Meet the Press   |  May 05, 2013

Lawmakers analyze the Syria impact

Sen. Patrick Leahy and fellow Capitol Hill leaders discuss the U.S. strategy moving forward in Syria.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> is senator leahy , congressman cotton. two members of congress. senator, do you think the administration is getting closer to providing lethal aid to the opposition in syria ?

>> i do, and i think that andrea's analysis is -- is very correct. i can remind the israelis were using weapons that had been supplied by the united states . some of our f-16s and others. they, of course, have enormous prowess with those weapons. highly trained. but very sophisticated weapons. i think the fact that they're able to go in there shows that, perhaps, the russian supply and air defense systems are not as good as were said. our problem in who to supply is that some of these groups are strong islamists, al qaeda and others. we've seen in libya and egypt and elsewhere the islamists tend to get the upper hand if they get in there. we have given hundreds of millions of dollars in refugee aid. we've given anti-aircraft equipment to turkey. and the idea of getting weapons in, if we know the right people to get them, my guess is we'll give them to them.

>> congressman, what would you like to see the president do at this point?

>> well, i hope that senator leahy is correct that we are moving closer towards arming the reform minded, pro-western rebels. this is something that should have been done in months ago. something secretary of state hillary clinton , secretary of defense leon panetta , martin dempsey , david petraeus all proposed last year according to " wall street journal " reporting and the president refused to do. right now you have a front affiliated with al qaeda on the ground providing the best figtders, providing the most weapons, providing the most humanitarian assistance radicalizing some elements of the opposition. we have to arm the opposition. i think we also need to move towards imposing a no fly zone. bashar al assad cannot continue to use helicopter gun ships against civilians. and so the refugees he's creating aren't establishing allies like jordan.

>> before i move on to another topic the reporting this morning is striking. it underscores why this issue of the red line is so difficult for the president. because the u.s. does not want a true presence in syria .

>> well, the u.s. doesn't want boots on the ground . i think there's no chance we will have boots on the ground . i have been for some time for arming the opposition we trust. this is very complicated. andrea hinted at this, too. hezbollah is shiia. and this -- this crescent that supports action is sunni. let's understand. this isn't just the bashar group, his sect, against the rest of the world . this is now a real full blown civil war . and the missiles that were intercepted are not dumb scuds. they're smarter fattah three missiles that have range from southern lebanon to hit tel-aviv. this is a big, escalated problem. i wish we had acted sooner.

>> i would just say boots on the ground now is not the question. the question now is imposing a no fly zone, using aircraft and using naval gunfire . as senator leahy said the israeli strikes over the last 48 hours have indicated those russian air defense systems are not as robust as they're sometimes reported to be. we can stop bashar al assad from killing his own people. we can stop some of the worst violence in syria if we use aircraft --

>> i want to move on. i want to bring mayor giuliani in here. i want to widen this out a little bit. i think there's the broader topic we're broaching here about national security , about our own personal freedoms in america coming out of the bost boon bombing is in part ongoing concern about terrorism. graphic this week in the "wall stet journal" about that growing al qaeda threat even a couple years now after osama bin laden is killed. looking to north africa in the persian gulf states . we either have al qaeda with a safe haven or, indeed, more activity. at least, too, what happened last 9/11 in benghazi and the ongoing questions about what the united states knew about, what the administration knew, did they do enough to stop it. now now hearings coming up. new details being reported on, mr. mayor. is there something here that somehow gets to why we're more vulnerable now and whether the administration has done enough in your estimation?

>> well, i don't know. that has to be investigated. i think it would be wise if the administration would kind of ratchet up its focus on this. because i think that since the capture of bin laden there's bn a kind of sense that al qaeda 's on the run. the threat is less. the threat isn't less. the threat is actually more diverse now and maybe even more complex. you can detect through the benghazi defense which, of course, did come about during the election, and even during some of this boston bombing thing, there's sort of a tendency to underplay what is, in fact, i think a growing and pretty dangerous and to some extent a different kind of threat than what we were facing, you know, three or four years ago. so whether they didn't catch it fast enough, whether this is a product of, you know, leading from behind like i think happened in syria where a lot of action could have been taken a year ago that may have precluded this, but the president kind of prefers to watch these things play out before he makes a decision. i think they'd be well advised to get a lot more proactive now. because things are really heating up.

>> senator leahy , is there a there there when it comes to benghazi ? are there questions that have to be answered that reflect on how vulnerable we are and what we're doing about it?

>> there are questions should be asked. i know a terror committee that handles the safe providence budget. we've been in extra money, a great deal of extra money for -- let me finish. that was blocked by the house. they said they didn't want to spend the money. whether that would have made a difference or not, i don't know. should we look at benghazi ? yes. but keep in mind that's just one place. we should look at our security throughout our embassiesecause they will always be ease ciy targets. if you can attack an embassy no matter where it is you attack the united states of america . the symbolism is almost as great as what they knocked out. they didn't destroy any part of america's capability. as tragic as it was in going to benghazi . but the symbolism was enormous. that's what they're aiming for.

>> were warnings ignored on benghazi , congressman?

>> i think there were cables before the benghazi attack that suggest the people in tripoli and in benghazi knew they were going to be facing a potential atags. steve hayes' reporting over the weekend shows the cia was aware during the attack happening, se certainly before susan rice went on the sunday talk shows , that these were al qaeda affiliated attacks. then after the attacks the president said he issued a directive and there was no follow up on the directive. he didn't go to the white house security room. he didn't follow up to see if that directive had been pursued.