Meet the Press | June 16, 2013
>>> this sunday, are we ramping up for war in syria ? how far will president obama go to stop the bloodshed? a red line crossed by the assad regime. confirmation this week that chemical weapons were used as the president agrees to start arming the syrian rebels . but as the war reaches staggering heights , more than 90,000 killed so far, what is the strategy and the limit of u.s. involvement? joining me, the senior senator from south carolina , republican lindsey graham . also, the surveillance debate. what's next for edward snowden and what's the future of the government's sweeping counterterror program? with us, two key voices from the senate intelligence committee , the republican vice chair, saxby chambliss of georgia, a supporter of the government's dragnet, and a prominent skeptic, colorado democrat mark udall . then, our "roundtable" on the broader questions raised by the leaks. is snowden a hero or a traitor? how much political damage has been done? and is this the dawn of a new age of big brother ?
>>> and good sunday morning. as the president prepares to depart this evening for the g-8 summit in northern ireland , global issues are certainly taking center stage . overnight in iran , celebrations in the streets after moderate hassan rohani was elected president. we'll be talking about that. quite a different scene in turkey. riot police used tear gas and clubs to clear antigovernment protesters from a square there.
>>> and news out of jordan this morning where king abdullah warns the kingdom is ready to fight any threat to its security from the growing conflict in neighboring syria , a sign that that conflict could spill over its borders. and the conflict, of course, in syria , will be top of mind at the g-8 summit. president obama sitting down face to face with russian president vladimir putin tomorrow. that is going to be a difficult discussion. they are at odds over syria . that is where we start the discussion. we have a key voice in the debate over what our next steps should be in syria , senator lindsey graham from south carolina here with us this morning. in studio, correspondent andrea mitchell and columnist for the " washington post " david ignatius . good morning to all of you. senator graham, let me start with you. the key step has been taken by this administration, the president saying he is now willing to arm the syrian rebels . so, what is the goal and how much closer to the goal does this step take us?
>> i really don't know. it seems to be not being bush is our foreign policy . the goal should be to basically make sure assad leaves. last year, assad was isolated, he had very few friends, he was hanging by a thread . this year he's entrenched with hezboll hezbollah , iran and russia , stronger behind him than ever. i think our goal should be in the short term is to balance the military power and providing small arms won't do it, so we need to create a no-fly zone to neutralize assad 's airpower.
>> so, you're saying this is too late, this is too little, the syrian rebels cannot prevail with this step by the administration.
>> under this construct, they can't, and what does it mean if they lose? i think as syria 's become a powder keg for the region, there's 60,000 children in jordan , the kingdom is under siege in terms of refugees. hezbollah is all in in syria , so lebanon's even more destable. this has been a nightmare year for syria . egypt's going backwards. leban lebanon's becoming unstable. russia is introducing into syria , threatening very sophisticated weapons. the weapons caches i fear the most could fall into the hands of hezbollah . it's a powder keg for the region. our policies are not working and ak-47s will not neutralize the advantage assad has over the rebels . we need to do more.
>> so, only by taking out assad can we have peace in this civil war ?
>> that's what the president says. the president says --
>> what do you say?
>> -- assad must go. i say a political solution is the only way you solve this and assad those go to get a political solution. no rebel group's going to partition syria with assad still in power. so, yes, he has to go. then you find a political solution. but if the war lasts four, six months, jordan 's going to go and israel's going to be surrounded by syria on fire, jordan at more radical and egypt becoming more radical. the whole region's about to blow up and our foreign policy , to me, i don't understand it. whatever it is, it's not working.
>> david ignatius , what forced the president's hand on this?
