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PIERS MORGAN LIVE
Crisis in Syria
Aired September 6, 2013 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This is PIERS MORGAN LIVE. I'm John Berman, in for Piers tonight. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. If this were a summer blockbuster, you'd know exactly how it would go. The good guy goes after the bad guy, there's a big bloody, noisy battle, lots of special effects and in the end the good guy always wins.
But summer is over, this is no blockbuster, this is the real world. President Obama is going up against a bad guy, a guy who will stop at nothing to stay in power but it is anybody's guess how it will end. Meanwhile, back at the ranch the president has to win another big battle before he can go after the bad guy. He has to get the American people and Congress on his side.
And the odds right now, not exactly in his favor. Here are the numbers. In the Senate, 25 yes votes, 19 no votes, 56 undecided. In the House the math no better, 24 yes votes, 119 no votes, 279 undecided and 20 simply unknown.
The President meanwhile, staking everything on turning those numbers around.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is hard and I was under no illusions when I embarked on this path, but I think it's the right thing to do. I think it's good for our democracy, we will be more effective if we are unified going forward.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Let's get started now with the battle on Capitol Hill. Joining me now, two congressmen who couldn't disagree more about what to do in Syria and there's a twist here. Florida Democrat Alan Grayson says, "The House doesn't want a strike on Syria and the American people don't want it either." Indiana Republican Luke Messer said, "Action is needed, and dictators around the world are watching."
Congressman Messer let me start with you. You support, you're a Republican, I should reiterate here, you support the President's proposal to strike on Syria, what convinced you?
REP. LUKE MESSER (R) INDIANA: Listen, I'm no fan of this president and I'm certainly no fan of this president's foreign policy. I think his mismanagement in the region has compounded our problems there but I believe that we can't stop being America just because we have an ineffective commander in chief. And when you look at the facts and the evidence here, there are several things that are clear.
It is clear that Assad gassed his own people, it's clear that, that gas was used to murder hundreds of innocent women and children. It's clear that our allies in the region like Israel are asking us to intervene and it's clear that evil dictators in places like Iran and North Korea are watching and will be emboldened if we don't act, I think under those situations -- under those circumstances we must act. And if I had to vote today I would vote yes.
BERMAN: Congressman Grayson, you also have been part of this security briefings, have you not?
REP. ALAN GRAYSON (D) FLORIDA: Yes.
BERMAN: And you come away with a much different opinion. You don't believe we have to strike, you don't feel the same moral compunction to act, why not?
GRAYSON: Well clearly we don't have to strike, I think that's indubitable. We shouldn't strike for several reasons. The first reason is, it's not our responsibility to act alone. The second reason is, there's other ways to deal with this problem. Thirdly, it's dangerous to do this. Fourth it won't do any good and fifth it's expensive.
You know, let's play this out a little bit OK? Whatever we do, whatever strike is contemplated here, we're not going to end the civil war in Syria. That's been going on there for two years. Nor the civil war between Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims which is what this civil war reflects which is going on now for 1300 years.
Secondly we're not going to be able to oppose the dictator and third we're not even going to be able to prevent a new attack in chemical weapons. In fact, we're not going to reduce the stock pile of chemical weapons, because if you bomb those chemical weapons you'd create mushroom clouds of poison gas. So, when you really get down to it, it's an exercise in chest beating for us to attack this other country. But if we do it's an act of war and an act of war means they will counter attack or can counter attack. They can counter attack against us, they can counter attack against Turkey, they can counter attack against Israel. They can counter attack against our fleet in the Mediterranean. They can counter attack against our embassy 15 miles from their border in Beirut.
There's all sorts of ways and array and we do know how this movie ends. We've seen it before, we've seen it in Iraq and Afghanistan it ends in a quagmire, a decade long quagmire that won't end it all. That's why the American people are against this, that's why 70,000 people have come to our dontattacksyria.com website in a matter of days. And why the letters of the members of the Congress including by the way, the gentleman you have on are running 25 to one against a 100 to one against.
BERMAN: Congressman Messer what about that? Congressman Grayson brings up the point that Americans seemed to be against this. We've heard from many members who were saying they're getting hundreds and hundreds of phone calls against military action. Some people saying they're getting no calls in favor of it. What are you hearing from your constituents?
