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U.S. Cruise Missiles Strike Syrian Air Base. Aired 6:30-7a ET
Aired April 7, 2017 - 06:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[06:30:00] MAJOR. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER, ACADEMY SECURITIES: We would have immediate overmatch. We could strike them at much greater distances.
We would win that kind of an engagement.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Go ahead, David.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There maybe an agreement with Russia and the U.S. to limit the use of chemical weapons. That might be the first stage that there can be some agreement on, but then Russia has got to answer for the fact that these chemical weapons were still in the country and that he was able to use them with impunity.
Now, you can put some of that blame on both Obama and now, Trump administration saying we're going to kind of leave Assad to his own devices here. But Russia was supposed to get those chemical weapons out of there in the deal that was struck with the United States.
The other thing to remember is go back to 2001 and the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and Vladimir Putin calls President Bush and says we're going to stand down and go to the lower threat level. And Bush very much appreciated that. Well, that was cynically done by Putin because he wakes up and what he really did is he took advantage of that time to be able to crack down on Chechen and Islamic terrorists in his view in Chechnya, the separatists, Chechen separatists.
And now, he is primarily concerned about is, and that's why he wants to leave Assad in place. So, that's where there's going to be this friction still, I think, with the administration.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Although Russia has been spending a lot of time hitting Assad's enemies and not ISIS in Syria. So, that complicates the situation well. But a strong point -- strong points by all the panel. What a blessing to have you with us this morning.
We're going to take a quick break on NEW DAY. We're going to have several members of Congress. They are in the focus right now. What do they think of this move? Was it lawful? Are they going to own their constitutional duty when it comes to war acts?
You see them on the screen. They'll be on the show next. Stay with CNN.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [06:35:38] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CUOMO: Breaking news, on the heels of 59 Tomahawk missiles being shot from the Mediterranean into Syria, specifically the base where the U.S. believes that chemical attack originated, and now we're seeing the Russian response, saying they're going to bolster their air defense systems in Syria, saying that they're going to suspend the deconfliction channel with the United States, suggesting there could be more trouble in the skies there.
What does this all mean? The action taken by the U.S. against Syria regime.
This is from Russian television what you're saying right now. This is the affect on that air base. Syria put out word that there were fatalities there. The Kremlin now saying the risk of a U.S.-Russia collision in the sky, quote, "could not be higher."
Support for this strike by the Americans is strong. France, Germany issuing a joint saying Syrian President Bashar al Assad bears full responsibility for the U.S. strike.
CAMEROTA: All right. Let's take a closer look at exactly where these strikes happened and what was taken out.
Joining me on the giant map is CNN military analyst and advisory board member for academy securities, Major General James "Spider" Marks.
General, walk me through it literally. Let's rewind the tape to earlier this week. Where of the chemical attack that happened?
MARKS: The chemical attack relaunched from the eastern --
CAMEROTA: The chemical attack prompted all of this.
MARKS: It started all of this was up in Idlib, which was up in northern Syria.
CAMEROTA: OK. But U.S. intel determined that that chemical attack was started, was launched and an air base where?
MARKS: Shayrat, which is located right here, right kind of below our feet.
MARKS: This is an airfield with great confidence. We know that the strike against Idlib originated here. This is an airfield that's kind in the middle of nowhere, which is a good deal, because there was minimal damage against civilian property and most importantly casualties. That was important to us.
CAMEROTA: Absolutely. And in fact, the U.S. telegraphed to Russia.
MARKS: We told Russia in advance we're launching this thing.
CAMEROTA: Right. The U.S. missiles came from where we are standing.
MARKS: They did.
CAMEROTA: From the Mediterranean.
MARKS: Right, eastern Mediterranean. There were two destroyers that have the ability to launch these cruise missiles, the Porter and the Ross, destroyers. And that's a routine presence as the United States has in this part of the world. Our navy is routinely here in the Mediterranean.
CAMEROTA: OK. What exactly did these Tomahawk missiles take out there?
MARKS: What we wanted -- what the United States wanted to do is to reduce the capability or eliminate completely. You're never going to eliminate completely. But you want to nullify Assad's ability to use this airfield and what was on this airfield. So, very, very limited in terms of the nature of the strike.
CAMEROTA: Right. But it was more than just cratering the runways. We learned that some people were suggesting that yesterday, but this went further than that.
MARKS: Oh, it did. We wanted to hit any aircraft that were there, which means we go after hangers where the aircraft would be protected. These are reinforced concrete, very thick concrete hangers where you have aircraft, and you have helicopters. I would suspect a lot of the fixed wing aircraft, the jets, probably had already left the airfield and gone someplace.
CAMEROTA: As you telegraph Russia, the chances are Assad has a chance to move them.
