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updated 9/1/2013 11:47:37 AM ET 2013-09-01T15:47:37

DAVID GREGORY:

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And good Sunday morning, I'm joined by the Secretary of State John Kerry, Mr. Secretary, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Glad to be with you, David. Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

Let me get right to it. It's been a jarring 48 hours in the run-up to a potential conflict with Syria. On Friday, the president dispatched you, the Secretary of State, to make the case to the country and the world that the Assad regime used chemical weapons. And you spoke with passion and great strength, this is what you said.

[TAPE KERRY: It matters because if we choose to live in a world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, even after the United States and our allies said, "No," and then the world does nothing about it, there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe that they can do as they will.]

DAVID GREGORY:

That was Friday. Saturday morning, the president decides in an abrupt change, to delay and seek congressional authority. You were making the case for a military strike. Why the abrupt change?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Well, the case remains the same, David. The President of the United States has made his decision. His decision is to take military action in response to this outrageous attack. There's a front against the decency and sensibilities of the world.

Bashar al-Assad now joins the list of Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein have used these weapons in time of war. This is of great consequence to Israel, to Jordan, to Turkey, to the region, and to all of us who care about enforcing the international norm with respect to chemical weapons.

DAVID GREGORY:

And that I understand.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

So the president has made the decision. He has made the decision that he believes we need take a military strike. But the military understands that whether that happens this week or next week is not going to make the difference with respect to sending the message. The message remains the same. And it's a message, I might add, that any President of the United States and any Congress ought to seek to enforce.

Use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. And we cannot stand by and allow that to happen and create an impunity for its use. That would be the end of the chemical weapons norm. And that's why the president has made the decision. Now why go to Congress? Because the United States of America is stronger when the Congress of the United States representing the people and the President of the United States are acting together. And the president wants that strength represented in this initiative.

DAVID GREGORY:

You're making the case, Mr. Secretary, which I understand as you made it on Friday. I think I'm still trying to understand the abrupt shift. I know that you and others on the national security team based on my own reporting were opposed to the president seeking congressional authority, thinking that he didn't need it. The reaction from the Syrian state media is that this is the beginning, they say, of an historic American retreat.

Do you feel undermined? Do you think the United States has undermined its leverage in the world? Its credibility, having ramped up the specter of military action as being imminent and then saying, "Well, no, we're going to go to Congress first."

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

David, I completely disagree with the fundamental premise that you set out. No, I did not oppose going, nor did anybody else that I know of originally. The issue originally was, "Should the President of the United States take action in order to enforce the credibility and the interest of our country and to deter Assad from using these weapons and to degrade his capacity to do so?"

That was the issue. And that's the issue that we debated. There was no decision not to do that. And the President has the right to do that and we argued, not argued, discussed the options in the context of his right other take that action. The president then made the decision that he thought we would be stronger and the United States would act with greater moral authority and greater strength if we acted in a united way.

He didn't think it was worthwhile acting and having the Syrians and a whole bunch of other folks looking at the United States arguing about whether or not it was legitimate or should he have done it or should he have moved faster. He believes we need to move, he's made his decision. Now it's up to the Congress of the United States to join him in affirming the international norm with respective enforcement against the use of campaign weapons.

DAVID GREGORY:

But you look at the polling, our NBC News poll released late in the week, 50% of those asked opposed a military strike. The British vote in parliament failed as a vote for military strikes. And the abrupt shift now, does it undermine U.S. credibility? Or will it be seen as careful deliberation?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

I hope and pray it will be seen as careful deliberation, as appropriate exercise of American constitutional process. The United States is strongest when the Congress speaks with the president, when the American people are invested, because we've had an appropriate vetting of all of the facts.

Let me just add this morning a very important recent development, that in the last 24 hours, we have learned through samples that were provided to the United States and that have now been tested from first responders in East Damascus, and hair samples and blood samples have tested positive for signatures of sarin. So this case is building and this case will build.

And I don't believe that my former colleagues in the United States Senate and the House will turn their backs on all of our interests, on the credibility of our country, on the norm with respect to the enforcement of the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons, which has been in place since 1925.

The Congress adopted the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Congress has passed the Syria Accountability Act. Congress has a responsibility here too. And I think that Congress will recognize that and realize that our interests, with respect to Iran, we are hoping we have a diplomatic resolution of this stand-off on the nuclear program in Iran.

But if we don't, Iran will read importantly what we decide to do with respect to the enforcement of this convention in Syria. Likewise, Israel. Israel is at risk, Jordan is at risk, Turkey is at risk, the region is at risk, and we believe that the Congress of the United States will do what is responsible.

DAVID GREGORY:

Mr. Secretary, I just want to underline the news you made this morning. This is a sarin gas attack, perpetrated by the Assad regime, this is a slam-dunk case that he did it?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

The word "slam-dunk" should be retired from the American national security issues. We are saying that the high confidence that the intelligence community has expressed and the case that I laid out the other day is growing stronger by the day. We know where this attack came from. We know exactly where it went. We know what happened exactly afterwards.

