'This Week' Transcript: Secretary of State John Kerry

PHOTO:  John Kerry makes a statement about Syria

A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday morning, Sept. 1, 2013 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST: Good morning. And welcome to This Week.

Stunner: the commander in chief decides to strike Syria.

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BARAK OBAMA,PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We cannot turn around from the massacre of countless civilians with chemical weapons.

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STEPHANOPOULOS: Then drops this surprise.

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OBAMA: I'm asking Congress to send a message to the world.

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STEPHANOPOULOS: Will Congress approve an attack? What if they don't? And what are the risks of delay?

As the world waits, we're live with Terry Moran in the Middle East, Christiane Amanpour from London.

And--

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KERRY: This is evidence, these are facts.

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STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll go one on one with the man who made America's case to the world, Secretary of State John Kerry.

Plus, Martha Raddatz and our team of experts are here to break down the global and military consequences of the president's decision.

And our powerhouse roundtable weighs in on the politics of war and all the fallout at home. It's all right here this Sunday morning.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, a special edition of This Week with George Stephanopoulos: Crisis in Syria starts now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello, again. When President Obama took to the Rose Garden Saturday afternoon, his first words had been telegraphed for days.

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OBAMA: I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets.

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STEPHANOPOULOS: Then came the twist. The president's top military adviser, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey said there was no need to attack now.

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OBAMA: The chairman indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time sensitive. It will be effective tomorrow or next week or one month from now. And I'm prepared to give that order.

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STEPHANOPOULOS: Only after Congress votes.

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OBAMA: I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress.

For the last several days, we have heard from members of Congress who want their voices to be heard. I absolutely agree.

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STEPHANOPOULOS: It is a high-stakes bet. And this morning, we're going examine the consequences with Secretary of State John Kerry and our team of experts and correspondents here in the studio and around the world.

We start at the White House with ABC's Jon Karl.

And Jon, this didn't just surprise us, the president kept his team in the dark until late Friday.

JON KARL, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It sure did. George, this was a total reversal for the president. Until late Friday, this was an idea not under consideration. None of his senior advisers were pushing for congressional authorization. It was not the direction they were pushing the president. But he decided, especially after that vote in Britain, that this was the direction he had to go.

And take a look at the photo in the situation room before the president announced the decision on Saturday. As you can see, some very grim faces all around. There were serious concerns expressed by his national security team, concerns chief among them that Congress could vote no on his request for authorization.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's the big question, Jon. He would be the first president in modern times to lose a vote for military force. Where are the votes now?

KARL: Well, I talked to a senior Republican just a short while ago who tells me that if the vote were held right now in the House, he believes the president would lose.

There's a lot of work to be done. That Republican thinks ultimately the president can get authorization, but he is going to need to get a lot of Democratic votes, including a lot of Democrats generally reluctant to authorization the use of force.

This could be a nail biter, especially in the House.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Jon Karl, thanks very much.

Let's get more on the military implications of a delay with our veteran (inaudible) Martha Raddatz.

One person the president did consult early was General Dempsey. And he gave the president the cover he needed.

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: He really gave him cover. And in fact it's real. Martin Dempsey said it would be just as effective if you did it today, tomorrow, or a month from now.

And think of it this way, George, it's kind of like a feint. The enemy, we watch the enemy, we watch the Syrian regime and how they responded to the idea of attack, where they started moving things. So in many ways it may be more effective a month from now, because we can train more, we can watch what the Syrian regime does and respond to that.

But, boy, they were ready. They had those destroyers in the Mediterranean ready to go.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And this is still a limited strike.

RADDATZ: They still say a limited strike to prevent and deter any more chemical attacks.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Martha Raddatz, and for how this is playing in Syria, let's go to ABC's chief foreign correspondent Terry Moran. He's in Beirut this morning. And apparently a lot of relief in Damascus.

TERRY MORAN, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: A lot, George. This came as good news, even more than good news, they claimed a victory this morning in Damascus, both the Assad regime and President Assad's supporters, of whom there are many. The deputy prime minister saying it was the Syrian army that warded off the aggression of the United States.

And in fact, and in fact they believe that the unified front that they had with Iran and with Hezbollah has essentially frightened President Obama into backing down from his attack.

Now, they also know that the Congress could authorize the use of force, but this delay gives them even more time to prepare. Church bells rang out, there where prayers sounding from minarets around Damascus. This came as a shock and a good one to the people of Damascus.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Not a good shock for the rebel leaders in Syria.

MORAN: Devastating, George. On Twitter and in public statements, leaders of that fractured opposition in Syria are expressing disappointment and disillusion with American leadership.

One of the leaders of one of those factions said the people of Syria are all alone now. They believe that the chemical weapons attack that they argue was carried out by Assad's regime has been carried out with impunity, and that the world is not ready to do anything.

Obama's leadership image in the Syrian opposition is probably at an all-time low right now, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thanks, Terry.

