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tv   Inside Story  Al Jazeera  August 27, 2013 5:00pm-5:31pm EDT

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welcome to al jazeera, i'm tony harris in new york and these are your headlines. the president still has not made a decision on military reaction in syria. the aim they say would be to deter further use of chemical weapons. the un has postponed its investigation due to safety concerns. army major nidal hasan opt not to speak today. the jury still must decide if he will get the death penalty or life in prison. he was convicted of killing 13
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unarmed soldiers and wounding 30 others. across the midwest it is the heat that are closing schools. school closures from minnesota, the dakotas, and south to iowa and nebraska. school nurses are also on the lookout for any signs of heat exhaustion. those are the headlines at this hour. for more information on your stories go to our website, once again that's ♪ ♪ threats and counter threats as the united states appears to draw closer to military action in syria. we will examine the potential risks regards and consequences.
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from washington, this is "inside story." ♪ hello, everybody. i'm david shuster, the government of syria says it will defend itself against a potential u.s. military strike by using, quote, all means available. the warning came on the heels of john kerry declaring there was now undeniable evidence the syrian regime used chemical weapons. >> what we saw in syria last week should shock the conscious of the world. it defies any code of morality. the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and bystanders is a
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moral obscenity. >> white house officials say that president obama has not decided how to respond, onlt that the president has decided the u.s. will respond. and according to pentagon officials that reaction could come within days. we begin in damascus. we're joined by a freelance reporter via telephone. we are not identifying her for her safety. >> reporter: it's a very mixed reaction, some people are angry at the syrian government for letting things come to this. one woman was saying why can't assad just step down already. it's clear he has become an excuse for the west to attack us. a lot of whether they are pro or anti-syrian government, they are very worried.
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i hear a lot of people referencing iraq. one man who supports the strike was saying that if they hit civilian targets like in iraq or against libya, then thousands of syrians could be at risk. you know, that's not something they want to deal with in addition to what they have already dealt with for two and a half years. and then there are those that say let's say we have the strike then what? >> what has the discussion been like in damascus between people about the international community focusing on this alledged chemical attack last week? >> they wonder what is the objective of this strike. one guy with military experience was offering his own analysis. he said, okay this is going to come in and level the uneven ground when the rebels and the
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government. it might give the rebels a boost, but it might prolong the war if the syrian government continues to be around in its current shape. >> and regarding the threat to use all means necessary to defend itself against a us attack, does syria have much of an ability to inflict damage on say foreign powers like the united states? >> reporter: well, no, i would say definitely not, but the threat is not really that per se, the threat -- and i'm going to quote the syrian information minister, that is to set the middle east on fire or unleash balls of fire as if the middle east weren't already doing that. so that leaves a lot of syrians very worried because already they only have lebanon to escape
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to, because everywhere else there is violence or they need a visa to get to. so the world is closing in between the threat of a strike and a counter threat. >> as the world closes in, with perhaps the military strike, what is life like for the citizens in damascus right now? >> reporter: you would be surprised. they try to go about life as normal. people go shopping. people need to eat. you see them -- sometimes you see them in coffee shops if they have some extra money to spend. people are getting ready for school. they are starting to shop or prepare for school uniforms for their children. they are complaining that it's too expensive, but they are trying very hard to go about life as normal. >> our freelance reporter, we
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want to say thank you for joining us on our program. joining us to discuss the potential u.s. options is the director of the international security at the atlanta council, and a formal national security official under george w. bush and barack obama. what are the opsuns given the military has made it alert the chemical weapons are not acceptable. >> well, there are a brood range of messages. if you just want to make it clears after you are finished that it is not a good idea to do it again. so the mission objective determines all of this. but you are not going to attack the chemical weapons themselves because that is too dangerous. so that means in my view, you have a range of military targets that you could strike.
