Meet the Press   |  September 15, 2013

2: How Syria deal impacts U.S. standing

A Meet the Press roundtable examines how the pending agreement on Syria will affect the American position on the world stage.

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

>>> and we are back joining me now columnist for "the new york times," tom friedman . bloomberg view's jeffrey goldberg , robin wright and our own andrea mitchell back with us. tom, here was the cover of "the week" magazine. sick of the job. that is the u.s. as the world's policeman and you wrote something in your column this week that really struck me and i'll put that on the screen, as well. you said, "give obama credit for standing up for an important principle in a chaotic region but also give the american people some credit. they're telling our leaders something important. it's hard to keep facing down middle east hitlers when there are no churchills on the other side." where are we this morning with a potential deal at hand, and a real statement of nonintervention on the part of this president and the american public.

>> well, let me take it from several perspective, david, one, i think the deal that's been proposed would be if it can be implemented would be a great deal. affirmed the ban on chemical weapons . we will have avoided a military strike . we also may have laid the foundation for a cease-fire, maybe through further negotiations with the russians. if this can be implemented i think it's an unambiguous win for the united states and the regionment at the same tyke, what was i talking about there, the american people . we know in the last few days people were overwhelmingly opposed to the use of force . i say a couple of things. one is this has not been a left/right issue. this has been an elite base focus. i don't think the bases -- i think the base has concluded something. they've done the math on iraq, afghanistan, libya. now syria and i think what they've said is, okay, every time we face these issues you ask three questions, do we have an interest, can we accomplish what we want to accomplish with a reasonable price and in a reasonable time ? i think the american people are saying there's a fourth question we need to start asking. do we have real partners? do we have partners for when we actually bomb or strike or whatever that will actually take ownership of what we've done and make it self-sustains and i think a lot of people might not articulate this exactly that are asking do we have people there who really share our values? because what happened in the whole middle east with the arab awaken something that people got their freedom from these regimes, but, you know, one of my teachers said, there's freedom but there's freedom too. what do you want freedom to do what, some want to be free to be more islamist or more tribal. some want to be more sectarian. some want to be free to be citizens but not a critical mass mere.

>> jeffrey, you were writing this morning as you were coming in saying, wow, this looks like a pretty big victory for assad given where things stand.

>> i think it's an unambiguous victory for assad and maybe for obama too but, look, a year ago we were talking about removing assad . now in a kind of perverse way we're partnering with assad on this huge project which i think is an outlandish project given that there's a war going on to remove all of the chemical weapons from syria . now he's invested in this. we're invested in this process in the same way and what is off the table is working to remove the regime because, remember, chemical weapons are ultimately not the problem. the problem is the people who use them and they're not only in place but they are now endorsed, they are part of a process.

>> robin.

>> well, look, this is something that concerns me a great deal because we are involved in what is just a deliver of this problem. and it's not just syria that's at stake it's really the whole middle east and middle of a transition to a new order and we are being very kind of political and parochial in our views of what we do kind of with each country, there's no grand principle. there's no helping design whether it's using our aid, using our -- the kind of infrastructure we have to assist people in writing constitutions, in getting there. now, one of the messages out of the middle east today they want to be the ones to make their decision of what their future looks like but at the same time when you look at the middle east you can argue we haven't had a real success since jimmy carter . even the gulf war in 1990 /'91 was a tactical victory but a strategic failure in that it unleashed, you know, al qaeda , osama bin laden and a period where islamic extremism really began to define the region. we need something much bigger to put out there to deal with the issue of syria , the issue of egypt, the issue of the middle east .

>> ' ya, we are at a similar point at where we've been in other points of history.

>> have we empowered vladimir putin and what are his self-interests? clearly he has interests in making sure the chemicals don't go to chechnya. he had a real interest in working with the united states here but does he now hold all the cards on the timing and implementation and to all of your point, my colleagues here, what is the big vision? we've drawn a red line on chemicals, belatedly we are trying to enforce it. we're not enforcing it with force but what are the other red lines ? what is the message that tehran is receiving and netanyahu is receiving in jerusalem here? you know, how is the world viewing us as strong, as weak and what is the big picture regarding not only syria as you say but the rest of the region?

>> andrea makes a good point. there is a red line about friendship in a kind of way. you have a situation going to strategy in which every american ally in the region turkey, jordan, united arab emirates , saushg and israel, they don't know what the bashar al assad is doing precisely. they don't know how friendly they are. they don't know if they have their backing. a great deal of confusion and so i think one of the things that the obama administration has to do is reassure its friends. it doesn't mean we've abandoned you.

>> we tend to focus because we're in america and this is an american show man we do but my own feeling is much are important is what they do, okay. and that, you know, we didn't have a problem worrying about the transition of south africa because there was a nelson mandela there. about 30,000 young arabs and must lips have come from all over the arab world all over the muslim world to fight with the jihadists. we know that. how many have come to fight for a multisectarian, multi-party that empowers women and has education. the middle east only puts a smile on your face when it starts with them. we can emly fie that but if the underlying thing is completely fractured between jihadists, tribalists and those who want to be democratic, i have a lot more sympathy for the administration because what do we do but who are? why is it we need all these people to tell us who the syrian opposition really is? did anyone need to tell us who mandela is

>> that's the problem going to the next phase. can you translate this into something that's a real pooh peace process . we're faced with a deeply divided opposition, a thousand different militias, a political opposition that hasn't been able to get its act together in 2 1/2 years to form a shadow government which would be an interlock tore for us or treat a shadow government operating inside as we saw in libya. there's nothing valid or viable --

>> i interviewed the general on friday. i was in get neve v he was in syria and he is today, you know, condemning this --

>> the rebel commander.

>> john kerry is going on to meet in paris tomorrow morning with the british, the french and the saudis and to try to reassure them but there has been as we've all suggested a lot of zigzagging here and the rest of the world is looking to american leadership but americans are looking to what's happening at home.

>> button it up this way, this part of the conversation, unfortunately we didn't get to talk about the breakup of the ottoman empire .

>> next week's show.

>> but the stakes here of where america is, where congress is, this level of apprehension which we see, the stakes are what?

>> well, the stakes are in a slightly narrower frame but important, the stakes are that the next big issue which is iran, right? i mean that's what we're all thinking about, even though we're talking about syria .

>> right.

>> and the question is, are we signaling to the iranians that, hey, we could put down a red line but we don't actually mean it? this is what all of america 's allies in the middle east are worried about and very important.

>> this morning the iranian press announced putin is going to tehran to talk about a nuclear deal. putin volume 2 .

>> thank you all very much.

>>> after his prime time push this week our political roundtable on whether president obama is actually winning the debate on syria and what are the implications for the rest of his agenda. bob woodward , richard wolffe and ana navarro. five years after the u.s. economy was nearly brought to its knees is too big to fail still a problem? former treasury secretary hank paulson is here as well as former congressman barney frank and cnbc's this is an rc robotic