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AC 360 LATER

President Obama Addresses the Nation; Did President's Syria Speech Make an Impact?

Aired September 10, 2013 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey. Welcome to "AC360."

Good evening, everyone, "AC360 Later."

Tonight: what some are calling the most important speech of his presidency. After taking heat from both sides of the aisle, President Obama making the case for a military strike on Syria, promising it would neither be too big nor too small, but also crucially signaling his willingness to consider a Russian proposal for a diplomatic way out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over the last few days we've seen some encouraging signs, in part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action, as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin.

The Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons.

The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons and even said they'd join the chemical weapons convention, which prohibits their use.

It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments. But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad's strongest allies.

I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path. I'm sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin. I have spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies, France and the United Kingdom. And we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, that's obviously a big shift from the all-out push for military action we thought as recently a day-and-a-half ago that we'd be hearing about tonight. That was before Secretary of State Kerry made his remarks about Syria handing over its chemical arsenal, before Russia said good idea and put forth its plan, before Syria seemed to say OK.

Then today, everyone started scrambling to figure out the parameters of a deal, how to implement it, verify it, whether to trust Syria and Russia, you name it.

Tonight, like every night, it's all on the table.

And at the table tonight, chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, Andrew Sullivan, founding editor of The Dish, also "TIME" magazine editor at large Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS."

And, later, in our fight chair tonight, one of the sharpest minds in foreign policy, Anne-Marie Slaughter.

Let me start. Andrew, what did you think of the speech?

ANDREW SULLIVAN, ANDREWSULLIVAN.COM: I thought it was terrific. I was moved by it. I was persuaded by it. I think it put the chronology in the right order.

If we'd been told this spring watching Assad do these little chemical weapons and the gassiness there, that by this fall because of American action the Russians would be enforcing both the fact that Syria has declared it has chemical weapons and that Syria is actually prepared to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, and that the Russia is prepared to take the responsibility along with other members of the Security Council to enforce it, we would think it was a miracle.

COOPER: Do you believe Russia?

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: Yes. And here's one reason I believe Russia. They have reason to be scared of those chemical weapons, too, because the one thing those rebels hate in that country is Russia at this point.

Next on the line after if they were to gain power and some extremist elements were to be in control of it, after the Alawites and the Christians, it would be the Russians who would next be the target of these weapons. Putin gets to both take the credit and also control these weapons and ultimately destroy them. I don't mind if it takes months or even years.

At this point, is Assad going to use those weapons again with Russia and Iran now looking at him, expecting him to abide by this? I don't think so.

COOPER: Christiane, what do you think?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that is true to a large extent. It's an amazing thing what's happened.

I do believe very strongly it's because finally diplomacy was enacted with threat, the credible threat of force behind it. And having talked to many, many people today, they believe that President Obama during the G20 made it very clear to President Putin that this time he was serious and there were going to be military consequences as limited and targeted as he describes. But nonetheless, the threat of force worked.

Think how it may have been had this threat of force been used along with diplomacy many, many months and years ago in this civil war. I also think that knowing the way that it's being programmed all over the world, the speech, it was being viewed in Syria, they immediately put up a big banner. Their headline in Syria was that Obama postpones the vote while he seeks a diplomatic solution. They never said that he's keeping his military in posture, that they're ready to strike if he gives the order.

I think that that's interesting as well. I think that what Andrew said, it's going to be very, very interesting to see whether this is something that can be verified, whether -- I know we're going talk to David Kay -- whether inspectors can go in, in the middle of a civil war, and whether the Russians are really going to police this in a neutral way or are they going to be the continued apologists for Bashar al-Assad.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Do you think the president needed to go ahead and make the speech tonight? This was clearly a speech scheduled before when military action seemed to be imminent.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think he wanted to make it, because clearly he needed to shore up his position, that is the position that this was serious, this was a threat to international security, this was a threat to American security.

I think at the end of the day, though, it has made his case much more difficult. And even though he made a very eloquent and intelligent speech as he often does, I think it would be difficult for me to believe that three or four weeks from now if we are haggling with the Russians over the wording of a U.N. resolution and the Russians say we don't want this phrase because it might imply the threat of force and the United States says, no, no, no, we must have that phrase because that is precisely what gives teeth to this resolution and those talks collapse, the president can go to the world and the American people and say, let's go and use force.

COOPER: You're saying he cannot?

ZAKARIA: I think it would be tough, because, what, the Russians didn't agree to your particular wording? There is now the possibility of a diplomatic path.

As Andrew says, it may be it will take weeks and months, and I think it will be quite difficult, because imagine -- remember the Iraq inspections, UNSCOM. Those guys were going in there. It was incredibly...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: We will talk to David Kay.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: They didn't have -- the country was not at civil war.