CAMEROTA: What we were just looking at there was Russian state TV video of the aftermath. What do you see when you look at this video?
MARKS: Well, what I don't see is the runway crater.
CAMEROTA: I don't either.
MARKS: Yes, TLAMs, these cruise missiles, do not have the capability to crater the runway. You can cause a lot of damage. You can really rough the place up. You can destroy as the video indicated, the concrete facilities around there. And you can soften them up with a single hit and redirect hits against those and really crush them.
CAMEROTA: Meaning that it was disabled for the time being or it could have gone farther?
MARKS: It could have gone farther if we had used additional types of weapons systems, but, again, the decision was to keep it narrow, make a political statement, come back at Assad and say don't you touch your chemical weapons again. I think that -- we're going to have to see, but I think that will be the successful result of this.
CAMEROTA: OK. Thank you very much for being with us throughout this whole special edition.
Let's get over to Chris.
CUOMO: All right. Alisyn, General, please make your way from the Mediterranean back here.
[06:40:02] Let's get our panel going.
Joining us now, CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official, Phil Mudd. CNN national security commentator and former chairman of the House Intel Committee, Mike Rogers. And former deputy commanding general U.S. forces in Afghanistan and author of "Besieged", Brigadier General Anthony J. Tata.
It's good to have all of you with us.
Mike Rogers, what a difference a day makes. We went from a posture of passivity here from the White House, saying Assad is not our problem, an apparent posture of passivity towards Russia, to now this. How big a difference does this strike make?
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, I think this is significant, not only for the message it sends to Assad. This sent a message to our Arab League partners. You know, this was their Alka- Seltzer to a very long hangover. They had been talking about this kind of activity in their effort to box in Assad for years. As a matter of fact, a lot of this plan certainly looks like plans that were drawn up four and five years ago when the other chemical issue happened in Syria.
So, it has a lot of political implications. You can't look at it just as the strike on this air base. It was very surgical. It was also designed to strike equipment that might be used to facilitate loading, unloading, says and the delivery of chemical weapons. That message was sent. Assad got that one.
It also told the Russians put them on notice, and it told our Arab League partners the United States is serious about getting this right. I think this is a very important step for a whole host of reasons.
CAMEROTA: General Tata, how do you see what's happened, what transpired last night?
BRIG. GEN. ANTHONY J. TATA, FORMER DEPUTY COMMANDING GEN., U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: Well, I think this was exactly the right thing to do, Alisyn. The -- what we have is flexible deterrent options. When you look at an objective that you want to achieve from a U.S. military standpoint when our vital interests are threatened and weapons of mass destruction threaten our vital interests, we can do a show of force. We can do a surgical strike as we did. And we can do much more as my friend Spider Marks just referenced. So, to me this is exactly the right response because we have to
remember that warfare is politics by another means. There is a political outcome that we want, which is for Assad not to use his chemical weapons, and I would take it a step further and say that we've got to have a plan now, and I'm sure that plan is in the works, if not already done, to enact a coalition -- to pull together a coalition to get those chemical weapons and destroy them as the Russians said they were going to do back in 2013 when President Obama decided not to do this type of action and deferred to the Russians who said they would take care of it.
CUOMO: Mike, let me bounce back to you for one second. You know, you talk about the political implications. Let's try to get our head around just how broad the context is right now.
You have the missile strike. Where is the president? He is in Mar-a- Lago meeting with the president of China, supposedly dealing with North Korea. That was supposed to be the biggest test.
Now, this happens. You have the Russian interference investigation going on at the same time that you have this new dynamic between Russia and the United States. All of this going on at the same time. How do you handle that?
ROGERS: You know, there's an old saying in the Army that if your map doesn't match the terrain, go with the terrain. So, these international incidents are going to dictate some of the pace of this. I just don't think that the president had a choice of laying out all of the other issues.
We're pretty big place. Our military is pretty complicated. We can deal with more than one thing at a time, and I think that's exactly what you are seeing happen here.
But it will, again -- this will help issues in the Middle East. It will bring back our Arab League partners who are very doubtful of U.S. resolve and helping solve this ISIS problem in western Iraq in Syria in a way that they hadn't seen in years. That's a good step.
It allows, I think, us to remind folks like Kim Jong-un that we're serious. When we say we're going to do something, we are going to do something. That is a very important place to get to good diplomatic outcome. That doesn't mean necessarily military engagement.
We needed to reset that table in the United States. This to me feeds into that narrative that there is something different happening in our foreign policy, and you need to understand that when we say something, it's going to happen. That helps our diplomatic effort in a place like North Korea. Instead of ramping it up, this could serve to tone it down.
