Hadley Says Republicans Must Support Obama on Syria (Transcript)

Stephen Hadley, a former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that Congress should authorize a military strike against Syria even if it risks retaliatory attacks and instability in neighboring Iraq.

(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)

AL HUNT: We begin the program with former President George W. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley. Thank you for being with us.

STEPHEN HADLEY: Nice to be with you.

HUNT: Should Congress vote up or down on the Syrian resolution?

HADLEY: Congress should give the president authorization to take action in Syria. They should vote it up. It’s going to be a hard vote for Republicans. They - they’re not enamored with the president. They don’t really like the way he’s handled Syria policy. I think there are some legitimate grounds for saying that we shouldn’t be where we are. But being where we are, there’s really no alternative but to authorize action in Syria.

HUNT: If then Congress should not authorize action, if they should reject it, either house, should and can the president go ahead and do it on his own?

HADLEY: Well, the president, of course, has independent authority under Article II of the Constitution. So as a legal matter, as a theoretical matter, he certainly could. As a practical matter, it just seems to me, having given this issue to Congress, asked for authorization, provoked this, really, quite vigorous national debate, if the Congress votes it down, I just - as a practical matter - don’t see how he goes forward at that point and says, “Hey, I don’t need it, I’m going on my own.”

HUNT: Should he then not have asked the Congress? And should he have done it on his own?

HADLEY: No, I think he should have asked the Congress. This is an important decision. Congress needs to be part of it. His problem was he should have decided that he was going to go to Congress about three weeks before he did.

HADLEY: And people have interpreted it as indecision and maybe lack of will. I think that’s unfair, but it is nonetheless how it’s being interpreted in the region, and that’s unfortunate.

HUNT: If we do strike, if Congress does authorize this, what are some of the possible consequences, ramifications? This is the sort of thing you used to think about all the time. What do you think the Russians might do? And how should we respond? And how about the Iranians or Hezbollah?

HADLEY: The Russians have indicated that they will continue to support Syria, which means, of course, assisting Assad. They’ve also indicated that they’re not going to take any military action.

The real concern is about Iran and the concern that Iran will decide that the president having acted - and I think it’s more likely if the president acts with a limited demonstration strike than if he does something more vigorous - but the risk is that Iran will say, “We need to try to teach the president and the American people a lesson that this is not free,” so as to try to deter President Obama from using military action, if Iran goes forward with a nuclear program. And that could take the form of activity by Hezbollah attacking our embassies overseas, maybe doing some missile attacks potentially into Israel. I think that’s in some sense less likely.

I’m worried about some consequences of what this does to Iraq; Iraq which was struggling to hold together a government that included Sunni, Shia, and Kurds, under enormous pressure from what’s happening in Syria next door. It’s beginning to spread into Iraq. You have Sunni and - Iraqi Sunni and Shia fighting each other in Syria, concern - and increased violence within Iraq itself.

I’m really concerned about whether this doesn’t completely destabilize Iraq as a - as a result, not just of what Syria’s doing, of course, but compounded by a U.S. strike.

HUNT: How would it be read in Tehran if we don’t strike?

HADLEY: I think that’s one of the biggest problems. And that’s why, if I were - and when I talk to Republicans, I say if you are concerned about Iran and the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, you better be voting in favor of this resolution, because having - the president having set down a red line for chemical weapons use in Syria, if he does not enforce it, the - the red line, if you will, that we’ve put down with Iran on its nuclear program doesn’t look credible.

We’ve said that Iran needs to give up its nuclear program, and if it does not do so, all options are on the table, including the military option. If we don’t enforce the red line in Syria, that threat looks empty. And if that threat looks empty, I think there’s very little chance that we can get Iran to be willing to negotiate away its nuclear weapons program.

HUNT: You have consistently said that the most important thing we can do is to arm the good insurgents, but doesn’t history suggest - Afghanistan, even Iraq, Libya - that it’s awful hard to separate the good from the bad, and there are a lot of bad guys over there?

HADLEY: It is awful hard. There’s no doubt about it. And the problem is, the longer this has gone, the harder it gets in many ways, because there’s a more proliferation of groups. But there’s some good news here. Six months ago, people were concerned that if we armed the moderate, vetted, more democratic elements, those weapons might get in the hands of terrorists because they were allied with the terrorists in this effort against Assad. That has changed.

There has been an extreme falling out between the Free Syrian Army, for example, which is the leading moderate group, and the al-Qaeda groups in northern Syria. And, in fact, they’re fighting each other. So I think the risk that by giving them to - weapons to these moderate elements they would fall into the hands of the al-Qaeda groups is now much less.

HUNT: Is now much less. But why then do the Israelis seem to come to a different calculation? They seem to think, hey, we don’t like Assad, but we don’t want this other side to win, either. We’re best off with a stalemate, because the radical jihadists, even some associated with al-Qaeda or Iran, might prove to be a dominant force, even if not the biggest numbers?

HADLEY: The problem with that strategy - stalemate strategy, particularly if we do not start arming more of the moderate democratic elements, is that becomes a more likely option, rather than a less likely option. If we do not arm these moderate elements, you’ve got three potential outcomes: Assad wins and re-establishes control, which is a disaster for our policy in the region; or al-Qaeda continues to emerge as the leading element of the opposition, and you have an al-Qaeda-led opposition taking control; or you melt down into chaos.

HUNT: Right.

HADLEY: None of those are good options for the United States or for Israel. And I believe that the only way we’re going to get to a good outcome is if the president uses military force in Syria not just on the WMD issue, but to try to degrade Assad’s military capability by going after the military - the missiles and the aircraft and the airfields, weaken them, and then arm the moderate elements, so that at some point, when some of the elements associated with Assad become convinced that he’s not going to win and, in fact, he’s a long-term loser, they will break from the regime, and you can form a government of the more moderate, democratic elements of the opposition, and those elements of the regime - of the military and the business community - that want to be part of the new Syria.

HUNT: We only have a few seconds left, but what should be the major pitch or thrust of what President Obama says when he addresses the nation Tuesday?

HADLEY: He’s got to emphasize the importance of this issue for credibility of the United States globally. He’s got to make a strong case that this is an integral part of our strategy on Iran. And he’s got to make a case that we now are going to try to have a strategy that is going to - that is going to give us an acceptable outcome in Syria.

HUNT: Stephen Hadley, thank you so much for being with us.

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