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Secretary of State Kerry defends Obama's 'courageous decision' to wait for Congress on Syria; key lawmakers respond
Written by Chris Wallace / Published September 01, 2013 / Fox News Sunday
Special Guests: Secretary of State John Kerry, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.
This is a rush transcript from "Fox News Sunday," September 1, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: I'm Chris Wallace.
President Obama does an about-face and asked Congress to authorize military force in Syria.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our capacity to execute this mission isn't time sensitive. It will be effective tomorrow or next week or one month from now.
WALLACE: After days of making the case, the Assad regime killed more than a thousand of its own people with chemical weapons, the president says the deaths should not go unpunished. But --
OBAMA: While I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course and our actions will be even more effective.
SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: We have a president who does what he says he will do.
WALLACE: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry joins us to discuss the president's decision to delay action in Syria more than a week.
Then, we'll talk with leaders of the armed services committee. Democrat Jack Reed and Republican James Inhofe. And New York Congressman Peter King, who says the president is abdicating his responsibility as commander in chief.
Plus, retired four-star General Jack Keane and former Senator Joe Lieberman join our Sunday panel with their tack on President Obama's decision to put Syria on hold.
All right now on "Fox News Sunday."
WALLACE: And hello, again, from Fox News in Washington.
President Obama shocked Washington and the world Saturday, announcing he will seek congressional approval for the use of military force against Syria. This just a day after Secretary of State John Kerry said U.S. intelligence proves the Assad regime used chemical weapons and seemed to argue for a quick response.
We'll talk with Secretary Kerry in a moment.
But, first, we have Fox team coverage. Leland Vittert from our Mideast bureau. And from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, Mike Emanuel on Capitol Hill and Ed Henry with the latest on President Obama's stunning turnaround -- Ed.
ED HENRY, FOX NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. Just minutes ago, top Syrian official charging President Obama showed hesitation and confusion stemming all from Friday. The president making two dramatic decisions. Time to step on the pedal, go in to Syria and then wait, let's slam on the brakes.
First, top aides say he decided early Friday, the U.S. should move forward with military action to respond to that chemical weapons attack on August 21st that Secretary Kerry claims killed over 1,400 people. But later on Friday, Kerry made that passionate case for prompt military action, calling Assad a thug. But shortly after that, Kerry going out on a limb. We got a clue that something might be amiss, when the president had a photo op and gave a more tentative case.
Top officials now say, around 6: 0 p.m. Friday night, the president went for a 45-minute walk on the south lawn of the White House with receive chief of staff, Denis McDonough, and threw him a curve ball. The president shocked by the British parliament voting down military action, revealed he was overriding Kerry and the team to seek congressional authorization.
Now, what's interesting is this is a big delay, since Congress doesn't return to work until September 9th. In a dramatic reversal because for days White House aides had said the opposite, that they would only consult Congress. Friday, about 7:00 p.m. in the Oval Office the president had a two-hour meeting with senior staff. I am told there was real division in there, because aides were concerned he could lose the vote. If he wins he could lose political capital doing that.
Kerry and other members of the cabinet only found out in phone calls from the president later in the night, though officials insist they all came together Saturday in the Situation Room. Then, the president came out in the Rose Garden. Important to note, he indicated even if Congress votes it down, he has the executive power to launch military action. That might be weeks down the road. The president declaring this menace needs to be confronted, though apparently not right away.
Within minutes of leaving the rose garden, the president and vice president went out for a golf match -- Chris.
WALLACE: Ed Henry, reporting from the White House. Ed, thanks for that.
Now, let's get an early assessment of how the president's plan will do on Capitol Hill from chief congressional correspondent Mike Emanuel -- Mike.
MIKE EMANUEL, FOX NEWS CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Chris, good morning.
Senate Foreign Relation chair Bob Menendez scheduled a hearing on the use of force for Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says military action in Syria is justified and warranted and says the Senate will vote no later than the week of September 9th. House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers says U.S. credibility is on the line after the Syrian regime used chemical weapons on its people. Rogers says lawmakers must look at what failure to act would send to enemies and allies around the world. A key Republican senator says he has an open mind about the use of force in Syria but isn't sold on the administration's arguments so far.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ, R-TEXAS: They have suggested that the U.S. military should be employed to vindicate so-called international norms. In my view, U.S. military force is justified only to protect the vital national security interests of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
EMANUEL: Senator Saxby Chambliss, a top Republican on the intelligence community says leadership is about reacting to crisis and quickly making tough decisions. Chambliss says the president should have demanded Congress return immediately. Florida Democrat Senator Bill Nelson says, quote, "I support the president's decision but as far as I'm concerned we should strike in Syria today."
