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State of the Union

Interview with Ron Johnson, Bob Casey; Syria Diplomacy

Aired September 15, 2013 - 12:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST: Welcome to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Already a busy day. We're going to be bringing you news from President Obama's ABC interview taped Friday, including the president's reaction to an editorial from Russian's President Vladimir Putin that many U.S. lawmakers found condescending and insulting to this country.

On a quick visit to Israel, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters Russia has told him that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- excuse me -- that, yes, that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will turn over an accounting of his chemical weapons arsenal within a week. That's a requirement under the new U.S.-Russian deal to rid Syria of all its chemical weapons.

But first this morning, at least four people are dead, more than 500 unaccounted for in flooding across more than 150 miles of Colorado's front range. Record-breaking rains have touched an area roughly the size of Connecticut. Roads and homes have been demolished, entire towns evacuated under double danger of floods and mudslides. And Boulder County is bracing for an additional four inches of rain this afternoon.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is touring the damage today. He joins me now on the phone.

Governor Hickenlooper, can you give us an update on the situation as it is right now?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, we're still bracing ourselves. It hasn't -- the heavy rain hasn't started in the foothills yet, but they are predicting some serious rain. Flash flood warnings are going to go out for the late afternoon and into the evening. And, obviously, once you get out of the foothills out onto the plains, the -- the Platt River is about 14 feet high at this point, out in Morgan County and Washington County.

So, you know, there's -- there's two ends of this. One is the -- the flash floods that come down these mountain canyons, but then there's also the flood stage that's out on the Platt, where, you know, they are evacuating several thousand people, quite a wide swath of what's being hit by that flood.

CROWLEY: How confident are you in the 500 that we're now saying are unaccounted for -- we know that some of them may have gotten out and are -- you know, are fine but simply don't have any kind of phone service, cell or otherwise. Are there people, do you think, that are stuck somewhere on a kind of an island with the roads around them completely flooded that have yet to be rescued?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, I think there are still more people like that, right, that we haven't found who are not in peril for their lives; they've still got food, but they have obviously been three or four days without power, without cell phones, without Internet connection, so they're pretty frustrated and probably a little bit anxious -- in many cases, very anxious.

So we're trying to -- to find them. Unfortunately, the cloud cover today is going to make it more difficult to do the helicopter search-and-rescue that we did. Yesterday we -- we rescued -- we removed almost 2,000 people. We had, at one point, 15 helicopters in the sky. So today we won't have that just because of the weather. We're not going to be able to have that capacity.

CROWLEY: And when you look at the totality of this, it was called by the Weather Service, sort of, flooding of biblical proportions.


So I'm sure you haven't seen any of it in your lifetime. What's it going to take for an area this big to come back?

HICKENLOOPER: Oh, it will come back. I mean, we've got a lot of broken roads and broken bridges, but we don't have any broken spirits. I think we're already working -- Governor Pete Shumlin in Vermont -- you know, they went through this with Hurricane Irene and really found some -- some fast, efficient ways to rebuild better than they were before. And so he's sending -- by 11:00 tomorrow morning, we'll have three of his top engineers from his Department of Transportation coming out here meeting with our people.

Because we realize time is of the essence. We're going to -- this thing -- the weather is going to clear up on either tomorrow morning or tomorrow afternoon. We're hopeful that we'll get a dry patch in here, get this water out of the system. But we can't wait; even as we're trying to continue the rescue, we've got to be planning how to rebuild and how to do it so we're better and stronger; we're better off after it than we were even before the flood.

CROWLEY: Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, you will be at work long after these floods have gone out of the headlines. Thanks for your time this morning.

HICKENLOOPER: You bet. Thank you.

CROWLEY: Now, back to that framework deal between the U.S. and Russia to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons. Joining me now from Beirut, CNN's senior international correspondent Arwa Damon.

Arwa, what is the -- we know that the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad certainly must be going along with this simply because Russia is their main patron, but there is -- there are a lot of rebels, the Syrian opposition, which isn't one group but many. What are you learning about how they feel about this deal?

