All-Star Panel: How involved should US get in Syria?

All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," November 30, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Our main focus right now has been to work with other countries to try to provide whatever assistance we can to the opposition so that ultimately it can become not only an effective force but ultimately can come together to provide the kind of political transformation that we think is ultimately going to be needed once Assad comes down.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can categorically state that today our position is what it has been, which is we are not providing lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: This has the front page of the New York Times today had a story saying this, "U.S. Weighs Bolder Effort to intervene in Syria's Conflict." They are publicly saying that that is not the case. However, privately officials may in fact be doing just that. This is President Bashar al Assad's forces shelled the city of Aleppo. And in the past 24 hours two Syrian aircrafts shut down by rebels, one helicopter and one jet.

We're back with the panel. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The reason the administration is now going to change the policy and has to is because the ground is shifting in the war. Up until now the rebels have been able to take land but not really hold it. The only land held is between Aleppo and the Turkish frontier, and that is sort of their mini-state. But every time they've gone more towards Damascus and they've seized, for example, military bases, they are only able to hold it for a day or two because of air power.

Well, what's just happened is that there has been a huge strategic shift. The rebels now have shoulder-held missiles that can bring down a helicopter and a plane. And when that happened in the Afghan war against the Soviets, the Soviets lost. That was a great strategic change. Once the Russians lost control of the air, the war was essentially over. That is happening right now.

And because of that, I think the feeling is that what has been, up to now, a back and forth, stalemate, now looks as if the advantage is for the rebels as long the shipment of anti-aircraft missile continues. There is no reason it should not. And the result will be the fall of the regime.

The administration understands this. That time is running. If they're going to have any influence on the government that inherits Syria, which is now – the rebels are heavily infiltrated with jihadists, the time to intervene and to get friends is now.

BAIER: A.B., there has been speculation that the administration may be covertly helping the rebels in some way or that allies may be providing weapons directly. But publicly, they're saying they're providing communications equipment and radio and nonlethal support. How does this evolve in the region there and for the administration?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Well, let's just start with the fact that the president does not have a national security team in place. They can't begin to make serious official commitments until that team is in place. People are leaving and we don't know who is coming. So we've learned of their shift but we don't know that they can make that shift officially.

I think they want to not only because of what Charles points out, that time is running out for them to influence the opposition, infiltrate the opposition, they are actually worried as the opposition has gained more sophisticated weaponry that they don't know where that stuff is coming and where it's going to. They might have a role behind the scenes and how it's getting to them, but they are not so sure about who it's ending up with. They are very concerned about hard-line elements within the opposition, anti-Israeli strains. They really have to figure out who these people are. And that, like I said, is going to be a challenge given that the team is not pulled together.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, the time to intervene, if we were going to intervene, was a year ago. It was more than a year ago. The fact -- if we do it now, it's better late than never. But we have lost so much ability to influence the outcome there because I think the president wanted to be able to control the outcome, to dictate the outcome or he didn't want to have anything serious to do with it at all.

Far better in my view, if you're going to provide this assistance to the opposition to do it in an open way and to say we are providing assistance to the opposition. In return, we expect certain things of the government that replaces Bashar al Assad. The concern I have speaks to what Charles -- the point Charles made. If we can recognize that they're now becoming boulder because the ground is shifting in the war itself, if that looks opportunistic to us it will look opportunistic to the people that we're supposed to be helping. And you have had 30,000 plus Syrians die on the ground. And their relatives, their families are not going to look kindly on the United States that stood by and watched this happen.

KRAUTHAMMER: Steve is right. We are very, very late. The reason is that we had an election. Obama wanted to wash his hands. But now he has to do something, because otherwise we're going to end up with a nasty regime in Syria.

BAIER: That is it for the panel but stay tuned for some more analysis on the nuclear option.

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