Return to Transcripts main page
AC 360 LATER
Crisis in Syria
Aired September 12, 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. Good evening, everyone. Welcome to "AC360 Later."
We're going to get to our panel in just a moment. But there is breaking news at the top of the hour to update you on, a massive fire in the Jersey Shore this hour continuing to tear across the boardwalk in the town of Seaside Park, an area just recovered from Hurricane Sandy. Wooden buildings, an open boardwalk, gusty winds, blowing embers all making this a monster.
It started at an ice cream stand, eventually spreading to at least 20 buildings growing to six alarms. Crews coming from all across the area, around 400 firefighters, compounding the misery this stretch of shoreline as I said was just getting back on its feet after superstorm Sandy.
And joining us now on the phone is Seaside Park Mayor Robert Matthies.
Mr. Mayor, thank you very much for being with us. What is the latest? How bad is the fire at this point?
ROBERT MATTHIES, MAYOR OF SEASIDE PARK, NEW JERSEY: We're continuing to try to extinguish the fire. We have approximately 37 companies here, over 400 personnel, firefighters trying to do their job.
COOPER: When we talked earlier, you had said this was a fire over basically an eight-block area. Is it contained still in that eight-block area?
MATTHIES: Yes, it is.
The fire has been contained or stopped the spread of the northern advancement of that fire in Seaside Heights.
COOPER: In terms of the status of the fire, though, it is still very much out of control, correct?
MATTHIES: There's been no declaration that it is under control. But I will say to you just from my observation that it looks like the good efforts of the fire companies and the responders and the coordination and teamwork have this thing where it's starting to diminish. COOPER: Can you explain just how it was able to spread so quickly for people who haven't been there, a lot of the buildings are all connected, correct?
MATTHIES: Well, they are all connected. But probably the most significant situation was there was a 25- or 30-mile-an-hour wind blowing from the south and east. And once that fire started, it just -- the velocity of the wind just moved it forward to the northern parts of Seaside Heights.
COOPER: Your community has stood strong in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. You rebuilt, you reopened. Do you have any doubt you're going to rebuild and reopen again on this boardwalk?
MATTHIES: I have no doubt at all. We're pretty resilient here. And we have had the great support of our governor, Governor Christie, to make sure we had the resources necessary to have a summer season.
We just accomplished that. We're I think pretty satisfied with the degree in which we could entertain tourists and summer residents and so on. But this will be a difficult challenge, because this is an area that attracts many, many of the people that come to Seaside Park and Seaside Heights for their summer vacations.
COOPER: Well, Mayor Matthies, I know you have to go. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and all the firefighters right now battling so hard. I wish they'd stay safe and get this thing under control quickly. Thank you very much for joining us.
We're going to continue to monitor developments throughout this evening.
But now the showdown with Syria to talk about, a lot to talk about today, talks today and tomorrow to bring it to a diplomatic conclusion, one involving Syria turning over its chemical arsenal. Secretary of State Kerry in Geneva tonight for two days of talks with his Russian counterpart, the two sides still divided over what to do if Syria reneges on a deal.
The United States wanting to retain the option of military action, Syria today making moves to sign onto the international treaty barring chemical weapons. Accusations by the opposition that the Assad regime is already trying to hide chemical weapons in Lebanon and Iraq. Here at home, backlash to Russian President Vladimir Putin's op-ed in "The New York Times."
It's on the table tonight. And at the table tonight, chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, Andrew Sullivan, founding editor of The Dish. You can find it at AndrewSullivan.com. I highly recommend the site. Charles Blow, CNN political commentator and op-ed columnist for "The New York Times" and later in the fifth chair, writer, raconteur, international correspondent, one of the best in the business, Christopher Dickey joins us as well. A lot to talk about.
What do you make of what came out of -- what we know came out of the talks today?
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that Secretary Kerry gave a very stern, stiff and serious declaration at the beginning, going into the meeting with Sergei Lavrov.
He basically said this has to be serious and we're not playing around here. It has to be credible, it has to be timely. We're not just going to wait forever to see whether Assad is going to play ball. It has to be verifiable and it has to have consequences if Assad reneges and if the Russians don't keep him on the straight and narrow. Assad himself gave an interview to Russian television today where for the first time he basically admitted he had chemical weapons, having denied it all, bloviated to Charlie Rose.
COOPER: Also in that interview, which to me that's the headline of this interview that he gave, he said not only does the threat of military force have to be off the table, but the international community cannot arm the rebels.
AMANPOUR: This is the thing. That's why Secretary Kerry has to negotiate very hard in that room with Lavrov and not take his only piece of leverage off the table if you're going to get this chemical weapons thing, even have a chance of getting done.
And I thought Secretary Kerry was quite bold, because in his statement going in, he basically said, he dispensed with diplomacy. He said our military posture remains. It is only the threat of force that's brought to us this diplomatic point and brought President Putin and the Russians here. He said that to Lavrov.
