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Syria Attack Fallout. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 7, 2017 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Nikki Haley here signaling to the world that the United States could act again after President Trump launched the nation's first direct military action against Syria.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Assad did this because he thought he could get away with it. He thought he could get away with it because he knew Russia would have his back.

That changed last night. The United States took a very measured step last night. We are prepared to do more. But we hope that will not be necessary. It's time for all civilized nations to stop the horrors that are taking place in Syria and demand a political solution.


BALDWIN: I also wanted to show you some of these pictures. This is from the Department of Defense releasing these images that they say show the impact of 58 of those 59 Tomahawk missiles that targeted the Syrian airfield.

This is the same airfield that, according to U.S. officials, the Syrian regime launched the chemical attack, killing dozens of men, women and little children.

We are also learning now that the Pentagon is investigating whether or not Russia was complicit in that chemical attack.

I'm joined now by chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto and senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward, who is there near the Turkey-Syrian border.

So, Clarissa, just beginning with you, the Syrian people, how are they reacting to this action?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been extraordinary to see, Brooke.

The Syrian people who support the opposition, that is to say who are against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, were actually pretty shocked by this, and shocked, I should say, in a good way. They view it as a welcome surprise. For years and years, they have dreamed about the U.S. finally coming to their aid in some capacity, only to really watch that dream sort of die after the red line was crossed under President Obama.

So, they didn't really expect this. And, of course, they welcome it, but the majority of people who I have spoken to are also concerned that it's not enough, that the strike is very limited. You heard there from Nikki Haley it's proportional. It's moderate. They don't expect to continue with strikes unless there is some call to continue.

I think there's a little bit of disappointment that there won't be any furthering of the strikes, any further U.S. intervention, but definitely a sense of relief and a sense that something has changed profoundly in how the Syrian conflict is now shaping itself on the ground.

The power balance has somehow shifted a little bit. Whereas, before, most of the chips were in Russia's favor, now it appears that the U.S. finally has some leverage in this game and of course Syrians who support the opposition are hoping that they can capitalize on that -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: And then there's Russia, right, Jim, and how -- tell me more about how the U.S. military is apparently looking at potential evidence that Russia bombed a hospital to cover up the chemical attack.


You heard Secretary Tillerson say in the last 24 hours that either Russia was complicit or incompetent if Syria continued to have chemical weapons stores, despite the 2013 agreement for them to give it up, monitored by Russia.

So, at a minimum, it seemed incompetence. But now the U.S. military raising the question as to whether there was active complicity here. That's based on a couple of clues, one of which is that a Russian-made warplane, the Pentagon has assessed, five hours after those chemical weapons were dropped, dropped another bomb on the hospital where the patients were being treated.

And the question is, was that bomb dropped to scrub the evidence, in effect, of a chemical weapons attack?


SCIUTTO: The question now before the Pentagon as it investigates is, a Russian-made plane, but was it flown by Russian air crews or was it a Syrian crew in that plane?

Beyond that, if there's a Russian air unit was based at that same base where these Syrian warplanes were launched from, and how could they not know, in light of the closeness between -- in the relationship between the Russian and the Syrian military? How could they not know that a chemical weapons attack was being planned or going under way from that same base?

Those are the questions now. They clearly have suspicion. They haven't established with certainty whether Russia was complicit, but that's something that they are looking into very seriously now.

BALDWIN: That would be a stunning development. Jim Sciutto, thank you. Clarissa Ward, thank you.

A critical response to consider also going forward is how will this affect the very delicate relationship between the U.S. and Russia, particularly, as we have just mentioned here, if the Pentagon's investigation reveals that the Kremlin was complicit in this attack at all?

At today's U.N. Security Council meeting, the Russian ambassador condemned the president's military action, calling the missile strikes a -- quote -- "flagrant violation of international law." Watch.



VLADIMIR SAFRONKOV, RUSSIAN DEPUTY U.N. AMBASSADOR: On the night of the 7th of April, the United States attacked the territory of sovereign Syria.

We describe that attack as a fragrant violation of international law and an act of aggression. We strongly condemn the illegitimate actions by the U.S. The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious.


BALDWIN: Joining me now, Thomas Pickering, former U.S. ambassador to Russia.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome.


BALDWIN: Nice to have you on.

I mean, just off of our conversation on Russia, specifically, sir, how plausible is Russia's complicity in this?

