Return to Transcripts main page

WOLF

President Obama to Announce Plan to Fight ISIS; John Kerry's First Stop Baghdad; Interview with Rep. Ed Royce

Aired September 10, 2014 - 13:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, President Obama and the White House finalizing his address to the nation tonight, a speech in which the commander in chief will announce that the United States, for all practical purposes, is launching a new war. This one against ISIS terrorists, not only in Iraq but in Syria as well.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. We begin with a critically important speech by President Obama, this on the eve of the 911 anniversary. The president addressing the nation, indeed the world, about the new threat posed by the terrorist group, ISIS.

Here's what we know about the strategy and the speech later tonight. Officials say the president is open to conducting air strikes against ISIS targets inside Syria. No details yet on whether he'll lay out a plan -- specific plan tonight for those strikes to be -- when they will begin.

The president told Congressional leaders he has the authority to carry out his ISIS plan without any additional authorization from Congress. But he did ask for Congress' support.

And secretary of state, John Kerry, he's on a mission to get help from countries in the region. His first stop today was in Baghdad to show support for the new Iraqi government.

For more on the president's plan to try to defeat, to destroy ISIS, let's bring in our White House Correspondent Michelle Kosinski, our Global Affairs Correspondent Elise Labott will join us in a moment. She's in Amman, Jordan. She's travelling with the secretary of state.

Michelle, we just got word a little while ago that the president is asking Congress for authority to arm and train what's called the moderate Syrian opposition to fight against ISIS. Does that contradict the president's position he doesn't need additional authorization, approval for Congress for the overall anti-ISIS strategy?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's confusing, right? Because even in the read-out of the president's meeting with Congressional leadership yesterday, he said he has all the authority he needs for the plan as it stands now. But last night, we found out, wait a minute, they are looking for additional authorization. That seems to be a contradiction of what's going on. So, obviously, it's something -- a difference between what the administration is looking for in the longer term versus what is going to be laid out in the speech tonight, at least we think. We haven't heard that speech yet.

But last night, a senior administration official told me that for the longer term, they do want to expand the authority to equip and train opposition rebels in Syria. This is the moderate opposition that the U.S. has actually been helping for a year. But this is taking it a step further, expanding it further.

Also, the president wants authorization for money to do that, additional money. That would be about $500 million. So, they're seeking authorization from Congress, but that's not right now. I mean, the authorization has been asked for. But when that equipping and training would actually happen on the level, at least that the administration clearly wants it to happen, is everybody's question.

So, we expect the president, tonight, to lay out his strategy as it stands. We expect that to possibly include expanding the mission in Iraq, laying out what exactly is the threat to the U.S.? What are the priorities? What are the risks, as the White House has explained them? And then, the president will add to that, what he expects to do in the future. We just don't know when those asks versus when the action will happen is going to be laid out, Wolf. That's one -- that's one of the main questions before we hear this speech tonight.

BLITZER: A critically important speech to the nation, as I said, indeed to the entire world. Michelle, thanks very much.

Elise is traveling with the secretary of state, John Kerry. Earlier in the day, they were in Baghdad, an unannounced visit. Now, they're in Amman. Elise is joining us. So, what can you tell us, Elise? What did the secretary of state achieve?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think, first of all, he wanted to kind of give a boost to this new government, a government led by Prime Minister Al Abadi. As you know, this new Iraqi government, which the U.S. hopes will be more inclusive, is really seen as the linchpin of the U.S. strategy. What the U.S. has been hoping all along is that a new government would be more inclusive. A lot of Sunni Arabs felt disenfranchised, marginalized by Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki.

What Secretary Kerry was there to say is that he want this government -- he sees a lot of progress but he says any government will not be worth the weight that it's written on if it's not more inclusive. And so, he said that he heard a lot of positive signals from the prime minister today. But he said that there's a lot of work that still needs to be done.

Tomorrow, he goes to Saudi Arabia where he will meet with gulf stations. And he's going to enlist their support to help this new Iraqi government. And that just doesn't only mean military support. It means drying up the finances of ISIS. It means cutting the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria which is seen as the lifeblood of this group -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me play a clip, Elise, of what we heard the secretary say earlier in the day while he was in Baghdad. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: A coalition that's at the heart of our global strategy, I assure you, will continue to grow and deepen in the days ahead, including at the U.N. general assembly in New York later this month. And that is because the United States and the world will simply not stand by and watch as ISIL's evil spreads.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. So, he's going -- he's been in Iraq. He's now in Jordan and on the way to Saudi Arabia tomorrow. Where else is he expected to visit, Elise?

