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Trump, Clinton Talk National Security; Trump's Plan to Defeat ISIS; Clinton Promises No Ground Troops in Syria, Iraq Ever Again; Lawmakers Looking to Stall Planned Sale of Arms, Military Equipment to Saudi Arabia. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired September 8, 2016 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to bring in our CNN global affairs analyst, Kimberly Dozier, and CNN military analyst, retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton.
Colonel, when you heard Donald Trump say last night, these generals, they aren't necessarily all that trustworthy, and if they don't do the job, he's going to get a new set of generals, what was your reaction?
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I was basically incredulous. Those comments really don't reflect the reality of the current promotion system that the Department of defense has for its general and flag officers. Basically they're all picked by the secretaries of the respective services and confirmed by the Senate and of course subject to the approval of the president. But that kind of a statement would really mark the beginning of a complete turn-over in military leadership. I think any presidential candidate would have to be careful with that. There are times in history where that has happened. World War II, for example, when you had Roosevelt and General Marshall go through the little black book and pick the right people, the people they thought were the right people to lead American forces to victory in World War II. Since that time, we have never seen anything like that. It would be a wholesale change, not only of the promotion system, but also of the way in which we select generals and admirals.
BLITZER: When he said that because of the policies of the president of the United States, President Obama, these generals have been reduced to rubble. You heard him say that. I wonder how that's playing among your retired colleagues.
LEIGHTON: Very well, Wolf. The reason it's not playing well is, I think part of it is what the candidate intended to say, what Mr. Trump intended to say was probably they had been sidelined. What came out, though, was they had been not only sidelined but completely ineffective in the way in which they had not only presented their case but the way in which they prosecuted the war. There's lot of evidence to indicate that that is not the case. The reaction has been very negative, at least with the people I've spoken with, it certainly shows there's a degree of fence mending that would have to happen if Mr. Trump were to become the president. BLITZER: Kimberly, you're well plugged in with a lot of national
security professionals out there. What's the reaction you're getting to what Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton said last night?
KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, there's a bit of outrage. A lot of these generals have put their reputations and careers on in public testimony before Congress that wasn't always welcome at the White House, things like, yes, we believe you may need more troops in Afghanistan going against the Obama administration's planned drawdown. Yes, ISIS is expanding beyond what we'd hoped in Syria. Yes, Russia is a strategic threat to the United States. That was a comment by chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dunford. He doesn't often air these out loud in the public. His job, the job of the other generals, is to advise the secretary of defense and the president and not share publicly when they disagree. You only get these rare glimpses sometimes in this congressional testimony of disagreement.
What Donald Trump is presuming is that the policy on the ground that we're seeing in Syria, for instance, is exactly what the generals would have planned. He would have to interview every single one of them personally, decide who he didn't like. And think about the disruption in military ranks of taking out senior leaders, and that also means bumping up junior leaders a year or two before they're ready for these posts.
BLITZER: I've got to take a quick break.
Kimberly, stand by.
Cedric Leighton, stand by.
We have live pictures coming in of a Donald Trump rally in Cleveland. He'll be speaking there very, very soon. We'll, of course, have live coverage of that. One of his top advisers, standing by to discuss national security and a whole lot more.
We'll take a quick break and be right back.
[13:38:20] BLITZER: Welcome back. Hillary Clinton just wrapped up a campaign event in Charlotte, North Carolina. Donald Trump is set to speak in Cleveland, Ohio. We'll see if he responds directly to what we just heard from Hillary Clinton. We'll have live coverage of that coming up.
In the meantime, I want to bring in senior advisor to the Trump campaign, Jack Kingston, a former Republican congressman from Georgia, a strong supporter of Donald Trump.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
JACK KINGSTON, (R), SENIOR ADVISOR, TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN & FORMER GEORGIA CONGRESSMAN: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: Trump says, if he's elected president, he'll give his
generals 30 days to submit a plan to defeat and destroy ISIS. He already says he has a secret plan to do that. What is it? Does he already have a plan or is he waiting for the generals to come up with a plan?