And the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Carl Levin says he wants an international coalition. Quote, "It is important that the president in seeking support and participation from other countries including Arab countries, while the administration works on the coalition we should note House members will receive a classified briefing later today and House aides are saying the president will have to personally invest a lot of time and effort in making the case with lawmakers for military action in Syria -- Chris.
WALLACE: Mike, thank you.
WALLACE: Joining us now to discuss the president's stunning turnaround on Syria is Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr. Secretary, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."
KERRY: Thank you. Great to be with you, Chris.
WALLACE: Mr. Secretary, you made the case for military action in the strongest possible terms on Friday.
If the situation is so dire, if Bashar Al-Assad is such a thug, why is the president waiting until Congress comes back, nine days from now, to debate this? Why not call them into session tomorrow and begin this debate and get an approval to act?
KERRY: Well, Chris, we are -- the case has not changed and the case does not change at all. The rationale for the military response the president has requested is as powerful today and will be as powerful if not more powerful each day. The fact is that yesterday, we have now learned that hair and blood samples that have come to us from east Damascus, from individuals who were engaged as first responders in east Damascus, I can report to you today they have tested positive for signatures of sarin. So, this case is going to build stronger and stronger, and the president believes that the United States of America for a decision like this is stronger when you have the time to be able to have the support of the United States Congress and obviously the support of the American people through them.
So, I think that America is stronger here. That's the president's belief. I think people should be celebrating that the president is in fact not moving unilaterally, that he is honoring the request that he heard from many people in Congress, to consult and to be engaged with them, and I think realizing that the Assad regime is already on the defensive. They are being significantly impacted by the potential of these strikes. We do not lose anything. We actually gain, and what we gain is the legitimacy of the full-throated response of the Congress of the United States and the president, acting together after our democratic process has worked properly.
WALLACE: But, Mr. Secretary, this isn't "CSI," this isn't a civics lesson. People's lives are at stake -- as I don't have to tell you -- on the ground in Syria. In your remarks on Friday, you said that this matters and it matters beyond the borders of Syria. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: It is about whether Iran, which itself has been a victim of chemical weapons attacks, will now feel emboldened, in the absence of action, to obtain nuclear weapons. It is about Hezbollah and North Korea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Mr. Secretary, what message are we sending to Iran and Hezbollah and North Korea when the president announces he thinks we should take military action, but he's going to wait nine days for Congress to come back before he takes any action, and then he goes off and plays a round of golf? What message does that send to the rebels on the ground whose lives are in danger, and to our enemies who are watching?
KERRY: I think actually North Korea and Iran ought to take note that the United States of America has the confidence in its democratic process to be able to ask all of the American people to join in an action that could have profound implications with respect to Iran. The fact is that if we act, and if we act in concert, then Iran will know that this nation is capable of speaking with one voice on something like this, and that has serious, profound implications, I think, with respect to the potential of a confrontation over their nuclear program.
That is one of the things that is at stake here. I said that. You just quoted it. That and America's willingness to enforce the international norm on chemical weapons. I think we are stronger. The president believes we are stronger when the Congress of the United States joins in this. I mean, Congress can't have it both ways. You can't sit there and say, well, you got to consult with us and we ought to honor the constitutional process, and Congress has the right to make its voice heard in these decisions, and the president is giving them that opportunity, and I think you should welcome it, Chris, and the Congress and the country should welcome this.
WALLACE: But --
KERRY: It is a healthy debate, it's an important debate, and we do not lose anything militarily in the meantime. If Assad --
WALLACE: The refugees on the ground lose something, sir.
KERRY: -- were to decide --
WALLACE: They lose the possibility that they're going to get killed in the meantime.
Let me just, if I may, follow up. Ronald Reagan did not think he needed congressional approval to go after Gadhafi in Libya. Bill Clinton did not think he needed approval to go after Kosovo or to go after Al Qaeda. This president seems to think --
KERRY: Actually --
WALLACE: -- he needs political cover.
KERRY: Actually, Chris, at the very instant the planes were in the air on Kosovo, there was a vote in the House of Representatives, and the vote did not carry. So the truth is the president would have loved to have had the support from Congress. The fact is that our country is much stronger when we act together.
I am amazed that you would argue against the Congress of the United States weighing in, when in fact, already Assad is on the defensive, he's moving assets around, he's hunkering down, he's taking a response to the potential of a strike. And the fact is that this strike can have impact when it needs to, with the support of the Congress of the United States.
Now, if the Assad regime -- let me just finish. If the Assad regime were to be foolish enough to attack yet again and to do something in the meantime, of course the president of the United States knows he has the power to do this, and I assume the president would move very, very rapidly. But he feels we are stronger in getting the United States as a whole to gel around this policy, to understand it better, and to know what the strategy is, and why the United States needs to do this.