COOPER: Right.

ZAKARIA: Right. So all I'm saying is two or three weeks from now can you say, remember that case I was making for war? Let's come back to that.

COOPER: You don't believe that, though, Andrew?

SULLIVAN: No. I think if that were to happen and this initiative were to stall or falter, if there was exactly the scenario you put forward, the president would come and say, I tried everything. We tried diplomacy. We didn't rush to war. That's the context.

He doesn't want to go to war. If you can achieve your goal without going to war, great. But I think you were right, Christiane, and I was a little wrong earlier this year. I think the threat of military action did scramble everything.

COOPER: You were opposed to military action for a long time, up until, what, like a week ago?

SULLIVAN: I still am, basically, except Obama has persuaded me that this is such a horrifying thing.

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: I think that was a moving part of his speech tonight actually was his description of the children, the writhing. He talked about the scenes that we have seen in graphic detail.

I think that was really, really important. As one who's actually covered the genocide in Bosnia, in Rwanda, who's been to Iraq during the whole chemical weapons fiasco in the '90s, who's watched the U.S. deploy limited strikes, and again we could talk to David Kay about the success of those, it is really important to remember that this is a major moral issue, not to mention a major issue of American leadership and credibility around the world. And I think he made that pretty clear.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I want to stick on the politics, because I want to talk to Dana Bash in just a second.

But there was something he said talking to people on the left, talking to people on the right. Let's just play that part of the speech. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: To my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America's military might with a failure to act when a cause is so plainly just.

To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor, for sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.

Indeed, I would ask every member of Congress, and those of you watching at home tonight, to view those videos of the attack, and then ask: What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas and we choose to look the other way?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: A lot of the Twitter response from conservatives I follow on Twitter was this is a speech that is not going to change anybody's mind.

I want to bring in our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, who is on Capitol Hill.

What are you hearing from representatives on Capitol Hill?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So far, sources in both parties are saying basically what you just said, that they don't think that ultimately this is going to change or at least initially this will change people's minds.

One interesting thing I was just told is that in the lunch that happened today with Democratic senators and the president, some Democratic senators were trying to get the president to actually play some of that video which he just described which we have seen on CNN and, of course, the government has put it out sort of officially now to try to make that point.

And he, of course, said this is a prime-time address. It's not for kids. But the moral point that he tried to hit home was definitely the one I think that people were most happy about who support the idea of being more robust with Syria.

ZAKARIA: Anderson, I think that while it may be true initially that people are not -- don't change their minds, because the moral case I think is one Americans understand. They feel Assad is a terrible person. What is happening is gruesome and barbaric.

But of course he's killed people in an equally gruesome manner with conventional weapons.

(CROSSTALK) ZAKARIA: What I think changed, what was very persuasive to me as somebody who's been cautious about getting engaged in a very complicated civil war, was the president's very disciplined way in which he said, this is not going to be Iraq, it's not going to be Afghanistan, it's not even going to be Libya.

In other words, this is going to be a very limited, curtailed strike that is meant to deter Assad from ever using these weapons again, because it would be a sign that he would invoke the wrath of the United States and strikes from the United States. So he was very clear about saying, we're not going to get involved in this war. We're not going to escalate. This is not open-ended. That would be I think quite unsatisfying...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Does anybody ever go into a war saying this is going to be a quagmire?

AMANPOUR: But, Anderson, I know you keep saying that. But there is precedent for these limited strikes.

And as the president said -- and it's true because we have seen it before, we have seen it in Iraq -- that even a limited targeted strike by the mightiest military in the world will have disproportionate effects and consequences on a, I'm sorry, tin pot dictated in Syria.

ZAKARIA: Which is why he's so concerned about...

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: Correct.

I would like to ask Dana something, because I interviewed congressman Van Hollen today about this whole idea of a vote. I asked him, do you think there will be a vote? Now we see the president has actually postponed a vote. But he said he was putting forth a resolution that would have a 30-day grace period to allow the president's diplomacy to work and then after that to presumably get the power or the backing from Congress.

I mean, at this point is there any hope that the president would win a vote?

BASH: Win a vote on something like that is much more of a possibility than what he initially asked Congress for which is just a plain old authorization for force.

That simply wasn't going to happen. And that is -- let's be honest here, that is the big reason why the president came to Congress here today and I'm told even in the Republican lunch that he attended with Republican senators, he asked them to -- quote -- "press the pause button," because he doesn't want to have an embarrassment because not just politically it would be bad for him, but what you all are talking about. The whole idea of diplomacy would be undermined he thinks if there wasn't a credible threat of force. Yes, that's the potential in the House, Christiane. There's also something that is similar the will move in the Senate. I was just talk to Senator Bob Menendez, who is sort of heading this up.

