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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
President Barack Obama Will Address Nation on His Plans Regarding ISIS
Aired September 10, 2014 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, breaking news, a new report said an NFL executive received the disturbing video of Ray Rice punching his now wife in April. That is not what the commissioner of the NFL has been saying. A full report coming up.
Plus making the case for war. Tonight President Obama tells the nation the next phase against ISIS is, quote, offense. We have new details about this historic primetime address.
Plus the president wants half a billion dollars to arms Syrian rebels in the fight against ISIS. But does the United States really know who is good or who is bad? Let's go OUTFRONT.
Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. We begin OUTFRONT tonight with the breaking news. A damning allegation that could rock the NFL and its commissioner.
The "Associated Press" reporting tonight that an NFL executive had received the video showing Ray Rice knocking out his then fiancee in an Atlantic City Casino elevator.
This claim coming just after 24 hours after the league's commissioner, Roger Goodell, went before cameras to claim the league never had a chance to see the tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know that a second tape had existed?
ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: Well, we had not seen any video tape of what occurred in the elevator. We assumed that there was a video. We asked for video, but we were never granted that opportunity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Miguel Marquez is OUTFRONT. And Miguel, obviously, this is an incredible allegation if true. What more do you know about this report and the NFL's response tonight.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, it is stretching the bounds of credibility to say the very least. The Associated Press says that this is coming from an anonymous law enforcement official that they gave the video to the NFL on an unsolicited basis because they wanted the NFL to have it before they made their punishment regarding Rice. Now the NFL's Brian McCarthy very, very quickly released a statement saying, "We have no knowledge of this. We are not aware of any one in our office who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday. We will look into it."
Now the "Associated Press" saying that their reporters were able to listen to an April 9th voice mail message that was clearly indicated that it came from the NFL. It was a female voice on that voicemail message. It was 12 seconds long.
That female voice expressed thanks for sending the video along and said, you're right, it is terrible. Roger Goodell, you know, he spoke on CBS last night and then this morning and completely denied that they had ever seen it or had the opportunity to see it to his knowledge.
He was at Wake Forest in North Carolina today on a different matter, with young athletes when he was asked about it there. This thing is following him everywhere he goes. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOODELL: When we make a mistake we're honest about it and we're open about it and say we're going to work to do better. We were two weeks ago, when we improved our policies in this area and we have more work to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUEZ: Now I think that people are getting very concerned with how open and honest the NFL is. I want to show you one other thing. The complaint summons out there from the very beginning, the "Baltimore Sun" reported this. The "New Jersey Ledger" reported this, it was well reported out there.
In this, it does say that Mr. Rice specifically striking her with his hand and rendering her unconscious, referring to Miss Palmer, his then-fiancee.
One thing I do also want to point out is that the police then released a statement or a press release sometime later that mentioned none of that, only saying after reviewing surveillance photo, it appeared both parties were involved in a physical altercation and later saying both Mr. Palmer and Ms. Rice refused any medical attention and no injuries were recorded by either party.
So in one knocked her unconscious and in the police report, no injuries by either party. I think all sides in this they are going to have more and more questions head.
BURNETT: It is incredible to think that that report could have come out of unconscious. All right, thanks very much, Miguel.
I want to bring in Rachel Nichols, our legal analyst, Mel Robbins, and former NFL player, Coy Wire. Rachel, let me start with you because obviously you have here Roger Goodell saying something that is the complete opposite of what is being reported by the Associated Press.
We have to figure out exactly what is the case here. But if it is true that the NFL had this video and the voice mail is true and Roger Goodell said they didn't have it, what does that mean?
RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN HOST, "UNGUARDED": If we are going to believe the "Associated Press," which I give a lot of credibility to. They listened to a voicemail with an electronic marker from the NFL offices.
So we don't really have to believe. Unless the "Associated Press" is coming out with a knowingly false report, which would be the first time I can remember that ever happening.
Then we don't have believe that someone in the NFL office heard it and the question is who heard it and where did it make its way up the chain. So either the NFL -- important decision makers didn't see this video, got caught because they didn't make the right choice after seeing it.
By the way, they didn't make the right choice whether they saw it or not and then they lied about it or it was just mishandled throughout the NFL offices, which is just such gross negligence, which is a blatant lie.
BURNETT: And that's my question for you then because it's either a blatant lie or it is gross negligence. In either case, what does it mean for the man in charge, Roger Goodell?
