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Official: U.S. Probes if Russia Complicit in Poison Gas Attack; U.S. Not Ruling Out Further Strikes on Syria; Interview with Senator John McCain of Arizona. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 7, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:05] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Thanks for joining us.

Tonight, everything we wanted to know but could not possibly know this time last night, when the cruise missiles were flying and landing on a Syrian air base. This is video of the damage they did to warplanes and reinforced aircraft shelters. There's late word on what was and was not hit.

There's also troubling new reporting about Russian involvement and covering up the Syrian chemical attack that triggered this.

Also, a new look at the president, cabinet members, Jared Kushner and others, being briefed at about 9:15 last night in a makeshift situation room at Mar-a-Lago. The figure closest to the president on his right, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Next to him, Secretary of State Tillerson on the president's left. Steve Bannon almost out of frame behind the president.

What to make of it? Well, anybody's guess. But it does come on a day when there's a slew of reporting that Bannon could be on his way out of the White House.

We've also got new insight of the operation's genesis, because as you know, the decision to strike reversed everything citizen Trump, candidate Trump, President Trump and his administration have said about Syria. Some of it as recently as just a few days ago.

That and all the questions that come after the president orders the use of force. Was it warranted? Was it wise? Is it part of a larger strategy for Syria? And if so, what is it? Will this strike intimidate Syria's dictator or did the limited nature of it do the exact opposite?

In short, what exactly is next?

Tonight, we have new reporting on much of this, expert analysis on all of it. We have news making guests including Senator John McCain.

We begin with the latest on that possible Russian involvement and a chronology of the operation itself.

Jim Sciutto has that.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, the U.S. military is investigating whether Russia was complicit in the Syrian regime's gruesome chemical weapons attack on civilians earlier this week, specifically, whether a Russian warplane dropped a bomb on a hospital treating victims of the attack five hours later, perhaps to destroy evidence.

U.S. intelligence shows that a Russian drone flew over the hospital site just before the bombing.

The prove comes after President Trump ordered a barrage of missiles on a Syrian air base I retaliation for the deadly attack, the first U.S. military strike against the Assad regime in the country's bloody six- year civil war.

Today, U.N. AmbAssador Nikki Haley warned of possible further U.S. military action.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The United States took a very measured step last night. We are prepared to do more. But we hope that will not be necessary.

SCIUTTO: The target of the strikes was Syria's Shayrat air base, launch point for the Syrian warplanes that carried out the chemical attack.

The Pentagon says 59 of 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles severely degraded or destroyed their targets, including aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, fuel and ammunition dumps, and air defense systems. The Pentagon estimates some 20 aircraft were destroyed though video of the aftermath shows several shelters still standing and military aircraft undamaged.

U.S. missiles left the runway intact and avoided chemical weapons storage to prevent civilian casualties.

The march to military action took little more than 48 hours. The planning began Tuesday, the day the world saw the first images of victims, many of them children of the chemical weapons attack. On Thursday, before President Trump sat down to dinner with the Chinese president, he met with his national security team to discuss military options, deciding then to order the strike that night.

At 8:40 p.m. Eastern Time, the middle of the night in Syria, the attack began. Two U.S. warships in the eastern Mediterranean, the USS Porter and USS Ross launched the 60 Tomahawk missiles towards the air base.

Trump sat through dinner alongside the Chinese president as the attack was underway. Then, just 35 minutes later, at approximately 9:15 p.m. Eastern Time, the president's national security team briefed him on the mission's results.


COOPER: Jim joins us now.

So, we saw satellite images from after the strike. Does it seem like the Pentagon is content with the results?

SCIUTTO: Well, the Pentagon is content within the narrow boundaries of what this attack was intended to do. Fifty-nine cruise missiles hit 59 targets in and around this base. They lost one missile in the eastern Med, and then launched another to replace that. Destroyed about 20 aircraft, as you saw in those pictures, some of those hardened shelters, et cetera.

But the runway's still operational. In fact, you're hearing reports that there might have been planes taking off from there in the last 24 hours.

When you speak to the Pentagon about that, they say, listen, this was not intended to destroy this base entirely forever. It was intended to send a message that there will be a price if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons.

[20:05:02] And on that definition of success, the Pentagon views this as a successful operation.

COOPER: All right, Jim Sciutto.

More now on the message the White House hopes to send. Jim Acosta has new reporting on that, joins us now from just outside Mar-a-Lago.

So, is the White House discussing what, if any, the next steps may be?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, they're not telegraphing the next steps, and they say that's by design. The president doesn't want to send a message to Assad that more airstrikes are coming or airstrikes may not be coming.

