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AC 360 LATER
Crisis in Syria; Remembering 9/11
Aired September 11, 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: All right, welcome to "AC360."
Later tonight, the showdown with Syria and where the struggle against global terrorism stands 12 years after the attacks on 9/11. So much has happened since those planes came from literally out of the blue and shook the world, including two wars and nearly constant covert warfare.
Now, as Secretary of State Kerry head to Geneva for talks with his Russian counterpart about everything, a military strike on Syria, a remarkable new statement from Russia's president. If nothing else, it gives us more reason to say we just can't trust Russia more reason to doubt.
Also just moments ago, new reporting from "Washington Post" that says the CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels after months of delays and the paper citing U.S. officials and Syrian figures. Tonight, it is all on the table.
Thanks very much for joining us.
At the table tonight, chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, Andrew Sullivan, founding editor of The Dish. His Web site is AndrewSullivan.com. I check it like five times a day. It's essential reading. "New York Times" op-ed columnist Charles Blow also joins us. Later in the fifth chair, a former Muslim extremist joins us to talk about the radicalization of the fight in Syria and how he changed his mind.
We begin though with Vladimir Putin's new op-ed piece in "The New York Times."
What do you make of this, Andrew? Putin is saying there's no American exceptionalism, he's saying there's no democracy movement inside Syria. Are you surprised?
ANDREW SULLIVAN, ANDREWSULLIVAN.COM: I think the argument about American exceptionalism is interesting and I think it's important for Americans to hear it, because that's what the rest of the world feels a lot of time. Although Americans take for granted that because we are an exceptional country we can do things other countries cannot do, at some point the other countries are going to say why? What gave you the right to do all this stuff?
So in that sense I think the op-ed is kind of refreshing in the sense it reminds us of what the rest of the world sees when they see America. Even though America is doing it for good reasons and with good intentions, I think there is a -- Putin represents this quite perfectly. There is a sense of who do you think you are?
COOPER: And this is what he says.
He says: "My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with the case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States'; policy 'is what makes America different. It's what makes us exceptional,'" quoting Obama. "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional whatever the motivation."
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's so Putin.
As Andrew said, he's like who do you think you are? He's just said, who do you think you are, Barack Obama, who do you think you are, the United States? This is so Putin right now. He just has these really poisonous relations with the United States. It hasn't always been like that. Remember good old Boris Yeltsin? He was a Russian president who the U.S. could work with. They did in Bosnia and Kosovo and elsewhere.
SULLIVAN: I thought the interesting slip in this op-ed in a way was his identification with Stalin. He thought of Russia. He didn't see the great breach between the Soviet Union and democratic Russia that Yeltsin did. He referred to our, us, Russia, including uniting with the United States against Hitler with Stalin.
So he thinks the Soviet Union is part of his country's tradition.
AMANPOUR: ... KGB background, isn't it?
SULLIVAN: Of course it is.
CHARLES BLOW, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I actually don't put a lot of stock in the Putin P.R. machine, right, which is a lot of what this is. But I think there is an important point he makes about whether or not it would be illegal to do this without a U.N. resolution.
Basically, what this move would be would be the U.S. taking an action for a violation of a treaty to which the country who offended is not even a signatory, that the U.N. has yet to authorize any military activity. We have cast the entire discussion as a violation by Syria of international norms.
This to me could set a new precedent and a new international norm where a country who has not been attacked, is not in imminent threat of being attacked, could move and make a military action on another country because they feel like no matter how horrific the thing that they have done is... AMANPOUR: Two problems with that, Charles. One is -- we have said it umpteen times, that weapons of mass destruction are banned under international law. Actually there is a 1925 convention. I know it's a long time ago, the Geneva protocol, which Syria did sign up to. It was after Americans, French, British soldiers were gassed by the Germans in World War I.
I think getting back to the Putin editorial, though, the op-ed, what is completely nuts about him is that he has this perfectly rational debate about why we shouldn't do military, why we should do diplomacy. That's his view. That's much of the world's view, frankly. Then he goes on to say that, "While none of us doubt that chemical weapons are being used, there is every reason to believe it was not used by the Syrian army, but by opposition forces to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons."
And then he goes on to say, "There are reports the militants are preparing for another attack, this time a chemical attack against Israel."
There's simply no reason to think that. The "Foreign Policy" magazine or Web site online is suggesting, according to a Western diplomat who they're quoting, that the U.N. investigative team is about to give its report and its evidence points to the only people who could have used this was the government. They will not put that in their report because it's not part of their mandate.
Human Rights Watch, which has rightly said that crimes are being committed by both sides, puts the crime of chemical warfare at the foot of the Assad regime. This is the stuff that makes people not take him seriously.
SULLIVAN: But the core point is that use of force in the world at large should only be sanctioned in self-defense or by U.N. Security Council action.
Now, look, that's the international system. And yet listening to you and listening to this debate in America, it's as if that doesn't exist. We have an obvious right to do whatever we want.
COOPER: That's not a rule Russia has used. Putin has not used that in Chechnya. They have operated at will in countries they have wanted to. They funded covert wars all over the place.
