ANDERSON COOPER: Good evening. Welcome to a special “360”. We’re calling it “The President Test.” In the hour ahead what this new president faces as he confronts what all presidents do whether they’re ready or not, namely the whole wide world. Tonight, President Trump’s first series global challenges are coming nearly all at once from Syria, Russia, North Korea.
COOPER: Whether or not the president likes people guessing, allies and adversaries alike are already trying to figure him out, trying to determine how this new administration will react when pushed and were (inaudible) around the world.
Here to talk about it, people who have been a part of the process who have seen it from the inside, Tony Blinken, Mike Rogers, John Kirby, and Lisa Monica.
Admiral Kirby, let’s start with you. Is it clear to you right now what the Trump administration policy is towards Syria? I mean, is it regime change?
JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: It’s not clear to me at all. I mean, you know, they went from — their political reality is Assad to regime change in almost a nano-second. I mean — or zero to 100, like that just in a few days.
Now, I get the reality of this chemical attack and what that did to their decision making process on a tactical level. But, I have yet to hear anything that defines a clear, set, long-term policy.
COOPER: Do you think that’s by design, because some people have said, well, you know, the president said he doesn’t like people to know his plans and maybe he wants to be viewed as unpredictable?
COOPER: Or is it worse case scenario, which is they actually don’t have a plan or policy?
KIRBY: I don’t think — I think it’s evolving. I don’t think they actually have sat down and thought through a very cohesive policy for Syria, which is the most complicated place in the Middle East right now.
Several different wars going on there. So, Rex Tillerson is going to have a long day on Thursday when he sits across the table from Sergey Lavrov, because the Russians, they do everything with a plan and they absolutely want to have some sense of certainty about what the American government is going to do about Syria.
So, I think hopefully they’ll go with that meeting with some big ideas. I mean, this is Tillerson’s chance to really go in there and lay out sort of where they want to go. And he’s got so little bit of leverage now in the wake of the air strikes.
COOPER: Chairman Rogers, I mean, whether it was Sean Spicer misspeaking or not, it did — you know, three times today he talked about the barrel bombs as being some — the used of barrel bombs by the Assad regime as something which could prompt the Trump administration to have another military strike. If that is in fact true, and then later on it was sort of walk back behind the scenes by others in the administration, that would be a major shift.
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: And I hope that’s not where they’re going. You start getting into the nomenclature of conventional weapons or even modified conventional weapon.
COOPER: Right, 13,000 barrel bombs were used apparently in 2016.
ROGERS: And don’t get me wrong, we should not be supportive of any of that. They were using those barrel bombs on civilian targets. They didn’t care about casualties. But that is not a good path to walk down.
I think they did a good thing. They went in. They were decisive about the use of chemical weapons in a way that brought support to the world and Republicans and Democrats came together and said, “Good on you.” This gives them a window, I think, to get that strategy together.
I don’t think they’re there yet. I really don’t think that they thought this through. But I will say — I mean, there’s an old saying in the army, “When the map doesn’t match the terrain, it’s best to go with the terrain.” So whatever plan he had going into Syria changed. It fundamentally changed. So, they have a window to get it right, but they’re going to have to use all of their resources and all of their allies to put a plan together for a long-term strategy.
COOPER: But, Tony, truly some of his supporters who, you know, voted for him for his America first policy, for not getting involved in the Middle East, who saw the tweets about, you know, don’t get involved in Syria. President Obama is wrong for even thinking about that. It would be understandable why they might feel, “Wait a minute, this is not what we voted for.”
TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Sure, but I think Mike has said exactly right. There’s a clear limiting principal here in upholding a principal. That principal is you don’t use chemical or biological weapons. That’s a principal the entire world adopted after World War I. It was right for the president to take the strike in response to the use of the chemical weapon.
And it also I think confines what he would do going forward where you really get into trouble is when you start to broaden your goals the risks go way up, especially if the goals that you’re setting really can’t be achieved if they keep it focused on chemical and biological weapons. And then as Mike said, use this to try to leverage the Russians, to try to get them more engaged and actually working —
COOPER: So, are chemical weapons being used by Syria against their own people as — and I’m not defending it in any means. It’s horrific, obviously, in violation of many treaties. Is that a national security threat to the United States?
BLINKEN: It is, because if you’re — anything that you do that allows that basic principal that you don’t use chemical weapons or biological weapons in our conflict anywhere, that if you’re undermining that principal, that’s going to be a danger around the world. And upholding it goes — I hate to say it, it goes beyond Syria. And as horrific as things are in Syria, this use of chemical and biological weapons goes beyond Syria.
