Meet the Press   |  April 28, 2013

1: McCain discusses Assad regime

Sen. John McCain visits Meet the Press to discuss the recent conflict in Syria and rumors regarding its use of chemical weapons.

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>>> this sunday, is syria a game changer for president obama ? the security threats mount on his watch.

>>> a new chapter in syria 's brutal civil war . the administration says the assad regime appears to have used chemical weapons .

>> used potential weapons of mass destruction on civilian populati populations prompts us another line with respect to international law , and that is going to be a game changer.

>> if confirmed, what is the president prepared to do? are there any good options? how should the lessons of iraq weigh on the obama team's thinking? with us this morning ranking member of the senate armed services committee , arizona republican john mccain .

>>> then the terror debate after boston . should more have been done to track the suspects when red flags were raised? a debate between republican congressman peter king of the int intelligence and homeland security committee , and democratic congressman of minnesota, keith ellison .

>>> also this morning, perspective on the threats testing the president, from former british prime minister tony blair . and our roundtable this morning includes democratic senator amy klobuchar as the group reflects on the bush library dedication this week and reacts to the president's big saturday night with washington journalists.

>>> and good sunday morning. washington is bleary-eyed after what's come to be known as nerd prom where politicians, celebrities, journalists all mingle for are a night of bipartisan fun. the president finding way to poke fun at washington 's disarray.

>> i know republicans are still sorting out what happened in 2012 , but one thing they all agree on is they need to do a better job reaching out to minorities. call me self-centered but i can think of one minority they could start with. [ laughter ] hello.

>> we're going to have some highlights and reaction from last night but we want to start with the very serious topic of syria this morning. the looming threat after this week's revelation about the possible use of chemical weapons , and for that we turn to senator john mccape of arizona who is in arizona this morning. senator, welcome.

>> thank you, david .

>> as you know the white house said this week after this intelligence estimate came out about the use of chemical weapons that the case that syria actually did that is not airtight. what do you say?

>> well, it may not be airtight. the israelis and the british are far more affirmative in their assessment of it. but, david , we should not be -- our actions should not be dictated by whether bashar al assad used these chemical weapons or not. first of all, sooner or later he most likely would in order to maintain his hold on power. but what has happened here is the president drew a red line about chemical weapons thereby giving a green light to bashar al assad to do anything short of that including scud missiles and helicopter gun ships and air strikes and mass executions and atrocities that are on a scale that we have not seen in a long, long time.

>> so the president says that this is a red line if confirmed, and he said back in august it would change my calculus. it would change my equation. what would you have him do at this point?

>> well, for about two years as this situation has deteriorated in a very alarming fashion, affected the surrounding countries, destabilized lebanon, destabilized jordan , and has had implications and repercussions throughout the region, we have said that they need a no-fly zone which could be obtained without using u.s. manned aircraft. we could use patriot missiles, patriot batteries and cruise missiles to take out their air and to supply the resistance with weapons. and, as you know, a flood of weapons is coming in from russia and iran. iranians are on the ground in syria , and it's an unfair fight. and unless we get to change this balance of power by not using incrementalism, then there's every risk of a stalemate that could go on for months and months while the jihadists flood in, while the sorting out the situation after he leaves becomes more and more complicated, and there's also the possibility that he could enact a plan "b," which is to withdraw to the coastal areas with an enclave that stretches from the golan heights all throughout and along the coast, and could be another long period of conflict.

>> but, senator, as the bush library was dedicated this week, again the specter of iraq and the legacy of iraq was debated in this country, are we not more skeptical about talk of more limited military action , no-fly zones, incrementalism, as you say, as well as the strength of the opposition? aren't there lessons from iraq that need to be taken into mind here?