LABOTT: Well, later in the week, or early week, he'll be going to Paris where the French are going to be holding a meeting on this issue on ISIL on who can do what. You know, officials tell me that a lot of countries are raising their hands saying they could do a lot of things. And what the U.S. is trying to figure out now is who would be best for a military campaign? Who is going to be best, in terms of intelligence? Who will be strongest in terms of drying up the financing? They're looking for Turkey to cut the elicit oil which is how ISIS is making a lot of its money out of Iraq and Syria.

So, right now, the U.S. is in a combination of kind of asking and coordinating how this coalition will take shape. And as the secretary said, I think that a lot of this will be hammered out at the United Nations later this month.

BLITZER: Elise Labott reporting. She's probably with the secretary now in Amman, Jordan. When the president speaks later tonight, he faces a nation deeply worried about the threat from ISIS but also skeptical about whether he's compared to confront that threat. Take a look at this new CNN ORC poll. Only 30 percent of Americans think the president has a clear plan for dealing with ISIS. 67 percent say he does not.

Let's bring in our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger and our Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash. He's got a lot of work ahead of him to convince the public he knows what he's doing.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But, you know, Wolf, he does because he's got to find that sweet spot between sort of being very tough on ISIS and yet having a clarity of mission so he can say, you know, this isn't going to go on forever. But he's got to tell the American people what's at stake here for their national security.

But I will also say that if you look at where he was a year ago on Syria versus where he is now, he had the wind in his face a year ago. Now, he's got the wind at his back because public opinion has shifted dramatically over this past year. I mean, these beheadings have done a lot to move public opinion in this country. And ISIS may use those videos as a recruiting tape, but it's also solidified American public opinion against them. And that will help the president tonight.

BLITZER: He met with top Congressional leaders yesterday. They all went back to the Hill, the four top leaders, the two Democrats, the two Republicans. What's been the reaction? What are we hearing from -- were they pleased with what they heard from the president? Not so pleased?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It sounds like they were pleased in that -- in a bipartisan way, they have been begging the president to talk about the strategy, to talk about the kind of thing he's going to talk about tonight. Of course, I mean, we're two months before an election. Everything immediately turns political for better or worse, probably worse.

And so, we did see Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader who was in that meeting yesterday, go to the floor this morning and talk about the fact that the president simply doesn't like being commander in chief and begging him for a strategy. And then, Harry Reid saying that Republicans are just following the words and the strategy of Dick Cheney. So, that partisanship is sort of, maybe, understandable.

But I think that we shouldn't overlook what is at the core here which is that you did have, in a bipartisan way, members of Congress sitting down with the president, agreeing with him that he is doing the right thing going forward to expand the military presence and also getting the ask that we were reporting about this morning, for more authority that he needs to arm the Syrian rebels.

The question that I have is, is he trying to put the genie back in the bottle? Because this is something many people in Congress wanted him to do a year ago, that Hillary Clinton wanted him to do. And it --

BORGER: But the public didn't, at that point. And he -- and he didn't think he could get that vote, at that point.

BASH: Right.

BORGER: Look, I think what we've seen in the shifting polls is that the American public doesn't want war. They're glad -- you know, they were happy to end two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But they don't want to see weakness. They want -- they don't want to be shoved around. And they looked at those videos and they said, you know what? That doesn't --

BLITZER: But let's not our -- let's not kid ourselves. The American public is not kidding itself either. For all practical purposes, the president tonight will announce the United States is going to war, going to war against ISIS, not only --

BORGER: That's right.

BLITZER: -- in Iraq but in Syria as well. U.S. fighter pilots will be endangered as they fly over anti-aircraft missile batteries, not only in Iraq but in Syria as well. This will be very expensive, billions of dollars. This is a war and this will be President Obama's war.

