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State of the Union

Interview with John Kerry; Interview with Mike Rogers

Aired September 01, 2013 - 09:00   ET



GLORIA BORGER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Crisis in Syria, and conflicting signals at home.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have decided that the United States should take military action.

BORGER: But not so fast.

OBAMA: I've made a second decision. I will take this case to Congress.

BORGER: At stake? American credibility. Did the president blink in the face of Assad? Will the Congress deliver the same blow as the British parliament? And what happened to the president's red line?

KERRY: This is the indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons.

BORGER: The secretary of state, John Kerry, joins us.

And then, CNN's Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria weigh in. This morning, the state of the Obama presidency on this special edition of STATE OF THE UNION.


BORGER: Good morning and welcome to Washington. I'm Gloria Borger in for Candy Crowley. This morning, there's growing urgency and apprehension over President Obama's surprise request for Congressional approval of military action against Syria. And that vote could come as early as next week.

Now, the U.S. military says the delay won't jeopardize its plans, but this morning, members of the Syrian opposition complained that the delay will embolden the Syrian regime. And in a possible sign that's already happening, Reuters reports Syria's state newspaper is now trumpeting what it calls an historic American retreat.

Next hour, we'll get a briefing from the U.N. chemical weapons inspectors. But just now, secretary of state, John Kerry, told me that the U.S. has new evidence the Syrians used sarin in the August 21st attack that killed at least 1,400 people, including 426 children. I spoke with the secretary just minutes ago.


BORGER: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for being with us this morning. I have to say that it was a surprise yesterday when the president announced that he was going to seek congressional approval for military action in Syria. Can you tell us now whether this administration is prepared to act, even if Congress votes no?

KERRY: Well, we don't contemplate that the Congress is going to vote no, Gloria. I believe this case is powerful and grows more powerful by the day.

I can share with you today that blood and hair samples that have come to us through an appropriate chain of custody, from east Damascus, from first responders, it has tested positive for signatures of sarin. So each day that goes by, this case is even stronger.

We know that the regime ordered this attack. We know they prepared for it. We know where the rockets came from. We know where they landed. We know the damage that was done afterwards. We've seen the horrific scenes all over the social media, and we have evidence of it in other ways, and we know that the regime tried to cover up afterwards.

So the case is really an overwhelming case. But the president really felt very strongly that the Congress of the United States weighing in makes our nation stronger in whatever action we take.

BORGER: But -- but doesn't it worry you that you have put this heavy responsibility on a Congress that is notoriously paralyzed and divided?

KERRY: We have confidence -- there are good people in the Congress of the United States. I know there have been politically -- it's been difficult, but this is a matter of national security. It's a matter of the credibility of the United States of America. It's a matter of upholding the interests of our allies and friends in the region. Jordan, which is threatened by what is happening. Israel, Turkey, Lebanon, all of which, as I said the other day, are just a stiff breeze away from chemical weapons being used.

I mean, there are huge interests here. And in the long term, Gloria, you know, what we may or may not have to do if we cannot find a peaceful resolution with Iran, well, what we need to do with North Korea, all of these things are part of a continuum of decision making --

BORGER: But --

KERRY: -- that is made in foreign policy, and we believe the Congress of the United States will recognize that responsibility and do what is right.

BORGER: But, Mr. Secretary, the head of the Council on Foreign Relations, for example, says that, in fact, President Obama has gone -- these are his words -- from leading from behind to not leading by going to Congress. He says that it raises doubts about the United States' reliability and determination. Can I get your response on that?

KERRY: Absolutely. Of course you can. The fact is that the president of the United States is leading, and he's leading very powerfully, and he's leading in the right way. If he didn't do this, I can hear all of the critics saying, why didn't the president go to Congress? Why didn't the president -- he could have asked, he had time to ask. It didn't make a difference that he -- I mean, all of the --


BORGER: But then -- but then they --

KERRY: Let me just finish.