DAMON: Well, Candy, we heard from the head of the Free Syrian Army, Salem Iris, who said that they completely rejected this initiative. He's making the point that, look, you're talking about removing the weapons, the chemical weapons, but you're not even going after the perpetrator of the crime.

They want accountability. They want justice. Additionally, he is saying that they need more to be done. They effectively want a ban to also be imposed on Bashar Assad's use of his air force, effectively a no-fly zone to be enforced over the entire country.

And they are also saying that they will not be part of any potential Geneva II talks unless those talks are about the removal of the Syrian president.

But, at the end of the day, they have been completely sidelined in this entire initiative that is being put forward by the Americans and the Russians, Candy.

CROWLEY: How about there are so many humanitarian activists either monitoring or in the country. Reaction to them at least staving off for now any kind of U.S. missile strike?

DAMON: Well, they were actually hoping that the U.S. would use this opportunity that they have with the Russians and the Assad regime effectively being at some sort of a negotiating table to also force the Syrian government to open up much-needed humanitarian corridors.

They are saying that there are areas -- and we do know that there are areas in Syria that have been under siege for nearly a year now, Candy. And we've been reporting on videos talking to people who live there. These are areas where children, who are the most vulnerable, either because they already have an illness or are getting nutrition- related illnesses or they've been wounded and their bodies can't heal themselves, are beginning to die, according to some doctors, of malnutrition.

The ICRC has not been able to access these areas for months because the Syrian government is not giving them permission. And they are wondering, these activists, these residents inside, why it is that the U.S. is not using this opportunity to bring up the issue of allowing humanitarian access. They say that has to be part of any sort of initiative moving forward.

CROWLEY: Yeah, so many awful stories coming out of Syria now.

Thank you so much, Arwa Damon. We really appreciate it.

We are also getting the first comments from President Obama responding to that New York Times op-ed Friday from Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The president spoke on ABC.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I don't think that Mr. Putin has the same values that we do, and I think, obviously, by protecting Mr. Assad, he has a different attitude about the Assad regime. But what I've also said to him directly is that we both have an interest in preventing chaos. We both have an interest in preventing terrorism. The situation in Syria right now is untenable. As long as Mr. Assad's in power, there is going to be some sort of conflict there.

CROWLEY: Joining me now, Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, and Senator Ron Johnson, Republican from Wisconsin.

Thank you both.

Let me first get your reaction to that from the president saying obviously we don't have the values, but both countries don't want -- are worried about the spread of terrorism. They're both worried about chemical weapons.

Is that why you think, either one of you -- well, let's start with you, Senator Casey -- believe that Russia came to the table?

CASEY: Well, I think that's part of the equation here, Candy. But I think far too much time has been spent on this op-ed by Mr. Putin. It really doesn't matter. It was obnoxious. It was an insult to the American people, and we shouldn't spend any more time on it.

What we should focus on is making sure that we're doing everything possible to make this framework agreement viable and to make it work.

But I have a lot of doubts about it. I have real concerns about the ability of either side to effectuate this. But we should give it time. And we're going to know in a matter of days whether it's going to work or not because the Assad regime has a deadline in a week to give information about where these sites are, give every last detail about where they are. And if they don't do that, then we have to remind them or remind the world that the credible threat of force is still on the table. That's what got us to this point, and we have to make sure Mr. Assad knows that that threat is still there.

CROWLEY: Senator Johnson, when you look at this framework and test the U.S.-Russian relationship, as described by the president, not to mention the U.S.-Syrian relationship, do you trust both or neither in being able to bring this agreement to fruition?

JOHNSON: Well, the president said he didn't think that Vladimir Putin shares our values. I think most Americans know that the Russians don't share our values. And what we also know is that, because of the way the president has handled all of this, you know, certainly American influence in the region has been diminished and Russia's influence has increased. And that's not a good thing for Syria, not for the Syrian people, and quite honestly not for regional stability.

But, you know, the fact of the matter is, there are some shared interests that we need to take advantage of. I mean, I think the president is right. I mean, I don't think it's in Russia's best interest to have those chemical weapons fall in the hands of Al Qaeda. It's not in Russia's best interest to have chaos in Syria as well. But again, Russia is the primary supporter of the criminal Assad regime. We feed to recognize that. But now it's the point in time I think that if -- and it's a big if -- if that framework actually could be implemented, that would be a real positive gain.

