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Meet the Press - November 15, 2015

MEET THE PRESS -- SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2015

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday morning, a special edition of Meet the Press: Terror in Paris. France's 9/11. How did it happen? What signs did French intelligence miss? Do we need a new strategy to confront ISIS? And can we prevent the terror from reaching the United States? We'll talk to our correspondents on the ground, an eyewitness to the theater massacre, top government officials, and an expert on terrorism. Plus, terror in the campaign.

MARTIN O'MALLEY:

This actually is America's fight.

CHUCK TODD:

The Democrats debated last night. And Jeb Bush joins us this morning. Do the events in Paris lessen the appeal of the outsiders, Trump, Carson, and Sanders. Joining me for insight and analysis this Sunday morning are Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, and Jeb Greenfield of Politico. Welcome to Sunday and a special edition of Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, this is a special edition of Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. Here's what we know at this hour about the attacks, which Pope Francis yesterday called a "piecemeal World War III." This is the current death toll and the number of wounded in the series of deadly attacks in and around Paris Friday night. France says three teams armed with assault rifles and suicide vests carried out this attack.

Authorities have identified one of the concert hall attackers is a 29-year-old French citizen of Algerian origin. It's believed French security had been aware of him and his radicalization since 2010. But he was never actively investigated. We also know one of the other attackers entered Europe through Greece and was registered as a refugee in Serbia.

Not yet clear if he was a Syrian. Now a number of arrests have been made in the Belgian capital of Brussels, leading the French to say this is a terror network. President Obama, who is at a meeting of the G20 in Turkey, this morning called the Paris atrocities an attack on the civilized world.

(BEGIN TAPE)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

With will redouble our efforts, working with other members of the coalition, to bring about a peaceful transition in Syria and to eliminate Daesh as a force that can create so much pain and suffering.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Daesh, another name for ISIS or ISIL that you hear from many officials. What is obvious now is that the war with ISIS has entered a new phase. October 31st, what appears to be a bomb takes down a Russian passenger plane in Egypt, killing all 224 people on board. ISIS claims responsibility as revenge for Russia's airstrikes in Syria.

Thursday, dozens are killed when two suicide bombers struck Beirut in the deadliest attack in that city since the end of Lebanon's civil war. Again, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. And then, of course, there was Friday. Attackers wearing suicide vests and carrying out coordinated attacks with assault rifles, slaughter scores of people and bringing terror to the heart of Europe. We're covering this story and its security and political implications here at home and around the world from all angles.

We'll start with our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, who is on the ground in Paris. And Richard, let's start with the investigation itself. The French continue to say this is ISIS, the United States' stance on this is simply, "We don't have information to contradict this." What more do we know?

RICHARD ENGEL:

Well, the investigation is continuing, and it is expanding internationally. There have been arrests in Belgium. A French minister just told me that there is a connection to Greece, that one of the Syrian passports, a Syrian passport did pass through Greece. This is a Syrian passport that was found by one of the attackers. A Greek official told us that the Syrian passport went through Greece.

And that Syrian passport was then later registered in Serbia as part of the refugee trail. There have also been people questioned and detained in Germany. Family members of attackers arrested here in France. So this is an investigation that is widening. People here do not believe that this is a situation where there were a lone group of seven or eight attackers. That they had support and that they had support in many countries.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's talk about the underestimating of ISIS as a potential global terror network. For years for the first part of this war against ISIS that was declared by the Western world, the assumption was ISIS did not have these kind of ambitions that were similar to Al Qaeda. I understand you say actually that is not the case. They've always had this ambition. Explain.

RICHARD ENGEL:

ISIS has always been an incredibly ambitious organization. I think what we're seeing right now is an evolution of ISIS. One very senior expert in this country described it to me like this, that ISIS started out establishing its own base, consolidating its support at home, declaring a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Then it moved to phase two, exporting all of its branches, mostly into the Islamic world, mostly to places where the Arab Spring had failed.

Now we're seeing ISIS phase three. It's moving international, it's getting more sophisticated, claiming responsibility for downing the Russian plane, the Beirut multiple suicide attacks, and then this commando-style raid in Paris. Stage four would see ISIS moving even further west trying to carry on an attack in the United States.

Yes, U.S. counterterrorism officials have been underestimating ISIS. They never thought that it had this kind of capability. When Paris first happened, U.S. officials told me they thought it was going to be Al Qaeda because they thought Al Qaeda was the kind of organization that looked abroad, looked to carry out complex attacks. Remember, the president once described ISIS as the JV team. If it was the JV team, itis no longer the JV team and probably hasn't been for quite some time.

CHUCK TODD:

And Richard, when you underestimate, that probably means you're getting bad intelligence. What is our situation? We're not getting good intelligence about ISIS because if we were, wouldn't we have a better assessment of their capabilities?

RICHARD ENGEL:

When you talk to investigators here, it's not a question of not getting good intelligence. It's that there's too much intelligence. There are simply too many people. There are probably 3,000 to 5,000 just in France that officials are concerned about. You have thousands of people a day moving along the migrant trail. One of the most chilling aspects of this entire situation is that possible connection to the migrant trail.

