This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," October 11, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," ISIS on the march. As Islamic State fighters make alarming gains in northern Syria and western Iraq, new questions about President Obama's plan to degrade and destroy the terror group.
Plus, as more than a dozen states brace for policy cancellations, will ObamaCare take center stage in the final weeks of the midterm campaign?
And blue state blues. Why some incumbent Democratic governors are in the fight of their political lives.
Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
New questions this week about whether President Obama's plan to destroy and degrade ISIS is working as Islamic State militants made alarming gains in Syria and western Iraq. Secretary of State John Kerry defended the strategy Wednesday suggesting that protecting the Syrian town of Kobani was not a priority of the U.S.-led coalition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Notwithstanding the crisis in Kobani, the original targets of our efforts have been the command-and-control centers, the infrastructure. We're trying to deprive the ISIL of the overall ability to wage this, not just in Kobani, but throughout Syria and into Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, "Wall Street Journal" columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stevens; and editorial board member, Matt Kaminski.
So, Matt, let's start with you. What do you make of John Kerry's explanation for why we're doing so little to stop the assault on Kobani?
MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I think they have sort of given up on it, obviously. And they're trying to explain themselves but it really won't fly because this is going to be a very major below to American credibility above all.
KAMINSKI: Because we have committed the greatest military in the world to destroying ISIS. Since that happened four weeks ago, ISIS has continued its march in Iraq but is taken taking over a really important town on the Turkish border.
GIGOT: Kobani, to be clear is in Syria.
KAMINSKI: It is, of course.
GIGOT: In Syria.
KAMINSKI: But it will be, again, a coup for ISIS. They will have shown that they can stand up to the super power and take it down.
BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: But it's not just -- it's not -- there's a symbolic element --
GIGOT: You don't disagree with him?
STEPHENS: I agree with everything he said. But there's also a political element, which is that if we are going to succeed without putting major forces on ground, we need the help of our Kurdish allies. The Kurdish Peshmerga right now is the most effective fighting force on the ground opposing ISIS. And this is sending a message to those Kurds in northern Iraq and other Kurdish regions that we really don't have their back, that we are not going to be their firm allies.
GIGOT: Why is Turkey, Dan -- they've got tanks on the border, their troops are there, it's a very powerful military, particularly relative to that region. Why are they not doing anything?
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I think, in large part, because the Turkish foreign minister said we're not going to commit ground troops to Kobani on our own. We would only do it within the context of the alliance. Shorthand for saying, look, United States, if we're not going on the ground, we're not going on the ground because we're not going to get hung out there by ourselves. That reflects the basis thing we've been talking about. The United States has half a strategy in Iraq and Syria. They are not acting as though they are committed to fully defeating ISIS. That was clear from what Secretary Kerry was saying. It was a very confused statement.
GIGOT: But the Turks are basically saying we also want the United States to take down Bashar Assad in Syria rather than bomb in a way that might help him. And they want a buffer zone inside Syria so the refugees can stay there protected rather than have to flow into Turkey. Don't they have a point? And instead, why do we have this quite unseemly, for a coalition, fight back and forth with the U.S. blaming Turkey and vice versa?
KAMINSKI: It is unseemly but this goes back years, over the difference between the U.S. and President Obama and most -- and actually all of America's allies in the Middle East. Since 2011, they've called on the U.S. to intervene in Syria against the Assad regime. We're finally acting now but we're not acting against the Assad regime. We're acting against ISIS, which is an important thing to do. But they say, why not Assad? Syria will not be solved unless Assad is also toppled.
GIGOT: You agree with that?
STEPHENS: Of course. That's right. And we're not going to be able to generate a moderate Sunni opposition if we're simply hitting ISIS and allowing Assad to gain that way. But with the Turks, there's a cynical element to what they are doing. Turkey has a large Kurdish minority population of its own.
STEPHENS: It has had to deal with Kurdish terrorist groups for many years. And there's a view in Turkey that this destruction of another Kurdish enclave solves a problem for them, basically diminishes what they see as a Kurdish threat.
GIGOT: But here's what the administration would respond to you guys. It would say, Dan, look, yeah, this is limited. John Kerry said, we're not going all in. We're going to degrade and destroy. We're not -- and if we follow your strategy, we'll be dragged into gradual escalation, and before you know it, we'll have ten thousand troops on the ground.
HENNINGER: Even at that level, Paul, degrade, perhaps, destroy, not even close. Let me give you a perfect example this week. The Syrian Kurds in Kobani, who are good fighters and have been standing up to ISIS, have been say this is city fighting. We need heavy weaponry to fight back against these guys. We don't have it. They do. Similarly, we would not arm the Free Syrian Army three years ago when we knew who they were. So we have just gone in with half measures and not to win.
GIGOT: But what's the response to the limited war point? We are fighting --
STEPHENS: But we are not degrading them. They are winning. If they are winning, we are not degrading them. So what we are doing is we're adding a propaganda victory to the strategic and military victories they are already gaining by saying not only have we consolidated our control over northern Syria, are consolidating over an bar province but we are doing so in the teeth of American military --
GIGOT: Are we going to be, therefore, facing a choice, the president facing a choice of either escalating this effort or essentially seeing it fail?
KAMINSKI: I think the problem is the less we do now, the more we'll inevitably have to do. This is sort of their response to the escalation argument that not doing it properly now for the last three years is setting us up for much more trouble down the road.