BORGER: -- could ask why didn't he go sooner --

KERRY: The president made his decision first. And he announced his decision. His decision is that he believes the United States of America should take military action to deter Assad from using these weapons and to degrade his capacity from doing so. Now, that's the president' decision. But he wants the Congress of the United States --

BORGER: No matter what Congress does -- no matter what Congress does? The president--

KERRY: He has the right to do that, no matter what Congress does. That is his right, and he asserted that in his comments yesterday.

But the president believes, and I hope we will prove to the world that we are stronger as a nation -- our democracy is stronger -- when we respect the rights of the Congress to also weigh in on this. And since it is not an emergency overnight as we saw in a place like Libya, where people were about to be slaughtered, since we have the right to strike at any time, if Assad is foolish enough to engage in yet another attack, we believe that it is important before this takes place to have the full investment of the American people and of the Congress.

BORGER: Well, what are you telling the Syrian opposition now, who was -- they're clearly counting on military action sooner rather than later, and now it's been delayed.

KERRY: Well, sometimes the wheels of democracy require us to take an extra day or two to provide the legitimacy that our founding fathers contemplated in actions that we take. And I talked yesterday with the president of the Syrian opposition. I believe he understands that America intends to act, that we are going to continue to support the opposition, that we may even, as a result of this, be able to provide greater support to the opposition and do a better job of helping the opposition to be able to continue to fight against the Assad regime.

I think that they will be stronger, we will be stronger in the end, and it's amazing to me to see people suddenly standing up and taking such affront at the notion that Congress ought to weigh in. I mean, I can hear the complaints that would have taken place if the president proceeded unilaterally --

BORGER: But --

KERRY: And people said, well, why didn't he take the time to consult.

BORGER: But, Mr. Secretary, it seems, I think the questions are being raised because it seems that from the onset of this, over the last couple of weeks, it seems that the president was poised to take action sooner rather than later. You came out and said, it matters if nothing is done --

KERRY: It does matter. Gloria, none of that has changed. Every bit--

BORGER: So why didn't he decide to go to Congress immediately, if it was so constitutionally important?

KERRY: Because the president needed to gather the evidence, and have asked me and others to make judgments, and ultimately to make the case to the American people.

BORGER: Yet he concluded that he didn't have enough political support in the country to go it alone that way?

KERRY: Absolutely not. The president of the United States asserted yesterday, you know, that he has the right, and I believe he has that right. But the president made it, I think, a very courageous decision. Just because he disappointed some people who thought -- who thought -- without any basis -- that he was setting up to go take a strike, doesn't mean that he didn't reserve the right to make the judgment that he made.

No decision is made by a president until the decision is made. And this president did not make the decision until he finally came to the conclusion that he wanted to take this to Congress in order to have the greater strength of the American people speaking as a whole.

I think it's a -- I personally believe, at a time when the institutions of governance are being doubted by many people, I think this is a very courageous decision. I think it is a big presidential decision. And no one should misinterpret it.

BORGER: But it's also --

KERRY: Particularly Assad or the opposition.

BORGER: But it's also risky, Mr. Secretary, isn't it? I mean, the risk is if Congress were -- and I know you don't expect this -- but if Congress were to vote no, and then the president were to strike, wouldn't that set up a constitutional crisis?

KERRY: The president has the right, and he has asserted that right, that he could do what's necessary to protect the national security of the United States at any point in time. The president believes that we are stronger as a nation when we act together. The branches of government that are designated with powers with respect to foreign policy. And so, the president has made his decision, and he courageously went out yesterday and announced his decision to the nation and the world.

He believes that this -- this outrageous attack by Assad merits the United States joining with others to stand up and defend the international norm with respect to the prohibition of the use of chemical weapons. The president announced that decision, and now he has asked the Congress of the United States, representing the American people, to join in him -- with him in that decision. BORGER: Mr. Secretary --

KERRY: And we are stronger as a nation when that happens.

BORGER: Let me ask you about our coalition. When you were running for president in 2004, you said that in Iraq, we should not have relied on what you called a coalition of the few. Isn't that what we have here right now?

