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CNN NEWSROOM

Interview With Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark; President Obama Requests Authority for War On ISIS

Aired February 11, 2015 - 15:00   ET

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


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hour two. You're with me here on CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We're minutes away from hearing from President Barack Obama, who will speak on something that actually has not been done in 13 years. He's asking Congress to authorize a war and specifically authorize military force on ISIS, which, of course, begs the question, isn't the U.S. already dropping bombs on ISIS? You know the answer to that. That's yes.

For six months, the U.S. has been doing that. But think about it this way. The president has the ability to start using military force, which he has been doing in both Iraq and Syria, but he cannot keep using that military force indefinitely or without getting that OK from Congress to continue doing so.

But before authorizing anything, Congress wants three key questions answered. Let me run through this for you. One, how long will this war take? The president now says three years. Geographically, where will this war happen, number two? Answer, unsure, but the battlefield will not be restricted to Iraq and Syria. And, three, what exactly is the scope of the U.S. involvement?

Well, no boots on the ground, specifically no enduring offensive ground combat operations. We're going to a little bit talk more about that and what we should expect from the president in just a moment.

But we're also hearing some pretty disturbing information about the final months of Kayla Mueller's life in ISIS captivity. Intelligence sources telling CNN that the 26-year-old aid worker may have been forced into relations with a male ISIS fighter, some kind of just sick forced marriage, a new and painful blow, of course, to her family, her friends, who are trying to come to terms with her death.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERYN STREET, FRIEND OF KAYLA MUELLER: I'm not yet sure how to live in a world without Kayla, but I do know that we're all living in a better world because of her. So I'm going to end on a quote that reminds me of her.

"Peace is not something you wish for. It's something you make. It's something you do. It's something you are. And it's something you give away." LORI LYON, AUNT OF KAYLA MUELLER: My daughter said to me, things that were important to Kayla are finally getting the attention that they deserve.

Kayla has touched the heart of the world. The world grieves with us. The world mourns with us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let me bring Zainab Salbi. She's the founder of Women for Women International and author of "Between Two Worlds."

Zainab, welcome.

ZAINAB SALBI, PRESIDENT & CEO, WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL: You're welcome. Thank you.

BALDWIN: If this report is true the fact that she was forced into some sort of relation, marriage, we will just call it what it is, being a prisoner, what role would that have exactly been for Kayla?

SALBI: Well, all we know is the prisoners and the stories and the evidence that are coming from women in ISIS-controlled territories. They are reporting of slave markets of women, where women are sold between the price of $90 to $400.

They are reporting of forced marriages of anyone under the age of 45. They're reporting of mass rapes of any woman who is not wearing the proper clothes as described by ISIS. She can be covered in traditional Muslim clothes, but if it's not according to ISIS regulations, then she can be mass-raped.

These are evidence that are coming and stories that are coming from women, Iraqi women who are under ISIS-controlled territory. All of the projections of what may have happened to Kayla, we can only put in the scope of that. So, yes, they are prisoners of forced marriage. Yes, they are prisoners of slavery.

And Kayla particularly represents something else in the region for ISIS particularly. She's an American woman.

BALDWIN: What's that?

SALBI: Well, she's an American woman. She has fair skin. Just from a beauty perspective, fair-skinned women and Western women are considered extremely beauty and an exotic being in the Middle East generally, and I would assure you that is under ISIS-controlled territory. She represents that.

But she's also an American woman. In other words, she's the woman of the enemy. And so her prize and her value has even much higher than a normal Iraqi woman who is enduring a lot of violence anyway by them.

I would not be doubt -- I personally would not doubt that they may have indeed forced her into a marriage. But what's the truth, we are yet to know. BALDWIN: And we still don't know. ISIS still maintains that she was

killed in a building in a Jordanian airstrike. The real question is how was she killed? Would ISIS have killed her? I'm trying to understand if ISIS killed her, why, since according to you and so many others I have spoken with, she would be so prized.

SALBI: She is prized, but ISIS has also demonstrated incredibly savvy strategies.

They are manipulative and they're brutal. They're savages. What they are playing with her death is also psychological warfare on Jordan. They just -- Jordan is angry. It's just being forceful in launching airstrikes against them and they are mobilizing the world and joining America as allies and all of these things to destroy ISIS.

So ISIS -- you see what I mean. ISIS then tells them you just killed the hostage of your own allies. That's a psychological warfare that they are playing. I do not doubt their brutality and their savagery. They have demonstrated more than once at this point. And I have no reason to doubt that they have killed her intentionally maybe just to play this psychological warfare against all of us.

