forces." So if you would consider that as a friendly amendment to use the exact language of the War Powers Resolution, which you referred to indirectly here, I think that we would be on more solid ground.

PAUL: Yes, I'd be very happy to if the chairman would allow that amendment to the - to the amendment.

TAPPER (ph): Are you going to tell me what to do (ph)?

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Mr. Chairman.


RISCH: Mr. Chairman, I -- first of all the - Senator McCain --

TAPPER: I want to bring in Dana Bash, our chief congressional correspondent on Capitol Hill, to walk us through what's going on right now with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee exactly.

Dana, they are drafting legislation. Different senators are offering amendments. What are they discussing right now? DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, when the president made his surprising speech in the Rose Garden, he talked about this being the oldest constitutional democracy. That is what you're watching. It is really democracy at work. Maybe you can even call it sausage making. But this is what they're going through. They are going through amendments that members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have to the authorization of legislation. The first one is one by Senator Rand Paul. It has to do with the War Powers Resolution. Interesting that he's even putting up an amendment because he told us earlier he's not going to vote for this no matter what, but he wants to make a policy point and a political point as well.

What we are going to look for - I think the most important thing we're going to look for is the amendment that John McCain is going to put forward. He has said that he wants to change this to make clear in legislative language to codify what the president told him in the Oval Office, which is that it is the policy of the United States to make clear that they want to push back Assad's power on the battlefield. So that's what we're going to look for from, again, from McCain to vote for this, that he's a key player here, he's going to need that. It sounds like, in talking to other senators on the committee, that's likely to happen.

So we're going to watch this process go forward. We do expect there to be a final vote in this committee by the end of the day. It could change, but that's the expectation now and that would be the first major legislative move before this gets to the United States Senate, the floor of the Senate, which will be next week.


TAPPER: All right, Dana Bash at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

When we come back, we'll go back to the hearing at the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel are testifying. Back right after this.


TAPPER: I'm Jake Tapper. I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is CNN's special coverage of the crisis in Syria. And the question being debated on Capitol Hill right now in Washington, D.C., should the U.S. launch a military strike against Syria. We're going to go to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, are testifying. Let's take a listen.

REP. WILLIAM KEATING (D), MASSACHUSETTS: American public, as well as the world. And I think clearly that anyone looking at this evenly, that has been a success in terms of making clear the case there were chemical weapons used and the Assad government indeed used them. And I want to congratulate you and the president on those efforts. Now, so General Dempsey doesn't run out of time and has a few seconds to answer, we were going down a road that I just wanted to pursue, if I could.

General, you raise concerns in the past about engaging militarily in the Syrian conflict. And, obviously, you're here today to support a limited military action. But, you know, you did say - start to say in your remarks, there are military outcomes in supporting the opposition. But you qualified it saying, that's not what we're doing here. But I'm concerned that regardless of our stated intent in this area, others won't share that same, you know, view, that's not our intent.