And joining us now, the man who made America's case to the world for a military strike, Secretary of State John Kerry. Thank you for joining us, Mr. Secretary.

And I just wondered, did you have an inkling when you gave that forceful speech Friday afternoon that the president was about to hit the pause button on a military strike?

KERRY: Well, the president hadn't made any decision on the military strike, George. I was asked to make the case for why we needed to take action, but the president always maintained the prerogative as to when or what he decided to do. And I think the president has made a very courageous and right, correct decision with respect to asking the congress to weigh in, because the United States is much stronger when we act in unity.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And are you comfortable with Congress waiting until next week for a vote and confident the war resolution will pass?

KERRY: Well, George, in a sense, we're not really waiting. We have been briefing as of yesterday, the day before, there's a briefing today. There'll be classified briefings Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. As you know, the Jewish holidays begin on Wednesday evening. And we think that that helps us build the case, answer the questions of a lot of people who have to vote on a very serious issue.

It also gives us time to reach out to allies, friends around the world, build support on an international basis. And I think ultimately we can proceed, the president can proceed, and our nation can proceed, from a much stronger position.

I think we never lose, ever, in America, when the congress of the United States has a chance to weigh in and join the president in this kind of an endeavor.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you would lose if you lost the vote, wouldn't you?

KERRY: I don't contemplate that, George.

I think the stakes are too high here. I mean, let me just tell you what is happening each day as we go by. I can tell you today, Sunday, that we now have evidence from hair and blood samples and from first responders in east Damascus, the people who came to help, we have -- we have signatures of sarin in their hair and blood samples. So the case is growing stronger by the day.

And I believe that as we go forward in the next days, the congress will recognize that we can not allow Assad to be able to gas people with impunity. If the United States is unwilling to lead a coalition of people who are prepared to stand up for the international norm with respect to chemical weapons that's been in place since 1925, if we are unwilling to do that, we will be granting a blanket license to Assad to continue to gas and we will send a terrible message to the North Koreans, Iranians and others who might be trying to read how serious is America about enforcing its nonproliferation, counternuclear weapons initiatives.

This goes to the core of American credibility in foreign policy, and I believe the congress of the United States will understand that and do he right thing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you don't contemplate a loss, but what if the votes aren't there, will the president act anyway?

KERRY: The president has the right, as you know George, the president of the United States has the right to take this action, doesn't have to go to congress. But he does so with the belief -- and this is why I think it's courageous, the president knows that America is stronger when we act in unity.

And I think if each congress -- member of congress looks at this case carefully, as they will, and makes judgments about what has happened, and then measured it against the stakes for our ally, Israel, against our interests with respect to Iran, our interests with respect to Hezbollah, with respect to North Korea, nonproliferation, enforcement of an almost 100-year-old prohibition on chemical weapons.

As America weighs, as the congress weighs the potential damage to America's credibility in the world, I think the members of congress will choose to do the right thing, and so does the president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if I hear you correctly, you're saying the president is going to act no matter what. Meanwhile--

KERRY: No, I said he has the right to act--

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, will he?

KERRY: -- George, we are not going to lose this vote. The president of the United States is committed to securing the unity of purpose that he believes strengthens America. And I believe the congress will see that that's the responsible thing to do here.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They are already declaring victory in Syria this morning, the Assad regime.

KERRY: Assad has said a lot of things in the course of this. I think the more he stands up and crows, the more he will help this decision to be made correctly.

I'm very, very confident that, as this case is made to people, the Congress will recognize, and the American people will come to see, the president is talking about a military action geared to deter the use of chemical weapons, and geared to diminish Assad's capacity, to degrade his capacity to be able to carry out those strikes.

The president is not talking about taking over this civil war. The president is not talking about boots on the ground. But the president is talking about doing something that upholds this international norm and I think makes it clear to Assad that much worse could happen if he were to continue to use these weapons.

The alternative for the Congress and for the world is that you grant Assad and people like him complete impunity, and you totally tear down the entire international process of accountability that has been built up over all these years. I do not believe members of Congress or other countries believe that's in anybody's interest.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Secretary, is there anything Assad can do now to avoid a strike?

What if he turned over his stockpile of chemical weapons?

KERRY: We are obviously looking hard at what we can do to try to diplomatically move in ways that could secure the weapons. Russia and others may be able to play a role in that. There are a number of different proposals on the table.

But that doesn't mean the United States shouldn't proceed to make it clear that the authorization will be given to the president in order to guarantee that we do not have more chemical attacks similar to the one that we saw the other day, and also recognizing that this is one of many attacks that Assad is now engaged in.

I think that the evidence here is so clear and so powerful, that it provides us with a number of different options, but the most important one to have authority for right now is the ability to take this strike.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You say that the evidence is clear, but President Putin and Russia calling it utter nonsense that President Assad would authorize this kind of a chemical strike, the president heading to Russia this week.

Your response to President Putin?