And he says they are working on it slowly, but they are also kind of waiting to see what happens with John Kerry and Lavrov to see if this moves internationally.

AMANPOUR: I really wonder if the folks on Capitol Hill can figure out that it is actually the threat of force which has brought the possibility of a diplomatic solution and whether, as Frederic Hof, a former Obama administration official, told me today, if in their wisdom Congress removes from the president this ability to keep this threat up, then this diplomatic initiative will be gone with the wind in his words.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: They don't have to do anything. They're just postponing the vote.

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: That's what I want to know, whether that is making any impression up there.

BASH: It absolutely is.

And I think that even people who are against this, Christiane, this idea of military force, are admitting that the only reason why the Russians are even in discussions is because of the threat of force.

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: You don't believe, gentlemen, that if this threat of force was removed from the table that Assad and the Russians would simply fritter away and this would be gone with the wind? Are you kidding me?

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: There's no point in having Congress vote now. They're postponing the vote.

(CROSSTALK)

So what's the point of having the vote now?

AMANPOUR: No, I'm not saying now. Would they have a vote?

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: The threat of a military strike has already done its work.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: What do you mean that it's already done its work?

SULLIVAN: It has created this opening. The Russians would not have blinked if he hadn't threatened the force.

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: It has to stay on the table, Andrew.

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: They have already made such huge concessions. I want to make one other point about Congress here and Obama's leadership and his style. He has come out and said, this is what I think. What he normally does is say, what do you think? What do you think? He's allowed Russian yes, France, Britain, even places like Germany to contribute to this debate and he's allowed the Congress finally to exert their right to debate this with deliberation and wisdom. And that's...

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: ... to a constitutional democracy.

COOPER: We will talk about this more when we come back, more with Fareed and Andrew and Christiane.

We have also got Anne-Marie Slaughter coming in and we also have the results of an instant poll on the speech coming up shortly. Throughout the hour, we're looking at all the angles and all the implications of what President Obama said tonight.

Next, I want to start drilling down deeper into the practicalities of what some are calling the practical -- the impossibility of implementing a deal with the Assad regime and ultimately disarming its chemical arsenal. We will talk about that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're back with the panel talking about the president's decision to explore Russia's diplomatic lifeline out of the showdown with Syria and whether it really is a lifeline or a delaying tactic. Can we trust the Russians, not to mention the Syrians? Does that even matter? That and how to make the whole thing work.

Joining us now in the fifth chair, Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the New America Foundation and former U.S. State Department director of policy planning.

Who do you think of what you heard tonight? Did he make the case? ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, PRESIDENT, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: I thought he made a very good case. I really did. I thought he was very measured and he went point by point.

COOPER: You supported military action all along.

SLAUGHTER: I did. I did.

But he really engaged the American people. I thought it was very effective to say people have written to me and this is what they have said. I'm listening and I'm engaging. I also think he made a point tonight that I have not heard him make that was very important. He started with World War I and he reminded everybody that our soldiers have died from poison gas. Then, of course, he mentioned the Holocaust.

But then he made the point that if Assad is not stopped, he will use chemical weapons more, other dictators will feel free to do that, and our soldiers are more likely to come under gas again. And remember in the first Iraq war, we thought that we were going to face chemical weapons. So he closed the loop about how it directly affects American security.

COOPER: Let's talk about the reality, the logistics of actually doing this, securing these weapon sites, ultimately destroying them. I want to bring some experts to the table, David Kay, former chief U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq and now a CNN analyst. He also serves on the State Department's International Security Advisory Board.

David, thank you so much for being with us.

Just walk us through how large an operation this would have to be and the kind of a timetable realistically that we're talking about. We're talking you -- you and I talked in the 8:00 hour. You said between 500 and 1,000 inspectors. That has nothing to do with even main maintaining their security, correct?

DAVID KAY, CNN ANALYST: Right.

Look, the first thing to do is to have, what are the rights of the inspectors. You have to have freedom of movement, freedom to have your own communications, to bring your own equipment, the obligation of the government to provide security and protection. Then you get on-site.

Inspectors of chemical weapons have to come with protective gear. You're entering environments in which chemical weapons may actually be leaking, may be quite hazardous. You're bringing all of that equipment in. You're coming over a very long and insecure lifeline.

Right now it has to run in from Beirut, Lebanon, by land. So you're bringing all that equipment in. You have got to know where they are. Then you have got to go verify that the statements by the Syrian regime as to where the chemical arms are, and in fact what type of chemical weapons is in each location is accurate and true. And you have got to provide some means of maintaining security of those sites after you survey them to be sure that they don't disappear the moment you leave. So you're providing -- you have got to provide 24/7 monitoring of every site that has chemical weapons and possibly the means of delivery of chemical weapons since they are so closely associated. That is a huge task.

