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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript - Syria


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MATTHEWS: According to NBC`s Kelly O`Donnell up on the Hill, sources on the Hill say sources began advising congressional offices earlier today. The president would be acknowledging Assad`s use of chemical weapons and would help armed rebels.

Well, McCain told reporters use off the Senate floor that he was informed about military support to Syria, saying, quote, "I was told by several reliable sources. Whether it`s true or not, we will find out. If it`s not lethal aid, then it is even a worse mistake. I was told it was going to be lethal. AK-47s don`t go well against tanks."

McCain also put out a statement via his office saying, quote, "U.S. credibility is on the line. Now is not the time to merely take the next incremental step. The decision to provide lethal assistance especially ammunition to heavy weapons to opposition forces in Syria is long overdue.

But providing arms alone is not sufficient. That alone is not enough to change the military balance of power on the ground against Assad. The president must rally an international coalition to take military actions to degrade Assad`s ability to use air power and ballistic missiles and to move and resupply his forces around the battlefield by air. This could be done, as we have said many times, using standoff weapons such as cruise missiles."

Speaker John Boehner`s office urging the president tonight, we`ll get that later. There it is, to consult with Congress before he makes any decisions. Quote, "It is long past time to bring the Assad regime`s bloodshed in Syria to end. As President Obama examines his options, it is our hope he will properly consult with Congress before take anything action."

I`m looking at this. Let me go to the Senator Coons.

Now, this is the challenge I look at. Try to look down the road, perhaps beyond where John McCain looks. And I see this problem in "Time" magazine this week. Here`s what`s coming from Putin. Putin said Russia has not yet realized its plans to develop, to deliver advanced air defense systems to Syria, fearing that they would disturb the balance in the region. And now here is McCain calling for a change in the balance in the war.

If we go in with heavy weapons, if we go with a no-fly zone, of whatever construction, aren`t we daring Putin to go with his state-of-the-art defensive weaponry, which will be used against our planes and our attempt to get involved from our side?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Well, Chris, I do think that we`re in an absolutely critical moment where we need to up both the diplomatic pressure against Russia as well as against Iran and Hezbollah, their ally in the region. And we need to increase the military support and the humanitarian support that we`re providing for the Syrian opposition. You raise a valid point. There is a real risk of steady escalation on both sides. But after this clear red line laid out by our president has been crossed by Assad, it is I think time for us to act, long past time for us to act.

And I think it is possible for us working with regional allies to find ways to deliver support to vetted elements of the opposition such that these weapons will not inevitably fall into the hands of extremists or jihadists. I do think there still remains some hope that with the carefully developed evidence that was announced by the White House today, that Russia will back off of its support for Assad. We have to give this one more try diplomatically, but I also think we cannot stand by as Assad continues to massacre tens of thousands of his own people.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go to Congressman McDermott. So we go into Iraq to knock off -- well, we knock off a Sunni government to put in a Shiite government. And here we are in Syria playing Superman again, and we`re going to knock off the government to put in a Sunni government. Are we going to keep doing this country to country? Are we going to in to one country after another in the Arab world deciding who should win and getting involved militarily and perhaps daring Soviets, not the Soviets, the Russian, obviously. Putin is still a Soviet, to come in and challenge us, because he has said he doesn`t want to disturb the balance. What happens if we disturb the balance and he comes in to balance it from his end?

REP. JIM MCDERMOTT (D), WASHINGTON: Well, Chris, I feel like I`m watching deja vu all over again. The same kind of drumbeat to go into war in Iraq is going on right now. And it is not clear who the rebels are. Are the rebels al Qaeda? Are they Shia-backed by the Iranians? Who are they?

And until we know that, handing them weapons and exploding this situation in my view is not a good idea. I think the president should walk very carefully and very slowly, working with the Russians and ramping up the efforts with the Iranians. I think both of those situations have to be dealt with if you`re going to keep some kind of world war not starting on this issue.

MATTHEWS: That`s what I think. You know, the neocons` greatest dream is to get back into the cold war. My concern is, Senator, let me go to you, Senator Coons.

Here we have another line of demarcation. McCain is not happy with the president giving nonlethal aid. He is not happy with AK-47s, heavy arms fire. He wants heavy arms and he wants a no-fly zone. Is that going to challenge the Russians to go in? If we go in with a no-fly zone attempt, even if it`s done by stand back weapons, and if we go in with giving heavy weapons to the rebels, which would upset the balance and perhaps change the course of this war, do you think we have to consider the question of the Russians at this point?

COONS: Of course we have to consider the question of Russia and what actions they`ll take. But we also have to keep in mind, Chris, that what we`ve seen over the last two years is a steady escalation of the amount of support that Iran and Russia are providing to a murderous regime. Our regional allies, Jordan and Turkey, have been bearing the burden of hundreds of thousands of refugees and have been pleading with us for more support and for more engagement -- first, on the humanitarian side, and now to create safe zones and to support the opposition. Recent developments on the battlefield suggest that the opposition is really at a teetering point, and that Assad may well retake the advantage on the battlefield as his troops, reinforced with Iran`s proxy Hezbollah are massing for an attack on Aleppo.

I really don`t think we can afford to stand on the sidelines. In the end, I believe Assad will fall. And I think in the region, our allies will not forgive us for standing aside and refusing to take action after Assad has crossed a clear red line in the international community. I think that Obama will be successful in pressing Russia to back off their support of Assad.

MATTHEWS: Do you belief it`s in the United States` security interest, in other words, to the mothers and fathers of soldiers coming in from states like Delaware to perhaps get involved somewhere down the line? Is this our national interest to get involved in this war, to get an act of war against the government of Syria? That`s what we`re doing. Should we commit an act of war against the government of Syria?

COONS: I think it is in our national interest to stand up for the very folks we have recognized as a country as the legitimate representatives of the people of Syria and to stand up for our regional allies and for our core values.

We have allowed this to go on year in and year out because of our concern for American service people, for the families who send their sons and daughters.

MATTHEWS: OK, we have to go.

COONS: To places like Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

COONS: But, honestly, Chris, we can`t afford not to.

MATTHEWS: I hear you. Senator Coons, Chris Coons from Delaware. And thank you, U.S. Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington state.


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