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Raised Security Fears; Joan Rivers Sendoff; Obama to Outline ISIS Plan Wednesday

Aired September 8, 2014 - 08:30   ET


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want the American people to understand the nature of the threat and how we're going to deal with it and to have confidence that we'll be able to deal with it.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: What will give you that confidence? Let's figure it out with two people who know? Fran Townsend, CNN national security analyst and former Bush administration homeland security and counter terrorism advisor. Fran's also a member of the CIA and DHS external advisory boards. And Mr. Phillip Mudd, CNN counterterrorism analyst, former CIA counterterrorism official.

Man, you guys got a lot of titles.

All right, before we talk about going forward, let's figure out exactly where the heck we are. Fran Townsend, Phillip Mudd, 9/11, they're trying to scare us again. Have you heard any credible threats against the U.S. coming around 9/11, either of you, anybody?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're not hearing any specific or credible threats right now. I mean - and I think what we know from experience is, terrorists launch attacks when they're ready, when they have the capability in place. They don't tend to hide these around anniversaries. I think people are especially sensitive because of the Benghazi attack, which came on a 9/11 anniversary. But, I mean, I think overall we're not hearing -- I'm at least not hearing anything specific.

CUOMO: Professor Mudd, I see you looking on in somewhat kind of subtle contempt, which is your face, that shows agreement generally, so I'll accept it at that and ask you the next question, which is, ISIS, oh, they're so much worse than al Qaeda. ISIS is new. We have to deal with them. They're a new threat. That's not true, Phillip Mudd, and you know it. You know that we've been fighting this same problems since the 90s. Why are these politicians trying to scare us like this is the new and worst thing ever?

PHILLIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, let's take one piece of this off the table, Chris, and I don't do politics. A lot of this, I think, is just six years into administration. There's a lot of politics going on here. But there is some reality here, and that is, we're looking at a group that, in some ways, is like what I've looked at in the past 15 to 20 years, but there are some differences. In particular, one is the amount of geography these guys own. This is

unprecedented for terrorist groups. We've seen other groups own some geographic space. These guys spanning across from Iraq to Syria, now reaching into places like Lebanon, unique. The other thing I'd mention is their access to westerners who can come back to the United States, either because they're U.S. citizens or because they're Europeans who have easy access to U.S. through what's called Visa waiver from Europe. So these two things, geography and the number of westerners in the organization, make them unique.

I agree with you. I think we're over sort of hyping this in Washington. But this is something we're doing to be dealing with for the next decade.

CUOMO: And we have been dealing with it. So, Phillip Mudd, let me stay with you. And you cannot answer this question by saying both to this next question, OK? The question is this, what defeats the threat of ISIS sooner and more effectively? Any kind of military campaign you want to architect or - or giving the Sunni majority in the region of Syria and Iraq what they want specifically in Iraq, which is ownership a part of the government, a role in some of the ministries and cultivating that relationship so that they call back all of those Iraqi war fighters and generals who are now fighting for ISIS? Which gets the problem honed down faster?

MUDD: That's easy, Chris, it's both.


MUDD: No, really, if you - if you're looking at long term solutions, the solution can't come externally. If you look at, for example, American air strikes. Those air strikes, which were escalated over the weekend, are in support of troops on the ground. If you don't have Sunnis on the ground, particularly tribes in places like Anbar province, who are opposing the militants, you can't win by bombing from the air. So I think both are critical. But if you want to rank them, you've got to have Sunnis over time deciding that they're going to take up arms against ISIS otherwise you're never going to win this campaign.

CUOMO: Fran Townsend, you've heard the same thing I have, which is, that the reason they went through Anbar so fast is because a lot of the Sunnis didn't want to fight. And the reason they didn't want to fight wasn't because they were afraid of ISIS. It was because they don't share the ideal of extremism. They share the idea of control. And they were disenfranchised, kind of, implicitly, by the U.S., by letting Maliki be in there and disenfranchised the Sunnis. We're ignoring that problem because we created it, right?

TOWNSEND: Well, you've got to - I actually think -- in answer to the question with Phil, not only is it both, but I think you've got to sequence them (ph). You need to turn the tide of the momentum. And the momentum is on ISIS' side because they've been marching across this border in both Iraq and in Syria unopposed really by any legitimate force. And so you've got to have some sort of military campaign that addresses the threat on both sides of the border. You do need a legitimate political power in Iraq that represents - is at least all inclusive that is addresses the Sunni grievances and not at the expense of either the Shia or the Sunnis, right.