COOPER: But, Andrew, if Assad is already saying now we have this other part of it, it's not just the threat of military force that can't be on the table, you can't fund the rebels or you can't arm the rebels.
ANDREW SULLIVAN, ANDREWSULLIVAN.COM: Of course we shouldn't fund the rebels.
COOPER: But the CIA is doing that.
SULLIVAN: It shouldn't.
The CIA seems to be some shadow government here. The president said we are not putting boots on the ground. Where are the CIA?
COOPER: Why shouldn't the U.S...
MATTHIES: Because we have no interest in the future or the resolution of that conflict. It is a civil war in a country divided and has been divided for decades if not centuries by these sectarian differences, and the government just as in Iraq is led by a minority of Alawites who the British and the French set up to control the majority.
SULLIVAN: And that's how the colonial powers set it up. That minority like the Sunnis in Iraq got all the privileges, they suppressed brutally the majority as well they might because they fear the majority.
And now we're ending the order placed and installed by Assad, as we did with Saddam. What's going to happen in that wake is an almighty sectarian civil war, like we have had in Iraq. And I don't think we have a dog in that fight at all.
COOPER: I want to quickly bring in Jim Sciutto, who is traveling with Secretary of State Kerry. He joins us from Geneva.
What jumped out at you from today's meeting, Jim?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think as Christiane referenced, the disagreements coming out very early, one on the use of force. The U.S. saying it's not going to take force off the table. Russia saying that now force should be off the table.
The other one on how quickly Syria has to comply, because President Assad said in his interview he should have 30 days to report all of his chemical weapons. That would be standard. Secretary Kerry saying from the moment he arrived here there is nothing standard about these talks because Syria has already used these weapons against their people.
You have those disagreements coming our very quickly. But one thing that struck me here is what they're speaking about is they're going to focus very much on the nuts and bolts of this, on cataloging Syria's chemical weapons, finding them and also destroying them. And that's why you have the working level groups getting at those details right now.
They want to focus on that, because they believe they could leave Geneva with a work plan for the nuts and bolts. The bigger picture issues, they say they will not be negotiating a U.N. Security Council question here that gets to the question of force. They want to focus on the nuts and bolts because partly they believe that's an achievable goal.
AMANPOUR: Jim, any readout of how their first meeting went? And this will go on perhaps for another day. Is Kerry sticking with that position?
SCIUTTO: So far, they're being mum. Both sides have agreed not to give a readout to the press tonight.
We do know that Kerry and Lavrov met quietly the two of them for dinner with a small group of staff while the working groups kept going at those nuts and bolts issues. They're going to start first thing again tomorrow morning. We also know that Kerry met with Lakhdar Brahimi talking about the broader issue of resolving the crisis there.
Like I said, they're setting a low bar because they want to make it achievable during this time frame. That's really focusing about how they can catalog these weapons. But they also say -- if I can add -- that they have two early tests as to whether Syria is sincere. One of those is how forthcoming Syria is with all the information about their chemical weapons sites. That's going to be one of the first tests they're looking for.
CHARLES BLOW, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The administration has always contended that the ultimate goal in Syria was to have a diplomatic solution where Assad would no longer be in power.
The implicit suggestion of these talks that no one is saying is that what we're working towards is a situation where the chemical weapons would be removed, but Assad would remain. And that seems to be the overall framework. And that is our interest, I think, Andrew.
Is that your understanding of where we are moving toward and is the administration giving up on this what they have always contended, was that Assad should go in a diplomatic solution, Jim?
SCIUTTO: He is the missing participant here. And everything depends on him.
And what the U.S. is saying is that are going to rely on the Russians to keep Assad to his word. Of course, Assad says he doesn't want to deal with the U.S. because he doesn't trust them. Of course, there are trust issues between the U.S. and Russia as well. That's the background. And we saw some awkward moments between Lavrov and Kerry where you saw some of those trust issues come out.
But like you say, the key participant who is absent from these talks is President Bashar al-Assad.
AMANPOUR: And obviously the Americans are not going to be negotiating, they say, with Bashar al-Assad.
They have to negotiate with his patrons, with Russia. Get Putin to put the pressure on and, interestingly, although the U.S. is a little bit touchy about this, the U.N. and the chief political officer has been to Tehran, wants Iran involved in this.
SULLIVAN: Absolutely. Iran should be.
AMANPOUR: To put the pressure on Assad and to make sure that they comply with all this.
SULLIVAN: Which gives the United States a great opening to start talking to Rouhani and the moderate elements in that regime, to work on common areas of interest.
(CROSSTALK) AMANPOUR: I think that's absolutely right. I think we're going to see -- I know we're digressing a little bit, but it's very, very pertinent. President Rouhani, who is a reform president and who has already made changes in tone, as well as some substance..
COOPER: Right, tweeting out about Rosh Hashanah.
AMANPOUR: Well, not just that, but serious things. And that is seriously obviously, but also about nuclear and those negotiations. He's come together U.N. and he's probably going to show a much different face for sure than Ahmadinejad did.