WALLACE: What if Congress refuses to authorize action, what happens then?
KERRY: I don't believe that's going to happen. I think the stakes of upholding the international standard of behavior that has been in place since 1925, after World War I, that only Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein have breached that in time of war since then, and now Assad joins them -- I think to contemplate that the Congress of the United States would turn its back on Israel, on Jordan, on Turkey, on our allies in the region, turn its back on innocent Syrian people who have been slaughtered by this gas, and those who yet may be subject to an attack, if we don't stand up to this, I can't contemplate that the Congress would turn its back on all of that responsibility and the fact that we would have in fact granted impunity to a ruthless dictator to continue to gas his people. Those are the stakes. And I don't believe the Congress will do that.
WALLACE: Mr. Secretary, you make it sound as if this was always the plan, but the fact is, on Friday, when you made your speech, you made a powerful call for quick action. You seemed to be leading the charge up the hill, and the reports --
KERRY: Chris, I made a powerful call for action. I never mentioned the word quick. I made the case for why we needed to take the action, and the president --
WALLACE: You called for taking a decision now. If I may, though, sir, the White House --
KERRY: The president has taken -- the president has taken his decision, Chris. The president announced his decision yesterday.
WALLACE: But nothing is going to happen for 10 days.
KERRY: His decision is to take -- well, Chris, it will happen with the consent of the Congress of the United States, and be much more powerful and I believe allow us to even do more coordinating with our friends and allies, do more planning, and frankly be far more effective. I think this is a smart decision by the president. I think it's a courageous decision. He is not trying to create an imperial presidency. He is trying to respect the process by which we are strongest in this country.
And I think the Congress --
WALLACE: But, sir, if I may --
KERRY: -- and the American people should welcome this.
WALLACE: But if I may just ask my question. The fact is that this was not the plan. The White House is acknowledging --
KERRY: I don't know why --
WALLACE: If I can just ask the question, sir. The White House is acknowledging this was not the plan. The White House podium, the press spokesman kept saying you did not need congressional approval. We're told the president went out with his chief of staff on the lawn Friday night, changed his mind, talked to White House staff, and you and other cabinet officials were informed about it after the fact. This was never the plan.
KERRY: I disagree with that. I received a telephone call from the president the night before. He discussed it. He had not made up his mind. I believe it is a good idea. I think the vice president, a whole group of people believe that the president has made a courageous decision.
And as you know, Chris, and I think, you know, I've certainly learned as a new member of the cabinet, no decision is made until the president of the United States makes the decision. You know, staff can advise; people can weigh in, but everybody knows that ultimately no decision is made until the president makes it. The president made this decision. I believe it's the right decision. I think we are stronger. The president believes very, very much that America will show the best face of our democracy and a great strength, and we will show a unity of purpose in the conviction of the Congress and the president that we need to do this.
WALLACE: Sir, I have --
KERRY: And during this time, over these next days, we have an opportunity to re-gauge and to fine-tune our strategy on Syria. I know people like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, others have thoughts about things that can strengthen it. I think we can create a unity of purpose here that actually makes America stronger and that is frankly much more damaging and much more problematic for Assad.
WALLACE: One final question, sir, and we have less than a minute left. You talk about this is going to make it worse for Assad. After the president announced his decision, officials in Damascus were saying that the president had flinched, had made a joke of the American administration. A newspaper out in the streets of Damascus today calls this, quote, "the start of the historic American retreat."
Haven't you handed Syria and Iran at least a temporary victory, sir?
KERRY: I don't believe so at all. And that is in the hands of the Congress of the United States.
The president has made his decision. The president wants to stand up and make certain that we uphold the international norm, that we do not grant impunity to a ruthless dictator to gas his own people. Anybody who saw those images, anybody who know focuses on the evidence that I just gave you about signatures of sarin in the hair and blood samples of the first responders -- I mean, first responders died. People who went to help the people who were hurt, died in this case.
This is a man who has created -- who has committed a crime against humanity, and I can't imagine that the Congress of the United States will not recognize our interests with respect to Iran, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, our friends in the region, the Syrian people, the opposition. America's credibility is on the line here, and I expect the Congress of the United States to do what is right and to stand up and be counted, and I think that the Assad regime needs to recognize that they have refocused the energy of the American people on him, on his regime, on his lack of legitimacy to govern, and on the ways we will support the opposition in order to see that the people of Syria can choose their future in an appropriate way.
WALLACE: Secretary Kerry, thank you. Thanks for joining us. It should be an interesting couple of weeks, sir.
KERRY: That it may be, but I believe that in the end, the Congress of the United States will do what is right.
