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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Will U.S. Help Fight Militants In Iraq?; Iran's Revolutionary Guard In Iraq; Political Backlash To Iraq Chaos; Source: The Iraqis "Wanted Us Out"
Aired June 13, 2014 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: But there is real concern in the region and Jake, I've been speaking to a number of officials there. Countries like Jordan, you know, facing a collapsed Syria, a collapsing Iraq and they are genuinely scared. And you're even hearing calls for U.S. leadership.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Jim, before you go, I've heard a lot about a report that U.S. forces at one point had the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in custody at Camp Bucca in Southern Iraq for years and then let him out when the camp closed in 2009. Is that true? Do we know that for a fact?
SCIUTTO: Yes, and he is a bad guy. CNN has spoken to an official who says there is reason to treat that report with caution. A lot of these things turn up on Jihadi web sites and on a sort of Jihadi resumes, and there is evidence -- and there's been evidence in the past of, you know, Jihadi resume padding and this might be a case of that. But it's something we are looking into more.
TAPPER: Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.
President Obama has put the nation on hold telling Americans he will be receiving that range of options when it comes to U.S. involvement in Iraq and he will keep them and Congress in the loop on what he decides he says, but he also warned that those actions cannot be taken overnight.
One member of Congress says there should be drones over Iraq right now, armed drones and that is the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Congressman Ed Royce of California who joins be live in studio right now. Congressman, thanks for being here. Somebody -- you're calling for armed drones to be attacking the terrorists right now?
REP. ED ROYCE (R), CALIFORNIA: This is a call that was asked four months ago. For some time now, there's been a lot of pressure on the president to support an effort to suppress this al Qaeda group, which is trying to set up a caliphate. Clearly we have a strategic interest in this.
If they get a tall hold there, they will use it to attack Jordan, Israel, and the United States. We do not want to see a caliphate established. So for four months now, this request has been turned down by the president made repeatedly by Iraq and made by other allies in the region.
TAPPER: Administration sources tell me that even if President Obama made the decision to go along with your plan right now and do airstrikes or armed drone strikes, that the United States does not have targets. That the intelligence is not there and they don't know where to effectively hit. Do you have different information?
ROYCE: The information we had was that the Iraq government knew where these encampments were as al Qaeda was forming. They know where the columns are as they march, you know, across the desert as you see these columns moving. There is no question that intelligence can fix on these targets and this would give the Iraqi forces on the ground the air support they need.
But right now, of course, with a group as determined as al Qaeda is, if you're not going to hit them from the air, they are going to be able to roll from city by city, get more ammunition, more equipment every time they take a town and they continue to grow. We need to be decisive here.
TAPPER: ISIS obviously not al Qaeda perhaps even worse than al Qaeda. Al Qaeda (inaudible) in February because Al Baghdadi used tactics that turn locals against them, beheadings, public flagging and the like, but I take your point. But if we don't have the intelligence right now, of where to strike effectively, you're saying it's not that complicated?
ROYCE: Not that complicated. We've talked to plenty of officials in the Pentagon. You know, in the intelligence community also, there's been a request from the government of Baghdad. Share the intelligence with us so we know when the attack is coming, share it with us so that we know more. That information was not shared to the extent requested by, you know, by Baghdad.
And on top of it, the request that they made, they said either hit those targets or allow us with drones to hit those targets. But those targets have to be hit because they are on the march. They are building and that's exactly what has happened. It's reached critical max.
TAPPER: Has the Obama administration -- you're the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has the Obama administration been in touch with you at all about the options that they are considering?
ROYCE: The most recent discussion I had was yesterday with the vice president and so I know that the cabinet or the close administration officials to the president are going to be discussing this weekend with him options. But the point I'm making is that for four months, we haven't been decisive and it has cost us dearly in terms of the advances of this effort to set up a caliphate there. Not just a threat, again, to Iraq and Syria but also to Jordan and other countries in the region.
TAPPER: Yesterday, we've received word that some of the contractors that were helping the Iraqi government, the Iraqi military with weapons were being evacuated. There are still Americans there at the U.S. Embassy. How are safe them?
ROYCE: Well, I think that that call in terms of Americans there at the embassy. That embassy is safe. It's secured, but the wider question is a psychological one. Do you want to allow an organization like this, which I'll just call it al Qaeda affiliate to continue to take major cities and boast and show on television in the region that they can with impunity carry out these kinds of assaults? I would suggest that now is the time to use air power through drone strikes in order to set them back and give confidence to the Iraqis on the ground and other allies in the region. That we will take action to stun this advance.
TAPPER: Are you surprised at how poorly the Iraqi military has performed in this?
ROYCE: You know, time after time we've seen that when up against al Qaeda, you're dealing with an organization that frankly isn't afraid to die and so normal infantry when being overrun by maniacs with that kind of sense of purpose. They need air support. We knew that lack of air support was going to be a problem because we didn't have the status of forces agreement right. We didn't have the training correct for the Iraqi air power. So we were going to have to use drones if it came to this.
