Alex Witt | June 16, 2013
>>> protesters and police returned to the streets of istanbul today. yet another day of demonstrations over a disputed park. police again are using water cannons and tear gas on protesters. police used such force yesterday to disperse hundreds of protesters who defied a government deadline to vacate that park. a bulldozer was then used to clear the area.
>>> to the crisis in syria now, where the u.s. government 's decision to provide small arms to the rebels has caused heated debate. in a new interview this morning senate foreign relations committee chair robert menendez called for further intervention.
>> we need to tip the scales, not simply to nudge them. and the president's moving in the right direction. you can't just simply send them, you know, a pea shooter against a blunder buss at the end of the day or else our vital national security interests is -- you know, time is not on our side and our vital national security interest will not be pursued.
>> joining me now is democratic senator richard blumenthal , member of the armed services and judiciary committees. thank you for being here, sir.
>> thank you, mara.
>> now, this has been described as an agonizing decision for president obama . when it comes to syria , what is the end game for the white house ?
>> i agree with my colleague, senator menendez, that the president's moving in the right direction. but the end game has to include avoiding any entanglement, any involvement in a ground war . the committing of united states troops in the same way that we did in iraq and afghanistan has to be off the table. but providing these kinds of arms so as to tip the scales somewhat in the opposition is certainly a responsible step to take. and also supporting our allies like jordan and israel in seeking to maintain some stability there, protecting syrians against the use of chemical arms as assad has now been confirmed to be doing, seeking some negotiated settlement. i've met with the opposition in trips that i've taken to that region of the world as well as visiting some of the refugee camps, and i think the administration could and should have been more aggressive in the humanitarian, non-lethal aid that it could have provided to the opposition. so saving lives is the right way to go. but whether it is too little certainly i don't think it's too late because we still have the hope of preserving some stability and avoiding terrorists taking over syria .
>> now, you mentioned meeting with some opposition forces, and you've also been calling for small arms aid for a while now. what do we know about the rebel groups that the u.s. has committed to sending assistance to, and are these groups we want to be aligned with for the foreseeable future?
>> we know a lot more about them now than we did before, but essentially, they are opposition groups that want a free democratic regime that respects the liberties of individuals and the diversity, religiously and politically, of syria . it is a country right now in complete disarray, and it needs some stability not only for the sake of the syrians but also for the sake of the region. our allies like jordan have been very explicit. when we last met with the king in jordan , i along with senators mccain and graham heard him very dramatically and eloquently describe the burdens of the syrian conflict on his country. so i think it's more than just syria that's at stake.
>> now, there's a new report out that's yet to be confirmed by nbc news. but a british newspaper is reporting that iran will send 4,000 troops to syria . if that's true, how does that change the calculus for u.s. involvement?
>> the calculus was changed by assad's brutal, absolutely murderous killing of his own people, 90,000 or more of them already, and most recently the use of chemical weapons along with the air war against them. hezbollah coming into that situation again also changes the calculus. if iran comes into the conflict, it will certainly deepen the regional involvement in that area. and i think strengthen the president's hand in providing for a more aggressive and comprehensive solution. but again, our priority has to be to avoid the kind of entanglement of ground troops that would be so very, very dangerous for our nation.
>> i'd like to switch gears and talk about the nsa surveillance programs. intelligence officials recently released a statement saying that the programs have thwarted dozens of terror plots, including the 2009 new york subway plot. in your opinion, do those benefits outweigh the cost of civil liberties ?
>> it is not an either/all choice. it's not one or the other. and we should not be giving up our civil rights and civil liberties . there's a way to conduct that surveillance and narrow the provisions of both fisa, the foreign intelligence surveillance act , and even the patriot act so as to preserve those liberties without the sweeping collection of broad and perhaps unlimited kind of vacuum-like sweeping of data that has been described and disclosed most recently. and so i think my colleague mark udall has it right that there is a balance to be struck. a lot of us have been calling for that balance to be struck in ways that are more sensitive to our civil liberties . for example, holding more accountable the fisa court that should be issuing warrants and overseeing this kind of surveillance so that there is some reasonable suspicion or probable cause that would apply in other contexts. and so i believe those opinions, rulings, orders should be disclosed. i've sponsored an amendment back in december when fisa was reauthorized. i'm supporting it again now. greater disclosure, more accountability. the balance has to be struck in a way that is more accountable to the public, not just to a handful of congressmen or women on the intelligence committee but the public as a whole, better disclosure, a full debate. and i think we can strike that balance and still thwart terrorists who want to do us harm.
>> and finally, sir, it's been now just over six months since that tragic shooting at sandy hook elementary school in your home state. gun control reforms have struggled to get anything done. are you still hopeful?
>> i am very hopeful. especially on this weekend, just having gone through a number of ceremonies. openings of playgrounds that commemorate the memory of those 20 children and six great educators. other kinds of vigils and public events that have brought home the searing horrific loss that we suffered as a result of gun violence that has to be stemmed and stopped. and so i'm hopeful that the majority leader will bring back these bills as he's promised to do. i've strongly supported the background check , the ban on illegal trafficking, as well as high-capacity magazines. and we want a majority of the senate, 54 votes, for a background check bill. unfortunately, due to the arcane and anti-democratic rules that currently apply to the senate and the filibuster, 54 was insufficient. but i think by the end of the year we can and should bring those bills back, work to mobilize and organize the 90% of the american people , the silent majority who believe that we ought to keep those guns out of the hachbds peopnds of people who are dangerous to themselves and others, criminals who should not have firearms, respect the rights of law-abiding gun owners under the second amendment. we don't want to take their guns away. but convince the constituents of those handful of senators, and it's just three, four, five whom we need, that they should respect their conscience and vote for these common sense measures.
>> all right, senator richard blumenthal , thank you for your time today, sir.
>> thank you.