WALLACE: Thank you, sir.
Up next, as the president decides to seek congressional approval, what's the reaction on Capitol Hill? We'll talk with three leading lawmakers, plus a live report from the Middle East. How will our friends and enemies read it -- the decision to delay a military strike.
WALLACE: U.S. Navy warships armed with dozens of Tomahawk missiles are sitting in the eastern Mediterranean, waiting for the order to open fire. But they'll have to wait more than a week longer.
Leland Vittert joins us from our Mideast bureau -- Leland.
LELAND VITTERT, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Chris, leaders around the region are scratching their heads asking two things -- what happened, and what does it mean now? Up until yesterday, when the American president drew a line in the sign it meant something. Now folks aren't sure. Government officials in Israel will use words like coward off the record.
The Syrians meanwhile are declaring victory on state TV today. President Assad said, quote, "Syria will not change its principles."
Syria's deputy prime minister speaking on television yesterday said America had lost the battle before it started. The administration had made a joke of itself. That was while Syrian state TV showed street parties in celebration.
The Syrians spent the week moving military hardware around to keep it away from U.S. targeting to make good on their promise to attack Tel Aviv if the U.S. struck in response to that. Israel deployed its iron dome missile defense system, called up reserve soldiers, canceled military leave, those kinds of things. The Israelis say they will remain on high alert through the next period to see what the Americans do.
But there is probably a bigger story here from the Israeli perspective and from the Middle East perspective. What the U.S. did about Syria was seen as a test for what President Obama may do about Iran, something he's drawn a similar red line about when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program. There is now a fear in Israel if push comes to shove with Iran, the Israelis may have to go it alone.
Strength, of course, in the Middle East isn't measured by what you say but what you do, Chris. Especially now it is looked as though the Syrians, for that matter even the Russians, were eye to eye with President Obama and President Obama has blinked. In order for him to regain his credibility in the region for, of course, the red lines of the president of the United States to mean something, it's seen as that will be judged over the next couple of weeks, Chris, by what President Obama actually does, not what he or members of his administration say.
Back to you.
WALLACE: Leland Vittert, reporting from the Middle East.
We want congressional reaction now from two leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee: Jack Reed, Democrat from Rhode Island, and the committee's top Republican, James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Also with us, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee.
You heard President Obama's announcement yesterday that he's going to go to Capitol Hill to seek congressional authorization for the use of military use against Syria.
Congressman King, you called this an abdication of the responsibilities as the commander in chief. From my civic books, I thought I remembered the president is supposed to go to Congress before he takes military action.
REP. PETER KING, R-N.Y.: No, he's not. The president as commander-in-chief has absolute constitutional and statutory power to take military action. President Eisenhower, President Reagan, President Clinton, all took it. And even under the War Powers Act, he's authorized to do it.
And if he says this issue is -- as important as it is and sending so many mixed signals over the last year and certainly over the last 10 days, this is a clear failure of leadership. If you feel so strongly about it and if you also don't want to take action himself, then he should call us back into session tomorrow. We can't be waiting nine, 10 days, and allowing Syria to prepare for this and send mixed signals to the world, and particularly to the Iran.
If we can't stop Syria on a red line with chemical weapons, how can anyone expect us to stop Iran with the red line on nuclear weapons?
WALLACE: Senator Reed, it sure seemed we were on the verge this weekend of taking military action against Syria. The White House said the president was prepared to go it alone without congressional approval, without support from any of the allies. Now, he puts all this off for more than a week until Congress comes back from recess. As Congressman King points out, he doesn't call you into special session tomorrow.
And there are a lot of critics -- you heard Leland Vittert talking about the Middle East. A lot of people in this country who say the president flinched.
SEN. JACK REED, D-R.I.: The president made the right decision. He was very clear that he had not decided on military action. And then I think he rightly recognized that in the long run, he and the country and the world would be stronger if Congress was supportive of his activities, because this is not just a short-term effort. This is a longer-term effort. And I think also, too, his response was in recognition of many Republicans and Democrats who were calling for congressional participation.
So I think he made the right a choice. I think he has to work hard to get the consensus. And I think you also he has to work internationally to build a strong international coalition. So, that will help not only carry out this operation but also give him additional support within Congress as he builds his coalition.
So, I think he made the right choice.
WALLACE: Senator Inhofe, you -- before the president made the decision to go to Congress, you had been very public and very critical of what you saw as the president's limited plan to strike at Syria.
Best guess, sir, as a veteran of Capitol Hill, will Congress approve the authorization for the use of force?