KINGSTON: Actually, I think he has some ideas of what he wants to do. And unlike Barack Obama he doesn't want to broadcast it to these guys. I think also he's saying to the generals, in 30 days we're going to change directions. We're not going to have ISIS and other groups just running roughshod or Syria falling to bits and chaos in Afghanistan and Libya. I think what he's saying is, we're going to change things. I believe, Wolf, that's what the American people want, a new direction, not just domestically, but in foreign policy.
BLITZER: He said his plan is foolproof. So it raises the question, does he really have a foolproof plan to destroy ISIS or does he need the generals to give him 30 days to come up with a new plan. There seems to be some confusion which I'm sure you appreciate.
[13:39:57] KINGSTON: I think what he's saying is, look, you've got to keep these guys a little bit on their toes. You don't want to put your cards face up on the table. He has some ideas. As somebody who served on the Defense Committee and had the honor of representing five military installations, there are a lot of good ideas out there. What Mr. Trump said last night to pick a new team there. If you think about whoever advised Barack Obama that ISIS was a J.V. team, whoever said to the red line and if they go over it, bomb them and then don't do it, he's probably not really getting good advice. What Donald Trump wants to do is put new advisers in there and has a new team. I want to point out, it's not unusual. Remember Harry Truman fired Douglas Macarthur. Barack Obama forced the dismissal of Stanley McChrystal because he did not agree with what he had said about Afghanistan. So I think the president of the United States as commander-in-chief does have the right. Of course, he has the right. It's constitutional, to choose his team. That's why 88 military advisers have recently endorsed Donald Trump. These are flag officers with great years of experience.
BLITZER: I think there was another issue involving General McChrystal, but we don't have time to go into that right now.
I want you to listen to what the president of the United States said to do about Donald Trump suggesting he's uninformed or has out right wacky ideas. Here is the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as Mr. Trump, I think I've already offered my opinion. I don't think the guy is qualified to be president of the United States. Every time he speaks, that opinion is confirmed. I think the most important thing for the public and the press is to just listen to what he says and follow up and ask questions about what appear to be either contradictory or uninformed or out right wacky ideas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What's your response to the president, especially because Donald Trump last night said the generals -- I assume he means chairman of the Joint Chiefs, members of the Joint Chiefs? He said they have been, quote, "reduced to rubble."
KINGSTON: Let me say this. This is a Democrat president doing what a Democrat president should do for his party nominee. No surprise there. But when he talks about Donald Trump maybe not being up to the job, what has Barack Obama accomplished in the Middle East? Chaos in Syria, chaos in Afghanistan, Iraq and in Libya, ISIS now in 18 different countries, a 1 percent economic growth rate back home, health care premiums skyrocketing 20 percent and 30 percent. I don't think Barack Obama is in a great position to be saying who should be president or who shouldn't. Donald Trump was saying with his comments about the military, look, I want people who disagree with me, I don't want yes men and women in those positions, I want them to come to me with viable criticism.
BLITZER: Congressman, do you agree with Donald Trump that the generals have been reduced to rubble?
KINGSTON: I agree that under Barack Obama he hasn't been listening to them. Selectively taken information, which is what Donald Trump was saying. I think that's very important. Again, commander-in-chief of the United States of America constitutionally can pick his own team. What Donald Trump is saying, I want a new team. If you're satisfied with the foreign policy that we have right now, then Hillary Clinton has promised a third term of Barack Obama. But if you want to change in the Middle East, you want peace through strength I will bring it to you.
BLITZER: He can certainly picked a new team as far as his national security advisers, civilians are concerned, secretary of defense, secretary of state, director of CIA. You know this well. There's a process in the U.S. military for moving up the chain of command, moving up the ranks from a junior officer to a senior flag officer. It's not that easy simply to get rid of these generals, if you will. But we'll leave that for another time as well.
Congressman Jack Kingston, former congressman from Georgia, thanks for joining us.
KINGSTON: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: For team Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate is doubling down on her position to never again send ground troops in Iraq and Syria. Hours ago, at a news conference in New York, she said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I think putting a big contingent of American ground troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria would not be in the best interest of the fight against is and other terrorist groups. In fact, I think it would fulfill one of their dearest wishes, which is to drag the United States back into a ground war in that region.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[13:45:08] BLITZER: Let's talk about this with Congressman Chris Van Hollen, of Maryland. He's endorsed Hillary Clinton.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, (D), MARYLAND: Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Do you agree with her flatly saying, doubling down this morning that under her administration the United States would not send any ground troops into Iraq or Syria?