>> i think when the decision, the chemical weapons had been used by the assad regime, was completed by the intelligence analysts and ready to go, it forced a decision that really already was made in embryo within the administration. i would add to what senator graham said. yes, our policy is to force assad to leave, but our policy at a deeper level is to build up the moderate opposition to assad . if assad left tomorrow in a sense, that would be bad for us, because the strongest forces in syria would be the jihadists, and you'd have complete chaos. so, in a sense, you want to wait a little bit for these forces to get stronger, for the u.s. arms to flow through. i was told by my syrian sources that just in the last few days, at this announcement, 60 syrian officers defected because they thought maybe there's a chance -- 6 generals, 22 colonels. so, there's one concrete sign on what difference it makes when the u.s. says we're with you.
>> on the other side, our colleague, jeff goldberg, making the point that we're going to send small arms into syria . where are they going to go? we don't know who has guns in the united states . are we really going to be able to track guns inside of syria ?
>> exactly. now, one of the questions that i think also precipitated this is iran . i think the administration had the intelligence about chemical weapons and were slow-walking it, they were hoping they could get to a political negotiation in geneva. that they've now given up on. in fact, they want to delay it. they realize assad 's gained so much strength with hezbollah all in that if they were to go to negotiations now, there would be no way to remove him. i think what really precipitated this, moving on that red line , which they knew about and which britain and france had plenty of evidence of, was iran . they realize they are now at war with iran and with hezbollah and russian support, there was no way assad was going to lose. and in fact, it wouldn't just be stalemate, assad would win. the biggest problem they have now going into the g-8 is that russia has categorically denied it and the u.n. secretary-general agrees with russia . so, they are challenging the american intelligence, and frankly, after the last decade, u.s. intelligence on weapons of mass destruction doesn't have a whole lot of credibility around the world.
>> senator, back to you. the question and the stakes, or rather, the consequences of staying on the sidelines. i mean, one of the things that is troubling, i think, to a lot of americans, to hear you, to hear senator mccain . senator mccain on the floor this week saying, look, we should have a no-fly zone, we should neutralize the advantages assad has, and says we could do that without risking a single american airplane. isn't that irresponsible given the iraq experience to say that we can take that first step on a slippery slope and it won't that be dangerous?
>> i don't think so, david . no boots on the ground is sort of everyone's position, including mine, because the rebels don't want us in there. i think you can neutralize the airpower clearing the runways from cruise missiles and set up a no-fly zone by having aircraft operating out of turkey and jordan to neutralize the airpower. what i would suggest is that if the war continues, how likely is it that iran will take us seriously when it comes to their nuclear program if we continue to act indecisively regarding assad 's syria ? look what's happened to israel over the last year. their world is melting down. the russians are not hesitating in helping assad . hezbollah helped take back a town the rebels had just a few weeks ago. so, the balance of power is really now on assad 's side. as andrea said, he is winning, and it is not in our interests for him to win. and if we don't do more than add ak-47s into the mix, he will continue to win, and the king of jordan is going to become toast.
>> they have questions for you as well. i just want to put the staggering cost of this war -- i mentioned it in the open. let me put up a full-screen graphic of this. we are talking about more than 90,000 syrians killed over the last couple of years. this is online with bosnia now, as you look at that, and the number of kids under 10 years old being killed. it's very hard for americans to pay attention to something, sectarian conflict, so complicated and so insoluble in some ways, but those are the real costs.
>> and those are the costs, and a question for you, senator graham. i don't know how we resolve this, but if the jordans, for instance, with f-16s, were to crater the runways through a no-fly zone, how do we know where the chemical stockpiles are? how do we know they're not prepositioned on those very runways?
>> well, see, that's the ultimate question . you asked me about my biggest fear, would be lose the king of jordan would prolong more, that the elements of the rebels could end up seizing the chemical weapons cache, that assad would share chemical weapons or advanced russian weapons with hezbollah , which would be a direct threat. all i can say is that a political negotiation can only happen when the calculations on the ground change militarily, and the only way you do that is to stop the airpower advantage assad has. so, there are no good answers. i'm not here -- i say there's bipartisan support for more involvement in the senate than there was six months ago. i think everybody in america who watches this understands we can't just sit around and do nothing and give the rebels ak-47s. so, i think you can take the airpower advantage off the table by using cruise missiles . they don't have to be jordanian in nature.
