• With: Dan Henninger, Bret Stephens, Dorothy Rabinowitz, Collin Levy

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," February 14, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," the administration lays out its new national security strategy and puts climate change on par with terrorism. Are they downplaying the real threat?

    Plus, President Obama's war irresolution. Should Congress endorse his ambivalent ISIS strategy?

    And move over, Scott Walker. A new Midwestern governor is taking on public-sector unions. So can Bruce Rauner clean up the mess in Illinois?

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

    The White House released its 2015 national security strategy last week with Susan Rice telling a Washington, D.C., audience that, quote, "As a nation, we're stronger than we have been in a very long time." The president's national security adviser accused administration critics of lacking perspective and claimed America no longer faced existential threats.


    SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: While the dangers we face may be more numerous and varied, they're not of the existential nature we confronted during World War II or during the Cold War. We cannot afford to be buffeted by alarmism and a nearly instantaneous news cycle.


    GIGOT: In an interview with vox.com, Monday, President Obama agreed that the media has overhyped the threat from terrorism while downplaying the risk of climate change, a charge White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, doubled down on a day later.


    JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The point that the president is making is that there are many more people on an annual basis who have to confront the impact, the direct impact on their lives of climate change, or on the spread of a disease than on terrorism.


    GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens; and editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz.

    So, Dan, not too long ago, Eric Holder, the attorney general, said that the threat of terrorism kept him up at night. And Chuck Hagel, the defense secretary, soon-to-depart, said that the world is exploding all over. Now, we get the president and Susan Rice telling us, well, calm down, really, we're pretty safe, don't worry about it. Whose message are we supposed to believe here?

    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST, DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, we do have to come up with an answer, don't we, Paul, because if you --


    GIGOT: Because we asked the question.

    HENNINGER: There's that. Anyone who's been watching this has started going, what is this all about? So we'll come up with what I think is an explanation. Barack Obama is in the last two years of the presidency. He does have an agenda. It is, by and large, a domestic agenda. A little history. Go back to the presidency of Lyndon Johnson. There was a famous phrase during the Johnson presidency, it was "guns versus butter," spending on the Vietnam War versus spending on the Great Society. It was a dilemma because it was hard to do both. I'm convinced that Barack Obama has concluded he's not going to allow the last two years of his presidency to be dragged into what he calls a long-term overseas expensive military commitment. He simply won't go there. He wants to take that money and spend it on his domestic policy.

    BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: The way to understand this national security strategy, it's the third term of the Jimmy Carter administration that we're in. Jimmy Carter came into the White House, gave a speech in, I think, 1977, and said we have to get over our inordinate fear of Communism. That was the mantra -- at least until the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, that was the mantra of his term. Now, what the president is essentially telling us, along with Susan Rice, is we have to get over our inordinate fear of terrorism, we have to get over our inordinate fear of Vladimir Putin, and our inordinate fear of Iran acquiring nuclear capability. The essential ides is that this is a president who believes we need nation building at home. And just as Dan mentioned with the guns versus butter dilemma, he wants the money for butter. So as a result, he has to convince Americans that everything they're seeing on their TV screens is some kind of illusion, it's overhyped, we needn't worry about it.

    GIGOT: So Susan Rice and the president are really the people we should believe here? They're the ones telling us what the real administration policy is.

    DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Well, here's the thing that I wonder at. It's very dangerous for a member of this administration to invoke World War II because, ultimately, it reminds us of a time when the president of the United States understood that if our allies abroad were faltering, we would be living at the point of a gun. And he said this to an isolationist Congress. This is a time when one vote separated us from the draft, when we desperately need an army, and General Marshall called begging. It is an amazing error for them to bring us back to a time when there was leadership of the United States. And


    GIGOT: But, OK, Dorothy, fine. But they're saying, basically, look, this isn't the Hitler threat. This isn't even the Soviet Union threat. This is a rag tag -- I'm putting words in their mouth here -- but it's a bunch of largely disorganized terrorists, who are -- they are spread out all over and they can hit here or there, but that doesn't threaten the essence, the existence of the U.S.

    RABINOWITZ: But here's the thing. This is precisely what people said at the time of World War II. They had signs saying, "Let us fight Hitler from here," not go to war, not put boots on the ground. These were also very distant threats.

    STEPHENS: We just interviewed a senior NATO commander who is saying - - an American commander, who is saying we expect that Russia will be in a war in five to six years.

    GIGOT: That Putin believes that he will be.

    STEPHENS: Right.


    GIGOT: Preparing as such.

    STEPHENS: So for the first time in 25 years, the security of Europe is seriously in jeopardy. We are looking at an Iran that's coming so close to a nuclear capability that, as Henry Kissinger recently reminded us, it will cause a chain of proliferation in the world's most volatile region. We've just learned that ISIS has as many as 20,000 foreign fighters, of whom perhaps some 5,000 have Western passports with visa -- with visa waivers in order to get into the United States. So it really makes you wonder what kind of lotus land Susan Rice is living in.

    GIGOT: I also think that if you -- that the threat is existential if these jihadists ever get a nuclear weapon.

    HENNINGER: And even if you accept their premise, Paul, the next question is, are they doing enough to meet the threat as it exists? I mean, just late this week, we had Yemen overrun by an al Qaeda army. The secretary general of the United Nations said Yemen is a collapsing before our eyes. We cannot stand by and watch. But it looks like we are. We have.

    RABINOWITZ: And the amnesia. What does it take for a national security head to say we have no existential threat when we have witnessed not long ago the destruction of the World Trade Center, where 3,000 Americans who were killed? Nothing like this ever happened in the 1940s.

    GIGOT: Briefly, Bret, the deal with the -- the cease-fire with Ukraine this week, victory for Putin?

    STEPHENS: Yeah. Of course. This is a tremendous victory for Putin because he alternates between the use of brute force and fake diplomacy. He's now in the fake diplomacy stage. We'll see if this cease-fire lasts at all, but it won't. This will entice further aggression.

    GIGOT: All right, thank you all.

    When we come back, President Obama's war irresolution. He's begging Congress to try his hands and endorse his ambivalent ISIS strategy. So should they comply?