JOURNAL EDITORIAL REPORT

Debate Continues Over Nature of Al Qaeda Threat Today

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey weighs in on policies implemented since 9/11 attacks

 

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," September 10, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," 10 years after the September 11th attacks, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey reflects on the nature of the terrorist threat today and our policies for combating it.

Plus, President Obama lays out his latest jobs agenda. Will any of it work? And can any of it pass a Republican house?

And Rick Perry's debate debut. The Texas governor mixes it up with his chief rival and defends his views on Social Security. Will it hurt him as the campaign stretches on?

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

As America prepares to mark the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks tomorrow and in the midst of new terror warnings, the debate continues over the nature of the al Qaeda threat today and the policies being used to combat it, including those employed over the last decade by the Bush and Obama administrations and by the New York City Police Department.

Michael Mukasey is the former attorney general of the United States. And as a federal judge, he presided over the prosecution of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers.

Judge, great to have you back on the program.

MICHAEL MUKASEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Good to be here.

GIGOT: So, Leon Panetta, now the defense secretary, former CIA director, said recently that al Qaeda is on the verge of strategic defeat. How does that sound to you? Plausible? And what does it say about the ongoing nature of the threat?

MUKASEY: Sounds completely plausible. But regrettably, it doesn't say enough. We are not fighting a motorcycle gang called al Qaeda where there's some limited bunch of guys with the --

(LAUGHTER)

-- with the jackets that say al Qaeda on the back. As long as we get all of those, we are done. It's a very potent force, lots of assets, a great organization ability, obviously a great attraction, particularly when Usama bin Laden was alive, even under Ayman al Zawahiri.

That said, they have been dealt an enormous blow, not only with the death of bin Laden but with the elimination of a cadre of upper echelon people. A lot of their best people are gone. But al Qaeda is not, by any means, a limited threat.

GIGOT: So what have we done right since 9/11 to help us reduce the threat from at least some of al Qaeda?

MUKASEY: A number of things. I think we have in place a robust intelligence-gathering system, thanks to Congress and the Bush administration. The Bush administration pushed it through. Congress passed it. Our intelligence gatherers are more enabled today, certainly, than they were on 9/11. And they have in place tools to use and they use them very effectively.

GIGOT: So that terror surveillance program, in your view -- that was so controversial -- has been crucial?

MUKASEY: It has been crucial. And it was initially implemented outside the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

GIGOT: Right.

MUKASEY: It was folded within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and continues to this day and continues to save lives. We had an interrogation program run by the CIA that also saved lives. We scrapped that. I think that's regrettable. Luckily, we don't need it as much today as we did then because we know a whole lot more about al Qaeda and other organizations than we did then. That was done to gather intelligence, a lot of which we already have.

But what we don't have is a classified interrogation program that would allow us basically to say to anybody we capture, you better disclose information or else.

GIGOT: So the attacks on that politically, which have reigned it in to where we can just use the Army Field Manuel basically, which is very limited. That is a setback in your view?

MUKASEY: Big setback. That's been available on the Internet for years. It's used as a training manual by terrorists.

GIGOT: So they know exactly what they're being trained --

MUKASEY: Absolutely.

GIGOT: -- to avoid?

MUKASEY: Correct.

GIGOT: So but you're saying that we don't have -- we may not need it now, but since the threat changes, evolves, we could, in the future, need it as much as we did in 2003?

MUKASEY: At any minute. It depends on who we capture.

GIGOT: So what else have we done wrong, do you think?

MUKASEY: I think part of what we've done wrong is not to confront some very basic issues. We don't have a coherent detention policy. We don't --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: But we have Guantanamo. That's still open. We have Bagram.

(CROSSTALK)

MUKASEY: Nobody is checking into Guantanamo. And that is, in part, due to a standoff between Congress and the president. The president tried to bring some people over here from Guantanamo to be tried in the southern district of New York and you'll recall the uproar.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: I do, indeed, yes.

MUKASEY: And Congress passed legislation making it impossible to bring anybody. As a result, nobody goes to Guantanamo. The last fellow we captured, Warsami (ph), was put on a ship so that he wasn't brought to Guantanamo. He could be taken off the ship and brought to the United States for trial. So now we have this binary choice. It's either military commissions or an Article III trial.

GIGOT: Where should we go on that? Do we need -- obviously, you're suggesting we need a greater political debate on this and a new consensus.

MUKASEY: I think we do need a new consensus. I'm not certain that the military, whose primary job is to win wars, and they do that by killing people and blowing stuff up. And that's -- they do that very well.

GIGOT: Right.