KERRY: Well, I think we have a coalition of more than a few. But this is a situation that is going to grow as the evidence comes out. That's another reason why the president believes there is a value in going through this process.

I've talked with a number of nations who have offered to be helpful. No decisions have been made about what shape that will take. But I believe that there are many -- the Arab League has already spoken out. Voices as far away as Japan, New Zealand, Australia, other places have spoken out. I think the world takes enormous affront at this incredible abuse of power, this -- this attack on decency and an incredible crime against humanity. I think voices will grow over the next days as people see the evidence.

BORGER: And --

KERRY: And that evidence is becoming more powerful every day --

BORGER: And --

KERRY: As I've mentioned to you, we now have the additional evidence of the signatures of sarin gas from the first responders in Damascus.

BORGER: Is this from the United Nations? Is this from the United Nations?

KERRY: No, this is independent.


KERRY: This came to the United States, it's independent.

BORGER: Let me --

KERRY: But it is confirmation of the signatures of sarin, and so the case gets stronger by the day. And I believe the case for action will grow stronger by the day.


BORGER: And now, I want to bring in CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour who's in London, and Fareed Zakaria, the host of "Fareed Zakaria GPS" who joins us from Istanbul. Let me go to you, first, Fareed. It certainly sounds like the secretary is saying that even if Congress votes no, the president would use some type of military force against Assad. Do you think that's a wise decision?

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: I think the decision- making has been so confused and muddled that it's difficult to put the word wise in front of anything they're doing right now. The administration has hesitated between nonintervention and intervention, and it is caught between those two.

You know, for a long time, President Obama had explained in a very disciplined way that this was a messy internal civil war and the United States couldn't do much to affect it. But now, all of a sudden, this is huge implications for American interests spanning North Korea, Iran, the entire credibility of the United States.

So then, why are we talking about two days of strikes? And you see the same tension, the same confusion in this whole issue of Congress, as you say. If this is as massive an important of violation of international law, standards, decency, compelling American action, then, as you were pointing out, the United States should have acted and acted quickly.

The president seemed to have made that determination, and then all of a sudden, he wanted it both ways on this one, as well. So, I think that you have these two confusions between intervention on the one hand and nonintervention and trying to have it both ways. And on the president -- the presidential authority and Congressional approval, and in both cases, the administration seems to want to have it both ways, but it can't.

BORGER: Christiane, both ways, they want to have it?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Gloria, here's the thing. It's generally assumed and viewed that none of the world leaders have made a compelling public case for the strategic necessity of stopping the carnage in Syria over the past 2 1/2 years.

Now, things have changed and the bar is raised by international law because weapons of mass destruction have been used, and that is a crime, as you heard Secretary Kerry said, against humanity. It's the most egregious crime under the international humanitarian law. But now, both President Obama and Secretary Kerry have made very strong cases over the last couple of days.

In your interview, Secretary Kerry was incredibly, incredibly strong, and I'd be really surprised after that if the United States doesn't go ahead. I think, though, what's really important at the moment is what's being viewed overseas, the Syrian opposition is saying that right now as we speak, this delay is being met by the Assad regime moving people out of harm's way, moving military and other personnel, putting them, they say, into civilian places like schools.

That will be incredibly complicated when it comes to targeting. Also, in Syria and amongst Hezbollah, all of those people today are celebrating what they are describing as U.S. capitulation in the face of their strength. That is the kind of stuff they do in this regard. So, that's what's happening right now on the ground.

BORGER: And, Fareed, is there any way that you could see the president emerging from this cleanly?

ZAKARIA: Look, there is a scenario there that the limited -- the very limited use of force that he is talking about, somehow, has the effect of sending that shot across the bow, and it in some way deters Assad or degrades his capacity. More likely, we've watched this movie before. This will be like one of those strikes against Saddam Hussein. Assad will hunker down. There will be two to three days of strikes.

