Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Live Event/Special
President Obama Announces Strategy to Fight ISIS; Obama Authorizes Airstrikes Against ISIS in Syria; Obama: 475 Additional U.S. Service Members to Iraq; Obama Seeks Money for Syrian Opposition Fighters; Interview with John McCain
Aired September 10, 2014 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: People say they're tired of war, they also say they're deeply concerned about what could be the next major terror threat and many say they are impatient with the president's strategy. So far they deal with it against that backdrop. President Obama getting ready to speak, you're looking at live pictures from across all over there at the White House as we await the president
A quick thought to Jake Tapper as we get ready to hear what could be one of the most important speeches of his presidency.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, THE LEAD: I think it's going to be very important for President Obama to define the mission. What exactly does success look like? Is it just a matter of, to use the term he used, managing the problem turning it into -- ISIS into a manageable problem, a regional problem? Also, he's going to need to describe what are other countries going to do?
We already see the State Department sending out statements of support from countries ranging from the U.K. and Australia to the Maldives and the Arab League. What exactly does that mean, that's supporter? Other countries are going to be bringing in troops or other countries are going to be bringing in support. And lastly, there is a big homeland security component of this because one of the reasons why polls are so high is because the American people are scared from those videos they have seen of the beheadings and 71 percent of the American people are convinced because there we have the national security official saying this that there are ISIS cells in the United States.
So what is he going to do to keep the homeland safe?
BLITZER: All right. The president -- he's been in the Red Room. He's heading to be a Blue Room, the president will then walk into this hallway and you'll see him walking in momentarily within a few seconds. In fact, the president will come in. He's got a very, very carefully crafted address to the nation.
A lot of audiences will be listening very carefully including ISIS itself.
OBAMA: My fellow Americans, tonight I want to speak to you about what the United States will do with our friends and allies to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL. As commander- in-chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people. Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country. We took out Osama Bin Laden and much of Al Qaida's leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We've targeted Al Qaida's affiliate in Yemen.
And recently eliminated the top commander of its affiliate in Somalia.
We've done so while bringing more than 140,000 American troops home from Iraq and drawing down our forces in Afghanistan, where our combat mission will end later this year.
Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.
Still, we continue to face a terrorist threat. We can't erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today, and that's why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge.
At this moment, the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain.
And one of those groups is ISIL, which calls itself the "Islamic State."
Now let's make two things clear: ISIL is not "Islamic." No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL's victims have been Muslim.
And ISIL is certainly not a state; it was formerly Al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria's civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government nor by the people it subjugates.
ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple, and it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.
In a region that has known so much bloodshed, these terrorists are unique in their brutality. They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape and force women into marriage. They threaten a religious minority with genocide and in acts of barbarism.
They took the lives of two American journalists -- Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff.
So ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East, including American citizens, personnel and facilities. If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners, including Europeans and some Americans, have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.
I know many Americans are concerned about these threats. Tonight, I want you to know that the United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve. Last month, I ordered our military to take targeted action against ISIL to stop its advances. Since then, we have conducted more than 150 successful airstrikes in Iraq. These strikes have protected American personnel and facilities, killed ISIL fighters, destroyed weapons, and given space for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim key territory.
These strikes have also helped save the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children.
But this is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region. That's why I've insisted that additional U.S. action depended upon Iraqis forming an inclusive government, which they have now done in recent days.
So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.
Our objective is clear. We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy. First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions so that we're hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense.
Moreover, I've made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.
Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground. In June, I deployed several hundred American servicemembers to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi security forces. Now that those teams have completed their work and Iraq has formed a government, we will send an additional 475 servicemembers to Iraq.
As I've said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission. We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence, and equipment.
We'll also support Iraq's efforts to stand up national guard units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL's control. Across the border in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance
to the Syrian opposition. Tonight, I call on Congress again to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters.
In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its people, a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost.
Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria's crisis once and for all.
Third, we will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks.
Working with our partners, we will redouble our efforts to cut off its funding, improve our intelligence, strengthen our defenses, counter its warped ideology and stem the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the Middle East. And in two weeks, I will chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort.
Fourth, we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization. This includes Sunni and Shia Muslims, who are at grave risk, as well as tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities. We cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homelands.
So this is our strategy, and in each of these four parts of our strategy, America will be joined by a broad coalition of partners.
Already, allies are flying planes with us over Iraq, sending arms and assistance to Iraqi Security Forces and the Syrian opposition, sharing intelligence and providing billions of dollars in humanitarian aid.
Secretary Kerry was in Iraq today meeting with the new government and supporting their efforts to promote unity, and in the coming days he will travel across the Middle East and Europe to enlist more partners in this fight, especially Arab nations who can help mobilize Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria to drive these terrorists from their lands. This is American leadership at its best. We stand with people who fight for their own freedom, and we rally other nations on behalf of our common security and common humanity.
My administration has also secured bipartisan support for this approach here at home. I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL. But I believe we are strongest as a nation when the president and Congress work together. So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.
Now, it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL. And any time we take military action, there are risks involved, especially to the servicemen and -women who carry out these missions. But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner's forces on the ground.
This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years. And it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year to use force against anyone who threatens America's core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order.
My fellow Americans, we live in a time of great change. Tomorrow marks 13 years since our country was attacked. Next week marks six years since our economy suffered its worst setback since the Great Depression. Yet despite these shocks, through the pain we've felt and the grueling work required to bounce back, America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth.
