'This Week' Roundtable: Politics of Syria

James Carville, Mary Matalin, Peggy Noonan, and Tavis Smiley debate President Obama's Syria plan.
11:56 | 09/01/13

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Transcript for 'This Week' Roundtable: Politics of Syria
these are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. 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. And that experience hangs over all this ten years ago. Secretary of state powell at the united nations making that case for the strike against iraq. Secretary kerry taking the lead. Let's talk about this on our powerhouse roundtable. I'm joined by democratic strategist jaime carville, mary matalin, and peggy noonan, and tavis smiley. Radio and television host. And let me begin with peggy. This was a surprise from the president. All the signals were he was not going to the congress. Apparently he made the decision mostly on his own. Is it the sign of strength that the president says it is? 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, okay, 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. Right after that, his former adviser dav r david axlerod put out a tweet, this is a big move. Consistent with the principles. Congress is now the dog that caught the car. He is trying to turn the tables. Is that the case? I think a little bit. And I think if they didn't have the support, the horror of iraq still lingers over the united states and the world. This will force attention, 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 5s HEADED To washington. This vote, the appropriations coming up to fund the government. The debt ceiling vote. You may have a fed chair vote 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 change with four votes. I want to get to that, that raises the stakes for the president, new he's gone to congress. He's got to win this. Yes and no. If he doesn't, I'm sure he'll blame the republicans for being obstructionist. As he always does. The reason he's going to congress is because he has to. There's no public support or congressional support. Public support, 20%, 80% are against it. Martha said war weary, war-wise. I've been out there. And in this case, what is the objective to punish, what is the trigger, because he poisoned before. The number or the act of poisoning? What is the exit strategy. None of the questions are answered. And congress are in the districts, left and right, democrats and republicans, and nobody is out there saying other THAN john McCai hawks saying go, go, go. It's a pincer movement. john McCain and lindsey graham saying it must be more robust. A lot of democrats are saying we don't want to go in at all. I think you're right, and peggy is right too. You don't draw a line and dare them to cross that and call it diplomacy. In my neighborhood, that's chicken. When you lose, you have to do something. James is right, when the president turns the conversation to the economy, that's what we ought to be talking about, he does something, or something beyond his control happens that changes the conversation. But at the risk of being the odd man out, broader context, 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 words in washington. Now days away from dishonoring him with the deeds in syria. That experience -- there's another side to this. Just the issue of violence. War, dr. King, would say, were he here, is not the answer. We cannot worship at the alter of retaliation. It's either non-violent coexistence, or violent co-annihilation. He would say. Just like it's connected to iraq, it's all of the history. We can't honor him with the words and then dishonor him days later -- I want to challenge that. That works in a civil society that recognizes some norms. How do you do that with a dictator who we have seen the evidence? We have seen the people who were struggling to breathe after being gassed. Yes. One of the things, I think, whatever people decide about america should intervene in syria, should not, 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 standing at the doorway where you go forward into darkness or not. If we -- if the world says tosaw said, it's okay, 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 of it. You are going to get biological. You are going to get nuclear. This is apart from any military argument. What I'm saying, the moral fact is something we can't forget or get around. We have to deal with it. I agree. That's the point I'm trying to make. There isn't just a political issue here, it's a moral issue. Where the morality is, why is it that the only way to respond is with more violence. Back to dr. King. It's non-violent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. Wrong that violence is the only answer to this crisis. You'll find my response this way. We're not intervening in syria, we're punishing assad. He did this. This is a horrible thing to gas your own people. Let put that out. I don't think dr. King would have approved of that at all. Not at all. And I think if it's framed like that, you're going to get a lot more support. The morality of the case is good. Again, if you try to intervene in syria -- mary. 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 deterrence. They're out there bragging that the president has pulled back, the president has changed his mind. But I go -- there's a political and moral element, they're not inextricable. If this is immoral, how is this more immoral than raping and killing christians in egypt? What is our trigger for responding to humane atrocities? Are they different? I think raping young girls and murdering christians -- the first principle we're standing on is religious freedom. We're not saying anything about that. That's the red line. Once you draw that line and dare somebody to cross it -- the constitution. You have to be prepared to do something. When hell breaks loose in the region, what are we going to do? We can talk about the military solution all we want. I will not back down. This is a moral question, and what king is getting us to look at is a revolution of values. Are you arguing that yours is an effective strategy, or we should be staying pure and out of it? No, no. The argument is not that something ought not be done. The argument is that we have to find a diplomatic solution to this. I don't know why violence is the first and only answer to every problem. Mass doses of violence don't solve the problems. He used them twice before. We sent warnings. Now, at a point, they said this is it. And the use of chemical weapons is banned in warfare. We horror at the use of them. The germans didn't use them, the japanese didn't use them, the north koreans didn't use them. There's a really immoral line that's been crossed here. Yeah. But 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 real 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 ten years ago, let me put it a different way -- we are not united in moving militarily against a country that we know has used weapons of mass destruction. Because ten years ago, we moved militarily against a country that turned out not to have weapons of mass destruction. This is about the past ten years. But that same ten 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. Those others are not only disparate. There's some reports that we had intelligence that this strike of this magnitude was coming three And we told nobody. We let babies and mothers die in their beds. But ten years later, they're laughing at us -- george reported this earlier -- they're laughing at us in the middle east. They want us to strike. My point -- that's my point, they're taunting us and we're playing into their hands. Taunting us, laughing at us, and playing into their hands. They don't believe us because ten years ago we didn't do that. 50 years from now when my great grandchildren are studying american history, they will learn that the ramifications and implications of the iraq war were longer lasting than the vietnam war both around the world and in the united states. This war, and peggy is right -- this thing rings in everybody's ear all around the world. That's the last word today. Thank you very much. Before we do go, I 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. We remember the unforgettable interview he did with richard nixon. Take a look. 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. Or when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal. By definition. Exactly. When does something like that happen in an interview, peggy noonan? Wow. That was a window into the mind of richard nixon and an explanation for watergate, all yák won by an innocent-seeming jolly let's-go-out-and-have-a-few- beers british journalist and who made you feel comfortable and made you say things you had not planned on saying.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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