VAN HOLLEN: I do. Because I think American ground forces in Syria and Iraq would only inflame the situation and make it worse. Look, we saw what happened in the aftermath of the last time we sent American ground forces into Iraq, a long, protracted war where we're still seeing the fallout. We need to make sure our allies in the region, whether they're the Kurds, whether they're the Iraqis, that they have the equipment that they need and the air support they need to go after ISIS and ultimately destroy ISIS. Putting U.S. forces on the ground in that part of the world would make matters worse and I think harm our national security.
BLITZER: Lindsey Graham, member of the Armed Services Committee, from South Carolina, he told me last night there are about 7,500 U.S. ground troops in Iraq and a few hundred in Syria right now. Would she pull all those troops out?
VAN HOLLEN: It's clear that Secretary Clinton is talking about ground combat forces. She's not talking about American troops who are there to train Iraqi forces. She's not talking about some limited numbers of Special Forces that have been there primarily to help train the Syrian Kurds and others. She's talking about making sure we don't do in Syria and Iraq again what happened with the first mistake in Iraq. That is what she is focused on. I think it's very appropriate that she lay out a strategy that doesn't involve American ground combat forces because, as she indicated, I think that makes the situation worse, not better.
BLITZER: You don't think any of those 7,500 U.S. troops in Iraq right now are engaged in combat?
VAN HOLLEN: Those troops, other than a limited number of Special Forces, are engaged in training and equipping the Iraqi forces and our Kurdish friends to go after ISIS.
BLITZER: But they are in harm's way. They're in danger right now -- let me ask you this. What happens if the U.S. military were to say to a President Hillary Clinton, you know what, there's a major national security threat facing the United States, let's say in Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, still under ISIS control, or in Raqqa, the capitol of ISIS in Syria, the only way to destroy these guys, al Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, is to send in ground troops and kill them, what would she do if the military commanders said that's what we recommend?
VAN HOLLEN: Wolf, you can always come up with hypotheticals. What we know right now is this, U.S. military commanders have not said that, they have not made the recommendation. In fact, they've been very clear that putting more combat forces in those regions would risk dragging Americans deeper into the conflict and not solving the problem, but making it worse. I have to say, we're now talking about which candidate is suitable to be commander-in-chief. Last night -- if people didn't already know it, the amount of the amount of fact- free statements that were made by Donald Trump should scare every American about this guy being anywhere close to the White House and certainly being our commander-in-chief. He had his facts wrong. He has a dangerous mix of somebody. who thinks he knows he knows more than the generals, and yet he knows very little. That's a very dangerous mix in a commander-in-chief.
BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Still to come, stopping a major arms deal with a key U.S. ally? But how will stopping the deal impact international relations and potentially the U.S. economy. I'll have Senator Rand Paul. He's stand by live.
[13:49:27] We're standing by to hear from Donald Trump. He has a rally coming up soon. You're looking at live pictures from Cleveland, Ohio. We'll have coverage of that and a lot more.
BLITZER: A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers looking right now to stall the planned sale of more than $1 billion in arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The reason? The growing number of civilian casualties in Yemen, a result of air strikes carried out by the Saudi-led military coalition.
Republican Senator Rand Paul, of Kentucky, is joining us now from Capitol Hill. He serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as the Homeland Security Committee and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. RAND PAUL, (R), KENTUCKY: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: So you are opposed to the continued Use of this military equipment to Saudi Arabia. How can you stop it? Are you planning to introduce legislation to stop or delay it?
PAUL: We have a privileged resolution, which means it will demand a vote, and a vote will occur because of the law. The Arms Export Control Act of 1970s gives the right of any one Senator to demand a vote on this. The Arms Export Control Act also says that we can only export arms that are solely for the legitimate defense of a country. Well, they're using these arms to have an incursion into a neighboring country and get involved in a neighboring country's civil war. But this is not self-defense of Saudi Arabia. So I think they're in breach of the original Arms Export Control Act.
But I also think that we should have a say. That Congress and the people should vote on whether we are in the middle of another war in the Middle East.