COY WIRE, FORMER NFL PLAYER: I find it hard to believe that he didn't see the tape in the first place. He said during bounty gate that ignorance was no excuse. He said if players get caught taking a banned substance and the player said I didn't know it was in there, that's no excuse.
You are banned. You're suspended. So if he is going to ban and suspend Ray Rice indefinitely for what he did, there is no excuse for him not knowing --
NICHOLS: We hear that from him over and over again.
WIRE: That is hypocrisy, so the players should be livid about this. Especially players who have been suspended or fined by him for things that maybe they didn't do or didn't know they did -- ignorance is no excuse, Commissioner. You should have known about it.
But Rachel, we talked about this last night, the NFL Players Association, if Goodell knew about that video and the NFL did, the players association did too, why didn't they step up and do something about one of their players doing something hideous hilting a woman.
BURNETT: It is clear that a lot of people were looking the other way and didn't think this was a big deal. Before they even realize they might be caught in that. They did not think it was a big deal. What do you think will happen? You are hearing the words from the people -- the experts, the hypocrisy and everything that Roger Goodell has stood for in the past so then what?
MEL ROBBINS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there are two things will happen. One is that I think they should hire a special investigator, like they did in the Richie Incognito bullying case with Jonathan Martin. They hired Ted Wells, an attorney here in New York, did a great job with his findings.
Because the NFL at this point, zero credibility. Secondly, you're going to see a groundswell of people now calling for him to step aside as commissioner. And the truth of the matter is nobody in America believes that if this video landed at the NFL on April 9th, that somehow between April 9th and July, when they put out a --
ROBBINS: -- a penalty on this player that nobody else in the NFL organization with one of their star players happened to see this.
BURNETT: It is hard to believe.
WIRE: And let's remember it was only a two-game suspension too, at that point. Two games is all that deserved?
NICHOLS: And by the way, you talk about independent investigator, Roger Goodell is not stepping down. In fact "The Washington Post" put out a tweet that their NFL stores in the NFL office when asked would Roger even consider resigning and the quote that came back was never. If Roger Goodell is not walking away --
BURNETT: But the kind of person that he says it is and it is a case of only gross negligence, wouldn't that be consistent with the man that he is that he would be the one to say I'm out.
NICHOLS: But Erin, what through this whole process is giving you the indication that Roger Goodell or the decision makers in the NFL think this is a big deal. They've told us over and over again with their actions. They don't think it is a big deal.
Robert Kraft, the New England Patriots owner who sits on the lot of the high committees. He is one of the most powerful owners in the NFL went on television two mornings ago and said I think Roger Goodell has done a fantastic job handling this.
WIRE: He's made him billions of dollars.
NICHOLS: Only those 32 owners got the power to fire Roger Goodell. He has made them so much money over the past few years that they gave him a $44.2 million salary last year.
BURNETT: I'm curious and I'm sure everything you say will turn out to be the case and I'm thinking of the Donald Sterling case and how it was not the owner. It was the public.
WIRE: And the players.
ROBBINS: There was a chance to impact the dollars for the other owners.
NICHOLS: The sponsors are pulling out and you had a commissioner who basically led the owners by the hand, and none of the other owners would oust Sterling. In this case, the commissioner is the one in the hot seat. You are not going to get in my opinion and I think Coy would agree with me a majority of the other 32 owners to throw him out.
WIRE: He's made them billions of dollars, Rachel. You're exactly right, but remember in the Sterling case, it was the public and the players who forced the hand, forced him out. I turn the focus back on Demorris Smith and the NFL Players Association.
If Goodell knew about this video and the NFL did, you knew about it too. If you didn't you know about it now and the commissioner says ignorance is not an excuse. If you know about it now, do something about it. If Ray Rice is banned indefinitely, Goodell is banned indefinitely because he knew about this video.
BURNETT: All right, well, thanks very much to all of you. The gross part of this whole story is how a few people seems to care about the violence against women.
OUTFRONT next, more breaking news, the president about to address the nation, a new military strategy. Will it involve American troops on the ground? A major and historic prime time address.
Plus the rise of ISIS, how did the terror group become the biggest threat since al Qaeda?
And the president told Americans a year ago tonight he was considering airstrikes in Syria, what's changed?
BURNETT: Breaking news, making the case for war. President Obama addressing the nation and the world tonight in a rare prime time speech outlining his plan to quote, "degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS."
