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Obama Presses Congress On Syria Strike; Protesters Rally Outside White House; Anti-War Protest Planned Today; New Vision For Old Glasses; "I Killed A Man"; Getting Congress On Board; Rumsfeld: Obama Lacks Clarity On Syria; Assad Raised To Build A Dynasty

Aired September 7, 2013 - 12:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome to the second hour of the NEWSROOM. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Here are the top stories we're following in the CNN NEWSROOM. President Barack Obama puts on a full-court press to convince Americans and the world that a military strike on Syria is the right response for a suspected chemical weapons attack, but this is what he is seeing outside his door, demonstrators, angry that the U.S. is even considering attacking Syria. We'll take you to two major protests happening right now.

And a shocking confession online, a man admits to killing someone while drunk driving. Hear how his surprising mea culpa could affect his trial and possible sentence.

It's a critical weekend for President Barack Obama. He is hoping to make major gains in convincing Congress and U.S. allies that a military strike against Syria is justified. He has sent Secretary of State John Kerry to Europe to secure international support for a limited air strike in response to Syria's alleged chemical weapons attacks and Kerry met with European Union leaders in Lithuania today.

After wards, E.U. ministers insisted there is strong evidence the Syrian regime used chemical weapons. They said quote, "A clear and strong response is clear to make clear that such crimes are unacceptable and that there can be no impunity," end quote. But they stopped short of supporting U.S. military action.

Back at home, President Obama is working the phones, trying to convince Congress to authorize use of force in Syria and he's also preparing to deliver a major speech to the nation Tuesday night.

Brian Todd joins us live now from Washington. So Brian, this is very much a working weekend for the president. He'll be making his case to members of Congress who are on the fence, but what is the strategy?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, this weekend, the president, very likely tapping into every ounce of his political skill, he is having his top national security team do this as well. Working the phones, angling in, trying to get as many members of Congress as they can to support a strike on Syria. It's a case he's been making for the past week with mixed success.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets.

TODD (voice-over): But not right away. The president would first ask Congress. The next day, Sunday, the administration begins to make its case, that Syria's regime launched a poison gas attack killing 1,400 victims and that it's in America's interest to respond. On Monday, the president makes his pitch to Senator John McCain, the he fought for the White House in 2008. McCain sounds supportive.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We have to bring Bashar Al-Assad down.

TODD: Then on Tuesday at a White House meeting, the president presses top lawmakers to endorse a strike. House leaders say yes.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We're not going to tolerate this type of behavior.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D) HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: He crossed the line with using chemical weapons.

TODD: But when administration officials face a Senate panel, there is a mixture of support and skepticism.

SENATOR RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I don't know we can say that by attacking him he is not going to launch another chemical attack.

TODD: By Wednesday, the first test vote in a Senate panel, 10 senators support a strike on Syria, and seven oppose it. In the House the president's team faces another day of questioning by lawmakers.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: People shouldn't be allowed to gas their citizens with impunity.

REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: There should be no American boots on the ground in Syria.

TODD: The president heads overseas taking his case abroad.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line.

TODD: Thursday, the president arrives in Russia to press foreign leaders at the G-20 Summit, but the U.K., China and Russia oppose military intervention. Back home, polls are now showing initial public opinion leaning against a military strike and some lawmakers are getting an earful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you not listening to the people and staying out of Syria. It's not our fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to stop Bashar Al-Assad at any price.

TODD: On Friday after the summit, the president says he is ready to strike Syria with or without an international consensus.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The 1,400 people were gassed and if we are not acting, what does that say? TODD: But he declines to say what he will do if Congress voted no.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the week started off very well for the president with support from the congressional leadership and the House leadership in both parties, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, but as it has gone on, it's really underscored the challenge that he faces.


TODD: And the challenges are no better illustrated than with the numbers in Congress, regarding a resolution authorizing the use of force against Syria. In the Senate, a deceiving lead in favor of the president, 25 senators say they will vote yes and we have an updated to the numbers we're showing you here, 20 senators now say they are going to vote no. We just updated that graphic for you. So 25, yes, 20 no, but there are 55 undecided senators, so the White House has its work cut out there.

But in the House, this is a much more difficult battle, 24 House members say they will support the president, but 119 are opposed to a strike, 270 are undecided, 20 unknown and you've got House Democratic Leaders Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer indicating they will have a very difficult time convincing the vast majority of their rank and file to support this -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Brian Todd, thanks so much in Washington.

