• With: Bret Stephens, Kim Strassel, Jason Riley, James Freeman

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," August 16, 2014. 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 talk about progress in ending the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. But is he committed to averting a military one and defeating the ISIS threat?

    Plus, she's criticizing the administration for its foreign policy, but is Hillary Clinton's hawkish turn for real? And will it help or hurt her in 2016?

    And Chris Christie is under fire from fellow Republicans for refusing to back one of their own. So why won't he support Andrew Cuomo's Republican challenger in New York?


    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We broke the ISIL siege of Mt. Sinjar, we helped vulnerable people reach safety and we helped save many innocent lives. Now, the situation remains dire for Iraqis subject to ISIL's terror throughout the country, and this includes minorities like Yazidis and Iraqi Christians. It also includes many Sunnis, Shia and Kurds.


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

    That was President Obama announcing Thursday that U.S.-led airstrikes have broken the siege by Islamic militants against religious minorities who were trapped on a mountain in northern Iraq, but acknowledging that the situation remains desperate for millions of Iraqis as the terror group continues its advances. So is the administration willing to do what it takes to defeat the ISIS threat?

    Let's ask Wall Street foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens.

    Bret, the president says we're not going back to war, no boots on the ground in Iraq, but aren't we already there, at war right now?

    BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Right. We're dropping bombs on ISIS. We're just not doing it in a way that is going to be effective and really turn back their advances, or much less defeating this terrorist caliphate state.

    GIGOT: But have we made progress in the last week? Because the Yazidi siege seems to have been broken. Maybe some are still --


    STEPHENS: That's what the president says. That's not what the Yazidis say.

    GIGOT: But there's no longer 40,000. Some of the Kurds are taking them off of that mountain. We've seen the threat, immediate threat to Erbil and the Kurdish territories diminish. We have Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki resigning, giving the new government a chance to get together. That's some progress. Aren't we better off this week than last?

    STEPHENS: That remains to be seen. The president is using sort of minimal means, plus keeping his fingers crossed and hoping every break goes his way. We do have the end of the Maliki era, eight-year era, but we don't know if the new prime minister, Prime Minister Abadi, will be able to form a government. He has 30 days. Will it be a competent government? Is it going to reach across the lines? Is he going to be able to organize the Iraqi army? Are the Kurds going to get the military assistance they need to meaningfully defeat ISIS?

    GIGOT: How would you answer those questions? Start with the Kurds. The French are now arming them. We seem to be giving them more weapons. That's progress.

    STEPHENS: Yes, but remember when ISIS took over Mosul, they also seized six divisions worth of military equipment. Maybe some of it ended up in Kurdish hands but most of it they seized. So it's a heck of a gamble, Paul, to say, well, let's hope that the French assistance to the Kurds is just sufficient for them at least maintain their grip on the Kurdish autonomous region.

    Also, remember, Paul, our strategic goal isn't simply to secure the Kurdish homeland, isn't simply to prevent Baghdad from falling into the ISIS hands. It's to defeat ISIS. Many people -- Ryan Crocker, our former ambassador --

    GIGOT: Ambassador.

    STEPHENS: -- Jim Jones, national security adviser to the president, in our own pages, saying the existence of ISIS, the existence of this terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East is a threat to American national security.

    GIGOT: But if the president doesn't want to put boots on the ground, even though -- well, we already have close to 1,000 there as advisers. But if he doesn't want to go in, in a major way, we're going to have to reconstitute and reenergize the Iraqi military. Would you agree with that?

    STEPHENS: It's essential.

    GIGOT: OK.

    STEPHENS: But it's very hard to see this mission being accomplished in any serious way without much more substantial American military support. And one of the very disheartening things about what's happened is we have promised the Iraqis all kinds of military equipment, two squadrons of --

    GIGOT: F-16s

    STEPHENS: -- F-16s --

    GIGOT: 36 planes.

    STEPHENS: -- maintenance on their M-1 tanks, attack helicopters, a rebuilt airstrip at Balad Airfield. And in point after point, we are failing to meet our most basic commitments. Just to give you an example, of those F- 16s, only one of them and maybe two has now been delivered and the Iraqi pilots are training somewhere in Arizona.

    GIGOT: What about those who say, look, we know we can kill them from the air. Our Air Force is dominant over there. But it won't defeat ISIS. So if we get in and escalate that way, what is going to happen is ISIS will adapt, as the enemy always does, they'll find sanctuaries and they'll go back into Syria and move their equipment there, as they already are, and we're going to end up actually being at war with them in a low-level way without accomplishing anything.

    STEPHENS: First off, air power can accomplish a lot. Bear in mind, this is open ground. We're not talking about the jungles of North Vietnam or Laos of Cambodia. And ISIS has gone from a guerilla movement to an actual army. So the amount of equipment you can take out, you can do a lot to create openings for the Iraqi army, for the Kurdish Peshmerga to put ISIS on its feet, to provide divisive balance for the good guys, the Iraqi army and the Kurds, to at least reverse the gains that ISIS is making.

    GIGOT: But are American troops, some substantial force, I'm talking 5,000, 10,000 of them, going to have to go back to -- as part of this effort, if we want to defeat ISIS?

    STEPHENS: Yes, I think they do. Frankly, 5,000 or 10,000 American troops should have always been maintained in Iraq. That is the tragic mistake that this administration made, which amusingly President Obama now blames on his predecessor, President Bush, by not getting out of Iraq.

    GIGOT: But sooner or later, there will be thousands of American troops back on the ground. Very briefly, you think that's right?

    STEPHENS: I think there should be, but I don't think this president will do it.

    GIGOT: OK. Well, I think he may get there. He may not have any choice.

    All right, when we come back, she is distancing herself from the foreign policy blunders of the Obama administration. But will Hillary Clinton's hawkish makeover work, or leave her more vulnerable in 2016?