BORGER: And the big question, and Dana can answer this better than anyone, is the sort of boots-on-the-ground issue because you see public opinion also shifting about the question of boots on the ground. Far from a majority supported but you see that number going up the more these things get shoved in people's faces. The more they look at this kind of video and see the beheadings. And I don't know what Congressional approval would be for that kind of a -- of an involvement. I don't think the president would go near it, right now.

BASH: That's a -- that's a whole different question. And that's a big part of, I think, why he's not asking for additional formal authority for the U.S. forces in that region because he's not asking for that right now. And that's why he is -- he does have the support for this policy even though there's not going to be a vote.

But the other thing I think we should -- we should look for, I was just talking to some sources, about this whole idea of authorization for supporting the Syrian rebels. Right now, there is a desire at the White House the pull that into the larger vote to fund the government so that it's sort of hidden in there but, also, it's a must-pass bill. It's unclear if Republicans in the House are going to go for that. So, you might actually see a vote -- a separate vote on that in Congress. And it will be fascinating to see members of Congress putting their votes on the table even though they didn't want to.

BORGER: Before an election, yes.

BLITZER: Let's see the case the president makes for going to war tonight against ISIS terrorist. As I say, not only in Iraq with that war, it's already underway, will be expanded, but now launching a new war in Syria as well. All right, guys, we're all going to be busy. 9:00 p.m. Eastern, by the way, later tonight. Of course, you can watch the president's address to the nation 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Coming up, we're going to get the view from Capitol Hill. I'll speak with Republican Congressman Ed Royce. He's the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. We're going to find out what he would like to hear from the president.

And later, thousands of westerners have now joined the fight in the Middle East. That includes a surprisingly large number of Canadians who are actually siding with ISIS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Here, you have the most well-funded, most capable terrorist group in modern history with the clear intension and desire to attack us in order to terrorize this side of the region. This is a very serious national security threat. And it is important for the president to clearly explain that to our fellow Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio on the Senate floor talking about what he thinks needs to be a critical part of the president's speech later tonight.

Joining us now from Capitol Hill, California Republican Congressman Ed Royce. He's the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, President Obama and the White House finalizing his address to the nation tonight, a speech in which the commander in chief will announce that the United States, for all practical purposes, is launching a new war. This one against ISIS terrorists, not only in Iraq but in Syria as well.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. We begin with a critically important speech by President Obama, this on the eve of the 911 anniversary. The president addressing the nation, indeed the world, about the new threat posed by the terrorist group, ISIS.

Here's what we know about the strategy and the speech later tonight. Officials say the president is open to conducting air strikes against ISIS targets inside Syria. No details yet on whether he'll lay out a plan -- specific plan tonight for those strikes to be -- when they will begin.

The president told Congressional leaders he has the authority to carry out his ISIS plan without any additional authorization from Congress. But he did ask for Congress' support.

And secretary of state, John Kerry, he's on a mission to get help from countries in the region. His first stop today was in Baghdad to show support for the new Iraqi government.

For more on the president's plan to try to defeat, to destroy ISIS, let's bring in our White House Correspondent Michelle Kosinski, our Global Affairs Correspondent Elise Labott will join us in a moment. She's in Amman, Jordan. She's travelling with the secretary of state.

Michelle, we just got word a little while ago that the president is asking Congress for authority to arm and train what's called the moderate Syrian opposition to fight against ISIS. Does that contradict the president's position he doesn't need additional authorization, approval for Congress for the overall anti-ISIS strategy?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's confusing, right? Because even in the read-out of the president's meeting with Congressional leadership yesterday, he said he has all the authority he needs for the plan as it stands now. But last night, we found out, wait a minute, they are looking for additional authorization. That seems to be a contradiction of what's going on. So, obviously, it's something -- a difference between what the administration is looking for in the longer term versus what is going to be laid out in the speech tonight, at least we think. We haven't heard that speech yet.

But last night, a senior administration official told me that for the longer term, they do want to expand the authority to equip and train opposition rebels in Syria. This is the moderate opposition that the U.S. has actually been helping for a year. But this is taking it a step further, expanding it further.

Also, the president wants authorization for money to do that, additional money. That would be about $500 million. So, they're seeking authorization from Congress, but that's not right now. I mean, the authorization has been asked for. But when that equipping and training would actually happen on the level, at least that the administration clearly wants it to happen, is everybody's question.