We know the preparations were being taken before for this attack, we know people were told to use their gas mask to prepare for the use of the chemical barrage. We also know that after it took place, they acknowledged that they had done it and were worried about the consequences and whether the U.N. inspectors were going to find out.

I think this is a very powerful case and the president is confident that as that case is presented to the United States Congress and the American people, people will recognize that the world cannot stand aside and allow an Assad or anybody else to break a almost 100-year-old acceptance. These weapons are not to be used.

DAVID GREGORY:

So here's the fundamental question. The president's made his decision you say to take military action. If you go to Congress and Congress says, "No, you don't have our authority other strike." Will the president move forward with military action against Syria anyway?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

David, let me but very blunt. I do not believe the Congress of the United States will turn its back on this moment. I think the interests that we have with respect to potential future confrontation, hopefully not, but the challenge of Iran, the challenges of the region, the challenge of standing up for and standing beside our ally Israel, helping to shore up Jordan, all of these things are very, very powerful interest. And I believe Congress will pass it.

DAVID GREGORY:

If Congress says no, the president will act regardless of what Congress says?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

I said that the president has the authority to act, but the Congress is going to do what's right here.

DAVID GREGORY:

You know there's a debate, and the debate will continue in Congress about the future of Assad and what the United States actually ought to do. The president talks about "narrow, limited action," almost punishment against Assad. You've called Assad a murderer and a thug. In the past, the president has said that he has to go.

You know Senator McCain and others have said that they would only support a strategy that ultimately topples Assad. Why not go beyond something that's limited and narrow? Why not try to erode his conventional capability and indeed even try to topple him from power?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Well, let me draw a distinction here, David. The President of the United States has said that Assad must go, and that is the policy of the United States. But we do not believe that this military action the president has decided to take should be more than an effort to try to deter and prevent the use of chemical weapons and to degrade his capacity to use those weapons.

So the military operation is not calculated to become involved in the effort to topple him. But the political operation and the support for the opposition is. And the President of the United States, as you know, has declared that we will provide additional support to the opposition. We do not believe there is any scenario under which Assad could continue with any kind of authority whatsoever to govern in Syria.

And so yes, the policy is politically through the Geneva Process, through our commitment to the ultimate, negotiated settlement that will have to take place, there is no future for Assad in that governance. But this military operation is specifically geared to prevent a future chemical attack and to degrade the Assad capacity to be able to do that. Now let me be clear. Whatever the president ultimately decides to do in that contest, I assure you Assad will feel its impact and they will know that something has happened.

DAVID GREGORY:

Before I let you go, how can Americans feel confident that America's first strike against Syria and this civil war will be its last?

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

David, that will depend on whether Assad decides to use chemical weapons or not. The President of the United States does not intend to and does not want to see the United States assume responsibility for Syria's civil war. That is not what he is setting out to do. What he is setting out to do is enforce the norm with respect to international convention on chemical weapons.

And it is targeted to do that, it will clearly have an impact on Assad's military capacity, but we will continue and we will even I think sharpen the focus of our efforts to support the opposition, to work with allies and friends in the region, all of whom understand that Assad has lost any legitimacy as a leader of Syria, and to try to hold Syria together with a political solution that could be achieved through the Geneva Process.

And we will continue to work with Russia in conjunction with us in that effort to try to achieve that political settlement. That is our top priority. That is the fundamental objective of all of our efforts. It is to recognize that there isn't ultimately a military solution, there has to be a negotiated political solution, and the president remains deeply committed to that.

DAVID GREGORY:

Mr. Secretary, thank you for your time. I appreciate it.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

I want to bring in Senator Rand Paul, Republican from Kentucky. He's on the Foreign Relations Committee as well. Senator, welcome.

SENATOR RAND PAUL:

Good morning, glad to be with you.

DAVID GREGORY:

So you heard the Secretary of State break news this morning that the evidence, the intelligence suggests now this was a sarin gas attack at the hands of the Assad government. The Secretary saying, as he just did, the case is building and will continue to build. Is that enough for you to now vote to authorize the president to use force?

SENATOR RAND PAUL:

No. And I think it's a mistake to get involved in the Syrian civil war. And what I want would ask John Kerry is, he's famous for saying, "How can you ask a man to be the last one to die for a mistake?" I would ask John Kerry, "How can you ask a man to be the first one to die from a mistake?" I would ask John Kerry, "Do you think that it's less likely or more likely that chemical weapons will be used again if we bomb Assad?"

I'll ask him if it's more likely or less likely that we'll have more refugees in Jordan or that Israel might suffer attack. I think all of the bad things that you could imagine are all more likely if we get involved in the Syrian civil war.