So, the president doesn't have to look very far. You see how many Americans feel about his plan on Syria. Protesters opposed to a military strike are gathering right now outside the White House and our Emily Schmidt is there. So Emily, what are the demonstrators telling you as they gather?

EMILY SCHMIDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, they just began demonstrating here about half an hour ago. Their message boils down to four words, no war in Syria. And they have brought that message as close to President Obama as they can because you see them picketing right in front of the White House. It isn't the first time they've been here. In fact, this same group was here last week, but today, there's going to be a little bit of a difference because after they talk in front of the White House, they are going to march to Capitol Hill.

The difference being of course, at this time last week, they didn't know that President Obama was going to be asking Congress to weigh in on this decision in Syria. Some of the people who have gathered here are President Obama's supporters, like Margaret Morales, who came here from Pennsylvania, a university professor. Why are you here today?

MARGARET MORALES, OPPOSES MILITARY ACTION IN SYRIA: Because I felt like I had to have my presence here. It's like a protest for me. This is a peace march, but I want my congressmen and John Kerry and President Obama to understand that the people don't go want war and if John Kerry said who's going to be the last man to die in Vietnam and now, you watch him on CNN or any of the news channels, he's arrogant. When he was trying to convince those senators that they should vote for this, it's like he didn't want to hear the other answer.

SCHMIDT: Margaret, you're going from the White House to Capitol Hill. Do you think that there is still room in Congress for them to hear your --

MORALES: I hope so. I hope Bill Shuster, my congressman, realizes that people are against this. I don't know anybody who really is for the bombing. Not one.

SCHMIDT: Margaret, thank you so much for joining us. Fredricka, this group will be going to Capitol Hill. They'll be spending a couple of hours here and if President Obama returned from the G20 Summit thinking about people that he was trying to convince overseas, all he has to do is look out his front door and see some of the people he still has to convince here in Washington -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Emily, thanks so much. Keep us up to date. So, as Congress makes up its mind on whether to take military action against Syria, antiwar groups are getting ready to stage protests in New York, in Times Square. Our Rosa Flores is joining us now live from New York with more on that -- Rosa.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, hundreds if not thousands of protesters are expected here in Times Square in about 45 minutes. But the organization that is organizing this tells me it's the International Action Center tells me that this is happening in dozens of cities around the country and that they're getting responses from thousands of organizations asking them to join in and of course, Syria is the topic of conversation all around here.

A man from South Dakota has been so nice to talk to us today and of course, the conversation is Syria. Everybody's talking about what's going to happen. What is your take on U.S. involvement in Syria?

NICK NEMEC: Well, I trust the administration and the intelligence. I don't think believe the hyped up conspiracy theories. There wasn't a chemical attack, but I'm leery of putting boots on the ground in Syria just because of potential for American casualties.

FLORES: I know there's been a lot of talk about that intelligence. You trust that intelligence and you're comfortable with what we've been hearing and you're saying you trust it, your biggest concern at this point?

NEMEC: My biggest concern is if we were to put soldiers on the ground in Syria, that there would be American casualties and I'd hate to see American casualties and I'd hate to see the United States get bogged down in another Middle East quagmire.

FLORES: All right, well, thank you so much, Nick, for joining us. We appreciate your take on it. Again, hundreds, if not thousands of protesters, Fredricka, are expected here in Times Square in about 45 minutes and we will, of course, stay here and bring you the latest as it becomes available -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Rosa Flores, thanks so much for that in New York, Times Square. So, later, we're going to be talking about a man who confesses to the world that he killed someone while driving drunk. Find out why he did that.

And next, what will it take for President Obama to get international support for a strike on Syria? Former Defense Secretary William Cohen joins me next.


WHITFIELD: President Obama is going to take his case for military strikes on Syria directly to the American people. The president will deliver a nationwide address on Tuesday, but he has to still convince Congress that it's the right move. The White House is under a whole lot of pressure right now, and my next guest know what is that's like.

William Cohen was secretary of defense from 1997 to 2001. He is now the chairman and CEO of the Cohen Group, an international consulting firm that represents defense contractors and others. Mr. Secretary, good to see you.


WHITFIELD: So, if this is indeed a world problem as you hear, a number of lawmakers, particularly those on fence put it, and it is something that the world should be responding to. Is it your view that the U.N. still has an opportunity to respond to the problem in Syria?