Our technology companies and universities are unmatched. Our manufacturing and auto industries are thriving. Energy independence is closer than it's been in decades. For all the work that remains, our businesses are in the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history. Despite all the divisions and discord within our democracy, I see the grit and determination and common goodness of the American people every single day. And that makes me more confident than ever about our country's future.
A broad American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world. It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression and in support of the Ukrainian people's right to determine their own destiny.
It is America: our scientists, our doctors, our know-how that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola. It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria's declared chemical weapons so that they can't pose a threat to the Syrian people or the world again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity and tolerance and a more hopeful future.
America, our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden. But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead. From Europe to Asia, from the far reaches of Africa, to war-torn capitals in the Middle East, we stand for freedom, for justice, for dignity. These are values that have guided our nation since its founding.
Tonight, I ask for your support in carrying that leadership forward. I do so as a commander in chief who could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform, pilots who bravely fly in the face of danger above the Middle East and service members who support our partners on the ground. When we helped prevent the massacre of civilians trapped on a distant mountain, here's what one of them said: "We owe our American friends our lives. Our children will always remember that there was someone who felt our struggle and made a long journey to protect innocent people."
That is the difference we make in the world. And our own safety, our own security depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation and uphold the values that we stand for, timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.
May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.
BLITZER: Speaking for less than 15 minutes, the president of the United States with very strong words going against ISIS is new terror threat to president saying the greatest threats that the United States right now come from the Middle East and North Africa where he says radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain. And especially cites ISIS and then he goes on to say, "I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL," as he calls it in Syria as well as Iraq. "This is a core principle of my presidency."
And then he issues this morning, "If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven." Bottom line, the president is getting ready to potentially launch airstrikes against ISIS targets not only on Iraq but in Syria as well
ANDERSON COOPER, AC360 HOST: Wolf, thanks very much. We're going to see Wolf again at the top of the hour. We continue of our live coverage of the president's address. We'll be back at 10:00 Eastern time.
I want to bring in Senior Political Analyst David Gergen right now, The Lead's Jake Tapper, Democratic Strategist Donna Brazile and Crossfire Co-Host, Former House Speaker and GOP Presidential Candidate, Newt Gingrich.
David Gergen, you have big expectations for the speech, your assessment?
DAVID GERGEN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought the first part of the speech as he talked about the attack on ISIS was strong presidential series. He did what we needed to do. He laid out the sense of a strategy. You could quibble with it. I'm sure we're going to have a lot of disagreements about some aspects of it. But I thought overall as a presidential speech, it did very well.
What surprised me, Anderson, was the second part of the speech when he started talking about how well the country is doing. How well we're doing with jobs and how we're leading around the world. I think for an awful lot of people who are -- the Americans feeling pretty blue right now and I think those kinds of assertions don't ring true to a lot of people. And it seems to me that it detracted from the main message of the speech because -- I thought it he was on a very, very strong ground and when he shifted ground like that I thought it called into question, well, how much should we believe the rest of the speech. Overall, the first part of the speech I've given very high marks.
COOPER: Speaker Gingrich, you talked about today's speech -- tonight speech as an opportunity to really rally the American people behind this, what do you think?
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thought it was a very strong speech overall. I agree with David. I think that they have dropped out one paragraph. I would have been stronger. And I think, his -- the description of Somalia and Yemen is very foolish. But the rest of the speech was very strong. It's probably the most explicitly pro-American speeches ever made. I kept coming back again and again towards the end in a way that most Americans will resonate with.
And I think he achieved a fair amount of what he needed to do to start this process. So I would say it's a pretty strong speech. I agree totally with his call to Congress. Congress should vote on this and this should be the American decision not the Obama decision. I have...
COOPER: Why is that so important to you? Why do you believe that's so important?
GINGRICH: This would take a long time and if it's only him then he'll be eroded very rapidly because it's easy for Republicans to figure how to attack.
If all of us understand, this is a threat to America and we had better to find after the Bush years and the Obama years. We had 13 years of trying. We had better find than American strategy that we collective stick to, we're going to be a much stronger country and we're going to be able to endure the next five or 10 years of struggle, I think much better.
COOPER: Jake, before the speech you've talked about the importance for the president to define what the strategy is, do you think he did that?
TAPPER: Well -- yes. In a word, he basically -- there's four points, one is expanding the air campaign beyond just humanitarian missions and protecting Americans in Iraq and possibly going after ISIS and Syria. That's the first time he said that.
Two, he talked about the increase role of U.S. military training, embedding, reconnaissance intelligence...
COOPER: 475 more U.S....
TAPPER: Yeah, 475 more -- and you all notice he didn't give the overall total but 475 more. And then three of course adding to the counterterrorism capabilities protecting the homeland, going after financing funding, going after foreign fighters going into Syria and Iraq and then lastly, the humanitarian mission.
Again, he talked about living a broad coalition. He didn't go into detail about that but there are some facts sheets coming out from the State Department, from the National Security Council that dropped -- given some details on it such as the early (ph) time to look at the first one which is Albania who will be sending weapons to Kurdish fighters.
I have a feeling that this -- it does have a coalition of the willing kind of feel to it, some countries will be contributing a lot more than others but he is trying to make the case. Even though, this is rather hastily done, w need to point out.
COOPER: It's also interesting Donna, he repeatedly stressed that this is a counterterrorism approach trying to make a different distinction between the wars in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because he recognizes that the country is weary of war. For 13 years, millions and trillions of dollars spent. The president really, I think, challenged us to come together as a country to fight this threat, to understand the nature of threat. I thought the objectives of that he laid out tonight were very clear, very concise. But I also thought his call to Congress, for Congress to get involved to lend the resources to make sure that this is just not the president's so-called war on ISIL but the country itself.
