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CNN TONIGHT

U.S. Military Action In Syria Continues Right Now; U.S., In Coordination With France and Britain, Launch Strikes on Syria. Aired 11-12a ET

Aired April 13, 2018 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

[23:00:00] NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": So all kinds of things go wrong and in particularly the Middle East now is so sensitive with Russia, with Iran. That I felt reassured when I heard Secretary Mattis talk about the constraints of the operation, the fact that it would not be sustained in any meaningful way.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: How likely is it that they will get Assad to get rid of his chemical weapons and that this will be successful?

KRISTOF: Look, the military toolbox is enormously useful, but it has to be harnessed to some kind of a largest strategic vision. And I don't see what that strategic vision is. It -- I think, to some degree it raise the costs of using chemical weapons. And that is probably a useful thing. Probably Assad will think twice, but it's hard to see him giving up sarin and chlorine, it's a duo use product that he has some uses for, but then also uses to kill his own people.

And so I think it will probably at the margins make him a little more wary of using it, but -- you know, but I don't, I think, if this is what has happened then I don't think it'll be profoundly different than what happened a year ago.

LEMON: Nicholas Kristof, thank you very much. And Kimberley Dozier as well and Michelle Kosinski, I really appreciate it.

This is CNN breaking news.

Just a little bit past 11:00 p.m. here on the East Coast. Our breaking news of the U.S. military action in Syria continues right now. This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. It is 6:00 a.m. in Syria, just about 6:00 a.m. in Syria where the sun is up, where U.S. aircraft including B1 bombers and at least one U.S. Navy warship were used on the attack of the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The strikes in coordination with Britain and France focus on the regime's chemical weapons capability.

So, let's get to our folks here, our experts, some of them on the ground, others that at the Pentagon, Ryan Browne, that is where we'll find our Pentagon reporter. Ryan, good evening to you, we heard Secretary Mattis talk about targets tonight and what the goal of this strike is. What more did he say? RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, the secretary laying out

exactly what the objective of these strikes were, which was to deter Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons, and that was reflected in the targets. A chemical weapons research facility in the capital of Damascus, chemical weapons storage facility near Homs in Syria, these targets specifically selected for their relationship with the chemical weapons program.

Secretary Mattis saying that the U.S. has evidence that the Syrian regime use chemical weapons against civilians recently saying that publicly today that the evidence was received yesterday in his briefing that just ended a little while ago. We know from defense officials telling us that B1 bombers were involved in these strikes, a warship -- at least one warship in the Red Sea, as well as British and French military forces.

The British Minister of Defense saying some of its tornado jets, launched cruise -- air launched cruise missiles against Syrian targets. So a very -- a very multilateral operation targeting the regime's chemical weapons infrastructure was carried out today.

LEMON: And Brian, as you are speaking there, right beside you, there's new video coming in now of the strikes. I'm not sure exactly where that is, if that is Damascus. As soon as I get that information, I will give it to the viewer. But there's video just coming in. As you can see the skies are lighting up there and you hear people saying --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god.

LEMON: -- this is Damascus --

BROWNE: That's right.

LEMON: -- and you can hear people saying, oh my god. Go ahead, Ryan.

BROWNE: That is video -- Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford saying that the Syrian regime attempted to shoot down some of the attacks, using its surface to air missiles. This video coming for Damascus potentially showing the interaction between the attacking forces and the Syrian regime defenders. We know that was the only response shown to this U.S., French, U.K. attack. Was the regime attempting to shoot down some of the attacking missile with its own missile? So, potentially some of the footage being shown there from Syrian state television.

LEMON: Yes. Ryan Browne, I want you to standby.

I want to bring in now CNN senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. Nick, you are in Northern Syria tonight. You have been talking to us about this effort their on the ground. There are new developments in Northern Syria. Takes u there, talks to us about, I know that you're not near where the strikes are. Talk to us about the implications of all of this.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, Don, it's important to remind everybody that after days of lead up towards this, the telegramming, the telegraphing on Twitter by the Commander in Chief whether this would occur, it lasted 17 minutes from the moment we first eyewitness it in Damascus. They tell us they were hearing explosions to when Jim Mattis says it was all over. The operation are being completed.

[23:05:05] Three targets, they told us of and I say during that period of time a lot of the kind of tug of war suggested that many more places potentially being hit. That could simply been an anti-aircraft fire misinterpreted, but the sun is up now and we will get more information.