KIRBY: That’s not a new idea, Anderson. I mean, we have long said it was international security interests that stop the proliferation and the use of these kinds of weapons. President Obama —
BLINKEN: Including nuclear by the way, nuclear weapons as well.
KIRBY: Yeah, absolutely. This is not a new idea.
COOPER: Yeah. But, Lisa, there are, you know, for many times, people have said, “Look, genocide can never happen again. We’ve learned the lessons of the past.” And yet, we have seen, you know, a lack of action in Darfur. We’ve seen a lack of action in the early days of the Rwandan genocide, which would have been relatively easy to stop. So, I mean, is this a slippery slope of greater U.S. involvement for a president who said, “I don’t want to get involved in nation building and being the president of the world.”
LISA MONACO, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Look, in the near term, I think this as Mike and Tony have said, in the near term there’s a positive step because it upholds a norm against the brutal use and the horrific use of chemical weapons against Assad’s own people and the incredible suffering that we saw from those pictures that emerged last week.
In the longer term, it is unclear at best what the larger goal is, what the larger strategy is. And I think we need to see that to understand, are there limiting principals on this? And as I think as Mike said earlier, if in fact the statements today are accurate, that in fact this type of military action would be taken in response to barrel bombs, as horrific as the barrel bombing has been, it does occur on a daily basis, and that would signal a dramatic escalation.
COOPER: In terms of actually affecting change though in the ground in Syria, I mean, there’s a latest CBS poll said 57 percent of people supported this missile strike, but about only 18 percent support actually sending, you know, ground troops to Syria. How concerned are you, Chairman, about mission (inaudible)?
ROGERS: Well, listen, my concern is if somebody over there or the White House starts believing that this strike is a policy of moving forward to deal with Syria, you can’t get that confused.
COOPER: This is not a policy?
ROGERS: This is not a policy. One strike is not a policy. What it was, was a very clear message about keeping the norms against the use of chemical weapons. And it also had an extra benefit I think for the Trump administration when you do have problems in North Korea, when you have the Russians rattling their saber, when you have the Chinese in the South China Sea, it did say, listen, when I tell you I’m going to do something or I see something that is — rises to the level of military action, I will make that decision.
This is a window of opportunity for them to go out, to be dispatched. If they had people at the State Department, this would be a really good time, you know, to go out and dispatch them to try to use this leverage that they have.
COOPER: How big of a problem is that? I mean, the lack of personnel, actually?
ROGERS: Candidly, I think this is a huge problem.
COOPER: They don’t have enough people in key positions?
ROGERS: They have some 20 different assistant secretaries at the State Department, not even filled. Which means it creates confusion even to places overseas where you’ll have world leaders or their designees asking, “Well, who do I call?” That’s a problem, because, listen, the military aside, candidly, is a well run, well oiled machine. They will act.
And you saw that the problem showed up at the front door of the National Security Council they got a decision. Here is the problem that — shooting part is the easy part, candidly. The hard part is making sure you don’t get mission creep is to make sure that your policies that you’re going to negotiate with Russia, with China, with North Korea, that’s the hardest part. That’s where you need diplomacy and you need front and end hardening those diplomacy.
COOPER: When the president ordered last week’s strike on Syria, he did more than just launch 59 cruise missiles at an air base, he also may have changed what was already a challenging, a complicated struggle it has been for years, namely the war on ISIS.
CNN’s Clarissa Ward reports on that for us. She joins us not far from Turkey’s border with Syria. So how has the U.S. strike affected the state to play on the ground, if it has, in Syria?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think in terms of the Assad regime, there has been little shift. We have seen air strikes today in Idlib, in Aleppo. We have seen barrel bombs which, of course, are a new topic of discussion with the Trump administration raining down on the southern Daraa province.
But, if the U.S. military did successfully take out 20 percent of the Syrian regime’s fixed wing aircraft, that is significant. However, I would say where you’re really seeing a shift here, Anderson, in Syria is less taking place on the ground on the battlefield and more in terms of what’s happening behind the scenes, behind closed doors and the balance of power of all the various proxy countries that have a stake in the Syrian conflict.
And it may just be that this has given the U.S. a little bit more leverage when it comes to dealing with Russia. And it may just be that perhaps this element of unpredictability, which at the one — on the one hand makes the Trump administration a little concerning and gives some analysts cause for anxiety, could also be something of an asset when it comes to sitting down with Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on Wednesday of this week, because that element of surprise, that element of unpredictability is something we haven’t seen in U.S. policy for a long time, Anderson.
