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MSNBC - "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript: Syria

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Congressman Holt, I don`t know if you`ve seen the actual vote from the Senate. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted just a few hours ago -- actually, not that long ago, 10 to 7 that -- and they voted basically for the president`s resolution to authorize the use of force in Syria. Even in the committee, however, the vote was lopsided. Only three Republicans voted for authorization. Among them was John McCain. The resolution includes controversial language McCain pushed for that said the goal of intervention was to, quote, "change the momentum on the battlefield
in Syria." While the authorization passed in committee, it still faces major hurdles on the full Senate and the House vote next week.As Politico reported today, nearly 80 percent of the House Republican conference is opposed to launching a strike. And in the Senate, there are only about 8 to 10 yes votes among the Republican support there, the Republican caucus.

I`m looking at this language, Congressman Holt, that was jammed into this resolution -- has nothing to do with a bombing attack to get through - - to stop them from using chemical weapons. It`s talking about requiring the president to submit to the Congress, the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee of the House on Foreign Affairs, an integrated plan basically to bring about a negotiated political settlement in the conflict in Syria involving all kinds of arms and aid of various kinds, particularly arms aids to the various groups, their efforts to try to keep Iran out of the war.

This is a multi-faceted demand in this resolution which the president will sign that calls for a major U.S. effort, apparently, to change the direction of the war in Syria. And everybody`s saying, Oh, don`t worry, this is a dainty little one-time-only operation.By the way, why do they need 60 to 90 days to carry out a two-day war?
That`s my question.

REP. RUSH HOLT (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, that`s a lot of questions, Chris, and good questions. You know, I -- it`s not -- the vote count that you need is not just in the House or just in the Senate. It`s really in the United States of America and more broadly than that, in the world.The only reason for us to be involved in this civil war in Syria that -- possibly justifiable reason would be to enforce international standards
for civilized behavior, to say that weapons of mass destruction may never be used, or else there will be real consequences.

But a single nation can`t enforce international standards against a single nation. That`s -- and particularly the United States, who -- you know, our reputation for having clean hands with respect to chemical weapons is not all that good if you look at the CIA and other things. So...

MATTHEWS: What do you mean? We`ve used...

MATTHEWS: Are you saying, Congressman, that we have used chemical weapons?

HOLT: No. I`m saying that we have been historically too close to the involvement, too close to the use of chemical weapons in the Iran and Iraq war.

MATTHEWS: By whom?

HOLT: And much of the world...

HOLT: Against Iran.

MATTHEWS: OK.

HOLT: And much of the world sees United States culpability in that. And my point is, if you`re going to enforce worldwide standards, it has to be done multi-nationally. It can`t be done international.

MATTHEWS: OK.

HOLT: I mean, unilaterally. And furthermore, it has to be done in the way that the world understands so that future potential users of these weapons of mass destruction will clearly understand.

MATTHEWS: I get your point.

HOLT: And therefore, it can`t be done by a single nation.

MATTHEWS: So you`re voting against this resolution when it comes to the House?

HOLT: Well, likely. I`ve talked to the White House today and two days ago and given them a long list of questions that they have to answer. And I said that you`ve only got a few days to answer them. And the more they try to answer them, the less satisfied I am.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Robert Gibbs. Thanks for coming on, Robert. And it seems to me that you`re here more or less in support of the administration position. Is that fair to say?

ROBERT GIBBS, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:
Well, I -- I -- depends, I guess, on what question you -- I gave up my...

MATTHEWS: No, do you support -- do you support the resolution?

GIBBS: ... fee (ph) job months ago. I do believe...

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you about this. Here`s the problem. The
president is trying to square a circle here. He wants to keep the progressives with them who are skeptical of involvement in the Middle East, and I`m one of them. At the same time -- at the same time, he wants to bring in McCain and win the support of AIPAC, win the support of the neocons, who want a more robust policy, they like to say, a more muscular, less ashamed of U.S. policy (sic) of strength.

Then we have this language -- now, it may be refined, in the process of being refined, but basically, it was enough to get the McCain crowd to support this resolution out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And it talks about the president having to come forth within 30 days of enactment of this bill, his signature -- he`s got to come up with a plan, an integrated plan for basically helping the opposition overthrow Assad.

GIBBS: Well...

MATTHEWS: Now, why are we getting into that when all this was supposed to be about was whether we deal with them with regard to the chemical weapons use? Why bring all this in?

GIBBS: Let me say what I would say. I would say I think that is a paragraph on what Senator -- or excuse me, Secretary Kerry and others have said for a long time. And that is we have to bring to bear some change in the political calculus of Assad to leave power. That`s what we desire. We desire that he leave power in a negotiated settlement. I do not...

MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) about military aid to the rebels?

GIBBS: Which we have begun to...

MATTHEWS: So we`re taking sides.

GIBBS: Well, we made a decision as a government. I don`t mean "we." I mean the government made a decision to begin passing limited arms to the rebels. Again, I think this is a time-limited...

MATTHEWS: Well, why would progressives...