There will be some degradation of his capacity, but it won't really change much. This is a fight to the finish for both sides. Assad knows that at the end of the day, if he is overthrown, his regime, henchmen, the entire Alawite structure of power will be massacred. The people who are now in insurgents, the people who are rebelling against Assad, also know that he is going to kill them.

So, this is a fight to the finish. In the midst of that, two days of cruise missile strikes, you know, as Christiane points out, in circumstances where Assad has had the ability to move a lot of stuff, tough to see how it makes much of a difference.

BORGER: OK. Christian and Fareed, thanks so much for being with us. And Fareed will be back at the top of the hour with a live edition of his program.

And coming up, new details about the behind-the-scenes intrigue leading up to President Obama's surprised call for Congressional approval of a strike against Syria.


BORGER: President Obama says the U.S. can accomplish its main goal in Syria.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons.


BORGER: But every military action brings the risk of unintended consequences. The pros and the cons of striking Syria, next, with our roundtable. Right after this.


BORGER: We'll go to our roundtable of experts in a few moments, but first, our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, and our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, have learned more about the behind-the-scenes intrigue that led to President Obama's request for Congressional approval on strikes on Syria. Jim, first to you. How big a surprise was this?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This was a very big surprise, Gloria.

Aides to the president told a group of reporters yesterday during a background briefing that the president was privately kicking around this idea in his head all week about seeking Congressional authorization, but he didn't share it with the rest of the group, and it wasn't until Friday evening after John Kerry made that very passionate statement over at the state department and the president made his statement sitting next to the Baltic leaders that he went to his chief of staff, Dennis McDonough, and said let's go for a walk around the south lawn of the White House.

It went on for about 45 minutes, and the president came back and said he had made this decision to seek Congressional approval. He went to his national security team. There was a heated debate inside the oval office. And then, he called Vice President Biden, John Kerry, the secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, and started to relay the news and then convened everybody back Saturday morning.

His principals meeting, as they like to call it, his national security and intelligence team, all gathered in one room. And then, he made that dramatic statement out in the Rose Garden of the White House, and it was a striking, striking day. And you talked to John Kerry about this earlier this morning, Gloria, would the president go ahead with the use of force without congressional authorization.

Senior administration officials were starting to prepare us for that, saying, yes, he would do just that if he got a no vote from Congress -- Gloria.

BORGER: Well, Dana, let me ask you about that. What are the chances of a no vote from Congress?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Gloria, despite John Kerry's confidence to you this morning, after talking to multiple members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, the votes do not appear to be there right now. What is really clear is that is why the Democratic leadership in the Senate and even the GOP leadership in the House, that's why they're not rushing Congress back to work to hold those votes this coming week.

What's going to happen over the next week is a full-court press by Obama officials to convince skeptical lawmakers of both parties to vote yes on authorization. Now, even today, Sunday of Labor Day weekend, there's going to be a classified briefing on Capitol Hill for anyone who can come back to town in order for them to share intelligence on this -- these chemical weapons and maybe even give them more information about military plans.

Those briefings are going to continue into next week. And then, on Tuesday, this coming week, the Senate foreign relations committee is going to hold a public hearing with top Obama officials in order to publicly press their case, and for the senators to press them on exactly what the plans are. But, Gloria, look, this is a fractured Congress under any circumstances.

On this subject, it is true, in particular, because there are many on both sides of the aisle who don't want to engage militarily at all. And then, there is this gray area of lawmakers who want to hold Assad accountable for moral reasons and others, but they're worried that this isn't the right way to do it.

So, look, the votes are more likely there and the Democratic-led Senate than the GOP-led House, but again, this is very up in the air and the administration has an incredible amount of convincing to do, and they clearly know it.

BORGER: Sounds like they got campaign to run, right, Dana?

DANA BASH: It does.

BORGER: And now, to the potential fallout of U.S. military action against Syria, I'm joined by retired U.S. marine corps general, Anthony Zinni, who led the U.S. Central Command, Robin Wright, a journalist and Middle East analyst for the Woodrow Wilson Center, And Jeremy Bash who served as Leon Panetta's chief of staff both at the defense department and at the CIA.