COOPER: And obviously, I mean, Rex Tillerson had said on Sunday that the priority is the fight against ISIS on the ground in Syria, which is obviously separate from whatever this administration wants to have happen to Bashar al-Assad. Where does that stand?
WARD: Well, it’s incredible, Anderson. The day after the U.S. strikes on the regime of Bashar al-Assad, ISIS launched a pretty major attack on a U.S. base in Southern Syria. Now, the U.S. was able to repel that attack, but I think it gives you a sense that the U.S. is still actively engaged in a very tough fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
And potentially this shift in policy, if it is indeed a shift in policy with regards to Bashar al-Assad, could complicate that fight because the Russians are, of course, Assad’s biggest backers, but they are also essential for the U.S. to go about this fight in — against ISIS. And that is because they have an enormous amount of highly sophisticated anti-aircraft weaponry. They could potentially shoot American planes out of the sky if they wanted to.
You have some 1,250 U.S. military personnel on the ground inside Syria. If the Assad regime and Russia turn against them in some way, you’re talking about a potentially very complicating factor, not to mention the so-called de-confliction channel that exist between Russia and the U.S. essential to avoiding mishaps or misfires. If you lose that sense of communication, that will make the fight against ISIS much tougher, Anderson.
COOPER: Clarissa Ward, thanks very much. Be careful. Back now with our panel.
Tony, you know, during the campaign, Donald Trump talked a lot about trying to enforce relationship with Russia so that — because, you know, he believed Russia was a valuable asset in the fight against ISIS in Syria. But in reality, has Russia really been fighting against ISIS in Syria, or are they simply propping up — predominantly propping up Bashar al-Assad?
BLINKEN: Virtually, everything they’re doing is propping up Assad. That’s why they went in. That’s been their entire focus. And the challenge now, Anderson, is that we do want to keep our eyes on the prize and that is the fight against ISIS and that fight is going well. We’re on the verge in Iraq in support of Iraqi forces in taking back Mosul. And in Syria, we have a real chance to get back Raqqa. When those two things are done —
COOPER: Which is their main headquarters.
BLINKEN: Their main headquarters in both Iraq and Syria are now in jeopardy. That means that the caliphate that they have declared, the state that they said they were building is going to be gone.
Foreign fighters won’t have the place to go to. They won’t have resources to exploit and their entire story, their narrative is destroyed. That’s going to be a very powerful thing. So we have to keep our eyes on that.
At the same time, the trick is to be tough with Russia, to hold them to account for what Assad is doing with chemical and biological weapons, but not to overplay the hand to the point that Russia starts to interfere with, not help, the fight against ISIS.
COOPER: The idea of destroying the caliphate is important because one thing — so I think a lot of people don’t really understand this, al- Qaeda was always calling one of the caliphates one day. The difference with the ISIS is Baghdadi basically said, “The caliphate is now. It’s actually here now. It is a real thing.”
And that, according to FBI people we talk to, that was a big motivator for Jihadists and extremists around the world who suddenly would sign on because this was something here or now that they could fight for.
MONACO: That’s right. And ISIS has done tremendous work exploiting social media. The great engine of freedom of expression in this country and basically the United States gave to the world and it’s ironic that they have exploited that to recruit individuals, many of them western passport holders, some from here, many from Europe, from North Africa, to go to Iraq and Syria on the promise that people would be joining this caliphate, this physical construction.
As Tony said, the fact that we are now on the verge of dislodging them from Mosul with the work of the Iraqi security forces from Raqqa, their self-declared capital in Syria, is tremendously important to take that recruiting tool away from them.
COOPER: Although the reality — and Jim Sciutto is at the magic map for this. I mean, though ISIS has lost a lot of ground in the last year, particularly in last year and a half or so, particularly in Iraq, they’ve also had success with attacks around the world by telling people, “Don’t come here, stay where you are, attack in place, use a car, use a knife, use whatever you can.”
SCIUTTO: That’s exactly right. But let’s not diminish the progress on the battlefield. It’s been significant measurable. Let’s take a look at the map. There are folks around the table I know who are very familiar with, but apologies to our viewers because you have — it’s going to look closely to see this because the areas that occupied aren’t necessarily so obvious.