MESSER: I think Alan's comments point out that there are a lot of questions here and frankly the President has a lot of work to do to convince the American people that this is the appropriate course of action. I hear from my constituents too, many of them have a lot of questions about what is to be done in Syria. I think virtually everyone understands that we're dealing with a bad actor here.
Assad is an evil guy who's done terrible things and frankly been America's enemy for most of the last decade or more. I think people in America don't want to stand by and watch a bully gas and murder his own people but what hasn't been explained adequately yet by this administration is how our intervention going to make it better.
What is the plan after that? I'm not suggesting that the President post those things on Twitter or on Facebook but the case has to be made to the American people and frankly it hasn't been made yet.
BERMAN: And you think the President, can he make that case Tuesday night when he speaks to the nation in what will be a major address?
MESSER: Well he's going to have to, listen again, I am no fan of this President, I'm no fan of this President's foreign policy. Alan and I tend to disagree on lots of other topics most of the time Alan's on the President's side on those topics when we disagree. So, I'm not this President's great defender but listen our country is a lot bigger than the political debate we're going through right now. I believe this is in our national security interest, I think it is vital we strike. Clearly our allies in the region like Israel are asking us to, so it's important the President does make the case.
BERMAN: Congressman Grayson, you know, one of the things that Henry Ford like to say was that, "If we always listen to the people we'd be riding faster horses right now," we would have never discovered cars. The public's not always right are they?
GRAYSON: The public has the right to decide when this country goes to war. And in this case...
BERMAN: I mean Congress, Congress like this I thought you said has the right to decide when the country goes to war?
GRAYSON: Well suppose to act as representatives and that's why you're seeing such a divergence with the House.
BERMAN: But you see the security people, the public doesn't see the security briefings.
GRAYSON: Let me finish, let me finish. Can I finish?
BERMAN: Please. GRAYSON: Is that OK? OK, good. The people's House gets elected every two years and you're numbers are off. Right now according to the Washington Post, there's only 25 members of the house who favor this attack and 224 who were against it and that's reflecting public opinion. The polls show two or three to one against and among Americans but they don't show how inflamed, how adamant the opponents are about this.
The people recognize that this is the first step toward our being dragged into a third Middle East war in a course of one decade. They just don't want it, it's not that people are tired of war, they're sick of war, they're disgusted with war, they want peace and they know that this is a first step toward another war. In that sense the people are right and Congress needs to recognize that.
If the President is asking us, choose between me and the people, I think we go with the people.
BERMAN: Senator Dianne Feinstein of California which is not a conservative let's say the state of liberal state and much like, you know, you are sir, says that she is supporting the President on this -- and going against her constituents in some cases because she says, "They haven't seen what I haven't seen." She has been to these security briefings and like Congressman Messer been convinced that there is a need for action right now.
The death of 1400 people including 400 children which the President seems to be emphasizing right now in Syria, if that's true that doesn't convince you that the United States should get involved?
GRAYSON: I've seen everything that she's seen and there's nothing else there. The President has declassified everything the President thought could make this case. He hasn't declassified everything that might unmake this case but declassified everything that could make this case. I have no idea what she's referring to, I've seen exactly the same 12 page document that she's seen, I don't find it convincing at all. It doesn't change the fact that it's not our responsibility to act alone here which is what's being contemplated. It's very dangerous, it's expensive and it's not going to do any good. It's just not going to do any good.
BERMAN: Congressman Grayson last question, last question. Is there anything that the President can say Tuesday night that would change your mind?
GRAYSON: Yes, the President can demonstrate that we're under attack from Syria, that our allies are under attack from Syria, or that there is a so far unbeknownst, how shall I put this? A holocaust taking place in Syria that involves ethnic cleansing which somehow escaped the world public's attention. Any of those things would change my mind. My objective is to protect the people of the United States and our allies, that's why we have the Department of Defense, not the Department of War, that's what would change my mind.
BERMAN: Congressman Messer, Congressman Grayson thank you both so much for joining us tonight. I have a feeling we're going to be hearing a lot from you over the coming weeks. Americans clearly at odds over Syria including in Congress. Well we're going to talk to some of the people who will really be affected by this. Joining me now, a man who says the Assad regime fall, if the Assad regime falls, the country will be overrun by militants. Dr. Hassan al-Khatib is a member of the Syrian American Forum and the cousin to Moaz al-Khatib, he's the former President of the Syrian Opposition Coalition. But let me be clear here, our guest here supports the Assad regime. Am I correct sir?