So this administration must push this diplomatic effort hard and make sure that the Russians make good on their rhetoric and make sure that their actions match their rhetoric so we actually can remove those chemical weapons and the production capability of the Assad regime.

CROWLEY: I want -- you both have mentioned the stability of Syria overall.

Is it true that about 100 times as many rebels have been killed by conventional weapons as by these chemical weapons. And if you remove the chemical weapons, certainly Assad still has a major advantage in the field.

The president, as you know, two years ago, called for Assad to step aside. He said he wanted Assad removed.

And in this interview on ABC he said, look, my primary concern, of course, is the chemical weapons, and then he talked about security.


OBAMA: So I have a primary concern there. I also believe that the U.S. has an interest in seeing a stable Syria, in which people aren't being slaughtered. And it is hard to envision how Mr. Assad regains any kind of legitimacy after he's gassed or his military has gassed innocent civilians and children.

And so part of my argument here is that we will not intervene militarily to bring that transition about.

But all the countries in the region -- and I think the entire world and the United Nations -- should have an interest in trying to bring about that stability.


CROWLEY: So the president, it seems to me, has gone from Assad has to go to it's really hard to envision how he could stay.

Do you think that by coming to this agreement on chemical weapons that we now are at a point where we step back a little from trying to help the rebels?

Go ahead, Senator Casey.

CASEY: No, Candy. I think that our national security interests were certainly at stake as it related to the threat of the use of chemical weapons. Remember, soldiers in World War I were exposed to chemical weapons, U.S. soldiers. That hasn't been the case for almost 100 years. We should never allow that threat to be present, a clear and present danger to American soldiers or American personnel or even the American people.

But separate and apart, and now we're at a point where there's a pathway, maybe, to resolve the chemical weapons threat or at least to remove them from Syria, on another track and a whole other discussion is what do we do next?

I believe it's in our national security interests to make sure that the Assad regime doesn't prevail here, for this reason: I think it's bad in and of itself, but let's not forget, few people in Washington seem to understand this, but the Iranian regime plots against American citizens every single day. So does their partner, Hezbollah, the terrorist organization.

They've killed more Americans than any group other than Al Qaeda in the world. The Iranian regime tried to blow up a restaurant in Washington in 2011, which was -- killed lots of Americans.

So that side prevailing there is very bad for our interests, it would be very bad for the region and anyone who equates the two and says that both sides are equally bad doesn't know what they are talking about.

I understand that there are extreme elements on the other side and we've got to deal with that for sure.

But it is better for our national security interests if Mr. Assad loses, the Iranian regime loses and Hezbollah loses. That's better for us.

CROWLEY: And yet we're hearing from some people, Senator Johnson, that this deal in fact kind of strengthens Assad's hand in some ways.

JOHNSON: Well, Candy, (inaudible), we don't have a deal yet. We have a framework.

Senator Casey has really been one of the leaders on the Hill pointing out why Syria does matter to Americans.

I agree with him. It really does. I hope the president and members of his administration have learned some lessons here.

You don't go out and state policy like Mubarak must go or Assad must go or create red lines unless you've laid the groundwork, unless you've gotten and explained to the American public and gotten their -- certainly their support and gone around the world and assembled a coalition of the willing to back up the policy statements that you make.

Now, Americans' credibility is something incredibly precious and President Obama certainly asked us, you know, when he met with us before he gave his speech and asked us, don't undermine America's credibility. I don't want to do that. I agree with that. I just wish this president learns the lessons from the past because he's done an awful lot to certainly undermine his own credibility in the last five years.

So again, if this framework can be implemented, that's a very good first step and hopefully starts the dialogue with the Russians, because they are the number one benefactor of, supporter of Syria. They are going to need to be actively engaged in coming to some diplomatic solution for Syria.

And that's really, at this point, by the best-case scenario, if we can leave some government in place, so we don't have a failed state in Syria, but we have to remove the criminal Assad regime from power.