Late today the president met with his national security team to finalize strategy. This is a pivotal moment in history for a president who has tied his legacy to ending America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Thirteen years ago, the country though is galvanized to take on al Qaeda after more than 3,000 people were murdered in the 9/11 attacks. Now the horrific beheading of two American journalists has moved the president to return to war in the Middle East.
Let's get right to Michelle Kosinski at the White House. Michelle, the White House has just released excerpts on the president's speech tonight. I know you have had a chance to talk to insiders there, what will he say? MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The way they frame this is that now this week with a formation of a more inclusive Iraqi government, this is a turning point, this is a new phase, a new offensive phase as they put it.
Of course, the question has been what about Syria? What happens next? And we know that tonight the president is prepared to authorize airstrikes in Syria. It is not clear if that will happen in the near term.
So the White House said while if that is the big announcement today, it is going to be the president to announce that, not one of the administration officials. They did release these excerpts though, and there is nothing in them to say that air strikes in Syria are not going to happen imminently.
The first one, the president will say I can announce the America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorists threat. Our objective is clear. We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustains counter terrorism strategy.
So OK, that is the first announcement. What are the details behind that? Those remain to be seen. But you know, the White House and the president have wanted to make clear that what is going to be done longer term here, Iraq and Syria, is not going to look like the U.S. prior wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The president will say, it will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counter terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support with partner forces on the ground.
The White House keeps comparing this operation to counter terrorism efforts over a longer term in places like Yemen and Somalia. So what does that mean? And what does that look like? It does mean air strikes. It means no boots on the ground. And it means working with those governments and training forces on the ground.
Now we know that the president is asking Congress for authorization for the military to further equip and train elements of the moderate Syrian opposition. So he is looking for that authorization but at the same time, the White House has said well, he has the authorization he needs to work out this plan that he is laying out tonight. So there is a difference between that. We just have to wait and see if that element of training and equipping Syrian forces is going to come later, Erin.
BURNETT: All right, Michelle Kosinski. Thank you very much. Obviously, significant announcements in terms of air strikes in Syria. The president committing to no U.S. ground troops, whether that is indeed something that he can stick to or not and arming rebels in Syria.
Let's go to our panel, Republican member of foreign affairs committee Adam Kinzinger, CNN chief national correspondent John King, chief political analyst Gloria Borger and our "CROSSFIRE" host, Van Jones.
OK, great to have all of you with this.
Congressman, let me start with you. You have been calling for strikes against ISIS since January, obviously many, many months ago. So when you hear the president tonight going to go ahead with that going to gives support for arming the rebels and say he can do that without any Americans combat troops fighting on foreign soil to quote what the president will say tonight. What do you say?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, look, I think it is possible. I don't like the idea of introducing American troops on the ground right away. I also don't like the idea of the president taking anything off the table. If the destruction of ISIS is the ultimate goal here, which it is, by putting boots off of the table, you are in essence saying the destruction of ISIS is the most important thing unless we get to where we need boots on the ground, in which case that becomes the red line.
So I think taking it off the table is the wrong decision. But that said, I do think the president and I hope that the president is very focused on the reality that air power coupled with the native forces, the Peshmerga, the Iraqi military and the free Syrian army can help to roll back this threat. This is going to be a long-term fight. This is going to go on for probably many years and I hope he makes that clear to the American people.
BURNETT: Van, the president ran on a platform to get out of Iraq and he did that. Is that part of the reason why he is now so adamant that he will not put ground troops in. That that is becoming just something that is just so against what he ran on, what his legacy is that he can't put it on the table?
VAN JONES, CNN HOST, CROSSFIRE: Absolutely. Well it is true and also this is a big, big moment in the Obama presidency. He now has to go from being a reluctant warrior. He inherited two wars. He promised to end them. He has worked very hard to end them. He has got somehow turned tonight from being the reluctant warrior to being an actual warrior against ISIS, against ISIL, against this horrible threat.
You know, Americans tends to be mobilized when you have a Pearl Harbor, when you have a 9/11, when you have Americans being beheaded. He has that moment now and he cannot come out and be wishy washy or reluctant. This is a time for him to stand up and say you know what, enough is enough. And we have to see a new President Obama now, no longer the reluctant warrior. He has to be precise. He cannot be belligerent. But it is just time for him now to say we are not going to have this kind of this conduct at the world stage.
BURNETT: Gloria, is he going to become a warrior and not a reluctant warrior when he is taking such a strong stance that he will do anything to defeat ISIS except for if it involves American troops?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look. I think he is clearly reluctant, his ambivalence of where he wants to do with ambivalence. It has been really evident over the last month to or so. And when you use the terminology in the term of war, Erin, is what the administration would refer to as a counter terrorism effort. OK? That is what they are referring to this as.