So this is 2015, essentially at the start of the U.S. led air campaign. The red are areas under ISIS control. The yellow, ISIS support. But focus on those red areas, particularly around Mosul, one of their strongholds and down here, Ramadi, extremely close to the capital of Baghdad.
Let’s toggle ahead now to March, 2017. What do you see disappear? Now, I’m going to toggle back and forth to make a little more visible for you. Around Mosul, this big area of ISIS control here, that disappears during the two-year period. You know that now part of Mosul is out of ISIS control. That’s progress. A lot of the cities along the way to Mosul, no longer under ISIS control.
Let’s look down here. We’re going back a couple of years. You had ISIS pockets here very close to the capital and up the corridor towards Syria. They’re no longer in Ramadi and you diminished that course there. And let’s then look into Syria. So, go back a couple of years. Here is Raqqa, that’s in effect the capital of the proclaimed caliphate. They still control Raqqa, but what’s happen is you have rebel-led forces getting closer there. They are supported by U.S. forces as they prepare to assault the city of Raqqa. You’ve got a long way to go, but they have made progress.
But, Anderson, you made a point about what happens with their global attacks as they have been losing ground on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria. In red are countries around the world where attacks either conducted by ISIS or having some level of coordination by ISIS have taken place.
Look at Europe here, look at North Africa, into the Middle East, Russia certainly experienced it down into Asia. In yellow are the ones that are inspired by ISIS and these are significant attacks as well. That’s part of ISIS’ capability. They don’t necessarily have to be on the phone with these groups, right? They can inspire someone via the internet and those are extremely powerful.
Of course, North America, we here in the U.S. have had the experienced of this, San Bernardino being one of those attacks, Canada as well, and that shows something that has long been a concern of counter terror folks like the one you have sitting around the table. You squeeze them here in their home base and they’re going to try to project power across the globe and they’ve done that with success.
COOPER: Jim Sciutto, thanks with that.
Admiral Kirby, I mean, when you look at the map just in terms of fighting ISIS, you know, there’s been success in Iraq. Has there been success in Syria? Obviously, the U.S. put a lot of money into trying to build sort of so-called moderate forces as a counter to ISIS, spent a lot of money. It didn’t get a lot of personnel out of it.
KIRBY: There has been success. It hasn’t been as direct and as dramatic as what we’ve seen in Iraq. No, because, look, in Iraq we had Iraqi security forces and Militia forces that you could rely on. And we had a direct role in training, advising and assisting Iraqi security forces, so there was a better partner on the ground or partners on the ground.
It’s been a little difficult to get that sort of cohesive set of partners on the ground in the Syria, but there has been progress. And President Obama’s decision to insert a small number of special operations of forces on the ground in Syria, to do some advising and assisting, I think has definitely given that some momentum.
COOPER: What about Donald Trump though as president? Has he, you know, he talked about kind of tasking his military planners with — for 90 days to look at this. Has he really laid out a clear agenda on what — how he wants to battle ISIS?
ROGERS: Well, at least not publicly. And I think internally, they’re still going through some amass nations about what that plan looks like, at least from everything I can tell. They have done some interesting things, those of us who were wanting the Obama administration to free up the rules of engagement for our special forces. And this was the debate we had for years inside. Do we or shouldn’t we or should we or should we not and what does that mean?
I see a little bit of that happening. So, they’ve changed some of the rules in engagement. It’s complicated to our viewer, but what it really means is it’s not just advice and assist, it’s advice and assist and then maybe go down range and take — help them leverage up on their target success. Those are important small things.
They’re not major changes in the battle structure as you — or the battle plan as we saw coming out of the Obama administration. They’re more like a screw driver to a carburetor than they are massive changes. But some would argue that they have seen success from those kinds of changes.
Now with the bombing, I do think that they are going to have to sit around the table and get the whole of government approach. This can’t be a military only solution. They’re going to have to engage, whoever that is. If they’re not comfortable with State Department, then they better put somebody on this task because you have to do both at the same time.
COOPER: But also, Tony, I mean, this is also — there’s going to be political solution in Iraq —
COOPER– so that, you know, the last Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who frittered away the success that the U.S. had in bringing Sunnis on board who had previously supported al-Qaeda, if you continue with the Sunnis-Shia Divide, which is an issue of that in the entire region, even if they’re success against ISIL in the battlefield, the resentment, the hatreds are going to remain.
BLINKEN: Anderson, you’re exactly right. If we’re not able and the Iraqis are not able to affect the conditions that led to the rise of ISIL in the first place, once it’s defeated, it won’t stay defeated and you will have ISIL 2.0. And so that comes to the politics, that comes to the economics, that comes to finding some kind of accommodation that, for example, make Sunnis believe they have a future within Iraq. That’s very important. That’s where the diplomacy comes in.