CROWLEY: Senator Ron Johnson, Senator Bob Casey, thanks for your time today.

CASEY: Can I add something?

CROWLEY: Yes, sir, go ahead.

CASEY: Thanks, Candy. I was just going to add something. I should have mentioned that I hope that we -- that now that this policy is on a pathway that we can start to focus on the other policy, which is making sure that we arm the opposition, which I think is one way to make sure that the moderate opposition is in power and can win.

CROWLEY: Senator Casey, Senator Johnson, thank you.

When we return, more than 25 years later, President Obama channels one of his predecessors about dealing with the Russians.


RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. General Secretary, though my pronunciation may give you difficulty, the maxim is "Doveryai no Proveryai," trust, but verify.



CROWLEY: Syria thanks Russia. Will the deal hold? The president puts his faith in Putin.


OBAMA: Well, Ronald Reagan said "Trust, but verify," and I think that that's always been the experience of U.S. presidents when we're interacting with first Soviet leaders and now Russian leaders.

Mr. Putin and I had strong disagreements on a whole range of issues. This is not the Cold War. This is not a contest between the United States and Russia. The fact of the matter is that if Russia wants to have some influence in Syria post-Assad, that doesn't hurt our interests. (END VIDEO CLIP)


CROWLEY: Joining me around the table, Nick Burns, he's a former U.S. ambassador to NATO; retired United States Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, he led the U.S. Central Command in the late 1990s and David Kay, a CNN analyst and former chief weapons inspector in Iraq.

Let me just get a broad brush from you all because the criticism generally boils down to this: we can't trust the Russians or the Iraqis to follow up on this deal and there's no teeth in them anyway.

(Inaudible). Any opinion?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: I think there's more good in this deal than bad for the United States. A week ago today, if anybody had said Assad would declare he has chemical weapons and would give them up and adhere to the chemical weapons convention, that was far-fetched. That's progress in one week.

Secondly, when he gives up those weapons, if he does, because implementation will be key, he's going to lose some authority and credibility in Arab political culture. Those weapons were his hedge against Israel. And they were also an intimidation force that he had with his own people as well as neighboring leaders.

And the U.S. has very carefully said, President Obama reasserted it this morning, we reserve the right to use force if necessary, if he reneges. That's not a bad deal for the United States.

DR. DAVID KAY, FORMER U.N. CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: It's not an element of trust. This framework, I think is clever; it looks aggressive, it is. It looks aspirational, but it has objectives along the way that if either the Syrians or the Russians are putting the brakes on and back peddling, it will be clear, it will not be a fudge. You'll be able to tell. I think that's important in dealing with people you don't trust.

CROWLEY: Is it unanimous?

GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI, USMC (RET.): Well, yes. But from a military perspective, I would want to know what is the military's role going forward.

I mean, are we going to be the threat that hangs over this to ensure there's compliance?

Is there a role for the military now to support the inspectors?

We did in Iraq.

So I think that we need more of this strategic look and planning and all potential options in this very complex thing going forward, especially in terms of how we use our military. CROWLEY: Well, exactly because, let's face it, these inspectors are going to walk into a civil war in which there are not two sides. There are multiple sides, some of whom would very much like to get their hands on these chemical weapons. So inspectors, as far as I know, are not armed.


CROWLEY: So someone might have to protect them in these regions.

Are we going to leave that -- who do you leave that to?

KAY: Well, with regard to the framework agreement, just like in Iraq, the responsibility of the host country, that is the Syrians, to provide protection to the inspectors, that is a double-edged sword. They can use it's too dangerous to go there both because it is too dangerous to go there or because as a fudge.

And there is no obligation by the framework laid on the rebels, and the rebels are not, A, the rebels; it's multiple groups, some of whom not only would like to lay their hands on the element, but would be happy to see an inspector dead and blame it on the regime.

CROWLEY: And vice versa. Right? You could have a regime saying I am sorry, but three of these inspectors --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were killed by rebels.