I think what the president is doing here is sort of public opinion has moved ahead of this president because of those beheadings of Americans. And once the public saw that, you know, it is not like they are in a rush to go to war. But they don't want to be seen as weak and not acting when Americans are publicly beheaded like that. And so, you've seen this huge shift in public opinion to the point where two-thirds of Americans are saying we have to take the fight to ISIS.
And so, I think a year ago in regards to Syria, the president had the wind in his face. Now it is at his back on this and he has to sort of rise to the moment this evening, with as Van says, not being belligerent but being strong.
BURNETT: And John, how best can he accomplish that? Especially given as Gloria says, they don't want to use the war, even though they've conducted 154 air strikes in Iraq since this has began, never mind that they are going to in -- have air strikes on Syria. And they say they will do whatever it takes. They just don't want to use the word war.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The president has to be candid about this (INAUDIBLE) threat. He has to be confident during one of the questions about him in public opinion is he decisive enough, does he have a plan, is he ready to do this. is he too late to the challenge. So he has to be confident tonight.
But I think he need to seize the moment. Look at what just happened in the last minute or two right here on your program. You have a proud liberal, Van Jones, saying the president he has to get tough. He has to do something now. You have a proud conservative, the Congressman, saying the president has to get tough. He has to do something now.
This is a fundamental shift in our politics. After 9/11 the reflex was trust the leadership when they say we need to do these things. But after the Iraq war, with political reflex has been, whoa, wait a minute. We can't trust the promises coming from a White House. When a president says this will be limited, the Iraqis will feel like they greet us as liberators, they will pay for this, this will be over quickly, the American people are skeptical.
We have another change in our politics where the American people are looking for their president to act but they still have some skepticism, a hangover from the Iraq war and they have doubts about this commander-in-chief. So the president has to address both of those head winds, if you will, as he tries to rally this country at this big moment.
BURNETT: Go ahead, Gloria.
BORGER: And he has to explains the complexity of this situation. Because this is not going to be like shock and awe, you know, in the first gulf war. This is going to be something that, as the Congressman said, it is going to take years and patience and intelligence and he has to let the American public know, you know. This isn't just going to be drop a few bombs and that's it.
BURNETT: Congressman, we already have -- the United States already has more than 1,000 troops on the ground, whatever words they want to use formally to talk about that. They say that they are there to protect people on the ground. But these are Americans -- Americans there more than 1,000.
Are you all right with the president going ahead without asking for congressional approval for any of these strikes given that, frankly, one year ago tonight in prime time, he spoke and said I'm going to come to Congress. I'm making my case here for strikes against Syria. And, well, Congress never got it together and never voted on it. So now you can't blame the guy for saying I'm not going to ask you I guys. I'm just going to do it.
KINZINGER: Right. It is inconsistent. But at the same time, you know, what happened a year ago, I think really, was damaging to our foreign policy. And I think we saw this --
BURNETT: Right. But my point is isn't it people like you in the Congress to blame for that, not the president? He wanted to do as he was being polite in asking you?
KINZINGER: Yes. I personally supported it in doing that right. I agree. I mean, Congress needed a strong leader. And when the president came out and said we need to bomb but when you guys get back from your vacation and I'm going golfing here in a bit, it didn't send that strong message to the world. Plus, what happened in the UK.
But looking at where we are today, if the president shows a powerful that he can be a powerful leader, that he is going to take America to the point of defeating this terrorist group, I think he can rally the American people behind him. But as was said by your panel, any sign of weakness in the speech, any sign of weakness will be taken by our enemy as a president is not serious and I think will be taken by the American people the same way.
JONES: There is another audience here too, which is the world community. United States cannot go in here and go it alone, you know, take these guys out. This has to be done by regional forces with our support. He has got to be very clear about that.
I'm not excited about the idea of the air strikes in Syria right now. I wasn't before. What we got -- there is a world community though, and you are right Congressman, we lost the British public and the world public this time last year on Syria. So the president has to make an ideological case a value state case to the world to stay with the United States while we stand with regional forces.
BURNETT: And John, before we go, this is the president who said, Al- Qaeda is on the path to defeat. That is a quote from him in September 2012. Al-Qaeda is on the run. He said this so many times. ISIS is, of course, the spawn of Al-Qaeda. How does he get around that? That he has so consistently said we are not going to get to this point and here we are.