AMANPOUR: David Kay, it's Christiane Amanpour. You obviously did this for years during Iraq. Is it even possible to do this in a state where there is a civil war, a hot war going on?

KAY: Well, look, all I can say is it's never been done in a state of this size that had in a civil war. I hate to say it's impossible actually because people told me it was impossible what we were going to do in 1991. And I think we did a reasonably credible job of doing it.

So I don't want to say no one can do it. It is a very, very tough job. It should not be underestimated either as to the expense, the extent, or the time it's going to take. And, quite frankly, what really worries me is the time that it's going to take to see if the Syrians are really truthfully cooperating. This could be a long rope game.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: David, don't you think that's the most difficult piece of this, whether the Russians and the Syrians will create so many roadblocks and obstacles in the negotiation? Because you could imagine a scenario on the ground that works, because after all, the danger is that, what, there's a civil war so the rebels would somehow attack the inspectors.

But the rebels have no interest in doing that because the inspectors are there to destroy chemical weapons that would be used against the rebels. So that piece of it strikes me as potentially doable.

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: Just getting into where the war is happening.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAKARIA: Won't the Syrians hide stuff? Won't they be unwilling to allow you the kind of free rein across the whole territory and landscape that you had in Iraq?

KAY: You never know until you test it. You have got to test and continue to test.

And really, quite frankly, I can tell you what the real difficulty is going to be, and inspectors know this because everyone has had the same experience. Policy-makers who are committed to the policy and the achievement of a policy don't want to hear that the other side is violating it, because it can mean they were played by in this case the Russians and the Syrians.

So you have got the worry that you have got to actually prove that these are real difficulties, not just something that's an operational difficulty, but a difficulty the Syrians are imposing on you. That's really tough. I had a great deal of trouble in the early days in Iraq of convincing my senior officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency that the Iraqis were really obstructing us. It wasn't that we were just undiplomatic.

COOPER: It's interesting that they don't want to hear that.

SULLIVAN: My point is that there is a difference between cases where the government is denying it has such things and you go in to prove it doesn't have any and when the government says, yes, we have it and we want to get rid of it.

That's a very different paradigm for this kind of operation. That's what you think about with something like Libya, where the government itself says, we renounce these and we want you to get rid of them and we got rid of them. That opens the door.

If the government is not serious about it, then you will find out relatively quickly if that cooperation is not there. We're sitting there with a huge military force. We could always act. And we will act with more authority and legitimacy.

COOPER: So you don't Fareed when he's saying that it's actually harder to act militarily when it's a procedural thing?

SULLIVAN: No, I think it's easier, because...

(CROSSTALK)

SLAUGHTER: I think it's easier because I think you have to structure the deal right. The deal has to have some good faith gestures right up front where he actually turns stuff over and there has to be like a 30-day timeline minimum.

COOPER: Thirty-day timeline for what, for turning...

SLAUGHTER: For really reaching a deal that is then enforceable.

COOPER: David Kay, does that make sense logistically?

(CROSSTALK)

KAY: I think reaching a deal in 30 days I think ought to be the minimum, but testing the deal.

We simply don't have enough qualified inspectors to really -- you can test with probably the number we have. And we haven't even discussed the issue of, who are the inspectors? Are the Syrians going to accept Americans and French and Brits and Germans and Russians as the inspectors? Are they going to want this nonexistent neutral inspection capability? ZAKARIA: At the heart of this, David, don't you think, leaving aside some of the logistics, what are the Russians' intentions here? As Andrew was saying, you can make the case that this is a win/win for Putin. Assad stays in power. He has to provide access. He's the conduit for all this.

And the weapons get taken away. And the Russians have always worried that these weapons could fall in the hands of jihadist Sunni militias, which would then use them Chechnya, Dagestan, in Russia. Remember, this is the part of the world where the Tsarnaev brothers come from.

If the Russians are really serious that they would like to see Syria free of these chemical weapons because that removes the possibility of some kind of spillover, then they might actually cooperate. And they can press the Syrians and they can say you have got to get real inspectors. But I don't know if the Russians are serious.

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: Will the Syrians use -- will Assad use these weapons while this is going on? If not, we have already achieved a huge amount.

We have basically stopped these weapons being used, which is the most important thing. And we have established the possibility of getting them destroyed.

SLAUGHTER: And you have to recognize, if they're gone, Assad is weaker, right? Assad uses these when his back is against the wall, right? He couldn't get these people out of these suburbs.

COOPER: Does he appear be weaker if he allows in all these inspectors?

SLAUGHTER: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: You think that's a blow to his regime?

SLAUGHTER: I think it's weaker. I think we're actually negotiating. I think there probably has to be some kind of cease-fire to make this work at least in some places.

AMANPOUR: That presupposes that the...

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: ... rebels would agree to that.