I thought it was a good speech, a good beginning hopefully Congress will pick up the phone and say, "Mr. President, I'm with you. Let's get this...
COOPER: Aren't there some though in Congress who don't really want to vote on this ahead of midterm elections, they don't want to go in record?
TAPPER: Most of them.
COOPER: Most of them.
GINGRICH: No, I think you'll find that because the country has rallied and politicians often follow the county. And the country as decisively in the last two or three weeks reached the conclusion that people who cut off the heads of American journalist are really bad. And the more they learn about them for example selling women into slavery, slaughtering innocent people, attacking Christians, Shear Sunni Muslim, I think there's a growing consensus it's a pretty big margin, it's almost six to one in one poll today.
This says yeah, you got to do something about this. So members are going to vote in a short run probably in the continued resolution is my guess, to do something to support the president to be strong. I think he faces two big challenges. One is finding a lot better outcome than Yemen and Somalia. I mean, this idea that the most we can do is bomb around the region and then leave behind the wreckage of Mogadishu as a long term goal.
It doesn't solve anything because you still have the wreckage. In both of those countries, you have lots of terrorist running around so it's not a solution. The second challenge will come in two weeks. President is going to chair the national -- the security council in the United Nations. Are the Chinese going to go along with this? Are the Russians, the middle of all of our attention? President did go out of his way to mention the challenges in Russia.
He now has Russia with veto sitting in the Security Council. I think that meeting in two weeks is a big deal.
TAPPER: If I could just ask this. Don't you expect that what Congress will do will be instead of the broad authorizing use of military force that the President Bush got after 9/11 or the vote to go to war in Iraq. It'll be something small such as to resolve this discussion of title 10 amending -- allowing basically the military to train the fighters as oppose to find destined services the CIA, something small and maybe like a resolution stating broad support nothing specific.
GINGRICH: Well, my guess is they'll drop language in the continued resolution that says, the Congress supports the president in degrading and destroying the Islamic State...
COOPER: Something very easy to fall for.
GINGRICH: ... without defining specifically what that involvement.
GINGRICH: And frankly, we'd be pretty foolish to say, "Yeah you can do this over here but you can't do that over there because we don't know how this campaign is going to go."
BRAZILE: Right, I know it's hard to press contain it.
COOPER: David Gergen, I mean, the Middle East, though, has a long track record of defying the, you know, the best laid plans. I mean, what -- The way things look right now, three months from now look entirely different.
GERGEN: That's exactly right. I think that's one reason why Newt Gingrich was absolutely right in saying, "It's important that the Congress vote on this so this becomes an American project not an Obama project." You know, and if we're asking young men and women to put their lives on the line yet again for America, surely the Congress can put its votes on the line and go home and face the voters. We're not asking very much of them.
But I think to go to your larger point, Anderson, about the uncertainties ahead, this speech was very a strong speech. What the president is going to have to do, though, is follow up the demonstrations that actually is going to work. And to an extraordinary degree, this whole strategy depends upon the effectiveness of our partners.
We're not putting troops here.
GERGEN: When we went and had the awakening and people say, "We're going to have another awakening." That's what the administration had been saying. You know, when we have the awakening we had a ton of American troops to make sure it happened.
GERGEN: And here, we're defending an Iraqi army and an Iraqi government which has not come together in a way it was described tonight. They still don't have a defense minister, they don't have an interior administer, they've got a long ways to go, these are unreliable partners we have to make them reliable but it's a tough go.
COOPER: You had -- During the Sunni awakening, you had military personnel in endless T-sessions and meetings with Sunni tribal elders handing over bags of money on the ground. I mean, it's a very different situations that without U.S. personnel in Iraq and again, to General Hertling's earlier point. This is something which -- This is not just happening in one country, this is transnational. This is Syria in the midst of a Civil War.
BRAZILE: That's why the president was adamant that the Iraqi Government become more inclusive that the Sunnis are brought back into the government...
COOPER: But when the President says they've already formed a new government, I mean, that's not exactly -- that's not really accurate. I mean, there's key pose some of the most controversial pose in Iraq have been left unfilled. I mean, they may have new leadership but there's a long road of that.
BRAZILE: OK, but Maliki is gone and that was a very important first step for him to...
BRAZILE: ... get away from the table.
GINGRICH: You know I think most politicians flinch at being really direct with the American people as though they're afraid that the American people can't stand the truth. Probably Churchill's most effective speech promised blood, sweat, toil and tears because they were in desperate trouble. The president would -- This is a good speech, I mean, I don't think you can nitpicker, it's a good speech.
But the president would be better served to save the country. We are going down a road we don't know about. We are taking on an enemy who is evil. They're going to mutate and do anything they can to survive and defeat us. We are going to run generous (ph) and he did say the real risk -- I was actually surprised and proud of it. He said, there are real risks where young Americans are going to risk their lives to achieve this.
I think we have to drop these boots on the ground baloney. Those Americans that are needed in order to defeat ISIL as the president calls it at the Islamic State as I recall, those Americans are needed, we'll end up going there and we will run the risk necessary to defeat them.
TAPPER: And, Anderson, you make an excellent point when we talk about the best laid plans because obviously we're not getting into a debate about the last war in Iraq but the reason that ISIS exist is because of a lot of what happened in that war not going well and then also the withdraw if U.S. forces.