>> senator, shouldn't politicians like you, shouldn't the president himself be more honest with the people and say, we are on a slippery slope , that if in a few months --
>> -- the rebels that we've supplied with these arms, heavy or light, are losing on the battlefield, that we're going to have to do more, that we're committed to them now, is that right?
>> so what does that mean?
>> yeah, i think that's -- well, i think there's two wars. the first war is to displace assad , to change the balance of military power vis-a-vis assad so we can get a political solution. the second war is to deal with the radical islamists who have flown in to aid the rebels . unfortunately, you're going to have two wars. when assad falls, you're going to have a war between the average syrian and the al qaeda elements who come into syria . here's the good news, david . i don't think the average syrian wants to displace assad and have an al qaeda state to replace him. these radical islamists are coming to the fight because of the security vacuum. they in my view do not represent the average syrian person. hezbollah , neither does al qaeda represent the average syrian. that's the good news, but they have to be fought.
>> i have just a couple minutes left, senator. on a couple other matters. edward snowededen, is he a traitor in your mind and what should the administration do to get him back to justice?
>> bring him to justice and let a prosecutor make that decision, not a politician, but i think what he did is compromise our national security , and i've got a very simple view of the world, and you can blame me for being simple in complex times. i believe we should be listening to terrorists, known terrorist e-mails, following their e-mails and following their phone calls . and if they're e-mailing somebody in the united states or calling somebody in the united states , i would like to get a judge's permission to monitor that phone call . if we don't do that, another attack on our homeland is very likely. we need this program and he's compromised it and he should be held accountable.
>> the immigration debate . are you going to get a bill in senate that is strong enough to get passage as well in the house?
>> after this interview, i'm going to leave you on a positive note. i think we're going to have a political breakthrough, that congress is going to pass immigration reform . i think we're going to get plus 70 votes. i've never been more optimistic about it. so, it would be great if we could pass immigration. and finally, as to syria , there is a bipartisan coalition growing around senator menendez that understands we need to get more involved as a nation to prevent the spillover from syria into the entire region, taking down all of our allies.
>> one on politics. a gathering of religious leaders in washington and potential entrance into the 2016 race. chris christie was with bill clinton at cgi. who has, do you think, got the most momentum in your party representative of a state with an early primary?
>> that's a really good question. bill clinton doesn't have a whole lot of sway, but he's a popular figure. the faith-based groups reported by probably the leading candidates. i would suggest a guy like jeb bush would have a really good chance in 2016 . a former governor or a governor, but you've got marco, you've got paul ryan . the good news is we have a deep bench, and after eight years of president obama 's economic policies , and quite frankly , foreign policy , people are going to be looking around. but if we don't pass immigration reform , if we don't get it off the table in a reasonable, practical way, it doesn't matter who you run in 2016 , we're in a demographic death spiral as a party, and the only way we can get back in good graces with the hispanic community, in my view, is pass comprehensive immigration reform . if you don't do that, it really doesn't matter who will run, in my view.
>> all right, senator graham. thank you, as always. just to button this up, we'll see you both back in our roundtable. but david , you wrote this weekend about the importance of backing moderate forces.
>> a moderate has won in iran . this is important.
>> i think this is the wild card in this very complicated middle east puzzle. suddenly, we have in tehran, a key state, driving conflict in syria , a person who, as far as we can tell, has been repudiating the foreign policies of the current government, saying you need to do negotiations more, you're too distant from the west, you're relying on russia and china. it is absolutely fascinating that we are going to have a man who is associated with the reformist wing in iran in power as president.
>> all right, you're back in a couple of minutes. we're going to take a break here. we're going to come back and take on the debate over government surveillance in the wake of the nsa leak. former government contractor edward snowden . what is next for him? how much damage did he do? we're joined by the top republican on the senate intelligence committee , saxby chambliss of georgia. one of the senate's most vocal skeptics of the top-secret data-mining program, democrat mark udall of colorado. they