Anne-Marie, can I ask you a question? We don't have a major skeptic at the table today. There was a very...

(CROSSTALK) COOPER: Well, Andrew used to be the skeptic.

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: Let me just clarify this. I am against an open-ended military campaign.

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: But I'm talking about the Russian diplomacy.

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: ... oppose the authorization of force.

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: I'm not talking about force.

SULLIVAN: What Obama explained tonight if it is limited and not pinpricks, but really limited to a few things, then I could just about live with that.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But isn't everybody skeptical?

AMANPOUR: Well, I don't know.

COOPER: About Russia and Syria?

AMANPOUR: Max Fisher in "The Washington Post" interviewed Michael Doran, the Middle East expert at Brookings.

And he is scathing. He has tweeted eight truths about how Obama and the administration has been played by the Russians. He says Assad will never under any condition truly relinquish his C.W. He says that Putin -- and this is something I want to ask you. If it's not true that Putin believed that the threat of force was going to be used and therefore came to this situation with Syria, do you believe this -- what Mike Doran is saying, that Putin, recognizing that Obama had boxed himself in provided him with an excuse to leave the battlefield with honor?

SLAUGHTER: No.

I have a very different interpretation, which is I don't think that actually Secretary Kerry necessarily meant to put this out there, but that once he did, I think the Syrians are so afraid of these strikes that they grabbed onto it, then Putin grabbed onto it.

And actually I don't necessarily believe the Russians have any intention of doing it. But that's where I think now Obama's in a stronger position than he was, because now if they don't do it, then Congress has to authorize the use of force, because then you're saying to Congress, look, we're being played. You have to give me the authority to actually deliver on my word.

ZAKARIA: Anne-Marie, though, when we're doing this it seems to me if you have drawn this red line and you feel that it's going to be limited as Andrew says, why not just do it? Why not have presented Congress as he did with Libya as...

(CROSSTALK)

SLAUGHTER: He didn't do it with Libya. That's one reason he is doing it now.

ZAKARIA: My point is he didn't go to Congress. He presented them with a fait accompli. Just do the strikes the way that two presidents did it with Saddam Hussein. If you're talking about two days...

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: Because they live in the wake of George Bush is the answer.

And we cannot have the legitimacy or the power to do it. And we do not have the domestic support to do it. And a president that did that, just enacted strikes without the support of Congress, without any support in the world, would be truly feckless and reckless.

ZAKARIA: Congress approved both his wars.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: David Kay, it was great to have you on. Appreciate it. Thank you...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: You want to ask one more question?

All right, quick.

AMANPOUR: He's not going to stay around after the break?

COOPER: He can stay around.

David, can you stay for another few minutes after the break?

KAY: Oh, of course.

COOPER: All right, cool.

KAY: This is the most enjoyable thing I have done all day.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Good.

I'm being told we have just gotten the results of our instant poll on the speech tonight. CNN is the only place you will see them. We will bring that to you. John King is going to bring us that ahead. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. We're back with our panel, AC 360 LATER: Ann Marie Slaughter, Christiane Amanpour, Andrew Sullivan, Fareed Zakaria. John King is going to join us very shortly with the exclusive read-out on reaction -- our instant poll reaction to President Obama's Syria speech. We'll also talk to David Kay, former weapons inspector.

Christiane has a question she really wants to ask. Actually, John King, CNN commissioned an instant poll of Americans who watched the speech. What are the highlights?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The highlights are, Anderson, based on this poll, this speech was not a game changer for the president. He's not getting as much as he wanted from speaking directly to the American people. Let me give you some of the numbers to back that up.

We asked people -- remember this is a poll of only people who watched the speech. But we asked them: "Did the president make a convincing case in his speech tonight for U.S. military action in Syria?" Look at the numbers. Forty-seven percent say yes; 50 percent say no. So half of the American people say no.

SULLIVAN: Huge shift.

COOPER: John, everybody here is saying that's a huge shift.

SULLIVAN: Huge gain.

SLAUGHTER: He was down around 10 percent before.

KING: Let me -- let me continue here. Here we go. "Does the United States have a national interest in Syria?" That was one of the four key points the White House said the president wanted to move the ball on tonight. We asked these people before the president's speech, "Does the United States have an interest in Syria?" Yes, 30, no 65. Post speech, 39 percent, 60 percent. So he moved the numbers some, not dramatically, but he moved the numbers some.

And thirdly, this is an interesting one. And I'd like the perspective of your group here. "Will the situation in Syria be resolved through diplomatic efforts?" A combination 65 percent say likely, very likely or somewhat likely. I'm not sure if that reflects their confidence in this new diplomatic proposal or their opposition to military strikes.