KERRY: Well, I would -- we've offered the -- we've offered the Russians previously to have a briefing on this. In fact, we sent people over to Russia who have provided evidence we had with respect to the last ones. And they chose, I literally mean chose, not to believe it or to at least acknowledge publicly.

I think this evidence is going to be overwhelming. If the president of Russia chooses yet again to ignore it, that's his choice.

But the United States and our friends need to make the decisions we need to make based on the rational presentation of that evidence. We will lay it out there for everybody to judge. We have actually gone overboard in this case, George, to declassify certain things, to put things out there that wouldn't normally be available in terms of intelligence. And I think it's going to be very, very hard for anybody ultimately to ignore it.

My hope is that the Russians will recognize that Assad crossed a line here. We are working very closely with the Russians on the Geneva negotiation potential, and my hope is they would rededicate themselves to that, and perhaps join us in an effort at the United Nations to hold Assad accountable.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, sir, one of the other challenges you're facing in Congress is from those who believe that the president's strategy does not go far enough.

Senators McCain and Graham put out a statement yesterday, where they say, "We cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield, achieve the president's stated goal of Assad's removal from power and bring an end to this conflict."

Why not go that far?

KERRY: Well, I have talked to John McCain and Lindsey Graham. I talked to Lindsey yesterday and I -- they're good friends of mine, and I respect them both. And I am convinced that we can find common ground here with them and others so that they're convinced that the strategy that is in place will in fact help the opposition, that there will be additional pressure and, at the same time, that this is not just an isolated pinprick, but something that can have a profound impact on Assad's ability to use these weapons, which he has been using and will use again if we don't do something about it.

And I think they will come to that conclusion. I don't think they will want to vote, ultimately, to put Israel at risk and not to enforce the message with respect to other interests in the world.

But most importantly, I believe they can be and will be satisfied that a strategy is in place in order to help the opposition and to change the dynamics of what is happening in Syria.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And finally, sir, what do you say to so many Americans who are worried that we're going to get sucked into a wider war?

KERRY: We -- this is not Iraq; this is not Afghanistan. There is nothing similar in what the president is contemplating. We do not need to do that in this case because there are others who are willing to fight, others who are engaged.

And the issue here is not whether we will go and do it with them; it's whether we will support them adequately in their efforts to do it.

I think the president has drawn a very, very bright line with respect to that. He has no intention, zero intention of putting boots on the ground. And this military action that he is seeking approval for is directed at the upholding of the international norm on the prohibition of chemical weapons.

It's not focused on the larger battlefield and interests in the regime. The political effort is totally focused on getting Assad out through the Geneva process, on supporting the opposition, and the president will continue to do that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for your time this morning.

KERRY: Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Let's analyze all this now with our panel of experts, Martha Raddatz, just returned from two weeks in the Middle East; former Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James Cartwright; and Vali Nasr, a former senior adviser to the State Department, now dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, author of this book, "The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat."

And Martha, let me begin with you, because we just heard Secretary Kerry say there this is not Iraq.

But I was very struck by an interview you did earlier this month with General Dempsey, where he said that the shadow of Iraq hangs very heavy over the military leaders.

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I think it does. I think they look at that all the time and it always hangs over the American public, too. This idea that the public and that the military is war-weary; the American public and the military is war-wise. They have been through this before.

And what struck me this week is listening to the president and Secretary Kerry say this will not be an open-ended commitment.

I don't know how you say that because this could be a chronic problem. Their mission, if it's an arrow to deter and prevent any use of chemical weapons, what if they do it again?

You would have to go back and attack again. So I think it's pretty hard to say it wouldn't be open-ended in some way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And General Dempsey told you, "The application of force rarely produces -- and in fact never produces -- the outcome we seek."

Let me take that to you, General Cartwright. You have been in the room; you've been in the Situation Room when decisions like this are made. Take us inside, as best you can, this conversation between the president and General Dempsey, where he comes to him and says, hey, you know, we've ramped all this up, but can we hold off on a strike?

GEN. JAMES CARTWRIGHT, USMC (RET.), FORMER VICE CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I think it starts at the tactical level. And the first question is can the forces of posture stay on station for a month or two months until we go to Congress, until a decision is reached?

And the answer to that is yes, they can do that.

The second question is, will the targets stay that they have used or planned to carry out this strategy?

Will they be there when he we go?

Or will they be moved and be someplace else?

And again, most of the targets associated with this limited strike are fixed. They're buildings, they're facilities, they're areas, so they're going to be there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And try to detail, as best you can, what these targets are. As far as I understand, we're not going to strike the stockpiles, the chemical weapons.

CARTWRIGHT: No, no. No, you won't -- you would not want to strike the stockpiles because the dispersal of the gases and the chemicals would affect large areas around that activity.