DAVID GREGORY:

With interesting because Secretary Kerry was pretty blunt. And I've got his remarks right here, talking about what you and your colleagues will do in the Senate and the House. He said, "I don't believe my former colleagues in the United States Senate and the House will turn their back on our interests, on the credibility of our country, on the normal with respect to the enforcement of the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons, which has been in place since 1925." So you speak about the bad things that will happen, he says for you and others not to authority force is really hurtful to U.S. credibility.

SENATOR RAND PAUL:

Well, the one thing I would say that I'm proud of the president for is that he's coming to Congress in a constitutional manner and asking for our authorization. That's what he ran on, his policy was that no president should unilaterally go to war without congressional authority.

And I'm proud that he's sticking by it. But you ask John Kerry whether or not he'll stick by the decision of Congress, and I believe he waffled on that and wobbled and wasn't exactly concrete that they would. But absolutely if Congress votes this down, we should not be involved in the Syrian war. And I think it's at least 50/50 whether the House will vote down involvement in the Syrian war.

DAVID GREGORY:

You think it's 50/50, it's that close? You don't think that this is a compelling case that's been made and that Congress will follow suit?

SENATOR RAND PAUL:

In the House. I think the Senate will rubberstamp what he wants. But I think the House will be a much closer vote. And there are a lot of questions we have to ask. I think it's pretty apparent there was a chemical attack. But we now have to ask are we going to go after chemical weapons with our bombing?

Everything I read says that we're unlikely to bomb chemical sites because of the potential for civilian damage and civilian loss of life. The other question is, all of the bad things that are going on, one of the bad things that's going on is the hundreds of thousands of people have gone into Jordan as refugees.

If we begin a bombing campaign in Syria, I think that accelerates. So it accelerates the misery. If we getting involved, people say, "Well, 100,000 people have died. We must act." Well, if our weapons get involved and we get involved, do you think more people will die or less people? I think the war may escalate out of control and then we have to ask ourselves, "Who is on America's side over there?" If the rebels win, will they be American allies? Assad's definitely not an American ally. But I'm not convinced anybody on the Islamic side, the Islamic rebels will be American allies.

DAVID GREGORY:

So it seems to be, Senator, that what the president is saying in this, a drafted resolution that he'd like Congress to authorize, that the United States must draw a line at the use of chemical weapons, any weapons of mass destruction in war. That you simply cannot allow it. And that if we strike Assad and he uses them again, I heard Secretary Kerry say that the United States might strike Assad again if he uses the weapons. Why not draw that line in the sand, as the president wants you to, and say, "We can't allow W.M.D. to be used"?

SENATOR RAND PAUL:

I think the line in the sand should be that America gets involved when American interests are threatened. I don't see American interests involved on either side of this Syrian war. I see Assad, who has protected Christians for a number of decades, and then I see the Islamic rebels on the other side who have been attacking Christians. I see Al Qaeda on one side, the side we would go into support, and I see it to be murky. And I don't see a clear-cut American interest. I don't see either party that is victorious, if either party is victorious, being an American ally.

DAVID GREGORY:

You are a United States Senator, you may at some point be a candidate for the presidency. How would the United States look if the president says, "I have decided to take military action. I want Congress to give me authority," and Congress does not give that authority?

SENATOR RAND PAUL:

I think it would show that he made a grave mistake when he drew a red line. I think a president should be very careful about setting red lines he's not going to keep. But then again, when you set a red line that was not a good idea in the beginning with, and now you're going to adhere to it or try to show your machismo, I think then you're trying to save face and really adding bad policy to bad policy.

DAVID GREGORY:

Your colleagues in the Senate, like Senator McCain and Senator Graham, you tangled with them on some of these matters before, they've made it very clear that the only resolution that they would support must go farther. It must essentially really push Assad from power. Secretary Kerry is likening Assad to Saddam Hussein and Adolph Hitler. You don't see a vital American interest despite those arguments?

SENATOR RAND PAUL:

No. But I think they make an interesting and a valid point. If we're going to launch cruise missiles and it's not going to affect the outcome, basically what they're pushing for, and my interpretation of the current Obama administration's policy is they want to fight for stalemate then they want to negotiate a settlement. They think that Assad has the upper hand now. They want to balance it out.

But what I've told them is I'm not sending my son, your son, or anybody else's son to fight for stalemate. You know, when we fight, we fight when we have to. But I see things on a very personal basis. I see a young John Kerry who went to war, and I wish he remembered more of how awful war is, and that it shouldn't be a desired outcome.

Neither are chemical weapons, and they should absolutely be condemned. But I think the failure of the Obama administration has been we haven't engage the Russians enough or the Chinese enough on this. And I think they were engaged. I think there's a possibility Assad could already be gone. The Russians have every reason to want to keep their influence in Syria.