One research facility in Damascus, the intense defenses around there penetrated. And then two near Homs, the more northern city closer to the Lebanese border, chemical production and storage facilities notably for sarin, as well and the third facility considered to be a command post as well. We think that may be a -- my staff, facility which has been previously hit by the Israeli airforce. So three perhaps you might say better known facilities of Syrian chemical weapons production. They have some of them been hit in the past.

This is certainly a strong message being sent, double the amount of ammunitions being fired. We've already heard a slight elements of sort of pride damage limitation by one senior pro-regime official speaking to Reuters saying this looks, quote, limited to some degree. But you have to bear in mind those in Damascus probably haven't heard incoming fire like this for a matter of years.

In fact, because the Syrian regime doesn't normally face an air force to some degree at all, except on those rare occasions, the Israelis decide to do something. We're hearing a little bit of talk back from the Russians at this stage. A letter said from the regime to, but this does appear to be a relatively isolated message. Just simply if you listen to President Trump and what he had to say, which was, this is about chemical weapons. This is about punishing the Syrian regime for doing that alone. We don't want to be part of this Syrian Civil War, we had been facing ISIS, we like to come out, we want to pressure Russia and Iran to get Syria to not do this again.

But in the same speech announcing this action, Donald Trump was quite clear to suggest there's an end point, too, for the U.S. involvement in Syria in the area where I'm standing, where they are assisting Syrian Kurds who defeated most of ISIS. So, a very short burst tonight whether we see economic and diplomatic back up to it, we will have to wait and see.

LEMON: All right. Nick Paton Walsh in Northern Syria. Nick, thank you for that.

I want to bring in now CNN's Senior White House Correspondent, Pamela Brown. Pamela, you're at the White House where the President Trump addressed the nation tonight to explain this attack, take us behind the scenes. Tell us where the -- what led up to this?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Well, there's been a week of phone calls with foreign counter parts and the President as well as several meetings between the President and his national security officials. And our reporting is, Don, that the President all along has wanted a stronger more muscular response than what we saw last year when there were strikes against one target, against that air base in Syria.

And we know it bothered the President that just in the hours after that initial strike last year that the air base was still operating. So, this time around as you heard the President say tonight in the diplomatic room, he wants this to be a strong deterrent. There were these ongoing negotiations with the national security officials including Secretary Mattis, who was a little more cautious in terms of a more muscular sustained response. Because the concern is how this could impact Russia. The last thing that the U.S. would want is to be brought into direct conflict with Russia depending on what kind of response there is.

But clearly they were able to reach an agreement with what we saw tonight. And you saw the President here, Don, send a very strong message to Russia and to Iran basically asking them, how can a country be complicit? Want to be complicit with the mass murder of innocent civilians. He was also called out Russia for not living up to its promise to help get rid of Syria's chemical weapons program.

So some strong words here from the President tonight saying that not only does he want to send a message, but he want it to be a strong deterrent and he also said that the U.S. is prepared for a sustained response to ensure more chemical weapons attacks don't happen in Syria, Don?

LEMON: Pamela, let's listen to the President tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans a short time ago, I ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad. The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons. Establishing this deterrent is a vital national security interest of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Announcing of the strikes 9:00 p.m. Eastern from the White House. We'll get back to our Pamela Brown.

I want to bring in now CNN's Chief International Correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. She is live for us in London.

Christiane, so good to have you. Other developments are fast moving here and I want to know what stands out to you tonight and talk to me about the international implications.

[23:10:04] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously first and foremost, this is different than last year, because we have Britain and France involved. And as you all been reporting, these cruise missiles is also aircraft. The British specifically put out that they had used aircraft to attack a chemical weapons facility in Homs.

But clearly what this is all about even though it's over for now according to the Pentagon, what it's about is try to reestablish a red line, a global red line for the prevention of the use of weapons of mass destruction. And that red line has been more egregiously, you know, sort of muddled and defeated by Bashar al-Assad than any other time. And the U.S., Britain, France and others were worrying that the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad was becoming a norm. That the world is beginning to tolerate and they all realize that this could not go on.

I'm really interested that the, you know, the sound bite of President Trump's operative, because he did go onto say that not only was this in the United States vital national security interest, but that they would use all the tools in their toolbox. That it would be, you know, military, but also economic and diplomatic and that is to sustain effort that he talk about.

