Return to Transcripts main page


Analysis of President Obama's Address

Aired September 10, 2013 - 21:30   ET


PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf. I know you'll be back when we speak with one of the President's harshest critics on Syria later Senator Rand Paul. But right now I want to bring in Senate's former relations Community Chairman Robert Menendez, he's backed the President on Syria and he says Bashar al-Assad is a "Consummate Liar".

Welcome to you, Senator. So what is your reaction to the President's speech tonight?

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, (D) NEW JERSEY: Well, I think the President went to step by step in directly responding to the concerns of the American people. And I think effectively made the case as to why those concerns are either unfounded to some degree in some cases, can be met in other cases. And the reason why it is important to be able to respond to the use -- of Assad's use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians beyond Syria and in the conflicts of the world for others who may have those access to chemical weapons as well.

MORGAN: If the President feels this strongly about this atrocities like and even to what happened with the Nazis in the Second World War. It does prompt the question, why is he not taking action so far? He has the power to do so.

MENENDEZ: Well, yes, I personally believe that under the War Power's Act he could have had an action that wouldn't have extended beyond 60 days if he did then he had to come to the Congress after that.

But I think he's made the case that we are stronger as a nation and are resolved internationally as well when we have the support of the Congress behind the President in such an action. And I think that that is what is he has tried to do and I think that tonight hopefully the American people who are riveted now on this issue had an opportunity to hear their concerns are laid, and hopefully say to their members of Congress that under this limited circumstances I can understand why the President needs to pursue.

MORGAN: My colleague Jake Tapper who just tweeted, "A speech to a public but doesn't want to go war by a president who doesn't want to go to war." And that is certainly the impression that I got listening to him.

If this vote eventually takes place and he was to lose it, he still have the power, if he wants to take the action that he believes as necessary. But he's boxed himself into a really difficult corner now, isn't he?

MENENDEZ: Well, look, I believe that number one we'll have to see whether this diplomatic effort is real. I'm skeptical, but I'm hopeful at the end of the day and we'll test the resolve of both Russia and Syria in the United Nation Security Council.

I believe relatively quickly, and then the world will understand that all the diplomatic efforts we've led for the last two years which have been vetoed by Russia where the Russia and Syria are serious in this regard. And if not I think it strengthened the President's hand for the vote that would be pursued here in the Congress.

MORGAN: You called Assad a consummate liar and I don't think there's a huge amount of trust in Vladimir Putin either and yet these are the two people that the American Administration now appear to be entrusting in relation to chemical weapons. It's pretty rum state of affairs, isn't it?

MENENDEZ: Well, look, Piers. Number one is I do believe I called Assad a pathological liar. Here's someone who told us he never had chemical weapons and now admits that he does. Here's someone who said no attack took place we know an attack took place.

And so, I'm not depending upon Assad, but I am depending upon the international community if we get a binding resolution at the Security Council and then it will be beyond Assad's word. It will have the force of the international community saying, you committed to this, you need to do it and if not there are consequences to it.

MORGAN: To remove the amount of chemical weapons Assad is believed to have, if you play by the book according to the UN Inspectors Guide could take up to 10 years.

MENENDEZ: Well, access to those weapons and security and then I think what those estimates of how long it would take to destroy them maybe different, but access to those weapons and I believe being able to harness those weapons in a location or locations in which the international community can secure them as they seem to destroy them is a critical movement forward.

And so, I don't think that that should be a deterrent to our effort to get a binding UN Security Council resolution. The real question here is whether Russia which I've read some reports today is beginning to back off of a Security Council resolution that would have the force of the international community and I believe would probably have sanctions for Syria's unwillingness to comply to what the council pass would be very significant.

And I believe the only reason we're even talking about the possibility of Syria submitting to this in Russia being behind it is because of the use of credible military force on the table and the Russians recalculating about what the consequences to Assad would be and their own interest, otherwise I doubt very much after two years of intransigence and veto by Russia at the Security Council and Assad even denying that he had chemical weapons that he'd be -- would be at this point today. MORGAN: But the Russians have all the single (ph) -- a lot of positive reaction from the Americans today and last night by suggesting that they're going to be orchestrating some kind of deal over these weapons, but then late today they make it pretty clear that they would veto anything that did not involve America saying, "We will not use any military regardless". America can't sign up to that, it would make look completely impotent and you can't avoid reaching the, Robert, chilling conclusion that America may just have been played here by the Russians for Russian's self interest.