Now, the question for all of us is to go above that and to actually have clarity and not to have ISIS divide any of our alliances or our unity in the fight against them.

BALDWIN: Well, remember, it was Jordan -- we will just end on this.

Jordan was saying this is an absolute -- just a P.R. stunt and this will absolutely not drive any kind of wedge between any members of the coalition, specifically the U.S. and Jordan.

Zainab Salbi, thank you so much for your perspective.

SALBI: Pleasure.

BALDWIN: I'm now joined by General Wesley Clark, former NATO supreme allied commander.

So good to see you, sir, and author of "Don't Wait For the Next War."

Back to the fact we're waiting for the president. I was talking to our White House correspondent at the top of the last hour, Jim Acosta, and he was actually pressing in the daily briefing about what will we hear from the president and he was asking if his message will intentionally be fuzzy, his language he used. That's part of the problem. The president hasn't been clear on his strategy on this war. Do you think we will have a clear message?

WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: I think you will see greater clarity than we have seen in the past.

BALDWIN: Greater clarity.

CLARK: Greater clarity. Look, the president in terms of what we're doing against ISIS is going to put in or has put in already this going to Congress to ask for legal permission to get the authorization to use force. And that's a necessary step, because we don't know where the battle with ISIS is going to go.

It's pretty clear that you can't do it with airpower alone. We want the coalition members on the ground to provide the ground forces. It's pretty clear that they need some help, like maybe close air support from the United States. You can't get that without putting some special forces troops up with them.

BALDWIN: Do you think that at this point we will hear that?

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK: I think you will hear something that will point in that direction.

BALDWIN: But nothing specifically as far as ground combat troops?

CLARK: I don't think you will hear the introduction of ground combat troops. I certainly hope we won't because I don't think the situation justifies it.

I think our previous experience in the region indicates that that is not really the right way to solve this issue.

BALDWIN: OK. What about how -- they're not putting any geographic limits to this battle on the table. What would that tell you about any kind of intelligence the president and the Pentagon would have as far as ISIS in let's say neighboring countries?

CLARK: I think that it's important to leave the geography flexible at this point.

We know what we're doing in Iraq. We have been a little inhibited in Syria. We have got some major geopolitical questions to address. For example, if you get rid of ISIS in Syria through massive work militarily, then where does that leave us with Bashar Assad? There's no answer to that.

BALDWIN: Right.

CLARK: And on the other hand, you don't want to cooperate with Bashar Assad, the Iranians, Hezbollah and the Russians, because they're not our friends either. So you're in a little bit of a dilemma on that and we need to leave that kind of fuzzy on this.

But we need the authorization to follow the leads and put the troops in and play this. Look, ISIS got started through funding from our friends and allies, because as people will tell you in the region, if you want somebody who will fight to the death against Hezbollah, you don't put out a recruiting poster and say sign up for us. We will make a better world.

You go after these zealots and you go after these religious fundamentalists. That's who fights Hezbollah.

BALDWIN: General, I'm hearing you on...

CLARK: It's like a Frankenstein.

BALDWIN: I'm hearing you on keeping Syria fuzzy. But they have been very clear in wanting to destroy and dismantle ISIS. That's not fuzzy to me at all. The question would be if they wipe out is in Syria, which is the goal, then what with Bashar al-Assad? There has to be a plan for that phase.

CLARK: Yes. Well, some things you can't exactly plan that clearly because you're dealing in the realm of politics. Part of it is, can you get the Russians to withdraw their support from Bashar Assad? How would you do that?

Well, you're dealing with the Russians in Ukraine right now and they're not being helpful.

BALDWIN: No, they're not.

CLARK: In fact, from Putin's perspective, he probably sees it as the opposite play. He says that because the Americans need us to help on Iran, because they don't have a ground force in Syria, they're actually relying on us and therefore we can push Ukraine further and the Americans won't stop us because they're afraid they will lose our cooperation elsewhere in the world.

He's playing it that way. This is difficult. You can't always lay everything out linearly in advance. But you do have to get the authorization to use ground troops in there because you don't want people to say -- on the other side say, I have no problems. The Americans can't possibly get here because they are prohibited.

I would like it to be pretty wide open in terms of geographic limits. I think the president recognizes he's going to need to put some people working more closely forward with the ground troops. I think we have found through our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan that you have to have governments to solve this problem.