I never heard him say, it was going to be a sustained military effort. And I also heard General Mattis and General Dunford said, the ball is now in Syria's court. If they don't get the message this time, then perhaps they will face another round of military action.

LEMON: Yes.

AMANPOUR: So they're putting the ball back in Russia's court, in Iran's court and in Syria's court. And I think that is pretty vital to understand at this point.

LEMON: Here's what I -- and I'm going to give you the quote of what he said. He said, the combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power, military, economic and diplomatic as you said, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Yes.

LEMON: He also indicated the strikes will continue until the Syrian regime use of chemical weapon ends. I'll ask you the same question I asked --

AMANPOUR: No, no, he didn't say the strikes. I'm really sorry. He did not say the strikes. He said the response, that response that he was talking about.

LEMON: OK.

AMANPOUR: He put it in the -- back in their court. If they do it again then there's possibly more military action. But I think everybody's getting a little bit confused about the word sustained used by the President and the word one shot, the current wave is overused by the Pentagon.

But both parties put the onus back on to the Syrian regime. But here is the thing, the diplomatic is really, really important, the idea of having a strategy is really important. And General Mattis talked about the Geneva process of negotiations, trying to get to some kind of political solution, which the Syrians have simply refused to engage with.

And there's now also the alternative diplomatic process is going on of which the United States is not a participant. So this whole idea of diplomacy is still a long way off. But you can see what the allies are doing. You know, they've marshalled a huge amount of diplomacy to respond to Russians using chemical weapons and against the Skripal's here, you know, getting 26 countries and, you know, NATO to expel Russian diplomats.

The United States has ramped up economic sanctions against Russian oligarchs, and now they've done this military action against the use of chemical weapons. So there is kind of a coordinated response, we will just have to see what it produces.

LEMON: Well, I'm glad you cleared that up, because this is -- I am reading from the CNN's Wire, is says Trump indicated the strikes to continue until Syrian regime use of chemical weapon again, but here's a quote --

AMANPOUR: Should I read it?

LEMON: But here's the quote.

AMANPOUR: Should I read it? Yes, you read it.

LEMON: No, the quote is, we are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regimes --

AMANPOUR: Right.

LEMON: -- stops its use of prohibited chemical weapons, Trump said. The President also insisted that the U.S. would not remain engaged in Syria forever under any circumstances. And he said, he wants us out, at least by six months, but my question again do you think that this will stop -- I ask you the same question I asked Nicholas Kristof. How likely is this to prevent or to stop Bashar al-Assad or to make him get rid of those chemical weapons?

AMANPOUR: Again, the response was referring to the previous sentence which was military, economic and diplomatic. How likely, is anybody's guess? This guy has not got the message yet, and he has used chemical weapons, if call, chlorine gas, a prohibited chemical weapon and he has used sarin and he may have used it again this time. And it really is up to Russia and Iran who are his patrons.

Without them he would not even be in Damascus today. He would not have survived without Russia and Iran. So, if they can tell him that look, you're going to get -- you are going to get this kind of response again, you heard what they said -- and to be frank as some of our correspondents have said, this has crept closer to Damascus. He really has not felt this kind of -- this kind of response up until now.

So it's limited, but it's a message. And it's an attempt to re- establish a red line that was crossed over and over and over again by Bashar al-Assad with impunity. So this is what they're trying to do and we'll see whether it works.

[23:15:12] LEMON: Our chief international correspondent, Ms. Christian Amanpour, she joins us tonight from London. Christiane, standby, thank you very much for that. We're going to be right back with much more on our breaking news tonight. The U.S. along with Britain and France striking Bashar al-Assad's regime, targeting Syria's chemical weapons program. Don't go anywhere, we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: You're watching CNN. I'm Don Lemon. We're back with our breaking news tonight. President Trump ordering strikes on the Syrian regime's chemical weapons facilities in coordination with France and the United Kingdom in response to a chemical weapons attack last weekend.

Let us bring in now CNN's chief national security correspondent, Mr. Jim Sciutto. Jim, thanks for joining us again. A lot of information came out from the Pentagon briefing tonight. What stood out most to you?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it appears we've been aware all week long that there's been a debate inside the administration. You had some in the administration apparently the President included who were pushing for a more sustained military response, to distinguish this response from last year's which even the administration grants did not change the Assad regime's behavior. They continued to use chemical weapons.

So a debate between a camp saying, we need a more sustained response, cannot be a one-off, and Mattis and others, who are counseling caution saying that a sustained military campaign risks escalation and particularly risks escalation with Russia which has a lot of forces on the ground there.