COHEN: I think the U.N. has an obligation to respond to it. That's one of the reasons why I recommend that President Obama take the evidence that we have, if it's so clear and convincing as Secretary Kerry and others have said, lay it out before the Security Council. If then President Putin says no, yet, we at least showed that he's never going to be supportive of taking action, even when international laws are violated. But at least he'll be isolated and seen as a man and a country that represents suppressing civilians with gas and other chemical weapons. So I think it's important that the president go to the U.N.

Secondly, I think the president and his state of the union address so to speak or speaking from the oval office, he has to persuade the members of Congress. He's talking about an action not like what's happened in Iraq or Afghanistan, but what we were able to do with President Clinton and going after Saddam on a four-day attack called "Desert Fox," which was very successful. No lives were lost, no boots on the ground.

Also in Kosovo, a 78-day campaign, much longer with a much bigger mission, no personnel lost. These are the kinds of arguments he has to make to say a limited action can take place with limited casualties and no casualties on the part of the U.S., but there is a risk that whenever you initiate a military action, that innocent people will die.

WHITFIELD: But hasn't the president done that? You mentioned the president has to convince the American people it's not like Iraq, not like Afghanistan. He said that. No boots on the ground. He said that. But it seems like those words are not enough, so what more needs to enhance that, you know, layout of the plan?

COHEN: Assuming the evidence is there. The president has to make the case of saying having drawn this red line and failing to enforce it now that has been breached, the credibility of the United States is certainly going to be diminished, not only in that region, but globally.

Secondly, it's not only about Syria. It's about Iran. Iran, we have also drawn red lines in terms of whether the Iranian cross that line and build nuclear weapons capability. The Israelis are watching very closely because they have been depending upon us to enforce those red lines should they be crossed.

In the event that the United States fails to take action in the face of overwhelming evidence that Assad has used chemical weapons, the Israelis will never trust us. They will feel compelled to go it alone and we've seen from history, when they're faced with a threat, they will go it alone so that is another issue we have to contend with.

And finally, in the Asia-Pacific region, the countries in that part of the world are looking at the United States in terms of what role do we intend to continue to play to secure their security interests as well as our own.

WHITFIELD: And if, Mr. Secretary, the United States were to go it alone, it doesn't give the U.N. backing, et cetera. You heard from Senator John McCain and even Lindsey Graham who were saying they want more than a limited strike. What does that mean in your view?

COHEN: Well, they want more support for the rebel groups that we're currently supporting. In other words, they don't want just a pinprick or what the president described as a shot across the bow. That's not going to be sufficient to hold their support so they want --

WHITFIELD: Arming the rebels for example? Do you think that's a good idea?

COHEN: We are going to arm the rebels. As a matter of the fact, the president has promised us six months ago, a year ago, and has done nothing to do it, so I think that is part of agreement. That if he's going to have the support of Senator McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham and other, he's going to have to couple the limited strikes with additional support for the rebels that we're currently supporting.

WHITFIELD: OK, you mentioned arming the rebels. We have heard the administration say it was entertaining it, it hasn't happened and now, as we hear the administration talk about a strike. If this doesn't happen, what does this say about this administration who continues to say if you do this, then we'll do that, but it doesn't happen? What's at stake?

COHEN: What's at stake is the presidency itself. I think the president's not in a good position. This is more of a lose-lose proposition from his point of view because if he takes action and is seen as unsuccessful, he would be criticize. If he fails to take action, he'll be seen as weak and feckless. So this is not something that he's going to win politically on.

The real issue for President Obama is one of leadership. Is he as a leader of the free world taking action on behalf of international law, which has been in effect since the end of World War I? If he is unable or unwilling to do that, that will affect his future as the president of the United States and the legacy that he will leave for whoever succeeds him.

WHITFIELD: OK, we'll have to leave it there. Secretary William Cohen, always good to see you. Thanks very much.

COHEN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, he taped a confession for the internet. Coming up, we'll tell you why this man did that.

But first, it's challenging for some students to focus in school. Imagine doing it when everything is a blur. After breaking his glasses, in this week's 17-year-old CNN hero found himself in that position. Now, he wants to help others around the world who face the same obstacles.


YASH GUPTA, YOUNG WONDER: I was only 5 years old when I got my first pair of glasses. When I was a freshman in high school, I broke my glasses. I just couldn't see anything and so, I really realized just how much glass meant to me. Without them, I really couldn't do anything normally. I know there are millions of students around the world who need glasses but cannot afford them. I had this problem for one week. These kids have these problems for their whole lives. My name is Yash Gupta and I'm trying to help students around the world see better.