SEN. JAMES INHOFE, R-OKLA.: Well, first of all, I don't think they will. And, Chris, you -- for some reason, nobody wants to talk about the real serious problem here, and that is the condition of our military today. Now, it's a week ago I said I would oppose going in and having military intervention against Syria. It may sound real easy when people like Secretary Kerry say this is going to be quick and we'll go in and we're going to send a few cruise missiles, wash our hands and go home.
It doesn't work that way. This could be war in the Middle East. It's serious. And now, you've got to realize what this president has done to our military. And our military is so degraded now. It's not just me who says this.
I want to read one quote by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey. He said, "Our military force is so degraded and unready, it would be immoral to use force."
That's exactly what they are talking about doing -- is using force.
WALLACE: Congressman King, we keep hearing and in fact we hear from Secretary Kerry, from the president himself how war-weary the country is. What do you think of the chances that Congress will reject the use of force? And, if they were to do that, does the president then consider going unilaterally and acting?
KING: Well, first, I felt bad for Senator Kerry having to defend the indefensible.
Secondly, I think it is going to be difficult to get the votes through in Congress, especially when there is going to be time over the nine days for the opposition to build up to it. The president has not made the case. When they see the president being so weak and vacillating, many members of Congress will vote no.
I intend to vote yes. It's certainly, my intention right now. But I will say that back in 1999 with Kosovo, the House did vote against engagement in Kosovo and Bill Clinton kept fighting anyway. And, then, ultimately, a vote did pass. But he had bombing missions being carried in Kosovo after the House of Representatives voted against him taking action.
So, the president has the constitutional power to do it. I don't know what President Obama will do right now. I have no clue at all what's in his mind on this issue.
WALLACE: Briefly, Congressman King, to follow up -- do you think the House majority, the Republicans in the House, will as a group vote for or against the use of force?
KING: Right now, I would say if the vote were today, it would probably be a no vote. I'm hoping by the time next week comes around, and hopefully, the president can make his case, that he will be able to get a majority of the House of Representatives. Right now, it would be difficult. Also, we have an increasing isolationist wing in the party which I think is damaging to the party and to the nation.
WALLACE: And the president says, he said he 's looking forward to a vigorous debate over the issues. So, let's begin that right here, gentlemen.
And I want to talk about what a lot of people think is a kind of disconnect between the threat that the administration talks about in Syria and the very limited action that they are talking about actually taking against the Assad regime.
Let's listen to Secretary of State Kerry on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: If we choose to live in a world where a thug and murderer like Bashar al Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe they can do as they will.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: But if Assad is a thug and a murder, as the secretary of state just said there, Senator Inhofe, why should the U.S. limit itself to a strike that -- you know, we have heard more about what they're not going to do than what they are going to do. Short-term, limited, punitive, no attempt at regime change. Does that kind of a limited strike make sense against a thug and a murderer? Senator Inhofe?
INHOFE: Chris, Chris, this is just part of the salesmanship of this -- of Secretary Kerry. He's been saying this. It's going to be short, it's going to be easy, it's going to be quick. And we all know that isn't going to be the case. It's going to be something that could be long and last a long period of time. So, you know, for the secretary of state to talk about all of these allies of ours who are united wanting us to do this, let's hear from them a little bit right now. We've already heard that Iran who is going to have the capability of a weapon and a delivery system that would reach the United States by 2015, they have already stated that they would take action against Israel. So, it's not quite that easy. By the way, we are going to be meeting on Wednesday. Our Armed -- our Senate Armed Services Committee. And I hope to get this point across that we are going to have to somehow tie in our capabilities with the military that we have right now with what the president wants to do.
WALLACE: Senator Reed, let's talk about the nature of this kind of limited attack that the administration is pushing for. Secretary Kerry said that we cannot allow Bashar Assad to gas hundreds of his people with impunity. But we will allow him to slaughter 100,000 of his people with bombs and guns?
REED: Well, the objective that we are trying to achieve here is to reaffirm a standard of international law that has existed since the end of World War I that chemical weapons will not be used. The president believes and I think his military advisers have given him options that are vigorous and limited. Clearly limited. Because we want to vindicate this principle of international law. Not just in the case of Syria, but as others have suggested there are countries in the region, there are countries across the world -- and North Korea, for example -- that have chemical weapons. We want to make it quite clear that they cannot be used. That's the principle here. There are other issues with respect to supporting the Syrian opposition. I believe the president should continue to carry through on his pledges to supply, in this case, limited legal aid such as anti-tank weapons and weapons like that. But this issue is about in terms of the whole world stopping as best we can the use of chemical weapons.
WALLACE: As I discussed with Secretary Kerry, this is not just about Syria. It's also about Hezbollah and North Korea and Iran. Senator Inhofe, what kind of message does the president send when he calls a time-out of a more than a week on taking action, says he's going to give it to Congress. Talks about a very limited attack and then heads off to Europe? What message should our enemies around the world read from this?