So, I think what would be great is if there is a full-throated debate about this in Congress not just among Democrats who support going to war against ISIS and Republicans who support going to war against ISIS but Democrats and Republicans who oppose military action. The kind of thing we didn't really see in the way it needed to be done back in 2003, again I'm not comparing these, they're very different situations and obviously it will be wonderful if ISIS disappeared off the face the war (ph)
GINGRICH: But I want to build a step further. We really need a national dialogue about how we ended up 13 yeas as you pointed out, trillions of dollars, thousands of dead young Americans, many thousand more wounded young Americans and the strategies didn't work. I mean, not the Bush strategy, not the Obama strategy, we need an honest discussion of how difficult are these enemies and how difficult is genuine victory going to be to achieved and this conversation will run through this...
BRAZILE: And it's not only military that we need to deploy because this does...
COOPER: Yeah, that's a little bit political, David?
GERGE: Anderson, let me come back to one of the point about where we go from here and the partnerships that we're trying to form.
Another challenge is going to be just around the corner is how -- whether we can in fact get the big hitters in the Middle East to come way this as strong partners in this. It's a lot easier to get Albania to send something small. It's very easily to get the U.K to send in something.
But is Saudi Arabia going to be with us on this? Is Turkey going to be with us? What about the UAE? The ambassador -- highly respected ambassador from the UAE to the United States had a piece in the -- an op-ed piece in Wall Street Journal today representing this country's views that if we're going to take on ISIS, we really ought to take it on the more serious way other terrorist groups that are going across North Africa and are threatening us as well.
The president started tonight by saying North Africa and ISIS then he focused on ISIS. What some of our partners are asking, you know, the king of Saudi Arabia has not been happy with us, they've had a rocky relationship though over the last couple of years. Turkish, the Turks have had a rocky relationship. We've got some real work to do to make sure these are reliable strong partners for us and much is going to rest not on whether it's a U.S.-European coalition but whether it also has a very, very strong Arab contingent right Arab with us.
COOPER: Hey David, I want to bring in CNN's News political commentator, President Obama's Former Press Secretary Jay Carney. I'm very happy that Jay is joining us. Thanks for being here. Also Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Former U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland and Author of "Foreign Policy: Begins at home."
Jay, obviously welcome to CNN. When you left your job as press secretary, can you have envisioned the president having to address the nation on prime time television about ISIS particularly for this president who campaigned on ending the war in Iraq, getting out of Afghanistan to now be the position of essentially launching and open- ended military campaign.
JAY CARNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMETATOR: Well, I think the point you're making is absolutely accurate that it is ironic of course given how this president was elected, the policies that he laid out that he is having to do this. But to answer your specific question, yes, I could envision it because I felt in late June and that the threat posed by ISIS was already apparent, they had already moved dramatically across and into Iraq and taken so much territory and the counter-attack had not yet begun.
I think that any president has to play the hand he's dealt and the president, in this case, President Obama even back when he was a candidate for office for Senate made clear that he opposed going into Iraq but he didn't oppose war itself or all war.
And I think he's made clear that as president, he's more than willing and able to make the tough calls to go after the most threatening terrorist in the world wherever they are. I mean, that certainly is demonstrated by his record against core Al-Qaeda, against elements in Yemen and Somalia, not withstanding what Speaker Gingrich said accurately about the state of those countries.
And I think he made clear tonight in more forceful terms that I even expected that we will be taking strikes in Syria which I think is an important threshold.
COOPER: I want to ask Richard Haass about that comparison to Somalia and Yemen. But first, I just want to play a little bit of sound about some of what the president said for those who missed it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I've made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency. If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Richard Haass, I mean, the president again, repeatedly saying this is a counterterrorism operation. This is not the war in Iraq. This is not the war in Afghanistan. But those operations in Somalia are relatively limited. Al-Shabaab is not ISIS. Yemen, the same situation, this is a U.S. bombing campaign using other actors on the ground to actually fight. Is that going to work?
RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: In and off itself, the short answer is no. ISIS is a lot more than simply a terrorist organization. It's interesting today, the secretary of Homeland Security Jay Johnson described ISIS as, yes, a terrorist organization but also an insurgent army and we have to deal with it in both of its dimensions.
So what the United States needs is a bigger strategy, if you will. The good news is the president talked about expanding the purposes of U.S. policy besides protecting U.S. personnel, besides humanitarian, and they opened up the Syrian area, so no -- so Syria will no longer be a sanctuary.
But what was clearly missing from the speech was any sort of a ground partner in Syria. We're talking about perhaps building up the Syrian opposition. That is a long, long, long proposition and a risky one at that, it's divided, it's week. So the real question is, what are we going to use to challenge ISIS on the ground? What are we going to use to take and hold territory? U.S. air power can't do that and that to me is the Achilles heel of the strategy and that was the missing component of the speech.
COOPER: Well, Jay, about that, I mean also, what happens if Assad actually does get overthrown in Syria. Is there, you know, a bloodbath then for the Alawites massacred, who takes over, who fills the vacuum? Do you -- I mean, you've seen this from the inside. How confident are you that it's possible to find a so-called moderate Syrian opposition forces on the ground who actually can take on ISIS and can take on the Assad regime?
CARNEY: Well, I think it's more possible now than it was. Remember when the revolt against Assad began, this was an organic protest that evolved into a war and a fight against the Assad regime. And there wasn't an existing army or force, a rebel force and it had to be developed.
And I think we as the United States through the last several years of being very careful about engaging with rebel groups and knowing exactly who they were and what their goals and beliefs are, and then providing assistance to them are in a better position now to assist them than we were in the past.
But what Richard said...
COOPER: But wait a minute. But, Jay...
