This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," March 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," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulls off a big win in Israel. Is his victory a defeat for President Obama? And what does it mean for the emerging nuclear deal with Iran?
Plus, Republicans in Congress face a major governing test as differences over defense spending threaten to derail their budget blueprint.
And silencing global warming skeptics. We'll tell you about the Democratic campaign to intimidate professors and organizations that dare question their climate change agenda.
Welcome to the Journal Editorial Report. I'm Paul Gigot.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sailed to victory in Israel this week after a hard-fought battle both at home where he faced a strong challenge from the left and here in the U.S. where the administration appeared at times to be openly hostile to his re-election bid. So is Netanyahu's decisive win Tuesday a defeat for President Obama? And what does it mean for the emerging nuclear deal with Iran?
Let's ask Wall Street Journal "Global View" correspondent, Bret Stephens, who is just back from the Middle East.
So, Bret, let's talk about Israel first. What does Netanyahu's surprisingly comfortable victory mean for U.S./Israel relations? Are we headed for a rougher road?
BRET STEPHENS, GLOBAL VIEW CORRESPONDENT: Well, to judge by the way that President Obama has behaved since that victory, I suspect we are. This was a humiliation for Obama. Remember, in the past --
GIGOT: That's a strong word. He wasn't on the ballot.
STEPHENS: Well, in a sense, he was. And in a sense, Prime Minister Netanyahu might thank President Obama for the assist he provided in the margin of his victory.
GIGOT: How so?
STEPHENS: Well, because for a lot of Israelis, this came to be seen as a contest not between Netanyahu and his left-wing rivals but sort of a question of Netanyahu versus Obama. Would Obama's push against the prime minister be vindicated by the results at the polls? And I think a lot of Israelis did not want to give Obama that satisfaction even if they have plenty of misgivings about the prime minister and his style of leadership.
GIGOT: OK, so the prime minister had come here two weeks ago to talk about Iran. What is the impact going to be of this victory on any negotiations that President Obama wants to finish with Iran?
STEPHENS: Well, I think he's going to see a much more vigorous Israeli opposition. The contender in the Israeli election, Isaac Herzog, had promised more of a go along, get along approach with the United States even if they had precisely the same --
GIGOT: But it will affect President Obama's instincts and decisions.
STEPHENS: No, I don't think it will have any impact. The only difference is that you now have a real Israeli wild card in terms of how they react to a potential deal.
GIGOT: You mean the implication there is potentially use of military force?
STEPHENS: The implication is that the Israelis may be much more aggressive and act as freelancers in the region rather than simply go along with whatever dispensation the U.S. comes up with.
GIGOT: Briefly, on the Palestinian issue, you had the prime minister seeming to flip-flop, saying -- reversing his previous position that he was in favor of at the end of the day of a two-state solution and then reversing that in the campaign, and then afterwards saying, well, we can have that ultimately. Is that going to revive the talks at all? Or are we'll likely see that --
STEPHENS: No. Look, the talks were dead anyway. This was -- this was bad politics. It was desperate politics by Netanyahu before the election and it's clumsy politics now. But he was reflecting on the reality. Those talks were dead. These talks won't happen as long as Hamas is in charge of Gaza, so long as the Palestinian leadership remains opposed to sort of the makings of a realistic settlement with the Israelis. So he was just giving voice to a certain reality that it's incredibly unlikely that any deal would emerge during what remains of his time in office, whether it's two, three, four years, probably several years after that. The question is, does the administration use this as an excuse to now go a unilateral route and perhaps vote for a Palestinian state at the U.N.?
GIGOT: Do you think it will?
STEPHENS: I suspect not. I think the politics of that will be very tricky for the administration, despite clear democratic disdain for Netanyahu.
GIGOT: And its main priority is getting assenting Congress for the deal --
STEPHENS: That's right.
GIGOT: Let's talk about your interview with the president of Egypt, general -- former general, al Sisi. You had two hours with him. So how -- and he took over after the deposed the Muslim Brotherhood president.
GIGOT: He's getting a lot of criticism in the U.S., particularly from the left, for being a dictator. What were your impressions and what do you think he means for U.S. interests in the Middle East?
STEPHENS: First of all, he's not a dictator. He's wildly popular among Egyptians. He went through an election. So to describe him as a dictator is wrong.
Secondly, the great surprise with Sisi is just how vocally not only opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood he's been, but how vocally he's called for reform in Islam. We spent a great deal of time talking about just what means. He said, listen, central to Islam, there's no compulsion in religion. This was --
GIGOT: He's a devout Muslim himself.
STEPHENS: He's a devout Muslim, which is why his predecessor, the Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsey, had selected him as defense minister back in 2012. And then came out surprised when Sisi led the movement to depose the Muslim Brotherhood.
GIGOT: Well, you say he's not a dictator but his methods can be rough. I mean, he has -- the government has arrested journalists --
GIGOT: -- for example. It has arrested -- mass arrests of the Muslim Brotherhood. That's giving cause for some people in the United States to say let's cut off aid to Egypt.
STEPHENS: I think that would be incredibly foolish for the United States to do. Look, you're dealt the leaders -- you're handed the foreign leaders you get. No, he is not a dictator. Is he a liberal? No, he's not that either. And we discussed that at some length. He said, look, this country needs security and prosperity, and when we get those things, liberals should be able to demonstrate all day and all night as far as he's concerned. But he says, I'm a man who took over a country that was at the edge of an abyss and we have to deal with the basics of national survival before we move on to --