CROWLEY: -- were killed by rebels. I mean, let's face it, this -- these are rebels who have dome some -- some of whom have done some pretty terrible things, some of whom the U.S. believes are on the up- and-up as far as you can get in war. And then you have a regime that is now going into hospitals and torturing people who are wounded, you know, in front of their parents, sometimes children.

So it just seems -- these are U.N. chemical weapons inspectors and it seems like at some point you just have to say how can we protect them and how many do you need?

KAY: Well, the inspectors clearly are taking a risk, an unprecedented risk really in terms of entering into a civil war. How many? If you were to actually meet the goals of the framework, which called for all basic inspection through by the end of November, production facilities through by November, you would require -- it's a wild guess -- at least 500 to do any sort of decent job and, quite frankly, I'd prefer to have twice that number.

CROWLEY: So 1,000 inspectors when --

KAY: You'll never get that many.


So Anthony Zinni, how possible is it that during this -- and we learned this in Iraq, did we not, that you can just do the nutshell with the pea under it and move these things around, can you not? How able is the U.S. military or the Israeli surveillance -- how able are we to know if Assad is not moving these things around to fool us?

ZINNI: Well, in the case of Iraq, we concentrated a lot of intelligence collection assets there. And as a matter of fact, we actually flew U2 flights in support of the U.N. inspectors. Actually, when the plane cleared Iraqi airspace, it became a U.N. plane.

So your point is well taken. There will be a lot more assets that will have to be provided in support of this effort and a lot of dwell time over this area to ensure that we can track these things if they (inaudible) --


CROWLEY: But special surveillance as opposed to the kind that -- sometimes on and sometimes not.

Nick, I want to play something for you. The president and various officials have said well, what we do in Syria is going to be a signal to Iran. And he was asked this morning about the Iranians and we found this little snippet interesting.


OBAMA: I think the Iranians who we communicate with in direct ways --

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: Have you reached out personally to the new president?

OBAMA: I have. And he's reached out to me. We haven't spoken directly. But --




CROWLEY: I mean, that's pretty good, right?

BURNS: It's fascinating, actually, to hear that this morning because I think there are two opportunities now for the administration. And Iran is involved in both of them.

One is, we've got to reassert our leadership on this issue. It hasn't been a great two weeks. It's been a very ugly process for the United States.

One way to do that is to take the lead in saying that all the countries of the region, including Iran and Russia and the Arab countries, need to help the United States help these refugees -- 110,000 people dead; 6 million refugees, 4 million displaced internally, 2 million outside the country.

And to say that Iran could be one of the countries that helps, I think, is an interesting point of departure for President Obama. Secondly, we need to stop the war. We're out of the regime change business. And the administration's made that very clear.

So if that's the case, we should want to make sure this war doesn't spill over into Lebanon or to Jordan or to Iraq. A long-term political settlement, the United States needs to be deeply involved in that towards a cease-fire. And Iran is key to that.

And as you say, Candy, both of those, if we begin to work with the Iranians, which is a very tough-minded, cynical regime, and achieve some practical results on Syria, if you could do that, that might influence in a more positive way the nuclear negotiations, the much bigger interest.


CROWLEY: Obviously that was the administration's argument, that it was important to send Iran a signal -- this was when we were intent on sending missiles into Syria -- that it was important to send Iran a signal, too, that the U.S. says what it means and means what it says.

Is that the signal, you think, that Iran has gotten from the U.S. over the past couple of weeks?

ZINNI: I think it's probably been confusing for them. They probably see an opportunity here. I think prior to this they would have been convinced that we intended to act if they crossed the red line there.

Knowing the Iranians, they see everything as a potential opportunity to exploit. And I'm sure they are calculating much how they could take advantage of this and maybe push the edge of the envelope.

CROWLEY: And when it comes to the inspectors and protecting the inspectors, it seems to me that there are very few countries that the U.S. and Russia and Syria would all agree upon to be a part of that.

KAY: Well, probably even fewer countries would actually have the technical expertise to do it.

CROWLEY: Because it's us, right?

KAY: Well, it's us, the Brits, French, Germans, Russians, Chinese essentially that are available.