CARNEY: Yeah? COOPER: ... is that actually true? I mean, early on you had a lot more at least vocally moderate groups out there fighting in Syria and it's really in the last several months they faced tremendous losses on the battlefield, not just to the Assad regime but also against ISIS and al-Nusra front. Do you really believe it's easier now to identify moderate Syrian forces?
CARNEY: I think that knowing who they are is really important. We have a history that is mixed at best in assisting groups on the ground against an enemy and finding out that the groups that we've assisted then turn the arms we provided against us and against our western allies. And I think that process had to be very careful.
It's certainly imperfect and I think that what Richard said is very true, that that is the central weakness of any strategy because the absence of a ground force that can be successful in Syria to counter ISIS and counter Assad is a huge problem, but the question is what's the answer? It's not U.S. forces surely and, you know, the only answer has to be trying to build up some of the strengths of the moderate opposition.
COOPER: Richard, what if Assad does actually leave power in Syria. What then?
HAASS: Well, Anderson, there's lots of things, if you will, to predict. That's unfortunately unlikely to happen any time soon. I think what's more likely to happen is Mr. Assad will be the effective mayor of the Alawite areas of the country in the west and the northwest. The real question is what happens in parts of Syria close to Iraq, the big desert areas, many of which are controlled now by ISIS or other radical Islamic groups like the al-Nusra (ph) organization.
I do think there are some alternatives though to simply hoping that we can build up "moderate sector" or opposition, which again I don't think is a valuable option anytime soon. Some of that we're trying in Iraq, we may want to try in Syria. For example, working with Sunni tribesman and working with the Kurds. Those are two forces we can deal with.
Secondly, we can try to get some of the Arab countries to consider not simply introducing air power but possibly their special forces alongside our special forces, and I think that is something that we want to look at. And then I think we've also just got to come up with a sense of strategy inside Syria and this gets us to some very awkward questions which is, does the United States try to take on Mr. Assad and ISIS simultaneously? Or do we essentially make it more sequential or prioritize and say for the near term, the far more urgent threat to U.S. interest in the region in the world is ISIS. That ought to be what we concentrate on. We don't concentrate on Mr. Assad in the short run. Rather, we make him more of a medium run or long-term problem.
COOPER: Arizona Senator John McCain is joining us. Senator McCain, you and I spoke just last week. You said President Obama had no goal, no strategy when it came to destroying ISIS. What did you think of what you heard tonight?
MCCAIN: I think it was a very weak argument. By the way, I'm astounded that Mr. Carney should say that the Free Syrian Army is now stronger. In fact, they have been badly damaged.
CARNEY: That's not what I said, Senator. I said, if I could, sir, what I said is that we know a great deal more about the makeup of the opposition.
MCCAIN: Oh, come on, you knew about it -- come on, Jay, we knew all about them then. You just didn't choose to know. I was there in Syria. We knew them. Come on, you guys are the ones -- it's your boss is the one that when the entire national security team wanted to arm and train them, that he turned them down, Mr. Carney, after --
MCCAIN: So the fact is--
CARNEY: Well, Senator -- I think we have to agree to disagree on this.
MCCAIN: No, no, facts are stubborn things, Mr. Carney. And that is, his entire national security team, including his secretary of state, said we want to arm and train and equip these people, and he made the unilateral decision to turn them down. And the fact that they didn't leave a residual force in Iraq, overruling all of his military advisers, is the reason why we're facing ISIS today.
So the facts are stubborn things in history. And people ought to know them. And now the president is saying basically that we are going to take certain actions, which I would favor. But to say that America is safer, and that the situation is very much like Yemen and Somalia shows me that the president really doesn't have a grasp for how serious the threat of ISIS is.
CARNEY: Well, again, Senator, we're going to have to agree to disagree. And I think that on the question of the residual force, there was another player in that, which was the Iraqi government, A. B, it was the fulfillment of the previous administration's withdrawal plan C, and it was also the fulfillment of the president's promise to withdraw from Iraq and not maintain a true presence in perpetuity, which I think was pretty consistent with what the American people wanted and believed was the right approach. We can't--
MCCAIN: You know, Mr. Carney, you are again saying facts that are patently false. The fact is, because Lindsey Graham and I, and Joe Lieberman, were in Baghdad. They wanted a residual force. The president has never made a statement during that or after that he wanted a residual force left behind. The Iraqis were ready to go. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the number cascaded down to 3,500. That was not sufficient to do anything but to defend themselves. And you in your role as a spokesperson bragged about the fact that the last American combat troop had left Iraq. If we had left a residual force, the situation would not be what it is today. And there would not -- there would be a lot more --
CARNEY: Senator, I can posit with great respect for you that we can disagree on that--
MCCAIN: You can't. No, you can't, because you don't have the facts.
CARNEY: Sir, if I may--
MCCAIN: You don't have the facts, Mr. Carney. That is the problem.
CARNEY: Senator, I understand that you present the facts that you believe are true based on the argument that you have made for a long time--
MCCAIN: No, no, not I believe, they are true.
CARNEY: -- sir, that we should leave troops in Iraq in perpetuity. And that is just not what this president believes. And that is, you know, obviously he was elected president to fulfill what he believed was right for our country and right for our national security.
MCCAIN: -- right decision. That means it's a bad decision.
CARNEY: I certainly understand that you disagree.
MCCAIN: We wouldn't be where we are today.
MCCAIN: It is not a matter of disagreement. It is a matter of facts. And you have yours wrong and you have distorted.
COOPER: Jay, do you believe, does the president believe at all, if a residual force had been left on the ground in Iraq, that we would not be in this situation now?