[23:20:06] From that press conference and from this phrase that came from Defense Secretary Mattis' mouth, this is one time shot, it becomes clear that that conservative side won out in this debate. That this was a limited military strike focused purely on chemical weapons facilities, aimed specifically at Syria, as Mattis made clear.

Not a more sustained one to distinguish from the last attack that really didn't have the desire effect which was to deter the Syrian regime. Now, the question is what happens next? The President alluded to a sustained effort that includes military, economic and diplomatic efforts, responses, et cetera, but he didn't articulate what those are. He raised diplomatic response, but what is that, is it a U.N. Resolution that Russia is likely to veto? It is really not clear what happens next. But it is clear that in that debate at least it was the conservative voices that Mattis included that won out.

LEMON: Yes. Jim Sciutto, thank you very much. I want you to standby, because I want to bring in now CNN Military and Diplomatic Analyst, Rear Admiral John Kirby and CNN Military Analyst, Major General James "Spider" Marks, Lt. General Mark Hertling who joins us via Skype.

Gentlemen, good evening to all of you. So I want to ask you that General Mattis said that he was, they made as much -- took as many precautions as possible so that civilians would not be hurt. How can they be assured of that? How can we be assured of that, General Marks?

JAMES SPIDER MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, all of us you're that talking to tonight, Don, have gone through the process of planning for strikes and understand the intricacies and the feeds that have to take place in advance during the planning process. Look, you have intelligence from human sources, imagery, signals intelligence, et cetera. You also have an understanding of the ground and you also know the dynamics, the environment into which you're going to start throwing all the steel.

So each one of these targets then has a folder that goes against it. So are their guarantees that the battle damage or -- correction, the collateral damage estimates that are now going forward into the decision making process for the commander to say, that is a go or this target is a no-go, are those a 100 percent accurate?

Of course, they're not. And the enemy does everything in its power to deny us this type of clarity and information. But to the best our ability that is what takes place. So for Secretary Mattis to say we have uncovered as much as we can, we have exhaustively put our intelligence community to task and had demanded them, give us the best assessment.

And the commander has to sit back and say, I want to achieve this objective, I have these capabilities available to me, here are the risks associated with that, and this is what the target looks like, and here are the risks of those on the ground. We've done this thousands and thousands and thousands of times. We try to make it as precise as we can. It is -- there is a lot of subjectivity and a lot of art in that very scientific process.

LEMON: John Kirby, you know, we know that a B1 bomber was used I tonight's operation. Would it have gone into Syrian airspace to carry out these attacks, have to go in to -- and what are the dangers that would be presented here?

JOHN KIRBY, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: And not necessarily. Look, all the missiles that were launched tonight were cruise missiles, long-range precision guided cruise missiles. The shortest range of the missiles launched tonight, the Storm Shadows, have a range of about 300 miles. The B1 fired missiles which were reporting that a dead -- it was joint air to surface stand-off missile which has a range of about 650 miles. And the tomahawks launched from the ships at sea, they have a range depending on the variant can go all the way up to 1,500 miles away.

So it is very unlikely that those B1 bombers had to even enter Syrian airspace to launch their missiles, in fact I'd say even the Rafale fighters of the French flew probably could have launched their missiles well outside the Syrian airspace. Or even it was the Syrian airspace, Don, it certainly was going to be out of the range of those S-300, NS-400 air defense systems that the Russians have in place. They have a range of about 250 miles.

LEMON: I want to bring in General Hertling now. General, in the strike from a year ago, because only cruise missiles were used, any new risk in using aircraft in this operation?

MARK HERTLING, RETIRED ARMY FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL: Yes, you can bring in the allies and have it more synchronized, Don. But what I would like to do if I could is go back to what Spider just said, because that is critically important. Spider is an Intelligence Officer, would put those packets together based on commanders guidance that he was talking about a little while ago.

A lot of, you know, The President's tweet of a few days ago about smart-munitions coming your way, that is exactly what we're dealing with across the board tonight launched from both ships and from aircraft. When those target folders are put together with the intelligence guys based on the commander's request it's then blessed by the commander.

[23:25:03] I was in that role as a commander of forces, and here's the thing that most Americans don't understand, Don. I would always have a lawyer right next to me, talking about what John Kirby just mention, the collateral damage, the potential for civilian casualties and are the targets appropriate in terms of the laws of land warfare.