BLOW: It's not about the number of bodies. Right? We had 100,000 bodies before the series of chemical attacks even started to stack up. It's not about the number of bodies, it's just about the munitions used. In fact, that's the basis of our moving at this particular time.
SULLIVAN: And also remember Iraq was a situation where we didn't get final U.N. permission and we launched a war, and with disastrous, disastrous consequences. And he's playing that card. He's reminding the world of that card.
COOPER: I want to bring in somebody who is very skeptical on this Russian deal, Mike Doran, former Bush administration national security official and currently senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Christiane was quoting him last night.
Mike, what do you think of Putin's -- his op-ed in "The Time"s and also now the arming of the rebels by the CIA, according to "The Washington Post"?
MICHAEL DORAN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think Putin's gotten inside Obama's head.
I think this is an incredibly clever device. A lot of it, some of it is just Russian propaganda. But a lot of it is Putin reflecting back to Obama Obama's own world view and his own self-conception. You can feel this as Obama was moving close to making the decision to use force, you could see the pain on his face. He was having to put together a coalition of the willing. He was having to work outside the U.N. He was having to go make another war in the Middle East. He was having to be George Bush, which is everything he doesn't want to be.
And Putin is writing this letter to him now and saying, do you really want to be George Bush? Do you really want to say that America is exceptional, something that you have said wasn't true in the past?
SULLIVAN: No, that's not true, by the way. That's not true.
DORAN: That is true.
SULLIVAN: Always said that the United States is an exceptional nation.
DORAN: Not true.
SULLIVAN: What I find remarkable about this is finally Putin is saying something that the right, the Republican right in this country refuse to ever accept.
DORAN: Hey, Andrew, Obama was famously asked during the 2008 election if he thought America was an exceptional country. And he said, yes, I think that Americans think it's exceptional, just like the British people think that Britain is exceptional and Greek people think that Greece is exceptional. SULLIVAN: But he said on many other occasions -- and that's true. But he's also said on many other occasions, including his speech last night, quite clearly thinking of America as an exceptional country, thinking of its journey towards justice and its ever-perfect union to be a completely exceptional case.
It was a Republican smear that he didn't believe in this country's special role in the world. Putin has now debunked that fear.
DORAN: I would just say that the values that are expressed in this op-ed are very much the values of liberal well-educated Americans, the exact milieu that Barack Obama comes from. There's a lot in there. What he's challenging him to do is say, Barack Obama, do you really not believe all this stuff and do you really want to go against international law?
It's very hard for Barack Obama to read this and say, you know what, Putin is wrong.
AMANPOUR: Can I just say on the exceptional thing, because I always go back to obviously decades of immigrants who have come to this country.
I mean, people like myself, like yourself, of course, people who come to be educated, people who come to work here, why do we come here? Because it's an exceptional country. Why do we believe the principles, the morals, the -- everything that America stands for? Because so many countries in the world simply do not. And why do we believe that there is a world order? Because for many, many decades, America has policed a world order that we actually want to live in.
Now, I know there have been problems since Iraq and with the Iraq war. But we want to live in a world that is safe for democracy. We want to live in a world that is safe for human rights. We want to live in a world where journalists and others can speak freely and not get imprisoned.
SULLIVAN: The point Putin makes -- I don't want to take him that seriously, but there is a serious point here, that when American exceptionalism means we get to do things that we wouldn't let anybody else do, like torture prisoners, then you have gotten an American exceptionalism that is defeating itself.
AMANPOUR: You are right about that. You are absolutely right about that. That is why this is such an incredible moment.
I know we're talking about Syria, but you're right. And President Obama, let's face it, came to office not just as the anti- war president or the president who wouldn't start wars, but would end wars, but also the president to restore America's credibility and its moral standing in the world.
And when he came into office, that is what happened. There was a massive outpouring of re-favorability for the United States and popularity for the United States with his election. So I do think that is very, very important to consider.
And I also believe that what you say, Andrew, in terms of you shouldn't just be throwing military weight and might around the world, it's true because look what we did see in the Iraq in 2003. But there is precedent for humanitarian intervention.
You know, the United States and nobody stepped in, in World War II. In fact, they turned refugees away and people got slaughtered. You know? They didn't step in, in Rwanda and one million people were slaughtered in three months. We witnessed that.
SULLIVAN: And we were supposed to stop that?
AMANPOUR: Yes, and we could have done.
COOPER: Do you believe, Mike, that if this effort fails, this Russian-Syrian effort fails, if it fails, do you think President Obama is in a better position to get -- to rally support for military action? Or do you think with the passage of time, the passage of weeks, he's in a worse position?
DORAN: No, I think he's in a much worse position, because if you just think about it in terms of domestic politics, his own party is very angry with him right now. I don't know if you saw. In foreignpolicy.com, Carl Levin came out and expressed extreme frustration.
He asked his party -- he put them on the spot asking them to either vote for him and against their own constituents or to take the side of constituents against the president. They felt in a horrible position. They don't want to be put in that position again. And he's zigged and he's zagged so much here that we have lost allies. Nobody wants to hold the line with him anymore. Everybody's kind of going their own way now.