PICKERING: I think that the presence of Russians at the airfield would certainly indicate that they were probably witting.

The really interesting question was what they did, if they were witting, to make them complicit? And that is the kind of fine parsing of the effort.

What's more significant is that traditionally when these attacks have taken place, chlorine and mustard and the (AUDIO GAP) attacks, the Russians have usually tried to put the blame on the opposition, either saying they have captured this or they had a stock or it was some kind of error that really they were responsible for.

BALDWIN: And they haven't done that. PICKERING: This time, it doesn't seem to be holding up very well.

Well, they have. They have been saying some things like that at the time that the attacks took place. But you just heard the Russians say something in the sovereign territory of Syria. Well, it's a little sloppy, because we have now conducted 8,000 raids against ISIS, a large number of them on Syrian territory, and the Russians, too.

And the Russians, of course, have been carrying out on sovereign Syrian territory for a while. The fact is that they were invited. We were not invited, and that may spell the difference.

But what we're seeing here, really, is a kind of flip-flop. Three or four days ago, we were, I think, quite complicit in our praise for Assad that may have led to miscalculation. I don't know.

And three or four days ago, you could say that the honeymoon between President Trump and President Putin was still there. The really interesting question now is, has it changed? And, if so, how much?

And what is important in that is that the strikes have built leverage. People are correct. But that leverage, in my humble view, will only lead you...


BALDWIN: Leverage for whom, if I may interject?

PICKERING: Leverage for the United States. They are kind of (AUDIO GAP) of what the Russians have been doing for two years.

They built leverage for a political settlement. I don't believe that they're an indication that we're going to win this war or that indeed it is opening the path for the Russians and Assad to win this war.

It's been clear for some time that a political work-out has to be achieved. And the interesting question for the United States is, have they begun to think about that and how and in what way to use the leverage they're beginning to (AUDIO GAP) or will we get into a question of tit for tat and upping the ante as it goes along, with in fact neither side being able to use the leverage constructively that they have got to put it into the political hopper?


BALDWIN: If I may jump in...


BALDWIN: What about the fact on the upping the ante note, Russia announcing they are ramping up their air defense system in Syria?

This is significant. This is the most advanced mobile system in the world for that warfare area. This is what I have been told from folks in the Navy. What do you think that means, especially in terms of what could be next? PICKERING: Well, why did we use cruise missiles? Because we didn't

want to talk down the air defense system, which was the predicate for attacks in the past, until we began to look at the cruise missile opportunities.

There are different ways to do this. One can do it on the ground. It was done that way in Afghanistan at the end of that war. It drove the Soviets out. There are so various options here that need to be looked at.

But the key option -- and I keep taking you there -- is we need a political option to end this conflict, which has killed 400,000 to 500,000 people and moved nine million to 10 million out of heir homes into s kind of oblivion.

And that's a serious tragedy, and it's a big one. And the recent effect of the air -- of the gas attacks have called attention to that. But the magnitude of what we have seen in destruction in Syria is way beyond what happened in the gas attacks, as horrible as they were, two or three days ago.

So this is an opportunity now to see whether in fact there is a work- out that is possible, because neither side is going to win anything by a constant escalation of military activities without opening the diplomatic door through which they can both walk and get something at the end of the day which they can live with.


And I think that's possible, but it's a really long shot.

BALDWIN: On the opening of the diplomatic door -- and you had mentioned Rex Tillerson a moment ago, the secretary of state and the about-face.

Initially, a couple of days ago, he essentially said let's leave the fate of Assad to the Syrian people. And now he's saying either Russia has been complicit or incompetent. He's supposed to go to Moscow next week for meetings. What's his move?

PICKERING: I think his move is to bring home to the Russians that they're not getting anywhere doing what they are doing, that they have influence with Assad and that they have to use it.

If they were witting or complicit, then it was the time for them to have done it. Now they have to do it and they're a real player. But need in effect to begin to shape the outcome. And I think we should be ready to work to try to shape an outcome to stop this tragedy.

BALDWIN: Ambassador Thomas Pickering, thank you so much.

PICKERING: Thank you very much, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Just in this past hour, by the way, the Chinese president left Mar-a- Lago, the president's club in Florida, officially ending this 24-hour summit with President Trump.