We've got the same situation in Afghanistan, right? We've got to be ready to use some kind of air power. Drones are very effective, but if the president won't use them, expect us to continue to have trouble on the ground with groups like al Qaeda or the Taliban.
TAPPER: Congressman Ed Royce, Republican of California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Thank you so much for your time.
ROYCE: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: When we come back, troops reportedly already on the ground in Iraq sent in from Iran. Are more on the way? And how closely is Iran willing to work with the United States if at all on the solution.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. A senior security official in Baghdad has confirmed to CNN that Iran has deployed three revolutionary guard units to Iraq to bolster their security forces. Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, would not confirm if the U.S. knew these Iranian fighters were there. Well, then is the State Department at least speaking with Iran about what they may be doing with their neighbor, Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIE HARF, DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON, STATE DEPARTMENT: No. We are not talking to the Iranians about Iraq. All of Iraq's neighbors including the Iranians need to not do things to destabilize the situation even further.
(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: President Obama just spoke this morning about consulting with the U.S.' international partners about what to do in Iraq. The big question, should Iran be invited to the table?
Joining me now is Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the book, "War of Necessity, War of Choice, A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars." Richard, good to see you as always. Could Iran be an effective partner of the U.S. in stopping ISIS in Iraq?
RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, the Iranians already backing the government in Iraq quite significantly. This potentially has in the upside. This could slow the ISIS advance. On the other hand, Jake, what it does is even reinforces the sense that this is not an Iraqi feud if you roll with anybody else, but a Shia-Sunni feud and it reinforces what's become arguably the biggest fault line in the Middle East.
TAPPER: Take a listen to what President Obama said about these internationals consultations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are in contact with them now. So we'll have a better sense by the end of the weekend after those consultations and we will be getting a better sense from them of how they might support an effort to bring about the kind of political unity inside of Iraq that bolster security forces.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Richard, you used to work with the State Department, who do you think President Obama is consulting with?
HAASS: He is consulting I expect, you know, with the Turks because they are kind of one of the big players in this entire or the Kurds, who are now well on their way to an independent state carving out the north from Iraq. He is consulting I expect with the Saudis, with the United Arab Emirates, obviously some of the European countries. But look, Jake, coming back to your report, I actually think it would make sense for the United States to consult with both Russia and Iran despite our differences over Syria, despite our differences more broadly.
In sense what's happened is this fanatical Jihadist group has emerged as a bigger challenge to American and western interest even in the Assad government in Syria. So there is an argument for putting aside some differences and just seeing whether there is the possibility at least however stretches of somehow limited collaboration or at least overlap.
TAPPER: How concerned were you when you heard that Shiite leaders, clerical leaders in Iraq are calling for Shiites to take up arms against ISIS. Concerned for sure but also not surprised. This is a natural outgrowth of what's happened. If you look at the last 10 or 15 years, a series of moves in part by the United States have increased the salience of this divide. The fact that we haven't done much to help in Syria has again increased the intensity of Sunni-Shia differences.
Mr. Malaki, his entire governance has essentially been a front for Iran and for Shia interest. He hasn't been a national president. So what this is in many ways the culmination or the furtherance of a terribly destructive trend and what's become the turbulent part of the world.
TAPPER: Richard, what do you think we should do? What would you tell President Obama to do?
HAASS: I'd give him a couple of things. I would say first, we ought to tremendously increase what it is we are doing in Syria to increase the pressure on this group, on this ISIS group so therefore they wouldn't have the luxury of putting all their efforts against Iraq. We ought to strengthen the Kurds to make sure they are OK. We ought to rethink what it is we are doing in Afghanistan.
The -- what we should have learned from this is the mistake of pulling out all U.S. forces from countries on distress. I would be very careful about direct military support though for the Iraqi government unless it really change its colors.
TAPPER: Richard Haass, thank you so much.
Coming up, Hillary Clinton weighs in on what she would do in Iraq, the option she says should be off the table. Stay with us that's next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. The Politics Lead now, Iraq is once again starting to look like a war zone and Republicans say they saw that coming all along.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: And other wars and other conflicts we have left force -- residual forces behind. This is an existential threat to the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Let's bring in Bobby Ghosh, international editor for "Time" magazine and Peter Baker, White House correspondent for the "New York Times" and author of "Days of Fire, Bush and Cheney in the White House." Peter, I'll start with you. President Obama campaigned on ending this war, but he just when he thought he was out, they've pulled him back in.
PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": That's right. He just can't quite escape and you know, just two weeks ago, he gave a speech at West Point in which he tried to map out the future of American foreign policy and national security in a post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan era, one which we don't use military force very much.
Here we are two weeks later and he is contemplating air strikes or ground strikes right back in the same place that has defined his presidency all along. So it's exactly where he doesn't want to be and you can sort of hear the frustration I think in his voice today when he talked in the south lawn.
