This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," February 21, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," as jihad spreads to Libya and beyond, the White House convenes a summit on "violent extremism," causing many to wonder if we can win a war against an enemy we refuse to name.
Plus, pro-Russian rebels seize a key Ukrainian town, exposing Sunday's cease-fire a sham. Where will an emboldened Vladimir Putin head next?
And President Obama's immigration rebuke. What this week's ruling means for the administration's attempt to govern by executive action.
And the bitter showdown over funding on Capitol Hill.
Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
ISIS extended its bloody reach into Libya this week with the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians. But as the Obama White House hosted a three day summit on countering what they call "violent extremism," the president and his staff once again refused to use the term "Islamic" to describe the threat, a distinction, they say, is necessary in part to deprive terror groups of legitimacy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders, holy warriors in defense of Islam. We must never accept the premise that they put forth, because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders. They are terrorists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz; and "Global View" columnist, Bret Stephens, author of the new book "America In Retreat."
So, Dorothy, the president's summit was supposed to rally support for his strategy to counter ISIS and violent extremism, as they call it. Did it accomplish it?
DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: No. I think it's remarkable how clear it is that it did not accomplish that and that it ran into a wall of skepticism and opposition that you can just feel. You can feel in the commentary. And you hear Americans listening --
GIGOT: And what is the nature of that? Why didn't it succeed?
RABINOWITZ: Well, because they recognize, at long last, that these little explanations about Islam -- the president, for example, has this opportunity each time to say it is the responsibility of all of us to reject the idea that Islam has anything to do with these groups like ISIL. And Americans are sitting there and saying, "Really? It's my responsibility?" No, it is not our responsibility, Mr. President. The responsibility is to defeat this bloody enemy out to destroy. And it is not our responsibility to take on these politically correct abstractions with which you have fed this --
GIGOT: But, Dan, OK, Dorothy's point is often -- I mean, that's a frequently heard point. What about this idea that the president says, look, we cannot confer on them Islamic legitimacy, which using the term would do.
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, I mean, nobody is conferring that sort of legitimacy on them. I think, basically, Paul, that this is a thing -- it's a cover story to divert attention from what Dorothy is talking about. Rather than debating the nature of Islam, we should be debating the operational details of taking them out. But Barack Obama is making it clear he's not going to in anyway escalate the operations against Islamic State. We've got these limited sorties and we've engaged what he calls a coalition, and that's it, and he's not going beyond that. But I think the president is falling behind the curve, Paul. Public opinion, at least reflected in the polls, seems to be getting greater in terms of going over there. 67 percent say the Islamic State is a clear-and-present danger, and something like 57 percent apartment greater ground game over there.
GIGOT: Bret, let's go to this idea of the use of "Islamic," because some of the president's defenders, Fareed Zakaria, for example, the columnist, says "This is a semantic side show, it isn't really important, and we're focusing on the wrong thing." Do you agree with that?
BRET STEPHENS, GLOBAL VIEW COLUMNIST: No, I don't. I think it's very important to recognize that part of the reason that Islamic State has been so successful politically and militarily is that it is very much Islamic. Its vision, its aims, its method, its theology is all deeply rooted in Islam. And it's simply factually in error to suppose that somehow it has nothing to do with Islam. Nobody argues that it speaks for a majority, or even a significant minority of Muslims, but you can't really confront this kind of enemy and understand why it has been as successful as it is if you don't understand the culture and theology from which it is springing. So what the president is doing is engaging in a semantic diversion, which takes our eye off the ideological power of this movement.
GIGOT: What about this idea, Dorothy, offered by the president and secretary of state, that to counter this movement you have to offer more economic opportunities? You have to reduce poverty. Go to the root causes argument.
RABINOWITZ: That was really wonderfully out of this world, and everybody recognized that. The only thing that was missing in their recipe was classes in self-esteem for the young Muslims.
GIGOT: So you don't think that's the root cause?
RABINOWITZ: This panacea has been pushed down the throats of Americans since the terrorism struggle began in the early 1970s. Root causes, that's where we got --
GIGOT: Well, most of -- many of these terrorists aren't coming from poverty background.
RABINOWITZ: That's exactly right.
GIGOT: They are middle class, upper middle class, very well-to-do. It's the ideology that animates them, religious fervor that animates them, not some grievance about their class status.
RABINOWITZ: That's right. The problem is -- and you see it exemplified in the answers. If I may bring up Ms. Harf from the State Department, who made a great show. But you want these young men to be given jobs. You've heard this all the time. OK. Why aren't they making businesses? Think of a mind that can't conceive of this transcendent ideology that really does motivate these. It's beyond people living in the world with Facebook and living in the world of America cannot imagine the fiery power of this battle. And this is what the administration --
GIGOT: But I want to get to you briefly and talk about Libya. The disintegration has been so notable in the rise of ISIS there. What happened so quickly and to have things go so bad?
STEPHENS: Well, very simply, after we had defeated Gadhafi, we essentially abandoned Libya. There was no follow up. There was no post-war operation. There was no attempt to shore up the transitional government, which, in fact, at the very beginning was rejected -- rejected Islamism entirely with any kind of meaningful support. So it's once again a case of declaring victory far too soon, getting out, and then seeing things fall to pieces. Exactly what happened in Iraq. It tells us that we simply can't create power vacuums around the world and expect them to be filled by anything other than the kind of chaos that you find throughout much of the Middle East.
It's a good thing --
GIGOT: Right. Right.
STEPHENS: -- that President Sisi, of Egypt, is attempting to step in but it should be the president of the United States.
GIGOT: All right, Bret.
When we come back, pro Russian rebels take a key rail town in eastern Ukraine, leaving last Sunday's cease-fire in tatters. So where will Vladimir Putin head next?
GIGOT: Russian-backed separatists drove Ukraine's army from a key railway hub in the eastern part of the country this week just days after the two sides agreed to a cease-fire. Thousands of Ukrainian troops fled the besieged town of Debaltseve, making fresh speculation that Moscow is attempting to carve out a land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula.