• With: Bret Stephens, Matt Kaminski, Dan Henninger, Collin Levy, James Freeman, Jason Riley

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," June 21, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," as Iraq sinks further into chaos, the debate heats up here at home over just who is responsible for the meltdown and what America should do about it.

    Plus, the mysterious case of the disappearing e-mails. Is Congress buying the IRS's latest story?

    And as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, Jason Riley looks at whether a half century of liberal social policies have helped or hurt black Americans.

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region and American interests as well.

    (END VIDEO CLIP)

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

    That was President Obama Thursday announcing plans to send up to 300 American military advisers to Iraq to help the government battle Islamic insurgents. The rapidly deteriorating situation there has opened up a heated debate here at home over whether to intervene, and just who is responsible for what went wrong.

    Joining the panel, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; Foreign Affairs columnist, Bret Stephens; and editorial board member, Matt Kaminski.

    So, Bret, 300 military advisers, air strikes maybe, but not now, unless they get their political act together. Can you detect a strategy here?

    BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Yeah. The strategy is to have the appearance of strategy to offer a kind of image of action. 300 people -- this is not Thermopylae. 300 people are not going to stop -- American advisers, even if they're special forces, are not going to reverse the gains that ISIS, which is an al Qaeda affiliate, has made in taking over geographically close to maybe a quarter or even a third of the country. They might be able to help the Iraqi government on the margins, but at best, it's a containment strategy for al Qaeda. It's not an effort to reverse the gain gains that al Qaeda has made.

    GIGOT: A de facto partition, would that be the result? With the Kurds in the north, a rump Shiite state in the east that is subservient to Iran, and then this potential terrorist state in the west?

    MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Well, that's a win-win for Iran and the terrorists.

    GIGOT: But is that the likeliest outcome, Matt? Do you think that's the likeliest outcome?

    KAMINSKI: I think, at this point, I must say that is the likeliest outcome because you have -- we've put in 300 people, but that's really not enough to either change the military facts on the ground, nor is it enough to buy enough leverage in Baghdad to make the political changes necessary to bring about a kind of Sunni/Shia reconciliation. But remember --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: But why is that point? Because they're also leaking, the White House is leaking they want the prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, who they blame for all of this, to go. Is that likely to work?

    KAMINSKI: No. I think it's going to make Maliki actually try and stay in place and it will basically bring the Shia, the majority Shia, around Maliki because the Americans are telling him to go. But I think, remember, that partition is a terrible outcome for Iraq. It's going to be very painful to separate neighborhoods and it will be the final defeat of what we started and paid very heavily in 2003 by going in.

    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: But let's focus on one more piece of the possible partition, and that's if this al Qaeda affiliate -- it's al Qaeda -- is able to --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: It's jihadist.

    HENNINGER: It's jihadists.

    GIGOT: -- formerly, al Qaeda.

    HENNINGER: If they're able to establish themselves in central Iraq, this will essentially be what al Qaeda did in Afghanistan back in the early 2000s, except this will be a much more convenient, financially well supported area for them to do planning operations to take terror into the world as they did before. And the American people should make no mistake - - this is an outward-moving terrorist force. They are not going to establish a little state there, do Sharia Law, and live happily ever after. This is a centrifugal voice.

    STEPHENS: And this is why I think voices like Rand Paul, who had an op-ed in our pages just this week, are so misguided. This is not simply an Iraqi civil war. An al Qaeda or al Qaedastan in northern Iraq is a threat to the entire region and it's a threat to the United States. We already see reports of European jihadis, even American jihadis getting training in a place like this. Afghanistan was -- the Taliban was a harbor, was a state sponsor of al Qaeda. This is al Qaeda itself in control.

    GIGOT: If it is that large a threat -- and I agree with you -- then why not reach out to Iran, as some in the administration want to do, to help mitigate that threat? Where would you put the very -- is that al Qaedastan potential at the top, followed by Iran, or are they the same?

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: Why not deal with Iran to help?

    STEPHENS: Well, because we should -- we have two enemies, one is the Shiite terrorist-sponsoring state and the other is a potential Sunni state sponsor of -- Sunni terrorists. So we are not -- this is not World War II. We do not have to enlist the Soviet Union in order for us to defeat Nazi Germany. OK? We are a powerful -- we are the world's super power. And if we had the political wherewithal, we could reverse the gains ISIS has made without making a concession to the Iranians or giving them an additional --

    (CROSSTALK)

    GIGOT: But wouldn't that require a major intervention, that is, military intervention? Not just air strikes, not just 300 advisers but a lot more deployed American troops on the ground to be able to assist the Iraqis? You said yourself they're not able to do it by themselves.

    STEPHENS: Right. And that's exactly right.

    GIGOT: So you're acknowledging it would take that intervention?

    STEPHENS: Of course it would. And by the way, this -- we -- if Americans may have short memories. We were attacked by al Qaeda on 9/11. This president came to office saying, I'm not going to have these fake wars against, say, Saddam Hussein, I'm going to go after al Qaeda. Well, here it is. We are doing next to nothing about it.

    GIGOT: If Rand Paul is against it, and a lot of Republicans haven't been speaking up, this president isn't going to do that kind of strategy, is he?

    KAMINSKI: I don't think so. And that's the other scary scenario here. You have al Qaeda winning. You have Iran winning. Because for Iran, it's fine to have a Sunni terrorist in the north. And you have a lack of leadership here on both the left and the right. But at some point, you hope nothing catastrophic needs to happen, but at some point, you will need to really radically shift policies.

    GIGOT: But Iran doesn't necessarily really want to fight there as well. I mean, this would be permanent civil war there, or fighting between the Shia and the Sunnis.

    HENNINGER: That's true. I think, as you suggested, Paul, what they would be willing to settle for is basically having control of southern Iraq. And it would be bloody, but the outcome would be them in southern Iraq and al Qaeda in northern Iraq.