GIBBS: ... no boots on the ground resolution.

MATTHEWS: ... support this? Why would the people on the Democratic left, who are very skeptical about war -- why would they say, Not only do I support the president`s right to this bombing mission or Cruise missile mission, but also, I think I`ll sign onto this stuff that McCain wants to do and the neocons want to do and AIPAC wants to do...

GIBBS: Well...

GIBBS: I would say this...

MATTHEWS: Let`s just say the neocons...

GIBBS: I don`t know where...

MATTHEWS: ... who love this stuff.

GIBBS: I don`t know where John Bolton and Liz Cheney are on the neocon scale, but they`re both opposed to this. So -- and I don`t think...

MATTHEWS: That`s local politics out there, but anyway.

GIBBS: Well, I don`t...

MATTHEWS: With her.

GIBBS: Well, John Bolton, I don`t know what he`s running for yet. But I would say if you`re a progressive, and I would say to Congressman Holt, if no one will stand up and enforce the international norms that I think he is extremely concerned with, that somebody`s going to have to do that because if we don`t stand up and enforce those international norms, the nearly 100-year prohibition on the use of chemical weapons in warfare - - if we don`t do it, then what sort of signal does that send to Assad and to others...

MATTHEWS: OK, my question...

MATTHEWS: ... to the congressman. My response quickly is your notion and very cleanly and very daintily you`re saying enforce international norms. What you mean is give the president and the military, because he`s got -- they want it, apparently -- the right to send Cruise missiles into Syria and kill people. And that is somehow going to stop Assad from killing his people.

GIBBS: No, I...

MATTHEWS: Explain how that stops him from killing his people.

GIBBS: I think what we do is we degrade his capability...

MATTHEWS: By doing what?

GIBBS: Go after helicopters, go after airfields, go after the delivery mechanisms for these chemical weapons.

MATTHEWS: So you think this is going to be a surgical strike.

GIBBS: I think it will be a surgical strike, yes.

MATTHEWS: And not kill many people.

GIBBS: I do not think it will kill many people.

MATTHEWS: OK, Congressman, your thoughts about that in terms of just the idea we kill people to punish someone for killing people, and basically, we`re killing the same people, the Syrian people, which is so encrusted with irony, I don`t know how to keep going here. Your thoughts.

HOLT: Yes, well, I`m not sure that`s what Mr. Gibbs is saying. He`s saying we`ll make a surgical strike to deter Assad`s ability to do it in the future. That`s very hard to do. Chemical weapons are no doubt dispersed. It`s going to be very hard to take them out.

As I say, the only possibly justifiable reason would be to deter future use around the world of weapons of mass destruction -- in other words, to enforce these international norms. That`s what Secretary Kerry talks about. It`s what the president talks about.I don`t see how one nation can do it. If the rest of the world won`t do it, then we can`t. It is not up to one nation to enforce...

GIBBS: Well, then nobody can.

HOLT: ... international standards.

GIBBS: Well, then nobody can.

HOLT: Well...

GIBBS: If one nation can`t, then nobody can. And again, I think if the standard is we don`t want this to happen again, then somebody has to stand up and do it. Look, the Russians and the Chinese are not going to do it, right? The Russians are the arms dealer to the Syrians, right? The United Nations...

HOLT: Well, you know, I`ve asked...

GIBBS: ... is not going to do this.

MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you, Congressman, if -- let me give you...

HOLT: I`ve asked the administration...

MATTHEWS: Secretary Kerry threw a question at Rand Paul, the senator on the committee from Kentucky, Armed Services -- or Foreign Relations committee -- asked him does he think if we don`t do anything that Mr. Assad, the president of Syria, will do it again. And he didn`t answer the question. Let me throw it to you.

HOLT: He answered his own question. Kerry said, Oh, absolutely, they will. You know, it has not yet been established for the world to understand. You know, it`s only been established for some leaders of Congress in some closed sessions that -- who did what to whom. It won`t work if that is -- if those are the people who are convinced. It has to be the world community that is convinced...

MATTHEWS: All right, so...

GIBBS: ... about who did what to whom.

MATTHEWS: ... you think it`d be ineffective...

MATTHEWS: ... send Cruise missiles, Congressman. You`re saying we send Cruise missiles into Damascus or the outskirts, wherever these bombs are, whatever the equipment is we`re trying to disable, and that will not be a statement at all because it`s not an international statement.

HOLT: That`s right. That`s right.

MATTHEWS: OK.

HOLT: And what do we mean by international? Well, if we can`t get the U.N., if we can`t get the Arab League -- well, I`ve asked the White House what`s their criterion. What do they think will be satisfactory? Is it 20 nations with rhetoric saying, Go for it, guys, you Americans go do it?

No, that`s not good enough. And so, you know, I think this really has to be an international operation...

MATTHEWS: OK...

HOLT: ... and the -- and it`s on the administration -- the burden is on the administration to show what that means.

MATTHEWS: OK. Congressman -- U.S. Congressman Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, thanks for joining us. Robert Gibbs, as always. This is going to be a tough fight.


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