HASSAN AL-KHATIB, MEMBER OF THE SYRIAN AMERICAN FORUM: Actually I would reclassify what you said Piers (ph) good evening, a sad evening. No I am not here to support the Assad regime. I am here to make certain facts known, if facts matter at all. I'm just a doctor I'm not a politician and my family has always been a vocal critique of the tyranny and the corruption and all that. That is not the issue and I'm not alone actually, many, many Syrians like me.
BERMAN: Let's talk about the facts, let's talk about the facts sir and I should make clear you are speaking here in front of the United States. The President has laid out his case, he said that 1400 people have died including 400 children in this attack what he says involved chemical weapons. The United States says they found signatures of Sarin gas as part of that attack. The British now say they've actually tested and found Sarin and gas itself there, you don't believe that to be the case?
AL-KHATIB: Well I mean, the facts that I see is report from BBC by Carla Del Ponte from a few month ago when the initial chemical attack occurred April or March and her words were very clear. Her strongest suspicion was that the use was not by the Syrian Army and most likely it was not definitively by the rebels. And so I'd like to make some definitions clear here, I mean opposition is opposition. Militancy, terrorist militancy is a different story and our problem now is that the opposition has been hostaged, has been, you know hijacked by militant terrorism that is the problem.
It is not that we are saying and this is why I wanted to make sure I beg to differ with your initial characterization of myself. We have been bullied, people like me who are moderate Syrians who have kept it to themselves for the longest time, we have been bullied every time we say, this is not the way to repair the problem into, your pro this and you're pro that. We are pro democracy for a pro realistic Syria. Syria has the rights of women protected, the freedom of religion protected and the facts going back into the facts do matter. The only true journalistic report that came out of Syria out of this incident was actually published in mint press by journalist Gail Black (ph) who I understand and I'm not an investigative journalist here.
I understand this is a pretty decorated journalist that writes for Associated Press and PR among others. And I would encourage the listeners to look into that report...
BERMAN: Dr. Hassan al-Khatib I do thank you very much right now. Again speaking on behalf or at least in support of the Assad regime. I want to bring in right now Farah Atassi is a political activist and member of the Syrian National Coalition. She's an adviser to rebel general Salim Idriss and she supports the idea of strikes in Syria.
Let me first of all ask you to respond to the doctor we just heard there, who suggested right now, there's a difference between opposition and terrorism, what do you say to that?
FARAH ATASSI, POLITICAL ACTIVIST, MEMBER OF THE SYRIAN NATIONAL COALITION: First of all I am pro strike against Assad regime. We should be clear here that the strike is not towards Syria, the country. It's not towards Syrian citizen, it's not towards civilian neighborhood, it's towards the military station and camps that this regime is launching and killing his own people. I hear Dr. Hassan al- Khatib loud and clear. And I think the argument that the freedom fighters decided in August to commit a mass suicide by gassing themselves and gassing their children, over 460 children gassed and decided to act, make the act just to provoke a US intervention.
This is a fantastic argument. Dr. Hassan is a doctor, I ask him kindly to go to the refugee camps in the Turkish border and on the Lebanese border and on the Jordanian border. He will listen to two million eye witness, two million eye witness who will tell him the crimes and the violation that the Syrian regime committed against the Syrian people.
BERMAN: Ms. Atassi, one of the problems that the opposition and the people in support of a strike here are running into in the US are videos like that came out in the New York Times yesterday of one of the rebel groups in 2012 executing people who appear to be members of the Syrian military, brutal video to watch, we're not going to show it right now, we are, there's the headline of the New York Times, the pictures at least. You can see that execution from 2012. How do you convince the American people that an air strike isn't helping the individuals behind brutality like that?
FARAH ATASSI, SYRIAN-AMERICAN POLITICAL ACTIVIST: Thank you so much for raising such an important question and I think the New York Times owe us an apology. That's -- first of all there are tons of un- credible videos and Youtubes out there on the social media and social network and second, the New York Times admitted that this video was taken in the Spring of 2012. At that time even the Supreme Military Council headed by General Salim Idriss was not established, was not formed.