So, we expect the president, tonight, to lay out his strategy as it stands. We expect that to possibly include expanding the mission in Iraq, laying out what exactly is the threat to the U.S.? What are the priorities? What are the risks, as the White House has explained them? And then, the president will add to that, what he expects to do in the future. We just don't know when those asks versus when the action will happen is going to be laid out, Wolf. That's one -- that's one of the main questions before we hear this speech tonight.

BLITZER: A critically important speech to the nation, as I said, indeed to the entire world. Michelle, thanks very much.

Elise is traveling with the secretary of state, John Kerry. Earlier in the day, they were in Baghdad, an unannounced visit. Now, they're in Amman. Elise is joining us. So, what can you tell us, Elise? What did the secretary of state achieve?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think, first of all, he wanted to kind of give a boost to this new government, a government led by Prime Minister Al Abadi. As you know, this new Iraqi government, which the U.S. hopes will be more inclusive, is really seen as the linchpin of the U.S. strategy. What the U.S. has been hoping all along is that a new government would be more inclusive. A lot of Sunni Arabs felt disenfranchised, marginalized by Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki.

What Secretary Kerry was there to say is that he want this government -- he sees a lot of progress but he says any government will not be worth the weight that it's written on if it's not more inclusive. And so, he said that he heard a lot of positive signals from the prime minister today. But he said that there's a lot of work that still needs to be done.

Tomorrow, he goes to Saudi Arabia where he will meet with gulf stations. And he's going to enlist their support to help this new Iraqi government. And that just doesn't only mean military support. It means drying up the finances of ISIS. It means cutting the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria which is seen as the lifeblood of this group -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me play a clip, Elise, of what we heard the secretary say earlier in the day while he was in Baghdad. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: A coalition that's at the heart of our global strategy, I assure you, will continue to grow and deepen in the days ahead, including at the U.N. general assembly in New York later this month. And that is because the United States and the world will simply not stand by and watch as ISIL's evil spreads.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. So, he's going -- he's been in Iraq. He's now in Jordan and on the way to Saudi Arabia tomorrow. Where else is he expected to visit, Elise?

LABOTT: Well, later in the week, or early week, he'll be going to Paris where the French are going to be holding a meeting on this issue on ISIL on who can do what. You know, officials tell me that a lot of countries are raising their hands saying they could do a lot of things. And what the U.S. is trying to figure out now is who would be best for a military campaign? Who is going to be best, in terms of intelligence? Who will be strongest in terms of drying up the financing? They're looking for Turkey to cut the elicit oil which is how ISIS is making a lot of its money out of Iraq and Syria.

So, right now, the U.S. is in a combination of kind of asking and coordinating how this coalition will take shape. And as the secretary said, I think that a lot of this will be hammered out at the United Nations later this month.

BLITZER: Elise Labott reporting. She's probably with the secretary now in Amman, Jordan. When the president speaks later tonight, he faces a nation deeply worried about the threat from ISIS but also skeptical about whether he's compared to confront that threat. Take a look at this new CNN ORC poll. Only 30 percent of Americans think the president has a clear plan for dealing with ISIS. 67 percent say he does not.

Let's bring in our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger and our Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash. He's got a lot of work ahead of him to convince the public he knows what he's doing.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But, you know, Wolf, he does because he's got to find that sweet spot between sort of being very tough on ISIS and yet having a clarity of mission so he can say, you know, this isn't going to go on forever. But he's got to tell the American people what's at stake here for their national security.

But I will also say that if you look at where he was a year ago on Syria versus where he is now, he had the wind in his face a year ago. Now, he's got the wind at his back because public opinion has shifted dramatically over this past year. I mean, these beheadings have done a lot to move public opinion in this country. And ISIS may use those videos as a recruiting tape, but it's also solidified American public opinion against them. And that will help the president tonight.

BLITZER: He met with top Congressional leaders yesterday. They all went back to the Hill, the four top leaders, the two Democrats, the two Republicans. What's been the reaction? What are we hearing from -- were they pleased with what they heard from the president? Not so pleased? DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It sounds like they were pleased in that -- in a bipartisan way, they have been begging the president to talk about the strategy, to talk about the kind of thing he's going to talk about tonight. Of course, I mean, we're two months before an election. Everything immediately turns political for better or worse, probably worse.