I was just in Lesbos a few days ago. Thousands of people arriving, between 5,000 and 10,000 to just that single Greek island. Most of them have no documentation. The Greek officials are trying to take them in, offer them humanitarian assistance, there are volunteers there. But frankly, people have no idea who they are.

So if someone left to join ISIS in Syria or Iraq, that would be a good way for them to come back under the radar and reintegrate themselves into society even before anyone has a chance to find out. So yes, it is an intelligence failure. But it could be a situation where there's so much intelligence, and that the tradition means are falling behind.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Richard Engel, in Paris on the ground force, appreciate your reporting. And as always sir, stay safe. Just before we went on air, I spoke to the French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, she's the equivalent of the U.S. Attorney General, and revealed that the French authorities know who the bombers were and are working in cooperation with Belgium, Spain, and Germany. I then asked her if France will escalate its war against ISIS in Syria. Here's her answer.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHRISTIANE TAUBIRA

It's an act of war and it is a war.

And it is a war against civilian people. It is a war against our shared values. It is a war against what we are. And what I observed is that this war will give orders to young people to kill people and to go to death themselves.

(END TAPE)

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Earlier this week, President Obama said, "ISIS had been contained," a phrase he's probably regretting right now. And even that was a retreat from an earlier declaration and position when he said the U.S. aim was to degrade and destroy ISIS. Joining me now to talk about the U.S. response to the attacks and the strategy going forward is Ben Rhodes. He's deputy national security advisor for the president and he's traveling with him in Turkey. Mr. Rhodes, welcome to Meet the Press.

BEN RHODES:

Good to be with you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with French President Hollande called this an act of war. Does the president concur that this was an act of war, and does that change America's footing?

BEN RHODES:

We absolutely agree that this was an act of war. And our hearts go out to the people of Paris who suffered this terrible attack. The fact is, Chuck, we've been at war with ISIL for some time. Over more than a year now we've conducted thousands of airstrikes. We provide arms to forces who are fighting them on the ground. But this is gonna be a long-term campaign to disrupt and ultimately defeat ISIL. And we're going to have to continue to redouble our efforts in partnership with allies like France.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, a year ago, President Obama said, "ISIS was something that could not be contained." And in an interview earlier this week, just days before these attacks, he said, "ISIS had been contained." Can you say that they have been contained in Iraq and Syria when they've escalated to potentially three terrorist attacks in the last ten days, with the Russian airliner, Beirut, and now Paris? That is not a contained organization.

BEN RHODES:

Well, Chuck, the president was referring very specifically to the question of ISIL's geographic expansion in Iraq and Syria. They had been on the march in both Iraq and Syria for some time. But starting a year ago, we were able to halt that expansion.

And we've actually been able to push back and reclaim territory from ISIL in both Iraq and Syria, including most recently in an operation with our Kurdish allies on the ground in Iraq, where they were able to take the strategic town of Sinjar, cutting off one of the key supply lines between the capital for ISIL, Raqqa in Syria, and Mosul, which has been a principal base of operations for ISIL in Iraq. So we have been able to apply pressure, take back territory, but at the same time, of course, we are seeing ISIL aimed to project power beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria most tragically in the attacks in Paris.

CHUCK TODD:

What is it that you guys have gotten wrong in underestimating ISIS?

BEN RHODES:

Well, Chuck, I think we very clearly understand the threat from ISIL. And the fact of the matter is, when we launched our air campaign in Iraq and then Syria, the president was very clear that this would be a long-term effort. This is a different type of terrorist enemy that aims to hold territory, that is drawing thousands of recruits.

And that's why we've been in this effort launching again thousands of airstrikes, recently targeting ISIL leadership, including Jihadi John in Syria, the leader of ISIL in Libya. We're in this for the long haul. We're very clear-eyed about the threat that we face. And that's why we have a coalition of 65 countries with us in this effort, many of whom are here in Turkey at the G20, who the president will be seeing in the next two days.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you believe the strategy the president is implementing is working? Cause to a lot of people, Democrats and Republicans, there's not enough of a sense of urgency, it doesn't seem to be working, and if anything, ISIS looks like they're more ambitious than ever.

BEN RHODES:

Well, Chuck, clearly there's going to have to be an intensification of our efforts. And what we've been able to do is look at what has worked in the application of the strategy, what hasn't. What we see working as being able to get equipment on directly to fighters on the ground, like the Kurds in Northern Iraq, like the forces we partnered with in Northern Syria, and what we're doing here at the G20 in part is seeking to gain additional contributions from some of our coalition partners, so that we're able to bring more force to bear on that effort.

CHUCK TODD:

Does the president now have any pause about bringing Syrian refugees into the United States?

BEN RHODES:

No, Chuck. We have very expensive screening procedures for all Syrian refugees who have come to the United States. There's a very careful vetting process that includes our intelligence community, our national Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Homeland Security, so we can make sure that we're carefully screening anybody that's coming into to the United States.