And I think the only way they do is if there's a change in government where Assad is gone, but some of the same people remain stable. That would also be good for the Christians. I think the Islamic rebels running is a bad idea for the Christians and all of a sudden we'll have another Islamic state where Christians are persecuted. And so I think really the best outcome for all the major powers would be-- a peaceful transitioning government. And Russia could influence that if they told Assad, "No more weapons."

DAVID GREGORY:

Senator Paul, we'll leave it there. Thank you for your views this morning.

SENATOR RAND PAUL:

Thank you.

DAVID GREGORY:

And coming up here, our own Chuck Todd, our Chief White House Correspondent will be here with the inside story on what changed the president's mind. Plus our political roundtable weighs in on whether his decision weakens U.S. credibility in the rest of what. Later, NBC's Ann Curry just back from a Syrian refugee camp on the toll of war, what the U.N. says is the worst humanitarian crisis in 20 years. We're back here in one minute.

* * *TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: COMMERCIALS NOT TRANSCRIBED.* * *

DAVID GREGORY:

And we're back. From war to now waiting for Congress, President Obama shifted his stance on military strikes in Syria at the 11th hour. Our Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd is here to take us inside the president's thinking. And what changed?

CHUCK TODD:

It was remarkable. Ten days ago, it wasn't a matter of if, but when the president was going to order a military strike to respond to Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons. But in the intervening days, an extraordinary series of events overseas and here at home caused the president to shift gears.

[PKG -- CHUCK TODD:

CHUCK TODD:

It's these horrifying pictures of lifeless bodies, some of them children, clearly victims of some sort of massive chemical attack that convinced the president and his entire national security team they had to act. And so a P.R. campaign began.

KERRY (ON TAPE):

The killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.

CHUCK TODD (ON TAPE):

The president, mindful of a war-weary American public promised a limited campaign.

PRESIDENT OBAMA (ON TAPE):

I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria. But we do have to make sure that when-- countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they're held accountable.

CHUCK TODD (ON TAPE):

But as the drum beat got louder, some in Congress wanted to test the breaks. Speaker Boehner spent a very pointed letter demanding answers to some 14 questions. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron called his parliament back from vacation to debate a role for the U.K. in any strike. But his efforts were ill-fated.

MINISTER DAVID CAMERON (ON TAPE):

It is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly.

CHUCK TODD (ON TAPE):

Cameron's defeat had a strong impact on Mr. Obama, who watched it all from the West Wing. Whatever his misgivings, the march to war reached a new level on Friday as the president dispatched his Secretary of State to argue his case forcefully to the American public.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY (ON TAPE):

And history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator's wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency.

CHUCK TODD (ON TAPE):

But just a few hours after Kerry's stirring, Churchill-like remarks, the president took a walk on the White House South Lawn with his Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, and decided he needed congressional approval. Early that morning, a new NBC News poll indicated nearly 80% of those surveys said the president should go to Congress first. And while the president's decision did not sit well with his national security team, by yesterday morning, they were on board.

PRESIDENT OBAMA (ON TAPE):

I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets. I've made a second decision. I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress.]

CHUCK TODD:

This was a president, David, that was realizing he was isolated. No United Nations, no Arab League, and then no British support. And it was the U.K. moment that was sort of the straw that broke the president's back on this one. And that's why he's going to Congress.

DAVID GREGORY:

And there was always concern about the legal basis for a military strike, a change at the 11th hour, as you say. Chuck Todd, thanks very much this morning. Let me turn now to Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut. And Senator, on the one hand, he's coming to Congress. And perhaps that pleases you. But you also heard the president say in Chuck's reporting and in a statement yesterday, he's decided to use military force.

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

Well, listen I think it's the right move to come to Congress. I don't think we want to go into this kind of serious military action as a nation divided. And I frankly think that the time it's going to take to have this debate will allow for a little bit more deliberation.

I agree with President (SIC) Kerry that this is a moral obscenity. The question is, is military action actually going to make the situation better on the ground for the Syrian people and how do you make sure this doesn't escalate into something much more damaging and much more bloody within the region?

And I think that this week or this week and a half is going to allow the administration to think through and work through with Congress a plan that A) makes sure that Assad doesn't simply turn to more ferocious attacks on his own people, and make sure that a plan in place, such that this doesn't spill into something that ends up having even more people killed in the region.

DAVID GREGORY:

But Senator, you heard Secretary Kerry say this was a sarin gas attack. That was news this morning based on new evidence and intelligence. And the president is saying, in effect, my words not his, "You've got 100,000 people killed, you now have 1,500 people killed by a chemical attack, including hundreds of children." How much bloodier does it have to get until the United States says, "W.M.D., that's the line you don't cross, we have to respond"?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

Listen, I think about my two little kids at home every time that I watch those videos and those photos. And the question really is not is this unacceptable, but can we make this situation better. And ultimately, my worry is, and what's going to be my guiding principle over the next week as I enter into these deliberations, is will a U.S. attack make the situation better for the Syrian people or worse?

