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U.N. Calls for Urgent Pause in Aleppo Fighting; Battle for Aleppo Rages On; Trump Defends Remarks on Clinton & Gun Supporters; An Old World Meeting the New. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired August 10, 2016 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:25] MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST: Tonight on the program, 2 million without water, food is scarce and there are only 35 doctors left. Fierce
fighting continues in Aleppo. The latest situation on the ground and how a complex battlefield is derailing hopes for renewed peace talks.
Also ahead, Donald Trump's remarks about gun rights supporters stopping rival Hillary Clinton evoke another firestorm. One newspaper calling for
Trump to quit the campaign as the Trump talk reached a dangerous new low.
Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the program. I'm Michael Holmes in London in for Christiane tonight.
Well, the destruction overwhelming, the suffering unimaginable. And right now 2 million people in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo don't even have
access to running water.
With summer temperatures soaring, the U.N. says children are at risk of catching water-borne diseases, but there is little medicine around to treat
them or food, for that matter, to sustain them.
One doctor who's just returned from Aleppo says it has become a living hell.
The deteriorating situation on the ground follows weeks of intense fighting. On Sunday, rebels declared they had broken a siege on the city,
but government forces have retaliated with heavy aerial bombardment.
Russia's defense ministry had just announced there will be a series of sort ceasefires for aid convoys starting tomorrow, but it's just for three hours
a day. And with more than 250,000 people trapped, the U.N. says that simply will not be enough.
Zaidoun al-Zoabi is a Syrian activist and head of the Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations. He was inside Syria just two weeks ago, just
got back from the border where he was helping to coordinate the aid response.
He joins me now from Gaziantep in Turkey.
HOLMES: Zaidoun, you were on this program last October, and you were in utter despair about the humanitarian situation and what your own staff were
enduring. You've just come back from the border. You still have staff in Aleppo.
Are you any less despairing today than you were then?
ZAIDOUN AL-ZOABI, CEO, UNION OF SYRIAN MEDICAL RELIEF ORGANIZATIONS: Well, Michael, I was about to start from where we just ended. Almost a year ago,
I was on your program. The humanitarian situation was extremely bad, and I was screaming and asking everyone in the world to help us to stop this ugly
war. Now I will not collapse. I will not cry again, because I don't think there is anything more we can do. I don't think we can scream more and ask
more to stop this war.
Now it is much, much worse than before. Back then we had 300,000 people displaced. Now, we have at least 1.5 million people in besieged areas, and
in three parts of Aleppo.
We are talking about now Eastern Aleppo with 250,000 people deprived of all sorts of medical supplies, food, no water, no electricity. You are talking
about 250,000 people who are just facing death. Slow death.
And the stubbornness to take Eastern Aleppo, and to besiege Eastern Aleppo has led to besiege the other parts of the city. And to leave Sheikh
Maqsoud, a third part, to be again besieged.
So we are talking about three parts of Aleppo besieged. We are talking about three hard to reach areas.
Now today only some organizations managed to bring six trucks, and when they are out from other NGOs. And when we asked how was it to bring these
six trucks, they said it was just like a suicidal mission. They were bombed. They took only just food, dates, that's it. And six trucks, it
took them hours to flee from shells, bombardment, snipers, all sorts.
So talking about breaking the siege on Eastern Aleppo is a myth right now. It's now -- it moved only from a besieged area to a hard to reach area.
[14:05:00] HOLMES: You know, we hear --
AL-ZOABI: Another --
HOLMES: Zaidoun, we hear every day, we hear calls for a pause. We hear calls for access. And yet every day these civilians are dying and being
I'm wondering, do you have any faith left in the political process? Any faith that anything is going to be achieved by talks in Geneva or anywhere
else for that matter?
AL-ZOABI: Our hope will have -- would have to stay there. There is hope. But the hope is now in -- it's in the hands of Russia and the United
States. We need to get back to the terms of Munich Security Forum, where we had hoped to start again the cessation of hostilities. That is the only
The leaders of the world, Russia and the United States, are the only ones who could do something. We know that the -- and he's doing lots of
efforts, but we know it's not -- it's not them. It is the United States and Russia.
They are the leaders of the world. And leadership is about responsibility. And if you want to lead this world, then stop this war.
We could -- we could reach 80 percent of the children to, in our vaccination campaign. We could not reach the second 20. And for the first
time in five years, we can vaccinate, we can get vaccination for children, in five years, for the first time.
This is a threat not only to Syria. This is a threat to everyone in the world. Let us at least get immunization for children. Let us bring water.
If people do not get water, they -- more and more diseases will be there. And this is not only about Syrians. Protect the world. And end the war in
HOLMES: Do you look at the situation now --
HOLMES: When you look at that situation, though, you know, it just seems to me, we have these conversations, whether it's with you or others who
have been to Aleppo. Every week. Every month.
