ASG Chair Samuel Berger discusses the threat of ISIL and what the President can do with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer


Aired September 10, 2014 - 13:00   ET


BLITZER: Tonight, President Obama will deliver one of the most important speeches of his presidency. He'll explain to the American people his specific plans for dealing with a growing terror threat from the group ISIS. Joining us here in Washington, Sandy Berger, form national security adviser to President Bill Clinton. 

Sandy, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: You were at that private little dinner that the president invited current and former officials to, bipartisan dinner. You emerged from that dinner thinking the president was or was not going to announce tonight that there would be U.S. air strikes against ISIS targets, not only in Iraq, but in Syria as well. What was your impression? 

BERGER: I think the president understands that there's one ISIS, that they cannot have a safe haven in Syria, that there needs to be a broad, comprehensive strategy to deal with ISIS, with our allies, building our support on the ground, comprehensive approach which includes Syria and Iraq. 

BLITZER: Because for all practical purposes, ISIS controls a big chunk of Syria and a big chunk of Iraq. There really is no border there. These guys are going back and forth. The Syrian government is out of it. 

BERGER: The Syria's - Syria's a harder proposition than Iraq. We don't have elements on the ground to work with. So I think it's a longer- term proposition to build some moderate forces in Syria while perhaps we take -- 

BLITZER: Is that realistic, though, because the -- the Free Syrian Army, as I think a lot of these guys, they have great intentions -


BLITZER: But they don't have the capability -- there's other terror groups, not only ISIS but al Nusra, which is pretty significant and the U.S. regards that as a terrorist organization as well. 

BERGER: I think it's a long-term proposition. I think we have to start to do that. I think, in the meantime, we can go after targets of opportunity. We certainly can't let ISIS simply sit there and retreat to Syria. I think the initial focus is going to be primarily on Iraq, building with the Iraqi security forces, trying to bring the Sunnis back into the game. You know, they threw these guys out in 2006 and they were then so angry at Maliki that when they came back, they were more angry at Maliki than they were afraid of ISIL and so -- 

BLITZER: Do you think this new government in Baghdad is any better than the old government? 

BERGER: Yes, I've -

BLITZER: Because I've spoken to a lot of Kurds -


BLITZER: And Sunni Muslims, Iraqis, they have very low expectations about al Abadi (ph), this new prime minister. 

BERGER: Well, this is Iraq, so you don't start with high expectations in any case. 


BERGER: But I think it merely signals their fine (ph). I think he has an instinct to be more inclusive. We'll have to see, work with him. We don't need -- 

BLITZER: He comes from the same party as Nuri al Maliki. 

BERGER: Yes, but he has a different background. We don't need a Jeffersonian democracy in Baghdad. We need somebody who can work with everybody, who can work with the Sunnis, who can work with the Kurds and can enable us to convince the Kurds that they have a stake in joining us to expel ISIL, as they did once before. 

BLITZER: For all practical purposes, and I've been saying this, the president of the United States tonight is going to announce that the U.S. is going to war against ISIS, not only in Iraq but in Syria as well. This is a new war. This is the president's war. 

BERGER: It's a long-term undertaking and I don't think it's just the United States. I think ISIL is a threat to the region. I think we'll have partners from the region -- 

BLITZER: Like who? Like who? 

BERGER: I think we'll have partners from the Gulf. You know, ISIL is not just after us -- 

BLITZER: Will Turkey allow U.S. jets to take off from Turkey to bomb ISIS targets in Syria? 

BERGER: I don't know the answer to that, Wolf. I know there are discussions going on with Turkey. I think we'll ask --

BLITZER: Turkey's a NATO ally too.

BERGER: Yes. I think we'll have allies from Europe - Turkey's got an immediate problem. It has 49 hostages that ISIL is holding. So it has to deal with a - it has to deal delicately with that immediate problem in terms of the optics of how they can support us. But I think --

BLITZER: So what you're saying, Turkey's being held hostage by those 49 -- 

BERGER: No, I think -- I think - I think they will help us. I think how they cast that in the short term may be tricky. I think they certainly share our interests. I don't think this will be us alone here. This is a long-term problem of -- a fight for the future of Islam between Sunni moderates and Sunni extremists. And I think increasingly moderate Sunnis see this as a struggle for their future. And I think we have to make sure that's the way it's cast, not the United States against Sunnis. 

BLITZER: All right. Sandy Berger, thanks very much for joining us. 

BERGER: My pleasure. 

BLITZER: And I hope the food was delicious at the White House. They have good food there, we all know that. Thanks very much. 

Up next, deep concern in Canada right now as citizens from north of the border go overseas to become fighters for ISIS. We'll take a closer look. And just how big a threat is ISIS to Americans? We'll discuss the terror group, the president's plan to defeat it. Senator Bob Casey, the Democratic lawmaker, standing by to join us live. 

Please see the full transcript online at: