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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview With Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy; War Against ISIS; Interview With U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken; Ebola Crisis

Aired September 28, 2014 - 09:00   ET

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


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: A new front opens up in the fight with ISIS. War without borders or without end?

Today: ISIS, the long haul. Will President Obama's shiny new coalition stick together, and what does winning look like? A retired general, a former diplomat and a sitting senator on the war ahead.

Plus, the feds won attacks against ISIS could prompt lone wolf attacks in the U.S. FYI or CYA? We will talk with President Obama's national security advisers, Tony Blinken.

Then:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our principles and our security today are challenged today by outlaw groups.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces to us look into the heart of darkness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Forty-four sounding like 43 -- our political roundtable on the transformation of President Barack Obama.

And:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one case where really more boots on the ground, more people helping can actually make a huge difference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: In the war against Ebola, Ebola is winning. We're joined by a doctor and a virus hunter just back from the front lines.

This is STATE OF THE UNION.

Good morning.

We begin with the expanding war on ISIS, complete with some new video. The latest bulletin from U.S. Central Command says coalition warplanes struck targets near Syria's border with Turkey, the scene of fighting between Kurdish forces and ISIS. This, of course, comes in addition to the bombing campaign in Iraq and attacks on what Central Command calls targets of opportunity inside Syria.

Joining me now, former Joint Chiefs Chairman General Richard Myers, Nicholas Burns, former undersecretary of state, and Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Thank you all for coming.

And, Senator, I want to begin with you. This clearly is another front because they're up there along the Turkish border. I want to show our audience a map again, just so we know what we're talking with here in the expanding airstrikes with U.S. and coalition planes.

What are your concerns at this point?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, I have a number of concerns.

First, what we know is that you ultimately can't defeat ISIS with a military strategy alone. You need a realistic political strategy. And I just don't think we have that today in Syria right now, if we are betting on the so-called Syrian moderates to be able to defeat both ISIS and Bashar al-Assad at the same time.

I ultimately don't think that that's going to be how this ends up. But I'm also concerned about the fact that we're not able to debate this in Congress right now, because there are some serious questions that we have to ask. You previewed one of them, which is, what is our endgame? How long are we going to be in Syria?

Are we ultimately going to be conducting airstrikes not just against ISIS, but against Assad, in furtherance of our new ally in the region, the Free Syrian Army? So my concern is that, ultimately, there's got to be a political strategy, both in Iraq, which I can see if this new government actually is serious about reaching out to the Sunni moderates.

I don't see the political strategy, at least a realistic one, in Syria. And then that begs the question, how long are we going to be there and is there any end? There's just no appetite in the American public for an open-ended military conflict in Syria.

CROWLEY: And let -- I want to bring both of you in, because there is a diplomatic component to this, a political component and a military component.

Would you agree, General, that an air campaign is not sufficient for a war here? And -- and, if that is so, what is -- what does an end look like?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS (RET.), FORMER JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: I would say, not only is an air campaign -- campaign insufficient, but I think military action -- I agree with the senator -- is insufficient.

To defeat an ideology like al Qaeda, like ISIS, like all these very violent groups, you need a more comprehensive strategy that relies not just on the military instrument power, but, as the senator was saying, on diplomacy, on education, on the informational instrument of power. Only then can you get to it.

And I think success is when you have -- you have contained it to the point where you don't have many men and women that want to join jihad. And that's always -- that's always the issue. And that will take -- as the president has said, that's probably many years, multi- generational, I would say.

CROWLEY: Nick, there is -- and the administration has talked about these components. When you look at the region, who in the region, is it the Saudis, is it the Jordanians, is it the UAE, who steps forward and says, we want to speak to all of our young men out there and tell them that this is not Islam, we want to tell you, don't go join, there are penalties for joining up with ISIS?

Who does that effectively enough to stop all of these fighters from coming to Iraq?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: I think that is a key question. And Senator Murphy talked about it.

We need a diplomatic campaign, a big coalition of Arabs, as well as Europeans, to fight ISIS. And the Arabs have to take the lead. This is a battle for the future of the Sunni world. So it's the Saudis, it's the Emiratis, it's the Kuwaitis. It's especially the Turks, because jihadi fighters are coming across the Turkish border into Iraq.

Turkey is allowing ISIS to sell on the black market its oil in Turkish markets. And Turkey's not doing much about it. So I think that the diplomatic coalition is going to be essential here. The fight's going to go on for here. The president really has a containment strategy in place.

The rhetoric is to defeat ISIS, but the policy, airstrikes, but no significant ground forces, means we're really trying to contain it, to limit it. You need the Arab allies to step up. In the initial strikes against Syria last Monday night, there were three Arab countries that participated.