Perfect. There are millions of glasses discarded annually in North America alone, so why not put them to good use. When I was 14, I started reaching out to local optometrists 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.

We work with other organizations and they distribute the glass. The other way we distribute glasses is by going on clinic trips. We're in Mexico today and we'll be distributing these to kids in orphanages. It's a personal interaction and that's what I really love, being able to see the people. Watching someone get glasses for the first time, it's really inspiring.

To date, we've collected and distributed over $425,000 worth of glasses, equivalent to 8,500 pairs. I'm 17 years old and although many people believe kids can't make a difference. I have. I think anyone can to that. It's just about being motivated and going out there and just doing it.


WHITFIELD: A 61-year-old man was killed by a drunk driver going the wrong way on an interstate. The man allegedly responsible for that crash has not yet been charged, but that didn't stop the 22-year-old suspect from releasing a stunning confession on the internet. Jason Carroll has more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I killed a man.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It begins with a man concealed, speaking sobering words.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was trying to have a good time and I lost control.

CARROLL: Then his face and a chilling confession are revealed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Matthew Cordle. And on June 22nd, 2013, I hit and killed Vincent Kanzani. I will plead guilty and take full responsibility for everything I've done to Vincent and his family.

CARROLL: The video came as shock to Vincent Kanzani's family.

CORRIE OLCOTT, VICTIM'S DAUGHTER-IN-LAW (via telephone): It brings up a lot of emotion as far as, you know, Vince is gone. He'll never be back and this video just came as a reminder that, you know, and then this man's going to have to live with that for the rest of his life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I take a different route, maybe I would get a reduced sentence and maybe I could get off, but I won't dishonor Vincent's memory by lying about what happened.

RON O'BRIEN, FRANKLIN COUNTY PROSECUTOR: It is a compelling piece of evidence as well as I think a compelling statement by the offender.

CARROLL: Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien viewed the video several times. He said despite the conscientious confession, his office will consult with Kanzani's family and recommend a lengthy sentence.

O'BRIEN: Obviously it will be a prison sentence and I presume based on the facts apart from the video, we would probably be on the high end.

CARROLL: And what does the victim's family say about what sort of punishment is due?

OLCOTT: It's a tough question because he made a decision that took a man's life. I honestly can't answer that. I don't know how to feel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the prosecution, everything they need to put me away for a very long time. CARROLL: The person who Cordle first contacted about wanting to publicly confess was Alex Sheen. Sheen runs a web site called "Because I Said I would," a site where people make public commitments.

ALEX SHEEN, BECAUSEISAIDIWOULD.COM: I believe he should be treated fairly like everybody would in the legal system. I can say that he feels guilty. I know this much. The intent of this video is never to get him a lighter sentence.

CARROLL: Ultimately Sheen says Cordle's goal is to help stop others from drinking and driving.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your victims can still be saved. So, please --


CARROLL: The prosecution plans to charge Cordle with aggravated vehicular homicide as well as driving under the influence, which carries a maximum sentence of up to eight and a half years in prison and now that the prosecution has this confession in hand, they could present their case to the grand jury as early as next week.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jason Carroll, thanks so much.

Dennis Rodman is back from another trip to North Korea. We'll tell you what he said about working to free an American prisoner held there.


WHITFIELD: All right, bottom of the hour now. Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Here are five things crossing the CNN news desk right now. Number one, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Europe seeking international support for military action in Syria. Kerry met with European Union leaders in Lithuania today. Afterwards, E.U. ministers insisted there is strong evidence the Syrian regime used chemical weapons. They also called for a quote, "clear and strong response," but they stopped short of supporting a U.S. military strike.

Number two, former pro-basketball star Dennis Rodman has left North Korea. He arrived in Beijing today after spending five days in the communist state. He hasn't said much about the trip to visit Kim Jong-Un. There was some speculation he would help secure the release Kenneth Bay, an American being held in a North Korean prison, but Rodman left empty handed and told reporters it was not his job to discuss the U.S. prisoner.

Number three, Missouri police say two more men are seeking to press charges against a man who confessed that he may have exposed more than 300 men to HIV. David Magnum is already charged with exposing his former partner to the virus that causes AIDS. Magnum told police that he didn't tell his sexual partners about his status because of his, quote, "fear of rejection."