They have been established in December of 2012 so right now, of course any violation, remember we are -- we are in a war conflict. The regime is waging war against his own people. Some violations may happen here and there but the Supreme Military Council and we at the Syrian opposition made it clear that these acts are condemned and this is not the conducts of the Free Syrian Army. This is not the morale of the Free Syrian Army. The Free Syrian Army from the beginning, they said they will abide by Geneva Conventions of Warfare.
This -- this exactly shows the necessity of -- it's -- of a US leadership in helping the moderate Syrian freedom fighters and the moderate of Syrian opposition leaders to have at least all the tools to have control on the ground. BERMAN: Thank you very much Farah Atassi speaking on behalf of the rebels in Syria. Thank you so much for being with us. I appreciate your point of view. Coming up, is Tuesday speech to the American people the most important of President Obama's career? I want to put that question to historian Doug Brinkley and our own Fareed Zakaria.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I'm not drawing an analogy to World War II, other than to say, when London was getting bombed it was profoundly unpopular. Both in Congress and around the country to help the British. It doesn't mean one the right thing to do.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: That was President Obama today and at this moment President Obama on his way back from the Summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, due to land at Andrews Air Force Base any minute right now and then head back to the White House. You're looking at live pictures of the White House right now.
I'm John Berman, in for Piers Morgan tonight and the Obama at White House is framing the debate on Syria in historic terms. You've just heard the President there but so far, many in Congress and the country are unconvinced. Here with some perspective Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS and Presidential Historian Douglas Brinkley. Fareed let me start with you because you heard the President bring up World War II there, the bombings on London that happened before the US entry into the war.
We've heard Secretary of State bring up Hitler and much more direct ways in Nazi Germany in much more direct ways. Are these apt comparisons, do you think?
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST OF FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: No they are not apt to begin with, I mean let's just remember our history. Adolf Hitler controlled the largest army in the world in 1938 when the Munich Accord was signed. Second richest or third richest country in the world and had a plan to conquer all of Europe, perhaps all of the world. Assad runs one of the poorest countries in the world, in miserable condition. He's desperately trying to stay in charge of his own little misbegotten country.
But more importantly the mistake here is that there is a vast divergence now developing between the rhetoric. The President is using, John Kerry is using and what we are proposing, so if indeed this is like World War II. If this is like, you know, Munich, if this is, you know, all about stopping Adolf Hitler or something like that, what we're proposing is two days of cruise missile strikes as a symbolic gesture, as a shot across the bow. I mean if the President is right and this is World War II, we should be mobilizing the whole army and sending it to Syria. So, you see what I mean? You're winding -- or trying to wind people up for some monumental dramatic cause and then what you're proposing is a limited precise strike that's really designed to send a symbolic message. This has been the problem with the administration's policy all along.
BERMAN: Churchillian (ph) words but not Churchhillian action.
ZAKARIA: But this in jury (ph) actions. You know, they want to do something very precise, sophisticated and signal the, but they want to paint this in this dramatic terms.
BERMAN: Let's take on history for a second here Doug because the President also brought up Rwanda today. The President said, that essentially that if we saw the genocide in Rwanda today and did nothing we would regret it. Is Rwanda a better historical comparison?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Oh I agree with Fareed with every word said completely in, I don't think even Rwanda's an analogy of what's going on right now. I know Kosovo's been mentioned too, it's a little better then World War II, the whole World War II Hitler thing is very over wrought but I think that the idea that chemical weapons were being used in Syria. I mean this is not a Libya strike, you know, you're going after a prey in Africa. This is in the heart of the Middle East where American interest are right by our border with Turkey or Israel NATO ally, sharing a border with Israel.
So, it's a serious foreign policy crisis but the point Fareed made is you don't want to oversell this as something larger than it is and I think that's where the administration has failed thus far.
BERMAN: But you brought up chemical weapons. Are chemical weapons something worse here in general than what we normally see in warfare? Chemical weapon seem to represent something different in our society and in our world culture. What if it had been a tactical nuclear weapon that killed a thousand people? Would there be this debate right now about whether the US should act?
BRINKLEY: No, I mean obviously if it's nuclear weapons that you would have NATO involved here. But, you know, we're in a situation where NATO is just sitting this thing out. We've got the United Nations telling the United States not to do anything. You have the Pope denouncing us, it's becoming just a series of valleys (ph) and it's probably because President Obama just didn't act.