Let's remember though Chuck, we're also dealing with people who've suffered the horrors of war, women and children, orphans. We can't just shut our doors to those people. We need to sort out how to focus on the terrorists that we need to keep out of the country. But I think we do need to do our part to take those refugees who are in need.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you prepared for France to invoke Article Five of the NATO Charter? An attack on one is an attack on all?

BEN RHODES:

That's a decision for the French to make. What we've made clear to the French is we will be shoulder to shoulder with them in this response. They're in our military campaign in Iraq and Syria already. Clearly they want to energize their efforts.

There's a French two-star general who is stationed at Centcom to help that coordination go forward. And we're confident that in the coming days and weeks, working with the French, we'll be able to intensify our strikes against ISIL in both Syria and Iraq to make clear that there's no safe haven for these terrorists.

CHUCK TODD:

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor to President Obama, traveling with him in Turkey, Mr. Rhodes, thanks for coming on Meet the Press.

BEN RHODES:

Thanks, Chuck.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

And we now have video that appears to show the beginning of the attack at what was an Eagles of Death Metal concert in that theater. The pops of sound at the end of the video appear to be the first gunfire. And a warning, the video may be disturbing.

(TAPE OF ROCK CONCERT ATTACK)

CHUCK TODD:

Again, we're going to run it one more time here. You'll see the drummer and the guitarist there, both of them of the Eagles of Death Metal band. They sit there, and you watch essentially they're running for cover. Again, we haven't fully verified the video, but it appears to be just that. In fact, speaking of that concert hall, we have a remarkable first-hand account from a survivor of the shooting spree. Her name's Theresa Cede. She described the unfolding horror to our chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel.

(BEGIN TAPE)

THERESA CEDE:

We heard gunshots and the terrorists stormed into the concert hall and were shooting madly around everywhere. And we all dropped to the floor and tried not to move and not to be hit. But there were gunshots. They said at the very beginning something, they mentioned Syria in French. "Stay down or we'll shoot you. Don't move. Stay down." And they still continued to shoot.

I was next to a guy that got shot in the head that fell on me, so I was covered underneath his body. Just stopped moving, I just did not move. That was the main thing we tried to let go that were around us. We tried to get them the message to not move. There was another guy hurt that was complaining a lot. So we tried to whisper to him to not make a sound. And at some stage there was a grenade that was thrown or two it was an explosion and more shots and more shots and more shots.

RICHARD ENGEL:

What were you thinking this whole time?

THERESA CEDE:

I was just thinking to not move and I was thinking about my boys. I thought might this be it and would I ever see them again and will I be the next shot. You know, from one minute to the next, it's just like every time you hear the shots, you think, "Okay, if it's me, and if I'm hit now, am I going to be able to be quiet or, you know?"

RICHARD ENGEL:

So you could see the police?

THERESA CEDE:

I could see-

RICHARD ENGEL:

--storming in?

THERESA CEDE:

I could see the police. I saw that they didn't storm, they came very slowly. Like just saw their guns at first and they were moving and very well-protected and they were also, like, we kept saying, "Don't--" because people we're starting to raise their hands, "Help us," shouting, "Get us out of here." And at some stage, they just said, "Whoever can, if you can walk or crawl, whatever, out, out, out, out now."

RICHARD ENGEL:

And when you came home, your boys were there?

THERESA CEDE:

My boys were there. Yeah, asleep. Safe.

RICHARD ENGEL:

What was the first thing you did when you came home and your boys were there?

THERESA CEDE:

Well, I just hugged my boyfriend and then I went to see them and cleaned myself.

RICHARD ENGEL:

You were covered in--

THERESA CEDE:

I was completely covered, yeah.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Again, that was Theresa Cede, sharing her powerful, firsthand account of the attacks in that theater. Our thanks to her for sharing her powerful story. She essentially had to play dead to survive. We'll have much more on this special edition of Meet the Press. Up next, do we need a new strategy to defeat ISIS? And if so, what is it?

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

To no one's surprise, the attacks in Paris played a big role in last night's Democratic presidential debate. It was their second encounter. Here's some of what they said on the issue of Paris.

(BEGIN TAPE)

HILLARY CLINTON:

We have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network. It cannot be contained, it must be defeated. But it cannot be an American fight. And I think what the president has consistently said, which I agree with, is that we will support those who take the fight to ISIS.

MARTIN O'MALLEY:

I would disagree with Secretary Clinton respectfully on this score. This actually is America's fight. It cannot solely be America's fight. America is best when we work in collaboration with our allies. But also our role in the world yes is also to confront evil when it rises. We took out the safe haven in Afghanistan, but now there is undoubtedly a larger safe haven. And we must rise to this occasion in collaboration and with alliances to confront it.

BERNIE SANDERS:

I don't think any sensible person would disagree that the invasion of Iraq led to the massive level of instability we are seeing right now. I think that was one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the modern history of the United States.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

We'll have much more on the Democrats and how the events in Paris may impact the race for president overall. And also coming up later in the show, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush joins me. Does the attack change Republican voter attitudes towards those two outsider candidates? We'll be right back.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

And we are back, of course the fear after the horror of Paris is that something similar could actually take place here. To discuss the threat of ISIS and what it poses to the United States, I'm joined by Michael Leiter, who served as director of the National Counterterrorism Center under both Presidents Bush and Obama. And from Texas, Republican Congressman Michael McCaul. He's, of course, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. And just two months ago, put out a report, a bipartisan report called Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel.