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air bases, ground basis. air forces. aircraft on the ground and ground force units. >> do you strike women this missiles, bombers, something more -- even closer to the targets? >> i think you want to do them in a way that minimizes the risk to your forces, so i think b2 bombers which are generally well out of reach of air defenses and cruise missiles as well. >> the military says it is a target-rich environment, i assume? >> i think there are a range of targets you could go after, but a key goal of this operation too will be not to cause civilian casualties, and some of these units are mixed into neighborhoods, so it may be a few less than you are suggesting. >> a number of officials have suggested that the obama administration does not want to tip the balance in the civil
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war. how do you do that by hurting assad without moving the balance to these rebel groups that you don't necessarily want to deal with to begin with. >> the rebels need a lot more weapons, but even if you are saying you are not doing that, taking out these targets will indeed help to effect the balance of the war. it depends on the duration of the campaign and the intensity. >> is there a moral obligation to get the united nations to weigh in before an attack? >> i think it depends on your view again. but my sense is they want want to go toe nato to get their imprint, and go to the arab league to get that imprint. >> secretary kerry has gotten
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the country to focus on this before the president weighs in. >> when i saw that briefing, what i noted was this was the building of the public case for international political support, international diplomatic, legal and moral support. you'll be hearing those themes undoubtedly in the next several days, and the president at some point will give a speech himself. those will be the themes that will be used in nato, and other forums. >> thanks for joining us. >> my pleasure. the american public does not appear to have much appetite for a u.s. interference in syria. but what do they think given the use of chemical weapons? that debate when we come back.
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♪ welcome back to "inside story." there is no doubt the drums of war against syria are getting louder. the arab leagues says that last week's alabama -- aledged attack must be squarely placed on assads shoulders. and john kerry said that president obama believes there must be accountability for those that would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people. since the uprising at least a hundred thousand people have been killed.
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an estimated 1 million refugees are children. doctors without borders reports that hospitals had treated 3600 patients with symptoms of chemical weapons attacks. joining us to discuss what a military intervention would like in syria, a formal official at the white house and state department, and the executive director of the mccain institute for international leadership. stlnt a moral obligation by the united states and the rest of the world to respond? >> well, there are also legal obligations. we're all bound by the chemical weapons treaties that we have signed on to, including others
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in the middle east have signed on to. but it doesn't seem to make a difference for this white house. but the key concern should be after the disastrous occasion of iraq, we should be looking at this with sober eyes. let the investigators do their job, and then take action based on the facts. >> but it doesn't soukd like this is going to be anything like iraq, this soundings like an attack to send a message that this is not acceptable. >> it looks like it is going to be iraq on the cheap. we're just making assumptions and we're going to do it without getting american men and women killed. and we're going to be shock shocked when our next ambassador is killed. >> kurt, like libya? >> i think it's maybe different than all of these. it's not going to be a strategic
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effort to change the course of the war in syria. i think that's right. there is an effort on the part of the white house, if it's clearly documented that indeed the regime did use chemical weapons then there needs to be some reaction against that regime to keep them and anybody else from using chemical weapons in the future. so what happens after that? in iraq we got in, handled it badly initially. it started to get on track after the surge, we didn't have the staying power and pulled out. in libya we didn't have the staying power to help the government establish control, and i don't think this will have the strategic effect we're looking for. >> kurt's point of it not being a decision to change the outcome is critically important. there is nobody contemplating a strategic change militarily.
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this is to boost an opposition that is collapsing politically and militarily, so boost it up so the balance of power is more to our liking, so we can go in to peace talks with our allies, who are otherwise collapsing, losing in a better position. >> we'll talk about a potential negotiated settlement and political solution in a few minutes, but to hilary's point, have you ever seen something where the u.s. takes action simply to make pint? >> yeah, the best example i can think of was during the clinton administration. we sent a few cruise missiles to take a camp out. we also had training camps in afghanistan for al qaeda, and we sent a few cruise missiles to take them out. >> but in sudan, this is
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something that never gets any attention, but we shot cruise missiles at the pharmaceutical plant, and we took out the one and only pharmaceutical plant in sudan based on no factual decision. the decision was made in august when decision makers were at the second level without evidence. the key lesson we should have learned from the clinton administration, and then the bush administration is to have an actual record. >> suppose that's established. the un inspectors determine that yes, there were at least 300 people who died from chemical weapons, and that's good enough for the obama administration, what is wrong with firing missiles and saying -- >> but you have an assumption that it was the government of syria. we have no evidence whatsoever. un investigators came out in may
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the last time we had an allegation of chemical weapon use. and her concern was it was the rebels. what if it is the opposition? what if it's the rebels that are using it, and we have facilitated an al qaeda aligned group and taken down a secular regime that we don't like. >> that's a valid point and concern that we may be helping al qaeda groups at the end of this. but do we know if the opposition groups, the rebels have the infrastructure or capacity to do something that the syrian government has the capacity to do. >> right. the preponderance of things that you see, the number of victim, the spread of victims, who has access to these things, the organizational ability to pull it off, all point to the syrian regime, and i'm assuming they
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have more intelligence than we know about, and you are seeing it from the british, the french, the canadians, a high degree of confidence that that's what happened. that being said, i think the obama administration is being smart in letting the un do the work there. letting the international community reach the same conclusion, as you just described in your opening about the arab lake. that's very important for the legitimacy of any steps taken outside. >> really with the invasion of iraq it behooves us to look factually at the situation on the ground, we have dismissed un investigators, and russians. they have said that the sarin that was used was not industrial, and that there were no stabilizers in it.