>> well, one of the lessons obviously, and we hear this a lot from the administration, is that we had false information about weapons of mass destruction with iraq . in had this case there is significant evidence that the -- physical evidence of the use of chemical weapons and, by the way, the administration has said, well, they want the u.n. to investigate. the only problem with that is bashar won't let the u.s. in, so it's a bit ludicrous. so the fact is that whether he has used those chemical weapons or not, he's done virt hadly everything else -- atrocity you could commit, and that should not be the gauge. but would anyone be surprised if bashar al assad did use chemical weapons in his desperation to hang on to power?

>> so what is the limit of what the united states , in your judgment, should do to put a limit on him?

>> well, as i said, a safe zone of arming the rebels, making sure that we help with the refugees and an international -- be prepared with an international force to go in and secure these stocks of chemical and perhaps biological weapons . there are a number of caches of these chemical weapons . they cannot fall into the hands of the jihadists, otherwise we will end up seeing those weapons used in other places in the middle east . it is a very dangerous situation. i don't know. i think that, first of all, american people are weary, as you pointed out. they don't want boots on the ground . i don't want boots on the ground . i do want to give them the assistance which would give them a dramatic shift in the balance of power in syria , but we have to, as an international group , plan and be ready operationally -- not just plan but be ready operationally to go in and secure those areas. now, if you could do it whatever the composition of that force is something i think we have to look at very carefully. but the worst thing the american people -- the united states could do right now is put boots on the ground in syria . that would turn the people against us. and just let me say the syrian people are angry and bitter at the united states . i was in a refugee camp in jordan , and there are thousands of people and kids, and this woman who was a schoolteacher said, senator mccain , do you see these children here? they're going to take revenge on those people who refused to help th them. they're angry and bitter. and that legacy could last for a long time, too, unless we assist them.

>> let me turn you quickly to a couple can of domestic items. this funding that came up at the end of the week over the faa and flight delays and new legislation to basically provide the administration with more flexibility to get the planes running on time again, what would you be prepared to do to replace the sequester of the most harmful effects of the sequester? is that a model for what washington ought to be doing about it?

>> well, i say with all due respect to my friends, it's a little bit hypocritical on the same day when all of the focus was on the delays that we have in getting through airports, the chief of staff of the united states army was saying that we are going -- if we don't reverse this, we're going to have a hollow army. we'll be unable to defend the nation, and it would take us 10 or 15 years to recover. i think we have our priorities a little bit skewed here. look, i'm for giving the faa flexibility, but i also want to give the military flexibility, and i don't want the sequestration cuts to be as steep as they are on national defense . we have a lot of savings we can make in national security , but right now we, in the words of the secretary of defense and our uniformed service chiefs, we're putting the security of this nation at risk .

>> i want to end on politics. you had your old friend and former colleague in the senate, the vice president joe biden , offering some political analysis about the 2008 race. here's part of what he said.

>> and the truth of the matter is, barack knows i know had the economy not collapsed around your ears, squon, in the middle of, literally, just as you were -- as things were moving, you at least would have, i think you probably would have won, but it would have been incredibly, incredibly, incredibly closer. are you inherited a really difficult time.

>> if not for the economy, you would have been president, is that how you see it?

>> no. look, joe biden and i are very close friends , and i think it would have been a much closer race, but, i'll tell you, he has -- president obama ran a great race, and that campaign matters. i appreciate the fact that my dear friend would say something like that, but i know that -- i doubt if the outcome would have been a lot different, but i can always hope it might have been.

>> all right. senator, we'll leave it there. more to come on the syria de debate. we appreciate you coming on this morning.

>> thank you.

>> all right. turning now to democratic congressman keith ellison of minnesota, republican congressman peter king of new york , gentlemen, welcome to you.

>> thank you.

>> i want to talk about the aftermath of the boston bombings and the is yosurveillance work, the role of the fbi . but, first, let me get your comments, congressman, on this prospect of a huge national security test now for president obama . how do you see it?