If he would have struck I think immediately and didn't take this to Congress he'd probably could have done a couple of days of that and gotten away with it but this case right now it's looking very grim in Congress and the President has a Hercules in salesmanship job ahead of him and I agree with your trailer heading into this. This is a big speech Tuesday, the President's going to have to convince and a lot of Americans said, this is the way to go, striking in Syria.
BERMAN: Fareed let me ask you this, will the President better off asking for forgiveness right now then permission? Would he have been better off if he had bombed right away? ZAKARIA: Absolutely, Doug is absolutely right. The strategy that should have been employed here was, had the President decided this was a red line, frankly they should have game planned this beforehand. There should have been a contingency plan since -- a year ago the President said, this is a red line, they should have thought to themselves, what if this red line is crossed?
And if that red line is crossed, here's what I think should have happened. A couple of hours later he should have convened his National Security Council, had key Congressional Leaders in, said we're going to strike in an hour. Begin the strike then go to the American people and say, "We had warned Assad not to use chemical weapons," this isn't in contravention of a 100 year all that stuff. We have decided there have to be a response, we could not let it be unanswered, the United States had put it's credibility on the line.
He would have had Congress with him, he would have had the public with him because there is a natural rally around the flag when the President makes a decision like that and the world would have been somewhat divided as it is now, but the point is it would have been done, it would have been, you would have been presented a faith of comply (ph) and you wouldn't have this hamlet like bizarre, you know, if you watched that, his press conference in Russia. You know, meandering searching for analogies. You just have done it and you say, as you say, you don't ask for forgiveness, you say, you know, I expect you to support me because this was and by the way 24 hours from now it will all be over.
BERMAN: Doug who gets the blame if Congress doesn't support the bombing here? The bombing never happens and say things get worse in Syria, will this be the President's fault or will this be Congress' fault?
BINKLEY: Well it's -- it will probably be the President's fault if that's the way you want to look at it but I also am not on so doomsday that this is the end of the Obama Administration. I remember when the gun debate was going on and President Obama gave a big speech and we didn't get a result on gun control the cycle will move on. If he doesn't get the vote it's going to be a very grim couple of weeks, maybe months for the President but by next Spring I'm not convinced everybody's going to be talking about Syria again.
I mean there are sometimes 35 civil wars going on in the world and seldom do we hear about them. This is unusual Assad used chemical weapons and if the President who deserves real credit for anything it's reminding us that this isn't OK. He is taking a bit of moral leadership in the world but I think it's very important and it might have the world community ready to act if chemical weapons were used a second time coming up in Syria.
BERMAN: Douglas Brinkley, Fareed Zakaria thank you so much for joining me this evening I really appreciate it guys.
Up next, President Obama's speech to the American people why action in Syria is such a tough sell?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what I think of Congress -- they are a bunch of marshmallows. That's what they are. That's what they've become.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: A bunch of marshmallows. John McCain getting an ear full from one of his constituents in phoenix last night. I'm John Berman in for Piers Morgan. Joining me now Van Jones co-host of CNN's new Crossfire debuts on Monday, Elise Jordan former speech writer for Condoleezza Rice, CNN political commentator Ben Ferguson, host of the Ben Ferguson Show, and Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, CNN military analyst and former air attache in Damascus who traveled extensively in Syria as an observer of the countries air defense and military operations. Quite an introduction there.
Van, let me start with you. We heard that town meeting where John McCain was presented with a bag of marshmallows right there. We've been hearing from members of Congress all around the country who've been hearing from their constituents who are not at all been happy with the idea of an air strike right now. Van, why do you think the public is where it is. Why hasn't the president made more progress yet because we're more than a week into this -- almost two full weeks into this? Why isn't he made more progress convincing the American people?
VAN JONES, CNN CROSSFIRE CO-HOST: Well, first of all, it's always hard -- people forget it's very hard to get a Democratic Republic to get onboard with any war. We tend to be more isolationists. The Democracies don't like to go to war number one. But number two, the President has a problem because it's almost like he's trying to start a car in fourth gear. You know, for the past two years, he hasn't talked a lot about Syria just a few mentions here and there and then suddenly in a two week period, we're supposed to be, you know, basically on the brink of war...
BERMAN: You're being -- you're being charitable, Van. What he has said about Syria has been to convince the American people not to get involved. He's been actually been talking much the opposite of what's he's talking right now.
