• With: Kim Strassel, Dan Henninger, James Freeman, Dorothy Rabinowitz, Bret Stephens, Matt Kaminski

    STRASSEL: Right now, the president has remained firm. I think that the leverage that Republicans have is not allowing him to drag them and -- look, the general view out there among Republicans right now is if tax policy is going to go up -- either way tax rates are going to go up, either because we go over the cliff or because the president pulled them along into a panic, the last minute deal, then the best thing to do, as you're saying, is try to minimize their political responsibility for this. And, maybe, for instance, just come up with a Plan B that says to the president, you want the top two tax rates extended? Here, here is a bill extending everything else for the lower class. The top two tax rates are going up, but you're getting nothing else from us. And you own the consequences to the economy and everything.

    GIGOT: All right, we'll see how it goes.

    When we come back, the Middle East grows messier by the day as Egypt slides closer to civil war and Syria prepares chemicals to use perhaps on its own people. Can the U.S. stay on the sidelines much longer?


    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The world is watching. The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable.



    GIGOT: Well, things in the Middle East went from bad to worse this week with reports that the Syrian military is preparing chemical weapons that could be used against its own people. It's awaiting final orders from President Bashar Assad. This, as protesters clash with supporters of Mohamed Morsi outside the presidential palace in Cairo Egypt, in that country's largest confrontation since the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak almost two years ago.

    We're back with Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens; and editorial board member, Matt Kaminski.

    So, Bret, we were told if we didn't intervene in Syria, we -- if we did intervene in Syria, we could see chemical weapons perhaps being used, civil war, the radicalization of the Islamist rebellion, and perhaps a larger regional conflict. We did not intervene.


    GIGOT: All of those.

    STEPHENS: -- all of those things. You have to imagine what might have happened if the Obama administration had intervened early by imposing a no-fly zone at very little cost and risk to the United States over Syria if Bashar Assad had been gone 12 months ago, if we were now in the midst of a transitional process with an opposition that hadn't been radicalized by the influx of radical fighters from Jordan, from Iraq, from elsewhere. Instead, we're having not only the Syrian meltdown, with very serious consequences, but hundreds of thousands of refugees in Turkey, the destabilization of Jordan, increasing inability in Lebanon. This is spilling out all over the region, Paul.

    GIGOT: What about the president's red lines on -- President Obama's red lines, so-called, on Syrian chemical weapons. Before he said, if they move these chemical weapons, there will be consequences. Now, they've dropped the "moved" argument and they're now saying, if he uses those chemical weapons. Are we seeing a backtracking from the United States?

    MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I think the backtracking basically to our default position, which is to do nothing at all. I think it's justifiable that -- they may have moved these weapons. We don't know why. Maybe they moved them to get them out of the hands of the rebels.

    But I don't see why using the chemical weapons has to be the standard by which we should say, ah. We should actually maybe take an interest in what's going on in Syria. We've had 40,000 people killed in Syria over the past years.

    GIGOT: OK, fair point. But the president made this the standard. OK? He's the one who said there will be consequences if they do something with chemical weapons. Now, when you put that standard forward, aren't you obliged to do something?

    KAMINSKI: Well, you would think -- I think, if they do use the weapons, it will be a game changer, if there are images of a destroyed village somewhere in Syria. But it's baffling to me to think that why you need to have some mass murder on top of the mass murder that you had throughout the last two years to really get the U.S., which is supposed to be the world's leader, to act here. It's a real moral abdication on our part.

    HENNINGER: Well, as Matt says, supposed to be the world's leader. Instead, what we're talking about here is a nightmarish case study of what happens in an area of the world when the United States is simply not engaged. The specific incident was when Barack Obama decided at the end of the Iraq War to pull all American troops out of Iraq, an unprecedented step at the end of a conflict like that. And I think everybody in that region saw that and went, we can step forward. And this is the result.

    GIGOT: Do we have any options, Bret?

    STEPHENS: Look, with a more engaged administration, we would be imposing a no-fly zone over corners of Syria. We could destroy Bashar Assad's helicopters, which he's using against his own people. We could try to secure the chemical sites. We know, with a high degree of precision, where they are. And unless we do that, we're going to be facing a deepening nightmare there.

    GIGOT: Let's turn to Egypt, Matt. Is Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood staging, in essence, a coup?

    KAMINSKI: They're trying to continue -- they're trying to -- I mean, it's been a blocked system in Egypt since President Mubarak fell about two years ago. Mohamed Morsi is trying -- in his way, he would say to unblock it, to get rid of the courts, the military, in his way. He said, I've won elections. It's time to govern this country. But the problem is that half the country does not agree with him. And the other problem is that what he's trying to do will essentially continue an authoritarian system in Egypt, which is why we should oppose it and should speak -- talk loudly about it.

    STEPHENS: Well --


    STEPHENS: -- been coming for a very long time. I mean, the Muslim Brotherhood was always going to do pretty much exactly what Mohamed Morsi is doing. And the only surprise is that people should be surprised at all.

    This is the pattern of most revolutions, Paul. In order to achieve full democracy for the people, the leader has to assume dictatorial powers. It's Robespierre. It's Lenin and the dictatorship of proletariat. That's precisely what he's done.

    And by the way, have a close look at the new Egyptian constitution that he's now tried to shove down the throats of the Egyptian people. This is a constitution that ratifies Sharia as a governing principle. That all manner --


    KAMINSKI: The problem is not actually the constitution. The problem is the process that he's going through. And this goes back to the -- you know, the military's screwed this up from the beginning because they didn't create an inclusive process to bring all the parties in and to say we're going to sit down and agree how this goes forward. So you've opened up the government for polarization.

    I think it's premature and wrong to say, it had to be this way, because they're Islamists. I think you assume that the Brotherhood can change. And the country is changing. And when you're seeing -- there's real push back at him. I think that shows there is a spirit still in Egypt that hasn't been killed.

    GIGOT: All right.


    GIGOT: Well, either way, it's deteriorating inside Egypt.

    When we come back, the military judge in the Fort Hood massacre is removed after ordering the suspect, Army Major Nidal Hasan, to shave his beard. The latest on that. And the efforts three years later of survivors and victims' families to get the attack labeled an act of terrorism.


    GIGOT: A military appeals court this week threw out a judge's order to forcibly shave Fort Hood shooting suspect, Nidal Hasan, and has removed the judge from the case. The U.S. Court Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled Monday that Colonel Gregory Gross didn't appear impartial while presiding over the trial of Major Hasan, who faces the death penalty if convicted in the 2009 shootings on the Texas Army post that killed 13 people and wounded more than two dozen. Hasan appealed after Gross ordered that he must be clean shaven before his court martial. Hasan says his beard is a requirement of his Muslim faith, but facial hair violates Army rules.

    Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz, joins us with more.

    So, Dorothy --