• With: Dan Henninger, Bret Stephens, Colin Levy, Kimberly Strassel

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," September 13, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report," President Obama's war plan. He's unveiled a strategy for taking on ISIS, but will it be enough to destroy the terror groups? And does he have the political resolve to see it through?

    Plus, a mixed reaction on Capitol Hill. But does the president need Congress to move ahead.

    And fresh developments in the IRS targeting probe, including a phone call that raises new questions about the Justice Department's role in spinning the scandal.


    BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support from partner's forces on ground.


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

    That was President Obama Wednesday laying out his plan for taking on the Islamic State. In a prime-time address, the president vowed to degrade and ultimately destroy the terror group through a coalition-led air campaign and support from Iraqi Kurdish and Syrian opposition forces on the ground.

    It's an effort the administration acknowledges could take years. So is it the right approach? And can the president be trusted to follow through?

    Let's ask Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; and foreign affairs correspondent, Bret Stephens.

    So, Bret, you've been urging the United States to act against ISIS for a long time. Now that the president finally has, pick up the good things first about his approach. What do you like about the strategy?

    BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Look, air power can be very effective, especially against an enemy that has decided to get itself into Humvees and tanks and armored equipment, which can be picked off from the air. It's no longer a guerilla movement. It's much more of a conventional force.

    GIGOT: Stop their freedom of moment.

    STEPHENS: Absolutely. We can have effective proxies, particularly in the Kurdish Peshmerga, if we give them the kind f military support that we need. And I think that's absolutely right.

    GIGOT: Do you have doubts about the Iraqi military forces as proxies?

    STEPHENS: Well, look, there are good questions to doubt. Certainly, the efficacy of Iraqis, although somewhat less so now that they have their backs to the wall and they really have to fight. And it's good finally to see the president adopt a strategy of supporting a moderate Syrian opposition, which, just a few weeks ago, he was telling us was a fantasy, could ever even emerge. At lea, there's that effort. However, the idea of no ground troops is --


    GIGOT: We'll get to that.

    But the Syria point seems to me to be a crucial one. Because as the president said, you have to deny the Islamic State safe haven. The fact he's doing that increases the chances considerably.

    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yeah, I think that's an important development. Previously, the U.S. involvement was limited to humanitarian assistance and protecting U.S. assets and individuals up near Erbil. Clearly, the Pentagon was straining under those restraints. He has essentially green-lighted our military planners in this area so that they are going to be expand their target.

    For instance, they ought to be able to carry out drone strikes against Islamic State leaders, and these guys are not hiding out in the mountains of Waziristan. They're a little bit more exposed than they are in Pakistan. And the fact that he's going into Syria suggests that at least the front has been expanded there. And I think that that gives us an opportunity to start hitting targets in Syria that will degrade --


    GIGOT: What about this issue of the ground troops? Because the president was at pains to say "no combat troops." But, number one, I don't think that's really accurate, because Special Forces are going to be there. At least training and probably, over time, carrying out kill missions or at least we're going to have to do that if we want to succeed. Because that's how we defeated the al Qaeda in Iraq during the surge in 2007.

    STEPHENS: That's right. By the way, when you say no ground troops, you're putting a lot of innocent civilian lives at risk because, ultimately, no air strikes, precision strikes, particularly when we have to go after Islamic State leaders in major population centers like Raqqa in Syria or Mosul in northern Iraq. I'm afraid the president is once again making -- putting down a marker which he's going to be very hard put to maintain while at the same time pursuing a goal of the ultimate destruction of ISIS.

    GIGOT: OK, with all of that, is this fight winnable?

    HENNINGER: Well, I think it may be -- it depends on what you mean by the fight shall if you talking --


    HENNINGER: -- just ISIL in Iraq --

    GIGOT: Can he degrade and destroy ISIS? That's his goal that he set out.

    HENNINGER: With the strategy he articulated, I do not think he can. I think it is the first step in a strategy that could develop. I don't see how you can limit our commitment to 475 trainers. It inevitably has to get bigger than that. The problem with that is you start to raise recollections of Vietnam, gradualism, gradual escalation. The question is, is this president committed enough to do what he needs to do to hit ISIS both in northern Iraq and Syria?

    STEPHENS: And that's the question for American allies. You're already beginning to see a lot of supposedly core members of the coalition carve out exceptions, that the Germans won't use combat forces, the Turkish aren't allowing us to use --


    GIGOT: They aren't.

    STEPHENS: They're not -- to use the air base to go after them. Why? Because they are persistent doubts about the quality of American leadership and the sincerity of the president's commitment. And I think we are better served having a short and effective war that uses a larger number of ground forces, heavier duty air strikes, rather than an ends twilight struggle that goes three or four years past the Obama's presidency and leaves it to its successor.

    GIGOT: Why take up the question of Syria? That seems to be the hardest strategic issue here. Because there's a lot of people who say, look, if we go after ISIS in Syria, we degrade them, that will help Bashar Assad's regime and his Iranian supporters. How do you go after ISIS in Syria without assisting Assad?

    STEPHENS: In fact, ISIS and Assad are in a kind of partnership. And there's a reason why the Assad regime helped ISIS sell oil. It is in the Assad regime interests to make this a fight between the regime and ISIS because it tells groups like Syrian Christians, look, you're going to be with us or be slaughtered. In fact, a striking ISIS creates the kind of space within the opposition for the Free Syrian Army to --


    GIGOT: But that means that training rebels is crucial here, the moderate rebels, the non-radical, the jihadists. But we haven't done that for three years and we don't know if that's going to work.