Congressman, thanks very much. Michael Leiter, let me start with you. We thought only Al Qaeda was capable of some sort of global reach. What did the intelligence community, that you are a member of, consistently underestimate about ISIS?

MICHAEL LEITER:

Well, it's not actually clear to me that on a strategic level the intelligence community did get this wrong. I think there has been a lot of warnings, and strategically, that ISIS wasn't just going to stay in its caliphate in Syria and Iraq. I think tactically the intelligence community in France and the U.S. clearly missed this attack, they clearly missed the attack in Egypt. But I think people who have been watching terrorism for a long time knew that ISIS was never going to be satisfied staying in the Levant.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, then how do you explain the Obama administration's policy here?

MICHAEL LEITER:

Well, I think that's where we have the real delta. You have the intelligence community saying, "Strategically, they won't be satisfied staying here. They will ultimately come to the West." But then you have a policy which frankly, isn't sufficiently robust and muscular to really defeat that enemy as it starts to move to the next stage.

CHUCK TODD:

Chairman McCaul, this report that I referenced earlier, I'm going to quote from it. "Gaping security weaknesses overseas, especially in Europe, are putting the U.S. homeland in danger by making it easier for aspiring foreign fighters to migrate to terrorist hotspots and for jihadists to return to the West." Ben Rhodes, one of the president's closest national security advisors says they're confident of their procedures in dealing with refugees and how they screen these folks in. You and your Democratic partners here, this was not just your report, this was a bipartisan report, you seem to believe there are a lot of holes. Explain.

MICHAEL MCCAUL:

There are a lot of holes, gaping holes. There are a lot of foreign fighters. This is a foreign fighter event. You have 5,000 foreign fighters in Europe, they traveled to the region and come back. This is what happened in Paris. We've had hundreds of Americans who have traveled and many of them have come back as well. I think that's a direct threat.

When you get to the Syrian refugee issue, we think two of these terrorists were actually Syrian refugees. This causes a grave concern on the part of policy makers, because we don't want to be complicit with a program that could bring in potential terrorists into the United States. And quite frankly, I disagree with Ben Rhodes. I've been briefed by the F.B.I. and Homeland Security, and they tell me that this cannot be properly dealt. We don't have the databases to vet them past.

CHUCK TODD:

You noted this in the report, that there is no international database. And yet, the report actually blames Europe essentially, that there is not enough cooperation with some of our European allies. Can this get up and running fast?

MICHAEL MCCAUL:

Well, it has to. I mean, I think France is a bit ahead of the curve because they know what the threat really is. The European Parliament needs to pass legislation too. For instance, EU citizens passed a watch list. You can fly in from Istanbul Airport in Turkey, where the foreign fighters go, and not even be check passed and watch list what's going into Europe. And then when you talk about visa waiver countries who can potentially come into the United States with Western passports, that's where the homeland gets implicated.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, the panel is also here. I want to bring everybody in for this conversation. Eugene Robinson, of course, columnist for The Washington Post, my colleague here at NBC, chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, Jennifer Rubin writes The Right Turn column, with a heavy emphasis on national security for The Washington Post, and Jeff Greenfield, a former correspondent for CBS, CNN, and ABC, and now a big contributor to Politico and The Daily Beast. Welcome all. Jeff Greenfield, I know you wanted to pop in with a quick question.

JEFF GREENFIELD:

Yeah, the question is this: everybody seems to want a robust response. Nobody seems to want to put American combat troops. But if, in fact, ISIS in Iraq and Syria is something more like a state that this, but are we kidding ourselves, can this be done without a large infusion of American combat troops?

CHUCK TODD:

Michael Leiter?

MICHAEL LEITER:

I think the answer is no. We may not need the same number that we needed when we first went into Iraq. But we need more troops to push the Iraqis faster. We need more than 50 special operations forces in Syria to take the fight there, and we have to make clear that they don't stand a chance against us. And right now, we are basically playing even. And that helps the movement

beyond Syria and Iraq see that this is an attractive army to fight for in Paris--

CHUCK TODD:

You said playing even, you mean that containment line that the president used.

MICHAEL LEITER:

We are not--

CHUCK TODD:

That was containment--

MICHAEL LEITER:

Absolutely. We are not overwhelming them with force.

CHUCK TODD:

Andrea?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And Congressman McCaul, Ben Rhodes said that we are arming foreign fighters. He's talking, I guess, about the Peshmerga. But the signature failure has been the failure to stand up the Syrian resistance against Assad. Where do you stand on that? What should the administration do now that Paris has happened? Hasn't this changed the whole equation?

MICHAEL MCCAUL:

I think Paris changes everything. It should galvanize the entire world behind our efforts to defeat and destroy ISIS, not just to contain them. That's been the policy of this administration has been containment only. And when the president said that ISIS is being contained-- I would hate to see what ISIS looks like unleashed.