For years now we've been talking about this and yet the suffering goes on. Do you think -- do the people there just feel the world has given up on
them? No one cares?
AL-ZOABI: Let me make it clear. Now, we all talk about Aleppo, but the war has left the entire country to a set of besieged areas. You're talking
about, Deir ez-Zor. No one mentioned Deir ez-Zor.
Hundreds of thousands of people are dying slowly there. We're talking about Eastern Huta besieged. Northern Homs, (INAUDIBLE), Eastern Aleppo,
Now Syria is a time bomb. What we have seen so far is not, I guess, the worst. If we keep seeing that, it will get even worse and worse. And the
pain will be felt not only inside Syria. And this is the responsibility of the ISSG, the International Syrian Support Group. This is their role now.
They have to stop the war right now.
If we are waiting -- listen, Michael, please, listen to me.
A couple of years ago, I told western diplomats, I said, Syria could be hardly invisible on the map. There is more country. But this is a very
sensitive country. Do not mess with this country.
And until now, I think now people feel that Syria is a very important country and it has borders with everyone in the world. If you do not stop
this war, war in Syria, then, believe me, the pain will go worse, not only inside the country.
Now we're talking about millions of displaced people. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people, even millions besieged.
What are we waiting for? What are you waiting for? For God's sake -- for --
HOLMES: Zaidoun al-Zoabi, we've got to leave it there and hopefully next time we speak, it will be some better news.
Thank you so much and for all the work you do.
HOLMES: I want to get some more perspective on the significance of the Aleppo siege. What's going on there? The rebel groups, in fact, involved
in the conflict.
Charles Lister is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and the author of "The Syrian Jihad."
Charles, what do you make of the capabilities of the rebel fighters? The various alliances that go on.
One thing that seems to be true is that they have shown they can beat back regime forces, heavy Russian air power, Iranian, Hezbollah troops and so
What do you make of their capabilities?
CHARLES LISTER, SENIOR FELLOW, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE: Yes. Well, I mean, the temporary or partial breaking of the siege that your previous guest say
and described was exactly that.
I mean, I don't think we've seen a full breaking of the siege of Eastern Aleppo by any means. But I think what the armed opposition did and in
cooperation with a variety of more extremist Jihadi groups including the recently re-branded Jabhat al-Nusra.
[14:10:10] What they did was very much against the odds. I mean, I don't think any of us particularly expected them to be able to have conducted
themselves as successfully as they did on the battlefield and partially breaking the siege.
But, you know, placing that within context, I mean, as I do and in many other Syrians have said -- have been saying more recently, it's a terrible
and horrible irony that it has taken fully-equipped, largely Islamist armed groups to have broken this siege.
And it's not an irony that has been missed by Syrians on the ground who are growing increasingly resentful of the international community for having
failed to having, you know, prevented the placing -- of the in-placing of besiege in the first place and in terms of providing humanitarian aid more
effectively into besieged communities.
And, of course, this isn't just relevant to Aleppo. Aleppo is specially a motive and symbolic. But, again, as they do and said, there are dozens of
besieged communities across Syria, who had been -- people within, whom have been living in awful and dire conditions for years now.
HOLMES: Yes. And it just seems -- again, we seem to be having the same conversation over and over again, which seems unforgivable.
You know, I wanted to ask you about the dynamics of who's arming whom at the moment, because it is a patchwork there in Aleppo in particular.
You've reported groups in Aleppo for the first time receiving American-made weaponry, normally reserved for U.S.-backed forces fighting ISIS.
You got Turkey and Saudi Arabia reportedly arming (INAUDIBLE) rebels. America perhaps turning a blind eye to that.
How risky are these alliances? What chickens might yet come home to roost in the aftermath?
LISTER: I think, well, the danger with all of this conflict, the danger with the conflict in Syria over the last several years has been the longer
and the more intractable and the more chaotic and the more brutal the conflict has got, the more extremist actors on both sides of the spectrum
in terms of pro-regime and anti-regime are going to benefit.
In terms of alliances, yes, I mean, we are in a situation where countries like Turkey and Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and then also including western
states including the U.S. itself have found themselves in alliances or relationships of military dependents, with certain groups who have shown
themselves, for example, with regards to western countries, showing themselves willing to uphold for moderate values within an extremely
And then with regards to countries like Turkey at Qatar, specifically, with regards to groups that have been much more militarily capable on the
battlefield. And I think actually with regards to the partial breaking of the siege Aleppo that we just saw develop in the last few days, I think
that's one of the few occasions where we saw both those sides.
The western countries and the regional states strategies beginning to align. I think that was not necessarily intentional, but we did see with
the breaking of the siege, both U.S.-vetted free Syrian factions working indirectly alongside Jihadi factions who pretty much have no international
relationships at all.