SULLIVAN: I'm sorry. That's just completely bonkers.
The U.N. Security Council, including Russia and China, we have now added to the chorus of countries that have admitted that Syria has chemical weapons and are committed to a process to find them and destroy them. To add Russia and China is a huge deal.
DORAN: I don't call Russia and China allies of the United States. And the op-ed you have in front of you from Putin says Assad didn't use the weapons, and the rebels did. The difference between us, our view of Syria and our interests in Syria and Putin's interests and view of Syria is enormous. You can't ignore that.
SULLIVAN: But on the question of chemical weapons, it's quite clear that we can have an agreement. In fact, we seem to have an agreement, unless you're denying that. Are you denying that Russia has said it wants to...
DORAN: I'm noticing that the White House put out a report now, or drew attention to a report that we are now arming the rebels, something that Putin is very much against. We have very different interests in this conflict.
We don't have the same interests as the Russians.
SULLIVAN: The president of the United States last night said he didn't want to enter the Syrian civil war. Was he lying?
DORAN: He is involved in it already. We're giving arms. He doesn't want to, but we are involved in it. We're a party to it.
COOPER: Senator McCain says that Obama told him in the White House that they wanted to be more involved, that they wanted to arm the rebels or have greater connection with the rebels.
SULLIVAN: That's not my impression from what the White House has said about its position. And it's not what the president said last night.
AMANPOUR: But it is what McCain and others...
COOPER: Says they were told in the Oval Office.
SULLIVAN: You believe John McCain?
AMANPOUR: It's certainly what he's been lobbying for.
Here is I think a danger. And we can talk endlessly because it's really vital this situation of who is the opposition. We're smearing all of them as being crazy Islamic murders, extremists, correct.
AMANPOUR: But so does the West now. That narrative has taken hold, whereas there is a moderate opposition. And the fact that the United States and the West have not backed them has simply allowed them to be overtaken by those who have got money and weapons from elsewhere...
AMANPOUR: ... that we don't like.
COOPER: We have got to take a quick break. Our conversation is going to continue. Mike, I appreciate your perspective. Thank you.
Just ahead, the man who spent years inspecting Iraq's chemical weapons on the difficulties of sending inspectors into Syria. Last night, he said it would take about 500 to 1,000 inspectors. He has now almost doubled that estimate today.
Also, a former Islamist joining us in the fifth chair.
First, a quick look at Moscow where sunrise is about 40 minutes away. We will be right back.
COOPER: Quick update on the word reported in "The Washington Post" that the CIA has begun sending weapons to the rebels in Syria. We just got reaction from the National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan. She declines comment except to say -- quote -- "We aren't able to inventory or provide timelines for every type of assistance we provide to the Syrian opposition." Interpret that as you will.
AMANPOUR: My favorite interesting is not commenting on something that they promised to do.
COOPER: Right. Yes.
We're now going to broaden our conversation about Syria to cover the religious extremists among the opposition. In our fifth chair tonight, Maajid Nawaz, author of "Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism." As the title of his book suggest, he has unique insights into the world of this religion. Also, Christiane Amanpour, Andrew Sullivan and Charles Blow from the "New York Times" are back as well.
It's great to have you in the fifth chair.
MAAJID NAWAZ, AUTHOR, "RADICAL: MY JOURNEY OUT OF ISLAMIST EXTREMISM": Pleasure. Thank you.
COOPER: First of all, who do you see -- there's so much debate about the makeup of the rebel movement in Syria. How do you see it? Do you think it's -- what is the size of the extremists? How powerful are they compared to the moderates?
NAWAZ: It's incredibly diverse.
In terms of numbers, the FSA under General Salim Idris have the more numbers. But by all accounts, the most effective fighting force at the moment on the ground Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the al Qaeda ally. As Christiane mentioned earlier, they are increasing in strength as each day goes by that we aren't providing any form of meaningful assistance to the Free Syrian Army.
COOPER: How do you see this? Where are these extremists coming from?
NAWAZ: They're coming from the region.
We currently have in Syria the most amounts of foreign fighters who are European born and raised Muslims in any other conflict. So more than Afghanistan, more than Bosnia, they are all currently flooding to Syria. From Britain alone, there's 200. From across the European constant there's roughly 800 who have left their own countries of birth and origin, their own societies and have gone abroad to risk their own lives.
In many of those cases, they have joined the al Qaeda affiliate and they're learning how to kill, how to fight, how to make bombs. Of course, one day they will return to their home countries.
COOPER: This is obviously a weird question. But is this something you would have done back when you were an extremist, back when you held these beliefs?
NAWAZ: So I didn't belong to a jihadist group. I belonged to a revolutionary group. It attempted to overthrow governments by military coups. And I did travel for that purpose. And I traveled to Egypt for that purpose. I traveled to Pakistan.
COOPER: That's quite a sentence, by the way.
COOPER: I was going to stop you right there and be like, I think we need to talk about that a little bit more.
NAWAZ: Yes, so the distinction being, of course, that a military coup wouldn't target civilians.