And so, we did see Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader who was in that meeting yesterday, go to the floor this morning and talk about the fact that the president simply doesn't like being commander in chief and begging him for a strategy. And then, Harry Reid saying that Republicans are just following the words and the strategy of Dick Cheney. So, that partisanship is sort of, maybe, understandable.

But I think that we shouldn't overlook what is at the core here which is that you did have, in a bipartisan way, members of Congress sitting down with the president, agreeing with him that he is doing the right thing going forward to expand the military presence and also getting the ask that we were reporting about this morning, for more authority that he needs to arm the Syrian rebels.

The question that I have is, is he trying to put the genie back in the bottle? Because this is something many people in Congress wanted him to do a year ago, that Hillary Clinton wanted him to do. And it --

BORGER: But the public didn't, at that point. And he -- and he didn't think he could get that vote, at that point.

BASH: Right.

BORGER: Look, I think what we've seen in the shifting polls is that the American public doesn't want war. They're glad -- you know, they were happy to end two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But they don't want to see weakness. They want -- they don't want to be shoved around. And they looked at those videos and they said, you know what? That doesn't --

BLITZER: But let's not our -- let's not kid ourselves. The American public is not kidding itself either. For all practical purposes, the president tonight will announce the United States is going to war, going to war against ISIS, not only --

BORGER: That's right.

BLITZER: -- in Iraq but in Syria as well. U.S. fighter pilots will be endangered as they fly over anti-aircraft missile batteries, not only in Iraq but in Syria as well. This will be very expensive, billions of dollars. This is a war and this will be President Obama's war.

BORGER: And the big question, and Dana can answer this better than anyone, is the sort of boots-on-the-ground issue because you see public opinion also shifting about the question of boots on the ground. Far from a majority supported but you see that number going up the more these things get shoved in people's faces. The more they look at this kind of video and see the beheadings. And I don't know what Congressional approval would be for that kind of a -- of an involvement. I don't think the president would go near it, right now.

BASH: That's a -- that's a whole different question. And that's a big part of, I think, why he's not asking for additional formal authority for the U.S. forces in that region because he's not asking for that right now. And that's why he is -- he does have the support for this policy even though there's not going to be a vote.

But the other thing I think we should -- we should look for, I was just talking to some sources, about this whole idea of authorization for supporting the Syrian rebels. Right now, there is a desire at the White House the pull that into the larger vote to fund the government so that it's sort of hidden in there but, also, it's a must-pass bill. It's unclear if Republicans in the House are going to go for that. So, you might actually see a vote -- a separate vote on that in Congress. And it will be fascinating to see members of Congress putting their votes on the table even though they didn't want to.

BORGER: Before an election, yes.

BLITZER: Let's see the case the president makes for going to war tonight against ISIS terrorist. As I say, not only in Iraq with that war, it's already underway, will be expanded, but now launching a new war in Syria as well. All right, guys, we're all going to be busy. 9:00 p.m. Eastern, by the way, later tonight. Of course, you can watch the president's address to the nation 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Coming up, we're going to get the view from Capitol Hill. I'll speak with Republican Congressman Ed Royce. He's the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. We're going to find out what he would like to hear from the president.

And later, thousands of westerners have now joined the fight in the Middle East. That includes a surprisingly large number of Canadians who are actually siding with ISIS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Here, you have the most well-funded, most capable terrorist group in modern history with the clear intension and desire to attack us in order to terrorize this side of the region. This is a very serious national security threat. And it is important for the president to clearly explain that to our fellow Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio on the Senate floor talking about what he thinks needs to be a critical part of the president's speech later tonight.

Joining us now from Capitol Hill, California Republican Congressman Ed Royce. He's the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us. What's the single most important thing you want to hear from the president tonight?

REP. ED ROYCE (R-CA), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, I think it's probably the buy-in of our allies and other Arab states, to make certain that the United States is not going it alone with these air strikes, but that you see the NATO participation of their air forces and that you see with respect to the Saudis, the other Gulf states, their support financially and, frankly, the infantry on the ground, that should be Kurdish forces, that should be Iraqi security forces, Free Syrian Army forces, not U.S. infantry.