KING: And he also said that these guys were the J.V. even though he insists he was not specifically talking about ISIS. If you look at the transcript, that is what the question was about.
There is no question the president past words, Erin, and his past actions are one of the reasons he's in a slump right now politically. But he has to put that in the rear view mirror and step forward tonight and just try to change that. You have two-thirds of the American people don't think he has a clear plan to deal with ISIS in Syria. I'm surprised the number is not higher because the president himself said we don't have a clear strategy yet.
Tonight, he has to turn the page. And yes, all of that stuff will be used against him by critic, all that stuff will be regurgitating if something happens in the future that where this goes south. But the president tonight needs to turn the page. He needs to look the country in the eye and say this is where we are going. It is going to take a while. It is going to be hard. I need your help. I need your support.
BURNETT: Thanks very much to all of you.
And next, we are standing by and we are going to get more details on president's speech tonight.
Plus most Americans have never heard of ISIS just months ago. How did we get from there to here so quickly with 94 percent of Americans saying they know about the beheadings.
And the president says he is opposed to quote-unquote "dumb wars." So are the air strikes in Syria smart?
BURNETT: Breaking news: President Obama preparing to make his case for military action against ISIS in Syria. Ninety minutes from now, the president will stand in front of the cameras and address the nation in a rare primetime speech. He will need to convince the people that ISIS is a threat to the United States and a military action is necessary.
So, is it? How did this group that the president called a jayvee team just months ago become such a threat?
Deborah Feyerick has our report.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It seems to defy logic. The speed at which is not only invaded parts of Iraq and Syria but also how quickly the terror group has penetrated the American psyche.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm back, Obama. And I'm back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State. FEYERICK: After the savage beheading of two American journalists, and its rabid, twisted propaganda.
ROBERT MCFADDEN, SOUFAN GROUP: It wants to continue to sow fear into any of its foes to show how ruthless it is.
FEYERICK: But ISIS is not new. In fact, its roots go back more than two decades. In 1990, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi set up a jihadi training camp in Afghanistan. All was relatively quiet until the fall of the towers and the 2003 U.S.-led invasion into Iraq. Zarqawi and his followers under the banner of al Qaeda in Iraq gained notoriety for deadly strikes on U.S. and coalition forces.
When Saddam Hussein fell, his Iraqi military leaders were expelled by the U.S.-backed Shia government. They joined the terror group in startling numbers.
(on camera): So, clearly, the U.S. invasion affected who joined ISIS.
MCFADDEN: Certainly. Certainly.
FEYERICK (voice-over): And it wasn't until 2011, the Syria civil war that the terror group begun to evolved into what we see today -- extremists looking for a cause and a battlefield.
MCFADDEN: Fighters start to come in from Saudi Arabia, some of the other countries in the region, North Africa, Tunisia, Morocco, even Egyptians and Libyans, and then Europeans start to come in, in some trickle, if you will, from North America.
FEYERICK: All of a sudden, the group now known as ISIS had a global image, roughly 10,000 fighters making sweeping gain this summer and taking more territory than al Qaeda and its affiliates ever did. What Robert McFadden, a former NCIS chief, calls a veritable blitzkrieg.
MCFADDEN: It's kind of a sweeping movement, a vast swathe of territory that it controls. Now, controlling it and keeping it are two different things, as well as governing that territory. That remains to be seen.
FEYERICK: ISIS' fanatical propaganda magnifies every win, like this video in June showing what ISIS called the destruction of a border crossing between Syria and Iraq, get its losses are not even noted, like the fall of the city at the hands of Iraqi and Kurdish and Shia forces helped by U.S. air strikes. Its propaganda perpetuating myths that only it believes, like the claim that ISIS leads the world's 1.5 billion Muslims when, in fact, it does not.
JEH JOHNSON, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: They have cost the world scores in human lives, innocent people, innocent Muslims. And this type of organization, this type of terrorist threat simply has to be engaged. We can't avoid it.
FEYERICK: Now, the DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson says there's no credible threat to the U.S. homeland, but clearly there is a concern about lone wolves, that they may act in the name of ISIS. That's been the case since al Qaeda back in 9/11. But another game changer, Erin, it maybe the fact that now Iraq has a new government, a new prime minister and government sworn in. It was the old prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, who really helped rise or fuel the rise of ISIS in the sweep across so much of that area because there were many Sunnis that were so angry what was going on there in the government.