Thank you all for being with me this morning. I think we can all agree that that was kind of a surprise in Washington yesterday. And I want to play a little bit from you of what the president said about how this would affect military action. Let's take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our military has positioned assets in the region. The chairman of the joint chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose. Moreover, the chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive. It will be effective tomorrow or next week or one month from now.


BORGER: Well, let me ask the general. Does this complicate matters or not? GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI, FMR. CENTCOM COMMANDER: No, we've been through this before. If you recall back to Iraq and Saddam, we literally were single minutes away from launching (INAUDIBLE) when Kofi Annan went in and President Clinton made a decision to postpone. We ratchet it up --

BORGER: Same old same old?

ZINNI: Same old, same old.

BORGER: But how would the military respond if, for example, Congress did not authorize the use of force and the commander in chief said, go?

ZINNI: Well, the constitution says the president --

BORGER: They'll go --

ZINNI: -- commander in chief.

BORGER: I know that. But what effect does that have?

ZINNI: Well, obviously, the military wants to be sure the American people are behind any action they take, and of course, that's voiced through their elected representatives. And that could create a morale problem if we have that split. We like to make sure the American people are behind everything we do. We've learned that from Vietnam.

BORGER: Let me go to you, Jeremy. You've been on the Hill, top job in the Pentagon, top job at the CIA. If the president couldn't make his case before, can he possibly make it now?

JEREMY BASH, FORMER DEFENSE DEPT. & CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, actually, Gloria, I think he's been making the case all week. It's been a couple of days. But I got to say, you know, it took a little while to get the intelligence declassified and ready to be put out publicly. It took sometime for international consultations and Congressional consultations.

So, you know, I think the president has made his case. And this is leadership, Gloria, because what he's basically said is he said, look, here's where i stand. Here's where I'm coming from. Here's what I intend to do. Who else is with me? Who's going to stand with me? And he's put the question to Congress. Now, I know there's a risk here, right?

BORGER: Why didn't he put it sooner? That's my question.

JEREMY BASH: There's some risk here, but you know, the benefits outweigh the risks, because if Congress goes along, and I think they will, and Secretary Kerry expressed optimism that they will, then that's going to really give the president the authorization he needs to take an important military action against Assad.

BORGER: But what if they don't? ROBIN WRIGHT, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Well, look, President Assad clearly feels quite confident at the moment. He's probably hidden much of his military equipment. He feels the strategic edge has been lost. He always knew this was not going to be a game changer on the ground, either militarily or politically.

And he looks at this moment as if the United States is feeling nervous. It's very unlikely to be -- the United States had total endorsement from the Arab league, from the European Union, from the United Nations, and then NATO carried out the operation. And the United States looked increasingly isolated as if it's kind of one- nation mission. Britain's out of it.

France is in terrible trouble. President Hollande faces public polls that indicate two-thirds are opposed to France's participation. That leaves Turkey. You know, this is something that he feels he has a moment. And that, you know, the question is, have we lost the strategic edge, the political edge, and the psychological edge? And Assad is probably quite happy at the moment.

BORGER: Doesn't this give him more time? Do you agree, Assad's happy?

ZINNI: You know, I think too much is being made about him hiding weapons or moving them. There's three important things to remember. One, he's got a lot of fixed installations he can't move, fixed radars, communication centers, headquarters. Secondly, I guarantee you we have more intelligence assets focused on this postage stamp than anywhere in the world right now, overhead satellites, communications intercepts, and we're watching every move he makes.

Thirdly, his ability to freely move units back and forth, he's in a war. He's got an enemy in front of him. And moving rocket batteries or artillery batteries out of support for his troops in the front lines create a problem. So, I think much too much has been made about his ability to hide and move and do things like this. I guarantee you General Dempsey is right. Our targeting will not be a problem.

JEREMY BASH: And that's -- Gloria, that's the advice that the president -- the commander in chief has gotten from General Dempsey, the chairman, one of the finest military officers in a generation. I've worked personally with him. General Dempsey is right. It's going to be very hard for Assad to both hide the stuff and also fight his war. So the time -- we have the benefit of time here. And the president has said, how am I constructively going to use that time? Let me put the question to Congress. See if they're willing to stand with me.