Not a lot of Americans realize there's a lawyer kind of checking your notes and saying, hey, that is a good target, this is not a good target. So that is why it takes a little while to do all these kind of things. Now, compare all that, compare the precises' even though they are trying and when it does hit civilians and it might have something occur on the ground that you did not expect when that missile lands, compare that to what both the Russians and the Syrians, and the Iranians had been doing throughout Syria with drum-munitions, dropping barrel bombs that have no guidance. Don't know what the civilian casualties are going to be and in fact targeting things like hospitals and schools. There's a very radical difference between the targeting techniques of Western Forces and the ones we're seeing in Syria today.

LEMON: All right, gentlemen, I want you to standby. Stay with me, be I need to get to you on the other side of this break. When we come right back, much more on our breaking news tonight. The U.S., Britain and France strike Syria's chemical weapons program. We'll be right back.

[23:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Here is our breaking news tonight, President Trump announcing he ordered strikes on the Bashar al-Assad regime, its chemical weapons facilities and in coordination with France and the U.K. Back with me now, Rear Admiral John Kirby, Major General James Spider Marks, Lt. General Mark Hertling, who joins us via Skype.

So, Admiral Kirby, what can you tell us about the types of missiles fired tonight and the risks posed by hitting chemical weapons facilities?

KIRBY: Again, these were all cruise missiles. They're very, very accurate, GPS enabled. The one that the B1 bomber launches, it has something called automatic target recognition and the homing phase can be very, very precise. And when it hits, it can even change targets as it moves in on it. So very, very precise.

And when you're going after a particular chemical weapons site, you want to be -- you want to almost be so precise you're hitting a certain part of the target, not necessarily just the whole target. And you heard the general talk about this tonight that were extraordinary careful in the targets they chose and in the way they hit those targets.

So, we're going to learn a lot more tomorrow when the Pentagon briefs on their battle damage assessment and we see exactly not only what they hit, but how they hit it. But as you recall, Don, remember back a year ago, when we struck that airfield, we actually -- we cratered the runway, those tomahawks did and they hit some bunkers, but not all the bunkers and they were able to very clearly discriminate targets inside a very small geographic area. So, it's dicey work to be sure, but I'm positive that they had enough target and analysis to be as accurate as possible.

LEMON: So, General Hertling, now, you know, we are in the throws and the myths of breaking news. This is just the beginning. This only happened a couple of hours ago. What aren't we thinking about right now?

HERTLING: Wow, Don. That is the question every commander asks themselves. What am I missing right now, what's going to happen next? You know, as John just said, you're certainly going to have the BDA, the Bomb Damage Assessment tomorrow morning when daylight comes around and they can pass some satellites or some air breathing platforms airplanes over the area to see what they hit and get some feedback on what they hit.

But what I would be thinking about right now is, what's the enemy doing? You know, because the enemy always gets a vote, and in this case the enemy isn't just Syria. They're not going to be doing much except licking their wound. But the enemy in this case truthfully are the Russians and Iranians, too. There is going to be some huge blowback. I know we already have some feedback on the Russian Embassy saying, hey you are going to pay for this. Basically I am paraphrasing obviously. Haven't heard from Iran yet. Turkey, what are they going to say? What are the Israelis going to say? Because they are in this fight too and we can't forget them. So what I am looking for is, what are our friends in the region going to do in terms of reaction and more importantly what's going to be the reaction of our enemies first thing in the morning? And what kind of either military action or diplomatic action or cyber action or some of them going to execute.

LEMON: I don't know, if you have a monitor there General Hertling or General Marks or Admiral Kirby, but we are looking at some video, this is coming from French television and it looks like French military jets on the runway. General Marks, you are in the studio, can you see that?

JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I cannot, sorry, Don.

LEMON: You cannot, General Kirby can you see it?

KIRBY: I can see it, Don. It looks like the Rafale fighters that the French fly. They are equipped to launch that Storm Shadow cruise missile.

MARKS: Don, if I can -- let me jump in to kind of take advantage of your little pause here.

LEMON: Yes.

MARKS: You know, we talk about the use of all those elements of power. The one element of power that we have not discussed, you've got diplomatic, economic and military, is informational. And that is what frankly we're contributing to right now.

And here you are in the middle of this broadcast, taking a pause, because you're getting a feed. You get a chance to describe that. That type of dissemination has a very powerful effect to Mark Hertling's point which is, what's the rest of the world, what's the neighborhood doing? What is the rest of the world doing? This information is getting out, and it is being very, very clear that these kinds of activities by Assad which have been tolerated in the past will no longer be tolerated. He has a decision to make.