You know, we've had three major external operations and the latest being in Paris, the Russian airliner. These traditionally look like more sophisticated Al Qaeda plots, we're realizing that ISIS now has the capability not just to establish the caliphate, but then expand this mission beyond and conduct external operations.

We need to have NATO coalition forces in there. We need airstrikes that don't have rules of engagement behind them. And we need to have the Sunni Arabs putting skin in the game to protect their own backyard and their own religion.

CHUCK TODD:

Jennifer Rubin?

JENNIFER RUBIN:

I think what we see here and what Michael delicately alluded to is a complete divorce between what is necessary and what the president and the administration is willing to do. They have this vision that they are ending wars. They are not ending wars. They have a vision that they'll do a light footprint, that they'll let the countries in the region handle it.

That is false. And what we see now is this imbalance between what we will need, which I do believe will include a significant American force, and what they are willing to do. What is telling is the person that they put out to talk to the shows this morning was Ben Rhodes. An administration White House official, not a national security person, not someone respected in the national community, or in the international community, they are fighting a political PR battle, not a national security battle.

CHUCK TODD:

Eugene, Did you have a question, that you wanted to ask?

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well, yeah, my question is given what Jen just said, given that there's an obvious reluctance on the part of the president to go further, for Congressman McCaul, have you seen any indications from the administration, from the White House that attitudes may be changing in the wake of Paris?

MICHAEL MCCAUL:

I think maybe reluctantly they will change. I think they have to. What happened in Paris was so horrific, on such a large scale, that we can't afford not to respond to what happened. And I do think you're going to see, you know, the nations coming together soon. Talking about what is going to be the NATO coalition response to this, the Arab League of Nations need to be a part of this as well.

It's got to be under U.S. leadership with special forces embedded. I agree with Michael Leiter. We're not going to put a hundred U.S. combat troops on the ground, nor should we. But this has to be a policy of defeat and destruction and not this containment issue that's been going on for two years.

And I can't think we can brush it aside any longer. We've got to deal with it at its core, or we're going to continue to see these terrorist attacks not only in Europe, but what I am most concerned about is an attack against the United States and the homeland.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright, Congressman McCaul, joining us from Texas this morning. Thanks very much. Appreciate it again. You guys put out this report, I know you have it there, people should read it, Combating Terrorists and Foreign Fighter Travel, a bipartisan report from Capitol Hill. Michael Leiter, you're stuck sticking around with us, okay? We want you here for the rest of the show.

When we come back, Jeb Bush joins us to talk about the fight against terrorism. And a presidential campaign that may see itself shaken up by the events in Paris. And as we head to break, I want to share with you this photo. This is U2 laying flowers outside the Bataclan Concert Hall. They canceled a Paris concert scheduled for last night out of respect for the victims of Friday's attacks.

* * *COMMERCIALS NOT TRANSCRIBED.* * *

CHUCK TODD:

As we've already seen, the Paris attacks played a big part in last night's Democratic debate. But the Republican presidential candidates have also been reacting. Here is a sample.

(BEGIN TAPE)

TED CRUZ:

We ask that our leaders understand this is not some random, ill-defined violent extremism. This evil, radical Islamic terrorism, needs to be called out.

DONALD TRUMP:

You can say what you want, but if they had guns, if our people had guns, if they were allowed to carry, it would've been a much, much different situation.

BEN CARSON:

If we take in, you know, thousands of people from that area, it would be almost malpractice of the global jihadis not to infiltrate them with their people.

CARLY FIORINA:

I am angry that just yesterday morning, our president, against all evidence, declared ISIS contained and took a victory lap. ISIS is not a JV team, Mr. President. They are not contained, they are at our shores, and they measure their victory in body count.

MARCO RUBIO:

This is a clash of civilizations. And either they win or we win.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Coming up, one candidate you didn't see, Governor Jeb Bush. He'll join me after the break.

*** COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, it's becoming clear that as Commander in Chief, the next president will face no tougher task than facing down ISIS and Islamic extremism in general. Joining me now is former Florida governor and a presidential candidate Jeb Bush. Governor Bush, welcome back to Meet the Press.

JEB BUSH:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask it this way. You heard, Ben Rhodes believes we are at war. The French president says we are at war. There are wars that are tactical, and then there's a war against an ideology. How do you defeat an ideology, governor?

JEB BUSH:

Well, you take it to them in Syria and Iraq. You destroy ISIS. And then you build a coalition to replace this radical Islamic terrorist threat to our country and to Europe and to the region with something that is more peace loving. We have to be engaged in this. This is not something you can contain. Each day that ISIS exists, it gains new energy and more recruits around the world.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, everything is a divide here. There's democracy, there's security and stability. So for instance, in dealing with ISIS, our coalition partners like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, they care more about getting rid of Assad than they do in dealing with ISIS. Should the United States essentially change its policy and put the pause button on getting rid of Assad?

JEB BUSH:

No, I think we need to do both. You don't see ISIS and Assad fighting each other. What they, the fight is with the remnants of the Syrian Free Army, we need to build that force up, which is not what's happening. This is viewed as a law enforcement exercise by the Obama administration. We should declare war and harness all of the power that the United States can bring to bear both diplomatic and military, of course, to be able to take out ISIS. We have the capabilities of doing this, we just haven't shown the wall.