And number four, Colorado health officials say three deaths may have been caused by people smoking synthetic marijuana and 75 others may have gotten sick from using the fake pot. The cases are in the Denver metro area and Colorado Springs. The drug is a blend of plant and he herbal chemicals that have been sprayed with chemicals. The CDC is sending a team to now help investigate.

Within an instant, cheers turned the cries after a railing along the section of bleachers collapsed in Ohio. Our affiliate WCMH reports five were hurt at a high school football game outside of Columbus. The injuries were not serious, but reportedly, at least two teens did suffer some broken bones.

To strike Syria or not, Americans are debating it and the president is in the cross fire. Up next, two of the hosts of "CROSSFIRE," Van Jones and S.E. Cupp, debate Syria, live in the NEWSROOM, next.


WHITFIELD: All right, next week, all the action shifts from the White House to Capitol Hill when the House and Senate reconvene. Will the president get the votes he needs to get the OK from Congress to strike Syria? Let's talk about it with two heavy hitters in Washington, CNN'S "CROSSFIRE" hosts, Van Jones and S.E. Cupp. Good to see both you. "CROSSFIRE" premiering Monday night, can't wait to ask what you've got in stored.

But first, Van Jones, you worked for President Obama in his first term and S.E. Cupp, you're a conservative columnist for the "New York Daily News." Just want to reintroduce you to so many people out there. So overall, does this pass the House and Senate or not? Should it? Is it too little too late?

Van, let me ask you first, when you look at the preliminary numbers with 25 senators voting yes, 19 say no. In the House, 25 saying yes, 119 saying no, what does the president need to do to sell his idea?

VAN JONES, HOST, CNN'S "CROSSFIRE": Yes, well, first of all, I don't think it's going to pass. I don't think it should pass. I don't think we've done enough to exhaust diplomatic opportunities. I don't think we've built a global competition. I don't we've gone to the U.N. So I'm more of a dove on this, but I think the president has to make a decision. Right now, he's not hawkish enough for the hawks who want to go in and go in for real.

He's not dovish enough for the dove. So he's kind of sitting between the middle. He's kind of fallen between the cracks. Being a moderate in this is hurting him. If he wants us to engage, he's got to make a strong case for that and lay out a strategy to how we have this work out well for us and the Syrian people. He does not do that Tuesday night, everybody goes to the hawkish side and he's left by himself.

WHITFIELD: S.E., something tells me you're going to be in agreement here.

S.E. CUPP, HOST, CNN'S "CROSSFIRE": Well, yes, I definitely agree that the president has not effectively sold the case for Syria and it's too bad because everything we know now about Syria, we knew two years ago within the first week of the conflict. We knew President Bashar Al Assad had chemical weapons. We knew he was killing his own people. We knew he had pipelines to Hezbollah and Iran and we knew al Qaeda was circling the wagons, waiting to exploit the chaos, as they do.

So, there was time to gradually sell a case for Syria. What the president has to do now is stop confusing the international community and the American public and Congress by disowning red lines that he set. He needs to go out on Tuesday night and say this isn't my red line. It's the world's red line. He needs to say, you're damn, right, I've got a red line against a dictator gassing kids in the street and you're damn right I'm not going to allow another Rwanda on my watch. He needs to be passionate about this.

WHITFIELD: Just stating that, does it mean we need to hear and see from this president that if Congress is not on board, he needs to go about it any way.

CUPP: He's already said that. He's already said he doesn't need --

WHITFIELD: But saying and doing it are two different things.

CUPP: He's got to put his money where his mouth is and say, I want an international coalition. I want Congress to be on board. I want the American people to understand why I'm doing this, but I'm doing it without them.


JONES: S.E. and I disagree on a couple of things. First of all, I don't think you can say this president has abandoned the red line. He's going around the world trying to explain it, trying to build a coalition. I don't agree with him on it, but the other thing is that I don't think that he should go in the face of Congress. I think he is a courageous president. He has a will the of integrity to go to Congress and to engage the American people, but if Congress says no, I don't see how he then says, well, never mind, this was just a focus group. I think he was right to go to the American people.

CUPP: But that's leadership, Van. If he believes in this conflict, if he believes it's a matter of national security, in stabilizing the region, that's leadership.