HOLMES: And I wanted to ask you quickly about that, if I can. You're in regular contact with the U.S. administration over Syria policy. What are
the concerns if any in Washington about the dynamic of the opposition force, the implication, if you like, for the U.S. in terms of their support
for moderate rebel groups when it's pretty clear that they follow or at least work with al Qaeda?
Is that a concern?
LISTER: Well, Washington is a complicated town, and there are many people with many different opinions here both within the administration and former
There is a determination here to still, to pursue the policy line that removing the Assad regime preferably through a political negotiated
settlement is still the preferred policy.
I mean I think there is still a critical mass of policymakers here who acknowledge and recognize that the Assad regime is the root cause of a lot
of the chaos and militancy and the terrorism that is coming out and has come out of Syria.
Now quite how to sort of solve Syria, though, is where I think policymakers have been somewhat more split.
Right now, the Obama administration has a very heavy focus on counterterrorism. So we've seen that develop with regards to the so-called
Islamic state since 2014. But now the policy attention is shifting towards the Nusra front or the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria.
That is both, in my opinion, a good and a bad thing. The Nusra front has embedded itself deeply as you say within the revolution and within
opposition dynamics which means that this necessitates a totally different strategy for dealing with this organization which really is playing a long
game in Syria.
And that different direction means civilian protection needs necessarily to be the utmost priority right here. And that does mean preventing the siege
of Aleppo, for example, having a far better record of providing humanitarian relief to besieged communities on both sides of the conflict
[14:15:04] And also making sure that the Assad regime and its various international and sub-state allies can no longer get away with flagrant
abuses of human rights and war crimes on the ground, which continue to happen on a daily basis.
HOLMES: Indeed. As always, grateful for your analysis.
Charles Lister, thanks so much.
LISTER: Thank you.
HOLMES: And when we come back here on the program, what some are calling a new low in this year's American election, and there have been a few.
This time a suggestion by Donald Trump that some saw as call for violence against Hillary Clinton. Others said, it was just a joke taken the wrong
Has Trump finally gone too far? Even for some of his own supporters? We'll discuss, after this.
HOLMES: And welcome back to the program.
It is another day in America. So another day to discuss the latest controversial comments from one Donald Trump. The Republican presidential
candidate trying to defend remarks he made Tuesday about Hillary Clinton and gun supporters.
Democrats and many journalists saying he was inciting violence, but he says that's just plain wrong.
Judge for yourself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets
to pick --
If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: Well, as candidate for the world's most powerful job, Trump's words obviously matter.
Here to discuss is Daniel Drezner. He is professor of international politics at Tuft University and contributor to "The Washington Post."
Great to have you on.
You know, when you are running for president, as we said, words can change markets. Some say if you're a president, it can start conflicts.
Is it fair to say someone like Donald Trump is not just responsible for his words, but indeed how those words might be interpreted?
DANIEL DREZNER, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL POLITICS, TUFTS UNIVERSITY: Absolutely. I think as Michael Hayden said on CNN yesterday, as he told
his senior officials in the CIA, you're not just responsible for what you say. You're also responsible for what other people hear.
And it's clear that with respect to Donald Trump, I don't even think he thinks he's responsible for the things he says, much less what other people
hear when he says his words. So, yes, this is a problem.
That Trump pretty much says whatever comes to his mind. He says whatever he will say to please his rallies, and really has no care whatsoever for
HOLMES: And joke or no joke, when you're talking about America in particular, you're talking about a country that's a wash-in, in guns, and
has no shortage of mental illness and certainly no shortage of angry people.
That makes it in some ways worse, does it not?
There's always going to be a chance of somebody out there who has a gun, and who thinks he's being called to defend the constitution or something
with comments like this?
DREZNER: Well, it's worth pointing out that even violent crime in the United States is on the decline in most places. But I think here's a
better way of thinking about it.
The United States is deadly concerned about the rise of lone wolf terrorism. People, loners in the United States, who are attracted to
online ideology from people like ISIS.
You can easily imagine similar kinds of loners who are attracted to things Donald Trump says and might react in a similar way. And as a result, the
idea that this is an invitation to violence is truly disconcerting and represents I think even for Trump a new low in presidential discourse.
[14:20:11] HOLMES: You know, I supposed, politically, just politically, this -- comments like this ultimately counterproductive because if you're
walking back yet another gaffe, you're not talking about your opponent or heaven forbid policy.
And, in fact, you tweeted this today. And if we can call it up, I'll show you. Because you made this point yourself. If we can show that tweet.
And you know, this is in response to Donald Trump. He says, "When is the media going to talk about Hillary's policies? Etcetera, etcetera." And
you said, "Well, the odds would go way up if you stopped hinting, joking that maybe your opponent would be shot."