So, even when we succeed on the battlefield, the diplomats have to come in and help move the Iraqis in the right direction. You talked about the balloon effect with Jim a minute ago. That also puts a premium. These attacks that are taking place outside of Iraq and outside of Syria not on the military, but on diplomacy, on information sharing, on intelligence, on policing.
We can’t bomb those people away. We really need to be working closely with other countries, bringing them together, sharing the information. That’s how we’re going to get at those folks.
COOPER: All right, more —
KIRBY: That’s exactly right. Good governance is the key here and that’s the same — that’s usual in Syria. And that’s why Syria is much more difficult, because the prime minister is struggling. He doesn’t — he is working hard. But you don’t have good political underpinning in Syria and that’s why political solution, diplomatic solution is the only way forward.
ROGERS: You don’t really have that in Iraq either. If we don’t get the Sunnis believing that they’re going to have some control of their fate, Iraq is going to go —
COOPER: I mean, the Sunni-Shia Divide, which is hard to understand and as, you know, a region wide issue. I mean, that is a core issue that is often just not addressed.
COOPER: Matthew Chance joins us from Moscow.
Matthew, how is Russia responding to the strikes?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think honest and pretty indignant. Certainly, the state media here is turned against Donald Trump. Just few weeks ago, they were phrasing him, now they’re calling him an aggressor. That’s a reflection of what the Kremlin saying Putin calling these U.S. missile strikes an act of aggression against the sovereign state and in violation of international law.
In terms of what action they have taken, they have suspended the military contact on the ground in Syria, making much more risky for further strikes to take place. They’ve promised to bolster Syria’s air defenses so they can shoot down those missiles in the future if there are more air strikes.
But reading between the lines, you get the impression of Russians that prepared to take this one on the chin. For instance, they could have shot down this tomahawk themselves with their own surface to our missiles. They chose not to. They could have canceled the visit of the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tomorrow, in fact, to Russia, but they didn’t. Then, let’s go ahead.
And so, you get the impression that the Russians are still hoping that first of all this isn’t the start of a new U.S. intervention in the Middle East. And secondly, the U.S. policy towards Syria is not going to radically change. So they’re very much monitoring what will happen next from the U.S. side, Anderson.
COOPER: And the visit tomorrow by Tillerson, he’s not actually going to be meeting with Vladimir Putin, is that correct?
CHANCE: Well, that’s not clear initially. There was a message put out by the embassy here, the U.S. Embassy here in Moscow, that there was planned to be a tentative photo shoot spray as it’s called in the business with Tillerson meeting Putin. But that has been taking off the agenda, and so we don’t know what’s going to happen.
We know this meeting is Russian counterpart, Sergey Largov. And obviously, meetings are going to be dominated by this issue of Syria. But this was always going to be a controversial visit to Rex Tillerson, because he is someone who is notoriously close to the Russian leadership when he was the CEO of Exxon.
He was awarded the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin. So that was something that’s always very controversial. But, of course, now he comes to Russia transformed as the secretary of state of the nation that he’s bombing or has been striking Russia’s main ally in the Middle East, Anderson.
COOPER: Matthew Chance from Moscow. Thanks very much, Matthew. Back with the panel. I mean, Tony, our relations with Russia back to — I mean, this whole notion that Donald Trump had during the campaign of, you know, it would be great if we got along and we could fight terrorism together, that seems pretty much done.
BLINKEN: Well, for now. But there are two problems. One is the president’s painted himself into something of a corner. Even if he really wanted to improve relations with Russia for whatever reason, there’s so much suspicion about the relationship that it’s hard for him to do that.
And now on top of that with the chemical weapons attack in Syria, and the fact that Russia broke the agreement to get the chemical weapons out back in 2013, it was then affect the guarantor of the agreement, it hasn’t made good on that. So, he is in a tough place.
But here’s the challenge. I think Secretary Tillerson’s mission is very important. There’s an opportunity to leverage what we did, but at the end of the day in Russia, it’s one man, one vote. And Putin is the one man uses the one vote and it’s going to take President Trump engaging with him to see how we can move this forward.
COOPER: Do you agree with that, Chairman, that it will boil that to that? And, again, if that is the case, given the FBI investigation and all the drama surrounding, you know, allegations of connections between people in Trump’s orbit and Russians, that’s a meeting that might take a while to happen.