So I know your group says that is a big difference. But again, the president -- did the president make a convincing case for military action? Forty-seven, fifty. The early indications we're getting from members of Congress are much the same. Still a lot more questions for the president. So... (CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: That's an incredibly successful speech. He wasn't -- Look, why does Washington always want there to be this major stand, a huge victory or huge defeat? These things take time. Arguments need to sink in. People need to take some facts into consideration. People have lives to live. They need to think about the stuff. This is a process. And Obama is beginning to make the...

COOPER: We always forget on TV that people who are not on TV actually have lives.

SULLIVAN: They have lives, other things to do.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: You have a life.

SULLIVAN: If a country like this is a 50-50 split on a war, are people motivated to watch this? That's an overwhelming shift. Now look, that doesn't mean they want this to actually happen. I think most Americans want diplomacy to work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think everybody does.

SULLIVAN: That's the key.

ZAKARIA: The one that -- the one that didn't move, and I think it's significant, was the one about is this in America's national interests?

SULLIVAN: It moved a bit.

ZAKARIA: It moved a bit.

SULLIVAN: About Syria, not about chemical weapons.

ZAKARIA: Right. But the problem I think that he faced is, and he faced it, and this was a tension in his speech, is he's trying to make the case that this is an absolute urgent necessity to do something. But what he's proposing is, what he keeps saying is a very limited military strike. Something that his secretary of state called unbelievably small.

And I think that tension, where you're trying to drum up a great deal of support, I think a lot of Americans look at it and say, yes, it's a terrible thing. Yes, chemical weapons are bad; Assad is bad. Is this in our national interests? Is this something that really Americans...

COOPER: Let me...

ZAKARIA: ... should Americans die for this?

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: No Americans are going to die for that, Fareed. Why is it we can't get off this straw man?

ZAKARIA: But that's the thing. But that's not...

AMANPOUR: There are no boots on the ground. Enough already with this.

ZAKARIA: That's my point, that he's trying to say it's in our core national security interests, but I'm only going to do two days of strikes.

AMANPOUR: But it will be enough. He said -- and he said, critically, that it will be enough. And this is what I want to ask David Kay, because Operation Desert Fox was a couple of days. I was there. I saw cruise missiles going by me, hitting their targets. And apparently, it worked.

SULLIVAN: And what we're talking about here is a very limited action, which people could be happy with, but they're not happy. And they shouldn't be happy. There is a disjunction between the elites here, who are all in their brains, and they're all about chemical weapons, interested in this, thinking about this, talking about this. And a regular person wakes up and says, "We're going to war again in the Middle East?" It's perfectly...

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: We're not going to war again in the Middle East.

SULLIVAN: And what Obama has done is try to explain.

AMANPOUR: Right.

SULLIVAN: And that's a process.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Let's listen to what the president said about explaining this. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Why should we get involved at all in a place that's so complicated and where, as one person wrote to me, those who come after Assad may be enemies of human rights?

It's true that some of Assad's opponents are extremists. But al- Qaeda will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death.

The majority of the Syrian people and the Syrian opposition we work with just want to live in peace with dignity and freedom. And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Christiane Amanpour wanted David Kay. He's back.

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, frankly, the president is right. Americans are smart. They're empathetic. They understand that we cannot allow the highest crimes under humanitarian law to be violated with impunity. I don't want to live in a world where some dictator, because we didn't hold the line, is able with impunity to use chemical weapons.

COOPER: But what -- but what they're saying is, why does America have to be the one doing it?

AMANPOUR: America is not going there to do it. America has to do it. I'll tell you right now why. Because it is the mightiest military in the world, and it stands on principle, and it stands for principles, and it is the principle of international humanitarian law, of morality, of all those things Americans stand for. And because it was America who helped...

ZAKARIA: It was the single biggest principle -- just one addition. The first principle of international law, as I understand it, is that you do not take military action except in self-defense, unless it is authorized by the U.N. Security Council.

So to -- the problems, Christiane, which a lot of people around the world have is not with the cause but the idea that the United States is prosecutor, judge, jury and hangman. And that is the problem. And I'm not saying this as somebody who is any...

AMANPOUR: No, no, no, no, no, no. We've argued this...

COOPER: Let him finish.

AMANPOUR: OK.

ZAKARIA: I'm not saying this with any -- with any skepticism about the case. I think Assad did use weapons. I think that he is a terrible person. But I don't...

AMANPOUR: And you think they are weapons that should not be used?

ZAKARIA: Of course. But I'm telling you that around the world -- I was talking to a Pakistani friend a couple of days ago. This is the issue for me. How is it that the United States, when everybody else says no, they say yes? There is a, to use John Kerry's phrase when he was running for president, there is a question can we put this to a global test? And right now that's the problem.

AMANPOUR: And I would say the global test, if you like, is being accepted by Iran who saw Iraq use chemical weapons against them and nobody did anything about it.