2LEMON: Yes. General Hertling, you want to weigh in on this?

HERTLING: Yes, let me weigh in on that, because Spider is exactly right. There are a couple of people who are going to be watching that information and it backs up with Nikki Haley said in the U.N. earlier today and yesterday. Here's the thing, it's not just the enemies that are getting this informational feed, but it is our friends. And what I'll say, is that there are going to be three friends that are very happy about this.

One is going to be Israel, one is going to be France and the other one is going to be the U.K., because we've acted together as a team. But the rest of NATO is going to be ecstatic about this, because we've not only stopped Assad from this gradual increase in the use of chemical weapons, which make no mistake about it, the strike last week was not the first one, there's been multiple ones. But it's going to signal to NATO too that Russia is not going to get away with these things, and NATO, the countries in Europe and others are going to be saying, it's about time the United States stood up to Russia backing these animal in Syria.

MARKS: Hey Mark, you know, I am sorry Don.

LEMON: Yes, I got to get to the break, General.

MARKS: Sure.

LEMON: Standby. When we come back, much more on our breaking news. The United States and its allies launching air strikes tonight on Syria's chemical weapons program. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: You're watching CNN. We are live now with the breaking news, United States and its allies Britain and France, strike Syria's chemical weapons program. I want to bring in now CNN Global Affairs Analyst, Mr. David Rohde, CNN Presidential Historian, Douglas Brinkley, CNN National Security Analyst, Juliette Kayyem and Samantha Vinograd.

[23:40:03] Good evening to all of you and thank you for staying late. It has been quite the news day here. Juliette, not two weeks ago, the President said that he wanted to pull troops out of Syria and now we launch strikes. What do you make of this sudden turn around?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the President really had no option or at least gave himself no option when he tweeted this Wednesday or this week that he would -- that essentially we would do military action. So, going back two weeks to today, I think it's safe to say that there is no strategic plan coming out of the White House right now. This is not to denigrate the military action or the courage of our military. It is simply to say that our Syria policy has reacted to the use of chemical weapon, it's a limited strike, that's good, and it's a unified strike with our allies that is also good.

But what comes from here, no analyst should be telling you they know the answer to that. I don't know what -- Russia's reaction will be, we don't know Syria's reaction. And we certainly don't know Donald Trump's reaction. So at this stage the best to say about this is that the military won in the sense that it curved very aggressive civilian behavior coming from Trump and the new National Security Advisor, Nikki Haley, who clearly wanted to push for a less limited strike, and I think we should all be grateful that Mattis convinced them to limit this until we actually know what the reaction will be.

LEMON: All right, David Rohde, two day ago, here is what the president tweeted, he said, our Russia vows to shoot down any and all missile fired at Syria, get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice, and new and smart. You shouldn't be partners with the gas killing animal who kills his people and enjoys it. Did that tweet back the military into a corner?

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It did. I mean, I think what is interesting here is that the Russians didn't appear to engage in this missiles, that is one of the interesting comments from the Pentagon briefing. So, there'll be a lot of rhetoric out of Moscow, a lot of tough talk and a lot of noise also from the White House, but this was a limited strike on the American sides. And I think you'll see a limited, you know, Russian response on the ground. I don't think you'll see them attacking in American ships or anything like that. You know, I think, this is Donald Trump has strike, but it was definitely a victory, I agree with Juliette for Mattis and to keep this small and limited.

LEMON: What choice did leave our country after the president tweeted that and I asked David, Sam, if this backed us into a corner which was did it leave us?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't think it left much, but I do think there's a common thread between two different things that we're talking about here. One is the President's focus on countering ISIS. As Juliette mentioned, we've had 2,000 troops or so in Syria for a very specific mission for a long time now. The President as we know wanted to withdraw those troops and he wanted to withdraw quickly. We have leaked information from a NSC meeting where he basically said to Mattis get it done.

After his tweet, I think on Monday, about this latest chemical weapons attack, I know from my sources that he basically said the same thing to Mattis. He wanted to go in, he wanted to go in quickly and quote, get it done. And so I think what we're seeing is the President really focused on trying to get some immediate gratification here to a problem that is going to take a long time to solve.