I just hope they will stay the course with us, but, more importantly, do the hard work on the ground.

CROWLEY: I do want to ask you about staying the course.

And, General, I want to you jump in on this, and then I have a question for the senator.

But I think it is true that we need the Arab countries to step up. This is their neighborhood, et cetera, et cetera. In the end, we don't really need these Arab forces in the air, do we? And, in fact, the U.S. does this sort of thing much better than anyone else. They are important window dressing, but they are nonetheless window dressing, aren't they?

MYERS: I would say -- Candy, I would say they're more than window dressing.

I think, when you're going against a threat like ISIS or like al Qaeda, unity of effort is important. And for them to see that the international community is aligned against them, I think, is very, very important. So, maybe in a military sense, they don't contribute that much.

CROWLEY: That's I mean, militarily.

MYERS: But -- yes, but in a sense of, can -- is the world against you and this outrageous brand of Islam that you espouse, it's really important there.

I will just say -- just -- let me just tack onto something that my colleague here talked about. And that is, you know, the biggest bullseye in the Middle East is probably on Saudi Arabia. That would be ISIS' goal. And this all goes...

CROWLEY: Where Mecca is.

MYERS: And this goes all the way back to, you know, when the seeds were planted for Wahhabism in -- on the Saudi Arabian peninsula.

That's -- that's going to -- they have to deal with that somehow internally, and not just live with it.

CROWLEY: Senator, what do you make of the coalition so far? Does it reassure you about some of your worries?

Because when Americans say we're war-weary, when we use that word, what they mean is, we're tired of Americans dying in other people's lands and conducting their fights. So, as long as the U.S. is in the air, the risk is not minimal, but it is less than troops on the ground. Does that satisfy some of your concerns?

MURPHY: Well, I think the administration has done a very good job of building a pretty robust and unprecedented coalition.

And I think that that does answer a lot of the concerns of my constituents. You're seeing broad public support for the president's plan here because people do understand the threat that ISIS presents. And they are impressed with the fact that you are seeing a growing number of Arab nations, especially Sunni nations, growing -- joining the fight here.

But the question is, how committed are they? Because, as much as Saudi Arabia says they want to take on ISIS, they're still looking towards other enemies' arrivals in the region that may have other interests, like Iran. You're seeing the Turks hedge right now as to how committed they're going to be to this fight because they're worried about what will happen as a byproduct of this conflict to rise up the Kurdish constituency that presents a threat.

And so this is a very, very difficult job here. But I agree with the general that, in the end, whether or not these are significant military contributions, what happened in Iraq over 10 years of war was that it became the cause celebre, as the intelligence community called it, for the international terrorist movement, because you were fighting the United States.

Well, if you're not only fighting the United States if you're joining up with ISIS, but all sorts of other Shia and Sunni partners, it becomes a little bit less likely that it's going to draw terrorists from all over the globe.

CROWLEY: I want to -- I'm going to take a quick break here.

And when I come back, I want to go to what is now sort of a theme here, which is, how do you get that coalition together over what everyone thinks is going to be a long haul?

Quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We are back now Nick Burns, General Richard Myers, and Senator Chris Murphy.

We were talking about this coalition. As we know, coalitions have a way of going away or saying, yes, we will -- we are a part of the coalition; we just can't carry weapons. All kinds of things happen.

Certainly, blood on the streets of whatever country it is can change countries' minds. Certainly, when you look at alliances, that can change it. What breaks up this coalition, if anything, or what -- what helps it stick together?

BURNS: Well, first of all, I would say, I think President Obama and Secretary Kerry have done a very good job in piecing together a coalition.

The question is, is it going to stay the course? In Europe, we have 27 NATO allies. I think five of them are in the fight, none of them willing to put their warplanes into Syria, the way the United States has been willing to do it. In the Arab world, we have a lot of countries saying they want to help, but are they going to be with us on the tough things?

Some private citizens in Kuwait, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, funneling money to ISIS. Will that be stopped? Will the borders be closed? Will the intelligence work be sufficient? So, I think the policy of can we contain them is assured. To defeat ISIS, you are going to have to have a very strong coalition.

We can't do all the work. We have got to rely on the Arabs and Europeans to do more, but there's a question as to whether they will.

CROWLEY: General.

MYERS: I just think, you know, you have to start with a common definition of the problem and how serious a threat this is.

And this threat's been around now for -- for quite some time, almost two decades where we have noticed it, the threat from violent extremism. And we need an agreement among these countries about how serious this threat is and what it's going to take to defeat it.