You know, that's a problem with every -- I had Russians on my team in Iraq and I felt they performed really well. This is going to be a more difficult thing, primarily because of the civil war and the fact that we're arming some of the rebels. So everyone who is an American is going to be viewed at least as a potential intelligence agent, a potential someone who is in favor of the rebels and doing things for them as well as an inspector.

CROWLEY: And is that reason enough to keep first U.N. -- any American-born inspectors, any U.S. citizens as inspectors, and enough to say the U.S. cannot be in the business of being at least in country and protecting?

ZINNI: Well, if we're going to have Americans on the ground in any capacity, I hope we've learned the lesson that you better be prepared to not only provide for their security but to bail them out if they get in trouble.

CROWLEY: But the president has promised...


CROWLEY: ... no boots on the ground.

KAY: The framework agreement calls for the P-5, which is us, along with the Russians, French and Germans and Chinese, to be on the ground as part of the inspection. I think we will have Americans on the ground. And, look...

CROWLEY: Do you think U.S. military personnel will be on the ground?

KAY: No.

CROWLEY: No, you think U.S. inspectors -- the U.S. will provide...


KAY: Yes.

CROWLEY: But then, if one of them gets in trouble, don't...

KAY: That's my point. We've gotten in trouble before. I mean, yeah.

CROWLEY: And they'll need the U.S. to come save them?

KAY: We'd better.

CROWLEY: OK. Gentlemen, I don't know whether this has gotten more complicated or less complicated. I hope you all will come back. We really appreciate your time, David Kay, Nick Burns, Admiral Zinni. Appreciate it.

When we return, the president refutes Vladimir Putin's claims about who was responsible for the Syrian chemical attack. Our political panel is up next.


CROWLEY: Challenging the Russian president on who is responsible for the chemical weapons attack, President Obama rejects Putin's claims.


OBAMA: Nobody around the world takes seriously the idea that the rebels were the perpetrators in this attack.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: He wrote it in the New York Times.

OBAMA: Well, I understand. What I said is nobody around the world takes seriously the idea that the rebels perpetrated this attack.



CROWLEY: Welcome back. Before we go any further and they drum me out of the corps, a correction from the last segment. The man you saw was retired U.S. Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni. He is not an admiral. He was in the Marine Corps. I'm from a Navy family. What can I tell you?

General Zinni, we appreciate it.


Joining me now, CNN political commentators Maria Cardona, Ana Navarro and Donna Brazile, plus Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

So we have a great thing and then, on the other side, it's basically, you know, two questions. Can we trust the Syrians and the Russians? And why do we expect Syria to do something unless there are teeth in this, as in "or the U.S. will bomb you?"

BRAZILE: Look, we cannot trust Mr. Putin. I don't believe we can trust him. That's why the president said we have to verify this. But what we can hope is that this deal will yield the results that the United States is seeking, and that is to destroy the Syrian use of these chemical weapons, destroy their -- their stockpile, and hopefully -- I don't know if anyone is saying this, but we should say this -- we need a cease-fire in the civil war in Syria.

And so this is -- this is good...

CROWLEY: We've pretty much steered away from what's going on in the civil war, right? That's just -- honestly, that, kind of, clouds up the picture. I mean, I think the president has been pretty clear about, OK, you know, this is about chemical weapons only. Because once you start expanding it to cease-fires, something Assad is not likely to do when he's in a position of strength in the field...

PLETKA: The president keeps talking about the people who died in the chemical attack. Of course there are 1,400 people who died in a chemical attack. It was awful. It was brutal. But there are 110,000 people who have died in this civil war, and it's as if that has absolutely nothing to do with the agreement between the Russians and the United States. Assad isn't even part of this agreement. The rebels haven't even been mentioned. I just don't see how this is a good outcome for anybody, frankly.

CROWLEY: I want to quickly -- and I'll get you -- I just want to quickly play you something that John McCain said. He had called this agreement "meaningless" and an "expression of provocative weakness." Here's what he said.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: I know that the Free Syrian Army, who have been sacrificing and dying, are very upset about it.

Second of all, the president, two years ago, said Bashar Assad must go. There's no provision for that in this agreement.