COOPER: I want to bring you back to this conversation. I want to bring in Reuel Marc Gerecht into the conversation. While at the CIA, he dealt with just about every Middle East hot spot you can mention and currently he writes for "The Weekly Standard" and is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Andrew was just saying he doesn't believe there is a national interest in arming the rebels. Do you agree with that? And if not, why?
REUEL MARC GERECHT, MIDDLE EAST EXPERT: No, I think there are many interests with arming the rebels.
I would be a little bit more aggressive than that. I think that, one, Bashar al-Assad should pay for what he did in Iraq. He aided and abetted and sent jihadis over to kill American civilians and soldiers. I think we should recall the Khobar Towers event in 1996. The Saudi Shiites who were directed by the Iranians, they fled. Where did they go? They went to Syria. There's a reason for that.
Syria has aided and abetted terrorism in that region, particularly terrorism by the Hezbollah and the Iranians for decades. So I think having Assad go down is a very good idea.
SULLIVAN: Hold on. What happens then? I know you don't want to discuss what happens when we get rid of Saddam or when we get rid of Assad, but what happens then? Who runs the country, if there is a country?
GERECHT: I think you obviously are going to have a recalibration there. And I think the Americans should be in there.
SULLIVAN: Recalibration. We're talking about a massive civil war like we had in Iraq.
COOPER: Let him answer. Let him answer.
GERECHT: I think the primary issue is if you think there is a threat, Sunni radical extremist threat in Syria, it's developing because of what Assad is doing.
It will only get worse because what Assad is doing. They probably represent between 10 to 15 percent of the opposition. That number will grow. The terrain they hold will grow. If you want to stop that threat then you have got to bring down Assad. The sooner you do it, the better.
SULLIVAN: You think that bringing down Saddam managed to calm down all the Sunni extremists in Iraq?
AMANPOUR: You know why that didn't happen, right? It's because the post-war plan was a complete...
SULLIVAN: We have no plan.
SULLIVAN: No one has thought through what happens when we get rid of this guy.
AMANPOUR: That is the worry. However, I would just say one thing.
SULLIVAN: I don't know how you can be so sanguine about this kind of carnage.
AMANPOUR: Oh, my God. I'm not sanguine about carnage. I think we should be doing something about it. You don't.
But let me tell you this. You just said, Charles Blow, that we don't have a dog in this fight.
AMANPOUR: One of you said it. I'm sorry. You said that.
SULLIVAN: Whose dog are you for?
AMANPOUR: You said -- and you said that we need Assad to patrol this.
BLOW: That's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is this very specifically.
AMANPOUR: That is what you said. We need Assad to police this.
BLOW: I didn't say that. I said -- what I'm saying is that no one wants Assad to go right now, right?
AMANPOUR: OK, fine. OK. You need Assad now to police this. That's what I just said.
AMANPOUR: Let me just say something. In 1991, Marc, and you will remember this, President George Bush I and his secretary of state said the same thing about another famously fractious place and that was the Balkans in Serbia.
They decided that Milosevic sort of was needed and they had no dog in this fight and guess what happened? It just exploded beyond anybody's control. You remember it. I remember it.
AMANPOUR: Wait just one second, seriously now. It was the foreign policy nightmare that sucked up all the oxygen of the United States and the rest of the Europe for the entire period of the '90s. And then guess what happened? The United States finally got tough. And then guess what happened?
The United States went and got rid of Milosevic with no boots on the ground, none, not only did they stop a carnage but they got rid of Milosevic and now in Serbia the...
COOPER: You can argue during commercial break, I have no doubt.
COOPER: Guys, guys, we have got to take a break. We will be right back. Marc can stick around.
We will be right back.
COOPER: Always appreciate your tweets joining in the conversation online at AC360.com and on Twitter.
The videos showing the youngest victims of last month's chemical weapons attack in Syria are horrifying, there's no doubt about it. In making its case for military strikes, the White House has repeatedly invoked the images of the dead and the dying children.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And we believe that our global security is advanced when children cannot be gassed to death by a dictator.
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Instead of being tucked safely in their beds at home, we saw rows of children lying side by side, sprawled on a hospital floor.
SUSAN RICE, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: If we begin to erode the moral outrage of gassing children in their bed, we open ourselves up to even more fearsome consequences.
BEN RHODES, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Do we want to let somebody get away with gassing to death hundreds of children?
OBAMA: Delivering chemical weapons against children is not something we do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And just today, new disturbing pictures in a photo essay published by "TIME" magazine showing up close the brutalities of the civil war in Syria.
I want to warn you these images are incredibly graphic. They were taken by professional photojournalists. They show Islamic militants publicly decapitating a young Syrian man. Obviously, we're not going to show you that. The question on the table, should these images with their power to overwhelm be off-limits in this debate? That idea was a thread on Andrew Sullivan's blog at AndrewSullivan.com today.