COOPER: And we should explain to people who have not read about you, don't know about you, you were arrested and you were imprisoned in Egypt. It's really when you were in custody in Egypt that you began to change, you began to change your mind.
NAWAZ: This is a crucial point.
And it comes back to this point of humanitarianism. I was radicalized because of what I witnessed in Bosnia with the Srebrenica massacre and my belief at the time that nobody was there to help and intervene on behalf of the Muslims in Bosnia.
My exit from the radical group that I joined was when Amnesty International adopted me as a prisoner of conscience in Egypt and on principle began campaigning for my release, despite knowing that I believed them to be my enemy. And I have written in my book that where the heart leads the mind can follow. It was Amnesty's humanitarian intervention on a micro-level for me that led to my journey. Now I'm somebody who -- whereas before I was fighting democracy I'm now standing for Parliament in the U.K. for the 2015 general elections. If we can replicate that experience that happened to me on a micro level on a macro level say for example in Syria, then we can go some way to stemming the flow of fighters that are joining Jabhat al-Nusra.
COOPER: And you go out and you talk to people who held the same ideas that you held and tried to convince them to try to kind of hold it up to logic.
NAWAZ: Yes. When I left the group, I basically decided to challenge the former ideology, to challenge what I now call the Islamist ideology.
I go to countries like Pakistan, and I go speak to the students on the ground. I visited the city where Malala Yousafzai was shot, for example, and we organized a big debate there and challenging the Taliban and discussing the causes of extremism. I'm attempting to generate alternative discourse around this whole agenda.
SULLIVAN: May I ask you, what has happened to your faith in that period?
NAWAZ: It's very possible -- and in fact the majority of Muslims in this world are Muslims that have no track whatsoever not just with terrorism but the politicized version of Islam that I refer to as Islamism.
And that's briefly defined as a desire to impose any given interpretation of the religion over society. Most Muslims in the world, the vast majority of them, are of the faith variety, rather than the ideological variety.
SULLIVAN: But in most Muslim societies, the notion of a separation between religion and politics is really not understood or accepted, let alone embraced, right?
NAWAZ: I wouldn't put it that simply.
I think that that's of sort of modern times. That's the way in which it's been going because the most dominant voice, those who are shouting the loudest are those who adopt this ideology of Islamism. If you look at the history -- just very briefly, if you look at the history actually Islam is being unique in that sense that it's never had a clergy.
It's only with modern Islamism. The Iranian Revolution, for example, was unique that it reintroduced the idea of a politicized clergy that were ruling in God's name, whereas before Khomeini, the Shiite Muslims, who are 20 percent of the world's Muslims, believed that no man had the right to rule in God's name until the messiah returned.
As for the 80 percent who are Sunnis, there's never had a clergy for their entire history. And so modern-day Islamism is attempting to bring about the very thing it despises, which is Western Catholicism before the Reformation. I refer to Islamism as the bastard child of colonialism. Frankly, that's what it is.
AMANPOUR: How do you try to convince people about the Syrian opposition? Because it is quite heartbreaking. We have discussed this many times. We reported it two-and-a-half years ago. The first people who came out on the streets in Syria were kids who scrawled slogans on the wall against Assad, mimicking what had happened in Tunisia and Egypt. They were arrested, they were tortured often to death, their bodies returned to their families.
And this is what started the original sort of uprising in Syria. And all of a sudden, it has devolved into this sort of terrible situation where every single member of the opposition as I said earlier is being smeared as a jihadi terrorist extremist.
SULLIVAN: I think, Christiane, that's really...
AMANPOUR: But it's true.
SULLIVAN: It is not true.
AMANPOUR: This is why people say that intervening in Syria would not be in the U.S. interests.
BLOW: Obama and Kerry constantly say and even McCain constantly say...
AMANPOUR: Now, when they wanted to do military action.
BLOW: One second. They constantly say there is a vetted moderate opposition. And I think that people do understand that there's more than one kind of opposition. Just, we don't know what we just heard here, which is that they're -- what the size is, what the intensity of those different types of opposition are.
And I think that two of the things that give Americans real pause are that the punish and leave in place policy here, which is that we don't want Assad to fall now, but eventually. We're not sure that if he falls now what happens to the chemical stockpiles, and if the more vociferous fighters get in control of those or the more moderate ones.
The second thing that people are not really clear about is, is this like smacking the hornet's nest? Do you, by bombing, agitate something that either has repercussions here at home in terms of terrorist attacks or at our embassies abroad? I think both of those questions are real questions that people have. SULLIVAN: Especially when we have a Baathist dictator in a sectarian-divided country that we had 100,000 troops in the country and we couldn't stop 100,000 people killing each other.
The idea that we could stop it from afar seems bizarre. And also in a revolutionary situation, when these institutions and government structures have collapsed, what matters is not who has the most numbers, but who has the most zeal and the most determination. We have known that in every revolutionary situation.
NAWAZ: So there are three reasons that people are concerned about when it comes to Syria. One is the chemical weapons. Two is the foreign fighters who are joining Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups on the ground and three is the dangers of a regional war.