ROGERS: I still think this is in Putin’s best interest, even having Tillerson come to Moscow to talk about this problem that’s been created, empowers Putin as much as before.
Now, the next series of steps could change that, but he is dealing with a very frayed problem in Syria. You know, Iran has lost (inaudible) force members there and that has not sold well back in Iran. Hezbollah has lost thousands of fighters that is not selling well back in places like Lebanon.
COOPER: They’re fighting on the side —
ROGERS: They’re fighting on the side with the Russia.
ROGERS: And, really, they’re trying to expand their hold of the Assad government. That’s really their mission. He’s got a problem, too, and I think it’s easy or sometimes we — and, you know, make him 18 feet tall.
He has a military problem. He has an ally problem. This certainly didn’t help it, but I think he is obviously playing it fairly smart. He canceled the meeting. Maybe, he hasn’t. Maybe, he doesn’t. But Tillerson is in Moscow to meet with them to talk on the way forward. That’s good for Putin.
So I think there’s still hope that we can regain them in a political solution. And by the way, we have to have Russia as a part of that solution given where they are on the battlefield.
COOPER: Lisa, how do these meetings actually — I mean, when you’re in, you know, behind closed doors, how does that actually work? How frank are they? Can Tillerson and Lavrov actually, you know, be frank with each other? Or is it all kind of dancing around and not really saying what’s true and —
MONACO: Well, behind closed doors, they sure can be quite frank with each other. But, it goes back to this question of, is Lavrov really the person to deliver that message, too? Arguably, no. He is a hidden inbox. He’s a mailbox. The real person to get that direct message to really have the pressure be put on is to Putin. And that’s where the rubber is going to meet the road.
COOPER: I mean, the other argument, you know, the flip side of that is Tillerson really the person to be having this conversation or — I mean, does he really have the ear of President Trump to the extent that, you know, we have seen others, Jared Kushner and other have? I mean, is it — we’re going to go down to Chairman’s point as Putin and Trump together.
MONACO: It remains to be seen, which is why I think we need to watch very carefully what happens, you know, on this trip from Tillerson. This is an opportunity. If he is armed for instance, do we think and will the U.S. government make clear that Russia was complicit in this chemical weapons attack that President Trump retaliated for? If there is information indicating that Russia either knew or was complicit in this attack, that should be part of a very, very strong message to Putin.
BLINKEN: And that’s potentially devastating. Let’s have to put on to what Mike said. The Russians really do need at the end of the day some way out of the Syrian (inaudible). And the longer they’re in, and a more they’re seem as complicit with Assad, with Hezbollah, with Iran in murdering Sunni Muslims, that’s bad for them in the Sunni Muslim world, all the Arab countries surrounding Syria.
It’s bad for them in central Asia and the caucuses. It’s bad for them at home where their population is about 15 percent Muslim, mostly Sunni. The attack on the subway in St. Petersburg (inaudible) apparently radicalized by the war in Syria. You got thousands now Chechen fighters in Syria, who want to go home to Russia and wreak vengeance if Russia continues.
COOPER: And we certainly seen — are we already seeing judgment attacks, the movie feature in Moscow years ago?
ROGERS: And the G7 has come together in a way we haven’t seen as far in the Trump presidency, including the United States. There was this frayed relationship going into, should NATO stay, the comments back and forth across upon. This was a unifying event. That’s not good for Russia. That’s not good for Putin. So, there’s a lot of things I think he has to consider as he decides how tough he wants to be on this missile strike. He has do it publicly. It’s going to very interesting.
And I think Lisa is right, if we walk in and throw the file down on the desk that says, “It was an air base of which you had Russian advisors”, by the way, the base isn’t that big, “you knew where the chemical weapons were, you were complicit in loading those weapons just by watching it. Do you really want the world to go there on that?” I think that is a very powerful message. I hope that’s what they do.
COOPER: Admiral Kirby, is there an advantage in having Donald Trump as president not — it’s not that he’s not a rationale actor, but not stating what his policy is, as being sort of an unknown quantity on the world stage? Can that be an advantage for the United States?
KIRBY: Yeah. And I get Clarissa’s point, I think the uncertainty in tactics and the use of the military tool obviously there’s an advantage to that. What I was trying to get that was that the military tool should be subservient to diplomacy, should be a larger part of a well-crafted, cohesive, well-articulated policy about. Here’s what we believe about Syria and how to get to a final conclusion there that’s peaceful and good for the Syrian people. And that’s what they haven’t done yet.