He's back with us, along with Christiane Amanpour, Charles Blow from "The New York Times," Reuel Marc Gerecht. And Christopher Dickey, Middle East editor at "Newsweek" and The Daily Beast is in our fifth chair tonight.
This whole idea was prompted really by something I read on your Web site today. Explain why you don't think it's fair to kind of throw these images out there and use them in this debate.
SULLIVAN: It is absolutely fair and important for us to observe this horrifying thing.
We should. I'm not saying we shouldn't. I think we should feel it, see it, absorb it, think about it, and face up to it. But statecraft is not about emotional, visceral responses. Statecraft requires someone to see the world as it is but then to make serious judgments about our interests, the future, unintended consequences.
You cannot run foreign policy by emotional spasms. And my fear is that that emotional spasm threw Obama off his essential trajectory of keeping out of this.
COOPER: Christopher, what do you think about that?
CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, "NEWSWEEK": Well, I think, first of all, the thing to understand about American policy is that you can't motivate the American people unless you motivate them with fear or anger or pity, all very short-lived emotions. It's one of the reasons we don't have a great long-term policy, foreign policy in this country, except when we're up against Russia in the Cold War or we have got some great evil terrorist like Osama bin Laden.
What the government is trying to do, what Obama's trying to do, what Kerry is trying to do, is in fact reach an emotional pitch that will cause the American people to be interested enough in Syria to then allow the government of the United States to pursue what it thinks is a wise policy there.
Now, Andrew doesn't think it's a wise policy. I have my doubts also. But I don't see that it's an error for the president of a democracy to try and motivate the people to support the war.
COOPER: But can you separate the reality of what is happening on the ground? I mean, I know you acknowledge that it's important to see the images, it's important to know the suffering of the hundreds of thousands -- the hundred thousand people who have been killed and their family members who are still alive and suffering. But can you separate?
SULLIVAN: You have to. That's what being in public office and holding positions of power means.
COOPER: You can't be moved...
SULLIVAN: You have to be a moral man in immoral society.
AMANPOUR: I can barely contain myself at this point. How many more times do we have to say that weapons of mass destruction were used?
And as bad as it is to decapitate somebody, it is by no means equal. We can't use this false moral equivalence about what's going on right now. They tried to do it in the Second World War. They tried to do it in Bosnia. They tried to do it in Rwanda and they're trying to do it now. There is no moral equivalence.
AMANPOUR: Wait just a second. Excuse me. Excuse me.
The president of the United States and the most moral country in the world based on the most moral principles in the world, at least that's the fundamental principle that the United States rests on, cannot allow this to go unchecked, cannot allow this to go unchecked. And I will tell you what.
President Clinton, 15, 16 years later, is still apologizing for Rwanda. I just spoke to Lanny Davis, who was once his -- once his ally and his -- I'm so emotional about this.
SULLIVAN: Exactly. And you're right to be. But that is not the state of mind to be thinking right about strategy and policy.
AMANPOUR: Excuse me. I'm going to finish. No, I'm going to finish. I'm going to finish.
COOPER: OK. All right.
SULLIVAN: This is not reason. This is emotion.
AMANPOUR: I'm going to finish.
AMANPOUR: It's not emotion. This is history coming out. We have turned our eyes away from some of the most terrible crimes, some of the most terrible crimes. And that is not in America's national interests.
SULLIVAN: It is sometimes. It has to be sometimes.
AMANPOUR: No, it isn't, Andrew. No, it isn't.
BLOW: But it's a false choice say that if you do not care -- I'm sorry.
COOPER: Let him say...
BLOW: It's a false choice to suggest that if I don't want the United States to drop bombs on Syria that I do not care about the death of children.
AMANPOUR: Nobody's saying that. You're playing rhetorical games.
AMANPOUR: ... really, really important.
COOPER: One at a time. One at a time.
COOPER: Marc, go ahead. I know you're long distance. You're at a disadvantage. GERECHT: Yes. Let me just say one thing.
A great part of statecraft is soul craft. And if a tyrant kills 10,000 men, it's bad. If he kills 10,000 women, it's worse. And if he kills 10,000 children, it's the essence of pure evil. I think we need to say something about chemical weapons.
There's a reason why Bashar al-Assad used them. He needed to. He needs to keep using them. If you look at the casualty rates in Syria, the regime is not doing very well. Jeffrey White, who's a first-rate military analyst, had the arduous job of compiling them.
And to make a long story short, roughly 230,000 regime forces both regular and irregular have been wounded or died in this conflict. Around 90,000 of the opposition have. That is soldiers, that is defectors, opposition forces, Islamists all put together.
Now, if you do the math, the Alawis have roughly 15 percent of the population to draw on. The Sunnis have between 70 and 75 percent of the population. Assad has to change that kill rate. He has to make his side kill more from the other with fewer losses. He has to come back to chemical weapons. We have only seen the beginning of this.