MENENDEZ: Well, first of all I don't think it's about American impotence, it will be about the global community's impotence if they see that the Russians are willing to have a binding Security Council resolution. Now the use of American force if there is a Security Council resolution with the Chapter 7 authorization to strike against Syria if Syria does not comply with turning over all of its chemical weapons letting UN inspectors total and free, unfazed (ph) access to them and ultimately acquiring those weapons would be an international response at that point.

MORGAN: Senator, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

MORGAN: Should we trust the Russians a broker (ph) deal? Well, coming next a loss from achieved weapons inspector in Iraq.



OBAMA: 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 joined the chemical weapons convention which prohibits their use.

It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed. In any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments.


MORGAN: President Obama minutes ago go talking about Russia's proposal to Syria to surrender its chemical weapons. Syria's State TV is broadcasting on their urgent news to go (ph) where the President asked Congress to postpone a vote and focus on diplomatic efforts to deal with the Syrian crisis based on the Russian proposal.

Syrian State TV did not broadcast President Obama's speech. Well with me now is David Kay. He's a former Chief Weapons Inspector in Iraq and a member of the State Department's International Security Advisory Board, also a CNN analyst. And also with me is presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley. Welcome to both of you.

David Kay, I thought the key questions here if you go along this Russian plan to have Syria surrenders chemical weapons is how much of these stuff do you think they have, how long realistically would it take to get it degraded or removed from their ability to use it, and how many inspectors in the middle of what is a terrible civil war can you safely put on the ground to do this work.

DAVID KAY, FMR. CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR IN IRAQ: Those are all very good questions and largely unanswerable since we don't yet know what the real Russian plan is or at least what the US will sign up to or that the Russians propose. Look, we know roughly the size of the Syrian stockpile. It's in tons of both classical mustard agent as well as nerve agents, sarin, and the much worst nerve agent VX. So, we're talking about ton quantities.

You're right. It is a difficult environment. I would say it's an environment without parallel for international inspectors to operate in to both find, determine, verify the truthfulness of a Syrian statement as to what they have and where it is and then to even think about moving on to the -- this man want degrading, destroying the chemical agent itself.

How much it would take? Look. This is a civil war going on. A lot of what it takes is going to depend on what the security situation. But even if you remove the statement that there's a civil war going on and you're talking about ton quantities scattered around a large country in which you're depending on the host country to tell you where they are and you're going to move and verify and check, you're talking about very large number of inspectors.

And don't forget, right now, the only way to safely get in to Syria is through Beirut, Lebanon and a very long and unsafe road trip. And you're talking about moving not only inspectors, but all the equipment they require to operate safely.

MORGAN: And Doug Brinkley, nobody I think just figures this is a real mess and an incredibly difficult situation for President Obama and his Administration. Let's start with that role agreed on. I can't help but feeling he's being dictated in terms of his rather zigzaggy policy on this by two things, one the British last week losing the vote. David Cameron, the Prime Minister losing the vote, the first British prime minister in 150 years do not get parliamentary sanction for military action which was humiliating for him, but also removed the key ally from President Obama.

And secondly the specter of Iraq, that all the time at the back of his mind he's thinking, we can't get into another Iraq. Are these two things slightly paralyzing the President right now?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I don't know if they're paralyzing him now, but it seems like they did for a while. And certainly Cameron in particular the fact that Great Britain said we'll take a pass the fact that there's no NATO there. I mean Bill Clinton went into Kosovo but he had NATO, 41 went into the First Gulf War. We have the whole world on our side, he was feeling pretty lonely being President Obama, brought it to Congress, he hasn't been getting the results he needs in the polls now. But he has an opening here with diplomacy and the question is can he do a bit of true diplomacy with Putin. Reagan was able to pull some getting rid of nuclear weapons with Gorbachev after Reagan called him the evil empire we still hadn't ...

MORGAN: But it's not just Putin knows, he's got to trust Putin who's got to apparently bring a saddle on board. So, you're not trusting somebody who most, specifically (ph) the American administration think is a terrible liar. And I don't know how that works. How does that work in reality?

BRINKLEY: Well, it's going to be tough. But I think the question is, what's in it for Putin. He has been vilified around the world as being kind of a Mafia head, a bit of a thug, maybe Putin now wants a Nobel Peace Price, maybe Putin now is worried about serious chemical weapons, worried about it falling in the hands of Islamic revolutionaries, worried about their situation at Chechnya. We might have a common interest of the United States and Russia in getting rid of these chemical weapons and that we -- he can go -- Putin can go to Assad saying, "Get rid of the chemical weapons, cool down all this international scrutiny, and we will continue to fund your civil war, fund you regime in many ways, but don't use chemical weapons."