There's a potential that you could end up allowing those chemical weapons into the hands of even worse people, Shabaab (UNINTEL), a wing of Al Qaeda, and there is of course a potential that this could spill into a much broader conflict in the region, which could allow a lot more people to be killed. I think those are just the essential questions we have to ask. So the guiding principle of the American foreign policy should be do no harm. And I think that will be the foundation of our debate.

DAVID GREGORY:

So are you a yes or no vote? And does Congress pass the authorization?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

Listen, I think Congress passes the authorization. I was on the losing end of a 12/3 vote in the foreign relations committee against giving the president the authorization to arm Syrian rebels. I certainly enter this debate as a skeptic, but I'm going to allow the administration to make its case this week. I'm going to go back to Washington to sit on the foreign relations committee. I'm certainly a skeptic going in. But I'm going to allow the administration to present its evidence to Congress and to the Senate.

DAVID GREGORY:

Senator Murphy, thank you very much this morning. I appreciate it.

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

Thank you, David.

DAVID GREGORY:

Coming up here, Americans are split on their support for U.S. military action in Syria, as the president and his administration made a convincing case to a war-weary public. Our political roundtable is here. We're back in just a moment.

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ANNOUNCER:

Meet the Press continues with our political roundtable. Joining us this morning: Bill Kristol, Gwen Ifill, Katty Kay, and Robert Gibbs. Now, here's David Gregory.

DAVID GREGORY:

And welcome to all of you. Great to have you all. So much to get to. Bill Kristol, you posted this yesterday afternoon, a full debate at The Weekly Standard, a full debate in Congress would be appropriate and desirable. Do you applaud the president for making this switch?

BILL KRISTOL:

Yes. And I wish we had intervened and he could've intervened a year ago, two years ago, I think we would've had better options. But given where we are now, there was really no strong reason not to go to Congress and good reasons to go. I think he did the right thing. I think we'll have a healthy national debate for the next week or two.

I think he will end up prevailing in Congress and I think the Republican party, the party I know a little bit better than the Democrats, will support the president. Will do the right thing for the country despite many doubts about the character of the military assault he's about to launch, and many doubts about his past decisions as commander in chief, I think the Republican party will step up and do the right thing and support the president against a chemical-weapons using, terror-sponsoring, Iran-backed dictator.

DAVID GREGORY:

Gwen Ifill, the inside Washington intrigue is about the whiplash. The president was ramping up for war and then said, "No, let's go to Congress first."

GWEN IFILL:

Yeah. So everybody was told that same story of him walking on the South Lawn with his chief of staff and suddenly coming back and having a change of heart, or at least reaching his final decision. What the president's concerned about is a lot of audiences. He's concerned about his credibility with the American people.

He's hoping that Congress is now concerned about their credibility with the American people. And there's a credibility question involving the Syrian rebels who are now sitting there feeling a little bit abandoned as if the U.S. all of a sudden is taking its sweet time when they feel that they've got a problem.

It was interesting that David Axelrod, Robert's old friend, who was the president's advisor, immediately tweeted out yesterday, "Well, the Republicans have car, the dog has now caught the car." And so it's on them. The White House wasn't unhappy about that characterization.

DAVID GREGORY:

Robert, I want to go to that because you, as press secretary, have been around this president a long time. I know he has spoken about the fact that Congress will complain, Congress will criticize, but Congress doesn't cast a tugboat. Congress has failed, Republicans and Democrats, to revisit the authorization given the president after 9/11.

ROBERT GIBBS:

Right. Well, I think this is a deliberative president. In many ways, this president became both the nominee of the party and the President of the United States as a reaction to the way we went into war without a rational in Iraq. Right? So this is a president that is acting very deliberately. And I think believes our coalition and the breadth of it is strengthened with not just the commander in chief, but the representatives of the people, weigh in on behalf of intervention by the U.S. military.

DAVID GREGORY:

But is he deliberative or is he too cautious or was he angrier by saying, "Let Congress put up or shut up here if they want to come after me."

ROBERT GIBBS:

Look, I think this is much, much more about presenting to the world a United American front. Because let's be clear, the audiences that you talk about are not just in Damascus, right? They're in Tehran, they're with Hezbollah, they're in a lot of places in the Middle East.

And I think projecting a united front by the United States is tremendously important. You can certainly quibble and criticize the sequencing of the week's events, having Kerry go out so vociferously both Monday and Friday. But I think in the end, the president believes the strength is in a broad coalition.

DAVID GREGORY:

Katty what do you say about all this?

KATTY KAY:

I think Robert is being diplomatic at best. The sequencing of the week's events looks indecisive at best and perhaps weak and muddled at worst. It was an extraordinary week in which you had Kerry come out effectively and say, "This terrible thing has happened, we have to respond."