JONES: But there are other things that can be done besides going in the face of Congress and starting a war that nobody wants. Part of the problem, this president never said you cross a red line and I go to war the next week. He said I change my calculation. There are so many other things we could be doing and we're not doing. We can't let dictators gas babies, but the idea we go to were tomorrow, we do nothing, that is the problem. The president should be, if Congress says no, he should be leading us to other solutions, building a big coalition.

WHITFIELD: All right, so guess what? This is the prelude to more to come. Van Jones, S.E. Cupp, "CROSSFIRE" getting under way along with Newt Gingrich and Stephanie Cutter Monday night, 6:30 Eastern Time. Keep it right here on CNN and of course, tune in to "CROSSFIRE" and see more of the cross fire. Thanks so much to both of you. Appreciate it. I know you're excited about it and we are, too.

Coming up, 145 million years old and its proportions are out of this world. We'll show you where to find the largest volcano ever discovered.


WHITFIELD: Now look at the top stories trending online, Australia has a new leader, Tony Abbott beat the incumbent Kevin Rudd. The official vote count is still out, but polls show Abbott should win by a large majority. Will the new prime minister support a military strike in Syria? Abbott has indicated that he would take a cautious approach to foreign conflict.

And instead of looking up, you'll have to dive down, way down, to see one of the largest volcanoes in the solar system firsthand. A team of scientists found it four miles underwater and say it's as big at New Mexico, 120,000 square miles. The researchers announced the discovery in the current issue of "Nature Geo Science."

And move over Miley Cyrus. This may be the worst twerking video of all times, viewed more than 4 million times on YouTube and you'll understand why. You're kidding. So, for the record, CNN has not verified this video. The woman posted that she is just fine. Just a little embarrassed.

Straight ahead, he led the American military during the Iraq war. Donald Rumsfeld weighs in on whether the U.S. should strike in Syria and much more.


WHITFIELD: Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been a strong critic of President Obama's approach to the crisis in Syria, and on CNN's "NEW DAY," Chris Cuomo asked Rumsfeld for a reaction to the president's statement that he didn't set a red line on Syria's use of chemical weapons, that the world set that red line.


DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, it's a stunning comment. It conjures up the thought of the uncertain trumpet, or the trumpet that provides an uncertain sound. It's exactly the reason there is not a large coalition wanting to support the president. It's the reason that the Congress is confused because he has spent so much time saying what he would not do and what it would not amount to that I think people are confused and the essence of leadership is clarity and providing a vision.

And he has not done that. And I think as a result, it's perfectly understandable that people in the Congress are getting arrange to oppose what he's proposing because they find that it's uncertain and lacks clarity. CHRIS CUOMO, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEW DAY": Don't you think a big obstacle, especially abroad, is the legacy of how we got involved in the Iraq war? The suspicion, that we had it wrong there, obviously and that we may be wrong again. Don't you think that's a big problem?

RUMSFELD: I suppose it's part of the problem. If intelligence were a fact, it would be called a fact and not intelligence and I think when Colin Powell went before the United Nations with George Tennent, the director of intelligence, talked about the intelligence they had in great detail and then it turned out that stockpiles were not found. That people were cautious and began to recognize that intelligence is intelligence and not necessarily a fact.

But I don't think that's what's going on here. I think what's going on here is almost any president in my adult life would have provided stronger leadership and greater clarity and as a result, generated broader support in the international community and in the country and in the Congress.

CUOMO: Is it fair criticism to put it all on the president when as you know, the United Kingdom and Russia, they talk about not that the intelligence was wrong going into Iraq, but manipulated and that there was politics and spin that make them suspicious of the U.S. motives when they say they have proof or is that just a fact?

RUMSFELD: I think not. I've not heard people say that responsibly. If you'll recall, the Congress looked at the same intelligence and came to the same conclusions and there were Democrats who supported it including very prominent Democrats who enthusiastically supported it. President Clinton signed a resolution supporting regime change in Iraq and the United Nations had 17 resolutions against Saddam Hussein, so I think that there may be people on the fringe who say the kind of thing you're saying, but I don't think anyone responsible has said anything like that.

CUOMO: So, just to be clear, you believe it's a fringe notion that the perception of how the U.S. handled intelligence getting into the Iraq war, you think that's a fringe notion, that there's suspicion, concern and we had it wrong for the wrong reasons? RUMSFELD: You don't listen carefully. I didn't say that. I said there are people on the fringe who say what you said, but I conceded the fact that that experience unquestionably has affected some people's judgment and attitude and impressions during this situation.