INHOFE: Well, Chris, first of all, I think the thing that should not have been done is the line in the sand or the red line saying we are going to do this, sounding very, very -- if he's going to make that statement, he ought to stay with it. And even though I didn't agree -- don't agree with what he's going to ultimately want to do. But if you're going to say something, you've got to back it up. And this president clearly has retreated from the position that he took not just in the last couple of days, but about a week ago when he talked about the red line.
WALLACE: Senator Reed, finally, let's play this out. Let's suppose you have the debate in Congress. You just heard Senator Inhofe and Congressman King say that they think it's a very risky matter; that this may not pass. What if Congress rejects the use of force? Does the president go ahead unilaterally after Congress has rejected it, after he has spent a week seeking their support? And what message would congressional rejection send to our friends and our ally -- and our enemies in the Middle East?
REED: Well, first, I think the president has to work diligently -- not just the president but his whole cabinet has to work diligently to convince not just the Congress, but the American people that this is in the interest of the United States. Not just simply in the interest of another country. That vindicating this international norm will be incredibly important to us, to our close allies like Israel and also will put us in a position, I think, as my colleagues have suggested, as we confront further issues in the Middle East, such as the Iranians' aspirations. So, this is critically important. And I think that case can be made and should be made. I think that if there is another serious incident by the Syrians, if they again use chemical weapons as Secretary Kerry suggested, the president has already stated and feels that he has the international authority to move forward. The president has that. So, I think the real issue here is making sure and as Jim Inhofe indicated, we are beginning those deliberations next week with the Foreign Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee to build a case to get the support of Congress, but just as importantly get the support of the American people.
WALLACE: Senator Reed, Senator Inhofe, Congressman King, I want to thank you all for joining us today. Many of your colleagues wanted to debate the president's plan. Now you will get your chance, gentlemen.
REED: Thank you.
INHOFE: Thanks, Chris.
WALLACE: Coming up, we'll bring in our Sunday panel including a retired four-star general and a veteran senator to discuss how the president's decision to hit the pause button on military action will be seen in the Middle East.
OBAMA: We sent a shot across about saying, stop doing this.
KERRY: It will not involve any boots on the ground. It will not be open-ended.
OBAMA: That would be very limited. And it would not involve a long-term commitment or a major operation.
JOSH EARNEST, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The policy is not regime -- regime change when it comes to this scenario.
WALLACE: The president and top officials talking more this week about what they won't do in Syria than what they will before Mr. Obama put the whole process on hold Saturday while he seeks congressional approval. And it's time now for our Sunday group.
WALLACE: Fox News military analyst and former Army vice chief of staff, Retired Four Star General Jack Keane. Former Senator Joe Lieberman and Jennifer Rubin and Charles Lane, both from "The Washington Post." Well, I think we would all agree that a military action is about more than cruise missiles. It's about building support, it's about orchestrating the run-up to war. General Keen, what message -- and I keep focusing on this. What message is the president sending to our friends and our enemies in the region with all this talk you just heard that went on for a week about the limits, the restrictions on what we're going to do in Syria and then putting the whole process on pause for more than a week to wait for congressional approval?
GEN. JACK KEANE, RET., FOX NEWS MILITARY ANALYST: Well, you know, this is certainly a surprise. And in a sense, I'm not shocked by it. Because there is a pattern here when he's making the actual security decisions like he has made of hesitation, delay and it's been a part of his behavior for some time. And the fact of the matter is, I think the White House is somewhat paralyzed by fear of adverse consequence. And it dominates their thinking. So, what you get in the region then strategically is a sense of a lack of certainty of the United States. Are we going to be there for them? Here, given the horrific nature of this attack, given the moral imperative that leading U.S. officials have made about this, and now we have this pattern of hesitation and delay again. We have seen it in the past, Chris. Even after we had certain knowledge of Usama bin Laden's location it took six months to act. The same thing in Libya with half measures. We started and then we pulled back our forces. And Afghanistan, escalated the war, but announced a withdrawal date. This hesitation, delay and half measures has been a significant pattern, and it's led to a diminishment of U.S. stature in the region.
WALLACE: Senator Lieberman, I looked it up, you were a senator for 24 years. Have you ever seen anything like this where a president seems about to take us, if not to war, to a serious military action, and then says, wait a minute, I'm going to wait ten days for Congress to come back from vacation.
JOE LIEBERMAN, FORMER U.S. SENATOR, I-CT.: I was looking back myself, Chris, over the 24 years -- never saw anything like it. I mean we had President Clinton acted in Bosnia and Kosovo without endorsement by Congress. In the 1991 go for, President Bush 41 was massing troops, ultimately over a half a million Americans. There was a debate about whether he should come to Congress for authorization. He did. It was very close. Passed in the Senate by only 52 to 47. But nothing like this, and nothing like this in the sense that president states the red line of the use of chemical weapons. The administration says consistently that he doesn't have to come to Congress to take military action. Secretary Kerry on Friday in a brilliant, convincing, moving statement essentially indicts Bashar al- Assad as a mass murderer. And then the president says yesterday, let's wait. There is a mass murderer at loose. And right, while we are waiting, he's dispersing his critical assets. Any advantage of a surprise attack that we had in Syria is diminishing rapidly. Maybe it's gone.
WALLACE: So now, the battleground isn't Syria, at least for the next ten days. It's Capitol Hill. Jennifer, what do you think Congress will do?
JENNIFER RUBIN, THE WASHINGTON POST: I spoke with leadership offices yesterday, because I was curious myself. And they say we have no idea, which just points to really the lunacy of this reversal, as Senator Lieberman said. If they don't know whether the votes are there, the president certainly doesn't know that the votes are there. And obviously, a negative vote would once again raise questions as to what the president intends to do. You know, he's had five reversals in this. He began by saying, we had really no interest in any kind of military action. We had the first red line. So, then we -- he said we would act. Then we didn't act. Another reversal during that interim period. Then we had another incident of chemical weapons use. He said that was the red line. We were going to act unilaterally, and now he's going back to Congress. If our allies and our foes can follow this, they are smarter and more perceptive than we are.
WALLACE: Chuck, if there's anybody in this panel who at least sees the president's side of the case, it's you. Do you see this -- the president's side in the actions, the run-up to war and then hitting the pause button?
CHRIS LANE, THE WASHINGTON POST: Look, no one is going to dispute this has been mismanaged in many different ways. I would hope some people would acknowledge the difficulty of the problems that he faces. And I think it's a bit too much to dismiss going to Congress as lunacy since after all, that is kind of what the Constitution calls for. And it's been what a lot of Republicans, frankly, have been calling for. Where I think the president has got himself a problem here, is that he does seem to think this is somehow turning the tables on his opponents in Congress by sort of giving them what they wished for and letting them work it out. I'm not sure that's the way it plays out. I think they now have him over a barrel. Because he's basically gone to Congress, one house of which is dominated by Republicans and ask them for a political bailout. And very interesting to see what kind of conditions, quietly or openly, they start demanding before they give him what he says he wants.
WALLACE: All right, panel, we have to take a break here. But when we come back, the president says he looks forward to debate over his plan for a limited strike against the Assad regime. We'll ask the panel if that's likely to stop the carnage or just to embolden Syria.
WALLACE: Check out foxnewssunday.com for behind-the-scenes features, panel plus and our special Monday preview of the week ahead. You can find it at foxnewssunday.com. And be sure to let us know what you think. Stay tuned for more from our panel.
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SEN. RAND PAUL, R-KY.: It sounds to me like saving face because he's made a promise so he's going to follow through with his promise. That's why you ought to be very careful about drawing lines in the sand or red lines. Because now he feels that he looks weak to both his colleagues in the United States as well as his international colleagues. But I don't think that's enough reason to go to war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Kentucky Senator Rand Paul already joining the debate over the president's handling of the situation in Syria. We are back now with the panel. But we're going to hear a lot over the next week and a half about this debate. The best way forward in Syria.
General Keane, what do you think of the president's plan as he has laid it out? Short term, limited, basically focused on attacking Assad's chemical weapons capability, not regime change.
KEANE: Well, first of all, I don't like the fact we have given the enemy so much time to take evasive action and to harbor their significant military resources. I think this operation should have been over by now, much less extended for another few weeks. Secondly, I did support the limited action, if the objective is to reduce significant military capability. And I was suggesting that Assad would never believe he would use chemical weapons and have to give up his air power. And that's within the means of these kind of instruments that we are doing. Shut down his airfields, shut down his airplanes, shut down the logistic infrastructure that supports all of that. That's still obtainable to a certain degree. But we are going to have to work very hard, I believe, to make this strike very effective.
I think it should be tied to something that's strategic in terms of moving the advantage to the opposition forces and not just a punitive measure. And it should be coupled with military aid to the rebel forces, the moderate forces who are leading the attack and are also geographically separated from the jihad forces.
WALLACE: Senator Lieberman, a couple of your former colleagues in the Senate, John McCain, Lindsey Graham have suggested they might oppose this not because it does too much but because it doesn't do enough. Because it's too limited and there is no point in this kind of a strike, if you aren't going to do what General Keane says, which is really degrade Assad's ability to terrorize and slaughter his own people. How would you vote at this point?