But what you want to try to touch is in this idea of prevent, which I don't think is possible, but the idea of deterring the use of these chemicals in the future, you want to go at the facilities. You're going to want to go at the places where production is done, you're going to want to go at the places where potentially they would move across channels of communication, bridges, things like that that would allow them to move it.

I mean, they're looking at all of the command and control in this area.

So the question becomes, are those targets going to be valid a month from now?

Or will they be moved, et cetera; they're not going to move.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Vali Nasr, we have gotten some early indications from Syria, again, (inaudible) say the Assad regime is declaring victory.

I wonder how this is seen in the rest of the region. The president says if we go to Congress it's going to be sign of strength.

Is that the way it's seen in the Middle East?

VALI NASR, AUTHOR AND DEAN OF JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, if the Congress were to decide very quickly, yes.

The perception is that the decision is now thrown into the gridlock of American politics, and that doesn't really give a sense that either Assad would think that if he did this again, there would be an easy decision, or our allies would think that America is ready to make a quick decision.

This is going to be effective. We can only shore up our credibility if we make timely decisions, and then if we act in an appropriate time manner and effectively. Right now that's not the perception.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And what would an effective strike be?

NASR: Well, we have to first have a quick decision-making. And an effective strike cannot be declared ahead of time that it's going to be limited. They will not change the course of the war, and that every time we are going to make these decisions; it's going to be a -- going through the whole process of American domestic political wrangling. That does not make a case for deterrence for Assad.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And it does seem, Martha Raddatz, that the White House and the administration are trying to walk a very fine line here. They want to punish Assad, but they want to assure the entire American public, hey, we're not getting in any deeper.

But I was struck by something General Anthony Zinni, the former head of CENTCOM, said this week. He said you can't be a little bit pregnant with strikes like this.

RADDATZ: It is true. And it is a fine line and it opens up the possibility of what in the world is the strategy here?

What is the long-term strategy? I think you were getting to that with General Dempsey.

What are we trying to do eventually with this narrow strike, and what will the effect of that strike be, not only here at home, but in Syria, but the entire region?

And now he's forcing, essentially, Congress, to walk the red line that he drew.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And General Dempsey, is it fair to conclude -- I have seen a fair amount of reporting on this, that the military overall is skeptical of the effectiveness of very limited strikes like this?

CARTWRIGHT: Historically, trying to punish someone with a limited strike has not been an effective deterrent.

And so the question becomes what is the strategy?

Are we trying to punish and then are we trying to deter from use of the chemicals in the future and retaliation in the future?

And if that's the case, then what is the -- what is the appropriate target set, what is the appropriate military action that would at least lead us in that direction?

STEPHANOPOULOS: And one of the things the region has seen, Vali Nasr, though, is a president who has done just about everything he can to avoid getting excessively entangled in the conflicts of the Middle East.

NASR: Well, to get entangled at all. And I think that's still his message, that he wants only to punish Assad because he violated a red line. We don't want to get involved in Syria. We don't have any view about how this war ends. We're not articulating what is at stake here. We're still (inaudible). And the message to Assad also is that we don't to want get engaged, that we talk about deterrence.

But the critical deterrence is American decisiveness and commitment to the region. And unless and until that's there, I don't think we are either impressing our allies or we're really threatening Assad.

RADDATZ: And George, he really does have to go back to that red line comment the president made. Everyone heard that; everybody knows what that means.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Everybody knows what that means, but even if he hadn't made that comment, in the face of these pictures (inaudible) apparently a thousand, more than a thousand Syrians gassed to death, including children, I wonder if he'd have had to act anyway.

RADDATZ: You would think he would. You would think he would, as America, as a leader, you think he would.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. We got to take a quick break.

Coming up much more from our team of experts, plus Christiane Amanpour on the world's reaction: can the president round up international support? Pierre Thomas on the increased risk to the homeland and our powerhouse roundtable on all the politics of the president's surprise challenge to Congress.

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STEPHANOPOULOS: And coming up, will a strike against Syria put America's homeland security at risk? We've got brand new details coming up next.

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STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): That is the horrendous and heartbreaking video that shook the world, sparked this latest push for military action. Our experts are here to analyze all the consequences.

Let's start with how the world is reacting to President Obama's decision to delay a strike with ABC's chief global affairs anchor, Christiane Amanpour in London.

And Christiane, this came on the heels of the failed vote in the British parliament. And the one ally it appeared the president had was President Francois Hollande of France, the last phone call he made before going out and addressing the United States.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, ABC CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANCHOR: That's exactly right. And according to all sources, Francois Hollande, the president of France, is still willing to go ahead with the United States if the president does give the order to strike against Syria. That is being discussed in France; he's sticking by it, despite what happened in England, to his closest military European power.

And today the French president and his national security team, where it's the defense secretary and others there, are meeting to discuss. And there will be a debate in the French national assembly, their parliament, this Wednesday, but there will not be a vote, unlike what happened in Britain earlier this week -- last week.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Meanwhile, we're also seeing the Arab League vote; so far, they have not explicitly authorized or approved of a U.S. strike, either.

