All-Star Panel: Implications of Syria using chemical weapons

Reaction from 'Special Report' All-Stars


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," December 3, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command, the world is watching. The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: The president's stern warning to Syria, this after U.S. officials told Fox News that chemical weapons had been moved today in Syria. Also, Secretary of State Clinton on a trip today said that would be a redline for the United States.

We're back with the panel. Steve, it seems like this was serious today, the president weighing in, the secretary of state, and action on the ground in Syria increasing.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: There is no question that they took the rhetoric at least, to another level.  It's a little bit hard to determine whether they did that because this had been their plan all along. There was this very influential New York Times piece a few days ago, talking about how they were considering taking a bolder approach on Syria and whether this is a part of that sort of longer-term bolder approach or if there was really this precipitating event, whether it was the moving of these chemical weapons, or whether it was the defection of this spokesman.

Either way, we are looking at a White House and an Obama administration that is taking this much, much more seriously. The problem I think they face is a problem that they faced in the sense for the last several months. Their words don't mean as much now. They have been calling for Assad to go for a year-and-a-half. They have been making these threats. Very little of it has actually come to pass. There is very little action that has supported their rhetoric over the course of the past year-and-a-half. And while I think the stepped-up rhetoric and Hillary Clinton identifying the use of chemical weapons as a redline, which I think is pretty well understood, might give Assad pause and people under him pause. It's still the kind of situation where if you are going to do this are you worried because of what the United States said today as opposed to what they have been saying all along.

BAIER: As you look at the map, Jeff, there is a lot of fighting along the Turkish border. And Turkey is really concerned about that, that increase. In fact, NATO is stepping up, announcing it will deploy Patriot anti-aircraft batteries to try to stop Syrian jets from attacking Turkey, where Syrian rebels train. This seems like it is also increasing along that border.

JEFF ZELENY, NEW YORK TIMES: I think it's definitely increasing. I'm not sure that – I mean the words from the president and the White House are the same, but it does seem to me like he has a little bit more authority or weight by now because he is re-elected. There was always an uncertainty leading up to the election. Anything sort of foreign policy related was temporary in a sense. He's going to be the president for the next four years. So I think the words are very serious.

And again, not to bring this into a domestic contest, but if we have a bigger escalation of things on the foreign side as the fiscal cliff is going on, that could help the White House and president as well.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think the problem for us is less that Assad will use the weapons because that would be suicidal. It makes no sense and I don't see how he gains a lot by doing it and he will hang if he does that but the fact that they will be loose.

It seems as if what the rebels are acquiring -- the shoulder weapons like the stingers in Afghanistan that turned the tide of war. The weapons that can bring down a helicopter or a plane, the tide is turning. Once the rebels can negate the air power they will be able to maintain control of the land, which they are acquiring and they are acquiring, and in the end, strangle Damascus and bring the regime down.

What they looking at now I think in Washington is a change of regime I think almost inevitable over the next few months. And the problem is, where are the weapons going to end up? This is the biggest store of chemical weapons probably at least active ones in the world. And they will be loose. This has never happened before. I think we might be forced to send in our troops simply as a way to secure them because of the jihadists among the rebels, ironically enough. And that is what I think our concern is here.

BAIER: I remember on this panel, at the very beginning talking about the number of days that Assad would be in power, number of days. Then we talk about the number of weeks. You know, now we are --

KRAUTHAMMER: One of the reasons is that he has had unimpeded supplies from Russia, Iran through Iraq, because Obama never worked out a deal with Iraq, a status of forces agreement where we would control its air space. All of this stuff is going in to Syria, including fighters from Iran. So, Assad has had outside help and the rebels have had none. That is a huge difference. It kept him in power. But if he loses criminal of air power, he will lose the country.

HAYES: I think Assad is going to hang no matter what. I don't think he has tremendous disincentive not use chemical weapons. The interesting thing about what the president said today was that it was Assad and the people under him. I think the message was directed to those people more than it was to Assad.

BAIER: That is it for the panel. But stay tuned for a lighter moment in the middle of all this fiscal standoff stuff.

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