BORGER: But you've been worried about unintended consequences of going in before this.

ZINNI: My worry about this is what's the future? What's the strategy? There's an indication here that this is like a one-off attack. But what if he uses it again, even though we retaliate? What's the campaign plan? What's the strategy leading -- how much does this draw us further and further in incrementally? That would be my worry as the CENTCOM commander.

WRIGHT: And not only that but there's no indication that the administration has a political plan or diplomatic effort that will be the second half of this. So it's not just we go in and we punish him, but one of the ways of ending this horrific conflict and we are -- the Russians have not been cooperative. But there's no sense that we have a game plan to make sure that this isn't something we get involved in over and over and over. Because the Syrian war doesn't end.

JEREMY BASH: Gloria, the draft resolution that the White House sent up actually addressed it. It said the only way this conflict will end is when all parties come to the table to negotiate a settlement. And military force will --

BORGER: Should we be optimistic about that? I don't think so.

WRIGHT: The fact is the Syrian opposition is so divided, and they're the ones who are allies in this game, and they have been unable to either get an alternative government formed or even a delegation to go to peace talks. The Damascus government has actually said we have a delegation ready to go. It's been our allies that have failed to do that. So this is a real problem for us when it comes to what's next.

BORGER: OK. We'll going to have to leave it there with what's next. And in a minute, the political impact of President Obama's big gamble in going to Congress. We'll hear from a top house Republican, intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers.


BORGER: President Obama's taking a huge political risk in asking Congress to support a strike on Syria. Both liberals and conservatives right now are against it.


REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: I don't see where our national security is threatened.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I am troubled by the justifications the Obama administration has put forth so far.


BORGER: So next, I'll ask the Republican chairman of the house intelligence committee about the president's decision to go to congress.


BORGER: And recapping this hour's breaking news -- secretary of state John Kerry told us that the U.S. now has blood and hair samples indicating the Syrian regime used sarin in the August 21st chemical attack that killed some 1,400 people. A short time ago, I spoke with the Republican chairman of the house intelligence committee, congressman Mike Rogers.


BORGER: Chairman Rogers, thank you so much for being with us this morning. You heard Secretary Kerry --

ROGERS: Thanks, Gloria.

BORGER: He clearly seems to believe that Congress is going to support him in this vote. Do you share his optimism on that?

ROGERS: Well, I think there's some real challenges. I think at the end of the day, Congress will rise to the occasion. This is a national security issue. This isn't about, you know, Barack Obama versus the Congress. This isn't about Republicans versus Democrats. This has a very important worldwide reach in this decision, and I think when members of Congress get the information about the sarin gas attack -- and, by the way, this is multiple attacks by now -- and you look at the impact in the greater region of the Middle East and the fact that Iran, North Korea, other adversaries of the United States are looking at this decision, I think that Congress will rise to its article I constitutional responsibilities to provide for the general defense of the United States. But it's going to take that healthy debate to get there.

BORGER: Now you've seen the intelligence that no one else has seen, given the fact that you're chairman of the committee. Do you consider this a slam dunk as John Kerry seems to?

ROGERS: Oh, I think the evidence is convincing, and getting better candidly, now that the forensics have come in, the actual physical evidence, the physical samples determining that sarin gas was used. It is hard to walk away from the information that is on the table, and not come to the conclusion that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. By the way, again the British think 14 times. I think U.S. intelligence services believe a few less times, I think nine. There's a similar clear pattern here of chemical weapons used by the regime. This one was the largest, the most lethal, the most deadly, and certainly the most public. And I think that's what has caused, I think, the world to react in a way that says, hey, you've got to do something.

ROGERS: You cannot allow a rogue nation that finds itself right now, that is in the possession of a huge amount of chemical weapons, use them with impunity. That's dangerous for certainly the Middle East, the Levant, and I argue the rest of the world.

