Return to Transcripts main page


Iraq: No Permission for U.S. Troops to Stay; One-on-One Interview with Samantha Power; Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA) Discusses Ambassador Bill Taylor's Impeachment Inquiry Testimony; Israeli P.M. Netanyahu Fails to Form Coalition Government. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired October 22, 2019 - 11:30   ET



NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Bear in mind, there may be some issuing of a statement for domestic consumption, because of, of course, the U.S. history here with the Iraq war. But it may also represent another hurdle in the poor planning of this withdrawal. There may be a fudge around it. Some other troops may leave and these Special Forces may stay.

But it represents another problem here for the U.S. presence, continuing in its small hundreds inside Syria, but relocating to carry out the same mission in a tactically far worse position here in northern Iraq.

But all eyes on that cease-fire clock now. It seems as though the sides inside the country are positioning themselves in case talks in Sochi collapse. These are last-minute efforts, long planned, I should say, between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Erdogan. They are late for their press conference.

All eyes on whether they can find diplomatic solution. If they don't, frankly, we could be into a bloody night ahead of us -- Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Literally, these are the critical crunch hours to see what comes out of that press conference and what happens as soon as the cease fire expires or this pause, if you will.

Nick, thank you so much. It's so important to have you on the ground. Really appreciate it.

PATON WALSH: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: I talked about all of this with the former the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Obama, Ambassador Samantha Power. She told me that the president of the United States is endorsing ethnic cleansing with his decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria.


BOLDUAN: Do you really think President Trump, in his moves, is endorsing ethnic cleansing right now? SAMANTHA POWER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: I don't really

see how that's an escapable conclusion, because he said they had to do what -- they have a security concern. They have to do what they have to do and used the expression even, clean out the territory.

He didn't use the word ethnic, I suppose. You could grasp at straws in that way. I think he basically, in departing, was focused on the narrative of get U.S. troops home. Seize the backlash now internationally.

Hears from, of course, so many current and former military commanders about how hard this is going to make it for us to convince local actors to be our ground force against terrorist. Whether it's ISIS re-flourishing or other movements in other parts of the world, we need ground forces.

Nobody in either party wants to continue to be deploying U.S. forces into countries and cultures that they don't know where they have to learn on the fly, as they did in Iraq, back in the first decade of the 21st century, on the ground, in a combat role. Nobody wants that.

But Trump has made that a more likely scenario, because the threats probably aren't going to diminish any time soon. If anything, precipitous moves like this, the instability of this, the displacement caused by this, the radicalization that often accompanies displacement, renders the number of threats to our security greater and that means we're going to need partners.

BOLDUAN: In that vein, now the president is acknowledging that there's likely to be a small contingent of American troops that will remain in Syria, despite the fact that he says he was withdrawing all U.S. troops. If it is a couple hundred, do you see that as a fix to where things are right now?

POWER: Remember one of the more chilling phrases that the president used was people playing over sands rather than viewing the territory as the home to people.

BOLDUAN: I actually do want to play some of the president's words. Let me play that right now. This is how the president has talked about the Kurds since all of this has played out. Watch this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They didn't help us in the Second World War. They didn't help us with Normandy, as an example.

They're no angels.

Sometimes you have to let them fight. Like two kids in a lot. You have to let them fight and then you pull them apart.


BOLDUAN: Just you reaction to the president speaking in that way about allies on the ground in a fight against ISIS like this.

POWER: Whether he's referring to them as sand, as kids, or exaggerating and contradicting himself at the end by saying, and then you pull them apart, who is pulling them apart again? Are you suggesting, Mr. President, we'll be sending forces back in to, quote, "pull them apart?"

It's some combination of ignorance, a complete lack of curiosity, and a coldness to human fate.

But the announcement again that troops are going to remain in the region, both in Syria and in Iraq, also is part of the contradiction to what President Trump claimed he was achieving in this. We all know what we're losing through this and that the Kurds are losing above all.

But on the off-setting side of the ledger, you hear his supporters -- the president's supporters at rallies saying, bring them home, bring them home, bring our troops home. There's that desire in our country, with our forces now in their fourth and fifth, sixth tour in Afghanistan. So a very legitimate desire.

That's not what's happening. We are sending 1800 troops to Saudi Arabia. We're keeping the large majority of the troops just in Syria either in Syria or in Iraq. There's not even credibility to that claim on the alleged positive side of the ledger.