MUKASEY: And that's their mission. They're not there to run a parallel justice system. And although we've have military commissions in the past, we've never done it long term.

GIGOT: You have seen it from the inside and the outside, dealing with terrorists. What about the argument you hear that we are a lot worse off in terms of our civil liberties than we were 10 years ago because of all of the security apparatus we have had to do, whether it be the airports, the surveillance, the interrogation, the Patriot Act and all of that.

MUKASEY: Our civil liberties are just as much intact today as they were on 9/11. Yes, we have the great inconvenience and, to a certain extent, the charade of the airport searches.

(LAUGHTER)

But you rarely hear people actually complain about that when it is going on. Very rarely do you hear people griping about it. They put up with it.

GIGOT: It is an inconvenience more than anything else.

MUKASEY: It is an inconvenience. Correct. So far as loss of civil liberties, I don't know of anybody whose free speech rights have actually been inhibited. I've heard many people speaking about how difficult it is for them to speak -- a certain contradiction there -- and complaining about how difficult it is to complain, and fanaticizing about the possibility that the FBI is listening in on their telephone conversations.

GIGOT: Is that -- presumably, that does happen.

MUKASEY: No, it doesn't.

GIGOT: It doesn't?

MUKASEY: No.

GIGOT: Really?

MUKASEY: Well, there --

GIGOT: Well, I guess if you have a warrant I guess it does?

MUKASEY: Yes, if you have a warrant, it does. And -- there are 13,000 FBI agents world wide, world wide, all of whom go to work every day with one horror in mind, and that is the possibility of an attack. If you think they have spare time to listen to peoples' conversations, you are very much mistaken.

GIGOT: All right, Judge Mukasey, thanks so much. Very informative. We appreciate you're being here.

When we come back, President Obama's $450 billion job's plan. How much will his proposals help the economy? And will he get them through a Republican House? Our panel weighs in next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In fact, this larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government and refund everybody's money and let everyone write their own rules and tell everyone they are on their own, it is not who we are. It is not the story of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: That was President Obama on Thursday night urging Congress to give government one more chance to save the ailing economy. Included in his $450 million American Jobs Act are more temporary tax cuts to spur hiring, spending to rebuild infrastructure and extended assistance to the unemployed. So will work and can it pass the Republican House?

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; editorial board member, Jason Riley; and columnist, Mary Anastasia O'Grady.

Dan, just quickly, at the top, that quote from the president, do you know anybody that thinks that?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I think I talk to a guy on a bar stool --

(LAUGHTER)

HENNINGER: -- who wanted to characterize the opposition that way.

GIGOT: I don't even think Ron Paul believes that, the light house Libertarian.

(LAUGHTER)

HENNINGER: Yes.

GIGOT: Any way --

HENNINGER: But that one of the -- you know, that was -- he tried to give this serious speech, but he couldn't help himself, and he has to -- you listen to something like that and you say, is this just in there for political affect or does he really believe it. I think the answer is both of those things. He really believes that the opposition's position is basically to dismantle everything and go back to survival of the fittest, tooth and claw, and let everyone fend for themselves.

(CROSSTALK)

OBAMA: And he's the guy standing in the -- preventing that.

GIGOT: Not a good way to get bipartisan cooperation.

JASON RILEY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: But it is -- this is the speech that his base has wanted him to give for a long time, laser focus on jobs.

They said he spent the summer talking about deficits and spending. And I think, to an extent, it was applying to the base and a political speech.

GIGOT: Mary, on the substance, is there anything there that you think actually would help the economy?

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST: I am afraid not.

(LAUGHTER)

The one thing that I thought was mildly positive was his reference to the free trade agreement that he says he wants passed.

GIGOT: Right.

O'GRADY: But he still has not sent those to Congress. The centerpiece was the payroll tax cut.

GIGOT: An extension, an expansion --

O'GRADY: Right.

GIGOT: -- of a 2 percentage point cut from this year into next year.

O'GRADY: Right, but it is temporary. I think we have to ask ourselves, will businesses respond and start hiring people when they know it is a temporary cut and they know there are lots of deficits out there that he's going to come after them and want them to pay for. Will individuals spend the money they save on the tax cuts or will they put it to continue to deleverage their balance sheets. And finally, he did threaten the rich again with higher taxes. And I don't think that is overall good for re-stimulating the economic growth.

GIGOT: On that point, Jason, the small businesses who he's going to give tax credits to if they hire people are also some of the small businesses who will get hit with that tax increase in 2013. Because a lot of small businesses pay under the individual tax code. So their taxes are going up 40 percent or so.