And third of all, the United States -- when the United States secretary of state says that any military strike will be unbelievably small, that's not very intimidating to Bashar Assad, who has, since this pause, stepped up his attacks and stepped up his air attacks and has slaughtered more Syrians.


CARDONA: You know, what I think is interesting here, Candy, is that everybody is focused on the process. And I completely agree, and the president does, too, that we shouldn't just take Assad or the Russians at their word. We have to verify, verify, verify.

But we have to work with them. At the end of the day, if we take away their ability to use chemical weapons, that's a huge deal. Look at where we are now as opposed to even just two weeks ago. Assad had not even admitted that he had chemical weapons.

We've now come a very long way. What does this do in terms of the civil war that you were talking about? If we are able to do this -- and it's still a big if and we have to make sure that, again, we have to verify. But if we get to a point where we can go down the road of making sure that they get rid of their chemical weapons, that really sets the stage for an international process where we can actually get a negotiation for the end of the civil war.

NAVARRO: Look, I'm a Catholic. I believe in miracles. I like this new pope. I guess Putin does too now. So miracles may happen, but I think it's a very big if. One of the problems with this deal yesterday is right now -- and it's what has got John McCain very frustrated. I spoke to him last night, saw him this morning -- is that there is no teeth in this deal.

Because in order to use force, you have to go back for a second U.N. vote --


CROWLEY: (Inaudible) U.N.

NAVARRO: -- exactly, where Russia is on the Security Council. So at that point, you know, is President Obama -- if they don't follow through, is President Obama willing to act alone? He hasn't shown the willingness to do that in the last two years.


BRAZILE: So the worry of the Republicans is that he hasn't pulled his trigger and he hasn't acted unilaterally. The problem, of course, is that the president tried to bring us through this diplomatic chain of events and now we're going to get Assad to put his weapons under international control. There will be verification.

But I still believe at the end of the day --



BRAZILE: John Kerry has been very consistent all along.

CARDONA: (Inaudible) like to say that now Russia is calling the shots and that this is a chance for Putin to step up.

Guess what happened? What happened was, with the threat of force, the Russians said, holy sheesh, if we don't step up, we're going to be irrelevant in this. And so now they have to be able to work with us and they have to prove --

BRAZILE: Because they're the ones (inaudible) at the U.N.

PLETKA: Ladies -- thank you.


CROWLEY: The time is up. So hurry.

PLETKA: Everybody likes to say what Republicans want.

At the end of the day, I don't think Republicans want anything other than to see a good outcome here for the United States and national security.

The facts are that on disarmament on chemical weapons, even the United States, which is doing our own chemical weapons disarmament, is not finished, and we've been doing it for 20 years.

Anyone who thinks this is going to happen in Syria is lying to themselves.

CROWLEY: And mid-2014, which is the deadline.

Hang on, you all.

When we return, making a deal on the debt ceiling. The president draws another line in the sand, next.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: We are back with Maria Cardona, Ana Navarro, Donna Brazile and Danielle Pletka. We haven't stopped talking since last week. (Inaudible) TV.

I want to play you something that President Carter -- former President Carter -- about the whole handling of this situation.


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States' public is heavily oriented against any military strike.

I share that belief but I'm also concerned about what President Obama can do now to bring back his stature and to make sure we have a successful conclusion of rapidly changing events in Washington and the United Nations in New York, in Syria and obviously in Russia.


CROWLEY: Now that was before the announcement of the deal.

But nonetheless, his feeling that the president has lost stature in the kind of back-and-forth; we're going to throw missiles, no, we're not; I'm going to go to Congress, oh, wait, you know, the Russians may help out.

And my question to pivot you to domestic things, because we've got these two deadlines coming up, right? We have the budget authority runs out. So the government essentially runs out of money at the end of this month. And then next month sometime we'll run up against the debt ceiling that Congress is going to have to raise.

Do you think that the president, in any way, shape or form, has lost ground here in being able to push this sort of thing through Congress?

BRAZILE: Well, the Washington parlor game, the poker game that we play here in Washington, D.C., is often --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't pretend you don't like playing poker.