CUOMO: All right. And the question that we'll leave it on today but to kind of dangle out there and we'll do more tomorrow obviously before the big speech is, who is you? Fran Townsend's says "you." That always assumes it's the U.S., Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Turks, Lebanon. Where are these people to fight for their own faith, to fight over Islam? We're not hearing about their role. We're hearing about a coalition. But why isn't their fight and why aren't they asking us to help in terms of vice versa?

TOWNSEND: There's no question that this is going to require an international coalition. And to be fair, Chris, I will tell you, when you talk to our Arab allies in the region, the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Amoratis (ph), they've been pushing the administration for the last two and a half years to act in Syria. Part of the problem --

CUOMO: Why don't they act?

TOWNSEND: But part of the problem, Chris, is, it's American leadership. We saw American leadership in Libya topple Gadhafi.

CUOMO: Well, they keep telling us, leave us alone, let us deal with our problems, don't be imperialist.

TOWNSEND: That's not true. That's not true. These governments have come to us. They offered military support. They've offered financial support, weapons. What they're looking for is American leadership to pull together the coalition. And that's what we're hoping we're going to hear from the president tomorrow and on Wednesday.

CUOMO: Well, I'm glad that, Fran, you say I'm wrong, because I want to be wrong about this situation because otherwise it looks like we're just headed down the wrong path.

Phillip Mudd, thank you very much. I knew you'd answer both. I knew you didn't have what it took to just answer that question straight up. Appreciate the perspective, as always. Fran, as well. We'll be talking about this more.

Now, Joan Rivers is another story we've been telling you about this morning. Yes, she was finally laid to rest. But I have to tell you, it was just the same way as she lived her life, over the top and fabulous. Part of the city in New York almost shut down because of how much attention she got. Star-studded. You're seeing the great Barbara Walters there. So many others joined her. And they were all there just to celebrate the woman who loved to make us laugh.


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, here we go with the five things you need to know for your with new day.

At number one, President Obama is getting ready to present his plan to defeat ISIS militants in Iraq. He'll deliver a speech Wednesday on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, mapping out plans for a U.S. lead military offensive.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to break a unity agreement with Hamas. He is accusing the group of running shadow government in Gaza and he wants a single authority operating there.

Iran's supreme leader, the ayatollah, Ali Khamenei, is recovering in a Tehran hospital following prostate surgery. His doctors say the 75- year-old is in good condition after what they call a routine operation. No details were given on the reason for the surgery.

Get ready for a royal repeat of baby watch. Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge having another little one. Too soon to say if Prince George will have a little brother or sister but we're laying our bets here.

Serena Williams silencing doubters by winning her 6th U.S. Open and 18th Grand Slam title. Overall she overwhelmed (ph) Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets Sunday. The men will battle it out later today.

We do update those five things to know, so be sure to visit for the latest.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much, Michaela.

A star-studded sendoff for the queen of comedy, just the way she would want it. Hundreds of a-list celebrities turned out to bid a final farewell to Joan Rivers Sunday. The Manhattan services, as you might expect, were over the top. Nischelle Turner's here with a look at the jokes, the laughs, the tears. A little bit of everything, huh?


BOLDUAN: Probably not.

TURNER: An over the top home going for her. That is how she wanted it. You know, at times, there were tears of sadness. Apparently at times they laugh so hard they cried. But it was a fitting sendoff. Lots of media, hundreds of fans lining the streets and a who's who of Hollywood there to say farewell.


JOAN RIVERS, COMEDIAN: I want my funeral to be a huge showbiz affair with light, and cameras, and action. I want it to be Hollywood all the way.

TURNER (voice-over): Legendary comedian Joan Rivers got exactly what she wanted Sunday, a star-studded funeral. Hollywood's most notable from film, theater and television packing New York's Temple Emanuel, honoring the woman who didn't cease filling rooms with laughter from the time she stepped on screen in 1965.

RIVERS: I never cooked when I was single because I figure I -- if the Lord wanted a woman to cook, he'd give her aluminum hands. And --

DEBORAH NORVILLE, TELEVISION ANCHOR/HOST: Her mission in life was to make people happy. She would be so thrilled to see how many blocks are filled with people who wish her well.

TURNER: Once inside, white orchids lined the alter. And close friend Howard Stern delivered the eulogy.

DR. MEHMET OZ, TV HOST: The people who came her loved her all. They knew her from the short business of entertainment but they loved her because she was a wonderful human being.

TURNER: The New York City Gay Men's Choir paid tribute to the Emmy winning funny woman with hits including "What a Wonderful World." Movie star Hue Jackman lifted spirits too with a rendition of "Quiet Please, There's a Lady on Stage."