LIEBERMAN: Notwithstanding what I said a few moments ago about how shocked and disappointed I was by the president's decision yesterday to go to Congress for authorization, because I think he has the authority now to do that, and that's exactly what a commander in chief is supposed to do. The worst of all ends to this whole saga would be for Congress not to give the president authority to act. It would be catastrophic. And I know there are going to be people in the Republican and Democratic parties, who, for policy reasons, will oppose the resolution the president has asked for. There are going to be others who are going to be tempted to hang the president out there by voting no. When they do that, they are not just going to be hanging the president out there, they're going to be hanging America out there, and compromising our credibility in the world.
So I appeal to my fellow members of Congress, give the president the authority he's asked for.
Incidentally, the fact that he has waited now and gone to Congress, in my opinion, has given the Syrians the right to disperse a lot of their assets and will require him now, I think, not just to take a shot across the bow, but to hit the bow. And to hit the bow where the leadership of Syria is, which ordered the chemical weapons attacks that we have evidence killed almost 1,500 people and 426 children.
So I'm going to do everything I can to convince my former colleagues, including my amigos McCain and Graham, to strengthen this resolution as much as they can, but then vote for it. Don't let it fail.
WALLACE: Jennifer, does a limited strike after an additional delay, does it serve a useful purpose?
RUBIN: It depends how limited it is, I suppose. What General Keane was suggesting is that you can stop short of regime change and still make a difference.
WALLACE: I'm talking about what the president is talking about.
RUBIN: Well, what the president is talking about seems to be, quite frankly, useless. The worst thing in the world we could do is throw a few missiles in there, have Assad beat his chest and say he survived the United States, have the Iranians conclude all you have to do is in essence pay a traffic ticket and then keep going on the way to WMDs. And interestingly enough, the actual resolution that the White House has come up with is rather broad. It says that the president can take action as is necessary to deal with the WMD situation.
Well, General Keane just made the argument that in order to deal with it, you have to do a lot more. And my argument would be, in order to deal with it, you have to get rid of Assad as well.
LANE: We're not going to do that. The president isn't going to do that. So wish for it all we want.
I think actually the worst thing that could possibly happen would be nothing at this point. Whether because Congress turned it down or because the president, after getting authority, decided to do nothing.
And so now what the problem, the debate is going to be about is calibrating. That's a very bad business to be in, but I got to say it's not as bad as letting this all end with absolutely nothing.
RUBIN: That's why you don't have these decisions made by Congress. Because there are 535 game plans. And that's why it is so difficult to throw the ball into Congress's court. They don't act with one voice.
LANE: Well, he's asking for very, very broad authority within -- once he gets it, then he can draw up the plan and he can calibrate how much force we're going to use.
WALLACE: Let me just bring General Keane in here. We have got a little over a minute left. Let's say Congress approves, and the president launches his air strike. And let's say it is as limited as he's talking about.
What happens the day after? I guess what I'm really asking you is, do you understand what our strategy is for Syria and, more importantly, the threat from Iran?
KEANE: Well, no, I don't. I think it's unequivocal where we stand on Syria. The issue with Syria, I think for many of us, has always been about Iran. This is an anchor point for them in terms of regional domination. It means a lot to them. They are all in here. They have their Quds Force and their Revolutionary Guards, and they have never taken forces like that outside the country and intervened. They are here because this is critical to them. Strategically, we have got to keep our eye on that ball. Our strategy dealing with Syria I think to date is quite inadequate and it will still be inadequate after this strike.
WALLACE: And in 30 seconds, how much trouble are we in, in the Middle East right now?
LIEBERMAN: Well, the Middle East is in tumult.
WALLACE: But I mean U.S. policy.
LIEBERMAN: I'm sure that our enemies are cheering now as a result of this decision, because they realize it's not clear that the president will get authority, and our allies are worried. And it's not just our allies in the Arab world and Israel, it's not just in the Middle East. It's in Asia, where a lot of countries depend on American strength and credibility. That's why again, this resolution or something like it has to pass Congress.
WALLACE: Thank you, panel. See you next week. And remember our discussion and this discussion will continue on Sunday on panel plus. You can find it on our website, FoxNewsSunday.com. And make sure to follow us on twitter, @FoxNewsSunday. And we'll be right back with a final word.
WALLACE: Please stay tuned to this Fox station and Fox News Channel for the latest on the situation in Syria. And remember to sign up for Fox News's daily politics newsletter. Fox News First gives you the scoop first thing in the morning. Sign up at Foxnewspolitics.com.
That's it for a very busy day. Have a great week. We'll see you next "Fox News Sunday. "
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