But what they are saying at this point -- I talked to a senior administration official about this earlier today -- is that, you know, this mission that went down last night, it should not be interpreted as the beginning of a wider campaign to remove Assad from power. But what they are saying very clearly and the message they were driving home again and again when we were talking to officials today is that if Bashar al Assad decides to use chemical weapons once again against his own people, he's going to run the risk of being attacked again by the United States.

And, you know, they feel like that was made very clear last night. They're hoping Assad does not come away from this without fully understanding the consequences of doing this again.

COOPER: Jim, is it clear what the White House -- Trump administration policy is on whether or not the U.S. still is looking for the removal of Bashar al Assad, which was the previous administration's policy? But, you know, last week, Tillerson said it's up to the people. Is it clear what the policy is now? ACOSTA: I think that's a key question. I think you're going to see

the secretary of state on Sunday, on the Sunday talk shows. He's going to be pressed on this.

You know, he was giving indications yesterday before these airstrikes were carried out that, yes, that the U.S. was looking to work together with coalition partners or some kind of coalition to somehow force Assad from power. But what you heard today from administration officials was that this was a measured response, a proportional response. You heard the secretary of state say, well, they went after this airfield that Jim Sciutto was just talking about because they wanted to make it clear this is about condemning the delivery of chemical weapons against a civilian population.

But at the same time, they're making it very clear, Anderson, at this point that Assad is sort of in charge of his own destiny. If he decides to use chemical weapons against his own people, the message I'm hearing very clear from administration officials is that he's putting his own life, his own future at risk.

But at the same time, you know, I asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer earlier today and other reporters did, you know, what is the administration's position? Do they want Assad to go? And during a briefing with reporters, Sean Spicer said, well, you know, what we want at the very least is to see Assad not use chemical weapons.

So, Anderson, I think all weekend long the president's going to be down here in Mar-a-Lago. They're going to look at how the Syrians respond to all of this. And I think, you know, put together the next steps accordingly. But they're making it very clear, Assad is almost in charge of his own future, another slipup with chemical weapons and that might seal his fate.

COOPER: But something like barrel bombs which they've used that can kill large numbers of people, that -- assuming that can continue at pace without U.S. military involvement?

ACOSTA: I -- you know, I -- and I think this is where it becomes a very serious question. Because you heard members of Congress up on Capitol Hill today saying, well, the president wants to go further than this, he needs to consult with Congress.

COOPER: Right.

ACOSTA: And we heard those similar discussions happen during the Obama administration. But the question is how far can Assad go in slaughtering his own people until this shifts from a proportional response and, you know, in reaction to a chemical weapons attack to regime change? You heard the president during the campaign time and again talk about the dangers of trying to go after Assad and toppling this regime with the Russians on the ground in Syria.

I think what we saw last night was a major leap for this president. But to go to the point of regime change, that would be another evolution on the part of this president that I don't think the administration officials are indicating at this point, Anderson. COOPER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

As we've been reporting, U.S. commanders gave the Russian military an hour's warning to avoid incidentally striking Russian personnel or equipment. This did not forestall a sharp reaction from Moscow. There's that and that potentially much larger story emerging about the investigation to Russia possibly being complicit in the chemical attack.

Matthew Chance is here, joins us now with the latest.

So, as Jim mentioned, Jim Sciutto mentioned in his piece, the U.S. military is investigating, Matthew, whether Russia bombed a hospital treating victims of the chemical attack to destroy evidence. You just heard from the Kremlin. What did they say?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, they're categorically denying any involvement in that, any kind of knowledge of any kind of chemical weapons being used. I spoke to the Kremlin just a few minutes ago, in fact, about this issue and put that suggestion to them, the allegations being made by U.S. officials that they could have been complicit. And the answer back was simply -- that is not true.

They're also denying it should be noted any sense in which the Syrian military has chemical weapons. They're denying even that a chemical attack took place.

[20:10:01] They're blaming the mass loss of life a couple of days ago in southern Idlib that started all of this on rebel-held chemical munitions that were hit during a Syrian air force airstrike. It's also not the first time the Russians have shielded the Syrians from criticism because of their use or alleged use of chemical weapons. Just in February, there was a U.N. Security Council resolution that was vetoed by Russia condemning the Bashar al-Assad regime for allegedly carrying out multiple chemical weapons attacks throughout his country against his own people. That investigation was done by an independent chemical weapons organization.

And so, you know, these denials I think have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

COOPER: What has the Russian reaction been to the strike?

CHANCE: Well, I mean, the initial reaction has been pretty furious. Certainly, Vladimir Putin through his spokesperson has said that this was a violation of international law. He said it was an act of aggression against the sovereign state, all sorts of things like that.

They vowed to take action as well. Not least of which is to bolster the air defenses of the Syrian armed forces. They're going to be putting more surface-to-air missiles in.