JONES: Sure. And so, that makes it very, very hard when the ground work hasn't been laid. Ordinarily, a President would have -- you start of in first gear, who was Assad, he's the bad guy, what are chemical weapons, remember World War I. Americans don't even know what chemical weapons are. So, I feel like he's being -- he's paying the cost now for trying to start a car in fourth gear. He's one of the best communicators on the world scene. Maybe he'll figure it out.
BERMAN: Ben, you -- you take a few with this.
BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND HOST OF BEN FERGUSON SHOW: Yes. Yes. I think the problems didn't start in fourth gear. I think the problem start on his 40-minute walk when he decided to instead of being a leader and deciding what best to do and take politics out of this decision, he decided I don't want to be the guy that pulls the trigger, I want to be able to blame Congress if this isn't popular, doesn't go well. That's where the problem started. And then, since then, the PR job by his leadership -- I mean John Kerry, the Secretary of State, yesterday is actually trying to tell the American people that this isn't what he would consider to be going to war. Dropping bombs on a country and going to Congress to get the approval...
BERMAN: But, Ben...
FERGUSON: ... that is war. And the American people don't like that.
BERMAN: Ben, you're criticizing his leadership on this issue but I have the feeling that had he not gone to Congress, you would have said he was violating the Constitution for not seeking the Congressional approval.
JONES: The same people who criticize him now, Ferguson, is the Congress for not going into (inaudible)
FERGUSON: No, I think it's complete opposite of that.
ELISE JORDAN, FORMER SPEECH WRITER OF CONDOLEEZZA RICE: But that's a question I...
BERMAN: Elise, you can go ahead.
JORDAN: Why did he not go to Congress for Libya and then now it's such -- it's suddenly so important.
JORDAN: And with Libya, he said like looming catastrophe in Benghazi. I've got to go in there -- humanitarian disaster. I -- this is why we're doing it now. And so, with this strike, it says, you know, "Oh" -- Obama's like, "Oh, you know, maybe a month from now it will soon come to terms for strategic objectives. I just -- it's preposterous complaining from a plane perspective.
LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA,(RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: And to say that none of these targets are time sensitive I think is incorrect.
BERMAN: This makes you crazy as a military guy this delay?
FRANCONA: Well, the whole thing it makes you -- you're giving your enemy at least 10 days warning, they've got time to move things around, hide things and alter the entire landscape of where you'd have to attack. We've got to lay out the strategic objective of what we want to do and we don't have the right assets in place to probably to do it. You don't normally tell the Pentagon, well you're allowed to use cruise missiles now here I'm going to give your objective. Normally, you say, "I want to do this, what do I need to move? And we're not doing that. JORDAN: So, did General Dempsey enable this on the one end by saying like, "Oh", you know, giving the OK?
FRANCONA: I don't understand why...
BERMAN: Hang on. Hang on. Let's have the Colonel give one quick last words and we go to break.
FRANCONA: I just don't understand that the General said that these targets are not time sensitive. Targets are time sensitive. They move.
BERMAN: We're going to get to that, we're also going to talk about what the President needs to say in his speech on Tuesday nigh when we come back.
BERMAN: Welcome back everyone, breaking news. You're looking at Air Force One. President Obama back from his trip to St. Petersburg the G-20 Summit there where he faced so many questions about the proposed military action led by the US perhaps only manned by the US in Syria. You can see Air Force One taxiing right there. Of course, the President did speak alone for a few minutes with President Putin of Russia. They disagree on the issue of Syria, the President also tried to persuade some other leaders to come to his side to help perhaps the US effort in Syria at least.
I'm joined by Elise Jordan, Van Jones, Ben Ferguson Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona. Elise let me start with you. As the President arrives home from this trip, did he arrive home in a better position than when he left on the issue of Syria?
JORDAN: I think he's in absolutely a worst position. The public has shown and in their most recent Gallup Poll that they are really opposed to any intervention in Syria.
So now, he has to make his case and he isn't, you know, he's waiting until Tuesday night to do that and it looks like it's going to be too late to get constituents who have just had such an outcry this week. You know, the marshmallow incident with McCain that you just showed on screen.
So it's very -- there is some very passionate antiwar feeling.
BERMAN: Bad enough to be called the marshmallow incident.
Van you're a Democrat, you support the President here with a lot of caveats, what do you want to hear from his address on Tuesday night? What will convince Democrats who were on the fence or maybe even opposed to military action at this point to support him.