Nobody has been able to come up with a strategy to stop the civil war in Syria. And so it seems to me that the President has really done a slightly expanded version of what he did a year ago. This is a punitive strike. I see no reason why we should think that this one shot wonder is any different than the one that happened a year ago, and that this, again, very isolated set of attack is going to move the needle.

LEMON: Douglas Brinkley, this will -- he will not be -- he is not the first or nor he is going to be the last President to order air strikes on a country and probably a country in the Middle East. Let's talk about the politics about all of this. Because this is not all what he ran on, getting involved with other countries. What does this mean for him politically do you think?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, one thing that is big tonight is to -- just start of Don, that we went into Damascus. This is new. This is wasn't like a year ago. I mean, when we struck that science research center there, and boom. That is a large step. Donald Trump is going to have some anger. Rand Paul is not going to like this. But tonight already John McCain, Lindsey Graham and the rest are saying congratulations.

It was proportional, that it's twice as large as the last strike. It's gotten everybody's attention. But I think he is going to get largely accolades for having done something in drawing the line that we're not going to allow Assad to deploy chemical weapons. He is been pretty firm on that since he is become President.

LEMON: Much more to talk about, everyone. Stick around. When we come right back with our breaking news, air strikes on Syria tonight by the United States along with France and the U.K.

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LEMON: Here's our breaking news tonight. President Trump announcing strikes on Syrian regime chemical weapons facilities in coordination with France and the United Kingdom in response to a chemical weapons attack last weekend. Back with me now David Rohde. Douglas Brinkley, Juliette Kayyem and Samantha Vinograd. What response might we expect from Syria, David?

ROHDE: I think they'll wait. This will be like the last time there was no chemical strikes for several months and then they started using them again. And the reality is this will not change the broader outcome of this war. Syria has won. Russia has won, Iran has won. This attack this actual chemical attack in Douma, it led to the surrender of the enclave, the Syrian government did take it -- the rebels there gave up. So, this is, you know, a short-term victory again for Donald Trump, but it doesn't change the outcome of the war. You know, Syria is still a huge success for Assad and for Russia and for Iran.

LEMON: Sam, the Russian ambassador saying we are being threatened, what do you say?

VINOGRAD: I think it's ridiculous. I mean, we're about to launch into another Russian rinse and repeat cycle here, the Russians, the Syrians and the Iranians will start to push out propaganda we've seen this already. Saying that there were no chemical weapons attacks by the regime obviously. They're probably going to talk about civilian casualties that probably didn't happen. And they're going to use language about the United States provoking activities by the regime and they're going to talk about quote unquote terrorists on the ground in Syria.

[23:50:07] This is the pattern that they follow all the time. We've seen the Russians starts to do that already. And I think tomorrow, we know what the headlines are going to look like from the Syrian state media, Russian state media and Iranian state media.

LEMON: Juliette, you know the President called out Russia and Iran for their roles in these atrocities and saying you know, -- talking about the company you keep you'll be judged by the company you keep.

KAYYEM: Right.

LEMON: Will that make a difference? This warning in their actions?

KAYYEM: Not at all. I mean, let's not forget what David just said. Which is that this war is over for the United States purposes. Assad has won. He remains in power. And Russia has supported them. You're not going to shame Russia out of its victory, because Assad successfully used chemical weapons to get, you know, -- to terrify and kill a civilian population. So the naming and shaming does not work. The strategic strike is important, because it's at least a statement by the United States. But the fundamentals of what happens -- or what has happened in Syria aren't changing. This didn't make the presidency. This is -- I don't mean to -- this is a just a moment in a very long war. And the United States strategic interest is in stopping ISIS.

That is our only strategic interest and ensuring that ISIS does not get a stronghold in those areas again. We have been successful in that regard. We have a humanitarian interest which is related of course to whether we allow Syrian refugees into this country or into other countries. That is also I would say the United States position right now is not that strong in that regard, because of our lack of interest in accepting these refugees.

But our sole interest is quite limited in Syria, because the war is over. Assad has won and the more we recognize that we will have an exit that satisfies America's strategic interests, which is of course counterterrorism.

LEMON: Having said that Douglas Brinkley, I want to ask you this, you know, that Secretary Mattis said the U.S. specifically targeted the Syrian regime chemical weapons program. How -- as an historian how will we know if we've been successful? Will we learn overtime or is it immediate -- something that is more immediate?