And then at the end of the week, the president changes course. And you can make the counterargument that people in Israel and people in Iran are watching the deliberations this week and thinking, "America is going to vacillate and is not going to act until it goes to Congress." That causes delays, and it's causing quite a lot of uncertainty around the world, in that region and Europe as well. What is the American strategy here? It looks confused. It looks unclear. It looks even as if the military outcomes and the political outcomes are not clearly laid out and clearly aligned.

DAVID GREGORY:

Bill Kristol, what I heard Secretary Kerry say today is even if Congress says no, the president will say yes. He's decided. He's launching military strikes. He also said, "If Assad were to use weapons again, United States might strike again."

BILL KRISTOL:

And I think practically speaking, it would be hard for the president to act absent and outside use of chemical weapons again without getting Congress on board, having gone to Congress. But this is a difficult position. I was in the first Bush White House in 1990. There were people who did not want us to go to Congress to get authorization for the First Gulf War.

John Kerry voted against that authorization. We got it through with a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate against the leadership of the Democratic party. I do think in this case similarly Republicans, and I would even think a majority of Republicans, will end up voting to authorize the use of force. What John Kerry said to you, you mentioned that he made news by mentioning the sarin gas.

He also made news I think by trying to get Senators McCain and Graham and people like me who really want a more aggressive, want Assad to go. And the way to deter the future use of chemical weapons in Syria is to get rid of Assad. He's the one guy who used them.

But Senator Kerry gives a little bit of an opening to the hawks when he said, "Well, the military option's limited, it's just to deter and punish the use of chemical weapons. But our political aim remains to get rid of Assad and we will weaken Assad appreciably." And I do think in fact there will be a way to reconcile the views of the sort of hawks by Senator McCain and Graham.

Maybe give some of the doves in Congress a little bit of something in the authorization resolution saying, "No ground troops at least for now, perhaps we should try to end this pretty quickly." And people forget, this is now a dynamic process. This authorization's going to go to the Senate Foreign Relations for the markup next week.

GWEN IFILL:

It's written in a very broad way, which allows for lots of marking up then obviously. So that members of Congress can say, "We made it better." But don't you have to have an agreed-upon goal? And if Senator Paul, for instance, can say, "I'm against this because this is about regime change. I don't care what you say."

How do you then make the case, and I guess this is what the sarin gas revelation was about today, how do you make the case that our goals are common? I think that's the challenge going forward not only in persuading the Congress to go along with the president, but persuading the American people. The poll says we did not give much comfort to the White House to plunge ahead.

ROBERT GIBBS:

Well, I think that's what's tremendously important. And I think we saw what happened in Britain when plunging ahead caused a prime minister to lose a military vote for the first time in two centuries. This gives the president more time to make the case to a very war-weary public about why we're doing what we're doing to reestablish red lines, to reestablish societal and international norms.

And I do think the onus is certainly on the White House and the administration to enunciate if this isn't part of a longer-term policy in Syria, what is our longer term policy in Syria? But I think giving the president a chance to make that case in a longer way is not necessarily that--

DAVID GREGORY:

I think the legacy of the Iraq War, one of the chief legacies, is that the United States spent a decade trying to engineer the kind of democratic change in the Middle East that has not taken root. And that the American public is not prepared to go there again to say nothing of the fact that Syria is even more complicated, arguably, as a sectarian matter, than Iraq. Katty?

KATTY KAY:

Yeah, I think the vote in London was a concrete example of the damage that has been done to American intelligence and American-led policy in the Middle East by the Iraq war. And it was clearly the ghost that hung over parliamentarians. And a word of warning to the White House: my understanding from London is that whatever the evidence that has been presented to parliament, whatever the case Cameron might have made, and yes, he called them back hurriedly, he didn't give it much time.

But there was so much antipathy in Britain and in that body, in the parliamentary body, not to go along with another American-led venture in the Middle East on the understanding that we don't know where the finish is, this could end well as it has done in the past, and we don't want to be seen just to sign off on something.

ROBERT GIBBS:

But that's why it's important to have this vociferous debate, that's why it's important to pass a congressional authorization to do so. And to have everybody involved in a united front on this. None of that would be solved, quite frankly, that you just outlined, by going hurriedly in doing this in a way that doesn't have--

(OVERTALK)

KATTY KAY:

But it actually has the risks that Congress let us know.

(OVERTALK)

GWEN IFILL:

But here's the lesson learned. The lesson learned from Cameron is that he did rush it, that he did bring everybody back from vacation. And this is something which they don't want to do, he got Martin Demspey, the Chairman of the Join Chief to give him window, to give him time.

We were all counting back from the president's departure for the summit in Saint Petersburg and saying, "Something has to happen in 48 hours." And he got the military to say, "No it doesn't. It could happen--" what did he say, "tomorrow, next week, within a month." So he's buying time, in part, to put it in Congress.