DICKEY: I agree with Marc. But let's make it simple. If Assad can use chemical weapons, he will win this war. He will win it if it means depopulating large parts of his country by terrorizing people with chemical weapons, very much the way -- you remember when Saddam used chemical weapons in 1988, and three years later he didn't even have to use them and he drove hundreds of thousands of Kurds out of Kurdistan.
AMANPOUR: And nobody stood in his way.
DICKEY: And nobody stood in his way.
DICKEY: So, the real question Here for the statecraft of this is, do you want to allow Bashar al-Assad to use weapons of mass destruction to win this war?
SULLIVAN: No, we obviously don't.
DICKEY: From the point of view of statecraft, you absolutely do not.
SULLIVAN: You do not. And...
SULLIVAN: ... even better with statecraft...
(CROSSTALK) DICKEY: No one is even saying...
SULLIVAN: Don't we have a commitment from Russia and now possibly the U.N. Security Council to take care of those weapons?
GERECHT: Oh, Andrew, that's not serious. That's just not serious. I mean, this is surreal, the entire stage play.
I think what the president of the United States really wants to happen in these talks is that he can walk away from the fact that de facto he was slapped down by the House and the Senate. The only way I think President Obama is going to come back to this issue with any type of military force is if Assad uses those weapons during these talks.
SULLIVAN: Yes, exactly.
SULLIVAN: ... ever.
GERECHT: No, not ever. Putin has no intention whatsoever of disarming his primary client. He will not do so.
SULLIVAN: I think it's in Putin's interests to prevent those chemical weapons getting in the hands of the rebels.
And if you're right, against all the reports I'm reading, that Assad is losing, then it makes it even more important for Russia to contain those chemical weapons.
DICKEY: Look, Putin I agree again with Marc -- I almost never agree with you, Marc. I don't know why I'm agreeing with you so much tonight.
GERECHT: It's shocking. It's shocking.
DICKEY: But basically Putin saved Obama's ass in this one, completely saved him.
SULLIVAN: But Putin owns that conflict.
DICKEY: No, no, no, no. Unfortunately, we own that conflict now.
SULLIVAN: No, we do not.
(CROSSTALK) SULLIVAN: Because he is the one that's come and said, I want to enforce the control and securing of the chemical weapons. I want to do it. And I have got Assad to agree to it. He's responsible for that.
DICKEY: We will see.
SULLIVAN: I think the great achievement of the last week is that Obama has passed this ghastly (INAUDIBLE) that has got a bomb to Putin and Putin has it. And Putin has the worst end of that deal.
And if you can just leave aside the whole like my member is bigger than your -- this whole like zero sum big politics I'm bigger man than you kind of idea behind politics...
AMANPOUR: Everything is a game to you, Andrew. Everything is a game.
SULLIVAN: No, I'm saying it's not. I'm saying leave behind that game and look at the result. The result is that Putin is now responsible for this not happening, and not us.
GERECHT: No, he's not. No, he's not.
AMANPOUR: Otherwise, it's not going to work.
SULLIVAN: He said that he will take responsibility of the U.N. Security Council to ensure that these weapons are secured and eventually destroyed. He said that publicly.
DICKEY: Sure. He was going to take responsibility for Milosevic, too, in the -- not he, but the Russians were going to do.
SULLIVAN: But now it's his problem, not ours.
DICKEY: Andrew, when we see -- when Assad fails to honor his commitments, when we see the shifty terrain on which all this is built, in fact, whether you want it to be the case or not, Obama is going to be in a better position to launch airstrikes or do whatever he wants.
COOPER: ... people who completely disagree with that. I mean, McCain, clearly, Marc doesn't think so, thinks that, by then, the moment will have passed.
DICKEY: No, no, I -- no, no, no, no.
I mean, again, I -- we don't -- don't want to keep going back to Balkan history. But it was very, very interesting.
DICKEY: If you look at Kosovo, Milosevic had been there for seven years raping the Balkans. Nobody had done anything about it, but there was a sense that it had to end; it had to be ended. And there was eventually very substantial support for the Kosovo war.
COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. Roland Mark (ph), I appreciate you being on. We'll have you hear next time at the table.
Next, something Russian President Putin wrote in his op-ed on Syria caught our eye: quote, "We must not forget that God created us equal." This from a man who recently signed an anti-gay law being condemned as highly discriminatory. We'll take that up with the panel next. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Welcome back to 360 LATER. Live shot there of the Statue of Liberty.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's op-ed in the "New York Times" on the United States and Syria had a lot of noteworthy points, obviously. Went over some of them last night. But right now, I want to focus on just one.
He closed the op-ed with a point about big countries and small countries, rich and poor, each with its own policies and then this quote. He said, quote, "We all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."
Certainly a nice sentiment but pretty hypocritical, you could say, coming from a man who recently signed into law an anti-gay measure in his country, one that bans public discussion of equal rights for gays and relationships with gay people anywhere children might hear it, to stop so-called propaganda.
Our zinger (ph) panel is back to talk about all that. Did that jump out at you, I mean, Andrew, obviously?