>> well, you know, first of all, this action is the most despicable thing. you know, americans have to rally together to stamp out terrorist acts like this. i'm proud of the law enforcement , proud of the first responders. but what i think we need to do is to really, really back law enforcement to make sure that we fully investigate this case and we don't need to start identifying communities to surveil or to go after. we need to come together as a nation.

>> let me get your comment before we get to that on syria , what i was just discussing with senator mccain , this is a huge test as well as the boston bombings aftermath and syria is a huge test for president obama . what concerns you about what we've seen out of potential use of chemical weapons ?

>> well, i'm absolutely concerned about that, but i believe the united states could play a greater role in dealing with the humanitarian crisis . there's a very, very difficult humanitarian crisis as senator mccain pointed out. i mean, we have spillage and refugees in jordan , in lebanon, in displaced people in syria , the suffering is intense. and i don't think the world's greatest superpower, the united states , can stand by and not do anything. now we have done some things and the president deserves a lot of credit for that, but i think there's perhaps a little bit more we could do on the humanitarian front.

>> we're talking about a red line being crossed, congressman, and whether the united states has military options to back up what the president said, you don't cross it or there will be severe consequences.

>> the situation here is complex. my concern is al qaeda has more influence than it should among the rebels and just the rebels al qaeda can take advantage of it. having said that the president did say that there's a red line and once the united states ray lays down a red line , some action has to be taken. now what that's going to be, i was at the briefing with senator kerry the other day. he really didn't lay that out. the administration is right now trying to figure out what to do. i'm not trying to minimize it but once he laid out the red line , something has to be done.

>> something militarily?

>> well, either that or concerted action with allies.

>> did somebody else besides the uz vuz to take the lead here? is that where we are politically?

>> i think it makes it better. i'm still concerned who is going to take over the rebels. we have allowed this to go on too long.

>> well, red line does not mean boots on the ground , but there's a lot of things we can do other than that. we have been providing nonlethal military aid . but i think more coordination and dealing with this humanitarian crisis i think is essential.

>> let me turn to the aftermath of the boston bombings where the f focus has been this week on the now dead older brother, tamerlan tsarnaev, who had trips back to the chechnya region, was interviewed by the fbi people will remember but then seemed to fall off the radar. congressman, where are you critical of init tell generals and the fbi 's role in this?

>> the fbi has done an outstanding job in solving this in the four-day period. having said that i don't think they did a full investigation beforehand. the fact is there were other eye items in his folder, his file that they found. i think they it continued to give the benefit of the doubt in each instance and, therefore, just closed out that investigation. for instance, they never went to his mosque. never spoke to the ema'am, to a number of his relatives and, also, there were certain matters in his file that they chose to look the other way on or said there was nothing there.

>> what did they look the other way on?

>> his name came up in several instances and they said there was nothing there. if you have three independent references to someone possibly having terrorist connections, when do you stop say iing it's just a coincidence?

>> there are reports now about his mother, talking to him on the telephone that she was on a monitor list as well and that they may have been discussing potential jihad. was the ball dropped here?

>> i mean, i don't want to start assigning blame. every single day fbi and law enforcement protects this country. these terrorists just have to get through once. and so the fact is on an everyday basis, i feel really good about our nation's law enforcement . the fact is there will come a time when we can look back and see what lessons should be learned, what should we have done differently, and that's a good, healthy --

>> let's talk about the surveillance within the muslim community . that's partly what you were talking about this week, congressman king. you said this in the national review and this is how they reported it, police have to be in the community . they have to build up as many sources as they can. and they have to realize that the threat is coming from the muslim community and increase surveillance there. we can't be bound by political correctness .

>> absolutely. the nypd is doing in new york with 1,000 police officers focusing on this issue, knowing where the threat is coming from. now most muslims are outstanding people but the threat is coming from the muslim community . yesterday tom friedman who is certainly no conservative, said we must ask the question only muslims can answer. what is going on in your community that a review of your youth believes every military action in the middle east justifies a violent response? it's coming from the community . and in previous times when had certain elements in the community are the ones responsible to crime, the police focused on it. for instance in boston the fbi never spoke to the boston police about the older brother. and afterwards there was no intelligence files in boston on these types of people, people inclined to terrorism. the fbi never even got to examining him.