BILL KRISTOL:

But Cameron lost partly because he's the Conservative prime minister, he held most, a huge majority of his own party, and lost I think 30 Conservatives.

(OVERTALK)

BILL KRISTOL:

Nonetheless, the entire Labour Party, Tony Blair's party, voted against him. President Obama will not have that problem. He will hold half the Democrats, presumably. Republicans will not be irresponsible, as the Democrats have been in the past, and as occasionally Republicans have been in the past.

And will, I do think, put country ahead of party and he will get enough Republican votes, and I would say a majority of Republican votes, especially if they can tweak the authorizing resolution to go to war. So I think he will go to war with bipartisan support.

DAVID GREGORY:

So one of the questions I have for you is a lot of people criticize the president and say, "Well, what is his doctrine in foreign policy? What's his overall strategy?" One thing I think is actually clear from all of this is that his one bottom line is, the United States cannot allow W.M.D. to be used. The hangover from Iraq notwithstanding, you cannot allow bad guys to use the worst weapons.

BILL KRISTOL:

Right, and the implication of that, of course, is maybe you shouldn't allow bad guys or the worst guys to get the worst weapons in the first place. So this does have implications.

DAVID GREGORY:

Do you think he dithered in this?

BILL KRISTOL:

Yes, of course he did.

DAVID GREGORY:

I mean, we had all this evidence suggesting he was putting this in place.

BILL KRISTOL:

Of course he dithered. But better late than never, honestly. Late is more difficult, and some people can say, "Oh better to do nothing than to do it in a half-hearted way." But that's not the case. Better late than never and it does establish a predicate I think incidentally, for other dictators in the region seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

(OVERTALK)

ROBERT GIBBS:

Let's understand the fundamental difference from Iraq, right? We know that there are chemical weapons and they have been used. We're still looking for the chemical weapons in Iraq.

BILL KRISTOL:

Saddam used chemical weapons.

ROBERT GIBBS:

Right.

BILL KRISTOL:

Against his own citizens, actually.

GWEN IFILL:

And the world did nothing.

ROBERT GIBBS:

But understand that--

BILL KRISTOL:

Right, the world did nothing, we should've done something then, and we did something a little later.

ROBERT GIBBS:

But understand that for months, we looked for the rational for Iraq. We continued to look for that rational for Iraq after we started a war with Iraq and still hadn't come up with the chemical weapons rationale. So doing this in a deliberate way again, this is why the president was elected to be president, because we're going do this in a different way.

GWEN IFILL:

I understand why it's easy to get caught up in the Iraq hangover and to reargue the Iraq war. But the question we should be listening for as we watch the case being made is Iran. And that you heard Secretary Kerry talk about it this morning, we saw the president allude to it not only in his public statements but also in this authorization that's been sent to Congress. And that's going to be the case and the worry not only for the president, but also for allies in the region who are a part of the tiny little coalition of the willing (?) in Jordan and Turkey.

DAVID GREGORY:

And isn't it interesting that, to your point, that Secretary Kerry said, "My former colleagues won't turn their back on the impact of what Iran sees and U.S. credibility." He put it out there. He said that this is U.S. credibility at this point.

KATTY KAY:

And to some extent, we're at a situation where is not acting worse than acting in terms of American credibility around the world and in the region. And in terms of trying to prevent people in that region, whether it's President Assad or the mullahs in Iran from thinking that they can get away with this again.

And one of the arguments that the White House is going to use to members of Congress as they speak to them this week is this undermines the security of our allies, including Israel in the region, and because they know there are a lot of friends of Israel in Congress, that's part of the reason they're--

(OVERTALK)

KATTY KAY:

--in that way.

ROBERT GIBBS:

There's a broadening of a political argument to get folks more on bills side of the aisle, more comfortable with something that is not regime change, but is limited to enforcing chemical weapon.

DAVID GREGORY:

Look, it may be just in this town of Washington, but the inside administration intrigue, do you think the Secretary of State was hung out to dry? Do you think he was undermined when the president sent him out there only to have the president change his mind?

BILL KRISTOL:

Say yes, say yes. (LAUGHTER)

DAVID GREGORY:

You've never said anything on this show--

(OVERTALK)

BILL KRISTOL:

Say it publicly what you really believe.

ROBERT GIBBS:

I will say this, as I said earlier. One, I think Kerry made a forceful and persuasive case that he will have to make continually for the next ten days. Again, I think the sequencing of the week's events was not in any way in the order that I think was the way they would want to have unwound this.

DAVID GREGORY:

I think we got it.

GWEN IFILL:

That's (UNINTEL) yes to me.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

I thought we got--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:

Very quickly, then we got to go.