SULLIVAN: No. I thought it was in the context of countries. I didn't think it had any -- I didn't leap to that. And...
COOPER: You're not a big fan of boycotts.
COOPER: Do you support some sort of action at the Olympics? Or... SULLIVAN: I think that -- that openly -- standing openly proud as a gay person in that Olympics or as a friend of a gay person in that Olympics, in a small way -- a rainbow flag, a symbol of presence and of visibility -- is by far the best way to handle this.
And I also think we need to be a little -- I mean, I absolutely agree with you. It is a disgusting law, and it's obviously an attempt to shore up, certainly, the orthodox church and the general legitimacy of the government by pressing these buttons. But I wouldn't -- I wouldn't respond to that op-ed with that thought. Myself.
COOPER: I want to bring in Masha Gessen. She is an openly gay journalist. She lived in Russia. She wrote a biography of Vladimir Putin. And just recently fled the country with her family, her children in the aftermath of this law.
Masha, it's good to have you on the program. Why did you feel the need to actually leave Russia?
MASHA GESSEN, JOURNALIST: Hi, it's good to be here.
Well, we haven't left yet. We're actually in the process of leaving. And the reason we're in the process of leaving is that not only has Russia passed a law against so-called homosexual propaganda, but the parliament is also now considering a law that will remove children from parents known or suspected of being homosexual. So that applies to me and my girlfriend and our three kids.
COOPER: Not just adopted children but biological children?
GESSEN: Right. Not that it should make a difference. But yes.
We first feared for our adopted child who's our oldest son. He has now left the country. He's in boarding school in Michigan. But last week on the same day that Putin was telling the Associated Press that there's no anti-gay discrimination in Russia, the Duma introduced -- actually, his party, the ruling United Russia Party, Putin's party, introduced a bill in the Duma that will remove children from -- any children, including biological children, from parents known or suspected of being homosexual.
AMANPOUR: Masha, you know, sometimes when we see these appalling laws and these things that Putin and the government are doing, you know, some of us actually can't even believe it, that it's serious. And is it just to shore up his own -- you know, his own government, his own support.
But tell me what it's like on the streets. Does it trigger aggression? Does it trigger violence and backlash against you and other gays?
GESSEN: Absolutely. There's been a huge jump in anti-gay violence all over the country. And in many different ways. I mean, there are three different kinds of violence that we have seen just in the last few months. The first kind is the public kind for the cameras, when people come out to protest these anti-gay laws. And they're -- we are beaten up. I was personally beaten up in front of the Duma. Many other people have been beaten many times. And the police do not interfere, or at most they interfere by taking the gay protesters into custody and leaving the gay bashers out in the street to continue.
The second kind of violence is the kind of violence that clearly results from the hate campaign that has been launched by the Kremlin that's on television at this point day in and day out. An example of that is a recent murder in Volgograd, where three -- a young man was drinking beer with his buddies, people that he had grown up with. He came out to them. They raped him with their beer bottles, and then they crushed his skull. This sort of thing is being reported all over the country.
And -- and it's very clear that that conversation started because of the anti-gay campaign on television. And that violence occurred because of the anti-gay campaign. And one of the men detained in connection with this murder said, "He said he's an faggot, and it offended my patriotic feelings."
COOPER: What -- what's your take on the Olympics.
GESSEN: ... violence...
COOPER: Sorry. What is your take on the Olympics, on what anybody can do about this? I mean, is there something that should be -- can be done internationally?
GESSEN: Absolutely. And the Olympics are Putin's personal project. It is extremely important for him that the Olympics go off without a hitch. Putin personally lobbied the International Olympic Committee to get the Olympics to Russia.
And at the same time, he thinks that he can get away with attacking a minority in his own country and still have the Olympics. It should be made very clear to him through as many ways as possible that that's not going to happen. And that means economic boycotts. That means boycotts on the level of the delegations that go to the Olympics. The first lady should refuse to go to the Olympics and should explain why she is not going. That sort of thing.
SULLIVAN: I think the first lady should go and wear a rainbow button. And I think, look, the Olympics are always going to be this kind of -- there's always going to be controversy about them. We had them in the authoritarian country of China, which represses freedom of speech and all sorts of other political and civil rights.
I just think that the way forward is to actually engage and to stand up as international people in that country for gay visibility. I think boycotting is a little futile. I don't think it necessarily helps Russia's gays.
BLOW: Andrew -- Andrew, I disagree. SULLIVAN: Well, I would defer to you, Masha, to be honest with you. I mean, you live there. I don't. And I respect you enormously. So tell me why I'm wrong.
GESSEN: Thank you. You're wrong, because what you're talking about would be very effective if the problem were with the Russian people. If what we wanted to confront was societal homophobia, then yes, wearing a rainbow pin, engaging might work.