CHUCK TODD:

So what is it that you would like to see the president do? Let's set the campaign aside here. In the next two weeks, you want President Obama to do what, Governor?

JEB BUSH:

Declare a no-fly zone over Syria. Directly arm the Peshmerga forces in Iraq. Re-engage with the Sunni tribal leaders. Embed with the Iraqi military. Be able to create safe zones in Syria. Garner the support of our European allies and the tradition Arab states. Lead. That's what I want him to do. I want him to lead. He has the capability of doing this. We have the resources to do this. This is a threat to Western civilization and we should consider it that way.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you tell an American public who says, "You know what, the Iraq War, Afghanistan, we've had a lot of blood and treasure. Nothing's changed in the Middle East. We had a terrorist threat before 9/11, we now have a terrorist threat now." What policy works? Because we've tried different. We've tried intervention, we've tried toppling dictators, we've tried nation building. None of it has worked. What do you tell the American public?

JEB BUSH:

I tell the American public that a caliphate the size of Indiana garners strength each and every day if it's not taken out. 30,000 to 40,000 battle-tested soldiers that are organized to destroy our way of life. My heart goes out to the people of Paris. And this will continue on. We have to be in this fight. There is no other option. And this threat can be contained, but more importantly, it'll never die unless it's destroyed.

And the policy of containment isn't going to work. And it's a policy of incremental, just kind of running out the clock so the next president has to deal with this. Should I be the president of the United States, I promise you that I will.

CHUCK TODD:

Some of your closest advisors, or who you put on paper, are people that were members of your brother's administration. A foreign policy in the Middle East that essentially the American public rejected in 2008. Why should they trust you to bring back that same foreign policy?

JEB BUSH:

The world is going to be dramatically different in 2017 than it was in 2000. We need to be focused on the future. And this is a threat to Western civilization. There's no way to deny this. This is how they're organized. And containing ISIS isn't going to work. Taking it out, we had the capability of doing it. And the focus ought to be on the future, not the past.

CHUCK TODD:

Is this, do you believe that, what do you say to voters that right now, they want outsiders, and they don't care that they don't have a lot of experience. Do you think what happened in Paris should change the mindset of the Republican voter? And what's your case to them to make them do that?

JEB BUSH:

Yeah, look, I think as we get closer to the primaries, people are going to want to know who can sit behind the big desk. Who has the judgment and the temperament to lead this country? And if you listen to some of the candidates speaking about Syria, for example, they're all over the map. I laid out a strategy two months ago at the Reagan Library, and its proper strategy I think to be able to destroy ISIS and to have change in the regime related to Assad so that there can be peace and security in the region, and lessening the threat to our own national security.

CHUCK TODD:

Would you trust Donald Trump or Ben Carson as commander in chief right now?

JEB BUSH:

I don't know. The words that I hear them speaking give me some concern. But that's why we have campaigns, Chuck, as you know. Everybody will have a chance to lay out their visions. I'm more concerned about Hillary Clinton thinking that the United States doesn't have a leadership role in this. That's my big concern. If you listened to the Democrats debating--

CHUCK TODD:

So you agree with Governor O'Malley?

JEB BUSH:

About what?

CHUCK TODD:

That this is America's leadership role. That they have to, this is America's fight more so than it is the world's fight.

JEB BUSH:

It's both. And I think Governor O'Malley probably agrees with me that we need to lead. If he's suggesting that, kudos to him. We need to lead. We cannot lead from behind. We have to take a leadership role to inspire our Arab partners and the European countries, NATO allies, all of them together, create a strategy, act on it, unleash a strategy on ISIS and we'll be successful.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me go to the refugee issue. Would you, do you believe we should still try to accept some of these Syrian refugees? And if not, what do you do with them?

JEB BUSH:

The great majority of refugees need to be safely kept in Syria. Which means the safe zones need to be serious. We need to build a coalition that can fight both Assad and ISIS and give people safe haven. I do think we have a responsibility to help with refugees after proper screening. And I think or focus out to be on the Christians who have no place in Syria anymore.

They're being beheaded, they're being executed by both sides. And I think we have a responsibility to help. But ultimately, the best way to deal with refugees is to have a strategy to take out ISIS and Assad and act on that strategy immediately.

CHUCK TODD:

Are we, it does sound like to do safe zones in Syria, that's going to mean some boots on the ground.

JEB BUSH:

Absolutely. And it ought to be designed by our military without their hands tied. We ought to know exactly what it'll take. And we can't do it alone. I think that's an important lesson from history. But we need to lead. But for the United States, who is going to take the leadership role? I think having a no-fly zone will be an important part of this. And there are many other things that we need to do in concert with our allies.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright, Governor Bush. Talking to me from Miami this morning. Appreciate it. Stay safe on the trail, sir.