CARNEY: Anderson, I think it is a mis -- basically a whitewash of history to suggest that there was not -- were not periods of enormous chaos and fighting and bloodshed in Iraq when there were tens of thousands of troops, of American troops on the ground. That is a fact. And it was true in 2004, it was true in 2007. And it was true even when we had the highest number of U.S. troops on the ground.
We cannot -- the United States of America ask our military to be a permanent occupying force in a country like Iraq. We have to get to a situation where we can help build up and assist an Iraqi security force, where we can put pressure on Iraqi political leaders to form an inclusive government, which they have taken steps to do, as was noted earlier. And then we can provide the kind of military support that we're providing, an action that we're taking against a threat like ISIS as appropriate.
But the alternative of leaving a permanent, massive U.S. force on the ground in Iraq, not for 10 years, not for 20 years, but in perpetuity, is simply not sustainable financially; it is not consistent with what the American people think we should do.
MCCAIN: Again, Mr. Carney misstates the facts. We had it won, thanks to the surge. It was won. The victory was there. All we needed was a force behind to provide support, not to engage in combat, but to supply support, logistics, intelligence. And by the way, the Koran War, we left troops behind. Bosnia, we left troops behind. Not to fight but be a stabilizing force. And Mr. Carney neglects the fact that thanks to David Petraeus, and Ryan Crocker, who by the way, are very strong on this issue, that we won the conflict, and then by pulling the rug out and setting a date for withdrawal and bragging about it --
CARNEY: Excuse me, sir, but I think you have forgotten that the date for withdrawal was --
MCCAIN: I think you have forgotten -- no, the date for withdrawal. They always contemplated an additional date behind it. And you can ask Condoleezza Rice, or George W. Bush.
CARNEY: Absolutely, and so did we, and we--
MCCAIN: So that is absolutely false too. And we didn't need to go through the Iraqi parliament. All you had to do was have an agreement. And we were there on the ground.
COOPER: Senator McCain, let me ask you about in terms of what you heard tonight, do you believe the U.S. can fight an effective counter- terrorism strategy, which is what the president is calling this fight against ISIS, without U.S. military personnel on the ground? In harm's way?
MCCAIN: We -- this is another falsehood the president is purveying. We already have boots on the ground, well over 1,000. We need more. But we don't need them like the 82nd Airborne sent in direct -- to do -- into direct combat.
We need to have additional support there, and we need to help the -- the Iraqi army rebuild its capabilities. But we don't have to have a ground combat invasion of the type we had before. But, the fact that they didn't leave -- we were not there before is a direct result we are paying a very heavy price for. And it doesn't mean in perpetuity, but it does mean to keep the situation stable, which we could have done.
COOPER: Senator McCain, the president also said that we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland. Americans who hear those words might wonder, if that is really the case, then why do we need to take action against ISIS? To that you say what?
MCCAIN: I say that today, we had a hearing, and there was testimony from the counterterrorism people and the Department of Homeland Security. There is Twitter traffic right now and FaceBook traffic, where they are urging attacks on the United States of America. And there is a great concern that our southern border and our northern border is porous and that they will be coming across.
So is there a specific, direct threat? No, but is there any doubt to what their goal is? Mr. Baghdadi, the day he left our prison in Iraq, Camp Bucca, said "see you in New York."
COOPER: And in terms of, as you said, you have been in Syria, you met with Syrian moderate opposition a while back, do you believe there are enough on the ground right now in Iraq who actually have military capabilities that can actually stand up and fight against ISIS, against the Assad regime?
MCCAIN: I do, but it is going to be very tough, and it is going to be a heck of a lot tougher, despite what Mr. Carney said, than it would have been two years ago when it was recommended by his entire national security team.
COOPER: Senator McCain, I appreciate you being on tonight.
MCCAIN: Thank you.
COOPER: Thank you very much.
We got a lot ahead moments ago. President Obama laid out his strategy for degrading and destroying ISIS describing what kind of military action it will involve and what it won't include.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: ISIL posses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria and the brother Middle East including American citizen's personnel and facilities. If left unchecked, these terrorist could post a growing threat beyond that region including to the United States.
(EDN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Welcome back
I'm here with Richard Haass and Jay Carney with us. I'm here also with Jake Tapper, Newt Gingrich and Donna Brazile.
Richard Haass, you heard John McCain. What did you think about what he had to say?
HAASS: It's always hard to rerun history but if you're asking me, would it have been wise to keep an American residual force in Iraq? I think the answer is yes. It could've done two things. It could've trained up and improve the quality of the Iraqi armed forces. And secondly, I think it's near presence there would've reduced some of the end fighting. Would it have been a solution now as long as someone like Mr. Maliki was in power?
He would've had also, it's a sectarian friction but all things is being equal with an American presence of 5,000 or 10,000 troops for a number of years had made a contribution. I believe, yes. It's by the way the same argument I would use for not having all U.S. troops leave Afghanistan by the end of 2016 as it's now currently articulated.
COOPER: Jay Carney, in terms of working with allies, how real are these coalitions?
CARNEY: Well, I think they're evolving and I think what is so important about what the president laid out tonight is the added actions that have to be taken to make, you know, long-term progress against ISIL and ISIS because it's not going to be successful just because we can organize military strikes against select targets in Iraq or Syria. It has to involve the direct participation of some of our key Sunni allies. And without that, well, I think the strategy would be doomed.
So I think when you see Secretary Kerry working in the region very hard to that end. I think that is something it will get less attention because of the drama of upping military force. But in some ways, it's even more important than the use of force.