When it comes to small presence as it relates to the oil fields, I think that sends a crazy signal as well. We don't care about you, who took 11,000 casualties in serving as our ground force against ISIS but we do care about the oil.

And projecting that to the rest of the world, again, does major damage. There's a lot of suspicion that that's all the United States cares about.

BOLDUAN: In reading your book, I don't know that there was a crisis you wrestled with or struggled with more than Syria. What do you wish those in the administration advising the president knew now that maybe you didn't understand or didn't know back then when you faced an inflection point?

POWER: The thing I would want President Trump and his aides to know and appreciate is there's no substitute for friends. There's no substitute for friends who will do your fighting for you in a time when America is exhausted and our soldiers have born too great a burden.

There's no substitution for friends, as the French and the British who deployed Special forces with us and learned that U.S. forces were being withdrawn by tweet.

Who among them are going to want to come to our side in some other coalition arrangement, in some other difficulty even limited circumstance in which dealing with terrorists is going to be required? It's not like terrorists are going away, even if the caliphate has crumbled.

BOLDUAN: Part of the conversation now is about sanctions. Do you think sanctions against Turkey is -- would have an impact in this regard?

POWER: I think people that -- of course, they should be considered because Turkish-backed forces are committing war crimes and crimes against humanity where they have to be accountable. Erdogan is kind of drunk on his own Power.

But in effect to invite license, encourage, trigger an invasion like this and then to turn around and sanction it, again, it may be appropriate in light of Turkish actions on the ground, but just the chaos and the sort of reckless indifference to consequences will do such lasting damage.

And it's not the case, unfortunately, that some set of sanctions against Turkey are likely to influence the course of events in northern Syria. By the time those kicked in and really had an impact and potentially affected Erdogan's calculus, it would be too late for the Syrian Kurds.


BOLDUAN: Our thanks to Ambassador Samantha Power for that conversation. Her new book, "The Education of an Idealist," is out now.

Coming up for us still, what's going on behind closed doors right now on Capitol Hill? One member of Congress who just left the room where a current top diplomat in Ukraine is testifying is our next guest. The Congressman, up next.



BOLDUAN: Right now, President Trump's top diplomate in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, is behind closed doors on Capitol Hill. CNN is reporting that Taylor is expected to essentially fill in the gaps on the timeline of what was really going on with the exchanged text messages with other top officials, asking if a quid pro quo was at play with Ukraine.

He's is expected to testify for hours before the three committees that are leading the inquiry.

Here with me now is a member of one of those committees, Democratic Congressman Ami Bera, who just stepped out of the testimony moments ago.

Congressman, thanks for jumping on.

REP. AMI BERA (D-CA): Kate, thanks for having me on.

BOLDUAN: We know you can't go into details. What is your impression so far from Ambassador Taylor's testimony?

BERA: I've known Ambassador Taylor for a while now. You couldn't ask for a more credible witness. He's a West Point grad, a Vietnam veteran, a lifelong public servant, who cares deeply about the region, Ukraine, and wants to see Ukraine be successful.

So, he's filling in some gaps and sharing with us in a pretty candid way his experience. Again, this would be someone who it would be very hard for Republicans or Democrats to impugn.

BOLDUAN: You can't go into detail, but is he saying why he wrote the text messages and why he put it in writing that he was so concerned about, how he put it, that it's crazy that they're holding up military aid for a political campaign?

BERA: I think we could be grateful for the candidness of acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, last week. I think he did a good job public publicly of filling in the gaps.

Ambassador Taylor is being candid with us. His memory and recollection seems to be a lot better than Ambassador Sondland's was last week.

BOLDUAN: Someone noted that -- earlier in the show that he didn't arrive on Capitol Hill, at least, with any documents. Is there any request that he provide documents or do you think that's not necessary?

BERA: You know, I think he is being as open and candid and, again, deeply cares about this country and this region. And, again, I think he's doing what he can to help tell the full story.

BOLDUAN: And in all of the reporting going in is that he wants to lay out his kind of timeline of events, if you will, but doesn't want to become the center of this whole thing. He wants to go back to his job in Ukraine.


After what you heard, I guess, early on in all in relative terms, in his testimony. After what you heard, do you think President Trump will want him to stay in that job?

BERA: What I can share is that knowing him prior to his return to Ukraine and the job he's doing while he's there, we couldn't ask for a better diplomat and emissary to that region at a time when we need our best folks in the field.