BLITZER: Well, the Free Syrian Army forces are relatively weak right now. They really can't get the job done, can they?

ROYCE: You know what they need is the -- are the weapons that they've been waiting for several years to obtain. And I think that will be another vote in Congress, whether or not we go forward and give them the weapons they need. They -- frankly, this is something Congress has to step up and do, just as we need to get the weapons to the Kurds. The Kurdish foreign minister let me know several weeks ago, they did not have the anti-tank missiles, the artillery, the long-range mortars that they needed in order to turn back the ISIS attacks. So these things need to be discussed and supported by Congress.

BLITZER: Well, how worried are you because I know the administration is worried and that's why they haven't done it yet, that weapons provided to what's called the moderate opposition, the Free Syrian Army, could eventually wind up in the hands of terrorists, whether al Nusra, and there have been some alliances between the Free Syrian Army and Al Nusra, especially in the south, not far from the Golan Heights, or may even wind up in the hands of ISIS, just as so many other U.S. weapons in the hands of Iraqi military are now in the hands of ISIS.

ROYCE: That is why you vet them and that is why we need to provide the air support. Frankly, these units, such as the Peshmerga, yes, they will run away if they don't have air support up against a well-armed group like ISIS. So the other element of this is support from the United States, from France, from the U.K., from Australia, our partners in this, to bring air support into play, right, because infantry on the ground, when they're up against forces like ISIS, have a tendency not to do well. With air support, there's no question we can defeat 17,000 insurgents, but it's a critical part of the plan. We need to hear the whole strategy.

BLITZER: Because it's not just a bunch of terrorists. It's, for all practical purposes, especially in Iraq, an army that ISIS has created. A lot of those, Sunni Iraqi generals and colonels who worked for Saddam Hussein, who were kicked out, they are now battlefield commanders for ISIS, isn't that right?

ROYCE: That is a big part of it. And a lot of this, you know, training comes out of southern Russia. The Chechnyan (ph) officers are down there. The Chechnyan terrorists. They're training these new recruits. So, yes, 50 percent of the combatants come from around the world. They're recruited off the Internet. But then they're trained. And the Chechnyans and, as you say, these old, hard-line, well-trained officers put them through their paces. They learn explosives. They learn infantry strategy on the ground. So at the end of the day, they're an army. But they're only an army of 17,000 and air power can do a lot of damage to an army of 17,000.

BLITZER: Some people, by the way, I've heard from some intelligence analysts who say it could be 15,000 to maybe as many as 30,000 ISIS forces. But that's just a number I've heard thrown out. I don't think there's a specific number, right?

ROYCE: The longer we wait, the more their forces grow. And this is why frankly seven months ago when they broke out of Syria and began that long trek city by city, that's when they should have been hit from the air. That would have basically built up the resolve or the spine of the Peshmerga forces and other forces. But now we must act because, frankly, it's a critical mass. They are sending out this message that they can't be defeated. Those who are joining their ranks need to see that, yes, they can certainly be defeated and we should take this battle to their base, the training base, because that's their sanctuary. You never want to allow that sanctuary to remain for the next generation of trainers, right? That has to be taken out in counterterrorism. That will probably be part of the plan expressed tonight.

BLITZER: We'll see what the president has to say, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. That's when the president addresses the nation. Live coverage, of course, here on CNN.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us.

ROYCE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Royce is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

President Obama opened up about his take on ISIS at a private White House dinner earlier this week. One of those guests, a former national security adviser during the Bill Clinton administration, we're talking about Sandy Berger, he was invited to the dinner. He's standing by live. We'll discuss.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight, President Obama will deliver one of the most important speeches of his presidency. He'll explain to the American people his specific plans for dealing with a growing terror threat from the group ISIS. Joining us here in Washington, Sandy Berger, form national security adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Sandy, thanks very much for joining us.

SAMUEL BERGER, FMR. CLINTON NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Good to be here, Wolf.

BLITZER: You were at that private little dinner that the president invited current and former officials to, bipartisan dinner. You emerged from that dinner thinking the president was or was not going to announce tonight that there would be U.S. air strikes against ISIS targets, not only in Iraq, but in Syria as well. What was your impression?