The problem is not with societal homophobia. The problem is with the Kremlin's hate campaign. It's coming from up top; it's not coming from the public. And the message to the Kremlin, the message that really gets across is snubbing. It's telling Putin that his life is going to be hell as long as these laws stand. Wearing a rainbow pin does not make his life hell. Not showing up for the Olympics makes his life hell.
BLOW: And the bigger point is that this was woven into the context of him trying to chastise President Obama on kind of being open and not -- his world view. I think -- I think in the context of that particular op-ed, it's very striking. I think it is -- I take it at that level. Not necessarily, you know -- I look at Masha and I'm thinking, how is this person the person who has any moral authority to chastise our president on anything?
DICKEY: Well, absolutely he doesn't.
My question to Masha would be, if it's coming from top down, why? What's in it for Putin to do this? Is he just crazy on this subject? Or is there some political calculation here?
GESSEN: It's a little bit of both. I don't think he's crazy on the subject of gays and lesbians. He is crazy on the subject of what he perceives as western influence, as foreign agents. This is part of a broad crackdown on civil society. And that crackdown has had two themes, one of which is fighting so-called foreign agents.
And Putin sincerely believes that Hillary Clinton personally inspired the protests that began in December of 2011. He looks at those protests, and he sees enemies of the state; he sees foreigners; he sees, again, foreign agents. And to him, LGBT people are the quintessential foreign agents. And that's why we have ended up the prime target.
AMANPOUR: Just a quickie, Masha. Do you think that the political pressure can let up at all, for instance, with the very close defeat of the reform candidate, the mayor of Moscow? Do you think there's any chance of that kind of reform politics breaking through and mitigating this kind of situation?
GESSEN: Unfortunately I don't. I think Putin's regime at this point is acting like a cornered animal. It's lashing out. Sometimes it retreats for a very short time as happened when Navoni was first sentenced to five years in prison and then released.
I am absolutely certain that Navoni will be incarcerated as soon as the attention dies down a little bit. And that actually -- that business about attention is key. As long as the world is paying attention to what's happening to LGBT people in Russia and to other parts of civil society, that makes us just a little bit safer.
COOPER: Masha, I wish you and your wife and your kids the best. And I hope you're able to get out and find -- find sanctuary.
There's been a lot of talk on Syria and for good reason tonight. There's a lot of other things going on in the world and in the United States we haven't talked about. We've got a great panel here, so next we're going to talk about the stories that have gone unnoticed today, maybe to you and maybe to me, but not to them. We'll talk about that up ahead.
COOPER: Thanks for all your tweets about the show. We're back with our panel.
I want to switch gears. Often in news, we end up covering the same stories day after day. And one of the things I like about Andrew Sullivan's Web site, AndrewSullivan.com, is the variety of stories. You kind of come across stories that you don't see anywhere else.
And so we thought on this show we should have everybody on the panel kind of talk about the stories of the day that they think have gone uncovered. So Charles, what story do you think has not been...
BLOW: This is not uncovered exactly. And it's this week, not today. But I think that the -- the image that comes out of George Zimmerman's newest arrest with the domestic violence situation with his -- with his soon-to-be ex-wife.
COOPER: Allegations of domestic violence.
BLOW: Allegations. Whatever happened at that -- at her -- at the father's -- at her, Shellie Zimmerman's father's house. Whatever happened he was handcuffed; he was taken into whatever they call -- the detention.
But what it showed us, though, both the 911 call and the images that we had from dash cam videos and what have you is that this is a person who can be explosive. And that is a very different image than what we were shown and what we were led to believe in the trial.
COOPER: I actually talked to his attorney, Mark O'Mara, who's now sort of quit his larger case but is still his attorney on some smaller things. And he said -- I said, are you concerned about your client? Are you concerned? I mean, this guy's been pulled over twice now for speeding. He has a gun in the car both times in the last month or two since the trial. Had this incident. There was obviously the Trayvon Martin incident and what occurred before that, his interaction with the police, which I think the charges were dropped on that. So this is a guy who has had a lot of involvement with the police. BLOW: This is the first time we have documentary kind of evidence. What we had during the trial was he was presented as soft; he was soft-spoken. You know, one of the people who listened to him in the police precinct said he came in and talked about his Catholic faith. He was very soft-spoken.
COOPER: So you're saying we're seeing a different side of him.
BLOW: We're seeing a very different side. The first jurors came out, gave him this kind of very affectionate nickname. She kept calling him Georgie.
This is not Georgie. Georgie shows up with a 400-pound bodyguard, with -- the woman who should know George better than any person on this planet believes that he is angry enough to shoot her and her father.
SULLIVAN: We can't retry the guy. So why are we talking about this?
BLOW: Because I think that it is important...
COOPER: It's interesting.
SULLIVAN: I'm just saying it is fascinating. I will say that. I'm just like I don't know quite what one wants to get out of that.
COOPER: All right. Let's -- I want to talk about a story I think is interesting.
SULLIVAN: I didn't mean to say it that way.
COOPER: But you did say it that way.