They've also said they're going to suspend or have suspended the air safety agreement. And this is an important bit of deconfliction mechanism which prevents U.S. and Russian warplanes coming to contact in the skies over Syria. But that's in contradictory sort of word coming from the Pentagon. They're saying that that channel is still up and running. But the Russians say they're suspending it. And so, that's something we're looking at.

But, you know, it's also fair to say that the Russians are giving signs they're prepared to take this on the chin. For instance, they've got those air defense systems in place in Syria, and they didn't intervene to stop these air strikes when they could have, Anderson.

COOPER: There are reports of a Russian warship heading to the eastern Mediterranean where the U.S. destroyers launched the attack last night. Any information about that or significance to that?

CHANCE: Yes. It's called the Admiral Grigorovich. It's one of Russia's most modern warships. And it came into service a couple of years ago. It's been deployed to this region in the eastern Mediterranean before it's being done so now again. Part of it is just a rotation of Russian naval vessels that are stationed off the coast to provide additional force protection to Russian forces inside Syria.

But this ship has been used to bombard with its own arsenal of cruise missiles targets inside Syria in the past. So, it could mark a possible intensification of the Russian bombardment of Syria, or it might just be a sign that Russia despite these missiles strikes is not going to give up or turn its back on its Syrian ally, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Matthew Chance, thanks.

A lot to cover today. According to the U.N., nearly 3 million Syrian refugees now live in Turkey.

CNN's Clarissa Ward is there, not far from the border with Syria. She joins us tonight.

So, what's been the response by Assad over this U.S. attack over the last 24 hours?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far what we've heard, Anderson, from President Bashar al Assad is more or less what you would expect, the kind of defiant, bombastic statement, accusing the U.S. of being reckless and short-sided. But I think it'll be more clear in the next few days what the real reaction is.

And the real reaction I should add is unlikely to be dictated necessarily by the Syrian regime whose army is on the brink of collapse and who rely heavily on Russian and Iranian and Lebanese militia Hezbollah fighters to do the majority of fighting for them on the ground. So, it's probably fair to say that the Russians will have a very strong part in deciding how the regime of Bashar al Assad reacts to this.

You just heard our Matthew Chance there saying it looks as though the Russians despite some of their more bombastic statements, may be willing to take this one on the chin. But at this stage, it is still early days. We have heard reports of some air strikes taking place in the province from activists on the ground. CNN has not been able to independently confirm those yet.

But, certainly, everyone is going to be watching very closely to see whether or not this changes the face of the battlefield. Whether Bashar al Assad at the very least stops using chemical weapons and perhaps more optimistically starts to lower the amount of crude munitions, barrel bombs, et cetera, that he uses on civilian populations, Anderson.

COOPER: What about response from activists from opposition groups?

WARD: Well, Anderson, I never thought there would be a day when Syrian opposition activists and rebel fighters would be referring to President Donald Trump with a nom de guerre, that they have affectionately given him, Abu Ivanka al-Amriki, which means "father of Ivanka the American." It's a kind of take on a rebel fighter nom de guerre. Nor did I think we would see a day when Syrian activists would be posting as their avatar on Twitter and social media, photographs of President Donald Trump with the writing underneath saying in Arabic, which means "we love you". So, clearly, these are surreal and unusual times we are witnessing.

I would say that while there has been some pleasant surprise and even happiness and welcoming of these U.S. strikes, there's also pragmatism that comes with that. No one on the ground who supports the opposition believes that this is really a significant intervention.

And the question, Anderson, that I get asked over and over and over again is, why does the international community and the U.S. become involved or become moved or outraged when the regime uses chemical weapons to kill children? And why do they not get enraged when it's barrel bombs killing children?

At the end of the day, their argument is, the children are still dying. The war is still going on. And there's no end in sight -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Clarissa Ward, appreciate it you being there. Thank you.

Coming up next, we'll talk to Senator John McCain on the Russians and what more he wants President Trump to do beyond last night's operation. And he does want more.

Later, do these kinds of limited strikes even work once the smoke clears? We'll look at the track record.


[20:20:07] COOPER: The breaking news tonight, the U.S. is probing whether Russia might have been complicit in the chemical attack that led to last night's missile attack. For years now, Arizona Republican senator and former presidential candidate, John McCain, has argued for greater action against Syria's regime. He's criticized Presidents Obama and Trump alike on this.

Tonight, though, he's taking a different tone. I spoke to him earlier this evening.


COOPER: A U.S. defense official tells CNN that intelligence shows a Russian drone flying over that Syrian hospital before the suspected chemical attack occurred. Is Russia complicit in the chemical attack?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Absolutely. And they're complicit in the precision guided weapons that struck the hospitals in Aleppo. Ask the White Helmets. I mean, that's a gross violation of the rules of war.