So, that could change. The Arab League is involved. They wanted a different government and so, it's going to be very interesting to watch the whole thing, the whole dynamic.
BURNETT: All right. Deb Feyerick, thank you. And joining me now, former NATO supreme allied commander, General Wesley Clark, along with Dan Senior, President Bush's point man in Iraq at the beginning of the 2003 invasion.
All right. Great to have both of you with me.
So, as we tackle some of these issues, let me just start with you, Dan. Al Qaeda, I think Deb's piece so perfectly pointed out, ISIS may have a different name, but it is the same ideology as many as of the same fighters, it is the group at the moment. But the United States war against al Qaeda, this is a continuum for that.
DAN SENOR, CO-FOUNDER, THE FOREIGN POLICY INITIATIVE: Yes.
BURNETT: So, when the president tonight will say in his speech, that he will -- our objective is clear, he will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, as he calls it. Is that a mission that is possible?
SENOR: I think it is, but it's horrifically complicated, and it's going to take a lot of time and a lot of resources.
ISIL is effectively the reincarnation of al Qaeda. There's one fundamental difference. It has something al Qaeda never had which is territory. It has thousands and thousands of square miles between Iraq and Syria. It has some 8 million people who are living under its control and it's got tens of thousands of fighters. That is a force that al Qaeda never had.
BURNETT: And, General Clark, how much of a threat is this force? Again, the president is saying, just a few months ago that it was a jayvee team. Now, obviously, he's giving a prime time address to the team on why it is worth war or whatever counterterrorism effort he's going to call it. How serious of a threat is this?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. ARMY (RET.): I think it's a big threat to Saudi Arabia. I think it's a threat for the peace and stability in the region. I think there is some threat to the U.S. homeland from people who have served there or people who might want to go there, but find it more convenient to strike in the United States.
BURNETT: Well, a lot of people who have Western passports, European passports, American passports.
SENOR: Hundreds -- they're estimating hundreds of people.
CLARK: But I think the key thing is that this is a force that has money, that has military leadership and it has the ability to reach out and strike. So, if I were -- particularly the Saudi government, I would be particularly worried about this force.
BURNETT: And the Saudi government and obviously, the united -- the entire stability of that region is reliant on that government, so that is a clear and present threat to the United States if you talk about Saudi Arabia.
SENOR: Yes, I would also say, well, one thing that is clear about ISIL is it is doing something we've seen no one do for decades, which is have zero respect for borders, and effectively trying to wipe out borders, borders that have been in place 50, 70 years.
So, if you look at the speed with which race they are erasing the Iraqi-Syrian border, then you ask the question -- to General Clark's point -- how quickly could they try to erase the border with Saudi Arabia? What about the border with Turkey? What about the border with Jordan? I mean, I don't mean to present a bunch of scary scenarios, but you can understand why the governments in the region right now are pretty darn concerned about the spread of ISIL.
BURNETT: So, what about this concept of a coalition, because the president is going to make the point, and I know we're going to talk more about this. But he's going to make the point no American combat troops he's going to rely on his coalition.
CLARK: I think the only --
BURNETT: Who is the coalition?
CLARK: The only way you can beat it is to have Sunni troops on the ground against ISIS.
BURNETT: And are those troops from other Arab countries in the region? Are they qualified? Are they trained?
CLARK: Who are Sunnis.
BURNETT: Are they able to do this?
CLARK: They may have to be given additional training. But if they're given the right motivation and we have our combat multipliers in their, our reconnaissance, our ability to strike from the air, our logistics, yes. They should certainly be able to defeat ISIS, if they have the motivation.
BURNETT: So, the question the American people, we showed that piece from Deb for purposes so people could see some of the videos, some of the atrocities that ISIS has put committed, these videos they put out, 94 percent of Americans say they saw the beheading videos. They were aware of the beheadings of James Foley and Steve Sotloff. They are now leading the president. Americans are now prepared for
military conflict. Is this country being led into war because of those videos? Would this be happening if those videos had not surfaced?
SENOR: Americans are panicked because the region is on fire. Now, if you try to pinpoint exactly when the beginning of that, we can get into all sorts of revisionist debate, but a key moment was 2011. We completely withdrew from Iraq and we made the decision, our government made the decision not to engage in Syria, and I think there are many bad actors who saw a huge vacuum beginning in 2011 which escalated from there, including ignoring red lines that have capitalized on the chaos.