And same with China. It's going to need to understand, and I think that was an important event. While China was here, they've been expanding in the South China Sea. They've militarized about seven reefs they've made into islands. All of that had international protest. This gives us a position now to walk in with a little bit more
authority and negotiate a better outcome.
[06:45:04] I think this was a very -- it's a relatively small thing when you look at all the threats around the world, but a very important statement, not just to Bashar al Assad and the Russians, but the rest of the world as well.
CAMEROTA: Very interesting perspective.
Phil, do you agree that this could actually tamp down something rather than ramp it up?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Possibly. I don't see it as that significant yet for a couple of reasons. Although it could shift.
The reason I see this as only modestly significant is, look, we're not talking about taking out Bashar al Assad. After six years of a civil war with 400,000 plus people dead, we've responded to one incident with less than five minutes of strikes on one airfield. If you are sitting back from Russia, you are saying this is not a game changer yet until I talk to Rex Tillerson on Tuesday and see if there are more significant implications.
Is the United States going to talk about safe zones? Is the United States going to talk about attacks on regime targets, or is this simply a deterrent attack to say you can kill civilians with barrel bombs, don't kill them with chemical weapons?
I think this is a modest step. I think it was the right step to deter Assad from using chemical weapons. It's not clear to me that the world is going to see this as an indication that America is going to take another big step and in another Middle Eastern country.
CUOMO: Meld those two points, Spider. This sends a message, and you have from Phil Mudd saying, well, but it wasn't that big of step. For every action, there's going to be a reaction. That's the plus-minus to what President Trump just did. What will be the good outcome, and what could be the possible negative outcome.
What about that part?
MARKS: This was a message. It was not a whisper. This was a significant message that we made, because we chose to act. As Mike Rogers indicated, we raised our hand and said we're not going to stand for that anymore. That's important.
The extent that we went to it at this point again is not significant. We know exactly where they struck. It probably had minimal damage that is truly significant. I think we sent a very powerful message however that says, don't use your chemical weapons again.
And as Phil just indicated, you have a whole panoply, a whole array of options out there. You can use those. So, it's a very cynical view, but we were very, very clear in the terms of the message that we sent. CAMEROTA: Yes. Gentlemen, thank you very much for all of the
expertise. We will check back with you.
We do have other news because the strikes in Syria, of course, putting North Korea and its nuclear ambitions on notice as President Trump meets again today with China's president.
CNN Will Ripley is in Beijing with more.
What is the reaction? What's the latest, Will?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: On the Chinese side, they are saying that they oppose the use of chemical weapons, even though they vetoed repeated U.N. Security Council attempts to sanction Syria over the use of chemical weapons. They're also saying here in Beijing that they pose the use of force in dealing with international matters.
Now, we don't know -- we asked, but we weren't given an answer whether President Trump and President Xi when they were sitting at the table at Mar-a-Lago while this operation was going down, if they had a conversation about it, those details not being released. But some Chinese state media are calling this air strike hasty, and they also say it's inconsistent with the president's previous views which they say has left a very deep I impression here in China given the unpredictability of the Trump administration.
And I can guarantee you that Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, is also watching this very closely.
Next week, there's a new round of U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises taking off. There are also two major events in North Korea, a political gathering, and their most important holiday of the year. These are the times when he tries to project strength both domestically and internationally, and while we don't have an official response from North Korea just yet, my impression from reporting in the country is that they will take this airstrike as really an incentive to accelerate their development and testing of nuclear weapons and missiles.
CUOMO: Will, thank you so much for weighing in on what is becoming such a complex situation. A relatively simple act sending these Tomahawks, reverberates in so many different ways.
We have another take for you coming right after this break. Is this a good start? Now, that's the take of "New York Times" columnist Nick Kristof. He is going to tell you why this is just a first step and that much more needs to be done to avert further crisis in Syria. Plus, details of his conversation with Hillary Clinton on this very subject last night, next.
[06:52:59] CAMEROTA: We do have breaking news. For the first time the U.S. launching military strikes against the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad. The U.S. launching nearly 60 U.S. missiles last night, hitting an air base that U.S. officials say was the one used to carry out that deadly chemical weapons attack.
Joining us now with perspective, "New York Times" columnist Nicholas Kristof.
Nicholas interviewed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton -- not sure I needed that explainer of who she was -- about this issue, and so much more yesterday.
Nick, great to have you here.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Good to be with you.
CAMEROTA: In August you wrote about Syria and what was going on. "It's a stain on all of us, analogous to the difference of Jewish refugees in the 1930s, to the eyes averted from Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s to Darfur in the 2000s."
You must feel gratified by what president Trump did last night?