COOPER: Richard Haass, one of the things we did not hear tonight was talk of an actual time table, a time table for actual -- the increase of the U.S. military advisors of potentially bombing inside Syria. This seems to be that there -- I mean it seems like there really is no specific time table right now.
HAASS: Well, there maybe something of a time table. It doesn't mean the president necessarily announces it. If you are going to use U.S. military force, the last thing you want to do is preview with any specifics. You don't want to give a sense of the scale or the exact timing. The important thing of what we need to accomplish in Syria and in Iraq as well is to check the momentum of ISIS.
We want to send the message that its future success is not inevitable. That intern will slow the flow of recruits I believe and I think it'll stiffen the backbone of some of the forces that are now at times intimidated and scared of standing up to them. So actually, I think it's important that the United States act and it act quite decisively. This is not a moment for incrementalism. So I wouldn't assume that simply because the president didn't go into detail about it, that there aren't plans to the United States to act militarily and decisively.
COOPER: Jake Tapper, I mean, there is an argument to be made that they need time to gather more intelligence on the ground in Syria without intensive U.S. presence there. I mean, our ability to pick out targets, to pick out targets that are actually effective against ISIS, that's the big question.
TAPPER: Well, and a lot of the U.S. troops that are there now and are going to go to Iraq and possibly Syria are ones that will be doing that picking out targets, doing reconnaissance, conducting a various intelligence operations.
I think, if could just comment for a second on the McCain-Carney showdown that we just saw which was interesting and illuminating for a lot of reasons especially if you know Jay and Senator McCain as I do and they've known each other for a long time but one of the things that's going on here is that it has been a point of great deal of frustration not just for Senator John McCain but also for Democrats, individuals who wanted President Obama to act more decisively in Syria and have been advocating that way for years in addition the people of Syria, a lot of the people who've been active in the free Syrian army and others.
And I know you know this, Anderson, you've covered this a great deal over the last years have been very frustrated. And they do see the rise of ISIS as a direct result of the Americans not feeling the void (ph).
In addition, one of the reasons why your hear so many Republicans harping on the president's use of the term "JV" to describe ISIS back in January in that interview with the New Yorker. Well, A, because Republicans love to attack President Obama but beyond that, it's because calling ISIS JV suggests that President Obama did not think at the time that they really were to be taken seriously and here we are, President Obama in September giving a major address on primetime talking about going to war with this organization.
So there's a lot of I told you so. It's not just with Senator McCain and Jay Carney this evening but in statements from congressional leaders, Republican leaders this evening that are coming up being e- mailed saying, "Thank God, President Obama finally cease the world as the way it is from Speaker Boehner."
COOPER: Jay Carney, what about that that "JV" comment? I talked to David Remnick of the New Yorker who actually did the interview with President Obama who said, despite -- with the White House that's been saying over the last couple of days with the president himself is saying that he wasn't specifically talking about ISIS, certainly David Remnick says he has little doubt the president wasn't talking about ISIS because David Remnick followed up by saying, well, that "JV" team just took over Fallujah which is what ISIS had just done.
Was that a lack of intelligence or lack of understanding of the threat or were they had "JV" team back then?
CARNEY: Well, I think, look, you can always go back and as president or as a president spokesperson and wish you had phrased your thoughts differently because certain expressions can come back to haunt you.
I think the point that he was making is that it was not our view, the United States' view at the time or the administration -- or the view of the intelligence community that this specific threat or threats like it were at the same level in terms of the direct potential for an attack against the United States or our interest and that was the comparison or the distinction that he was making with Al-Qaeda for example.
But there's no question that I think the United States and a lot of the world was stunned by the rapidity with which ISIS was able to move into Iraq and take territory and subsequent brutality that they've demonstrated in dealing not just with westerners and Americans but with populations there. And if those facts have forced reassessment of the kinds of actions that we need to take and the seriousness of the threat.
If I could on the so called McCain-Carney show, I think it is important to remember that I was trying to point out that President Obama actively tried -- the administration actively tried to negotiate a deal with-then Maliki government in Iraq to maintain a residual force in -- of American troops in Iraq for the missions that Senator McCain was just talking about. The Iraqi government refused to...
COOPER: You're saying point blank, President Obama did want to keep a residual force?
CARNEY: Yes. Well, I spoke about it from the podium and he was absolutely open to that and that was our policy but it requires the appropriate status of forces agreement to allow for the protection of our troops that we have to have. Otherwise, it would've been the height of your responsibility to maintain troops in that situation.
Look, Maliki at the time wanted American troops gone. I'm not withstanding what Senator McCain said and a lot of Iraqi politicians did.
GINGRICH: Jay, let me just break in and say two things.
First, this is a logical point. You've just not said the president by your own terms, apparently really wanted to have American troops there in perpetuity although a few minutes ago, you point out, we didn't want troops there in perpetuity. You can't have it both ways.
Second, this speech, it really struck me as we're sitting here talking. You know, reality is a harsh teacher. This speech is closer to a George W. Bush speech than it is to anything Barack Obama would've said between 2007 and this week. I mean, go through this speech and tell me, what do you think Dick Cheney would not be willing to say that's in his speech?
It is a remarkable moment of the president who didn't want to be doing this being trapped in a world and I've liked the speech, I think it's a very powerful speech but it sure is not the Obama policy prior to tonight.
BRAZILE: But the Iraqi government did not want us to stay there with the kind of guarantees that they wanted from us. We did not want to...
COOPER: They said as the force agreement...
BRAZILE: So they had unreasonable conditions...
COOPER: Senator McCain certainly just creates tonight, he believes an agreement could've been raised.