JEB BUSH:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it. Let me get some quick reaction from the panel. It looks like you all want to jump in.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

Go for it.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, first of all--

CHUCK TODD:

What did you hear?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

What I heard is a quick attack against Hillary Clinton. And even though she did better than I think her two colleagues on the national security issue, she opened up some lines for the Republicans to jump in. And, you know, she refused to talk about radical Islam, she said it wasn't necessarily Americans to lead. So she was playing diplomat. And I also heard her last night saying that she disagreed with the president about containment. So she's already distancing herself from the administration.

CHUCK TODD:

But the two of you, Jeff and Jennifer, were whispering when I asked the question about Donald Trump.

JENNIFER RUBIN:

Yes.

JEFF GREENFIELD:

Yes, I was waiting for the-- I can hear the Bush advisors say, "For god's sakes, remember Nancy Reagan. Just say no. No, Donald Trump and Carson--"

CHUCK TODD:

Jennifer, you're nodding your head over there.

JENNIFER RUBIN:

Yes. I mean, it's absurd. He's making the argument that these people are not equipped, they don't have the knowledge, they don't have the experience, and yet when asked the question, "Would you trust them as commander in chief," I think the appropriate answer is a "no." And frankly, what was interesting is I think he is also going to expand that argument.

It's not just Carson and Trump that have the problem, it's people like Ted Cruz, who refuse to, for example, back the enforcement of the red line, who is opposed to putting ground troops in the United States, has called Syria a civil war. There are a lot of candidates, not just the most extreme, the most ignorant ones, but a variety of other candidates who are very vulnerable. I think Jeb Bush is going to exploit that. But he should do so really putting the screws to those people who are not--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But he's afraid to take them on, because what he has seen is what happens when you go after Donald Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

Ah.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

But also there's a large portion of the Republican electorate that doesn't want to put boots on the ground. And that is a fact--

JENNIFER RUBIN:

How could you not--

EUGENE ROBINSON:

That is a fact.

JENNIFER RUBIN:

Every poll quesiton you look--

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well, we'll see--

JENNIFER RUBIN:

About 67% are in favor.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

But I just think there's something in the air of unreality about the discussion. I mean, you know, there are estimates that it would take 30,000 to 40,000 troops, boots on the ground, people, not just boots, people, to get rid of ISIS. Now that's the private assessment of--

CHUCK TODD:

That's not just an assessment that's to hold--

EUGENE ROBINSON:

--the Israeli government, for example. They're good at assessing. They say 30,000 to 40,000, you need--

CHUCK TODD:

It's clear in holds.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Right, no. Somebody's got to come up with those troops. And so who is it supposed to be? And the answer is, if you decide to do it, it's going to be the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

Michael Leiter, assess what you heard on the policy front. I'm not ask you to weigh in on the political front.

MICHAEL LEITER:

Thank you very much.

CHUCK TODD:

But what did you hear from Governor Bush that you would say okay, what do you think he got right, what do you think he got wrong?

MICHAEL LEITER:

I think two key points that he touched on, one Assad remains the core of this problem. Until we really have a good strategy to get rid of Assad and think about what comes after, ISIS will continue to prosper. He is the root of the problem. The second is many of the policy solutions that he suggested, the no-fly zone and the safe zones, those are hard.

For the past three months, they've been a whole lot harder because of Russia and what Putin has put in the region. You have Russian planes flying combat missions, you have advanced Russian weapon systems, that means our ability to operate is that much less.

CHUCK TODD:

Jeff?

JEFF GREENFIELD:

I just want to go back to the politics. First of all, what we've learned, whoever said politics stops at the water's edge--

CHUCK TODD:

Oh my gosh--

JEFF GREENFIELD:

-- needs a GPS. It obviously not true. The second thing is this is another example of where we're going to find out if the law of gravity politically has been repealed. If there's one thing that you think conventionally would drive people away from people like Trump and Carson is oh my heavens, there's a serious existential threat out there, we need somebody who knows the turf. But every time we have made that assumption, up to and including that Thursday night "lonesome roads face in the crowd" rant, it's true that the voters said no.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But very briefly, we're talking today, you heard from Congressman McCaul about getting NATO involved. You've got Russia in the air. You can't have NATO and Russia

CHUCK TODD:

At the same time.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--fighting the same war, in the same region, at the same time. And what Kerry was acknowledging yesterday in Vienna is Assad is not going to go. We're going to let Assad stay--

CHUCK TODD:

There's no doubt. Even Ben Rhodes sort of acknowledged it. You brought up the rant. Let me show this. Because before Paris, I think there were some people that thought, "Oh, is this the beginning of the end?" Here's what Trump did to Carson.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

He took a knife and he went after a friend. And he lunged. He lunged that knife into the stomach of his friend. But, lo and behold, it hit the belt. It hit the belt and the knife broke. Give me a break.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

He also cursed, he insulted Iowa voters--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And he said that Paris has a gun control issue.

CHUCK TODD:

And then he, well, that was two days later--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Two days later.

CHUCK TODD:

Two days later.

JENNIFER RUBIN:

I think that Jeb Bush, the other folks how have been making some of these arguments about Russia, about Assad, are really going to have to man up and really are going to have to take it to these people who are really not speaking any logic or speaking from any position of authority. I think when Donald Trump says something like this, you don't really hear from the Bush campaign--

EUGENE ROBINSON:

You better go after him.