We have to understand who Vladimir Putin is, what he's all about do, and what he will do and what he understands. And what he understands is strength. And then best way to avoid further escalation is to show Vladimir Putin that his -- the benefits he might accrue from doing these kinds of things are not worth the penalty that he would pay.

COOPER: Is it clear to you right now what the Trump administration policy is regarding Bashar al Assad? I mean, you know, in the previous administration, they talked -- I guess officially said that Assad had to go. Obviously, there's a lot of criticism they didn't really move much in that direction. Is it -- do you believe that is the current policy the Trump administration? Because last week, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when asked about this said, you know, it's up to the Syrian people.

MCCAIN: Yes, which I was puzzled by, because Syrian people obviously play no role in Bashar Assad remaining in power. It's the Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah and the Russians and the Iranians. But I think that Secretary Tillerson has modified that view in light of these chemical attacks.

And I don't mean to be cynical, but I say with respect if a mother's child is killed, I'm not sure that the mother is concerned as how that child is killed. So, I view barrel bombs and some of the other outrageous, terrible activities that are engaged in by both Russians and Syrians as terrible and unacceptable as well as chemical weapons. And that's maybe where there's a departure between my view and that of Mr. Tillerson.

COOPER: You know, obviously, there seems to have been -- I think it's fair to say -- some sort of a pivot over the last couple days from the administration. Do you think they're going to be working on a plan or is this kind of a one-off sending a message, you know, crossed a line on the use of chemical weapons and now they just -- things continue on as normal?

MCCAIN: Well, it can't be a one off in my view. I know they are planning and making plans, not only in this situation but also for Ukraine, for taking what post-Mosul, post-Raqqah. They've got a lot of plans to make to make up for the last eight years.

But the -- I am convinced they are working on an overall strategy. I have great confidence in this team around the president of the United States. If I'd have been asked to name a team, I couldn't have named a better one than the one we've got.

But there are also -- you've got to know this, and I'm sure you do -- there are tensions within the White House. Just as there are tensions within President Trump himself.

COOPER: You talked about some tensions in the administration, the White House and within the president himself. Clearly, it seems like the president changed his mind. Obviously, you know, he said a lot of stuff as a civilian. It's obviously very different when you're president.

But he tweeted a lot about don't go into Syria. Don't bomb Syria over the years. Even during the campaign said a number of things about not trying to go into Syria or not wanting to get militarily involved in Syria.

What do you think it is that created this change? You know, the -- there have been some who said it was the images of the attack. It was the reality of that attack. Obviously, there are some people, you know, who say this is political opportunity to flex American military power. There may be politics involved here.

What are you -- where do you see the change?

MCCAIN: I think three things. It's very different being a candidate and being president, almost every incoming president has learned that lesson one way or another. Second of all, I think that it -- he has a team around him that he respects and gives him advice and counsel that has moved him in this direction.

[20:25:00] And third of all, he's a human being. He was obviously deeply moved by those pictures as all of us were deeply moved.

COOPER: And finally, to those who in the United States who are concerned about getting deeply involved in Syria committing to an ongoing -- you know, whether it's I guess it would be a military fight, however that would look, what do you -- what do you say to them in terms of what the end game would be? How -- who would replace Bashar al Assad? You know, there are a lot of folks who think this could be a quagmire. How do you -- how do you resolve their concerns?

MCCAIN: Well, I hope we'll pay attention to the lessons of history. We've pulled everybody out of Iraq, al Qaeda moved to Syria. Syria -- al Qaeda became is. And Bashar Assad was -- there was an uprising against him. He used the most brutal tactics in repressing it.

Then, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard came in, Hezbollah, and then later on Russia. And we see the conflagration and over 400,000 killed and over 6 million refugees, destabling (ph) other parts of the world including parts of Europe. So, if you ignore the lessons of history, then you will know that it is not in our interest eventually to sit by and see this kind of turmoil and genocide that's taking place.

COOPER: Senator McCain, I appreciate talking to you as always. Thank you.

MCCAIN: Thank you.


COOPER: Well, just ahead, how the world is reacting to the U.S. missile strike in Syria and what to make of the policy reversal it represents for President Trump?


[20:30:06] COOPER: The breaking news, the U.S. is leaving open the possibility of more strikes on Syria, that's according to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley who also said she hopes they're not necessary.

As we've said tonight, we know much more about how last night's missile strikes unfolded and the damage they did. Let's clear though is why President Trump decided to order the strikes about 24 hours ago, why this time when Syrian civilians have been targeted with chemical weapons before, why now when the suffering of Syrians under siege in Aleppo bombarded by Russian airstrikes didn't seem to move the needle for then-candidate Trump when he was asked about it at the October debate in Missouri.


MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS REPORTER: What would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo and I want to remind you what your running mate said. He said provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength and that if Russia continues to be involved in airstrikes along with the Syrian government forces of Assad, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: OK. He and I haven't spoken and I disagree.


COOPER: That was six months ago, now candidate Trump is President Trump and the questions are no longer hypothetical.

Joining me to discuss all this, CNN global affairs analyst and former deputy secretary of state, Tony Blinken, CNN senior political commentator and host of "The Axe Files" podcast, David Axelrod.

Tony, you were part of the Obama administration during Syria's civil war, you've been praising these missile strikes saying that President Trump should be commended, why?

TONY BLINKEN, FORMER DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Anderson, he did the right thing, not only did we see these horrific images of Syrian men, women and children who were gassed to death, but what the Syrian regime did in using Sarin yet again was violate one of the most sacred international norms that we've had in place since the end of World War I, and that is the norm against using chemical or biological weapons in armed conflict. And if the United States is not prepared to stand up when that norm is violated, I don't think anyone else will and it's vitally important to the international community if we do so. So the president was right to stand up and take action.

COOPER: Gloria, you know, it is a reversal obviously for President Trump, he had a very clear, very inward looking foreign policy message which is America first, talk about napping the world's policeman. Does launching missiles into Syrian response to a chemical attack that was, you know, horrific did not directly involve the U.S., does that fit?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No. It doesn't fit. And that's what has people particularly a lot of his supporters on the right scratching their heads. Hillary Clinton for example praised the airstrikes today. And I think that it doesn't fit in with what we thought was his isolationist strategy. And so, you know, you have Rex Tillerson just under a week ago saying that the Syrian people ought to decide whether Assad stays or goes. Now there seems to be a very different message from the U.N. ambassador and from Tillerson himself.

And so people are wondering why this president turned on a dime looking at those horrific pictures that in fact also existed after the gas attack in 2013. So I do think he has to explain what his policy is going to be going forward. Is he going to do more in Syria? Is he going to establish safe zones there? Is he going to arm the rebels? Or is this just a one off?

COOPER: David, though, you know, I mean in fairness, many presidents have, you know, had ideas as they campaign or as civilians and then when they're in office and they have the responsibility, it, you know, they end up basically reversing themselves. What do you make of the shift in the Trump administration?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, without question, that's true, Anderson. And we spoke last night about the fact that the gravity of the things that you face and the sense of responsibility that you encounter when you sit in that chair is like nothing anyone has ever experienced other than another president. So, yes, these things do happen.

I think what makes it so striking in the case of Donald Trump and so pronounced is that he really didn't come to office with a defined philosophy, with a real ideology. One of the things that worried his supporters or not his supporters but worried conservatives on the right was, they weren't really sure where he was.

And what we seem to be seeing now is him trying to discover who he is in this office and it's not just in foreign policy, you see this shake-up on his staff where more traditional corporate right Republicans and some would suggest not even Republicans, are ascended and Steve Bannon seems to be receding in terms of the influence that he leverages here.

COOPER: Tony, the difficulty of course is what happens next and is there a strategy for that? Is there -- you know, is that something that's been thought out? It doesn't seem like at this stage that there is.

[20:35:07] And look, it's difficult for any administration to try to figure out what to do in Syria, but, you know, just last week, Rex Tillerson was talking about leaving this up to the people of Syria, and, you know, blaming the Obama administration, and some of the earlier statements and now it's on their shoulders.

BLINKEN: Yes, I think there's both opportunity and peril. The opportunity is to try to use this as leverage with the Syrian regime, and especially with Russia, to try to move the Syrian civil war to a better place.

Secretary Tillerson is going to Moscow in the middle of the next week, actually, I think he should move up the trip and go as quickly as possible, and basically say to the Russians we're going to hold you accountable for of Assad's actions going forward. You need to rein him in. You need to get him back to the table. You can forget about any counterterrorism cooperation unless and until you do that and we should work together to finally end this conflict.

The peril or the danger is that there are a lot of unintended consequences that can flow from this. In particular with regard to the efforts against the Islamic State and we want to make sure that Russia doesn't make our life more difficult, for example for our pilots who are helping to defeat the Islamic State. We want to make sure that resources that were dedicated to dealing with Assad also remain in place for dealing with the Islamic State. So there's a real balance to get right here.

COOPER: You know, David, it was interesting. I mean Donald Trump as a citizen back in, you know, 2013 or therearound in some of those tweets in which he was saying don't go into Syria, don't attack Syria. He was also indicating that President Obama might -- that politics might be involved in this in order to kind of overcome the embarrassment over the red line, that he was thinking of military action. Now you have, you know, Democrats raising question -- and others raising questions about President Trump's motives in this and are politics playing a role in this?