But we just heard Secretary Kerry say that he believes that over the next week or two, before a strike, as Congress is getting ready to vote, that they will be able to build support in the international community.

Is that what you're seeing? Is that what you're hearing?

And how about in England, any chance of Prime Minister David Cameron going back, going for another vote and getting a win?

AMANPOUR: Well, on that last point, we were really wondering whether this might happen. Because all the talk about what happened in the British Parliament has pointed the finger at incompetence, incompetence of the whip, incompetence of gathering the votes, of know what was going on under their noses before this vote.

But today two senior members of the British government, both the foreign secretary, William Hague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, their secretary of the Treasury, George Osborne, have indicated very strongly that the prime minister will not seek another vote in Parliament; therefore, Britain is staying on the sidelines for this one.

And that is a huge shock to not only the United States, but to the rest of the world, because for decades, Britain has been the reliable partner to any kind of military operation. And now France will probably be one of the only ones standing with the United States in a military strike.

And of course the point is though, your question, looking at these questions and those that you just aired just now. Is there any way that the president cannot give the order? And I think many of the Western governments believe there's no way. That this is not just ugly it's unacceptable under International Law and the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction needs to be responded to.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that is certainly the signal Secretary Kerry sent today. Christiane Amanpour thanks very much.

AMANPOUR: Yep.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We have already seen allies of President Assad try some nuisance cyberattacks against U.S. targets like Twitter and the "New York Times". But are they capable but are they capable of more serious retaliation? That's the concern of federal law enforcement? Our Senior Justice Correspondent, Pierre Thomas is here with more on that.

And Pierre you're hearing that the FBI has stepped up surveillance of Syrians living here in the U.S.?

PIERRE THOMAS, ABC NEWS: George U.S. law officials are taking no chances. The FBI wants to know if the Syrian government has covert agents and sympathizers in the U.S. So the FBI is planning possibly hundreds of interviews targeting Syrians living in America.

And George the FBI will also be investigating whether Hezbollah has the people or the capability to launch an assault on the homeland. And as you said, there's real concern about the potential for cyberattacks. The question is whether the Syrian government or hacking groups that support that Assad regime can interfere with our baking or cut off our power supplies and telecommunications.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And this is coming at a time of heightened concern. We're coming up on the anniversary of 9/11, always a time when everyone is on full alert.

THOMAS: George there's no soft way of putting this. Law enforcement tell me that we're entering a dangerous phase. Not only do you have the potential ramifications surrounding Syria, the 9/11 anniversary is less than two weeks away. They're very mindful of the Libya Benghazi attack on last year's 9/11 anniversary. And after that, we had the Boston Marathon bombings.

As one official reminded, the threats to the U.S. Embassies of a few weeks ago, he said there are many intelligence officials who believe those attacks may have been simply postponed. He said the threat still remains. So George it's going to be an intense few weeks.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay Pierre Thomas, let's go back to the panel right now and Martha, Pierre brings up the possibility of retaliation here in the United States. Of course the front lines for any possible retaliation Israel and whether Hezbollah, Iran or Syria will retaliate with a missile strike against Israel.

RADDATZ: Well, I think the feeling in Israel, and I was in Israel this week, at first it was very much, yes we would be the place where they would retaliate. But most senior Israeli officials don't believe it will happen. But the people seem to believe that. There was absolute chaos. People racing for gas masks, trying to get prepared for whatever might happen.

I think you've heard Hezbollah say if it was a limited strike we would probably not get involved, but sorry I don't really trust anything coming out of anybody's mouth's over there, that they won't do anything.

I'm also struck by the language even from Syria. Syria has even said, we'll defend ourselves. They have not actually threatening an attack, but believe we that region is braced for one.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So do you buy that Vali Nasr that President Assad perhaps could just absorb an attack?

NASR: Well he, politically he has to make a lot of noise. But look at the message we're giving to him. We will punish you because you crossed the red line. But we will not interfere in deciding the outcome of the war which is what he really cares about.

So I think he has no incentive to get the Congress of the United States to intervene, to level the playing field, to try to take over the management of this war. He knows we have to hit him, so let us him and then go about our business. And I think then he wants to get on with finishing off the Civil War.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And General Cartwright, so much of this idea of hitting back at Assad, in part because of those horrific pictures, but also the word credibility comes back into play. All of the military, all the entire region, also looking at Iran and wondering the kind of message it sends to Iran if we do not, if we do not strike in the wake of an attack like this.

CARTWRIGHT: I think it's critical here and that's probably one of the audiences we have to pay close attention to. And my assumption would be that certainly the administration has reached out to Israel and talked to Israel about what this red line and the deferral of this red line for some period of time. The implications of that for Israel and how that will be interpreted by the Israeli people.