That's a hard -- that requires really difficult -- that's a difficult leadership problem for any country, and particularly for the U.S. in that region, but we have to show, I think, leadership to try to get people to agree on, what is the problem? Then you can start to develop the strategy to deal with it.

CROWLEY: Senator, one of the things -- I think one of the things we learned from the Vietnam War is, you got to have an exit strategy. You got to know when to declare victory and get out.

When you look at the current strategy as it's laid out, what do you see as the exit strategy? What is the U.S. going for?

MURPHY: Well, I think it's clearer in Iraq what that exit strategy is, that if the new prime minister there truly makes a commitment to multicultural government, where he's reaching out to the Sunnis, giving them a home -- and he's got to do real things there. It's not just about saying he's going to do it.

It's about releasing the political prisoners. It's about sharing oil revenues. It's bringing more Sunnis and Kurds into the government. Then you can see an exit strategy in Iraq. Harder to understand the exit strategy in Syria right now, which is why I think we need to listen to some of our European partners, who are reluctant to engage militarily there, because, ultimately, I don't think we have a partner in the Free Syrian Army who ultimately can win that fight militarily.

And so I worry that you get sucked into a long-term conflict. Here's the only thing I would add in terms of how you keep the coalition together, which is that we need to make it clear that our military support is only dependent on the political reconciliation moving forward.

What we know from the Iraq war is that if we're doing the right thing militarily, but the political leadership is doing the wrong thing politically on the ground, then there's really not much of a reason for us to be there. And so we need to make it clear to the new government in Iraq that if you don't show some real signs towards political reconciliation in the next several months, then there's no guarantee that the airstrikes will continue to give you cover.

CROWLEY: So, just some final thoughts from you all as you look at this. This does seem to be a war without end.

MYERS: Well, I -- I think this is a -- you know, been a new threat, this non-nation state actor, if you will, actors that come upon the scene.

And I think -- I think we will know when we have victory, and that's when security and stability in the region can't be disrupted by an extremist group. This group ISIS, the current iteration, is so large, it's already disrupted the country of Iraq, certainly in Syria, Turkey, as Nick Burns just said.

So I think we will know. But I think it's going to take -- it's going to take time. And it could be multigenerational, because it's not just the military piece. It's the diplomatic piece. It's the educational piece and so on.

CROWLEY: Nick.

BURNS: Candy, we're facing a combined threat in Iraq and Syria. We can't protect the Iraqi state and prevent its dismemberment if we're not effective in Syria.

And that's the roll of the dice for President Obama. He's right to strike Syria from the air. Will we be able to train enough Syrian fighters, with help from appropriations from the Congress, to make a difference in combating ISIS in its own backyard, which is Syria? Will we be able to get some of those European allies?

Where are the Germans, where are the Italians, where are the Spaniards out of this to help us over the long term in Syria?

(CROSSTALK)

BURNS: So, I support what the president's doing. I think the president has constructed the right policy. It does depend on an effective coalition in Syria, as well as Iraq. And I think that is the unanswered question.

CROWLEY: Then Syria is the next front, further into Syria.

BURNS: Exactly. Exactly. Yes.

CROWLEY: And, Senator, I would be remiss if I did not ask you, if for some reason today, you could vote on a War Powers Act, it sounds to me as if you would vote no.

MURPHY: You know, I think the reason that we need to have the debate is so that we can get a better explanation as to what the endgame is in Syria.

I have been very supportive of what the president has been doing in Iraq, less supportive in Syria. That's why we have to have the discussion. And, really, in the end, that's the check on a war without end, is a Congress speaking for the American people who can put an end date on an authorization for military force or put a limitation, so that you can't use ground troops.

I'm certainly willing to support an authorization, but I think we need to hear more from the president as to what that endgame strategy ISIS. MYERS: If I could just mention that -- the one thing the senator

said that I might disagree with or I will disagree with is, I think when you start putting limitations on your strategy, especially in public, that's beneficial to your adversary.

And I just -- I think we do that too much in this country. And, as a military person, you can have these limitations. They could be unspoken. They could be -- people understand them. But to do them in public just -- just makes...

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: ... more comfortable.

CROWLEY: Tells your enemy what you're about to do.

MYERS: Yes.

CROWLEY: General Richard Myers, Nick Burns, thank you so much.

Senator Chris Murphy, thank you.

Next up: We have warnings about terror threats that may or may not be imminent. One of President Obama's national security advisers, Tony Blinken, is our next guest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Every day, there seems to be new hints or warnings about terror plots, followed by assurances that everyone can go about their normal business. What effect will all of this have on the public or on the paranoid loner living next door?