The strikes in Syria happening in the midst of dinner together between these two world leaders. What the attack means for the U.S. relationship with China and whether it will be an effective warning to North Korea.

Also ahead, we will talk to a man who knows firsthand what it's like to survive a gas attack by the Syrian regime. We had him on this week. He was pleading with President Trump to do something. Now that the president has done something, what now?



BALDWIN: Chinese President Xi Jinping officially left Florida moments ago after a high-stakes summit with President Trump. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said President Trump did brief President Xi about the military operation last night in Syria after the two had dinner, but today it was back, we're told, to bilateral discussions.

President Trump called his meetings with the Chinese leader -- quote -- "tremendous."


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think truly progress has been made. We will be making additional progress. The relationship developed by President Xi and myself, I think, is outstanding.

We look forward to being together many times in the future and I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away.


BALDWIN: David Andelman is back with us today, editor emeritus of "The World Policy Journal." He's also a frequent op-ed contributor to and frequent on this show.

We're so grateful for you. Thank you so much for swinging by.

My goodness, what a difference a day makes.


BALDWIN: So just quick color from Sean Spicer in an off-camera briefing that apparently something came up. What was President Xi thinking as he's sitting down at Mar-a-Lago at dinner with President Trump?

And then apparently learned on their walk from dinner back to their quarters for the evening, that's when President Trump told him what he had done in Syria.

ANDELMAN: This is no doubt, this is a whole different Donald Trump that Xi went to bed knowing than the one he sat down to dinner with.

BALDWIN: How do you mean?

ANDELMAN: Well, all of a sudden, this is a Donald Trump who is prepared to actually go out and take some action, unlike any American president has done in the last eight years.

And this is someone he has to take very seriously because if Donald Trump says he might do something, he might do it and totally unpredictably. So this is someone that he has to be very careful of. This is not someone who is just going to worry about America first, about trade, about the rate of the renminbi and so on,Well, yuan.

This is someone who can suddenly launch 59 Tomahawk missiles against someone who is not really even America's enemy. Imagine what he could do against North Korea.

BALDWIN: That's my next question for you, but hang tight with me, David, because, Jeff Zeleny, I understand, is with us now, our senior White House correspondent, there he is, in Palm Beach.

Tell me more about what Sean Spicer told the press as far as the ticktock and conversation between President Xi and Trump on Syria.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, Sean Spicer at the White House briefing earlier, which they -- insisted to be off-camera, which is somewhat unusual, that there wasn't a sort of bigger briefing the day after such a big event.

But, in any case, Sean Spicer was walking reporters through essentially how quickly the president changed his mind and made up his mind, really starting about 10:30 on Tuesday morning, when the president learned and saw these first gruesome photographs and images coming out of Syria, and then fast-forwarding to about Thursday around 4:00 p.m., when he was here at Mar-a-Lago in Florida and gave the ultimate decision to a go.

He met with his national security advisers separately about four different times or so, including once when he was flying on Air Force One on Thursday. And of course the White House is trying to project the president as a man of quick action. They are of course trying to draw an unstated parallel to some of their criticism of the Obama administration, particularly in terms of Syria.

But it is interesting, the conversation that President Trump had with President Xi here at Mar-a-Lago. It was after the dinner last evening. Sean Spicer said that the president reached out to his Chinese counterpart and told him what had just happened in Syria.

So we don't have much more detail than that. But it certainly casts this entire meeting, Brooke, in a different light when the sun came up this morning, because North Korea, of course, is first and foremost on the agenda here in terms of emerging threats, and it cast President Trump in a -- certainly more of a commander in chief look, if you will.


BALDWIN: Which is exactly what David was just saying to me.

ZELENY: Right.

BALDWIN: And so just in terms of north And so just in terms of North Korea, if you're North Korea and you see what President Trump, commander in chief Trump can be capable of with these 58, 59 Tomahawks, what are you thinking, if you're Pyongyang?

ANDELMAN: You have to wonder what's going to happen the next time I do a major underground nuclear test, the next time I launch a major rocket into the Sea of Japan or, even beyond that, into the Pacific Ocean, an indication that you have the ability to reach, for instance, Los Angeles or San Francisco or even Alaska or Hawaii?

That can be a whole game changer. And now here is a president who will actually put his muscle where his mouth is. And that's Donald Trump, obviously. He's now prepared to actually go out there and do something.