(INAUDIBLE) COOPER: Jay. Yeah, go ahead.
CARNEY: If I could add in responding to Speaker Gingrich, I think the distinction you might have heard and most Americans might agree with me on this is that the speech Dick Cheney might have given, would've included this batch of tens or thousands of troops for an invasion of a country which was the approach they took in Iraq which obviously the president disagreed with.
And which, you know, he just went out of his way tonight to make sure the American people understood that that was not what he was proposing in the strategy to deal with ISIS.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you know, there is something Anderson that was resident of George W. Bush and that is the line. If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven. I mean it sort of reminding me either you're with us or you're not. Remember that? And remember George W. Bush saying that. So I do think that there were some reluctant echoes here...
COOPER: Although that certainly aligned -- I think, I mean Jay, you probably know this better than I do but that certainly seems to be align to the president has said in the past...
CARNEY: Well, certainly, formulations of it and he has not only said it, he's demonstrated it in ways that, you know, have made some people on the left uncomfortable. He's been, you know, relentlessly aggressive in perusing terrorist that our government receives those threats to the United States or our interest abroad and that's been a sustain campaign since the day he took office.
So I think the language -- and I don't disagree with the speaker's comment and others that the language was very strong, very direct and I think that in contrast, that some of the speeches that George W. Bush had to make in the week of 9/11 where the attack was clear on us on our soil. One of the reasons, you know, one of the purposes if tonight's speech is that after 13 years of military conflict, the president was having to explain why we were taking this action against the threat that was not at this time or is not at this time literally at our door step.
COOPER: Donna, do you hear from some Democrats or liberals concern about the president moving this fast, moving forward an open ended campaign in Iraq potentially in Syria?
BRAZILE: I think one of the greatest concerns that you heard from Democrats back in 2003, 2004 and you will probably hear again is don't commit us without an extra strategy. Don't commit us without a player strategy...
COOPER: But there can't be no exits. I mean the nature of this conflict...
BRAZILE: I told you -- that's why I think the president laid out a very player strategy, friend -- you know, the boots on the ground which I like to say, people who know that region, the people from that region, I think some Democrats will continue to uncomfortable with the president decision to even use air strikes in Syria but I think it's a debate that we should have following the Iraq war. We should have this conversation and congress should be able to have a vote on.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But to Jake's point earlier, how did you know, I mean ,you know, when there's victory, so to speak. When you can't define victory because you're not defining what it is...
COOPER: Well, also, there is also the argument, if it's not...
COOPER: Well, also there is this argument, you destroy ISIS and there's another group, an ISIS like group of Islamist and Salafis who, you know, whether it's Al-Qaeda in Iraq or Al-Qaeda, Arabian, Peninsula or some name we don't yet know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So there's no end. That's what you're saying?
COOPER: Do you believe there's an end?
GINGRICH: I think the end is going to be much harder than we think it is. Boko Haram is another example but I think we need a national conversation that starts with the notion with radical Islamist and as much closer to Ebola and so virus and it has to play in the national state problem.
This is different to any of problem we've ever face. It is worldwide. Over 50 countries send a total of over 10,000 people to Syria including almost 200 from United States.
TAPPER: And also we should point out also one of the things that President Obama, and it's just a small cause although I imagine it'll be a much bigger strategy as he talks about in his speech. He talked about countering ISIS wart ideology and that is the specific discussion of trying to make sure that all of this and it's uncomfortable to talk about but thousands of young Muslim men who are flocking to Syria and Iraq because they think what they call themselves the Islamic state are the strongest force as in Osama bin Laden's language that they are no longer attracted to do that...
COOPER: Well, it's also that what that is intimating is a war of ideas as much is it is a war of military and that war of ideas is in many ways much harder to count on.
COOPER: You have Madrasas which are being supported by our allies Saudi Arabia in Pakistan and throughout the world.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that's why it's not just the national conversation as you point to the speakers. It's got to be an international conversations. We've had that conversation in the United States. We continue to have it but we need to it with the coalition...
BRAZILE: And that's why the Arab league is important. That's why having to saw this involve. That's why having the church involve...
TAPPER: A statement from the Arab league is easy. Stopping the funding of the Madrasas by Saudi Arabia. That's hard...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's hard.
TAPPER: The guy -- the guy Godane that was just taken out, the Al- Shabab leader in Somalia that was taken out by the Obama administration and the military, the U.S. military, just a few days ago was educated in a Pakistani madrassa funded by Saudi Arabia and given a scholarship.
Without Saudi Arabia funding that madrassa and giving that scholarship, he would not have been a threat to the United States or to the surrounding area of Africa, where he was.
COOPER: I do want to point out, tonight, viewers had the opportunity to actually sort of discuss what they feel about it, to respond in real-time to the president's speech, using Microsoft's Bing Pulse technology.
Tom Foreman has a quick close look at what the response showed?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Overall, Anderson, people liked the speech. If you look at the overall reaction, it's all above the 50 percent here.
In gender lines, women in pink here, a little bit better off than men over here. But in party, that's where you see the difference. What you see here is the Democrats in blue consistently always above the independents and the Republicans and importantly the independents tracked very well with the Republicans, not with the Democrats.
This is the high point right over here. This point is where most people liked what he was saying, and at that point he was identifying the problem. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way. In a region that has known so much bloodshed, these terrorists are unique in their brutality. They execute captured prisoners.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: The point in all of this, where do the people really dislike it the most? Independents and Republicans really not happy here.
COOPER: Clearly, we just lost Tom Foreman. This is a smooth transition, eh?