I'm joined now by Tony Blinken, White House deputy security national security adviser.

I wanted to ask you first about the warnings that the FBI and DHS, Homeland Security, put out this week to local law enforcement, said, be on the lookout, because the more we do over here, this may activate lone wolves, you know, those people acting alone, but inspired by what's going on.

It occurred to me, first of all, duh. But, second of all, what is the purpose of doing that? Because it looks like, let's just cover our bases here. If something happens, we will have warned people, because what can they do?

TONY BLINKEN, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Candy, first, there are no credible active plots that we're aware of. That's very important.

CROWLEY: Which is my point, I think.

BLINKEN: But, second, it's important for people to be vigilant, to have a heightened awareness, and to be able to communicate with law enforcement if they see anything suspicious. That's a critical tool to in making sure that we can prevent and protect ourselves.

CROWLEY: So, it occurred to me this weekend, someone -- I was out of town, and someone, when they heard this bulletin, said, OK, so, this week, we have a guy leaping over the White House fence, the most secure building, one would hope, in the United States of America, and makes it all the way inside the White House, and then they're telling us, hey, be careful. Lone wolves might want to, you know, slit your throat or blow up -- it just seems like there is no real way and no real helpful advice that's being given to the public.

BLINKEN: No, Candy, look, I think this has to be -- and it is -- a comprehensive effort across the entire government, and, indeed, as necessary, involving the American public.

But, again, this is just to make sure that people have heightened awareness. No credible active plots.

But it's very important, as we take action around the world, including in Iraq and Syria, that people are aware and focused.

CROWLEY: And does it -- moving to the region now and what's going on there, airstrikes now along the Turkish/Syrian border, it does seem that, very often, when any kind of Western power, particularly in the Middle East, takes on some kind of military operation, that it creates enemies, as well as destroys other enemies.

And isn't that what -- what those bulletins are about, is, are we making things more dangerous on the streets by doing this or safer?

BLINKEN: Candy, we have to get ahead of this problem.

ISIL presents an immediate threat to people in the region, including to Americans in the region. And it's been very clear that, over time, if it's left unchecked, it will present a threat here at home and to our partners in Europe. So we need to get ahead of it. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

But keep in mind, we're doing this in a very different way than in the past. We're not sending in hundreds of thousands of American troops. We're not spending trillions of American dollars. What we are doing is empowering local actors with some of the huge assets we can bring to this, like our airpower, intelligence, training and equipping, advising and assisting.

And we're not falling into the al Qaeda trap of sending tens of thousands of Americans in, where they get bogged down, tied down, and bled, which is exactly what al Qaeda wants. We're being smart about this. This is a sustainable way to get at the terrorists. And it's also a more effective way.

CROWLEY: But are you at the same time buying into what was the Bush belief that you -- President Bush belief that we go get them before they come get us?

BLINKEN: Yes, but look at who is doing it. We took action in Syria this week with five Arab nations flying

with us. We have a coalition now of more than 50 countries from all around the world, including in the region. This is not America against ISIL. This is the international community against a threat that is posed in the first and foremost to countries in the region, but represents a threat to everyone.

CROWLEY: One of the things that our previous guests talked about a lot was Syria being the real linchpin here, that, when you look at it, the one thing that could break apart this coalition is the different feelings about what to do about Syria.

Is there right now a line of demarcation, someplace in Syria beyond which U.S. planes would not go? And vis-a-vis the U.S. and Syria, what are you telling these rebels in terms of, here's what we want do with your leader, because that's their main target really?

BLINKEN: Sure.

CROWLEY: It's not ISIS. It's Syrian President Assad.

BLINKEN: Candy, you know, Assad has been a magnet for the very extremism we're now fighting against.

And it's inconceivable to think of Syria being stable with Assad as its leader. He has forfeited his legitimacy. ISIL right now is the wolf at the door. But the answer to both Assad and to ISIL actually is the moderate opposition. They need to be built up, so that they can be a counterweight to Assad. And, in the near term, they need to be built up, so that they can work on the ground to help deal with ISIL.

CROWLEY: So ISIS is the wolf at the door now, but Assad, as far as U.S. is concerned, is the next wolf at the door?

BLINKEN: We have been very clear that there needs to be a transition in Syria, that as long as Assad is there, it's very hard to see Syria being stable, and he will continue to be a magnet for the extremists that we're fighting.

CROWLEY: But a transition is not the same as, we will actively help you bring this guy down.

BLINKEN: The best way to deal with Assad is to transition him out so that the moderate opposition can fill the vacuum.

That's what we have been working on. The more you build them up, the more you make them a counterweight, the more possible that becomes.