The story I think is interesting and hasn't got a lot of attention this woman, Dr. Elizabeth O'Bagy or O-BAY-ghee, who is at least allegedly a Syria expert, allegedly a doctor, a Ph.D., who has now been widely quoted not only by John Kerry and Senator McCain in hearings as being kind of an expert on the rebel movement in Syria.
Turns out she lied about having a Ph.D. at all. So she's not a doctor; she doesn't have a Ph.D. In fact, she started off as, like, an intern about a year ago. And to me it just -- I think you talk about this on your Web site. It's very much an insight into Washington.
SULLIVAN: It is. It's how you gin up a war that is not in in the country's interests.
COOPER: Well, I look at it as more a personal story of someone who's an imposter, a wannabe imposter.
AMANPOUR: I am very glad I never knew her. COOPER: I'm fascinated by imposters. I just think her story is really -- she's on another network, on FOX. But no, we did not have her on the show. For you what's on the story?
AMANPOUR: Well, I did interview Macklemore, otherwise known as Ben Haggerty. He is a white rapper, hip-hop. And in North Carolina a middle-school teacher was suspended for having shown his video, which is called "Same Love" to the school, to the class. And it's about...
COOPER: We have the video. Let's play a little bit of the video.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MACKLEMORE, RAPPER (rapping): Somehow forgotten but we paraphrase a book written 3,500 years ago. I don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): I can't change even if I try.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So a teacher played that in a class?
AMANPOUR: Yes. And Macklemore did something quite brave. Because as you know, the hip-hop culture, as he told me, is very testosterone, homophobic, fuelled by, you know, anti-gay sentiments. And he came out and made a very, very powerful video. He said he had two gay uncles. His godfather was gay. He was very moved by the story of the young 13-year-old gay boy you remember who committed suicide after being bullied. And he decided to come out and use his music to send a message.
And in fact, he got the award at MTV just recently for the best video with a social message. And he's a really charming fellow. And I had a great interview with him. And I thought it was really brave to do what he did. And I think it's great he...
COOPER: I like Christiane Amanpour's untold story was about a rapper.
AMANPOUR: Thank you.
COOPER: Andrew, to you.
SULLIVAN: I'm just going to point out that on September 30 the federal government runs out of money. That seems...
COOPER: Way to bring it down, Andrew.
SULLIVAN: That's an important moment. Unless the Republican Party in the House can actually get its act together and figure out what it wants to do, we're going to have a series of pretty major crises. We could have a crisis over funding the government. It may have to shut down. We might have a crisis in the works over the debt ceiling, which our credit rating will once again be at stake.
This -- I don't want to bring it to Syria, but it does show you, this country is bankrupt. It doesn't have a consensus of what to do about that. And yet we are still talking about going into places we cannot know and cannot control in ways we did before that cost us and bankrupted us in the first place. And that's a useful reality check.
BLOW: Can we just talk about the rapper again?
AMANPOUR: Andrew is wrong. We're not talking about going into any country. And we do have to think about -- and I butchered -- butchered Lanny Davis's title. He was President Clinton's special counsel.
And he said to me tonight, and he wrote a very powerful article, that the president has been apologizing for years and so have the U.N. for leaving that untouched and seeing those piles and piles of bodies.
And I think the question is -- no, seriously. The question is what kind of a world do we want to live in? We want to live in a world that has American values, western values, democratic values, moral values.
DICKEY: Imposed by bombs?
AMANPOUR: No, we're not talking about that.
DICKEY: I want to live in that kind of world, too. But Christiane, you've covered the same wars I have. You've covered more wars than I have.
DICKEY: Our experience in trying to take those things to the rest of the world through force either by stopping bad guys or installing good guys...
AMANPOUR: Sometimes it's minimal action work, as the president himself said.
DICKEY: Please. When?
AMANPOUR: As the president himself said, targeted action works.
COOPER: We have about 30 seconds. Do you have an untold story?
DICKEY: Well, actually -- actually, I would agree with Andrew, not that just that we're going bankrupt. But I was just going to take the train up from Washington yesterday. And all the trains were canceled. Because power lines were down on the train tracks.
Now, that in itself is not a big story. But the fact that America's falling apart is a big story. And people just don't cover it. It's one of those gradual things like some kind of wasting disease. And the fact that we're running out of money, the fact that we're talking about another war, because there's always money for a war, obscures the fact that we don't want to spend any money to make this a better country to live in.
COOPER: And that's the story that does not get covered, really, on the nightly news, because it's not one of those day out stories.
Good discussion tonight. Next time a little less talking over each other. Viewers are complaining. Let me hear you. Apologize.
As we go to break more from Christiane Amanpour's mad crush, Macklemore.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: My thanks to Christopher Dickey, Christiane Amanpour, Andrew Sullivan, Charles Blow. That's all the time we have for this edition of AC 360 LATER. See you again tomorrow at 8 Eastern for "AC 360 Crisis in Syria: Decision Point."
Jake Tapper is next.