JONES: Well, let's be clear. I'm actually a dub on this. I don't want us to go into Syria. I don't want us standing back throwing bombs in Syria. In fact I wish there were a dome over Syria so we would think about all the other things we could be doing besides launching missiles.
But what I am beside being opposed to war I'm really opposed to hypocrisy and I am shocked to hear all these conservatives, who are -- who have never heard of a war they didn't like, a military strike they didn't like, a battle they didn't like, who someone or now the most devilish people on planet.
BERGEN: Van as Senator Jeff Sessions in Alabama said today that if President George W. Bush were in office, Bashar Al-Assad would not have used chemical weapons. Is there an element or politics here? I mean did you support the Iraq war?
FERGUSON: Yes. Well, I support the Iraq war.
JONES: You did.
FERGUSON: But I also think that over the last two years, let me finish over the last two years the mishandling of Syria with lack of leadership by Barack Obama and the lack of leadership when we have been attacked -- let me finish. When we're attacked in Benghazi has emboldened people like Assad to do this. And the proof is look at how bad the President handled the situation this week. If it's such a dire situation as he's trying to tell Democrats, Republicans who are against this, then why did you go play politics by going to Congress? Why did you wait two years to act? Why did you wait for a 110,000 people to be killed in Syria? He's got to really bad set of principles here to go to try to sell it to American people Tuesday night.
And I think most of you are saying we're not buying in to how bad it is because look how long you've waited to do this.
BERMAN: We just got a little bit of time left. I want to ask a question to Elise and the Colonel here, because you both been in a lot of bad places for lock of a better word, Iraq, Afghanistan, all over the Middle East. I have two, when you confront the suffering you see in some of these places at the hands of dictators, you see how people suffer. You're often left with the feeling couldn't we do something to help? Could other country step in and do something to stop this? Is this one of those times when there is an obligation to try to do something anything not make the perfect the enemy of the good.
JORDAN: But I don't think that a bombing necessarily accomplishes that. I think that perhaps a targeted strike on Assad would, but I don't think...
BERMAN: Take him out?
JORDAN: Yes, taking him out. I think that would send the message.
BERMAN: That make you smile Colonel.
FRANCONA: Well, I sort of agree. I think we missed our opportunity about 18 months ago.
You know, we didn't start the Civil War. The Civil War was a home grown thing and we could have capitalized on that, and then come to their resistance. That was the call for action. We need help, help us. And we didn't help. So they turn to the Islamist and now we're seeing the price of that.
But I think that there is a call to do something but I think that maybe it's too little, too late.
JONES: All right. We can say to Lieutenant...
BERMAN: Yes be very quick last word Van. I'll give you a break quick last word because you have your show on Monday.
JONES: Well, yes. I think you are excited about the new show on Monday starting 6:30.
But I just think that we need to be very clear, the President was courageous to bring Congress and to bring us to the American people. The American people don't want war, that's a good thing and we should now work together to find better outcomes there.
BERMAN: Thank you so much all of you. I really appreciate it. When we come back a battle here on the home front, a white supremacist, tries to take over a small town in North Dakota, I'm going to speak to the only African-American resident in this small town.
BERMAN: White supremacist, Paul Craig Cobb is causing all kinds of trouble in Leith, North Dakota. Just days ago, the people of Leith, all 24 of them learned of Cobb's secret plot to take over their town. His goal is turn to Leith into a "White Nationalist Intentional Community". Bobby Harper is Leith's only African American resident, he and his wife Sherill joining me now.
Bobby and Sherill, thanks so much for being with us. First, tell me what Leith was like? Describe this community until a few weeks ago.
BOBBY HARPER, AFRICAN-AMERICAN RESIDENT OF LEITH: It was nice. It was peaceful. Everybody go along, you know, we can basically leave our doors unlocked and there was no fear, nobody want to harm us.
BERMAN: When you first heard that this man, Paul Craig Cobb, had moved into town, the small town of 24 people. And his goal is turn this into kind of haven for White Supremacist. How did that that make you guys feel?
SHERILL HARPER, RESIDENT OF LEITH: It made me feel afraid. If his goal is to just have only white people here, where do my husband and I go? Because I know that I would not be welcomed. Some of the posts that have been about me, have made that very clear. They hold me in complete disregard, complete scorn because I have the audacity to be married to a black man.