The problem is that this is one of those typical wicked problems or a crisis scenario where all three of these reasons apply if we do something and they apply if we don't do something. What do I mean by that? Well, the threat of a regional war is already unfolding before our eyes and we haven't even intervened. In Iraq last month, 800 people in one month were killed by bombs, civilians.
SULLIVAN: We see how successful the surge was.
NAWAZ: But that was an invasion. I have always opposed the Iraq war, by the way, but I think Syria is different.
COOPER: You were in favor of military action in Syria?
NAWAZ: I wrote an op-ed for "The Financial Times" after we lost the vote in the U.K. parliament that with certain conditions, two things need to happen. One, we need to disable Assad's ability to launch jets against his own people, as we did to Gadhafi.
And the second is we need to somehow make sure those chemical weapons are disabled. The technicalities of how to do that with the chemical weapons is a matter for discussion. But those two things are vital. Those three worries that people have about the risk of a regional war, foreign fighters joining extremist groups, those three reasons I mentioned, they are happening whether we intervene or not.
BLOW: What's the greater threat, though? We keep hearing that the greater threat is doing nothing. That is the administration's line, that if you do nothing, the threat to America is much greater and the threat to the Syrian people is that the chemical weapons will -- the risk of them escalating the usage of those weapons is almost assured.
COOPER: And also that the moderate forces there will become weaker and weaker and the extremist in the rebel movement stronger.
NAWAZ: And people are worried that by intervening, we're boosting the side for which al Qaeda is fighting. But let's not forgot Hezbollah is fighting on the other side. Extremist groups aren't just fighting on one side of this conflict. Hezbollah have come across the borders from a foreign country as foreign intervention to join in on the side of Assad. By doing so, they defeated the opposition fighters in the battle of Qusayr.
By doing so, they sparked an irreversible trend toward sectarianism, which led to Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries increasing their own Sunni sectarian...
SULLIVAN: But this sectarianism has been going on in the Middle East and has been reviving in the Middle East for quite some time, long before the Syrian conflict.
Look at Iraq. We were told there was no sectarianism there. And sure enough, you remove -- my issue with you is, how do you control the chemical weapons without Assad?
COOPER: Well, that's a good question.
You can try to answer that in just a moment. We will pick up the conversation after a quick break.
COOPER: Welcome back. We were talking before the break about what it will take to locate inventory, ultimately neutralize Syria's chemical arsenal.
CNN analyst David Kay has plenty of experience, first with the United Nations in the early '90s and as the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq. Ten years ago. Currently, he's a member of the State Department's international security advisory board. He joins us now.
And David, we were -- we were talking last night. You were saying 500 to 1,000 inspectors would be needed to secure these sites. You've now revised that number up dramatically.
DAVID KAY, CNN ANALYST: Well, after discussion with colleagues and trying to think through the process that you'd have to go through, and I think our estimate is a reasonable estimate is you're probably talking upwards of 2,000 people.
COOPER: An are there that many qualified inspectors available?
KAY: No. No, there are not. I'm sure will not -- it probably will not be that large simply because of that bottleneck. In the American case, the largest number of qualified personnel to serve as inspectors are actually in the military, and in the military they're in the special forces, which as we all know, is overstretched there.
So you're going to have to do it with less than I would like and less as desirable. And you're not going to do it with any of the American military personnel, so you've got to find these people in other places.
AMANPOUR: So play out the scenario, David. Let's say Kerry and Lavrov have a very successful meeting. They've got their technical experts with them. And tell us what the technical experts are doing with them right now. And what is it going to look like on the ground?
KAY: Well, I think the Americans, at least I hope the Americans are stressing that the inspectors have got to have an unfettered right to intervene, to inspect, to move freely, to bring the equipment they need, that the Syrians have an obligation that the Russians have got to insist that they honor of providing the physical protection and security for the inspectors, because they're not going to come with arms and their own troops to guard them. That this will be intrusive. And that they're going to move quickly.
And let me emphasize that. Look, anyone who's ever done this understands that you have a limited window of opportunity. And you do as much as you can in the first three weeks to three months. Because sooner or later, the people you're inspecting are going to decide you're too intrusive, they're giving up something they didn't intend to give up, they didn't realize that's what the Russians meant, or they really would like to keep this.
There's a correlation of forces immediately around the good feeling and Security Council resolution generates. You've got to take advantage of that. You surge and do as much as you can in the first three months.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're suggesting a supreme irony here, right? Which is that if we bomb, Obama guarantees that there will be no boots on the ground. If we don't and try to secure the weapons, we guarantee that there will be American boots on the ground for a very long time in the middle of a civil war. Is that -- is that the choice we're facing?
KAY: No, you've misunderstood me. I said if I could pick my ideal inspectors who are trained, I know where I would go. I don't think I or anyone else will ever have that right. So you're going to have to pick up people -- quite frankly, if I were doing it I would be starting looking right now at resumes from people who work in chemical pesticide facilities.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what about the security force?
KAY: Look, you're not -- be realistic. In Iraq in '91, we insisted that the Iraqis provide us security. Because we can't introduce -- the U.S. military didn't want to go back into Iraq. You're not going to introduce a security force now.