JEFFREY ROSS, COMEDIAN: I weeped and it's tough to make me cry. I wish I could hug her. She really made me want to be a better comedian.

TURNER: According to friends inside, Rivers' daughter, Melissa, was composed, even making the audience laugh when she read a letter in which she pretended to be her mother's landlord.

DENNIS BASSO, FASHION DESIGNER: I think that Melissa has handled it with dignity and refinement, and the way that the mother, Joan, would really have wanted this to be.

TURNER: The final sendoff, pipers playing the classic "New York, New York" as Melissa and a long list of celebrities exited the synagogue. A farewell song for the big apple native who proved she could make it anywhere.


TURNER: Now we know her "Fashion Police" cohosts Giuliana Rancic, Kelly Osbourne and George Kotsiopoulos were all in attendance. They've been in New York because E! moves the entire show production here for New York Fashion Week, where they were going to tape their shows. They, of course, cancelled the tapings even before Joan's death. Last week E! taped Fashion Week specials with Kimora Lee Simmons and Oralee Shanny (ph) that ran in place of the show, but there's no word on what will run tonight. This is when "Fashion Police" is supposed to air.

BOLDUAN: Well, a fitting sendoff, I guess.


BOLDUAN: It's really nice to see this -- as her daughter said, she would want us to get back to laughing soon. It seems, as you said, this is kind of the first step to it.

TURNER: Absolutely.

CUOMO: I was a little surprised at how thick the lines were around. Not because I don't love her, of course, who doesn't. PEREIRA: Legion of fans.

CUOMO: But I respected it.

TURNER: Hundreds of people out there.

CUOMO: I was a little surprised. You know what, so were the cops. The cops were surprised by how big it was also.

PEREIRA: Legions of fans.

TURNER: Yes, lots of people.

BOLDUAN: Young - young and old.

CUOMO: Oh, yes.

BOLDUAN: I mean she had -- her fan base - in one woman -

TURNER: She was 81. She had been performing for 50 years. Come on.

BOLDUAN: That's what I was actually reading from one fan who says, this shows how much she loved - she was loved. What 81-year-old has a fan base this big showing up for her.

TURNER: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: That's very true.

All right, coming up next, we're going to talk about the president, who is gearing up to reveal his tragedy against ISIS. But what will it take to fight an enemy that can recruit followers from all over the world? We're going to speak with an expert on fundamentalist Islam coming up next.


CUOMO: President Obama plans to outline just how the U.S. will defeat ISIS in a speech on Wednesday directed at you.


CUOMO (voice-over): The question becomes, can we defeat a group that is really about an idea? An idea that is recruiting followers around the world. So Reza Aslan, we bring him in. He understands this situation very well. Author of the "New York Times" bestseller, "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth." Also an expert specializing the evolution of Islam, which is a big part of this component that's been ignored . But not today. He's also a professor at the University of California Riverside. Reza, thank you for joining us.


CUOMO: Let's put this in context of the book for a second. We're talking about these threats that are idealistic. They're about ideas, and people, and what you do to stop them. Let's WWJD it. If, because of what you know about Jesus as a politician as well as someone with a divine message, what would he do in this situation?

ASLAN: Well, I mean, I think that Jesus was somebody who was very much against the idea of social injustice, against violence for violence sake. Like most religious leaders, and certainly prophetic figures, he would be aghast at what's going on here, and that includes the profit Mohamed himself. But it is an important reminder to us that this idea of using religion to fullment (ph) revolution, to fullment violence, particularly against the powers that be is one that goes back many, many centuries. This is not a new phenomenon by any means.

CUOMO: Obviously Jesus would have the power to call on that the rest of the world does not and that leaves us with somewhat of an impasse. Now, you say the idea and religion, I think that at the core that's what we're dealing with, and yet we're not dealing with it. The most obvious way is where is that religion? Where is culture of Islam? Where are the Muslims? Yes, we hear some people, the Grand Mufti, in Afghanistan saying you know, in Saudi Arabia saying Islam is a disgrace. That's really about them calling themselves the Caliphate, which is abusive of a sensibility of his religion. Where is the Islamic world taking this fight on as a fight over its own faith?

ASLAN: Well, if what you're asking is are there Muslim organizations and individuals - -

CUOMO: Countries.

ASLAN : - - denouncing, right, countries who are denouncing it. Individuals and organizations have done a very good job of denouncing ISIS, but you're right about one thing is that there are Muslim majority countries, like Turkey, our ally, like Qatar and Kuwait who, far from actually working with us to combat ISIS and roll back their gains, have actually been doing things that have supported ISIS.