BILL KRISTOL:

To be fair, when I was in the Bush White House, that first Bush White House, we screwed up everything in September, October, November, in terms of the presentation. Remember Jim Baker said, "This is a war about jobs." We said it included mix signals. At the end of the day, we got the congressional authorization of the First Iraq War, and it's considered to have been a great success and the country was for it. So I don't think the minor mistakes they made over the last week or two need affect the outcome.

DAVID GREGORY:

I've got to leave it there. Thank you all very much. More on this to come, of course. Coming up here, NBC's Ann Curry has just returned from the largest Syrian refugee camp. She shares her firsthand account with me after this short break.

* * *TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: COMMERCIALS NOT TRANSCRIBED.* * *

DAVID GREGORY:

We're back this morning with our Sunday inspiration, an artist from Seattle is trying to bring a glimmer of hope to Syrian children now living as refugees in Jordan. Jean Bradbury is headed to the Syrian/Jordan border to share her love of art in a project called Studio Syria, which provides children's educational and art supplies to the displaced families. She does it in hopes that her workshops help the so-called forgotten children, and imagine a better future while giving them a reason to smile.

[TAPE JEAN BRADBURY:

We've got to teach these kids this, that they have it within their imagination to make a better world than they've been handed, I hope.]

DAVID GREGORY:

And when we come back, Ann Curry is here. She just returned from that very camp. We'll talk about it in just a moment.

* * *TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: COMMERCIALS NOT TRANSCRIBED.* * *

DAVID GREGORY:

Here now, images to remember by NBC's Ann Curry from her reporting on the Syrian refugee crisis.

(MUSIC)

The images you just saw were from our very own Ann Curry, she just returned from a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. Nearly two million Syrians have sought refuge in these camps. And among those, nearly one million are children. The U.N. has called the conflict in Syria the worst humanitarian crisis in 20 years. Ann, it's great to see you. Thanks for being here.

ANN CURRY:

And it's great to see you David.

DAVID GREGORY:

The story of that last image, that little boy in the refugee camp called Zaatari, his story really got to you.

ANN CURRY:

His name is name is Abraham, ten years old, he was born with a birth defect, his mother said he was robust and walking, healthy, happy before the war. Now having seen his father killed and now in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, he's lost nearly a fourth of his body weight, David. He is not walking, he can barely eat, because the water is so bad.

A lot of kids are complain about their stomachs hurting and not being able to eat. He is one of a million children who are now refugees from this war. And they are the majority of this war. In fact, the true face of the Syrian war refugee is not only a child, it's a child under the age of 11.

DAVID GREGORY:

So what happens to them? Because things are going to get worse before they get better.

ANN CURRY:

Well, it's a very difficult scenario. Because on top of everything else, David, they are traumatized. Many of them are mourning people who have been lost, their family members who've been killed in the war. One little boy, seven years old, talked to me about how the fighting was as close as I am to you, how he was crawling on his belly to escape the war, that he was scraping up his knees, that he had witnessed himself seeing his best friends cut down, slice by-- he described very descriptive words, and words that I probably shouldn't even say on a broadcast.

Nevertheless, he experienced them at the age of seven, witnessing his friend killed in this way. The girls were outside playing house, the boys were outside playing cars, when a shell fell and exploded. So these children and only about 20% of them have had any kind of psycho therapy, any kind of help, emotional help, so that leaves 80% of these children are having to deal with their emotions and what they've witnessed on their own. It is a tragedy not just for now and their suffering now, but the head of U.N.H.C.R., David, is raising this factor that we may be looking at a lost generation because of what these children are enduring.

DAVID GREGORY:

And yet you talk about the conditions of the camp. What is it like there for children and adults? And we know now you're reporting and others saying that people are actually trying to leave the refugee camps. Where are they trying to go?

ANN CURRY:

Well, some of the refugees are actually leaving to go back into Syria because some of said, "Look, we'd rather deal with the shelling in Syria than deal with the food insecurity, the water insecurity," the really tough, tough, some might even say brutal conditions. The Zaatari Refugee Camp, for example, is in a desert that's constantly hit by sandstorms.

There's also the threat of insecurity because rebels are using it as a staging area. They're also going into these camps to find young people who are so angry at what's happened, young teenagers, even children who are so angry about what's happened. They pick them up and take them back into Syria to fight.

DAVID GREGORY:

We've spent the entire hour talking about U.S. military might and the international implications. Among the kids that you're talking to, do they have any sense that the United States is prepared or is willing or is able to protect them?

ANN CURRY:

That's exactly what they need, is protection. I think that to a person, the children and the adults will say, "Whatever you're going to do regarding attacking or not attacking Assad's government, we need protection." And what they talk about is a need for-- the children don't say this, but the adults talk about the need for a buffer zone or maybe for a no-fly zone. The truth is the world has not responded to the needs of these children and the needs of these refugees to the degree in which they require the help.

DAVID GREGORY:

Ann Curry, your reporting so compelling. Thanks \very much for being here, Ann. It's great to see you. Appreciate it very much. That is all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

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