[13:55:30] BLITZER: Some of these Yemeni fighters that the Saudis are fighting together with the UAE and other countries, they are actually in Saudi Arabia. They've taken over some parts of southern Saudi Arabia. So wouldn't that justify the Saudis moving against them the way they are?
PAUL: Well, the Saudis invaded Yemen, and the Yemen rebels invaded back. But I don't think this was something where the Saudis were trying to stop an invasion. The Saudis actually invaded and started bombing in the capitol of Yemen.
BLITZER: So you're blaming the Saudis for this war that's going on over there, not the Yemenis.
PAUL: Well, there is a civil war that's very complicated. I'm not sure assessing blame is very accurately done in a civil war. But, yes, Saudi Arabia chose to get involved in a civil war and take sides on a civil war. We've now given $100 billion worth of arms under President Obama to Saudi Arabia. We've approved $100 billion worth of sales of arms. We also approved billions of dollars to be released to Iran. So we're supplying the arms on both sides of this arms race in the Middle East. We supplied Turkey with tanks that are now rolling in to Syria. And we have Kurdish troops using American arms to fight Turkish arms, which are supplied by the U.S. as well. So I think we do need to rethink whether or not this is making the situation better or worse.
There are now millions of displaced people in Yemen. They're refugees. So we supply the Saudis with arms, they create havoc and refugees in Yemen. Then what's the answer? Then we're going to take the Yemeni refugees in the United States? Maybe we ought to quit arming both sides of this war.
BLITZER: You think your legislation would have a realistic chance of passing the Senate or the House? And if it did, do you think the president of the United States would sign it into law? He would presumably veto it.
PAUL: At the very least, it begins the debate of whether or not we should be at war. We are refueling the Saudi bombers, so we are essentially part of the bombing campaign. We are helping them choose targets and we are refueling the Saudi bombers that are dropping the bombs. It is said that thousands of civilians have died in Yemen because of this. Yes, we need to have a debate over this. I don't know what the president will do but he ought to come to Congress and ask for permission. We've given him no authority to get involved in the civil war in Yemen. And we have to ask the bigger question, is that making it better or worse? Are there more refugees or less refugees? Is there more chaos or less chaos with Saudi Arabia bombing in to Yemen? So, yeah, it is a debate we ought to have, and no president should unilaterally have this authority without the approval of Congress.
BLITZER: For you, this is a moral issue because you know there are a lot of jobs at stake, certainly, if these defense contractors stop selling warplanes, other sophisticated equipment to Saudi Arabia. There is going to be a significant loss of jobs, revenue here in the United States. That's secondary from your standpoint.
PAUL: Well, not only is it a moral question, it is a constitutional question. Our founding fathers very directly and specifically did not give the president the power to go to war. They gave it to Congress. So Congress needs to step up. And this is what I'm doing, stepping up and asserting our authority over foreign policy and that we need to be involved. We should not be an after-the-fact, oh, we'll give you a consultation. No, we should be directing the president whether he has the power to do this or not. I don't believe he has the constitutional power to do it, nor do I think it is wise.
I think we are elevating an arms race in the Middle East and I don't think it is good for America. And I think to have millions of new refugees -- look, Saudi Arabia hasn't taken any refugees. They were part of the violence in Syria. Many of the weapons that Saudi Arabia and Qatar sent into the Syrian civil war, some of those wound up in the hands of al Qaeda and ISIS. And then refugees are streaming across the world and Saudi Arabia foments this but didn't take any of the refugees.
BLITZER: Very quickly, who's more qualified to be commander-in- chief? Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?
PAUL: Without question, I think Hillary Clinton would more likely get us involved in another war in the Middle East. She's been for sending arms into Syria. From the very beginning, Donald Trump has said that he questioned the Iraq war. So that gives me some consolation that Donald Trump would be a better commander-in-chief because he at least had the foresight to see that the first -- the Iraq war led to a destabilization of the area and Hillary Clinton was on the other side of that.
BLITZER: Before the war, he did tell Howard Stern he supported the war. But we have to leave it on that note.
As usual, Senator Rand Paul, thanks for joining us.
PAUL: Thank you.
BLITZER: The news continues next right here on CNN.