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CNN "Newsroom" - Transcript: Syria Intervention


Location: Unknown

Welcome back, congressman.

REP. MATT SALMON (R), ARIZONA: Thank you. Great to be on the program again.

COSTELLO: Thanks so much for being with us.

You listed several reasons for your opposition, including the lack of partners in the effort. Here's an exchange you had with Secretary Kerry yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SALMON: Why are we looking at a near go it alone military mission? You said in your testimony that there are 34 countries who are with us. What degree are they with us and who are they specifically?

KERRY: I don't have the full list of them here, but the - the -- I've listed a bunch of them. And the Arab League countries have condemned this. A number of them have asked to be part of a military operation. Our -- the Turks, a NATO country, have condemned it, pinned it on Assad, asked to be part of an operation. The French have volunteered to be part of an operation. There are others who have volunteered. But, frankly, and I'll let General, you know, Dempsey speak to this, we got more volunteers than we can use for this kind of an operation.


COSTELLO: So, there you have it, we have more volunteers than we need. Do you believe Secretary Kerry?

SALMON: Well, I -- you know, he could have said, like my kids do when they go to school, the dog ate the homework. He didn't have the list with him. He didn't have a specific tally of who was supporting this effort and what level of commitment they're willing to provide. The fact is, I'm very, very concerned that this looks very, very thin. It looks like unilateral action to me. And I think that entering into this kind of a serious conflict on a go-it-alone strategy is a - is a process I can't support.

COSTELLO: Secretary Kerry also said that Arab nations were willing to foot the bill for any military strike in Syria. Does that make you feel any better?

SALMON: I'll believe that when I see it. To coin a phrase from Ronald Reagan, trust but verify.

COSTELLO: So, you don't believe secretary -- he said there's a deal on the table. He's already talked to Arab leaders and they're quite willing to pay.

SALMON: You know it's -- with all the upheaval over in that part of the world, and a lot of empty promises, I think, that have been made in the past. I'm going to quote now "Jerry Maguire" movie, show me the money.

COSTELLO: On another topic, you've spoken before several Tea Party movement groups. Now another high profile Tea Party lawmaker, Senator Marco Rubio, has come out against the strike. Let's listen.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: While I have long argued forcefully for engagement in empowering the Syrian people, I have never supported the use of military force - of U.S. military force in this conflict and I still don't. I remain unconvinced that the use of force proposed here will work.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COSTELLO: Of course, in the past, Senator Rubio backed arming the rebels and regime change in Syria. But Rubio's constituents see it quite differently and, of course, he's a possible 2016 presidential contender. So, in your mind, is the political price too high to support President Obama's proposal, whatever it may be?

SALMON: Well, a Pew Research poll yesterday showed that a scant 23 percent of the American public support this kind of strike. And I don't think it's about political pressure alone. But history has shown us that when Americans do not believe in the cause that their country is about to engage in, the likelihood for success is diminished greatly. And I think you have to weigh that in consideration.

But, more than that, there are three fundamentals that I think have to be -- have to be met before we involve ourselves in a conflict of this nature. Number one, defining clearly what's at stake for the U.S. Our national security, is it going to be breached if we don't take action? I have not seen a clear answer on that yet. I don't believe that it -- it is imperative to our national security.

Second, what are the rules of engagement and what do we hope to accomplish? Is it possible that we actually escalate the conflict and that there will be more civilian casualties as a result of this type of selective bombing?

And then, finally, you know, what's our -- what's our exit strategy? What's our plan of attack? I don't think any of those questions have been answered adequately for me to support what the president is trying to do.

COSTELLO: But politics always enter in the picture, don't they? They really do. And sometimes politicians have to discard politics and getting re-elected to do what's good for the country.

SALMON: Sometimes -- you know what, sometimes they do. But we are a representative form of government. We represent the people that sent us to Washington, D.C. And we certainly should listen to what they have to say. That's important.

I agree that there are sometimes that you need to just go out and lead and do what you believe is the right thing to do and hope that you can convince the people to follow. But, right now, I don't think that this administration has provided a very, very winning argument or series of arguments that we should engage in this conflict. I think that others like Marco Rubio, you know, he's somebody I have great respect for. I think he's articulated a very thoughtful message of arming the rebels, but not involving a military strike by our armed forces. Yesterday Tom Friedman in the --

COSTELLO: But would you be for that? Would you be for arming the rebels if we don't strike militarily?

SALMON: I would support arming the rebels long before I would support any kind of a military strike because I believe that if we do that, we're all in. And if the President secures permission or acquiescence from Congress to go ahead with a military strike, I believe that this will escalate into something that we don't intend it to be.

COSTELLO: Congressman Matt Salmon of Arizona thank you so much for being with me this morning.

SALMON: Thank you.

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