Short-term versus long-term strategy in Syria

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 5, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: We're about to show you a graphic video published by The New York Times today. In it, a group of Syrian rebels are executing government soldiers at gunpoint. Now, the video's edited so you will not see any gunfire, but you will hear the shot.

The New York Times said the video was smuggled out of Syria by a former rebel who had become disgusted by the rebel violence and relates to an incident last spring.


VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us is Ambassador John Negroponte. He served as the first U.S. director of National Intelligence, as well as U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the United Nations, and many more posts, I should add. Nice to see you, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: Sir, in looking at what's going on in Syria -- and I realize much can change. It's a very fluid situation. Do you have some sort of sense of what -- what our long-term strategy is?

NEGROPONTE: Well, I think I have a better sense of what the short-term strategy is.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, do we need to know -- do we -- I mean, does it -- can we go to war just having a short-term strategy?

NEGROPONTE: Well, this issue of the chemical weapons has become a focal point, so as you were saying earlier, I don't doubt that there's going to be some kind of reaction. And the president's entire effort is focused on mobilizing support for that action both here in our Congress and with other countries overseas.

As far as the longer term, I mean, we did say quite a while ago that we think Assad must go. We've been supportive of the opposition. And it looks like we're -- that support is getting more robust. And it would appear that that's one of the conditions of senators and congressmen like John McCain for supporting the president on his retaliation against the Syrians for using chemical weapons would be to bolster and beef up the kind of the nature of the support that we give to the rebels.

VAN SUSTEREN: When you talk about opposition -- I mean, obviously, we all know who President Assad is, and it's been the conclusion of many in this nation, our president and everybody else, that he must go. He hasn't gone yet -- is when you talk about the opposition, Senator John McCain talks about the Free Syrian Army, but there are many more elements. Am I correct that there are lots of different groups that are part of this opposition?

NEGROPONTE: Well, yes, and if truth be told, this is probably a huge can of worms, as was the case in Iraq and in other places where you -- when you take the lid off the top of a regime that has been totally repressive for several decades, it's very hard to predict what it is that is going to come afterwards. But clearly, you're going to be in a little better position to influence that if you have been providing assistance and support to one of the elements in that situation.

VAN SUSTEREN: I guess that's where I come back to what's our long-term strategy because if would behead the monster, if Assad for some reason is killed in one of these strikes or whatever, now, suddenly, he's gone, he's out of the picture, now we -- now who's going to take over? There are all these groups. And that's where the long-term strategy becomes important.

NEGROPONTE: Right. And I think what -- I think it'd be fair to stay that we have -- we know what we desire for Syria, we know what we would like to implement as a policy for Syria, replace Assad with some kind of more acceptable form of government.

I don't think we really have that detailed a strategy as to how it is we're going to get there. We've got this first initial step of supporting the non-extremist opposition, but I'm not sure we've been able to game it out much beyond that, and probably aren't going to be able to really until Assad himself falls.

VAN SUSTEREN: But isn't that, like, very sort of, you know, dangerous in the sense in terms of what we don't -- you know, I guess it's the old expression, I think it was former secretary of state Colin Powell talked about you break it, it's yours. You know, if we go in there, and all of a sudden, Assad is gone, and -- which is something we want, now we've got all these groups, some of which we like and -- some of the -- some of the groups we like. There's one that's got an al Qaeda affiliation we don't like. We've got, you know, all these chemical weapons there. We don't know who's going to secure it. But this is now ours.

NEGROPONTE: Right, and that's...

VAN SUSTEREN: And then what do we do?

NEGROPONTE: Well, the truth is, this is a situation fraught with uncertainty and fraught with terrible choices, choices between different shades of bad and worse.

And I don't think we know what's going to happen, but I think one of the things that is forcing our hand and sort of giving impetus to our thinking is the fact that Mr. Bashar al Assad's behavior has become even more reprehensible. And in a way, you might argue that this use of chemical weapons has been kind of a straw that broke the camel's back.

VAN SUSTEREN: It seems to me there are three things we can do. We can do nothing.


VAN SUSTEREN: We can do a limited military strike. Or we can go in there full force and try to do a regime change. The president has said no to the regime change, and doing nothing seems unacceptable to him. So what we're going to do is go in there and sort of do this limited military action, which will punish him.

Let's say day two -- we've now punished him. A lot of buildings have come down. Now they parade pictures around of all these dead civilians saying that these horrible Americans have killed. Iran feels emboldened by, Look at these horrible Americans. What -- what do we get -- what do we...

NEGROPONTE: Well, I'm sure, first of all, what we do is try to avoid inflicting additional...

VAN SUSTEREN: Oh, I'm convinced that, too. I'm convinced of that, too.

NEGROPONTE: I'm sure they'll go after military targets. and I'm sure the choice the president wants to pursue is the second choice that you described, a limited military strike in the hopes that that will deflect and deter Bashar al Assad from resorting again to chemical weapons. I think that's...

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think it will?

NEGROPONTE: ... the minimal objective.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you -- do you -- in your heart and mind, do you think if we go in there and knock down a bunch of buildings and aircraft and he comes out alive and he's still got his chemical weapons and his launchers, do you think that he's going to say, Not anymore, not me?

NEGROPONTE: I think he'll think twice about it. Secretary Kerry made that point in his testimony the other day in rather impassioned terms, saying that, Look, if we don't do anything -- think of the alternative. If we don't react at all, I think he will be emboldened to even be more brutal against his opposition. And I think there'd be a greater chance he'd use those weapons again, so...

VAN SUSTEREN: Three lousy choices!

NEGROPONTE: Three lousy choices.

VAN SUSTEREN: Three lousy choices. Anyway, Ambassador, as always...


VAN SUSTEREN: Nice to see you, sir.

NEGROPONTE: Sorry to say!


VAN SUSTEREN: No, I totally agree. Thank you, sir.

NEGROPONTE: Thank you.