So, politically, it's not smart.
DREZNER: No, it's true. I think "Politico" had a story today showing that in the first 100 days of Donald Trump general election presidency, 15 of
them have been awash in controversies that were entirely of his own making and stepped on stories that could have been damaging to Hillary Clinton.
But I think the thing you have to realize about Donald Trump is that the only thing Donald Trump cares about when he speaks is promoting the greater
glory of Donald Trump.
And so therefore, I think in his own mind, the very fact that these controversies exist, he doesn't see as a problem. He thinks any news is
good news for him, which to be fair in the primaries had a grain of truth to it. But we're in the general election now and he's getting hammered as
HOLMES: I saw a poll today that put at 20 percent the number of Republicans who want him to drop out, which seems extraordinary.
What choices face traditional Republicans in the face of this candidacy? You vote for him, you don't vote for him or perhaps some Republicans have
contemplated, you vote for the other person just to stop him.
What are your thoughts?
DREZNER: Well, I'm one of the people that signed a letter back in March of Republican National Security officials that said we would never vote for
I certainly plan on voting for Hillary Clinton. But this is not an easy choice for most rock red Republicans.
I suspect some of them will vote for Gary Johnson, or for some other third- party candidate.
Some of them will vote for Hillary Clinton because they don't just want Donald Trump to lose, they want Donald Trump to lose very, very badly. So
this kind of rhetoric doesn't emerge again.
And I suspect others are simply not going to vote. That they are simply so sickened by the whole process that they will stay home in November.
HOLMES: And the poisonous sort of political atmosphere, and in particular when it comes to these comments, whether they are a joke or not a joke,
when you talk about the atmosphere, several columnists today, Thomas Friedman for one in the "New York Times," sort of making a comparison to
the political atmosphere in Israel before the eventual assassination of Mr. Rabin.
Could things be that bad here?
DREZNER: Well, one obviously hopes not. But I think the problem is that all it takes is, you know, as we say, is one lone wolf who's not terribly
stable, but for some reason has some unreasonable hatred of Hillary Clinton to hear these words and think, oh, my God, she actually is going abolish
the Second Amendment if she gets elected.
And the closer we get to November and the more apparent it becomes that Hillary Clinton is likely to win the election, the more one gets concerned
of this kind of extreme action might be thought of by some crackpot out there.
HOLMES: And just finally, there's been talk -- well, endless talk -- of a Trump reset that pivots to being quote/unquote "presidential." It hasn't
I supposed my question for you is, can it happen? As someone with Trump's personality capable of regulating himself?
DREZNER: I don't think so. And I think there's another issue that has to be brought up in terms of the campaign, which is the few times that Donald
Trump actually has tried to do this, where he let's say speaks from a teleprompter or tries to stick to script, Donald Trump becomes incredibly
And as result, I think actually, it doesn't attract the kind of support that he would necessarily want from his supporters. Trump is a demagogue.
What he wants to do is see his crowds truly exercised. And the only way he is going to do that is to continue doubling down and tripling down on the
kind of provocative and offensive rhetoric that he's been saying for the last year now.
So, no, I don't think there is any Trump pivot to the center. He's congenitally incapable of doing that.
HOLMES: Daniel Drezner, thanks so much. I appreciate you coming on.
Well, coming up on the program, a look at the U.S. abroad as Olympic veteran Michael Phelps makes history in Rio. 25 medals he's got. Now we
imagine the battle of the ages of this year's Summer Games.
A world of (INAUDIBLE). Coming up, next.
[14:25:50] HOLMES: And finally tonight, imagine an old world meeting the new. At this year's Rio Olympics, one victor in particular has dominated.
Team USA's Michael Phelps earning his 21st Olympic gold age 31. In his fifth Olympics, he's become such a feature that he's gone from icon to
The youngest swimmers like Katie Ledecky seen there getting his signature when she was a wee child. And who now at 19 is on her second Olympics,
taking two golds, and team USA -- for team USA, and setting a world record while doing it.
Now the very youngest athlete at Rio is also in the water, 13-year-old Gaurika Singh. She crashed out of her 100 meter backstroke qualifier
earlier in the week, but she's got plenty of time.
On the other side of the age gap, one gymnast who is not going anywhere without a fight, 41-year-old Uzbek Oksana Chusovitina. She's in her
seventh Olympic Games and qualified for Sunday's vault final. Her 17-year- old son is the same age as many of her competitors.
She isn't the oldest at the Games, though. That honor goes to New Zealand equestrian Julie Brougham who is debuting at the Olympics, debuting, at 62.
Giving hope to all of us aspiring athletes who for now are on the sidelines doing the cheering.
And that's it for our program tonight
Thanks for watching and good-bye from London.