JEFF GREENFIELD:

But the key to this thing, and I think we have been missing this for months, is that for the Trump supporters, what they say is, "Fine. Look what the experts did." And that in some ways--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Exactly right.

JEFF GREENFIELD:

--for them ends the argument.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yup, right.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I'm not going to end the argument here, but I'm going to pause the argument. We'll be back in a moment with our endgame segment. A little bit more on last night's Democratic debate, including a decision by Hillary Clinton to defend Wall Street donations and invoke 9/11.

* * *COMMERCIAL BREAK* * *

CHUCK TODD:

As the big voice just said, it is End Game time and the panel is here. A little bit more on the Democratic debate, and Andrea, I know you want to jump on this but let's play the clip first, this is Hillary Clinton, she's getting attacked by Bernie Sanders for taking so many donations from Wall Street, here was her rebuttal to Sanders

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEC. HILLARY CLINTON

I represented New York on 9/11, when we were attacked, where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is. I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York, it was good for the economy, and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country.

(END TAPE)CHUCK TODD:

A 9/11 defense.

ANDREA MITCHELL

A 9/11 defense, it reminds you of Rudy Giuliani when he was running for President and it was 9/11, 9/11, 9/11. I mean it just was so dissonant, and clearly that is being picked up by a lot people.

CHUCK TODD:

But I have to say, does this matter? I want to show a quick excerpt of a focus group. Democratic focus group, Democratic voters, quickly last night on who do you trust on terrorism. Here's a quick take.

(BEGIN TAPE)

FOCUS GROUP LEADER:

Of the three candidates on the stage tonight, who do you think is more capable of dealing with issues like terrorism, all right, Hillary, Bernie or O'Malley? How many would say O'Malley? (NO HANDS RAISED) Okay, how many would say Sanders? (NO HANDS RAISED) How many say Hillary? (EVERYONE RAISES HANDS) The entire group

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Eugene?

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well that kind of says it

JENNIFER RUBIN:These are Democratic voters.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

She was Secretary of State, she's been a senator. She knows this stuff

CHUCK TODD:

That's going to resonate

EUGENE ROBINSON:Yeah. She speaks about it knowledgeably, and you can agree or disagree with her policies, but you don't think she'd be lost or--

JENNIFER RUBIN:

Well, I think these are Democratic voters, and of the three, frankly, they have a point. But the question is in a general campaign, does someone like a Jeb Bush, does someone like a Marco Rubio, does someone like a Chris Christie, who gave quite a fiery speech yesterday, take her on and say, "You know Madame Secretary, you were Secretary of State , you were the one who was saying Al-Qaeda was on the run, you supported the President in all of these policies, you're responsible," and she better have a better explanation than what she gave during the debate.

CHUCK TODD:

Jeff?

JEFF GREENFIELD:

One thing we know I think, that when people feel threatened, whether it's war or terminal or even crime back in the '80s, the political compass tends to swing right and it tends to swing to secure. And the fact that she was there, whatever the merits, compared to her opponents and compared to most of the Republicans is an advantage.

But I do agree once again that, or at least I think we have to hold our fire, I have been thinking through this entire campaign, that it's possible that all the laws of political gravity are in suspension. And if that's the case, you may find people saying the insiders didn't know what they were doing, it's time for somebody outside.

CHUCK TODD:

Michael Leiter, you work with her in moments like this. Are those Democratic primary voters right?

MICHAEL LEITER:

I think in fairness she was stronger than the president. She was with David Petraus and others in 2012, 2011 saying let's get more involved in Syria. From a counterterrorism perspective broadly certainly on the Bin Laden raid and others, I think the secretary was very very strong. I think she does understand the limits of US power. I think frankly we all know she's a bit more hawkish than the current president.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And, and--

CHUCK TODD:

But she's playing a bit of politics here.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And one counterintuitive theory about the outsiders versus experience in insiders is in times of crisis, we don't know whether voters largely will go for the big man, the strong man theory and that Donald Trump, for all his lack of experience in this field, may be appealing to people. I think we've all been wrong all along in this campaign. And as you say, the laws of conventional experience and gravity may not hold.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

And we don't know how personally threatened voters feel either. I mean, assume we were making assumptions. And I really felt what happened in Paris a lot. But I'm just not sure how people are going to feel that this year.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, did everything change, Jeff? You know, that feeling? Everything changes for 48 hours.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yeah, yeah.

JEFF GREENFIELD:

A) only time will tell. But you have a serious point. The one word no one should use about these attacks is senseless. The ISIS people knew precisely what they were doing and where they attacked. And that word out to be struck from the vocabulary of anybody writing about this.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

This is not random.

JENNIFER RUBIN:

And I think the problem that Hillary is going to have is, as you say, she is more hawkish than the president. But right now, she is in a Democratic primary. So does she try to reappear or reapply that distance? Or does she continue to hug the president close?

CHUCK TODD:

All right. You just got the last word in there. Terrific panel, appreciate it. That's all we have for today. We'll be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

***END TRANSCRIPT***