Rep. Tom Cole: ‘Elements of a Strategy’ in Place to Take on ISIS

The “This Week” powerhouse roundtable debates the president’s comments on the lack of a U.S. strategy against ISIS.
8:06 | 08/31/14

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Transcript for Rep. Tom Cole: ‘Elements of a Strategy’ in Place to Take on ISIS
group. It was his choice of words describing those options that grabbed all the attention this week. Here's ABC's Jeff Zeleny. Reporter: It was news the president wasn't looking to make. A turn of phrase when asked whether the U.S. Was poised to launch strikes against Isis that got everyone buzzing. I don't want to put the cart before the horse. We don't have a strategy yet. Reporter: Those six words. We don't have a strategy yet, sent the white house rushing the clarify. That the Pentagon is still drafting a plan for potential military campaign in Syria. It tapped into criticism of the president's foreign policy. And republicans pounced. The peace of the free world requires presidential decisiveness, not dithering and debating. Do you think general Patton had a strategy before he went to battle? Reporter: The president is telling supporters at a fund raiser Friday night, things are much less dangerous now than they were 20 years ago. His view of Isis far more measured than some in his war cabinet. They are an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it's in Iraq or anywhere else. Reporter: Those mixed messages could complicate an effort to win congressional approval. Liberal democrats and libertarian republicans are skeptical. We caught up with senator Chris Murphy, one of the democrats who opposed Syria action last year. The American public doesn't have an itchy trigger finger right now. When it comes to military intervention, especially the kind and scope that's being contemplated to take on Isis. Reporter: For "This week," Jeff Zeleny, ABC news, Washington. Our thanks to Jeff. "The roundtable" is here now. ABC's political analyst Matthew dowd, Oklahoma congressman Tom Cole, former new Mexico governor bill Richardson and our own cokie Roberts. All kinds of pushback from the white house this week when all of us said, what? Did he just say there's no strategy? Is there a strategy? I applaud the president for accidentally saying the truth of this. This has been a problem for almost 20 years. Which is we haven't really had a real, formal vision and strategy on foreign policy. It's all been a debate over tactics. We have had a plethora of tactics. An aposity of vision and strategy in the midst. In the midst of that, both sides debate, should we do this? Do this tactic? I congratulate the president. He said we don't have a strategy. We don't. Part of the problem is we're using military action. This has been a problem -- One of the things he said, he didn't have a strategy for military action in Syria. So can anybody name the strategy that we have? The white house says the strategy is that secretary Kerry is now in the region and trying to put together the countries in the region who don't agree on anything except that Isis is a danger. Is a threat. And that that is the strategy. It's clearly something that the congress is not buying. And the chairman of the senate intelligence committee is saying that the president is cautious, perhaps in this case, too cautious. Can you name the strategy? I think the president probably should have said we're developing a new policy. A new policy. I applaud him, too. I think this is a potential 9/11 moment. These are serious foreign policy issues. Look at the president. He's been faced with the Arab spring. Explosion all over the middle east. Let's do a new policy carefully. Let's learn more about Isis. Yeah, we're learning more. They're bad. What is the goal? Can they reach the American homeland? Can they zsh -- are they a regional power? They're a threat to the kurds. And to Iraq. The president's own national security advisers are saying they're a terrible threat. They have to be gotten rid of. You have to have a coalition. The good news here is that a lot of entities fear these people. Like hezbollah, the United Arab Emirates. Like Turkey, like Iran, like Iraq. There's a great potential to build a coalition. My point is, let's do it right. Let's get congress involved. And speaking of the congress. Lots of talk that he has to move faster. You heard everybody in all the pieces this morning say, we have to act now. Well, I think, frankly, there's -- way too much impetus on acting now and doing something immediately instead of being smart about what we do. The elements of strategy are there. We know we're going to use air power, special operations. Alliances on the ground. That is a very doable thing, as the governor said. We'll probably be involved in training, supplying indigenous forces. Those things are there. They're tougher in Syria than they are in Iraq. We don't have pre-existing relationships there. I think at the end of the day, there's a consensus we're going to do things. Again, being thoughtful. I want to say this, too. I was in Iraq in January. In January, they were talking about how bad things were there. And the danger of Isis. It wasn't just January. It was back last year. So why don't we have a strategy? Syria has been going on for years. First of all, I want to say I think it's ironic that we have a group now that treats women as second class citizens, Isis, and has done horrible things to women and children, but is named after a female deity from Egypt. It's funny. I think this is a tragic situation. There's a bright spot in this for us as a country in our foreign policy. For too long, we had war as a concept. A war on terrorism. It never works when you don't have a specific country or enemy. Therefore, you don't know what the definition of victory is. To me, Isis is what happens in a room. You put all the cheese in a room, all the rats come in, you know where they are. For the first time, we know where all the rats are. That's what we heard the experts saying earlier. But congressman Cole, what you said sounded so rational. I wonder about your colleagues in congress. They have not been rational of late. We could spend a lot of time pointing over how we got here. I do think the president made some big mistakes. So did former prime minister Al Maliki. Having said that, I think the elements are there to be successful. And I think there can be bipartisan support. If we go into Syria. You heard our experts talk about that. It's probably just air power. Probably not more than that. Do we just keep at 'em? I think we need better intelligence. About their objectives. Their capabilities. How do you get better intelligence if you're not on the ground? That was one of the problems in Iraq. I think we have Intel capabilities that are substantial. You bring allies into the picture, too, to collect the intelligence. At the same time, you have to be careful. This is a momentous decision. The president was right to say, okay, well, we're going do the air strikes. We're doing them in Iraq. Do we do them in Syria? I would probably advise yes. But let's do it in a targeted way. Let's not help Assad. Remember, you don't want to help Assad with this. Assad is also against these guys. In many ways you have to take the emotion out of it too. We lost a journalist in a horrible way. That's when everybody started -- It made the point. To say the least. I think the important thing for the president here is to move with congress. That is to not do this on his own. To make everybody put their fingerprints on the decision. If they skip doing that, I think he'll have missed the chance to get the American people behind him in a bipartisan sense. At least it seemed that's what he was doing in the press briefing. Lots more ahead. Including the debut of our brand-new partnership with

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