BRAZILE: I don't play poker. I don't like to lose money. That's why I don't play anything. But the truth of the matter is that, you know, President Obama has tried to lead in many ways like President Eisenhower, to reflect upon all of the options that we have, bring in the Republicans, bring in the Democrats, try to craft a deal that I think will be helpful to moving us along.

And on Syria, he has a two-track strategy. I don't want to go back to Syria, but he's keeping the military option on the table at the same time he's pursuing a diplomatic front.


NAVARRO: Let me say this. When Jimmy Carter -- President Jimmy Carter, who was viewed as being very weak internationally, is saying that he's worried about President Obama looking weak internationally, Houston, you've got a problem.

But also, I think we saw something on this entire Syria debate that we haven't seen before, and I think it should be a wake-up call to this White House. Because they're running out of time. We saw even his staunchest supporters; we saw Democrats criticize his team and say we are not there for you.

This is the first time that even Democrats abandoned the president on such a high-profile issue. I think it's important they continue establishing relationships and reaching out to Congress.

CARDONA: I think what we've seen...


PLETKA: ... incomprehensible is -- you played a clip from the president. I'm a foreign policy person. I don't want to say anything much about the debt ceiling. But the president laid down another red line. He said "I'm not going to deal with you on this question." Why -- having gone through this on Syria, why does he want to keep doing that?


NAVARRO: It's that time of year...


CROWLEY: January is probably why.


CROWLEY: Maria, go ahead.

CARDONA: ... and -- and we've seen it in his economic dealings and we're seeing it now in Syria. He doesn't care about the short-term parlor game talk.


CARDONA: His focus is on the long game. In Syria, if, at the end of the day, we get a framework where we can get rid of chemical weapons, it's going to be a victory for the world, for humanity, for the United States, and I think, to the chagrin of some of my Republican friends, for this president.

When it comes to the debt ceiling and all economic issues, we have seen this president play very successfully the long game. The problem is going to be for the Republicans. John Boehner cannot control his caucus. We've already seen them not wanting to do a deal.


CROWLEY: I'm going to give you the last word here and ask...

(CROSSTALK) NAVARRO: I'd like to drink some of the Kool-Aid that Maria's drinking because it's almost like as if we all haven't seen the sausage-making in the last two weeks...

CARDONA: We have...

NAVARRO: Wait, wait, wait. Let me -- let me finish because you had your turn.


It's almost like if we hadn't seen that this was not a strategy, this was not thought out. This was going every day as it went along. We saw a president...


PLETKA: ... with the credibility of the United States.


BRAZILE: But going back to -- going back to the debt ceiling, of course the looming government shutdown, Mr. Boehner, the other day, they had to pull a continuing resolution to fund the government because he cannot coral his own caucus.

CARDONA: Exactly.

BRAZILE: It's very difficult...

PLETKA: Do you want to keep borrowing money to pay bills that we shouldn't be spending on?


CROWLEY: I really want one word -- a one-word answer from everybody, OK?


Will the government shut down?

CARDONA: I don't think so.




CROWLEY: Three to one, Donna. And I don't get to vote.

BRAZILE: Hey, I'm all right.

NAVARRO: She's better at football...



CROWLEY: Dani Pletka, Donna Brazile, Ana Navarro, Maria Cardona.


CROWLEY: Come on.


When we return, an update on our top stories and, at the top of the hour, Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski join Fareed Zakaria for a discussion on the state of play between the U.S., Russia and Syria.


CROWLEY: An update on our top story. Authorities say a sixth person is presumed dead in the flooding that has consumed large parts of Colorado. About 500 people are still unaccounted for and more rain is expected today, which could hamper further rescue efforts.

Rescuers have moved almost 2,000 people out of Boulder in the past few days, even though most roads have been completely washed away. I spoke with Colorado Governor Hickenlooper earlier this hour and he told me, quote, "We have a lot of broken roads and bridges, but we don't have any broken spirits."

Stay with CNN for continuing coverage of the disaster in Colorado. Thank you for watching "State of the Union." I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. If you missed any part of today's shows, find us on iTunes. Just search "State of the Union."