BORGER: But are your colleagues more concerned about the intelligence or, you know, in talking to them this week, they seem to believe that Assad used chemical weapons. But aren't they more concerned about the mission itself and whether the mission would result in a quagmire or whether it would deter Assad?

ROGERS: Absolutely. And I think that's -- that's why members needed to be included. And really, I mean, the reason I think the president finds himself here is that the British parliament voted, and they voted down the ability for the prime minister to move forward. The U.N., with China and Russia working against I think the best interests of the world at this point, causes some problems. And you couldn't have the president against the British and against the U.N., and, by the way, against Congress, as well. I thought it was important to bring Congress into this decision. I really do. And I think as long as people understand the mission set. And remember, there are consequences for not doing anything as much as there are for doing something.

BORGER: Mr. Chairman, though, don't you think a lot of your colleagues believe that the president decided for a vote, because he wanted a congressional buy-in to share responsibility?

ROGERS: Well, listen, why shouldn't Congress share in the responsibility? If you believe in the war powers act, which I do, if you believe in the constitutional of the United States that firmly puts in the first article the responsibility for Congress to provide for the general defense, that means that we're involved in this discussion. And we should be. And I think it sends an excellent decision to the rest of the world. A very stern, very firm decision that we're serious about the proliferation of chemical weapons. You think about a country like North Korea that many believe has a large stockpile of chemical weapons and biological weapons, pursuing its nuclear program, same in Iran, same in other places in the world. We better send a very clear message in a unified way that we're not going tolerate proliferation of weapon of mass destruction, let alone their use. And if you don't send that message, that has real world consequences.

This isn't a reality TV show. I mean, at the end of the day, this -- there's something that will actually happen. People will lose their lives. Nations will make a decision moving forward on chemical and biological weapons based on what we do here. And so, again, we cannot make this about the president versus Congress, or him shuffling off responsibility. We can have all of those debates at another time. This is really about the credibility of the United States of America standing up for an anti-proliferation and use of chemical and biological weapons. It's that serious.

BORGER: OK, Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for being with us.

ROGERS: Thank you. Thanks, Gloria.


BORGER: And we'll have more from our interview with intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers in our noon hour of STATE OF THE UNION. Stay with us.


BORGER: President Obama's request for a green light to strike Syria adds a whole new dimension to his already strained relationship with Congress. And here to talk about his big gamble and risks are CNN's political commentators Cornell Belcher, David Frum, Donna Brazile, and Ross Douthat. Thanks to all of you for being here. Let me start with you, David. Surprise. Good thing, bad thing?

DAVID FRUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Always a bad thing. And it's not just Washington is surprised, America's international relationships are surprised, too. No surprises is the first rule of good alliance management. Allies across the world expected American action this weekend. They were told it was coming and now it has been postponed for who knows how long. Plus there's the overhanging risk that Congress may say, no. If asked, I sincerely hope Congress will say yes because it will be a blow to America's standing if Congress says no, but then it might say no, and then we have a huge political embarrassment for a president who theoretically might be able to do it, but politically won't.


BORGER: Sounded like John Kerry --

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, the president was ready to act, OK? He was ready to go forward. But he decided he needed consensus and debate and brought -- and is willing to bring Congress into this debate to give them the same evidence that he's been presented with, so that they can make an informed decision along with the administration. They are a co-equal branch of government. I think it was a wise move to bring them in. I know they're, you know, the kids that you don't want to involve on the playground. But I think the president made the right decision.

BORGER: They can't agree on what time of day it is.

BRAZILE: Well, it's their responsibility to try. CORNELL BELCHER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But Chairman Rogers, I mean look, he's a Republican, he's a chairman. He says he feels Congress will rise to the occasion here. When you have Republican leaders saying that sort of thing it does give you some hope. Now I'm with you.

BORGER: The Democratic base, by the way, is the real problem.