I have been disappointed to not see the president, like his secretary of state and like his U.N. ambassador, actually call Russia out with respect to this recent attack and the fact that they’re at least had knowledge of it, attack to the level. He has yet to say anything about President Putin and Russia’s actions in Syria and I think that’s a real problem.
COOPER: We’re taking a closer look at the multiple international situations that President Trump is faced with and how he is handling — up next, North Korea.
Right now, U.S. warships are near in the Korean Peninsula, response to recent provocations by North Korea. According to U.S. official, North Korea claims it is pursuing nuclear weapons to defend itself from what it deems U.S. aggression. CNN’s Will Ripley is in Pyongyang tonight. He joins us now.
How does North Korea responding, Will, to the deployment of the Carl Vinson Strike Group to the region?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, just a few minutes ago, actually, North Korean officials walked in the room and handed me this. This is a statement from a spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, calls the dispatch of the Carl Vinson Aircraft Carrier Strike Group a reckless act of aggression. It said that North Korea is “willing and ready to respond to whatever methods the U.S. wants to take.”
We were with North Korea officials over the weekend, word came in that the Carl Vinson had been rerouted sent back to the Korean Peninsula was here a few weeks ago for joint military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. And they said, they weren’t really paced or surprised by it. They view this as just the latest in a series of provocative acts by the Trump administration.
They have watched very closely the missile strike on Syria. They thought that that was perhaps a veiled threat to North Korea, that the U.S. is willing to take military action if they feel that the line has crossed. But the North Koreans say the difference between Syria and this country is that, they will respond if provoked.
And it’s a very complicated situation because they have conventional weapons and artillery that can do a lot of damage and fill a lot of people in the Seoul Metropolitan Area with tens of millions of people about 30 miles from the Demilitarized Zone.
There could be a nuclear test at any point, Anderson. This country tells its citizens they have to develop these weapons of mass destruction using a vast amount of their scant resources because they say that they’re under the imminent threat of invasion from the U.S. And what the Trump administration is doing, plays into that narrative.
People in Pyongyang know all about what’s happening in Syria and on the Korean Peninsula because their state media is telling them, even though they keep so much else hidden for the rest of the world, Anderson.
COOPER: Will Ripley, thanks very much for being there. Back with the panel. Around this table, how many of you believe North Korea is the greatest threat to the United States currently?
COOPER: Everyone. Why?
ROGERS: You have a very irrational actor. I mean, think about it. Within the last couple of months he smeared a nerve agent on face of someone he believed might come back and try to take over his position as leader.
COOPER: A family member, no less.
ROGERS: A family member, no less. Well, we have stories there, but we won’t —
COOPER: OK, all right.
ROGERS: If you think about what he has done to amass troops, artillery and conventional weapons that in the — even by the best modeling, huge casualty counts for Seoul if he decides —
COOPER: Right. He was to strike Seoul in terms of potential death.
ROGERS: Well, I mean, a lot of that I think is classified. But I think what we can say with some certainty probably around this table, it is a very large number, and so in a very short period of time.
And it was one of the largest armies in the world. He is an irrational actor. He had keeps backing himself into a corner where he, again, where he says this is a provocation that we’ve never seen. And I will respond in kind. It is not unusual for a Carrier Group to be around the Korean Peninsula. He just keeps ratcheting it up.
And he’s got this problem. If he is going to stay in control, he has to please the small ring of military advisors who are just as eager by all intelligence accounts to engage in something war-like. So you have all of these combinations and no way to ramp him down for a really bad decision and a miscalculation. That to me spells disaster.
So, even the conventional front, massive casualties, you add into that any nuclear explosion when we have order, we have a huge problem.
BLINKEN: The problem for us, Anderson, is that, you know, successive administration is going back to the early ’90s and tried to reign in North Korean nuclear program without succeeding. But what’s happened over the last year is that Kim Jong-un has accelerated the effort to get an intercontinental ballistic missile that (inaudible) with the nuclear warhead to actually reach the United States.
And as Mike said, you put that capacity in the hands of someone who acts certainly impulsively and maybe even irrationally, that’s not something we can accept. The question is, what do we do about it? There’s not a really good military solution of this.
COOPER: President Trump both as a candidate and as president had really put the focus on China saying China’s got to do more to kind of reign them in. China, though, has an inherent interest.
I mean, A, they don’t want a completely destabilize North Korea on their border. They also don’t want a unified Korea on their border that’s aligned with the west, correct?