AXELROD: Yes, well look, I take it at his -- I take him at his word that he was alarmed by what he saw and reacted to it. It could -- both things could be true. It could be politically strengthening for him at least in the short run to do what he did and he could also have felt it.

I think the interesting thing is that, you know, we're told well it was on instinct that he did this. And that's the way Donald Trump operates and in certain ways, that's what people bought, they were tired of deliberation, they were tired of gray areas, they wanted somebody who would just act. And there's something very satisfying about that but as Tony said if there isn't some thought as to what comes next, it can also be very dangerous in international relations.

COOPER: Yes. David, Tony, Gloria, thank you.

Well, when President Trump ordered last night's strike on Syria, he joined a long list of presidents who've used them to punish an adversary or send a warning. Up next, how they have unfolded and what they accomplished in the past.


[20:40:47] COOPER: This time last night, 59 Tomahawk missiles had been fired from two U.S. warships into Syria. Twenty-four hours later, the geopolitical fallout is still uncertain. The missile strike, we're told, was one of a number of options President Trump's military advisers presented him. In choosing it, he joined a long list of commanders in chief who've used military strikes to punish an adversary or to send a message. Gary Tuchman tonight has more.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five years before the 2003 war against a U.S.-led coalition, Saddam Hussein's Iraq was punished by bombing and Tomahawk missile strikes, a punitive four-day campaign ordered by President Bill Clinton following Iraq's refusal to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolutions. Much of Iraq's military infrastructure destroyed. Iraq said hundreds of its troops and civilians were killed. It wasn't the first strike designed to punish the Iraqi regime.

In 1993, two years after the first Gulf War, 23 cruise missiles were launched into downtown Baghdad. A warning after an assassination plot was uncovered in Kuwait and former President George H.W. Bush who was visiting the country he helped liberate during the 1991 Gulf War. Colin Powell was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time.

COLLIN POWELL, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Should Mr. Hussein even dream of retaliating, we have more than enough force in the region to deal with it.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The missiles hit a building believed to have house Iraq's intelligence service. Punitive attacks have also been used in retaliation for murders of Americans.

In 1986, Libyan strong man, Moammar Gadhafi was said to be behind the bombing of a disco in West Berlin, two U.S. servicemen were killed. The U.S. military reply 60 tons of munitions ringed down at Gadhafi compound in Tripoli.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, at 7:00 this evening Eastern Time, air and naval forces of the United States launched a series of strikes against the headquarters, terrorist facilities and military assets that support Moammar Gadhafi's subversive activities.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): And the result.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back there is the building where his wife and children resting when the bombing came on Monday night. Two of them were injured, the smallest child, an adopted daughter was killed.

REAGAN: Today we have done what we had to do. If necessary, we shall do it again.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Gadhafi survived, he wasn't at the site. Dozens of Libyans died, as did two U.S. Air force pilots.

Another punishment for the murder of civilians came in 1998. Operation Infinite Reach led the strikes against al-Qaeda targets in Sudan and Afghanistan, after the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed. More than 200 people were killed of the 4,000 wounded. These punitive strikes have been used by a long line of U.S. presidents to punish or to warn others when their actions are deem to threat to American interests.

REAGAN: I said that we would act with others if possible and alone if necessary to ensure that terrorists have no sanctuary anywhere. Tonight, we have.

TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.


COOPER: New satellite imagery released today shows some of the damage last night's missile strike did to the Syrian airbase. This image shows five workshops on the airfield's western edge before the strike. And here they are after the strike. As you can see, all five structures are pure to be hit. That's how they described these workshops.

This new -- next images shows a bunker on the base before the strike. Here it is after the attack. You can see it appears all but wiped out.

Now, according to U.S. senior military officials, 20 planes were also destroyed at the airbase. I want to discuss this with our CNN military analyst, retired U.S. Army General Mark Hertling and retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Rick Francona who actually visited that base when he was there.

General Hertling, I mean the strikes in your experience, how effective are they?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, (RET) U.S. ARMY: It depends, Anderson. Again, it has to do with the mission, the conduct of the mission analysis, the target, the enemy you're going against and what you want to do from the standpoint of a political, physical and a psychological message. If it meets the requirement of what the president, the commander in chief and his civilian authorities wants the military to do, they can be at times effective.

[20:45:05] But there have been other times as well, and I'm sure Rick will comment on this, where they have not been effective. Air power at large can be devastating if used appropriately. It is a tool in the tool kit. It has to be used sparingly.