Just going out and killing people, that doesn't solve the problem. The governance can't be done by the United States.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: I'm glad you brought up Putin. I was talking to Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, the other day and he was saying to me Putin is loving this that so much of the U.S.'s eye is on the ball on Iraq and Syria and perhaps that's one of the reasons why he's taking advantage it seems of what's happening.

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK: There's no doubt about it.

BALDWIN: No doubt. General Wesley Clark, thank you. Appreciate it.

CLARK: Thank you.

BALDWIN: By the way, President Obama is expected to speak in just about 20 minutes. Of course, we will bring that to you live as soon it begins.

Meantime, next, tragedy in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a man accused of killing three Muslim students. What was this over? Was this a hate crime? Police are investigating, but we did hear moments ago the suspect's wife has spoken out about the deaths. We will play that for you. Stay here. This is such an important story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

And now we have this breaking development here on a story that's absolutely rocked my alma mater, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It's drawn attention from all around the world, the murders of three Muslim students.

The U.S. attorney in North Carolina has just said that the murders of these three Muslim students appears to be -- quote, unquote -- "an isolated incident." That's what we just got. Also from what investigators know, at least in this point in time, this is not a targeted campaign against Muslims in North Carolina.

Let me tell you who these young lives are or were. Deah Barakat was just 23. His wife was 21-year-old Yusor Mohammad, and her sister, just 19, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. The father of these young women says that this is a hate crime. He actually told a local paper -- and let me just quote him specifically -- that the suspect had -- quote -- "picked on the couple before" and now moments ago we heard from the suspect's wife. Here she is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAREN HICKS, WIFE OF SUSPECT: First of all, I want to express my deepest sympathy and condolences for the victims.

Like everyone else, I was just completely shocked that this had happened. While the official investigation is still ongoing, I am cooperating with the authorities and intend to provide whatever information and assistance I can provide to them.

While I'm unable to comment fully on the matter, I can say with my absolute belief that this incident had nothing to do with religion or victims' faith, but in fact was related to the longstanding parking disputes that my husband had with the neighbors.

And our neighbors are various religions, races and creeds. At this point, I do humbly ask that everyone focus on the victims and their families, and please grant us privacy during this difficult time.

QUESTION: How can you say it had nothing to do with religion? Can you tell us how you know that?

HICKS: I was -- we were married for seven years. And that is one thing that I do know about him.

He often champions on his Facebook page for the rights of many individuals, for same-sex marriages, abortion, race. He just believed -- and I know that's just one of the things I know about him is everyone is equal. It doesn't matter what you look like or who you are or what you believe. That's one thing I do know about him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Again, that was the wife of this suspect in this triple murder.

Let me bring in someone personally shaken by this.

Omar AbdelBaky has known Deah since they were young attending the same Muslim private school in Raleigh.

So, Omar, first and foremost, my condolences to you and your friends and family for such a loss and thank you so much for coming on.

OMAR ABDELBAKY, FRIEND OF VICTIMS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Obviously, I want to ask you all about Deah, but that's the first time any of us have heard from the suspect's wife. She was offering her condolences to these families and also obviously standing by her husband, saying he was an open-minded man, which is in direct contrast from what I heard from the father of the two young women, who say there had been multiple instances in the past and he believes this was a hate crime.

Did Deah ever mention anything to you about this individual?

No, I really hadn't heard about him. Don't know anything about him.

BALDWIN: OK. Let's talk about your friend. I know you acted as a mentor or big brother to Deah in the same Carolina dental program. Just tell me about Deah. Who was he, his character, the kind of guy he was?

ABDELBAKY: Deah is the sweetest, nicest, most generous and most selfless person I have ever met.

And I think it's the general sentiment around anyone that has ever known him, whether it be the community or in our dental community. He's just always so giving. Just last week, he was at a homeless shelter giving out toothbrushes, toothpaste, going over oral hygiene instructions, was coordinating with one of my classmates about how to provide transportation for homeless people and bring them into the dental school for free care.

He was also working very hard on providing dental care over the summer to Syrian refugees in Turkey and had been working tirelessly on that and had spent breaks fund-raising, had met with people, e-mailed people, and worked very hard fund-raising.

He's just really nice. One story that sticks out most to me is after the most recent Muslim holiday, I was jokingly texting Deah about how my nephews get all the cool toys and how when I was growing up, I didn't get cool toys like that. And I told him about this like little helicopter that floated with sensors. And then a couple weeks later, I hear my door knock and he had bought that gift for me.