CROWLEY: I want to ask you about one of the things that has -- that has appeared in the paper this morning about White House and Secret Service protection.

In it, it talks about an incident 2011 where a gunman opened fire on the White House. It took four days for the Secret Service to realize it actually was against the White House.

Are you aware of that incident? And what actions were taken to secure it? Because these bullets hit in the residence, as you know.

BLINKEN: So, Candy, first, let's put this in perspective.

You know, I know the Secret Service, the men and women of the Secret Service put their lives on the line for the president of the United States, his family, and folks working in the White House every single day, 24 hours a day.

Their task is incredible, and the burden that they bear is incredible. Director Pierson has been looking at this incident. And then what we saw last week, she reported to the president on Thursday evening when he got back from New York. The secret service is investigating this and they will take any steps necessary to correct any deficiency.

CROWLEY: This was in 2011.

BLINKEN: Um-hmm.

CROWLEY: Right? So it did happen that the secret service thought this was a gang thing and shots went out but this was specifically at the White House and the secret service missed it.

BLINKEN: Well, again, I've seen the reports. I saw the reporting in the newspapers this is morning. I know the secret service is on top of this and they will take every necessary step to correct any problems.

CROWLEY: And finally because we have - we have some folks you are coming back from the frontlines in the battle against Ebola, an American doctor, someone who is an expert in viral diseases.

The troops that the U.S. are sending to West Africa, what is their primary duty? How do they stay out of an area that is so rife with -- how do they steer clear of getting Ebola themselves?

BLINKEN: So Candy, this is a major effort.

This crisis is something that we haven't seen before. The president, we were in this from day one, when we saw the first cases of Ebola breakout back in March and we had the CDC -- a large CDC mission in there, $175 million, but it quickly became clear that this was taking on a much larger scale and scope. And so the president wanted to make sure that we were doing everything possible.

The military can play a unique role in logistics, in organizing everything, in setting up a transit area outside of the immediate area of Ebola in Senegal to move equipment and people in, it's building treatment units, it's setting up an air bridge. These are all the kinds of things that our military is uniquely placed to do. And what we're also doing as a result of that is leveraging. Many more countries to come in, including on the ground and also with resources to try and get ahead of this problem. CROWLEY: So they're saying outside the infected zone at the

moment, although as we know that it has expanded and building hospitals or (INAUDIBLE)...

BLINKEN: That's their mission.

CROWLEY: ...setting up. And so you are confident that this is not a danger to those soldiers?

BLINKEN: Look, anyone who is in the area of Ebola, we have to take all of the precautions necessary, doctors, nurses have to be well protected and indeed we have the means to do that. We know how to do this. Every Ebola outbreak in the last 40 years we've managed to stop. We'll stop this one.

CROWLEY: Tony Blinken, thank you so much for coming by. Appreciate it.

BLINKEN: Thanks, Candy.

CROWLEY: Just ahead a much different kind of war we've been talking about against a deadly virus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ADAM LEVINE, DIRECTOR OF THE BROWN UNIVERSITY GLOBAL EMERGENCY MEDICINE FELLOWSHIP: This is one case where really more boots on the ground, more people helping and actually make a huge difference and hopefully stop this epidemic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: The World Health Organization says Ebola deaths could top 1 million by mid-January tearing apart the social fabric in some countries and threatening the peace of mind in others.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEVINE: Admitted our first two patients on Monday night, it was actually a father and a son and it was really difficult because the son was very sick. And about 20 minutes after we admitted him, he passed away. We then had to take care of the father and explain to him that his son had died.

He was not surprised and he did thank us for our work. In fact, his wife, the mother of the son, had died a week before, likely from Ebola. And that's where they both probably contracted it from. The father himself just died a couple nights ago as well. And so both father and son are buried next to each other in our small graveyard here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: I am joined now by the man you just saw in that clip, Dr. Adam Levine. He has just returned from Liberia yesterday. And virologist Joseph Fair recently back from Sierra Leone, front lines for sure.

Let me ask you an overall question because that (ph) we (ph) think about a lot because we've had the deaths of the aid workers murdered because of fear, with he had people being told stay in your houses, just mood wise, talk to me about what it's like for those who live in that country and can't fly home?

LEVINE: Yes, I mean, what I've seen in Liberia is real hyper awareness about Ebola. Everybody is trying to take all of the precautions that they possibly can to prevent...

CROWLEY: Which is good news, right?

LEVINE: ...for contracting the disease. And there's a lot of fear around and a lot of this is generated by the fact there are not enough treatment beds available for people with the disease and they know if they get sick there may not be a place for them to go.