KIRBY: Right, with American troops up near the (inaudible), of course, no, that’s exactly right. But, look, the — and President Obama also said that little path here to success in Pyongyang has got to go through Beijing.
I mean, they really do — they have — they are the only nation state that has any degree of influence over Pyongyang. And it’s limited at best. So, you know, I think they’re frustrated by that.
President Xi was none too happy about their recent missile test, which was done — which was timed, that people believe was timed for his visit to the United States to embarrass him. So, it’s got to go through Beijing.
And you’re right. The kinds of things that we’ve done in the past haven’t worked. So ratcheting up the pressure on him, whether its economics with sanctions, which feels good, or deploying a carrier strike off the coast, which also feels good, it’s actually not a bad move. It may not be successful in the end. I think it’s time that we start thinking about, you know, some radical different approaches such as, perhaps, negotiations, try a way — trying to find a way to sit down and talk.
MONACO: But the Chinese can do more. It’s quite clear that they can do more. They provide an outlet for trade for North Korea. They provide some sustenance to North Korea. They’re the only really actor in the world stage who do that. They have taken some steps banning import of coal to China, et cetera, but they can do more and they should be doing more to isolate North Korea.
BLINKEN: And that’s where the Vinson comes in. Actually, I think the Vinson is much a message for China as it is to North Korea. What the president should be saying and hopefully said to Xi Jinping is this, “Look, we need your help in really squeezing these guys and if you don’t to it, we’re going to have to continue to take steps to protect ourselves and protect our allies and partners. More missile offenses, it’s not about you, you know, you don’t like it, but we’re going to have to do it. More of a presence in the region, including with the Vinson and ultimately sanctions. Sanctions including on Chinese entities, Chinese companies that are doing business with North Korea. You’re going to put us in that position, we’re going to have to take those steps.”
That’s the way to get the Chinese to ratchet up the pressure a little bit more and maybe, maybe small chance you can get Kim Jong-un to come back to the table.
ROGERS: Including elements of the POA.
ROGERS: Which we’ve never done and I think that’s important. Interesting today is they’ve moved — according to reports today, 150,000 troops along the border. The Chinese moves it on northern — the North Korean border. That’s huge if that, in fact, proves to be true. And their stated purpose, apparently, was that they’re doing this for any humanitarian crisis that may occur.
So, that’s a significant change in Chinese policy. I do think it was because the U.S. has taken a little bit of a different tactic militarily. That puts pressure on — in a way that North Korea hasn’t seen in a very long time. That could be a very positive outcome to getting him to the table to having a conversation.
South Korea went to North Korea said, “We’re going to do our own sanction,” that’s a positive step. And if we can get China to shut down their black market on that northern border, which they can, I hope those 150,000 troops are engaged in that effort, really put the hurt on the leadership of North Korea. They’re the ones benefiting by the black market.
COOPER: But a lot of money from that.
COOPER: In his inaugural speech, President Trump said the priority in his administration will be America and American workers first. He made no mention of America’s traditional role as a global leader, but as we’ve been talking about this hour the Trump foreign policy seems to be a work in progress. With that in mind, here’s how some of his predecessors outlined their visions of America’s role in the world.
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DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, 34TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must use our skill and knowledge, and at times, our substance, to help others rise from misery, however far from the scene of suffering may be from our shores. We recognize and accept our own deep involvement in the destiny of men everywhere.
JOHN F. KENNEDY, 35TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
RONALD REAGAN, 40TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our reluctance for conflict should not be misjudged as a failure of will. When action is required to preserve our national security, we will act. We will maintain sufficient strength to prevail if need be, knowing that if we do so, we have the best chance of never having to use that strength.
BILL CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ultimately, the best strategy to ensure our security and to build a durable peace is to support the advance of Democracy elsewhere. Democracies don’t attack each other. They make better trading partners and partners in diplomacy.
GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are led by events and common sense to one conclusion. The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
BARACK OBAMA, 44TH U.S. PRESIDENT: To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit, and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
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COOPER: The words of presidents past. Again, as we’ve mentioned, President Trump was elected on a promise of putting America first, which some took as a move away from the rest of the world and its troubles. In a span of less than a week all of that seems turned upside down. What exactly is the Trump doctrine as it stands now?
As Jeffrey Lord said in the last hour, until we hear it from President Trump, we simply don’t know. Closing in on this administration’s first 100 days in dealing with this multiple challenges we just outlined, it is becoming that much more important to find out.