RILEY: Right. But Obama saying he's going to extend this temporary payroll tax and that's how he's going to help these folks. I was struck after the debate by some of the conciliatory tone, struck by some of the Republican leadership, particularly in the House, about, well, we see some things in this bill that we like and maybe we can work with the president on that.

GIGOT: What did they mention?

RILEY: Particularly, the extensions of the payroll tax.

GIGOT: That's it?

RILEY: They say that is something they can work with the president on. And, in fact, it is something that Republicans have pushed for in the past.

HENNINGER: Paul, I think there is a big substantive problem at the center of this proposal and it has to do with taxes. He alluded to the corporate tax rate being too high. But clearly that can is being kicked down the road. To pay for all of this spending, one of the ways he's going to spend forward is by closing a lot of tax loopholes. Tax loopholes are the primary bargaining chip that you use in a substantive serious tax reform to get rates lower, whether the corporate rates or individual rates. He is proposing to use up tax loopholes to get his deficit spending through Congress, which makes it much more difficult in the future to achieve any serious tax reform for which there is bipartisan support.

GIGOT: Mary, what do you think the prospects are for this getting through the House? You said -- you heard Jason say that some Republicans -

- and they don't like -- they like tax cuts, whether or not they are good tax cuts, effective tax cuts or not.

O'GRADY: Yes. Well, certainly not the whole package. They will pick and choose. I think the House response was really more of a political maneuver, because basically the president was saying, I want to do all these things for you, American people, and they won't let me. He is trying to corner the Republicans politically. And they're saying, we think there are some reasonable things. They're trying to play the game too.

GIGOT: They are not going to be cornered, is what you're saying.

O'GRADY: Right.

GIGOT: They're probably going to pass part of it and call it a day.

O'GRADY: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

RILEY: But the president is saying, all -- pass all of this or I'm going to travel to your districts --

(LAUGHTER)

-- and call you an obstructionist.

GIGOT: Is that a serious threat politically?

RILEY: The day after the speech, he was headed to Richmond, Virginia, home district of Eric Canter. Next week, he's headed to Ohio --

GIGOT: No, but do you think he --

RILEY: -- home state of John Boehner.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: OK, but does he carry the day on that debate?

RILEY: I don't think so. The first stimulus package was more than $800 billion. We've got 9 percent unemployment and a downgrade of the U.S.

credit rating as a result, a mini version of the same policies. I don't think it will work and I don't think he can sell it to the public.

GIGOT: OK, thank you all very much.

When we come back, Rick Perry's debate debut. The Texas governor came out swinging, taking on chief rival, Mitt Romney, in his first Republican debate. But will his views on Social Security hurt him down the road?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Texas Governor Rick Perry made his GOP presidential debate debut this week, going on the offense against and fending off attacks from his chief rival.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK PERRY, R-GOVERNOR OF TEXAS & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt.

(LAUGHTER)

MITT ROMNEY, R-FORMER GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, as a matter of fact, George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at faster rate than you did, Governor.

(LAUGHTER)

PERRY: That's -- that's not correct.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: That is correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Well, Jason, what do you think of that exchange on jobs and Rick Perry's debut?

(LAUGHTER)

RILEY: In terms of Rick Perry's debut, he was focused on the primary voters and, on that score, I think he did a decent job of appealing to them.

GIGOT: How? What was the appeal?

RILEY: Well, he -- he -- the rhetoric that he used. I think he picked fights with everyone on stage. He was forceful. He was confident.

And he was --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: So he gave a command presence?

(CROSSTALK)

RILEY: He has a very commandeering presence. And it came up in the debate. But this is a two-step process. You have the primary and then you have the general election. And Mitt Romney is running as the most electable Republican on that stage. And I don't think Perry did anything in terms of his performance to interfere with that claim of Mitt Romney.

GIGOT: Really?

RILEY: And that was the problem. I think that his performance --

HENNINGER: To Jason's -- to Jason's point, what we are seeing with Rick Perry are both the strength and weaknesses of these charismatic governors who come in at the last minute. I think, I've said before, Chris Christie would have the same problems. Both Perry and I'll say a Chris Christie have been running their states and have not been thinking about national issues. And in Rick Perry's case, he has not been thinking that much about Mitt Romney's record. Running for president is the big leagues.

And Mitt Romney, so far, is the most confident big leaguer on the stage.

Perry may get there eventually. I think he held his own in this debate.

But he will have to go deeper both on national issues and Romney's record is he's going to push Mitt off.

GIGOT: But on the jobs point, which is the number-one issue for most Americans in every poll, Mary, he wants to talk about that and the Massachusetts versus Texas comparison works better for Texas.