And so, you know, to me, this is one of the key audiences. On the idea of retribution or of a strike back on the part of Syria, the likelihood of that, probably right now, is very low. The likelihood of it being successful. But it ought to be part of the strategy of this limited strike to ensure that that ability is impaired and put in question is the eyes of the Syrians.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You make it more difficult but you have to have a strike that is calibrated enough so that it also doesn't provoke an attack. So Assad has a choice at least.

CARTWRIGHT: Exactly. And he's vulnerable in several areas. I mean in the Middle East, people don't worry about the Syrian Army. The strength of the Syrians is their defenses, their air defenses. And that's where they're vulnerable.

Those are generally fixed, they're very expensive. They can't be repaired easily. So they become a very interesting target in managing this idea of retribution.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Meanwhile Martha, the idea, the whole specter of a possible conflict with Iran clearly weighing on the president and his advisers as well. Part of the calculation of going to Congress now is that they believe that it's possible, sometimes in the next 6 months, 12 months, 18 months; they're going to have to go to Congress and get authorization for a strike against Iran as well.

RADDATZ: That's exactly right. And that's what the Israeli's are watching as well, so carefully. That's what Benjamin Netanyahu I'm sure, when the president came out yesterday and I expect he got some advance warning about that, probably was thinking what kind of message are we sending to Iran? And to prepare this nation exactly that.

One of the things I do think about here though is we still don't have, you heard Secretary Kerry talk about a political solution. What is the political solution here? And will this kind of strike help with the political solution? I don't think so.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What's the answer?

NASR: I think a political solution is very difficult because a political solution would involve dealing with somebody who has used chemical weapons and who would potentially have to be part of the solution to the crisis.

I think now it's very difficult to engage in any kind of a diplomatic negotiation. And I also think the audience is beyond just Iran. We have to look at North Korea, China, Russia. Something big has happened. The president has passed American foreign policy to Congress. I think everybody around the world is going to calibrate in which they (0935, 1:58:8) American reaction to a host of events.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we can all agree, something big has happened. Thank you all for your insight and analysis. Our powerhouse roundtable is next. We analyze all the political fallout. What's behind the president's challenge to Congress? How will it play with an American public tired of war?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And coming up, the powerhouse roundtable. The president's surprise move on Syria. Plus our Sunday Spotlight, a Marine takes on a new fight to live out his dream on a football field.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions on solid intelligence.

KERRY: Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re-reviewed information regarding this attack. And I will tell you it has done so more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that experience hangs over all this 10 years ago. Secretary State Powell at the United Nations making that case for a strike against Iraq. Secretary Kerry taking the lead right now.

Let's talk about this now in our powerhouse roundtable. I'm joined by Democratic Strategist James Carville, Republican Strategist Mary Matalin, "Wall Street Journal" Columnist Peggy Noonan and Tavis Smiley, Radio and Television host.

Peggy let me begin with you. This was a surprise from the president. All the signals were that he was not going to go to the Congress. Apparently he made a decision mostly on his own. Is it the sign of strength that the president says it is?

NOONAN: Oh I think everybody pretty much views it as the president blinked. He was in a difficult position. He'd painted himself into a bit of a line with the red line comments. I think he saw the polls and realized he didn't have the people. I think he was hearing Congress start to complain and say, excuse us, you have to consult with us.

So in a way, he turned the tables at the end and he said, OK Congress, you want us to consult, we'll consult with you. So he's sort of going to co-share a certain amount perhaps of the responsibility or the blame. I think that's what's happening.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know right after he (inaudible) his former advisor, David Axelrod put out a Tweet saying this is a big move by POTUS consistent with his principals. Congress is now the dog that caught the car. He is trying to turn the tables on him. But is that the case James Carville?

CARVILLE: I think a little bit. And I think they didn't have the support of the horror of Iraq still lingers over, not just the United States and the world. This will force attention. They'll force them to bring the evidence. It will force the Congress. All in all I think it's probably a pretty good thing to do.

But George, this is hurricane season. Look at the Category Fives that are headed to Washington. You have this vote; you have the appropriations that are coming up to fund the government. You have the debt ceiling vote. You may have a Fed Chair vote here in the next six weeks or so. This is a really intense time. We're back here two, three months from now, the change; the tenor of American politics could easily change with four votes of this (inaudible).

STEPHANOPOULOS: And I want to get to that. And that raises the stakes, Mary Matalin, for the president. Now that he's gone to Congress he's got to win this.

MATALIN: Yes and no. If he doesn't, I'm sure he'll blame the Republicans for being obstructionists as he always does. The reason he's going to Congress is because he had to. There's no public support, there's no Congressional support. Public support is what 20%, 80% are against it?

Martha said war weary-war wise. Their foreign policy flummoxed. I've been out there. And in this case, what is the objective? To punish? What is the trigger? Because he poisoned before. Is it the number or is it the act of poisoning? What is the exit strategy?