CUOMO: Good. Thank you for clarifying that. Appreciate it, Mr. Rumsfeld. Let's move on to something else. You know better than most the toll that military action can take on the country. We're still dealing with fallout in Iraq, right? We all know that.

Given that, do you think it is the better course right now to use military action in these circumstances or would you advise the administration to think about going heavier on arming the rebel, letting them fight for themselves, heavier on humanitarian aid and wait in this situation?

RUMSFELD: Well, it seemed to me that the time to have helped the rebels would have been a year or two before, before 100,000 people were killed and the effective it might have been greater. Where we are today, my personal view is what he has proposed is not something that will have a sufficient effect that it's worth doing and I would -- I would personally not be in favor of supporting what he's proposing.

CUOMO: And that's an interesting perspective in terms of what the effect will be. What about the notion of how do we get out, obviously, another part of the legacy of the Iraq war. We haven't heard a lot about how we get out of this situation. Do you have concerns that if the plan goes forward the way we're hearing it in the senate right now, that the U.S. may be too optimistic about how easy it will be to stop this type of action?

RUMSFELD: I don't know that I agree with that. I think that Dean Acheson said that all the easy decisions are made down below and the tough decisions are always reflect and represent uncertain outcomes and war is the use of military force is a terrible thing. It does result in uncertain outcomes.

You can't be certain because the enemy has a brain and adjusts and adapts and plans have to adjust with first contact with the enemy. You can't predict what's going to come. The question is, what's the right thing to do? And absent resolute leadership it seems to me, the right thing to do is to not get engaged.


WHITFIELD: All right, that interview on "NEW DAY." Rumsfeld left the Defense Department in 2006 in a cloud of criticism that he mismanaged the Iraq war.

Was Syria's Bashar Al-Assad born to be a dictator? We'll take a look at his family roots and it is very revealing.


WHITFIELD: Was Syrian leader, Bashar Al Assad, raised to create a dynasty? Those who study him say his father, Hafez Al-Assad, set him on the path of dictatorship from the time he was a young boy. Our Brian Todd traces the roots of the Syrian leader.


TODD (voice-over): Recognize the boy on the swing? It's Bashar Al- Assad. As he looked on, his father, many believed, envisioned a dynasty, but he likely wouldn't have imagined it taking the turn it has.

(on camera): Is this a dynasty and is it crumbling right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a mafia dynasty and it's definitely crumbling.

TODD (voice-over): Andrew Tabler and other experts say to understand what's happening in Syria now, it helps to know about the strange regime built by the current dictator's late father.

ANDREW TABLER, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: Hafez Al- Assad was the most Machiavellian, cut throat leader in a region full of brutal dictators.

TODD: From a poor background, Hafez Al-Assad rose through the ranks of the Syrian Air Force, but it was hardly that straight forward. The man thrived in the back rooms of Syrian Palace Entry, where according to most accounts, betraying friends, killing and banishing enemies put you on the fast track.

(on camera): In Syria, there were more than 20 successful and unsuccessful coups between 1949 and 1970 when Hafez Al-Assad took power. He himself was involved in three of them through the '70s, '80s and '90s, he played the Middle East power game like a fiddle, fighting and negotiating peace with Israel, while keeping America from being a full pledged enemy.

(voice-over): That was the contradiction. Hafez Al-Assad stayed in power by torturing and killing his enemies from within, by making friends with terrorist groups like Hezbollah, but in 1991 and '91 when President George Bush needed to build a coalition against Saddam Hussein, look who was on his side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bush even met with Syria's President Assad despite the fact that the U.S. still considers Syria a haven for terrorists.

TODD: How did the dynasty unravel after Hafez Al-Assad's death in 2000? Analysts say it was partly because the Assads ruled so brutally as a minority part of the Alowhite Muslim sect over majority Sunnis who presented them. And Bashar Al Assad's had other difficulties changing the old ways of his father.

TABLER: Hafez Al-Assad stabilized Syria through a closed system. People couldn't travel or communicate very well. International news was very limited. When Bashar came into power, he lifted the restrictions on travel, allowed people to read international newspapers and internet and it opened Syrian's minds, but how do you control this system and basically perpetuate authoritarian and tyrannical rule.

TODD: Bashar Al-Assad was apparently warned he couldn't do that. Analysts say when he brought the internet into Syria, it was against the advice of the security staff. They told him it would be dangerous, they'd have trouble controlling it. They were right. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.