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: ... Iran and Russia...

COOPER: You are squandering your David Kay opportunity, by the way.

AMANPOUR: David Kay, I need to ask you this. Because many people pooh-pooh the idea, and I really am genuinely interested in your evaluation of an operation that I covered, Desert Fox in 1998 in Iraq, President Clinton, a couple of days of air and cruise missile strikes against Iraqi facilities.

Did that make a material difference in your judgment after the fact in Saddam's ability to manufacture Christiane Amanpour and biological?

KAY: I tell you, at the time of the strike I confess I was a skeptic. Blowing up empty buildings in the middle of the night didn't strike me as terribly effective.

I tell you, when I got in 2003, and we carried out a vast range of interviews with senior officials -- I interviewed Tariq Aziz personally, because I'd known him for over 10 years. Their claim was that it fundamentally shook Saddam's confidence. Because those strikes were against the Irani -- the Iraqi Revolutionary Guard, the secret police headquarters, the major supporters of his regime.

And what he cared most about was survival. And he saw those institutions of coercion that he used to control the society and his own military being threatened. He said, "Ah," and he did draw back at that point.

COOPER: So to you, it did work?

AMANPOUR: Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case. Mr. Kay, thank you very much indeed.

SLAUGHTER: That's an incredibly important point.

AMANPOUR: Incredibly important point. And the president also said, and this is very important, as well, that he did not believe it was not in his or his administration or his military's judgment that there would be retaliation. And in fact, he even said, that a retaliation by Assad would lead to his demise.

SLAUGHTER: No one's pointed out that the Israelis have had four separate strikes without retaliation.

AMANPOUR: Yes. With a lot less noise than this.

SLAUGHTER: I think -- I think he was on strong ground there. But that's a very important point. We've done this before, and it has had a deterrent effect.

SULLIVAN: The key thing is separating out preventing the chemical weapons from being used or being lost; and affecting the entire Syrian civil war. That's what the American people want the distinction to hold. They are happy, and I think would be prepared and we see from this speech, interested in listening to the case for tackling the chemical weapons.

But look, if the whole country went up -- up in flames, we'd have to go in any way to secure those weapons. So we have a headache, anyway.

COOPER: Let's take a quick break. David Kay, thank you again for sticking around. Appreciate it.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.

COOPER: Next up, reaction from a man who has seen and suffered the reality of the Syrian regime's war on the Syrian people, a man who's been imprisoned by the regime more than once, a voice of truth in Syria. We'll talk to him ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We are back with the panel on AC 360 LATER.

One thing we don't want to get lost in all this is the reality that the Syrian people are facing and have been facing for more than two years. More than 100,000 killed, millions of refugees and internally displaced people. Most recent, the obscenity of the chemical attack. Here's what President Obama said about it tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21, when Assad's government gassed to death over 1,000 people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening. Men, women, children lying in rows killed by poison gas, others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath. A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk.

On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off-limits, a crime against humanity, and a violation of the laws of war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I want to bring in a Syrian activist, Zaidoun al-Zoabi, who for years was our voice from inside Syria on AC 360, risking his life to talk about what was happening in the country. He's been detained at least twice.

Zaidoun, thank you very much for joining us. Do you believe the Syrian regime, a regime which has lied repeatedly, which had said that there would be a peace deal with Kofi Annan, a regime which has said that there would be referendums and had said that there would be open protests allowed and has repeatedly lied over the last two years, do you believe that they would be actually willing to give up chemical weapons?

ZAIDOUN ZOABI, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: Not at all. They are just playing with time. They are just buying time. This is a regime that, if it says "Good morning," believe me, it is evening. It has been lying even over the weather news. It cannot be true by any means; no way.

COOPER: So what do you think they're doing?

ZOABI: It is lying. The only thing that they just wanted, they are just buying time. Just believe me. Think of that.

How can just inspectors go in? How would they move their equipment when there is a war inside? How -- when will the regime agree?

The regime has been lying about chemical weapons for the past four or five decades, saying it has -- it never had them. Only a few months ago they were just denying: "We don't have chemical weapons." Now "we have them," and they have the biggest stockpile in the world. And now they admit that.

SULLIVAN: So now they're not lying about chemical weapons. Just to clarify, they're not lying now about having chemical weapons?

ZOABI: No. They -- No. They admit they have chemical weapons.

SULLIVAN: So it's now "good morning," it's still morning.

ZOABI: They will have -- No. Maybe. In this case yes. But because this was just a -- please listen to me. Please listen to me.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you a question. For you is this Russian diplomatic initiative, this is very bad news. Because it -- it muddies the case. It makes -- it buys them time. It diffuses the momentum for military action. How do you see it?

ZOABI: Let me just say one thing. Is the diplomatic path now only about chemical weapons? What about massacring us for the past two years?

