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CNN NEWSROOM

How Syria Strike Could Impact Military; Hillary Clinton's Syria Could Test Presidential Hopefuls; Britain's Syria Samples Positive for Sarin; Pope Tells G-20 Stay Out of Syria; Tough Fight to Win House on Syria; Arab League Offers Money for Syria Strike.

Aired September 5, 2013 - 13:30   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: It has been a while since the faulty intelligence regarding Iraq came out. Do you think we're better equipped now when it comes to our own intelligence capabilities? Can we rely, trust, our government more in providing accurate intelligence?

STATE REP. SCOTT HOLCOMB, (R), GEORGIA & FORMER U.S. ARMY JAG ATTORNEY: I think we're better equipped. But one of the legacies of the Iraq War is very healthy skepticism about that intelligence, and that's true internationally and also true here domestically as we're going through this, the people just don't know if we can trust the information that we have.

MALVEAUX: All right. Scott, thank you. Sorry we don't have more time. We'll bring you back.

HOLCOMB: Thank you. My pleasure.

MALVEAUX: Ahead on NEWSROOM, many political insiders believe Hillary Clinton's Iraq vote in 2002 eventually cost her her shot at the presidency. Now more than a decade later, could supporting a strike against the regime in Syria have the same effect? We'll take a look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: U.S. military action in Syria could be one of the major foreign policy tests for those vying for the White House in 2016. Republican Senator Marco Rubio voted against the strike during a Senate panel vote yesterday. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she backs President Obama's call for military action.

Want to bring in our CNN political analyst, John Avlon, from New York.

John, let's talk about the two who could possibly be looking for a run in 2016, Marco Rubio. Marco Rubio, he has previously called for military intervention in Syria and now he's saying we didn't act and it is too late right now. How does that benefit him if he decides that he is going to go for the gold?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He was for it before he was against it.

MALVEAUX: Yeah. (LAUGHTER)

AVLON: Senator Rubio is walking a difficult line here. He is criticizing the president from the right. This plays well with the Republican base. He is opposing President Obama but saying he's opposed to him because he would like regime change. He'd go further, faster, earlier. It is politically neat. It doesn't necessarily line up with real life. There is definitely calculation with how this plays the Republican base. Rubio, of course, you don't live in a perfect world and he has to make an up-or-down vote when it comes to a full vote in the Senate. That won't be easy to explain as a stump speech in Iowa or New Hampshire.

MALVEAUX: Talk about Hillary Clinton here. A lot of people think her stand, when it came to the Iraq War, the green light she gave President Bush really hurt her going up against Obama in the primary here. Explain it for us here. Does it hurt her at all if she says, OK, I support this president, I support what he is trying to do here in Syria?

AVLON: I think it is a risky game because she is such an obvious frontrunner. The further out she gets, the more -- she said this earlier -- she creates vulnerabilities. However, she is the former secretary of state and tied to this administration. And part of her hallmark as a presidential candidate was a serious responsibility and aggressiveness when it came to foreign affairs. And the whole template for the surgical strike being discussed is Kosovo, her husband's war, increasingly seen as the "good war." So I don't think shimming in this or trying to backtrack would do her any good.

The Iraq War hangover is affecting everybody, nationally and internationally. And the Iraq War hangover certainly hurt Hillary Clinton in 2008. But I think she needs to stand up with the administration she served and project a confident face forward, which has been the hallmark of her move into the national stage. I don't think there is as much downside as there was in 2008 with Iraq

MALVEAUX: John, good to see you. Thank you. Appreciate it.

AVLON: All right.

MALVEAUX: We'll be watching.

AVLON: Good to see you, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Ahead on NEWSROOM, the pope is reprimanding world leaders in a letter criticizing them for standing by and letting a senseless massacre happen in Syria. More of his comments ahead.

But first, a look at what you will see this weekend on "The Next List."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This week on "The Next List," we talked to two remarkable innovators. Ben Koffman, the founder and CEO of quirky.com. Koffman is passionate about giving would-be inventors a way to get product ideas to market.

BEN KOFFMAN, FOUNDER & CEO, QUIRKY.COM: It is human nature to invent. What stops people is to actually do that and execute on all of those ideas. It is really freaking hard.

GUPTA (voice-over): And he is using the talents of a half a million online members to do it.

KOFFMAN: You are now a Quirky inventor.

(APPLAUSE)

GUPTA: And Saul Griffith, an inventor, scientist and winner of the coveted MacArthur Genius Award.

SAUL GRIFFITH, SCIENTIST, INVENTOR & MACARTHUR GENIUS AWARD RECIPIENT: Sometimes you're like you have an idea and you're like, oh, no, I have the idea and now I have to do it.