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so one of the other clear possibilities is that it was ant military using it. why would a syrian military not use it? yes, it could be pro government milit militias, but it could also be rebels, and if we're going to get in to potentially a war with russia with the confidence that you built up al qaeda's use -- we're talking about pre9/11 all over again. >> those are all valid questions and certainly the evidence is something that the un is looking to try to establish. but we're going to continue our conversation with kurt and hilary after this, and we'll look at the proxy war. several countries are looking to arm sides. if it were to tip the balance, what then? and what would that be like for the obama administration? more after this.
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♪ welcome back to "inside story." what began as a grassroots protest against syria's government quickly turned into a
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proxy war. so can there be hope for a political solution in a country so deeply divided? still with us to continue the discussion, hilary mann lefret, and kurt volker. kurt we'll start with you in this particular segment. some of these rebel groups are assigned with al qaeda. they want to impose sharia law, is it in the united states best interest to help them. >> you have a regime that has killed a hundred thousand people. they have gone against their own population, that started off peacefully demanding change in the way the government was running the country. that has then been exploited by external groups. al qaeda groups, to provide arms, the regime has become
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radicalized, and you have seen iran and russia become directly involved as well. the only ones who are not involved are the ones that would support some sort of negotiated situation. that's where the u.s. and others missed the opportunity to be more involved in pushing for that kind of settlement. and should we still be trying to involve ourselves in syria, than these other groups tearing themselves apart will produce. >> and doesn't it make these groups more intractable? >> particularly as they are being funded and financed and armed by some groups, the problem is there is a negotiated way forward. the russians have put it forward, the chinese have supported it. the people who don't support it are us, the rebels and our
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allies. that's a problem. people aren't coming because they want the balance of power to shift first. they want the rebels to feel better and stronger, and our allies to feel better and stronger, so when we go into a negotiated settlement, but before they agree to the political settlement they want our allies to be stronger. the problem with that, and i'm sympathetic to where kurt is coming from, the problem with that, is those sitting in cafes and villas are not the ones fighting on the ground. we always have this fantasy that's this secular liberal democrats are going to save the day, and they are not. >> and we have seen example after example where they either don't exist or are unwilling to put themselves on the line. is there a way to try to somehow make a point about this chemical attack, wait for the evidence to come in as you suggest, but make
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a point without putting ourselves in this murky netherland of who we support or don't? >> there will be a number of things. we need to get to a political settlement as soon as possible. we had the same thing with lebanon. tens of thousands of people killed, eventually we had an agreement. we need that agreement again for power sharing in syria, where it's not the good guys versus the bad guys. >> kurt is there a way to get through this where perhaps the united states doesn't get entangled. >> i think this is a case where the u.s. needs to get entangled. it's going to be brutalizing the
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population, and the population, large segments of it will be armed and rebelled against the regime. or if the regime false and you have these extremists that are then going to try to take revenge, that will also have a disastrous effect. i think the only option that makes sense from the u.s. perspective from a moral imperative of trying to stop the violence, and also from a strategic perspective of trying to stabilize a middle east that is rapidly deteriorating is for the u.s. to become more involved supporting the things we sup poet. we can't control everything. we shouldn't be naive about who south there, and what they are supporting, but we're seeing how all of this is degrading month by month. >> and should we get involved knowing that we may have to get involved again and again? >> we should engage in serious
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diplomacy, but particularly since the cold war, whether it has been a democratic organization, we have tried to coerce political outcomes that we want that have failed over and over and over again. they failed under clinton. they failed under bush, and they are failing under obama. >> hilary is a foreign policy professor at american university, and kurt, executive director of the mccain intins ought to for international leadership. thanks so you both for joining us. >> thank you. >> that is it for the team in washington, d.c., and for me david shuster for now. you can keep the debate going by logging on to our facebook page or you can reach the directly. thanks for watching. we'll see you tomorrow. ♪
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