TAPPER: Bobby, I was talking to senior administration officials earlier today as I'm sure you've been and they are laying this all at the seat of Maliki. They said that he would not let the U.S. troops stay there and here's a quote, "The Iraqis said no about the U.S. troops staying there. After 10 years of our presence, virtually the entire political class wanted us out. Even the Kurds wouldn't press it." Are they over stating the case there? Did the U.S. have to leave in 2011?
BOBBY GHOSH, INTERNATIONAL EDITOR, "TIME": Yes, absolutely, they did. An Iraqi government official told me a couple of years ago that at one point, the U.S. wanted to leave 30,000 American soldiers just as we did in South Korea, as we did in Japan and as we are proposing to do of much smaller force in Afghanistan. But the Iraqis refused to sign a status of force agreement, which would give American soldiers immunity from Iraqi law. And the Iraqis said if you are not going to sign that, you can't stay. So it wasn't so much that we left. In the end, we were asked to leave and I wonder how Malaki is feeling about that decision right now.
TAPPER: Peter, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the BBC yesterday that she does not support air strikes. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I agree with the White House's rejection and reluctance to do the kind of military activities that the Malaki government is requesting namely fighter aircraft to provide close support for the army and also to go after targets. That is not a role for the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: A dubbish Hillary Clinton on Iraq, Peter. What do you make of that?
BAKER: Yes, we are sort of reversing the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, right, where Hillary Clinton played the role of hawk defending her go to some extent to authorize the war in the first place and Barack Obama saying that he was against it from the first place and she had made a terrible mistake. So you know, the great thing about politics whether it be international or domestic is you can never completely predict where it's going to go.
TAPPER: Bobby, Senator John McCain, he calls this an existential crisis that ISIS poses a threat to the United States. Tell us about the leader of ISIS Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. You call him the most successful terrorist since Bin Laden.
GHOSH: Yes, I think he is. He is also known as Abu Dua (ph) and what makes him incredibly successful is his willingness, his ambition, not simply to commit mayhem, which was Bin Laden's main ambition, but to actually capture and hold territory. He wants to rule and he is at the moment ruling large swaths of territory in Syria and in Iraq. And he's shown the ability to capture cities like Mosul, 2 million people, large modern city and he has shown the ability and the willingness to take on conventional military forces.
Both in Syria against Assad's forces and in Iraq against Baghdad forces. These are things that Bin Laden never tried. These are things that very few of al Qaeda's franchises in the world have attempted. Abu Dua (ph) on the other hand has not only tried this, he is at the moment succeeding and that makes him a magnet for Jihadis around the world.
They would rally to his banner. They would want to come fight for him because they see him as somebody who is doing things in a different way and who is capturing and holding territories.
TAPPER: Peter, I'm anxious to see how this plays out on the Republican side of the aisle as well for the presidential candidates because it's a real interventionist versus isolationist for one to better terms debate going on there.
BAKER: That's exactly right. Look, there is a lot of fatigue in the country across party lines with not just Iraq, but even American involvement in the world more broadly. The latest polls, of course, still show that most Americans think that going into Iraq in the first place was a mistake and more interestingly that America doesn't necessarily have to play the leading role in the world. That's quite a retreat from sort of our self identity that we've had over the last number of decades.
So you know, there is not going to be I think a great appetite on the part of the American public to go back into Iraq even in a limited form. The president is talking about and that's something he is going to have to navigate politically. You don't hear him saying that he is going to go to Congress and ask for their support the way he did last fall with Syria when he contemplated missile strikes.
I think he recognizes that will be politically problematic. There is also a different legal basis since the original authorization for the war in Iraq I think have expired.
TAPPER: Peter Baker, Bobby Ghosh, thank you so much. Coming up next, instability in Iraq already having an impact in the U.S., oil price is spiking as some fear the situation there will get worse. How long until this affects gas prices?
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. In Money Lead now, no matter what happens next in Iraq, we could all soon be seeing higher prices at the gas pump. How much higher? Our Alison Kosik is in New York with more -- Alison.
ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Jake, with oil prices spiking to $107 a barrel, a level we haven't seen since last September, yes, get ready for gas prices to head higher and that's because the price of oil is a big component, 67 percent of what makes up the price that you pay at the pump. So how much more could you be paying? I talked with one analyst.
His worst case scenario is this, oil could go to $116 a barrel and average gas prices could go up another 20 to 25 cents a gallon pushing the price of gas above $4 in big cities if violence in Iraq escalates. Investors are spooked because Iraq has become a big player in oil exports. It's the second biggest OPEC producer after Saudi Arabia producing more than 3 million barrels a day.
But Iraq isn't the only reason you'll likely be paying more at the pump, it's also the beginning of the summer driving season when demand for gas is higher. Roll all those together and some say it's a perfect storm for higher gas prices -- Jake.
TAPPER: Alison Kosik, thank you so much. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Happy Father's Day to all you fathers out there especially mine -- Mr. Blitzer.