Really -- yes, it was amazing. And that's just one story amongst many. We just had a little memorial service at the dental school and it was just story after story after story that were so similar to that. He was just so giving and so kind and so selfless and just such a pacifist.

BALDWIN: I have been in touch with a number of students on campus at UNC today, where I went to school. This has made me sick all day long just hearing about this.

And I was in touch with someone who works in the library and who was there and he wrote about how last fall, I think it was Deah and his wife were there showing kids how to brush and floss. He said to me, Brooke, beyond how wonderful he was with my young daughter, he said I just noticed how in love he was with his wife.

ABDELBAKY: Yes.

I know -- so, his wife, Yusor, had recently been accepted to start dental school in Chapel Hill in August as part of the class of 2019. And I know just leading up to it, he was so nervous about her getting into a different dental school or them having to work through like a long-distance relationship. And I just remember the day he found out that she got into dental school, he was just through the roof excited and was so excited to have -- or to know that she would be with him in the dental school there with him, same building every day.

I was also at their wedding in December. They recently got married in December. And they were both just smiling from ear to ear. You could really -- the love was palpable. And just Deah's love for everyone and everything was so -- you could feel it and it was amazing.

BALDWIN: Thank you so much for coming on. It's so important to talk about who these three people were, a beautiful couple and a younger sister.

Omar AbdelBaky, I'm so sorry for your loss. And thank you so much.

ABDELBAKY: Thank you.

BALDWIN: We will stay on the investigation and see what happens there in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Also, live pictures inside the White House. We're watching and waiting to hear from the president of the United States. He will be addressing the nation on this war on ISIS and his -- specifically his request to authorize the use of military force to get Congress' green light. Our special live coverage from the White House starts right after

this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

We're standing by for a major statement by President Obama about the war against ISIS. He just sent Congress a request to formally authorize the use of U.S. military force against the terrorist group. It would give him the green light to conduct combat ground operations in "limited circumstances."

The White House acknowledges the language is intentionally fuzzy to give the president maximum flexibility in fighting ISIS. He's already getting pushback from members of both parties.

My colleague Jake Tapper is here with us, along with our correspondents and our analysts.

Jake, the last time the U.S. went through a debate like this was leading up to the invasion into Iraq back in, what, 2002-2003.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Very different time, of course, Wolf.

Very interesting. If you compare the authorization for use of military force that President Obama is requesting today against ISIS with the authorization that, say, President Bush asked for in September 2001, right after 9/11, they couldn't be more different.

I recall covering it as a young congressional reporter. President Bush basically asked for a blank check with no end in sight. President Obama limiting himself in his own language, saying this would only be for a maximum of three years and limiting -- there's actually a section called limitations, saying that it does not authorize the use of U.S. armed forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.

Here you have the president doing something unusual, limiting this request, compared to previous presidents in previous wars or uses of military force. It's very striking.

BLITZER: And he's getting pushback already, even though -- the language he just submitted today, he's getting pushback from the left and the right.

TAPPER: Well, left doesn't want him to do this at all. They say there are still too many -- open-endedness in this authorization.

And the right says -- and keep mind President Obama is not going to be president for the entire duration of this -- the right is saying, whoever the next president is, they should not be constrained in fighting ISIS and this authorization constrains not only President Obama, but whomever is next. BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures.

The Roosevelt Room, the West Wing of the White House, the president will walk through that door momentarily and making his statement defending his decision to go ahead and seek congressional authorization for the use of force against ISIS.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's standing by.

What do they anticipate, Jim? Easy passage? Difficult passage? What's their expectation over there?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think they know they have a fight on their hands. And it may not be with Republicans. It may be with Democrats.

Fellow Democrats are already coming out and saying that this language that Jake just mentioned, this enduring offensive ground combat operations language, is just too vague, it's not specific enough.

And I asked the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, earlier today at the press briefing, is this fuzzy? And Josh Earnest in a moment of candor said, yes, intentionally so. They want this to be fuzzy. They want this to be sort of vague to give the president the latitude that he wants to conduct this fight against ISIS.

But, Wolf, at the same time, what the White House is saying is that this is not going to be a repeat of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You're not going to see hundreds of thousands of troops going into battle against ISIS, and that is why the president has this language in this authorization and that's why they're saying you have this three-year limitation.

But, at the same time, they want to caution they do want to give the military flexibility and that's why there are no geographic limits in this AUMF, as it's called.

But, Wolf, I think no question about it the president has a fight on his hands. I talked to a source last night that said the president is just going to have to sell this not only to members of Congress, but across the country.