KRISTOF: You know, I started off, frankly, with a deep suspicion of almost anything President Trump does, but in this case, I think that this was the right thing. And, I mean, this is very similar to the plan that the Obama administration originally had in 2013, and it -- when a country uses chemical weapons in violation of a taboo that the world has reasonably successfully had for 100 years, then it is so important to reinforce that taboo.
And the question now becomes where do we go from here? Can we use this leverage to try to not just reinforce that taboo, but actually to build something closer to a cease-fire or a peace in Syria?
CUOMO: Do we need to take a step back and analyze this enthusiasm for might makes right, right now? Do you think you can make a compelling case this was a lawful act under the U.S. Constitution, under any existing legal authority, international or domestic, by President Trump?
KRISTOF: You know, I think this was frankly quite dubious legality. I think it was also somewhat hypocritical given Trump's previous comments about Syria, his opposition to strikes very much like this.
[06:55:06] I think it raises all kinds of difficulties ahead, and I think it was absolutely the right thing to do.
CUOMO: How do you square those two? How is it right if it could be illegal and that Congress should have been involved, and you don't have any international precedent for this?
KRISTOF: Because -- I mean, all these arguments have been used all along in Syria basically as a reason for passivity. And in that course of that, we have had more than 300,000 people killed, we've had five million refugees. We've had the birth of ISIS.
In other words, there are real risks and downsides of any kind of engagement. There are also real risks and down sides of passivity, and we have seen those. And look, one strike doesn't solve things, but where we need to go in
the long run in Syria is some kind of a de facto partition and cease- fire. And there's a lot of brave talk about ousting Assad. That's not going to happen.
We're stuck with Assad. But we can, perhaps, achieve a de facto cease-fire. You know, John Kerry was pleading with Obama administration for leverage to help achieve that, and what he wanted was the ability to use military force, to have something to hold against Putin. Now, the State Department has leverage. We just don't have an administration that believes in diplomacy or secretary of state who may be up to the task.
CAMEROTA: But what you see as leverage, others see as the start of a domino effect. What will Russia's response be? What will Iran's response be? What will Syria's response be?
You think that as we sit here, the U.S. has the upper hand at this hour?
KRISTOF: I think that Russia does not want to escalate. I think that there are real advantages of trying to ground Syria and air assets. It has a very small air force. Russia doesn't want to be the air force for Syria.
We can't stop all of the slaughter that Assad has engaged in. We can limit his ability to drop barrel bombs and drop chemical weapons on people, and that can indeed if things are done right, reduce the ongoing -- you know, we focused on ISIS. ISIS is responsible for much less than 10 percent of the slaughter in Syria over the years.
CUOMO: It's so interesting how everything has changed in 24 hours. You have candidate Trump and even President Trump up until 24 hours, stay out. You guys have done nothing but make situations worse. Cost blood and treasure for the United States that we didn't have to spend, and Hillary Clinton was the one saying, you can't go soft on Russia. Sometimes you got to go in there. Very hawkish, even as secretary of state.
You just spoke to her. What was her take on the state of play with Russia and what need to be done?
KRISTOF: So I spoke to her just a few hours before this strike, and in asking her how we should respond to Assad's use of chemical weapons. She advocated almost precisely the action that President Trump took.
CAMEROTA: We have that moment. Let me just play it for everyone so you can hear what she told you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I really believe that we should have and still should take out his airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them. (END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: Very interesting. Again, president Trump could have taken a cue from her from listening to how forceful she was. The crowd seemed to appreciate that.
KRISTOF: Absolutely. One of the underlying problems here is that President Trump has -- I mean, frankly, lied so often, so much about so many topics that he doesn't have a lot of credibility on an issue like this where he needs it globally. It certainly is helpful that there are an awful lot of people who have worked for the Obama administration, that Secretary Clinton basically endorsed the same measure. It gives him cover in this case in a way that might not be true with North Korea or the South China Sea or some crisis coming up.
CUOMO: Who do you see about this as an overwhelming moment? We're going to have in all likelihood a new Supreme Court justice today. We have Devin Nunes stepping away officially from an investigation that seemed to be at the center of our democracy. We have the president at Mar-a-Lago right now with the president of China. That was supposed to be the biggest test.
Now this happens. All of that seems to be moving away. Is this just temporary? How big a moment is this?
KRISTOF: I think there's a real learning moment for us in the news media, for all of us in the press. As I look back over the last year or so, I think one of the historic mistakes that we spent way too much time chasing the latest shiny object and being distracted by what happened to what is happening in the campaign, in the country, in the world.
And we absolutely need to follow what's happening in Syria and opportunities, the risks that creates. But let's not be diverted from the Russia investigation, from an attack on our electoral system and who is behind that. And from issues of North Korea, which probably in this administration presents the greatest risk of awful conflagration.