• With: Dan Henninger, James Freeman, Bret Stephens, Kim Strassel, Matt Kaminski, Allysia Finley

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," September 7, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," President Obama seeks Congress' blessing for a strike on Syria. Will he get it? We'll look at the politics playing out on Capitol Hill and the best military options if America does attack.

    Plus, the Justice Department sues Louisiana to block school vouchers for minority children, all in the name of racial equality.

    Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

    Well, a scramble for support on Capitol Hill this week following President Obama's decision to seek congressional approval for a strike on Syria. A divided Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly passed a resolution authorizing military action, previewing the challenge ahead for the administration when lawmakers return from summer recess on Monday.

    Speaking in Stockholm, Sweden, Wednesday, Mr. Obama made it clear he won't take the fall if Congress fails to act.


    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My credibility is not on the line. America and Congress' credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important.


    GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger; foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens; assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

    So, Dan, you wrote this week that you think Republicans in Congress should support the president's call for the use of force resolution. Why?

    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, let me preface it by saying that Barack Obama does not make it easy to convey this point of view.

    GIGOT: Why?

    HENNINGER: Because he's done such a poor job defending his own position and the institution of the presidency, which is my point. This is not merely about a country called Syria or about a president named Barack Obama. It's about the institution of the presidency, which is committed to the United States in this region. It's also about the fact the world is not a static place, Paul. It is volatile. It is always volatile. If the United States, Congress, its legislature, is seen handing the president of the United States a defeat on this, pulling him back out of the world into Washington, then places like the Korean peninsula, the south China Sea, which is being disputed by China and Japan, or even Iran and the idea of nuclear proliferation there, all these things will start to be enhanced. I think that is the risk we are running by defeating this resolution.

    GIGOT: James -- James, 40 months to go on this presidency.


    GIGOT: It would be quite a signal to the world. What do you think?

    FREEMAN: It would be great if we had another president. I think Congress should vote no because the truth is they can't vote to give the president credibility just as they can't vote to give him humility or wisdom. I think as you look at it here, basically, he is asking a lot of people, given that he hasn't defined the mission clearly, and ultimately, it comes down to two possible outcomes, and they are both bad.

    GIGOT: What about the that signal that Dan made, the point that Dan made that if Congress denies him, with this much time left in his presidency, you're going to send a signal to the world that it's open season.


    FREEMAN: He's been sending those signals nonstop the past week, and this is, I know, why it's so difficult to support him, even the red line. There is an argument once the president of the United States draws a red line, we ought to back him up. He basically said, I didn't draw that red line. Wasn't me.


    So he's made it very unclear what he is doing there. He originally started out saying he wanted to make sure he didn't hurt Assad. Now after talking to John McCain, it seems like he is willing to consider victory --


    -- but then that victory leads to what? A civil war there that I know he doesn't want to engage in.

    GIGOT: Bret, what about the point that James makes about the inadequacy, uncertainty of the military strategy here that it looks just to be punitive for the sake of responding to the chemical attacks and, therefore, is inadequate?

    BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Look, as you've pointed out, you go to war with the president you have.


    STEPHENS: Rumsfeld's famous line. It was useful to hear the president seem to offer a much more robust military response in demand to people like John McCain, but that path is made much more difficult for McCain, for Lindsey Graham, for the more hawkish side of the Republican Party, when they are fighting a war with the Rand Paul wing --

    GIGOT: Right. But you still think it's worthwhile?

    STEPHENS: Absolutely. It's good politics. It's the right policy. It's good politics because I think President Obama is desperate to blame the Republican Congress for a defeat, for tying his hands. I think he would like that. He wouldn't be hurt by it. And it's the right policy because the alternative is that Congress, which as Dan said, is constraining the president when he is, in fact, prepared to act against a rogue regime using chemical weapons, tied to Hezbollah, tied to Iran. These are not trivial American national security interests. We ought to be cognizant that this is a regime that is a state sponsor of terrorism using weapons of mass destruction.

    GIGOT: What does it -- what message would it send to Iran, Dan, if Congress denied the president the ability to attack on Syria? Would they assume it's open season for the rest of this presidency?

    HENNINGER: I think they would. The first thing they would do is understand that their supplying of arms to Assad, which they are doing by flying over Iraq, could continue and increase, augmented by the Russians, raising the possibility that Assad would win. And if Assad wins, you've got the Iranians creating a kind of hegemony in the Middle East. Turkey and Saudi Arabia would have to, I think, come to a condominium with Iran.

    GIGOT: OK.

    Kim, let's talk about the politics. Does the president have the vote right now as it stands here on the weekend?

    KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: He does not. Here's the problem. The people that would be most likely to support a president in strong military action, the Republicans, are, for all those reasons just set out in this show, not likely to rally around him -- a lack of strategy, the lack of work he's put into rallying public support -- which means that the real list here is going to be on the Democratic Party, the president's party. They are the party that is genetically against any sort of action overseas. You've got dozens of Democrats who have come out already in opposition to this. The president has been gone all week. His party is fracturing. He's got a lot of work to do if he wants to get this over --


    GIGOT: Kim, the Republican speaker, John Boehner, and his deputy, Eric Cantor, both came out earlier and supported the president. So that would be a signal to some of the Republican members, look, you have political cover if you want to support the president. Are they whipping this --

    STRASSEL: They are not whipping this vote. What you hear when you talk to Republican members, Paul, is immense frustration. They go out and they have -- they are talking to their constituents, they are home on recess. Public sentiment is running about 9-1 against this. They keep saying, we need -- the cover we need is from the president who is the only one who can go out and make an address and convince the American people that this is the right thing to do.