MORGAN: And that brings me to the next plan which is clearly that Putin's interest is keeping Assad in power, but the American administration has always said they believe really in regime change and the rebel succeeding without really, it seems to me, understanding who these rebels really are.

BRINKLEY: Well that's true. But remember the Cold War was long with Russia and the metaphor used to be two scorpions in the battle, the United States and Russia. But often times, we found ways not to go to war. There are many times that could have blown up in Berlin and it didn't. The Cuban Missile Crisis got averted by last minute deals, Bobby Kennedy with the Kremlin, dealing with the Jupiter missiles on Turkey. So we've got to remember as much as we're an enemy of Russia, there's also a bit of a friendship and alliance there. And question is going to be can we get it nailed down diplomatically that we work together with Russia.

MORGAN: And does it matter that President Obama has changed his mind quite regularly in relation to how to deal with Syria, if in the end, he makes the right decision.

BRINKLEY: If we come out of this OK, you know, in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Dean Acheson thought it was a mess in the way of John F. Kennedy dealt with that all, sandwiches coming in, crazy ExCo (ph) meetings, should we bomb, should we not bomb, but in the end, we got a result in the Cuban Missile Crisis. The proof about Barack Obama's handling and nobody is saying this is a case study at the Naval War College, it's been a mess. But, if the end result is getting rid of classes of chemical weapons and start reducing that in Syria, and not having a war, one might say the President pulled the rabbit out of his hat.

MORGAN: David Kay, there is a wild theory and is now more than that that perhaps a lot of Assad's big stash of chemical weapons is the missing stash that we never found in Iraq was the time he saved it, he shifted it all to Syria. Is that plausible? KAY: It's not at all plausible. It's something I've dealt paramountly with over by the last 10 years. Look, he has -- Saddam had lousy sarin. It was unstable. It really had lacked a lot of lethality compared to what the Syrians have. Now, the Syrian's have first class sarin developed with the help of the Soviet Union among other countries. They didn't need Saddam's lousy chemical weapons.

MORGAN: Where did they get it? Didn't they make it all themselves? Do they buy it in from places like Russia, where do they get such a large amount of sarin or whatever it may be?

KAY: They got the basic technology of how to make it and how to made it to rockets, artillery, aerial bombs during the Soviet Union and from Czechoslovakia. The precursors and the chemicals have come from a wide number of states, Western European states included of -- and those from the Eastern European area. Once you understand the process and you've got it down, the actual manufacturing, I hate to say, is all too easy. Sarin was developed originally in Germany pre- Second World War as an insecticide. It's an artificial name. It's the three names of the three scientists that developed it. It's a very standard sort of chemical process. The Soviets improved it and in fact Syria has the improved product.

MORGAN: David Kay and David Brinkley, thank you both very much indeed.

When we come back, Senator Rand Paul moments away from his own speech in Syria, he's live here on CNN. Stay with us.



OBAMA: For sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.

Indeed, I'd 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 where we living if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas and we choose to look the other way?"


MORGAN: President Obama's blunt message to members of Congress tonight. I only get back to Washington now with Wolf Blitzer is with Senator Rand Paul, one of the toughest critics of President Obama's Syria plan. Wolf over to you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much Piers. He certainly is a tough critic, but first of all Senator, thanks very much for joining us. Tell us what you liked about the President speech first?

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: Well, you know, I think he made a good point that atrocities occurred to know that there was something awful that happened, the gas attacks, you can't watch them without having a great deal of sympathy for the people. But I guess my first response to that is, "Well, gosh the guy who did this deserves death, I mean the death penalty for killing civilians."

BLITZER: Bashar al-Assad?

PAUL: Yes. But I mean the President's plan is to lead us on alone.

BLITZER: Do you think he should go in there and try to kill him?

PAUL: Well, the thing is, is that I think his plan now is to spare Assad to leave the regime in place, but at the same time he says, someone must pay for breaking this international norm, but he's really not willing to actually make Assad pay. I think there should be a way that Assad pays either through an international tribunal or something. I think Assad can't remain there.

BLITZER: Targeted assassination?