JOSEPH FAIR, VIROLOGIST WORKING WITH THE CDC IN SIERRA LEONE: Exactly.

I would say that, you know, you're facing on the ground sort of a biblical end of days scenario and people are understandably, incredibly frightened. And so there doesn't appear to be many options available to them right now, and there's a lot of fear, there's a lot of panic understandably.

CROWLEY: So what -- is this a cultural? It's real, clearly, because there is a huge threat in this very, very high mortality rate. Are there societal functions in Liberia, in Sierra Leone that threaten what's an historic outbreak -- that are threatened by this historic outbreak?

FAIR: I would say that you're facing a mentality that developed largely as a result of 10 years of civil conflict, where running and fleeing was the only way to stay alive. And so this is arguably the closest thing that has been experienced psychosocially on the level of trauma since that time. So I think we're seeing that come to bear during this outbreak which we've never seen before.

CROWLEY: So why is it - why is it so historic? Why have we never seen it before and, Tony Blinken, the National -- deputy National Security adviser was here, and he said, we'll stop this. We'll stop this. Will they?

LEVINE: Well, I hope so. I mean, I think the CDC estimates are pretty clear that if we put enough boots on the ground, if we open up enough Ebola treatment units in the next six months that we can stop this epidemic. If we don't then it will -- the numbers will continue to rise and spiral out of control.

CROWLEY: So on the specifics of it, what's needed? Do you need more doctors willing to go in there? As we know, this is, you know, the medical profession is almost more threatened than anyone else. LEVINE: Yes. So the answer is simple. We need more Ebola

treatment units. We need more humanitarian organizations coming in to run them and we need measures in place to stop the spread of virus in communities such as contact tracing and isolation of individuals who are sick. With those measures with can he stop this epidemic and all of it is possible.

CROWLEY: So we see that the U.S. military, some 3,000 troops over there, building these Ebola treatment units in fact as I understand it, they'll be building the sorts of things you're talking about. How will we know when this war is over?

LEVINE: When transmission stops, when we aren't seeing any new cases of Ebola.

FAIR: When we start seeing decline in cases is obviously a good sign and treatment centers are definitely a step in the right direction. But our number one priority has to also be to stop the transmission of the virus from person to person and that's how we're going to stop the epidemic from spreading.

CROWLEY: I was interested there's -- I want to show you a business news cover that appeared while you were not in the country, which basically as you can see says "Ebola is coming," just dripping in blood. The fear here by some is, oh my gosh, it's going to come here. And yet I hear doctors saying you know what? But we're -- we can handle it. It's the conditions in the country. Do you generally agree with that, that Ebola is not a fear here?

FAIR: I think it's a fear anywhere, just the word Ebola inflicts panic.

However, our public health surveillance systems, our public health infrastructure is infinitely more strong than what we're encountering in the area. And we're seeing what happens when you come into an area with an already fragile health system what can happen when you introduce a player like Ebola.

LEVINE: Yes. And even the mortality from the disease would not be as high in individuals infected here, with very simple treatments we're saving lives in places like Liberia and those treatments --

CROWLEY: And what -- simple treatment? Because we just -- it sounds like a death sentence, right?

LEVINE: Yes, but it's though. I mean, just with intravenous fluids and oral rehydration we're probably reducing mortality by 30 or 40 percent among patients who are infected. Electrolyte replacement in the U.S. you would have things like intensive monitoring and blood products and so forth that we'd be able to treat patients with.

So with, you know, the bread and butter of critical care medicine that we've been practicing for decades we can reduce mortality from this disease.

CROWLEY: So eradicating it might take longer but treating it, you could use obviously more equipment, more supplies in the region.

LEVINE: Right. And the important thing to understand is the Ebola treatment units are not just set up to treat patients with Ebola. They're also set up to isolate patients with Ebola from their communities so they also help stop transmission by bringing patients out of the communities, bringing them out of the other hospitals and treating them separately.

CROWLEY: Can I ask both of you, when you're over there, what is your level of fear? I just wonder how, because you could stay here and look at communicable diseases, you know, at NIH, you could stay with your hospital in Rhode Island.

What is it like to sort of face that, the prospect of getting it, which is real?

FAIR: I mean, obviously you have a heightened awareness. And if you have the unfortunate opportunity to become a contact of someone that's known to have Ebola, every little ache, every little pain that you might experience on a normal day, the normal traveler's diarrhea that you would get while traveling to these areas you start to think, could this be Ebola?

So obviously you, yourself, are much more aware of the fact that Ebola is all around you. But you keep yourself safe through basic public health practices such as washing your hands and making sure not to shake hands during a time like this.

CROWLEY: But you can't avoid Ebola patients. That's what you do.