BELCHER: I'm with you. I'm with you that Congress has been dysfunctional and they're hyperpartisan. If ever there's an opportunity for them to rise above their partisanship and sort (ph) of (ph) the ugliness that we've seen. This is it. It's refreshing to hear Republicans like Chairman Rogers saying, I think Congress will rise above this.

ROSS DOUTHAT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But here's the issue. As an American citizen, I think it's a good thing to involve Congress, right? I mean as Chairman Rogers referenced that (INAUDIBLE) the constitution, it is true that Congress has the authority in matters of war and peace that it tends not to exercise in these cases. And in the abstract it's a good thing to bring Congress in. But if you go into the entire sort of strategic development of your war plan without planning to bring Congress in and then suddenly bring them in at the last minute, David is absolutely right. It is a -

(CROSSTALK) FRUM: The United States is already at war inside Syria and that is - that is the larger recklessness of this administration's policy here. It is (INAUDIBLE) -- there's been a progression of supplying weapons, of gradual intervention. What is about to happen is a so- called secret intervention. It's about to become very public and about to come from the air as well as through supply. But the administration committed itself without Congress, it thought it had the power to do that. Now it is giving Congress an opportunity to grandstand -


DOUTHAT: A weak or 10 days ago and said -- right after this happened and said, we're gathering evidence, we're planning to bring it to Congress, they're going to have a vote. They should come back early, they shouldn't be out until September 9th or something. It would be a completely different situation.

BRAZILE: I agree that Congress --

FRUM: It's so not important to cut anybody's vacation short.


BRAZILE: OK, I think that Congress should have returned early. By the way, what are they doing?

DOUTHAT: Right. This is the real secret. America is just learning that -- BRAZILE: So everyone else is coming back to work on Tuesday. They're coming back on September 9th. But we've known since August 21st --

BORGER: The president is going Russia.

BRAZILE: That's right. And we've known since August 21st that the Assad regime has gassed, you know, gassed its people. How will the civilized world respond? I mean -- I agree, we shouldn't wait for Congress, but at the same time the president would like to get their thoughts and their opinions on it.

FRUM: We knew that in December of 2012 that the Assad regime had gassed some people. So the administration -- the administration's red line was crossed months and months ago and they were prepared to delay until now.


BELCHER: These people have completed a heinous crime, we need to make them pay for it. I mean -- and again going to Chairman Rogers, look, the consequences of us not acting here is the worst thing. We don't want to live in a country -- we don't want to live in a world where thugs can get away with using chemical weapons against their people. That is the real - that is the real question here. All this politics aside, he has used chemical and biological weapons against his people and we must stand up and say you cannot.


BORGER: Wait a minute, wait a minute. But let me pose --

FRUM: For seven months the president -


BORGER: Let me pose this question to all of you which is the irony here that a president who came to national prominence because of his anti-war stance and spoke very frequently about congressional authorization for the use of force now has this legacy hanging over his head over a question of whether Congress will vote to go to war. What -- is that surprising to you?

BRAZILE: No, I'm not surprised at all, given what's at stake. Look, the reason why I think this president has waited is because he's trying to get international support, international support from Syria's, you know, neighbors, international support from the Arab leagues and others. I think it's important that the president going to allow Congress to debate this and -


DOUTHAT: Right. (INAUDIBLE) say about our political system that if we can't get the British --

BORGER: Last word. DOUTHAT: That only then do we go to Congress? It's like they're the ally of last resort?

BORGER: By the way -- and I think they still hold out some hope of getting another vote and getting the British. We're going to have to leave it -


BORGER: OK. We're going to have to leave it there. And at the top of the hour, a special, live edition of Fareed Zakaria, GPS. He's in Turkey today, which shares a 500-mile border with Syria. A border that may become very active if there's a U.S. attack.


BORGER: And thanks for watching STATE OF THE UNION. At noon eastern we'll have more from my interview with secretary of state John Kerry and House intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers.

Head to for analysis and all the extras. And if you missed any part of today's show, find us on iTunes. Just search for STATE OF THE UNION. Fareed Zakaria, GPS, is next for our viewers here in the United States.