BERGER: I think the president understands that there's one ISIS, that they cannot have a safe haven in Syria, that there needs to be a broad, comprehensive strategy to deal with ISIS, with our allies, building our support on the ground, comprehensive approach which includes Syria and Iraq.

BLITZER: Because for all practical purposes, ISIS controls a big chunk of Syria and a big chunk of Iraq. There really is no border there. These guys are going back and forth. The Syrian government is out of it.

BERGER: The Syria's - Syria's a harder proposition than Iraq. We don't have elements on the ground to work with. So I think it's a longer- term proposition to build some moderate forces in Syria while perhaps we take --

BLITZER: Is that realistic, though, because the -- the Free Syrian Army, as I think a lot of these guys, they have great intentions -

BERGER: Yes.

BLITZER: But they don't have the capability -- there's other terror groups, not only ISIS but al Nusra, which is pretty significant and the U.S. regards that as a terrorist organization as well.

BERGER: I think it's a long-term proposition. I think we have to start to do that. I think, in the meantime, we can go after targets of opportunity. We certainly can't let ISIS simply sit there and retreat to Syria. I think the initial focus is going to be primarily on Iraq, building with the Iraqi security forces, trying to bring the Sunnis back into the game. You know, they threw these guys out in 2006 and they were then so angry at Maliki that when they came back, they were more angry at Maliki than they were afraid of ISIL and so --

BLITZER: Do you think this new government in Baghdad is any better than the old government?

BERGER: Yes, I've -

BLITZER: Because I've spoken to a lot of Kurds -

BERGER: Yes.

BLITZER: And Sunni Muslims, Iraqis, they have very low expectations about al Abadi (ph), this new prime minister.

BERGER: Well, this is Iraq, so you don't start with high expectations in any case.

BLITZER: Yes, (INAUDIBLE). Yes.

BERGER: But I think it merely signals their fine (ph). I think he has an instinct to be more inclusive. We'll have to see, work with him. We don't need --

BLITZER: He comes from the same party as Nuri al Maliki.

BERGER: Yes, but he has a different background. We don't need a Jeffersonian democracy in Baghdad. We need somebody who can work with everybody, who can work with the Sunnis, who can work with the Kurds and can enable us to convince the Kurds that they have a stake in joining us to expel ISIL, as they did once before.

BLITZER: For all practical purposes, and I've been saying this, the president of the United States tonight is going to announce that the U.S. is going to war against ISIS, not only in Iraq but in Syria as well. This is a new war. This is the president's war.

BERGER: It's a long-term undertaking and I don't think it's just the United States. I think ISIL is a threat to the region. I think we'll have partners from the region --

BLITZER: Like who? Like who?

BERGER: I think we'll have partners from the Gulf. You know, ISIL is not just after us --

BLITZER: Will Turkey allow U.S. jets to take off from Turkey to bomb ISIS targets in Syria?

BERGER: I don't know the answer to that, Wolf. I know there are discussions going on with Turkey. I think we'll ask --

BLITZER: Turkey's a NATO ally too.

BERGER: Yes. I think we'll have allies from Europe - Turkey's got an immediate problem. It has 49 hostages that ISIL is holding. So it has to deal with a - it has to deal delicately with that immediate problem in terms of the optics of how they can support us. But I think --

BLITZER: So what you're saying, Turkey's being held hostage by those 49 --

BERGER: No, I think -- I think - I think they will help us. I think how they cast that in the short term may be tricky. I think they certainly share our interests. I don't think this will be us alone here. This is a long-term problem of -- a fight for the future of Islam between Sunni moderates and Sunni extremists. And I think increasingly moderate Sunnis see this as a struggle for their future. And I think we have to make sure that's the way it's cast, not the United States against Sunnis.

BLITZER: All right. Sandy Berger, thanks very much for joining us.

BERGER: My pleasure.

BLITZER: And I hope the food was delicious at the White House. They have good food there, we all know that. Thanks very much.

Up next, deep concern in Canada right now as citizens from north of the border go overseas to become fighters for ISIS. We'll take a closer look. And just how big a threat is ISIS to Americans? We'll discuss the

terror group, the president's plan to defeat it. Senator Bob Casey, the Democratic lawmaker, standing by to join us live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)