Now, the difficulty of that is at some point, as we saw two weeks ago with the chemical inspectors that went in there, the Syrians will say, it's too dangerous to go someplace. At that point as an inspector you have two options. Maybe it is too damn dangerous to go someplace, or they're trying to keep you from going to a place they don't want you to go.
COOPER: David, how many inspectors do you think are there qualified right now in the world?
KAY: Look, it's in the hundreds. It's not in the thousands.
COOPER: So you're saying you would start looking at resumes from people from like pesticides? Are you saying, like, exterminators? I mean, this is a dumb question.
KAY: No, no, no. I certainly wouldn't...
COOPER: Are we in that bad of shape here?
KAY: I'd like to see the translation if I told the Syrians I was coming with exterminators.
COOPER: That would not go well. That would not go well. All right.
KAY: No. I'm talking about process engineers who work for companies like Dow who know how the -- the first thing you've got to do, the first piece of information an inspector wants in this case is show us the records of your production.
We know the facilities they designed in the '60s and '70s. They were designed with the help of the Soviet Union. They now have a chemical inventory that's a result of 45 years of producing chemicals. The only way you can compare what they say when they hand off and say, "This is what we've got, secure it," whether that's even close to what they actually have is by looking at those production records.
COOPER: I'm just going to jump in. We were reporting what the "Washington Post" was reporting earlier. I should point out CNN has now confirmed the "Washington Post's" earlier reporting that the CIA is now providing weapons to the Syrian rebels.
AMANPOUR: Just an interesting nugget, David, to all this talk about the stockpiles and the fact that, actually, one of the successes is now that they've admitted to having it.
But I'm so fascinated by Syrian ministers who seem to be falling over themselves now to give more details. It's almost like TMI. Today one of the cabinet ministers said, "You know, we've got chemical weapons and those were our strategic calculation as a strategic balance against Israel." I mean, he actually said that out loud.
COOPER: Yes. Do you have any doubt that some of the Islamists, the extremists, the al-Nusra Front and others, would use chemical weapons if they had access to them?
NAWAZ: Absolutely no doubt if they had access they would use them. One of these arguments that cuts both ways. Because we're worried about whether if by intervening we're going to make the situation worse. Again if, by not intervening, some of the extremist rebels take over some of the areas where these chemical weapons are being held, they would most certainly use them if they had the opportunity. We've had non-al Qaeda members -- Ali Sakar (ph) of the al-Tawhid (ph) Brigade. He's the man who has made infamous because he attempted or did eat the heart of the lung or one of the fighters that he killed. That's a non-al Qaeda member who's stooped to those levels of depravity. If al Qaeda got hold of those weapons, they most certainly would use them.
AMANPOUR: And it's been one of their -- one of their key goals since 9/11. I mean, the first thing we heard after 9/11 was that they were after chemical weapons.
SULLIVAN: It is kind of fascinating. They seem almost relieved to unburden themselves. It depends what -- we have to think about what's going on in their heads.
AMANPOUR: I think the poor man's nukes, the same minister said chemical weapons are the poor man's nukes.
COOPER: David, I know you want to say something. What was it?
KAY: Yes. Hosea's (ph) comment is really interesting, but it illustrates the problem I'm more concerned with.
The ministers are the people who are divulging the information. The ministers are not the people who are key players in producing those weapons. Within and after this initial wave of good feeling, if this scheme goes ahead, the people in the military, it's the Syrian Revolutionary Guard who guards those weapons who, in fact, were designed -- their whole mission has been the strategic deterrent against Israel. If they suddenly see this most valuable thing we have, the unique thing we had is starting to disappear, I suspect that is the resistance you'll run into. You mean we can't hide them?
SULLIVAN: Would you hope Israel got rid of its chemical weapons?
KAY: Let me tell you what Tariq Aziz told me after my second mission in Iraq in 1991. He said it, and they always refer to you first name: "Dr. David, we didn't think -- you're not behaving like a U.N. inspector we expected."
You know, you go into these agreements thinking one thing will happen, and something else happens. And we're going in, I hope if we go in, to seriously seize control of these weapons with the ultimate purpose of destroying them. I can guarantee you today there are a lot in the Syrian military that don't -- are not committed to that scenario.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long would that take by the way? The assessment, securing and destruction? How long is that?
KAY: It would take years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just break it down.
KAY: It's going to take decades if you go to destruction.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The assessment and securing. How long do you think that would take?
KAY: Depends on how many people you have and how you craft the security nut. Because what you've got to do when you secure these is provide 24/7 security. Now, are you going to depend on the Syrians to do that? I rather think not. But on the other hand, inspectors are awful people for securing sitting around 24/7.
COOPER: I'm sorry -- I'm sorry, David. I didn't mean to interrupt you. But David, we've got to take a break. I appreciate you being on again. It's always fascinating to hear from one with so much experience on the ground.
Coming up next, the backdrop to so much of this conversation today, the tragic events of 12 years ago today. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Welcome back. Here with our panel.