So, it's not shocking that things -- things were bad then, they've gotten much worse. And at some point, the American public has reflected in the polling said, wait a minute, this could start to affect us in a significant way.
BURNETT: Well, General Clark --
CLARK: I think we have to have the American public hold their horses a little bit here. The president is the leader of this country for foreign policy. You cannot make foreign policy and military policy by public opinion. So, before the Iraq war --
BURNETT: But my point is, is he being dragged because of these videos, because people say things that now all of a sudden --
CLARK: This is exactly what ISIS wants, is to get American ground troops in there. Can you imagine the propaganda coup they would have?
SENOR: ISIS wants us to turn away.
CLARK: ISIS wants a recruiting tool to strengthen them, and there is nothing better than a recruiting tool than a Judeo-Christian army on the ground.
SENOR: But, General Clark -- can I say something?
ISIS was doing dramatic slaughtering of civilians long before President Obama decided to take the steps that he's taking. The human catastrophe on the ground was astonishing. That didn't take American action. In fact, we were absent.
President Obama said the tide of war is receding. He pulled out of Iraq. He announced we are pulling out of Afghanistan. He refused to engage in Syria.
I mean, ISIL, if anything, was escalating while we were doing nothing. So, how could it be that our involvement is the spark for ISIL rather than what happens?
CLARK: I'm saying the beheading was done for a purpose. It wasn't only to motivate their followers. It was also to intimidate their foes.
SENOR: To shock our public.
CLARK: It was to shock our public so we would feed U.S. forces into this because they saw the enormous power that al Qaeda got in 2004 when we were in Iraq, 2004-2005. They want us on the ground. It aids their recruiting.
BURNETT: All right. We're going to actually show the map in just a moment. You're going to actually talk about exactly how troops will go in and whether those troops will or will not be American, the crucial question as we talk about this, after more than 150 strikes against ISIS in Iraq, the air war now also moving to Syria and the president is saying that he's going to be arming rebels in Syria. We'll talk about whether that makes sense.
Exactly year ago tonight, almost to the hour, this is an incredible timing, the president told the nation he was considering airstrikes in Syria? Can he make the case tonight?
BURNETT: Breaking news tonight, President Obama making his case for striking ISIS in Syria. According to excerpts from the speech, the president will say, quote, "This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist," that's the key line, "using our support for partner forces on the ground."
He is making the case there will be no combat troops on the ground. ISIS is the group that has beheaded two Americans, the group that has taken over towns and cities across Iraq and Syria. The United States has launched over 154 strikes against ISIS targets, all in Iraq. There are, to these questions of boots on the ground, already, more than 1,043 American troops in Iraq.
OUTFRONT tonight again, Dan Senor and General Wesley Clark.
So, I want to start here with -- this is where the areas under ISIS control.
And I want to ask you this, General, we are talking about the airstrikes in Syria. Obviously, the 154 that we're talking about have all been here on the Iraqi side of the border, airstrikes in Syria. Will they be effective given that the United States admitted on July 4th they tried to rescue those two journalists and went to the wrong place because they didn't have the intelligence on the ground?
CLARK: Sure. Well, we'll have a lot of surveillance over it. We know this is their headquarters. Once we were authorized to go in there, we'll strike, we'll assess, we'll re-strike. Yes, we will be effective, we will hit targets, but we will not be decisive from the air. To do that, you must have forces on the ground.
BURNETT: And I want to talk about that because you believe there must be forces on the ground. You believe that those forces can come from Saudi Arabia, and other countries in the region.
BURNETT: And do you think that is a real way to fight this?
CLARK: The Kurds, the Turks, all should be joined. We need Sunni Arab forces fighting ISIS because it's a Sunni Arab threat. We don't want a religious dimension in this conflict.
BURNETT: Fair point, but who is in charge then?
SENOR: Yes, well, it's --
BURNETT: Are the Saudis are going to do what the Turks tell them to do? No.
SENOR: Sure. There's a couple of problems. One, I agree that without -- some of these areas that we are looking at striking are population dense areas. You need intelligence from the ground to help with the precision of those strikes, A. B, you need forces on the ground to work within your allies on the ground, the communities that are cooperating to protect against retribution.
If we start having Saudis do that or armies from other Sunni Gulf countries, I can just imagine how Iran is going to react. The sectarianization of the Iraqi security forces and of this conflict has become one of the biggest problems in the country and Iran is not going to sit quietly while Gulf state Sunni armies are moving in and around Iraq.