COOPER: General Hertling the strike last night, I mean do you see that as basically a strike to send a message, not one that has long- term, you know, military consequences for Syria? HERTLING: Well I think it has a balance of the three, Anderson, to be

honest with you. You know, there's been a lot of debate all day today about, hey, the strike didn't do enough, it didn't crater the runway, it didn't do this or it did do that. What I would tell you is I know how the plans are made in the Pentagon, what they wanted to hit, they hit, what they didn't hit, they didn't want to hit.

So there was reasons for all of these things, we can't get into the minds of the planners or the guidance they got from the commander in chief, but I would suggest there's probably more rationale for what occurred than what we are reporting in the news and what we as commentators or pundits are analyzing right now.

COOPER: Colonel Francona, when you see the strike, what do you see?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, (RET) U.S. AIR FORCE: I think it was a good balance of causing some destruction, but more importantly sending a message. Twenty aircraft out of the Syrian air force is a big deal. Their air force is atrophied, it's old, they have trouble keeping the aircraft in the air, they rely on the Russians for a lot of their maintenance and support.

So taking 20 air craft of that air force is a good thing. We weren't able to shut down the base. I don't think that was planned. We know that the Tomahawk cannot crater runways. It's not meant to do that, that's why they didn't strike the runaways. They hit areas if they could -- they've done a significant amount of damage. I think they sent the message.

But I think the General makes a very key point there. When you do the strikes, you really don't know what the effect is going to be. You hope you've judged it. But each strike is different, sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. You have to determine how much force you're going to use when you're going to strike, what you're going to strike, how symbolic is the target, and is that going to -- is the message actually going to get through. We won't know until Bashad does something or hopefully does not do something.

COOPER: General Francona --

HERTLING: You know, Anderson --

COOPER: Go ahead, General Hertling.

HERTLING: Yes, in terms of the cratering of the runway or the elimination of the runway, you know, I've been in some of these targeting meetings not only in the Pentagon but in combat, where the commander has to make the call. And I'm sure there was some discussion. Do we want to take this runway out of action for a significantly long time or do we just want to strike the airplanes and the buildings, and the radars, and the supply depots on that airfield? Do we want to allow them to come back and use this runway? And I'm sure it went back and forth for quite a long time.

So anyone who doesn't have kind of the background of the military experience can't comment one way or another what was meant to do. If we wanted to crater that runway, we would have cratered the runway.

COOPER: Colonel Francona, this is probably a dumb question. But why doesn't a Tomahawk -- I mean, you know, you would imagine the Tomahawk would blow a runway up. Why doesn't it crater a runway? Is it -- is the -- is it sort of too specific -- I mean is it too kind of localized, the target?

FRANCONA: Yes, it's a specific kind of warhead, and it's 1,000 pounds. Now, that' sounds like a lot of munitions and it is and it can penetrate a certain amount. But it doesn't have a blast capability that you need to actually crater a runway.

COOPER: So the blast in the runway not significantly large.

FRANCONA: Well, not only that, but if you just put a hole in a runway, there are teams that are trained to repair those very quickly. The U.S. Air Force and the Russian Air Force, every air force has that they practiced it because that's what do people do. They crater runways, we fix them. But what -- if you want to really destroy runway, there are runway busters that actually go down explode under and push the concrete up making it very difficult to repair. That's how you destroy a runway.

Tomahawks are not built for that. If you want to put enough Tomahawks on a runway, you could probably close it temporarily, but you're going to waste a lot of ammunition doing that. What they did was they hit the key targets on that base that caused damaged to aircraft, the workshop, maintenance, fuel, ammunition, that's what you need to hit to close down an airfield.

COOPER: General Hertling, do you envision the U.S. conducting another strike like this again soon or do you think it would be contingent on if Assad use chemical weapons? I mean does it seem to you that that is the line this administration is drawing for now?

HERTLING: Well, we don't know, Anderson, that's the interesting point. You know, we have been talking and we're talking right now about the tactics of a strike. And the media and the American public have been enamored with this all day long, watching Tomahawks leave tubes and after action BDA of that -- this is a tactical issue.

The key question for the administration is, what is the strategy? What is the policy? What are we going to do next? What are the people in the area, the Syrians and other governments expecting us to do next? And just because we conducted a strike does not signal any of those things. So your question to me, do I expect more? I don't know.

[20:50:04] COOPER: Right.

HERTLING: To be honest with you, I don't know. I'm not in the decision loop. That something the key civilian authorities have to do and they better be good at it.

COOPER: Yes. We're going to leave it there. General Hertling, thank you, Colonel Francona as well. Up next, we've talked about Russia. We talked about Bashar al-Assad. Next the menace that is ISIS, former CIA and NSC Director Michael Hayden joins us with that.