BERMAN: You are putting it very nicely. Some of the post he said we're crude. They were awful. They called you a "filthy race- mixing white woman." This is in your own town.
S. HARPER: Don't forget being pea brain also. I was a pea brain also.
BERMAN: You guys have lived here for years at this point. Have you ever experienced any kind of racism in this town?
B. HARPER: Never. Not me. No. Everybody is been cool.
S. HARPER: Yeah.
BERMAN: And the town is so small as we said. 24 people. I think that might be a high count too. Have either you bumped into this man yet?
S. HARPER: I ran into him last year. He was out walking and I was outside as well. So, we introduced ourselves and just chatted for a little bit and he asked if -- as I remember, he asked if I had property for sale and I said, "Actually, it belonged to my mom." And he said, "Well, would she would be willing to sell." And I said, "No." I had no idea what his plan for but I knew that my mom would not be willing to sell any property.
B. HARPER: He was about 50 to 75 yards away from me when I met him and he was asking me that I having a lot for sale. He wouldn't quite turn around. So I can see his face and I told him, "No, we didn't have any land for sale" but he had a long three quarter coat on and it was kind of warm for that coat but he didn't want me to see his face so he kind of looked over his shoulder and asked me the question.
BERMAN: And then of course the reason he wants to buy the land, we now know is so that more people, more white supremacist can move into town essentially take over the town. If you had a majority of the town council for instance, he is thinking goes, they could run at the way that they want to.
Now, I know there's a town meeting tonight going on probably right now. What are the plans that this community has right now to deal with Paul Craig Cobb?
S. HARPER: I think it's unclear. I think we're unsure as to what to do right now. We'll just have to wait to and see what we discussed at the meeting tonight.
BERMAN: How is the community treated you. Is everyone who lives there, where they rallied around you against this guy?
S. HARPER: Yes.
B. HARPER: Yes.
S. HARPER: Yes, everybody is been very, very supportive, very kind. I have roots in this town. I didn't grow up in this town but my mom did and there are still relatives that live around this general area. So, I have a reason to be here. I have a history of being from this area around from this area.
So, it's disconcerting that someone would come in and wants to make us change our entire way of life just so that they can be supported by or surrounded only by white people, like-minded white people.
BERMAN: And Bobby to be clear, this is your town now too. You live there. You have some roots. You know, he's coming into where you live in your community.
B. HARPER: Yeah. He says, and audacity to even ask me for information to buy land and his intentions were to harm my way of life and make my way of life uncomfortable. So, I -- that's very, very uncomfortable for me and I don't like how things are going on like the way he came at me to ask for information to get this land and something has to be done.
If he can't love he's fellowmen, then, he needs to ask God to help him or something because I'm not very happy. And the people in this town aren't very happy.
BERMAN: Well, Bobby and Sherill Harper, we wish you peace and happiness for a long, long time in this town, your home in Leith, North Dakota. Thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it guys.
S.HARPER: Thank you for having us.
B. HARPER: No problem.
BERMAN: And that is all for us tonight. I will see you Monday morning, very early at 5 A.M. for early start.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports, "Diana Nyad: Xtreme Dream" starts right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YASH GUPTA: I was only five years old and I got my first pair of glasses. When I was a freshmen in high school I broke my glasses, I just couldn't see anything. And so, I really realized just how much glasses meant to me, without them, I really cannot do anything normally. I tried to use research, there are millions of students around the world who need glasses for them. I had this problem for one week but this kids have these problems for their whole lives.
My name is Yash Gupta and I'm trying to help students around the world to see better. I learned there are million of glasses that are discarded annually in North America alone. So I went up and looked if they could be used. So, when I was 14 I started reaching out to local optometrist and putting collection boxes in their offices. So, when a patient came to get a new pair of glasses they could drop off their old pair of glasses. We work with other organizations and then they distribute the glasses.
The other way we distribute glasses is like going on clinic trips. Packing us some glasses, we're going to Tijuana, Mexico today. And that will be distributing this to kids in orphanages.
Personal interaction, and that's where we love being able to see the people that we're actually helping.
Watching some of them get glasses the first time, you know, it's just really inspiring.
Today, at least (inaudible) distributed over $425,000 worth of eyeglasses which is equivalent to 8500 pairs.
I'm 17 years old and although many people believe kids can't make a difference, I have. I think anyone can do that, it's just about being motivated and really happy to doing it.