LEVINE: Yes. But when I work in the Ebola treatment unit I have really intense precautions in place, full suit, and hood, and double gloves and boots. And it's not easy to work in but it's absolutely mandatory for all of our health care workers both local and expatriate who are working in the Ebola treatment unit.

CROWLEY: Well, you know, first of all congratulations to you both. Because this is not an area that people are flocking to help. And thank you so much for stopping by. I know you both would probably like to get home at this point so I really appreciate your time.

Thank you, Dr. Adam Levine and virologist, I'll never be able to say that word, Joseph Fair, thank you so much.

Next we're going to ask our political panel on the sudden similarities between a president who took on the axis of evil and another who is fighting the network of death.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Axis of evil, network of death. As they say the more things change, the more they stay the same.

With me around the table Ken Cuccinelli, he's a former attorney general of Virginia, now president of the Senate Conservatives Fund. Mercedes Schlapp, a former spokeswoman for President G.W. Bush. Penny Lee, one-time adviser to Senator Harry Reid and CNN commentator L.Z. Granderson.

So the talk this week as we heard what was a very, like we call it, muscular speech to the U.N. about, you know, the evil that the U.S. -- although he didn't use the word evil but the heart of darkness that we were fighting, everyone looked and went, whoa, this, you know, the language has certainly changed.

My question to you is, has the policy changed? The president I think you could make a case does sounds a lot like George W. Bush but is there a difference in policy that you see?

KEN CUCCINELLI, PRESIDENT, SENATE CONSERVATIVES FUND: Certainly there is. However, the rhetoric has morphed after six years, pushed largely by circumstances back to sounding a lot like his predecessor, and the discomfort with that is obvious.

I mean, you can just look at the president, you listen to the secretary of state, they're phenomenally uncomfortable with this and they are unsure themselves in many respects. I think they've found their footing a bit in terms of air strikes with ISIS but they don't have any answer to the question you were asking earlier, what does victory look like? They don't have an answer to that and they are phenomenally uncomfortable with this.

CROWLEY: Because (ph) it's (ph) a tough question. Go ahead.

PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don't necessarily think they are uncomfortable. They have taken their time. They have been deliberate in which their deliberations have been.

But if you go back to where he was as far as his desire to go into Afghanistan, to finish the job that was left to be done, to use drones in a strategically way in which to go after that and root out evil in there, to go and use the means in which you can through diplomatic means and other things, this is something that the president has embodied, and this is just the latest incarnation of that very difficult time. So it's not that it's uncomfortable. It's just that he is following through on how he believes that we collectively, collectively need to be a part --

CUCCINELLI: They don't even want to use the word war.

LEE: Exactly.

CUCCINELLI: They were coiled from using the word war --

(CROSSTALK)

GRANDERSON: Well, this...

(CROSSTALK)

GRANDERSON: ...administration has done that though. SCHLAPP: While the president has taken his time, thousands of

Yazidis and religious minorities have died. ISIS has been able to gain over 25 percent of Iraq and have taken strongholds in Syria. So again, they have taken their time. He's like the turtle that wants to stay in the shell and now he's being forced to come out of his shell.

LEE: Just because they've been deliberate does not mean that they had been weak.

SCHLAPP: They have taken too long to respond. Too long to respond.

GRANDERSON: I think that you're mixing up seeing what is happening in those countries with what the intent is, what we're supposed to be doing in the first place.

If you go through the history so many times we talk about this war, we start with the president, Obama. We don't start with we originally went in looking for weapons of mass destruction and how our administration, the Bush administration, morphed over his time from weapons of mass destruction to wanting to free the Iraqi people, Iraqi freedom, mission accomplished, all of that.

I think what you're seeing now is a president who has seen this progression and said to himself and his administration agrees that this is not a war that can be won with military might. This is a war that can only be won, one, by the people who are occupying those countries, who live in the native country, and, two, by diplomacy. He feels uncomfortable -- I think there's some discomfort because he knows missiles alone is not going to do this. Only through diplomacy can you do this and he's reluctant because he doesn't want to fall back into the trap that we have the previous eight years.

CUCCINELLI: Yes. You can say it that way and let's assume for a moment that's correct, but then six years of reducing the respectability of the United States in the world arena, including with our own allies...

GRANDERSON: Did you travel during the Bush years?

CUCCINELLI: ...impairs the ability to create that -

(CROSSTALK)

GRANDERSON: Did you travel during the Bush years? I did. We did not have respectability in the globe when we (ph) travel during the Bush years.