This is a country that still has been invaded by Russia and needs that defensive help and needs a strong bipartisan U.S. support.

So, again, from my perspective, we couldn't ask for a better emissary to Ukraine than Bill Taylor. Hopefully, the president sees it that way as well.

BOLDUAN: High praise for Bill Taylor coming from you. There is this reporting I want to ask you about, Congressman, from the

"New York Times" and the "Washington Post," that White House officials, including John Bolton, were concerned how Hungary's Viktor Orban and Russia's Vladimir Putin were influencing the president's view on Ukraine. What do you do with that?

BERA: Yes, I saw those reports. From the foreign affairs perspective, it is really disheartening, if the president is taking advice from Vladimir Putin and not taking advice from his own foreign affairs committee.

Both in a bipartisan way, the Senate and House strongly support our policy of supporting Ukraine, our policy of sanctions on Russia. And I would hope the president is listening to us more than he is Vladimir Putin.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, thanks for coming in.

BERA: Thanks for having me on, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Appreciate it.

Still ahead for us, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed once again to form a new government, throwing the nation's politics in flux. What happens next? The number of times we've had to ask that. Again, it could be unprecedented.

We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just won a second term last night, but he's left with less power than he had last time around as his party failed to secure a majority in parliamentary elections.

This follows a bruising campaign. He had to overcome some very damaging scandals. He apologized after a photo surfaced of him wearing blackface makeup years ago. He also battled accusations that he bullied his former attorney general.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still struggling to hold onto power. In the wake of a very close election, he failed to form a government, opening the door to his political rival, Benny Gantz, to lead the country.

Could Israel have its first new prime minister in more than a decade, or could the country be headed for yet another round of elections there?

CNN's Oren Liebermann takes a look at the wild possibility.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was not the birthday celebration Benjamin Netanyahu had wished for. The same day he turned 70, Netanyahu admitted failure once again, abandoning his quest on trying to form an Israeli government.

He has secured control of the right-wing and religious parties, but he lost his grip on Israeli politics. Now for the first time in a decade, someone else will have a chance to form a government and lead the country.

This, as potential indictments in ongoing corruption cases loom over the longest-serving leader in Israel's history as he proclaims his innocence.

Netanyahu blamed his rival, Benny Gantz, for his failure to form a government.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translation): I made every effort in order to bring Benny Gantz to the negotiating table, every effort in order to establish a wide national government, every effort to prevent additional elections and, unfortunately, time after time, he simply refused.

LIEBERMANN: Gantz, head of the Blue and White Party and former IDF chief of staff, will now try to form a coalition.

"The time to spin is over and it's now time for action," his party said in a statement. "Blue and white is determined to form a liberal unity government led by Benny Gantz that the people of Israel voted for a month ago."

Gantz has 28 days to form a government. But even he has no clear path to secure the needed majority in parliament. The web of Israeli politics is perhaps too complex for its own good.

(on camera): Here's where the situation is stuck. Gantz won't sit with Netanyahu while he's under criminal investigation, so that's out. Netanyahu won't sit in a government in which he's not the prime minister, so that's not an option, either.

And the potential king maker here, Victor Lieberman (ph), who have the seats that both Netanyahu and Gantz need, won't sit in anything that is not a unity government, so that's not an option at all.

This democratically elected mess has no clear exit.

(voice-over): A third general election seems increasingly likely. The campaign messaging has already begun. But even that has no promise of breaking the impasse. Israel's political engine is stuck in one gear: elections.


LIEBERMANN: Netanyahu did get one thing he was hoping to get, and that was a letter from President Donald Trump, which said, "Israel is one of America's closest allies and that there has never been a more productive time in Israeli/American relations than now." Trump saying he looks to many victories ahead. And then he added a handwritten note, "You are great."


Kate, that's significant because it appeared there was a cooling-off period between Trump and Netanyahu over the last few weeks when Netanyahu was unable to secure a victory here.

BOLDUAN: Oren, great stuff. Thanks so much for laying it out. It's amazing to think they could be heading to another round of elections there. It's good to see you.

Right now, the current top diplomat to Ukraine is behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, key to filling in the gaps of some pretty damning text messages now part of the impeachment inquiry into the president. So what is Ambassador Bill Taylor telling Congress? That's coming up.