None of these questions are answered. And Congress is in their district and left and right and Democrats and Republicans and there's nobody out there that's saying, other than John McCain and the hawks saying, go, go, go.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that could mean Tavis Smiley, the president gets caught in a pincher movement. You've got John McCain and Lindsey Graham saying no, it's got to be a much more robust response. A lot of Democrats saying, we don't want to go in at all.

SMILEY: I think you're right about that. And I think Peggy's right about the fact that you, you don't draw a line, red or otherwise and then dare somebody to cross it and then call that diplomacy.

In my neighborhood we call that playing a game of chicken. When you lose the game of chicken you gotta be prepared to do something. I think James is right as well that everything the president wants to turn the conversation to the economy, that's what we ought to be talking about, either he does something or something happens that changes the conversation.

And the risk of being the odd man out, let me just add some broader context just very quickly George. Just days ago we were celebrating 50 years since the March on Washington. And President Obama stood where Dr. King stood 50 years ago and we honored Martin with our words in Washington and now here we are days away from dishonoring him with our deeds in Syria.

There is another side--

(CROSSTALK)

SMILEY: There's another side to this. There's the issue of violence. War, Dr. King would say were he here, is not the answer. We cannot worship at the altar of retaliation, Dr. King would say, were he here. It's either non, it's either non-violent co-existence or violence co-annihilation, Dr. King would say, were he here,

The only point I'm making here is that we can't just like this is connected to Iraq, it's connected to all of our history. And we can't honor the name with our words and then just dishonor them days later with our deeds.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me challenge that a little bit and bring it to Peggy Noonan. That tends to work in a civil society that recognizes some norms. How do you do that with a dictator, Peggy Noonan, who we've all seen the evidence. We've all seen the people who were struggling to breath after being gassed.

NOONAN: Yeah this is, one of the things I think whatever people decide about America should intervene in Syria, America should not. We should send in the Tomahawks, we shouldn't. That is a military argument.

We shouldn't lose sight of the essential and important moral one which is that Assad of Syria has, in public, in the YouTube generation with little pro forma denials, but in front of the world, gassed his own people.

That means the world, which knows it happened, is sort of standing at a doorway where you go forward into darkness or not. If we, if the world says to Assad, it's OK, gas your own people, kill more than 400 babies. You are not going to get less chemical warfare in the future, you're going to get more. You're going to get biological, you're going to get nuclear.

This is apart from any military argument. The moral fact is something we can't forget or get around.

SMILEY: I totally agree.

NOONAN: We have to deal with it.

SMILEY: I totally agree. That's the point I'm trying to make. There isn't just a political issue here. There is a moral issue here. And where the morality is concerned, why is it that the only way to respond to this is with more violence?

Again I go back to King, it's either non-violent co-existence or violent co-annihilation. And I just don't think that the, that violence is the only answer to this.

CARVILLE: I think that, we'll frame our response this way. We're not intervening in Syria. We're punishing Assad. Because Assad is the one that actually did this and this is a horrible thing to gas young people. Let's just put that right out. I don't think Dr. King would have approved of that at all.

SMILEY: Not at all.

CARVILLE: And I think if it's framed like that, you're going to get a lot more support in that the morality of the case is really good. Because it, again, if you try to intervene in Syria people will--

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: The shot over the bow, the limited strike. This is a region that doesn't go for nuance. They hardly respond to any kind of deterrents. They're out there braying that the president has pulled back. The president has changed his mind. But I go, there is a political and a moral element and they're not inextricable.

If this is immoral how is this more moral than raping and killing Christians in Egypt? Like what is our trigger for responding to humane atrocities?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Weapons of mass destruction Mary aren't they?

MATALIN: I think raping young girls and murdering Christians is a pretty, our first principal, if we're standing on principal, is religious freedom. And we're not staying any; we're not saying anything about that.

SMILEY: That's where the red line comes in. Once you draw that line and dare somebody to cross it and they do--

MATALIN: That line is not constitutional.

SMILEY: You have to be prepared to do something. But when all hell breaks loose in this region George, then what are we going to do? We can talk about it, (inaudible) solution all we want. I will not back down this particular point, this is a moral question and what King is getting us to look at is a revolution of values. If we don't--

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you arguing that yours is an effective strategy or that we should just be sort of stay pure and stay out of it?

SMILEY: No, no. I'm not saying, the argument is not that something ought not be done. The argument is that we have to find a diplomatic solution to this. And I don't know why violence is always the first and only answer to every problem we have. Mass doses of violence do not solve our problems.

CARVILLE: We've only used them twice before and we went them strong warnings. But now they, at a point they said, OK this is it. And by the way, the use of chemical weapons is banned in warfare. We've horror at the use of them. The German's didn't use them, the Japanese didn't use them, the North Korean's didn't use them. I mean, it is some really immoral line that's been crossed here.

NOONAN: Yeah, but it used to be, people used to be a little more careful to do it secretly, quietly and the world didn't find out in real time. They only found out later. This was the later time telling of the world, we're doing this terrible thing.