>> congressman, you're a muslim. this concerns you on civil libertarian grounds and other areas.

>> well, i'm an american, and i'm concerned about national safety, public safety , just like everyone is. but i think it's ineffective law enforcement to go after a particular community . i think what we need to do is look at behavior and follow those leads where they would lead. so, like if tamerlan tsarnaev is evidencing dangerous behavior, by all means, go after him. but once you start saying we're going to dragnet or surveil a community , what you do is you ignore dangerous threats that are not in that community and you go after people who don't have anything to do with it. and so let me just finish up with this one point. and so this ricin attack, for example, that's an act of terrorism . that doesn't come out of the mu muslim community . we don't have enough law enforcement resources to just go after one community and, remember, we went after a community in world war ii . the japanese interment is a national stain on our country, and we are still apologizing for it.

>> we're talking about following the constitution. what the nypd is doing, they have 1,000 cops working on counter t counterterrorism, 16 plots against new york have been stopped. if any of those had gone through hundreds or thousands of people dead.

>> where does political correctness get in way with surveilling terrorists?

>> why didn't they talk to the mask, to the imam? it's become more --

>> he was a legal, permanent resident. does that have something to do with what the fbi is capable of doing?

>> an american citizen , they still have the right to ask questions about you. just because you're a citizen doesn't mean they can't ask questions.

>> questions based on what, the exercise of free speech or actual evidence?

>> i think somehow anti-muslim or anti-islam if they accept the reality that the element is coming from within the muslim community as in previous times you had elements come from certain communities. eric holder said this came from radical islam among young people in the muslim community . dennis mcdonough said the same thing in 2011 when he went to a mosque in virginia about the threats that have come to the muslim community . it's there.

>> jeff goldberg, who is "the atlantic" journalist said this on the program last week something the muslim community and other countries have to deal with. this is a portion of what he said.

>> when you talk about what's going on in the muslim world , and we have to remember, of course, that the primary victims of jihadism are other muslims , muslims who don't agree with the more jihadist elements and so we have to ask ourselves, and the muslim world has to ask themselves, you know, what are we doing to provide counter programming even on the internet? and this is not something that the u.s. can fix or the west can fix. it has to come from within islam.

>> let me assure you, muslim leaders all across this country have wildly condemned this most recent act of terrorism and have condemned terrorism broadly and are in a number of ways through interfaith dialogue talk iing about, empathizing peace and connectedness with people, good works within the community . i mean, the reality is this is going on and has been and needs to continue to go on. but that's kind of the thing that i'm saying is that, you know, the community is facing this threat, but this is an american problem. there have been threats throughout this community , this country, from various sources. but, you know, muslims and people across this nation need to think about public safety and threats and radicalism, not just one community .

>> just a few seconds left, congressman king. remaining questions now, what are you really focused on that you'd like the intelligence community and the fbi to answer?

>> i think it's important to know are there other people involved in the threat, are there others still out there? family members or people in the community ? that's very important to find out. also, what did cause them to radicalize? was it done here? was it done overseas? was it done over the internet? what cause that had to happen? how can we stop it in the future. why isn't the fbi not cooperating with local law enforcement?

>> this is a failure you think need to be learned from?

>> absolute failure.

>> all right, congressmen, thank you both very much.

>> thank you very much, david .

>> and coming up here politics and presidential legacies just as all five living presidents gathered in dallas this week for the dedication of the bush presidential library , the current president faces a critical juncture as he looks at his own legacy as we approach the 100-day mark of his second term. how is the term and the obama agenda faring on immigration, national security and the economy? the political roundtable is here as well as tony blair coming up after