PAUL: Well, I'm not really saying that, what I'm arguing is this that what the President has plan is not going to accomplish what he says he's going to accomplish which is to punish Assad for this. I think Assad personally will not be held accountable for this. I also think that even if the diplomatic solution occurs that he still might not be accountable because it may still live ...

BLITZER: You hope that this Russian initiative works, right?

PAUL: I do. I think that the military option it has no clear military objective, I think if we bomb Assad I think it'll be more likely that the country becomes more unstable, refugees become worst, perhaps Israel gets attacked and I think also the real danger to bombing Assad is that the chemical weapons may become lose within the country and maybe taken over by either terrorist or Al-Qaeda.

BLITZER: So, the President has a different analysis. Let me play a clip from what we just heard from the President.


OBAMA: Get involved at all in a place that's so complicated and where this one person wrote to me, "Those who come after Assad maybe enemies of human rights." It's true that some of Assad's opponents are extremists, but Al-Qaeda will only draw a strength in a more chaotic Syria. If people there who see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death.


BLITZER: Go ahead in that, react.

PAUL: Well, I agree with part of the statement. Al-Qaeda draw strength from chaos, but I think there's more chaos if we bomb Assad, if we destabilize the Assad regime there'll be more chaos and we will essentially be the allies of Al-Qaeda. So, the chance that Al-Qaeda either takes over chemical weapons or becomes a more dominant influence or actually takes over Syria are greatly enhanced by bombing Assad. So, I don't think he makes any sense by saying, we're going to bomb Assad but this is somehow going to hurt Al-Qaeda, it's going to help Al-Qaeda.

BLITZER: Don't you think that if in fact this Russian initiative works and for some reason the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad they agreed to put all their chemical weapons under international control and eventually destroy them the threat of US military force convinced the Russians and the Syrians to do this.

PAUL: Maybe, the alternative explanation is though that the people who've been wanting to bomb Assad for the last three weeks we would have never gotten to this diplomatic -- possible diplomatic solution.

BLITZER: So, you welcome the President's decision to go to Congress?

PAUL: Yes, absolutely, that's the constitutional manner you have to have Congressional authority before you go to war unless we're in imminent danger.

BLITZER: Is there any Congressional authority, any resolution you could vote for?

PAUL: If American interests were involved, American soldiers, American business, American citizens, a direct threat to an ally, a NATO ally, Israel, all of those things there's a lot of the American interest in the Middle East that I would say ...

BLITZER: A lot of people at Israel as you know are nervous right now, they got gas mask, they are worried about what's going on in Syria.

PAUL: But, here's my question is I think they're more at risk if we bomb Assad.

BLITZER: Why do you -- explain that?

PAUL: So, far Assad is not -- he's preoccupied in his own country and he has another chance to reach out or lash out in other countries, if we bomb him or if we corner him I think there's more of a chance that he lashes out against Israel. If you were to say, "I'm an odds maker, what are the chances that a gas attack is launched on Tel Aviv?" If we attack Assad I think they're greater, if we don't attack Assad I think they're less. That doesn't mean Assad gets all scot-free, I'm just saying that when we bomb Assad you're going to create instability in the Middle East.

BLITZER: Senator, Piers has a question for you. Piers go ahead.

MORGAN: Senator, there's this pretty good tweet hit from Nick Kristof of the New York Times. Who, sort of sums up what I think about this really, it's not the basic message from President Obama speech tonight that, you know, to any dictator when you slaughter your people just don't use gas. PAUL: When you saw your people -- repeat the last part of that?

MORGAN: Don't use gas. And then that will be fine, many of them that will be supplemental message here.

PAUL: Yeah and the thing is this that he's killed 100,000 people with conventional weapons. So, yeah, that's the question even if the gas leaves the country which would be a good idea to have it under the international control, the slaughter still goes on, he still has a great conventional weapon advantage in Syria, he remains in power. My whole point is that the President's moral message about this being a horrific thing which it is you still leave the same guy in place.

You know, I think the doctrine for your -- for a military, when you get your military involved should be that -- the country should be completely behind you and that you should go in to win and it should be with reluctance that we go to war and it should be with an overwhelming force with the entire country behind you. We've had that on occasion, but we don't have that here. The country is overwhelmingly opposed to us being involved in this civil war.

MORGAN: Senator Rand Paul, thank you very much. Wolf Blitzer, thank you for your excellent coverage as always tonight.

BLITZER: Thanks.

MORGAN: CNN's complete coverage. All the President speech continues now on AC360 later.