Maajid, I wanted to ask you where were you on 9/11? What did you think about 9/11 today, 12 years ago today? I know today you visited the site. And obviously, you've had a sea change in -- in your mind frame.
NAWAZ: I was in Egypt. And it was just before my arrest and detention.
COOPER: So at that point you were an Islamist extremist?
NAWAZ: I was. And I was very indifferent to the suffering caused by 9/11 to the American people.
Since then I've gone and spoken at the 9/11 memorial. I visited Ground Zero today. But at the time it happened, I was so full of rage and anger towards democracy and the western America, that it didn't touch me whatsoever, because I was consumed by what I had defined as my own people's suffering.
COOPER: So how do you -- because now you lecture people, you go to people, you argue with them of trying to change Islamists' minds, extremists' minds? If this is a long war and it's a war of ideas, as well as a military war, how do you go about changing somebody's minds?
NAWAZ: Crucial to this is basically picking holes in what I call the Islamist narrative. The Islamist narrative says that there's a war going on against Islam and Muslims.
The genocide in Bosnia was a recruitment tool for extremists because of the fact that it was so easy to make that point with Bosnia, as it is with many other conflicts across the world.
Now, importantly when I go to Pakistan and I say, "Look, you guys are upset about, say, U.S. drone strikes," which I, too, oppose, but ultimately more Pakistani Muslims have died because of Taliban attacks and al Qaeda attacks than they have by U.S. drone strikes. COOPER: It's also frustrating because, as Christiane knows, and I was in Bosnia, as well, ultimately, the U.S. did get involved, in Somalia where I was at the height of the famine. The U.S. did get involved and Americans were killed.
NAWAZ: So if you now speak to Kosovos and if you now speak to Libyans where -- two cases where there have been surgical strikes, intervention on a limited scope, and not troops on the ground, the Kosovo Muslims and Libyan Muslims are still to this day, despite the assassination of Ambassador Chris Stevens by a faction, al Qaeda, not the people of Libya who protested against that assassination, the Libyans are still very pro-U.S. and pro-NATO as are the Kosovos. And they're well-meaning so (ph).
Now, the thing we're intervening in Syria, is if it's done in the right way, in a proper way, without troops on the ground, without toppling the regime, just disabling Assad's capability to strike at his own people with chemical weapons and with jets, with the air force, it dents al Qaeda's narrative that there's a global war going on against Islam Muslims.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you?
NAWAZ: That is crucial. And it's in America's interests.
SULLIVAN: ... Muslims, too, right?
NAWAZ: No, no. That's an overwhelmingly naive thing to say. You've got a man who -- I'm not saying he's not a Muslim. Try to make that case to the overwhelming majority of the Syrian people.
SULLIVAN: Shia. Doesn't it depend who you're making the argument to? The Sunnis or the Alawites or the Christians?
NAWAZ: The main gripe with Assad began because he was a dictator who, and his father likewise, who tortured.
SULLIVAN: Why do the Christians -- why do the Christians now fear the opposition more than Assad?
NAWAZ: They fear the Jabat al-Nusra faction of the opposition.
SULLIVAN: They're right to.
NAWAZ: We don't use the word opposition in that generalized way.
AMANPOUR: But I want to ask you this, because, you know, talking about Libya, Syria, Egypt, there was a feeling during the Arab Spring that the narrative of al Qaeda was fading, that the whole idea of violence in order to get democracy was fading and they were doing it by uprising, et cetera. Syria has now brought back the narrative of al Qaeda.
COOPER: Do you believe al Qaeda is stronger than... (CROSSTALK)
AMANPOUR: Where do you think al Qaeda is?
NAWAZ: Al Qaeda and Jabat al-Nusra are more effective. We've got to keep one thing in mind here that you just mentioned, which is that this comes off the back of the Egyptian military overthrowing -- a regime I was very critical of, Muslim Brotherhood. I spent time with their leaders in prison. I know them intimately. I've been very critical of the ideology, per se. So I've been critical of the Muslim Brotherhood's track record. But at the same time, I don't believe it military dictatorships.
So at the back of a democratically yet liberal (ph) regime being overthrown by a military regime in Egypt, we now have the Syria scenario. So it's very easy for al Qaeda now to say, "Look, we tried democracy in Egypt. And, you know, we used to give flowers to the Syrian troops, and now we're being killed. The only thing that works is violence." That's a recruitment sergeant of Syrians to al Qaeda.
COOPER: I want to bring in Leon Wieseltier. He's the literary editor of "The New Republic." He joins us now from Washington.
Leon, I know you've been listening to this. You support military action. Why? In Syria?
LEON WIESELTIER, LITERARY EDITOR, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": I support it for a variety of reasons. I support it because I'm quite confident that, if we do nothing, the following will happen.
The mass slaughter will continue into the hundreds of thousands. There will be 3.5 million refugees outside of Syria's borders by the end of this calendar year. Jordan will be destabilized or destroyed, Lebanon will be re-destabilized and re-destroyed. Turkey will be severely damaged.