SULLIVAN: Chemical weapons right now.

ZOABI: Just let me please continue. Now -- yes, and what about two years? We were talking about diplomatic path for over the past two years, and no one was listening to us. Everyone was just watching us.

And now they are talking about a diplomatic path, just talks about handing over chemical weapons. What about all of the bloodshed that has happened? What about tanks? What about jet fighters? What about -- what about the bombs that Assad is using?

SLAUGHTER: But last week when we talked...

ZOABI: Is this OK?

SLAUGHTER: Last week when we talked you did not support military strikes. You did not think... ZOABI: I do not support until now. Contrary -- contrary to most of the Syrian people, who want this air strike, because they are really tired of this bloodshed. But the problem is now, I'm just looking at -- at what you talk about. I'm just looking at the diplomatic pathway. It is just talking about chemical weapons.

SLAUGTHER: Yes, but don't you recognize the threat of force.

COOPER: Go ahead.

SLAUGHTER: The threat of force has, A, gotten Assad to recognize that he does have chemical weapons. And forced what may actually be a serious negotiation. We have not been able to engage in any serious negotiation for two years. But now with the threat of force we can.

ZOABI: I do admit. But the problem is, the regime is lying about handing over. It will take them months, if not years, just to tell you where the weapons are. And they will tell you, "Sorry, we can't move into there, because it's dangerous" and so on. This is No. 1.

No. 2, yes, I admit that holding the stick over Assad's head has made him just admit that he has chemical weapons.

But just let us look at this example. Oh, yes. I'm irritated with some of these guys. I go and kill them with a knife. And then I go and hand over the knife to the police station, and I go back to my previous work.

Now, don't talk only about chemical weapons. We should understand -- understand that there is a massive ongoing massacre in Syria.

SULLIVAN: I know there is.

ZOABI: We should -- we should stop this dictator's cycle. We need -- we need to tell him, "Step -- go away from this country. Leave them."

SULLIVAN: Part of your argument is that this will only let them buy time. Buy time for what? What are you afraid that Assad is going to do with this time?

AMANPOUR: Continue the war.

ZOABI: Just imagine what happens, what happens for 1 1/2 years. He will kill another 200,000. And meanwhile, meanwhile, he might just -- I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

SULLIVAN: ... the whole situation. The question is, whether the American people should pay in treasure and cost of arms. Why it's their job, why the American people in Iowa, in Indiana, in Texas and all around this country, it's their job to solve this problem. Why?

AMANPOUR: Well, because to be frank, Andrew, President Obama started this two years ago in saying...

ZOABI: Because you are the superpower. Because you are...

AMANPOUR: There's that. But also President Obama said Assad must step down.

ZOABI: Because you are the superpower of the world. There is...

SULLIVAN: We're not, actually. We have a huge military. Huge military that's largely useless to negotiate a deal with most of the problems that we're dealing with.

ZOABI: Please, please, please.

COOPER: Go ahead, Zaidoun.

ZOABI: Please just let me ask you one question. Everybody now says that there is chemical weapons inside. It will take a few months or one year just to finish that -- I mean, process. What happens if these chemical weapons are used, by regime people or somebody from the terrorist groups, to attack you guys? That is not possible?

SULLIVAN: Then we have a whole new scenario.

ZOABI: ... the cost. You don't want -- you don't want -- please because you don't want to interfere right now and impose a political solution to end the massacre. Not only the chemical weapons. You might suffer. The American people will suffer. Everybody in the world will suffer. Only because you are living a dictator.

COOPER: We've got about a minute left.

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: You might just please us, Andy, because this is fundamental. This is a war that's gone on for 2 1/2 years. The United States with the voice of the president of the United States said, Assad must step down.

SLAUGHTER: Yes.

AMANPOUR: Is that out of the window now with this diplomatic initiative? Is Obama, Assad, Putin sort of inextricably linked now in order to, you know, solve the terrible problem of chemical weapons?

SLAUGHTER: No. I actually see this another way. We have said from the beginning that the only way out of this was a negotiated solution, that we don't see a military solution. And I think we could have had a military solution a year and a half ago. Even I don't think we can have one now.

So I honestly think John Kerry and the president from the beginning have said, look, it's force and diplomacy mixed. If we can get a deal on chemical weapons, we will then push very quickly to try to get a deal on a transition and to end the war.

Now, whether it works or not we don't know. I think the threat of force increases the chances we get that.

COOPER: Another quick break we've got to take. Zaidoun, thank you very much, as always, for your opinions and your courage. Thank you. We'll be right back.

ZOABI: Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: That does it for this edition of AC 360 LATER. We're back with another -- well, another show tomorrow, basically. Another panel. See you again starting at 8 Eastern with "AC 360."