COOPER: Certainly, this has been a busy day with any number of new developments in the wake of the cruise missile strike in a Syrian airfield. The U.S. military investigating possible Russian complicity in this week's Syrian chemical attack. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warning of further U.S. Military action in Syria if necessary, but she's also calling on the world to seek a political solution. The Syrian air base not totally destroyed. Dictator Bashar al-Assad of course still in power and of course there's ISIS.

It is a daunting basket of deplorable options and difficult challenges for any administration, let alone a new and relatively inexperienced one. Joining us for his take is retired Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and National Security Agency. He served under Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and President Obama as well.

General Hayden, first of all, just generally, what's your reaction to the Trump administration launching the strike last night?

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR, 2006-2009: Actually, I thought it was quite successful. And you got a really sober assessment from Mark and Rick in the last segment, Anderson, as to how effective operationally this was. I think the Armed Forces delivered to the president everything that they promised to the president.

Now as those folks pointed out, what's the strategic affect? And frankly, I think we're actually in a point of advantage here, Anderson. The equilibrium between Bashar al-Assad and all of his friends and his opponents was actually fairly fragile. You know, 15 months ago, Assad was on the verge of losing. Then the Russians intervened. Hezbollah helps, Iran helps. They reestablished equilibrium. They moved, they take Aleppo and there they are, but that balance (ph) is fragile.

And what we demonstrated yesterday, beyond the psychic effect that we're willing to act beyond reacting to an atrocity, what we demonstrated yesterday to Assad is, we have the means to destroy his battlefield leverage. Rick pointed out, he lost 20 aircraft. He doesn't have that many. So I think this will have a real sobering affect on adventurism from the Assad regime.

COOPER: Is there a benefit in not -- in the regime not being clear on what U.S. policy is, on not being clear on -- well, what is the red line, if is it just not using chemical weapons? If I, you know, if I'm Assad and I use barrel bombs, are they going to intervene? Is this sort of the lack of clarity? Is that a possible intentional benefit?

[20:55:16] HAYDEN: Yeah. I think so. Look, it's clear to me based upon what we've been saying the last 24 hours after the attack. This is going to take another significant provocation for us to repeat what we did last night.

Look, Assad as this is, Anderson. We want to park the Assad problem over here. Just let it sit. While we then go solve what we think is the more high priority problem, which is ISIS.

And so the strike yesterday was in essence our telling Assad, settle down, you're not going anywhere. And now we're going to turn our attention back to problem number one, which is the Islamic State.

COOPER: I've heard some politicians, particularly more Republicans who want to see regime change and want much more of an activist U.S. policy in Syria say, look we can walk and chew gum at the same time. You can go try to push Assad and also fight ISIS at the same time. Can one -- I mean, if Assad -- there's obviously the concern about a power vacuum if Assad is taken out of power one way or another. And what role ISIS then plays in the country?

HAYDEN: Yes. That's an ideal solution. That's the one I favor. But frankly, the geometry of the battlefield has changed, Anderson, after the Russian intervention. The amount of energy that will be require on our part to take on both Assad and ISIS, I think is beyond what any president could now reasonably demand of this country. And that's a great sadness. It is going to be a festering sore for a very long time. But I think, frankly, at best, we're going to have to handle this sequentially. Park the Assad problem. Work on ISIS. And then go from there.

COOPER: How difficult -- I mean, the level of Russian involvement in Syria, it seems like it is even more complicated now than it was during the Obama administration before Russia got involved. I mean, having them on the ground and obviously Iran as well, you know, it's much more three dimensional battlefield?

HAYDEN: No, exactly. And again, I would have been right where Senator McCain was earlier on your show three years ago, four years ago when everything was more malleable. But I think the art of the possible now is what we've just discussed.

And look, Anderson, forget about the Russians being there to fight ISIS as candidate Trump said. They're there to back up their client state. And now we need them to keep their client on side while we go do some other stuff. And that's probably the topic for Secretary Tillerson in Moscow next week.

COOPER: Do you think also there's an advantage in what the Trump administration did last night in terms of, you know, other bad actors, North Korea watching this and --

HAYDEN: Absolutely.

COOPER: Go ahead.

HAYDEN: Absolutely. As Senator McCain did. He did this because of genuine human moral outrage. And I'm glad he reinforced an international norm. But he also gets to send a political message. And frankly, the message is, I'm not the other guy. And he was sending that to us in America, our friends in the region and he was sending it to Syria, Russia and Iran.

COOPER: General Michael Hayden, I appreciate your time. Thank you as always.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

COOPER: Up next. We're going to bring you the newest developments on everything that we have been talking about, the latest from the ground in Syria and elsewhere. We'll be right back.