CUOMO: Does that mean that they support what ISIS wants? Because that's a big suspicion, especially here in the U.S. Well, they don't do it because all Muslims really want to dominate the world and hate the West.

ASLAN: Yes, no, I mean look, a nation state makes its decisions based on what it finds to be in its own national interest. Foreign policy is not about doing good or bad in the world. It's about protecting those interests. For a whole host of reasons right now, countries in the UAE including Kuwait and Qatar and even Turkey find that it's in their own national interest to at the very least not openly fight against ISIS. Now, that's something that the president is going to have a very difficult time sort of changing their minds if you will.

CUOMO: How do they explain that? When I come to you and you're Jordan, and I say you've got to get in there and fight this. You're next. They're coming after you.

ASLAN: Well, Jordan is not a problem but that's a good argument to make against a country like for instance like Turkey, which is a little bit afraid of ISIS. Its got about 50 of its citizens being held hostage by ISIS. But at the same time, there are some economic opportunities that Turkey has been gaining from ISIS' black market sale of, for instance, diesel and fuel in Turkey. For Qatar and Kuwait, they see their own positions in the UAE as being somewhat protected by the gains that ISIS gains. And then of course there's the Shia - Sunni divide. There's so many different reasons why people are for or against ISIS, but I think what's happening now is that there's finally the international will, led by the president himself, to say that this is a group that is a danger to all of us, regardless of your religion, regardless of your ideology. That's a message that's starting to get through.

CUOMO: But if they're all about religion, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Levant, whatever you want to call them. First of all, I think we probably care too much about what they want to be called. Shouldn't the Islamic world come out and say this is not Islam? Not in a whispered voice, not in articulate individuals, but nations that see themselves as religious states coming out and saying this is not who we are. We will put a stop to it.

ASLAN: Well, the voices of organizations and individuals is overwhelming and if anybody is questioning whether Muslims have been denouncing ISIS or not, a simple Google search will answer that question. But with nation states it's all a matter of trying to get them to go beyond their economic and political interests and to recognize that, as you say, that this is a blight on the Muslim world. That Muslims everywhere, whether they are a government or individuals, are in danger by the ideology that this fanatical group represents.

CUOMO: And in the midst of all this negativity and all of this hostility toward religion, what religion really means, not a new book, but a book that may have a new application to dialogue. Your book, "Zealot." Now, this is not just a chronicling of what you could figure out about Jesus, but you look very carefully at what he did and why with the political side of messages as well as the religious motivation. What's the lesson in here for us today?

ASLAN: I think the lesson is that religion is always much more a matter of identity than it is a matter of beliefs and practices. When you say you're a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim or a Buddhist, you're talking more about who you are in the world, how you understand the world. It represents every aspect of your life from your politics, your economic views, your social views. It's about who you are, not just what you believe. And so that's why when you look at a group like ISIS, it's not enough to just simply say well, they call themselves Muslim so this must be about Islam. Its that they call themselves Muslim and when they say that they are referring to every aspect of who they are from their economic position, their social positions, their political views and all of those things need to be addressed if we're going to defeat religious fanaticism, no matter what flavor it comes in.

CUOMO: Well, its intelligent, but not easy to do. Not easy to do. But the book is an interesting take. Its funny, we're like reversing roles. Usually I talk to the author and all they do is talk about their book. I keep asking you about the book, and you talk about the broader context. But I appreciate it because it is helpful in the broader context and so is what else you have to say.

ASLAN: I appreciate that.

CUOMO: Reza Aslan. The book is "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" now out in paper back, even easier to read.

Now, again in the interest of not all news being negative, a big, royal announcement. More on that new royal baby at the top of the hour.


CUOMO: We need Good Stuff on this couch. The message is it's the little things that count.


CUOMO (voice-over): 65-year-old John McCormick of Baytown, Texas. Okay, he's in the middle of mowing his lawn. He collapses. Firefighters show up, they revive him and then follow the ambulance to the hospital. That's their job, right? Here's what's not. They return to his house to finish the lawn. Then they hand a handwritten note, we felt bad that your husband didn't get to finish the yard, so we did. It was a gesture that meant everything to his worried family because it wound up being a very difficult time for them with the loss that they had to suffer.


CUOMO (on camera): It was just a little bit of a window. It's the big things that make first responders amazing. It's also the little things. Something as mowing the lawn meant everything to that family in their time of need.

BOLDUAN: That is really sweet.

CUOMO: Thank you first responders. You are the Good Stuff, as always. A lot of news for you this morning, so let's get you right to Ms. Carol Costello. Also, the Good Stuff.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, I appreciate this on a Monday. Have a great day, guys.