BURNETT: General, isn't the definition the president is going to say this is, you know, obviously, his goal to get Bashar al Assad out of Syria. But isn't kind of the upshot of this that -- well, obviously, the United States is going to help.
CLARK: The United States is going to lead this, because when you have the intelligence, which we have the radio electronics intelligence, the oversight intelligence and some stuff on the ground through special forces, we will be driving the direction, the pace of the operation with our logistics and air support.
Now, we don't want U.S. troops in those villages trying to identify friend from foe, going in and searching houses and stuff.
BURNETT: But is it possible it happens?
CLARK: And we hope it won't happen. We hope we can finesse our way through this Iran issue with the Shia versus the Sunni. We really need the Sunni forces, the Iraqi forces are mostly Shia at this point. They can certainly come in and join in on this fight.
But, look, this is Turkey. Turkey is penetrated by this force. Turkey is threatened by this force, it should take action.
Kurds, the same. The Saudis should contribute.
BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much to both of you. Appreciate your time tonight.
And next, a year of mixed messages from the White House on ISIS and Syria. That's been the way it is. Have they weakened the president's credibility at home and abroad? A special report.
BURNETT: Breaking news, the president addressing the nation in just an hour from now. His challenge tonight, convincing Americans that he has a strategy to defeat ISIS, a strategy that likely involves airstrikes in Syria. Has his message until this point, though, been consistent?
Our Jim Sciutto reports.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president's speech to the nation tonight is in many ways antidote to his now infamous remark two weeks ago.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't have a strategy yet.
SCIUTTO: But as Mr. Obama explains why the U.S. is going to war against ISIS, he will need to explain why we resisted doing the very same thing in the past. It was only seven months ago when he dismissed ISIS and other extremist groups inside Syria as "second rate", at best, a point the president has tried with difficulty to walk back.
"The analogy we use around here sometimes and I think is accurate is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn't make them Kobe Bryant".
OBAMA: I wasn't specifically referring to ISIL. I've said that regionally, there were a whole series of organizations that were focused primarily locally.
SCIUTTO: The president also dismissed arming the moderate Syrian rebels, the same step he is now ordering as unlikely to alter the ultimate outcome in Syria.
OBAMA: It's always been a fantasy, this idea that we could provide light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists.
SCIUTTO: In Iraq, the ease with which ISIS took on the Iraqi's military is calling into question the president's confidence in pulling all the U.S. troops out.
OBAMA: We're leaving behind a sovereign, stable Iraq, and self- reliant Iraq, with a representative government.
SCIUTTO: It's that same government's gross alienation of the minority Sunnis that still helped fuel ISIS's support on the ground. The timing of tonight's speech is telling. It was exactly a year ago today, at the same hour, that President Obama stood in front of the nation to call for airstrikes against the government of Bashar al- Assad.
OBAMA: The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons.
SCIUTTO: Military action that he would back away from just days later.
Former diplomat Aaron David Miller, author of "The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have Another Great President", sees a chronic problem.
AARON DAVID MILLER, FORMER DIPLOMAT: Presidential rhetoric really persuades. This administration is -- it isn't the first, it won't be the last -- that has allowed the rhetoric to exceed its capacity to act.
SCIUTTO: Ultimately, the test will be how a president defined by his opposition to war in Iraq --
OBAMA: I don't oppose war, but I do oppose a dumb war.
SCIUTTO: -- takes the country to war there once again.
BURNETT: The president tonight, among other things is saying airstrikes in Syria will go ahead. How quickly, do you think?
SCIUTTO: I'm told by sources that they will not be immediate, that there's still a lot of leg work to be done, Erin, particularly in terms of gathering intelligence on the ground. Syria has largely been an intelligence-hole for the U.S., in light of the fact it has not been involved there yet. So, still more legroom to have done. Even though the president will talk about air power tonight, I'm told, we shouldn't expect those strikes to actually happen for sometime.
BURNETT: Strikes and, of course, arming some of the rebels in Syria.
Thanks so much to Jim Sciutto.
And as our breaking news coverage of the president's speech continues OUTRONT in a moment.
BURNETT: President Obama is expected to tell Americans tonight how the U.S. will degrade and destroy ISIS. Please stay with CNN's live coverage of the president's address and the top political commentators, they will be here tonight for in-depth analysis on how the United States will respond. That's all at 9:00 Eastern.
Thanks for watching us. We'll be back here tomorrow night.
"AC360" begins right now.