Look part of what we're talking about here, part of the paralysis in Washington if that's the right word is due to the fact that 10 years ago or let me put it a different way, we are not united in moving militarily against a country that we know have used weapons of mass destruction. Because 10 years ago we moved military against a country that turned out not to have weapons of mass destruction.

This is the about the past 10 years.

MATALIN: But that same 10 years ago Saddam had knowingly over close to a dozen times used chemical weapons. In this case we know that Assad used chemical weapons. He just did it quietly. And in this case also we had some allies in Iraq, close to 50, and we had some support on the ground.

Secretary Kerry said this morning we're depending on others to fight this. Well those others are not only disparate, there's some reports that we had intelligent that this strike of this magnitude was coming three days ahead and we didn't tell anybody.

SMILEY: But Mary--

MATALIN: We told nobody.

SMILEY: But--

MATALIN: We let babies and mothers die in their beds.

SMILEY: Ten years later, they are laughing at us, George reported this earlier, they are laughing at us in the Middle East. They don't believe us now because--

STEPHANOPOULOS: But they're laughing at us because we're not striking. They don't want us to strike.

NOONAN: They're taunting us.

SMILEY: That's my point. They're taunting us and we're playing into their hands. That was the point I was about to make. They're taunting us. They're laughing at us. We're playing into their hands and they don't believe us know because 10 years ago we didn't give them the (inaudible).

CARVILLE: You know 50 years from now when my grandchildren are studying or great grandchildren are studying American history they will learn that the impact and the ramifications of the Iraq war were longer lasting and more profound than the Vietnam War. Both around the world and here in the United States.

This war, Peggy's right, the ramifications, it just rings in everybody's ear, all around the world.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that is going to have to be the last word today. Thank you all very much. Before we do go there I do want to remember we just learned this morning that David Frost, the veteran broadcaster of the BBC, 74 years old, has died of a heart attack.

And of course we all remember that unforgettable interview he did many years ago with Richard Nixon. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID FROST: There are certain situations where the president can decide that it's in the best interest of the nation or something and do something illegal.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: Well when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.

FROST: By definition?

NIXON: Exactly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: When does something like that happen in an interview, Peggy Noonan?

NOONAN: Wow, that was the greatest explanation, with a window into the mind of Richard Nixon and an explanation for Watergate. All won by an innocent seeming, jolly, let's go out and have a few beers, British journalist who made people feel comfortable. And with ingenuous curiosity made you say things you had not planned on saying. He was great.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Absolutely brilliant. Thank you all for your contributions this morning. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE OSUNSAMI, ABC NEWS: This was the moment 24-year-old Steven Rhodes, number 49, had to fight for. His first time on the field as a middle Tennessee State University Blue Raider.

He admits he's not the biggest star here, but the 6'5, 240 pound defensive end is a proud marine sergeant and then walked on to this team.

STEVEN RHODES: Never give up. Never give in.

OSUNSAMI: Are you upset with the NCAA?

RHODES: I was upset with the situation. And most definitely confused.

OSUNSAMI: He was upset and confused because after five years in the military, here's what he had to tackle first. An eligibility bylaw from the NCAA. It says that college players that fail to enroll within one year of graduation have to give up one year of eligibility for each year they participated in any organized competition.

Technically the rule applied to Rhodes #84, seen here playing for this recreational league when he and his young family were based on the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

OSUNSAMI: Were you a professional athlete?

RHODES: No.

OSUNSAMI: So you didn't have a big contract?

RHODES: No, no contract.

OSUNSAMI: No contract.

(LAUGHTER)

RHODES: Uncle Sam contract.

OSUNSAMI: But the NCAA wouldn't budge saying he'd have to sit out for at least a year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've got to let him play. It's a no brainer. It's common sense.

OSUNSAMI: It only took a not minute for his story to go viral. Even Senator John McCain was saying the NCAA should allow Steven Rhodes to play. But nothing would have changed if it weren't for one of the Marine's biggest fans.

Sidney McFee is the President of this school and happens to be a former NCAA Executive Committee Member.

SIDNEY MCFEE: I picked up the phone and called a few other folks and said, you really want to take a second, hard look at this issue.

OSUNSAMI: And earlier this month, they allowed him to play. It turns out that men and women in the military are normally excused from this rule. But over time that exemption was forgotten.

At the season opener against Western Carolina, Rhodes put his first tackle in the record books. And in the end the Blue Raiders won.

RHODES: I made the sacrifice to do what I needed to do. And you know, that's what I felt I want to do, serve my country in the Marine Corps. I was determined to finish out my dream. Just kept my faith and kept praying, kept believing and here I am.

OSUNSAMI: For "This Week" Steve Osunsami, ABC News, Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: He did what he needed to do. And now we honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice. This week the Pentagon released the names of five soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

And that is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "World News with David Muir" tonight and I'll see you tomorrow on GMA.

END

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