GUPTA: Griffith and his team are revolutionizing robotics, creating a whole new field of soft machines.

GRIFFITH: Fully pressurized the arm could lift a human an arm's length.

GUPTA: This Saturday, 2:30 p.m. eastern, on "The Next List."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Reported just last hour, Britain says it has taken samples from the alleged chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area and that they have tested positive for sarin.

There is an interview the British prime minister, David Cameron, granted to the BBC where he is actually talking about what it is that they found in this chemical attack. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED BBC HOST: Do you now believe there is more evidence than you were able to bring before the country went to parliament?

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I think the evidence is growing all the time. We have just been looking at samples taken from Damascus, which further shows the use of chemical weapons in that Damascus suburb.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: That would back, in fact, the Obama administration's claim that there was a chemical attack, that it was sarin, that that chemical sarin that was used. It does not however say who actually delivered that chemical attack.

Want to bring in another aspect of this story and that is about the pope. He is delivering a strong message to world leaders at the G-20 summit in Russia. He says he does not want them to launch a military strike against the Syrian regime. Pope Francis is laying out his concerns. This is a letter addressed to the G20 host, Russian President Vladimir Putin. It calls any military action a futile pursuit, and goes onto say, "Let there be a renewed commitment to seek with courage and determination a peaceful solution through dialog and negotiation of the parties, unanimously supported by the international community." And Pope Francis also plans to follow up the actions, those words with actions. On Saturday, he will be leading the world's Catholics in a day of fasting and prayer to end the violence in Syria.

Joining us from Denver, CNN Vatican analyst, John Allen.

John, good to see you, as always.

Let's talk about this. Let's talk about the letter that he sent to the G-20 group, and specifically to Putin here. How impactful do you think this will be?

JOHN ALLEN, CNN VATICAN ANALYST: Well, Suzanne, as you well know, at one level, popes, like other religious leaders, call for peace all the time. There is nothing groundbreaking about it.

I think what is unique is the context. Normally, popes speak out after the fact. That is, violence has broken out and they call on everyone to knock it off. The difference here, it is before the fact. There is very active debate in the United States and other nations about whether to use force in Syria, and so in that context, the pope's language has unusually direct political relevance. I think the other difference is how emphatic they're being about it. Not only has he written this very strong letter to Putin and the other G-20 leaders, not only is leading a day of prayer and fasting on Saturday, but in addition, the Vatican today called in all of the ambassadors accredited to it for a special briefing, laying out their case against the use of force in Syria. It is quite rare.

In addition, the pope -- rarely does a day go by that Francis doesn't say something against the conflict, among other things, using his Twitter account to deliver the messages.

So they have launched a full-court diplomatic press. The last time they did something like this, Suzanne, was 10 years ago in an effort to head off the war in Iraq. Of course, they weren't successful then and I suppose the jury is out as to how much success they will have this time around.

MALVEAUX: This pope is very different from previous popes as well. He does see things differently. And one of the things in conflicting reports, there's some news reports out of Argentina that they say he has spoken on the phone with the Syrian president, Bashar al Assad. But the Vatican is denying that. Do we know the truth here?

ALLEN: I think you have to go with the Vatican's denial. It is understandable for people think he might do that. This is a pope that picks up the phone all the time and calls people out of the blue. With the proven capacity to do the unusual, it is entirely possible he may do something unusual here.

What is more likely, Suzanne, is that Francis would do what John Paul did in 2003, which is dispatch personal emissaries. In that case, John Paul dispatched one cardinal to then-President George Bush and another to Saddam Hussein in Iraq trying to persuade them to come to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. It is entirely possible we may see Francis do something like this this time as well.

MALVEAUX: We'll be being watching.

John Allen, thanks. Appreciate it.

Ahead on NEWSROOM, selling Syria. Not all Americans buying the idea of an attack and the same is true for Congress as debate over military action is heating up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Obama administration officials are back on Capitol Hill, making their case for military action in Syria behind closed doors. The president won the first battle, a resolution authorizing a limited military response. Passed the Foreign Relations Committee by a 10-7 vote. But the resolution faces an uncertain fate in the House.

Chris Lawrence takes a look at the tough fight to win over some of those very skeptical House lawmakers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the hard sell from the inner circle to take action.

(SHOUTING)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is not the time to be spectators to slaughter.

LAWRENCE: Laying out the price of not acting.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: There is absolutely a risk of escalation in the use of chemical weapons if we do nothing.

LAWRENCE: And the cost of air strikes to America.