The moderate opposition in Syria will get weaker and weaker and more and more demoralized. The chemical weapons will fall into the wrong hands or continue to be used by the man who's used them for at least 35 times that we know of.
COOPER: So many people say...
WIESELTIER: And eventually when Assad falls, we will get al Qaeda. He will bring us al Qaeda the way Mubarak brought us the Muslim Brotherhood.
COOPER: Is this in the interests of the United States? And why? People in the United States say why is the U.S. having to be the world's policeman? You look at Congo. The U.S. hasn't intervened in Congo.
WIESELTIER: We are in no danger -- probably under this administration, we are in no danger of becoming the world's policeman. An intervention in Syria at this point would be consistent firstly with our values. We should do it because we believe it certain things. We do not believe that the humanitarian element or I hope we don't is invalid in American foreign policy. We should do it because we're the only country that will do it...
COOPER: Aren't there a lot of humanitarian places?
WIESELTIER: Yes, there are. Yes, there are.
COOPER: I bring up Congo. It is the deadliest conflict since World War II.
WIESELTIER: There are. Yes, there are. And that is a perfectly fine alibi for helping exactly nowhere.
More importantly -- not even more importantly, as importantly-- strategically, there is nothing more important to the United States in the Middle East than to damage the strategic position of Iran, in my view.
If Assad persists in power, the Iranians and Assad and Hezbollah could continue in this growing position of strength. It is something that -- it is enormously in our strategic interests to do.
Now, nobody, nobody is suggesting that 100,000 plus troops be introduced anywhere. But we are now so interested, we are now so actively looking for ways not to intervene in this problem, we are doing everything we possibly can to have no impact on this.
COOPER: Let me just jump in here. Because I'm a broken record on this. But we...
WIESELTIER: I am, too.
COOPER: There are plenty of wars that get started where no one expects it's going to become that. No one expected there would have to be a surge in Afghanistan what ten years after small groups and special forces on horseback helped overthrow the government there.
WIESELTIER: I understand that. I understand that. I understand that. But let me say first, we are a famously war-weary country. And with good reason. But history doesn't take timeouts.
COOPER: I don't know what that means.
WIESELTIER: What that means is that our exhaustion may not be a sufficient reason for the United States not to muster the energy to intervene in a conflict for sound moral and strategic reasons.
Secondly, I do not know for certain what the outcome of the limited but vigorous intervention that I advocate -- and by the way, I'm under no illusions that the policy I proposed has a chance of ever being adopted by this administration.
COOPER: What is the policy you proposed?
WIESELTIER: The policy I propose is -- the policy that I propose -- no, no. The policy I propose is, since the Syrian population is the no entirely composed of sectarian lunatics and jihadist maniacs but consists largely of people who would like a dignified life, and since there is a moderate opposition in Syria, and since whereas the jihadist fighting force there is powerful but remains distinctly in the minority, I propose the following.
That the United States, alone or in concert with its allies, begin to develop this opposition, first politically. The same people who are telling us not to do this now were telling us not to do this two years ago when a lot could have been accomplished.
Well, hold on, Andrew. Second I propose that we help these people military by arming them and by destroying Assad's monopoly of the skies which is the only thing that is keeping the opposition from making any real military advancement.
AMANPOUR: Exactly his point.
WIESTELIER: Exactly what Mr. Nawaz is saying.
AMANPOUR: And for me, been in Bosnia and elsewhere and seen all this, and actually obviously seeing what Maajid has said, in Libya, in Kosovo, in Bosnia still, people are grateful for what the United States did. And that is in the United States' interests!
COOPER: Andrew, go ahead.
SULLIVAN: Look, look, look, I just think these arguments sound as if the Iraq war never happened.
WIESTELIER: Andrew, the Iraq war is not the only thing one need to know about the American foreign policy.
SULLIVAN: Biggest disaster in American foreign policy which you have supported and still have not recanted from.
WIESTELIER: Hold on, my friend. You know very well that when I learned there were no weapons of mass destruction I recanted my support of that war very clearly and immediately. However, that does not mean that I do not believe that no good may have come out of that war.
WIESTELIER: That's correct. However, this is not about Iraq, believe it or not.
SULLIVAN: It is.
WIESTELIER: No, it is not. No, it is not. It's about an actually...
COOPER: I'm going to go with Maajid for one final thought. Go ahead, Maajid.
NAWAZ: I was in prison when Iraq happened. I opposed it. Every single reason we could put forward you could put forth for not doing something, also applies to doing something. If you're worried about regional war it's already happening. If you're worrying about sectarian conflict, it's already starting out of control. If you're worried about al Qaeda, they're getting stronger.
SULLIVAN: Do we want to get in the middle of it?
NAWAZ: So therefore, none of those reasons apply, because they happen in both cases.
COOPER: We've got to go.
NAWAZ: So we've got to think about our principals and why we need to act.
SULLIVAN: And why we don't want to be enmeshed in a struggle.
COOPER: We'll be right back. We'll be right back.
COOPER: That's all the time we have for this edition of AC 360 LATER.
"CRISIS IN SYRIA: DECISION POINT" with Jake Tapper is next. Thanks for watching.