What I find particularly interesting is what Russia is going to do next, very quickly, OK?


ANDELMAN: What is Russia going to do when they finally decide that they have no -- they cannot deal with Trump at all? Do they get mad or do they get even? And getting even could be, here's what we really did to get Donald Trump elected, maybe not directly, but the leaks start to come out.

And one is going to have to wonder if Donald Trump has to wait for that eventuality.

BALDWIN: Russia.


BALDWIN: David, thank you very much.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much in Palm Beach for us.

Coming up next, we do have, staying, of course, on our continuing coverage on Syria, new satellite imagery from that Syrian airfield, giving us a better idea of what President Trump's strike actually accomplished. We will break down these pictures and get an assessment from a former Navy commander who knows these Tomahawk missiles and the ships from which they came.



BALDWIN: I want to show you some pictures now of the aftermath captured from a drone of the deadly U.S. strike near the Syrian city of Homs.

This was a result of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from U.S. warships, the target, this air base where the U.S. government believes that deadly chemical weapons were launched from earlier this week.

We're told 20 planes were destroyed there.

And so, Tom Foreman, let me bring you in with a closer look at how this all happened and what they actually hit. Show me.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You made a point just before saying they did not seem to go after the runway. This is the runway down here, this long stretch right here.

And, no, there's no real sign of much damage here. A little bit of damage over here on what would be sort of a taxiway out to the runway. What were they after? They were after very specific targets.

For example, areas like this where you might have storage of fuel occurring out in here, maybe weapons somewhere out in this area, but that may be a little off from your base. If either one of those were to catch on fire, you don't want them right in the middle of your base.

Maybe over in here, where, again, you see a storage facility of some sort out here that is a little bit way from everything. And you can see built up around it a little earth and walls, so that if even you have a fire or a problem, it's somewhat contained.

Here are some of the pictures of what actually was hit, though. Look over here. These right here are those concrete bunkers that we have seen, concrete hangars where the planes are kept.

This is that group of them before the attack. And if you move over here, you can see the very same ones. You see all of that smoke around it, all that blackened area? That's where the missiles actually hit and would have done some damage.

Same thing if we move on to another one of those areas right here. Here's another example down here at the other end of the taxiway. And, again, you can see destroyed areas here, damaged shelters.

But here's a big question, Brooke. How much damage was really done in all of this and was it as targeted as they might have hoped? Because if you take a look at that overall video we have been seeing, is there a lot of damage here? Yes. Could there possibly be the remains of an airplane in there? Yes, but not over here.

Here, these reinforced hangars seem to have protected the planes just fine. We counted about 15 of these around that airfield. So, we will have to get a much more thorough counting of how much damage was really done by this, but, as you can see, out on the actual tarmac, very little damage, as far as we can tell at this point -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: I have got the perfect guest to react to what you have just shown us. Tom, thank you very much. I get to talk to retired Naval Commander Kirk Lippold, who was the

commanding officer of the USS Cole when it was bombed by al Qaeda back in 2000.

So, Commander, an honor and a privilege to have you on, sir. Welcome.

KIRK LIPPOLD, FORMER COMMANDER, USS COLE: Thank you for having me on, Border Patrol

BALDWIN: So, you just saw Tom with those pictures. And just your assessment of what we can see as far as a successful strike. And also you saw those great, long runways seem still intact. Why, do you think?

LIPPOLD: Well, what you have to consider first and foremost, Brooke, is that you have got a limited number of weapons. And when you put together a strike package, you prioritize what are the targets going to be, which ones do we want to hit in which order to make sure that you inflict the most damage on the targets that you want, and then what can you go after, after that to make sure that you degrade their capability?

Clearly, they left the runways alone. I believe they wanted to target the packages that were of most of importance, which was the aircraft that carried out the strikes with the chemical weapons. Then you go after the facilities that helped support them, the fuel bunkers, some of the supporting facilities, maintenance facilities perhaps, maybe some of the ammunition depots.

But, clearly, the intent was not to take down the runway, which may have other purposes, but in fact take out the true targets that were causing the damage to the Syrian people.


And then what about just the weapon? Explain to me, Commander, why a Tomahawk used back during the Gulf War back in '91 is still the weapon of choice here.

LIPPOLD: Well, that weapon that we used in the first Gulf War in the early 1990s, up until today, has undergone significant improvements.