O'GRADY: Yes, I think he defended his record well. The moderators asked him about the fact that, you know, Texas is a low-income state.

There are a lot of minimum-wage jobs there. And I think he --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Did he defend himself well on that?

O'GRADY: He did. He pointed out jobs that the jobs that he has created, a majority of them, have all been above minimum wage. I also liked the fact that he didn't back down on some of the more controversial issues. I thought he defended his stance on the death penalty, whether you agree with the death penalty or not. I think -- he talked about the process in which there's a lot of chances for people to appeal to higher courts and so forth. I thought he was very principled in that.

GIGOT: OK, we've got an exchange or a particular exchange, notable, on Social Security. Let's look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY: It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you're paying into a program that is going to be there. Anybody for the status quo, with Social Security today, is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids, and that's not right.

ROMNEY: The issue, in the book "Fed Up," Governor, as you say that, by any measure, Social Security is a failure. You can't say that to tens of millions of American who live on Social Security and those who have lived on it. The governor said states ought to be able to opt out of Social Security. Our nominee has to be someone who isn't committed to abolishing Social Security but is committed to saving Social Security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Romney score some points there, Dan?

HENNINGER: He did score some points. He's score the same point that Barack Obama will score against Rick Perry.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Well, but he will have to run that gauntlet if he gets the nomination.

HENNINGER: That's the point. That's the point. After this debate, Rick Perry will have to come up with his answer to that issue. How, Governor Perry, are you going to fix Social Security? He said, straight into the camera, to seniors, your Social Security payments are not going to be affected by this. That's true. All reforms grandfather payments to older people. But somehow, that never sinks in. He's going to have to deal with that and then come up with an answer to how he is, in detail, going to fix Social Security.

RILEY: Romney, unlike Perry, seems very mindful of the fact that a Republican is unlikely to win the presidency without Florida. I think that exchange is an example of Romney only -- or I should say Perry only bolstering Romney's claim that he is the most electable up there (ph).

GIGOT: You are saying Perry cannot win the presidency, may be able to win the nomination, but can't win the presidency with his current views on Social Security?

RILEY: I think he will have to dial back a lot of the rhetoric we heard I the debate.

GIGOT: So you can't call it a Ponzi scheme. What do you call it?

(LAUGHTER)

Broke?

O'GRADY: I disagree with that. I mean, I think people are starting to understand basically that this whole thing is a Ponzi scheme. And I think that if a candidate comes forward and can explain to them how they will not change the system right now but they're going to change the system for 20 year olds, and if that system is not changed, the money will not be there when they retire, and that is a matter of the communicating. But I think someone can win on that. I do.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: But a little more sophisticated rhetoric than monstrous lie and Ponzi scheme --

(CROSSTALK)

O'GRADY: Well, this is not a very good environment to make that point.

GIGOT: That's true. All right, we'll see how he does as the debates go ahead.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits and Misses" of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Time now for "Hits and Misses" of the week -- Dan?

HENNINGER: Paul, on Iraq, a big miss to the Obama administration, which let it be known this week that it is planning to draw down our troop level in Iraq from close to 50,000 troops to 3000 troops. That was a shocking number. The military thought it could go as low as 10,000. But 3000 troops in Iraq is simply going to be doing training exercises, but, worse, they will be very vulnerable. It's just too few people to keep over there. I think this will have to be challenged by the brass.

GIGOT: All right.

Jason?

RILEY: This is a miss for the Obama Energy Department and its green jobs agenda. Barely a week after a solar panel company, that had received more than a half billion dollars of federal loan guarantees, went bankrupt.

The Energy Department announced it's going to give more loan guarantees, hundreds of millions of dollars of more loan guarantees, to two more solar companies. The Energy Department is not a venture capital fund.

GIGOT: All right.

Mary?

O'GRADY: This is a miss for Bob Kraft, who is the owner of something called the New England Patriots.

(LAUGHTER)

He's recommending that what the U.S. needs to get out of the mess we are is to establish a Value-Added Tax. His reasoning is that we are the only free country that doesn't have one. To which I would reply, just because everyone is doing something, like ruining your Sunday afternoon watching football, does not mean it's necessarily a good idea.

GIGOT: Ouch.

(LAUGHTER)

And remember, if you have your own "Hit or Miss," please send it to us at jer@FOXnews.com. Be sure to visit us on the web at FoxNews.com/journal.

That's it for this week's edition of the "Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to my panel and to all of you.

I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right back here next week.

Content and Programming Copyright 2011 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2011 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.