'This Week' Transcript: Two Powerhouse Roundtables

STEPHANOPOULOS: Another revelation this week on -- in the foreign policy area, pretty remarkable hearing by Secretary of Defense -- outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta conceding that there had been a real internal debate and that most of the president's national security advisers actually wanted him to arm the rebels in Syria.


MCCAIN: Did you support the recommendation by then-Secretary of State Clinton and then-head of CIA General Petraeus that we provide weapons to the resistance in Syria? Did you support that?

PANETTA: We did.

MCCAIN: You did support that?

PANETTA: We did.


STEPHANOPOULOS: You were in that region this week, Martha Raddatz, and it was pretty surprising to learn that not only Secretary Panetta, but also Secretary of State Clinton had pushed for this. The president said no.

RADDATZ: And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So he had military also saying we should arm the rebels. I think that came as a complete surprise to many people in the region, and I talked to very -- a lot of officials in the region about this. I don't think they're convinced that if the rebels were armed this would have changed much. A lot of the people I talked to said, look, we didn't know who they were then, and there was -- there was actually some disagreement in the military...


RADDATZ: ... the rebels -- we just don't know who they are. We -- we really shouldn't have been giving them guns, people I talk to. And yet, when you think about it, the United States really could have had someone to deal with in there, and that's probably the argument that Panetta would make, that General Dempsey would make, that Hillary Clinton would make. You had somebody there.

ELLISON: Well, let me tell you, you got nearly 800,000 displaced people, according to the U.N. You've got more than 60,000 people dead. If you talk to Syrian-Americans, you have maybe many, many more than that. We've got to do something. I'm even hearing reports that we're not even coming up to the plate on humanitarian assistance. I mean, we've...

RADDATZ: And you've got chemical weapons, which is...


ELLISON: Yeah, that's -- that's a complicating -- seriously complicating factor. But I just think that, you know, we've got to do more than we're doing. Now, you know, armed rebels are not -- this is a fact-based issue. I think this -- we could be doing a whole lot more, and I'd like -- I'd like to see it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator McCain was saying that, as well.

COLE: Well, I'll tell you what. I want to give the president some support here, actually. This is real presidential leadership. When you turn, you know, away from the advice of your very top leaders, that's a presidential-level decision. He deserves a lot of respect. And it's a tough call either way.

On the arms issue, I am very uncomfortable. I actually agree with the president. We don't know enough to be interjecting arms. There's plenty of people sending arms. The rebels haven't been short of arms. So I don't know that we need to take the lead.

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