CHUCK HAGEL, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: It would be in the tens of millions of dollars, that kind of range.

LAWRENCE: One explosive confrontation shows the hard work ahead to win over the House.

REP. JEFF DUNCAN, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Mr. Kerry, you have never been one that's advocated for anything other than caution when involving U.S. forces in past conflicts. Is the power of the executive branch so intoxicating that you would abandon past caution in favor for pulling the trigger on a military response so quickly?

KERRY: Because I volunteered to fight for my country. And that wasn't a cautious thing to do when I did it.

We're talking about people being killed by gas, and you want to go talk about Benghazi and Fast and Furious.

LAWRENCE: Two U.S. Navy ships have left the eastern Med., leaving four destroyers in the waters near Syria.

Questions remain, not about the strike itself, but what comes next.

REP. TED POE, (R), TEXAS: What do we do if they shoot back at Americans?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL, (R), TEXAS: But then who's the other side? Who are the rebel forces?

LAWRENCE: Administration officials say they've kept the Syrian opposition from allying with extremist fighters. But the clock is ticking.

KERRY: And people will resort to anybody they can find to help them accomplish their goal and we would have created more extremism and a greater problem down the road.

LAWRENCE: Chris Lawrence, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Ahead on NEWSROOM, the Arab League is not happy with the Assad regime. It is offering now to help pay for a military strike against it. We're going to tell you who's on board and who's not, up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: We are now looking at St. Petersburg, Russia, G-20 summit. We are just getting these pictures of President Obama. He was emerging from the meeting, the group of leaders -- you had seen them before -- heading to the dinner that is next on the official schedule of these leaders, these world leaders. Walking confidently and by himself to the dinner. This is after a series of meetings that had taken place, the whole group of G-20 leaders together.

Also some important side bar meetings as well with the leader of Japan. There are others he'll be talking to in the next 24 to 48 hours. And this comes after what we saw as a friendly greeting, if you will, between the president and the host of the G-20 summit, president -- Russian President Vladimir Putin. And the big question, of course, is whether or not he is going to be able to get the kind of alliances, the kind of support, whether it's financial, diplomatic or militarily, of a strike, support for the U.S. strike on Syria. He looks calm and confident. Smiling as he goes to the dinner. We're going to take a quick break. We'll follow it on the other end.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Secretary of State John Kerry says that some Arab nations have offered to help pay for a U.S.-led military strike on Syria. He told lawmakers yesterday that the offer is, quote, "significant." But not all Arab states are onboard.

Our Tom Foreman, he's in Washington with more on what the Arab nations are saying.

So, Tom, who's on board? Who's not? And how do they explain this?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me put it this way, Suzanne, the general sense, there are a lot of nations in the world right now who seem reasonably happy with the idea of the United States doing the dirty work. That's very different than getting involved themselves. Saudi Arabia also is saying they want to do something about this. Some others, for example, Egypt, is showing some very strong reluctance to something like this.

Let's talk about the Arab League for a moment. There are about 20 -- a little more than 20 members of it. It started back in 1945. And they have been an important voice in saying that what Syria has done is wrong. They actually suspended Syria's membership some time back because they don't like the way the Syrian government has been managing things there.

But there are key reasons why they're not actually getting involved. Which is interesting, because many Americans would say, if you're concerned, it's in your neighborhood, you have vested interest, why not get involved?

First of all, culturally. There's a strong belief in the region, despite many difference between nations, many say we're all Arab brothers. We should not attack each other religions. Second, the religious reasons. It's basically the same thing, an extension of that, the idea of many Muslims saying it's wrong for Muslims to attack other Muslims as their own faith teaches. And there's overall a reluctance to side with the U.S. Even though the U.S. may come in and do something that could be positive for the region and could help them deal with an enemy they don't like, many nations over there have a hard time publicly saying that they're with the U.S. in doing something like this. Because the U.S. is a strong ally of Israel, which, of course, they don't like. The U.S. is often portrayed as the Great Satan from the West that they don't want to be involved with.

And -- this is important, Suzanne -- in some cases, there may be leaders of some of these Arab League nations who think the idea of an attack is a good idea, who might even want to be part of the attack, but they're fearful enough of their own population. Those first two reasons, culturally and religiously, so many of their people could be so angry, if they publically got in bed with the U.S. on this, that they might then be overthrown or pushed out of office.

There are a lot of reasons why it seems obvious that they should be involved and a lot of practical reasons why they're not -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Very complicated region.

Thank you, Tom. Appreciate that.

That's it for me. CNN NEWSROOM continues with Brooke Baldwin after the break.

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