BRINKLEY: I think, we'll know in a couple of days. First we have to see to make sure that this cruise missiles worked. We really haven't had any video of the rubble, of the effect, what were the capabilities that were knocked out on this strike. Were there a lot of humanitarian casualties? You know, when Bill Clinton did the so- called wag the dog strike in Sudan.

LEMON: Stand by, this is Syrian state TV, I'm sorry to cut you off. This is Damascus, I'm told this is Damascus. And there we go, it is obviously morning there. I think it's what 6:52 in the morning. And so you are looking at just after sunrise. And don't see much damage and that is what Syrian television is showing, sorry David, go ahead.

VINOGRAD: That is what they're showing.

BRINKLEY: We just haven't seen the damage.

LEMON: Douglas, sorry. I called you David. Douglas.

BRINKLEY: You know, we in the United States will say that this is successful if we didn't lose any U.S. soldiers, we didn't lose any strategic assets. And it's not just about Syria. We're drawing a line in the United States that we will not allow countries to use chemical weapons. In that case Donald Trump that is a success that he is holding very firm on that one principle.

ROHDE: What happens if he use chemical weapons? The rhetoric the President used is was much stronger than Mattis. The president said this strikes will continue until Syria stop using chemical weapons. I think Putin will asked Assad to not, you know, call Trump's bluff on that point and wait this out. This is an opportunity for them to try to --

LEMON: So, wait it out and then we'll see it happen again.

ROHDE: It will creep up, just like last time. I mean, they stopped for a few months, but then just continue to kill people in other ways. But it was a striking difference. I listened to the President, I thought this is massive strike. We are going to have waves, this going to on, you know, and then Mattis is -- it's a one-off and it is very limited.

And so how does that play out in the days ahead? Is the President, you know with this program or as the Russian rhetoric comes out, he is mocks that this was a pinprick, if the videos from Damascus shown no damage, will Trump get frustrated and start tweeting and want more action.

LEMON: So, listen, I got to Juliette, I got to -- go ahead, Juliette and I'll ask a question after.

KAYYEM: No, I just -- the reason why Mattis wanted a limited strike is because he knows America's interests is limited in Syria. It is to make a statement about the use of the chemical weapons in this -- in this case we know that they are -- we know that they may be used again. And to make a statement and I have to say that is OK. It's -- actually I'm not criticizing that. You want to put a line in the sand. You want to actually say -- you know if even if it's postponed six or nine months, that is OK, until the next attack. We cannot allow nations to use this weapons. But it's a limited strike, because the United States interests are limited now in Syria.

[23:55:00] That is a horrible thing to say, a horrible thing to knit, because no one would want it to be that way. But I think Mattis understood that if you just continually have these strikes, we are now in Damascus and it's the last thing that the Pentagon wants and it's probably the last thing that Americans want without a strategic interest in -- in, you know, in Syria at this stage.

LEMON: Hey, Samantha.

VINOGRAD: Yes.

LEMON: In 2013, Donald Trump said that President Obama needed congressional approval to launch strikes and here he is launching strikes without congressional -- the President must get congressional approval before attacking Syria. Big mistake if he does not. He did not get a congressional approval. I guess there is hypocrisy, you know, abounds here, what do you think of that?

VINOGRAD: I mean exactly, it is much easier to criticize when you are not running a country than when you are actually trying to lead. And I think one point, Don, that I'd like to add to what Juliette said, you know, Assad is guilty of multiple war crimes, he should probably be referred to the international criminal court. Russia will block that. The United States has chosen under President Trump -- and I agree that this should happen -- to hold Assad accountable and to punish him for using chemical weapons against civilians.

That is just one illegal tool that he is using to massacre civilians. So, the Pentagon and the President agree that we should launch the punitive strikes against this particular use of force against civilians. But this is just one of many things that Assad is doing. And to the question becomes for President Trump, does he stay focused again on just CWU use, not go to congress for authorization, but still have a case this represents an imminent threat to the United States, use his powers under article II. Or at some point does he expand what an imminent threat to the United States means to include other war crimes by Assad?

My gut is no, I think he wants to keep it quite limited. I think, Mattis agrees with that. So the question then for the military planners is when we have more intelligence, about more chemical strikes which I think will come, what is the bar for action? Is it how many people are killed? Is it the type of chemical agent that is use and those are the types of questions that Ambassador Bolton, I think, will have to answer with the National Security Council?

LEMON: Thank you all. I appreciate it. When we come back more on our breaking news tonight, air strikes on Syria by the U.S. and its allies.

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