SCHLAPP: And I think, Obama wanted politically to check off the box. He wanted to check off the box of ending the war in Iraq, wanted to check off the box of ending the war in Afghanistan. That was his political checkmark. In face he says, the time of war was drawing to a close. These guys have been at war with us and continues to be at war with us.

GRANDERSON: That was his moral. That wasn't his political checkmark that was his moral checkmark because he didn't -

(CROSSTALK)

CUCCINELLI: No, no, no.

SCHLAPP: He did not listen to his commanders.

GRANDERSON: That was a moral.

CUCCINELLI: Political check box.

GRANDERSON: No, no, no, no, no, no.

SCHLAPP: By pulling out those troops ISIS grew.

LEE: No. I mean, to sit there and say it was just a checkmark, political checkmark that the president was trying to do, no. As commander in chief as in all commanders in chief are going after to make sure that the American homeland is safe and secure and that we can help our allies when and if we need to go in to eradicate the evil that is there. And that is --

SCHLAPP: The evil is there. When you pull out those troops -

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Let me turn this just to -- here is a president who we know came in and said, I want to end these wars, it's time to come home. But there is a difference between cleaning up, quote, "someone else's war," and starting another one, and Syria is going to be this president's war.

CUCCINELLI: It's his own.

CROWLEY: He owns this now.

So that's very different from where he started. Things change. I think we can all understand people go, OK, no, this is worth going in for which he's clearly decided.

Can you talk to me a little bit about how you think this affects what was seen as that legacy of ending these wars?

GRANDERSON: Yes. I just wrote a piece this week for CNN.com talking about the disappointment of the staunch members of his base has in his administration and it's because of foreign policy and it's because of these wars.

They voted for him because he was supposed to end these wars and stop bombing people. And when you look at the raw numbers, three times as much Special Forces were used than "W," twice as many strikes of countries that are predominantly Muslim. Those were not the numbers that his staunch progressive base voted for.

And so I think it is in their viewpoint some tarnishing of his legacy, but I think in the overall look of history, he did what he needed to do and what was required for him to do.

CROWLEY: Right. There's a difference between the tarnishing of the politics of the moment which may hurt him in the midterms perhaps by kind of deflating the progressive base and then the long arc of history.

SCHLAPP: And I believe he wanted this to become his legacy, becoming a wartime president.

GRANDERSON: Yes.

SCHLAPP: I mean, it is very difficult for him to stop into this role and it's a much needed role. And again, Syria is complicated. You know, determining who are the enemies and who are the friends is very difficult. So, again, showing the restraint he's shown is a positive aspect of it, but, again, taking so long to take action I think has hurt him and -

(CROSSTALK)

LEE: I don't think any president wants to go in to be defined as a wartime president. I don't think anybody wants to be known as that, but the president has and shown.

I think there was some emotional appeal, too. I mean, when you had the beheading...

SCHLAPP: Absolutely.

LEE: ...that it really resonated. And so there is actually bipartisan support for the efforts in which he is doing now and he's also having the coalition, this large coalition, as Tony Blinken was saying, 50 people. And Arab nations are with him to root out this network of terror right now. That is different, and that is a different type of response than we have seen from the previous administration.

CROWLEY: Now wait, George Bush started that with high poll numbers. George Bush started out with quite a coalition. What happens is it gets tough and the coalition disappears.

SCHLAPP: It gets ugly. That's right.

GRANDERSON: When you go in under the guise of they have weapons of mass destruction and then those weapons aren't found, people start second guessing everything and that was reflective of why you saw the poll numbers go down.

CUCCINELLI: Candy's comment could have been applied of the previous Bush.

I mean, he went in at 91 percent and lost in 92. So there are a lot of factors that play in there but the discomfort is obvious. I mean, it took such unbelievable circumstances for the president to take these actions --

CROWLEY: But do you think he's in the right place -- do you think he's in the right place now?

CUCCINELLI: He is now. But realize what it took -- he was defying the advice of his entire military council, all of it until it just couldn't be done any longer. And you made the point about the potential for impact in the elections coming. This discomfort doesn't help him gain his footing as his team needs him to be standing strong and improving his poll numbers. They're getting worse.

CROWLEY: I hope you all come back. I want to thank you very much. Ken Cuccinelli, Penny Lee, Mercedes Schlapp, L.Z. Granderson, thank you for being here.

SCHLAPP: Thank you.

CROWLEY: We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Thanks for watching STATE OF THE UNION and yes we noticed the folks at "Saturday Night Live" are among those watching. If you missed it there is a link to last night's skit on our blog, CNN.com/SOTU. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Be sure to watch us each week at this time or set your DVRs so you won't miss a moment.

Fareed Zakaria, "GPS," starts right now. c