This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 7, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R - AZ: Did you support the recommendation by secretary of state, then-Secretary of State Clinton and then-head of CIA General Petraeus that we provide weapons to the resistance in Syria? Did you support that?
SEC. LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT : We did.
MCCAIN: You did support that?
GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: Now, that is interesting because Defense Secretary Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Dempsey saying they both supported arming Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime.
We're back now with the panel. The interesting part of this is we had known for some time that Secretary Clinton – then Sec. Clinton and David Petraeus when he was head of the CIA came up with this idea to arm and train the Syrian rebels opposing the Assad regime. What Sen. McCain elicited today at this hearing, is the fact that the then-Defense Secretary Panetta and the then-joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Dempsey also supported it. Only one problem, the president opposed it, so it didn't happen. Nina, what do you make of that?
NINA EASTON, COLUMNIST, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: This is big news today. The president rebuffed this plan. What has happened in the months since this plan was proposed, not just in the months but in fairness dating back? The U.N. representative to Syria describes cities inside Syria that looks like cities of Berlin in 1945. You have got 60,000 Syrians dead, 700,000-800,000 refugees going up to a million which he said could collapse Jordan and Lebanon, just under the weight of those refugees.
Then what you've got inside Syria is the rise of Al Qaeda linked forces as part of that opposition. This is something that Hillary Clinton herself warned about a few days ago. So by not stepping in, everyone agrees that Assad is going to go, it's a question of where or when. We have not stepped in to shape the opposition into not only a viable force but a force that is valuable instead of Al Qaeda linked.
WALLACE: Of course, we don't know if we did get involved that necessarily either one, that they would topple Assad or that Al Qaeda still wouldn't have a big role, but it certainly raises the question.
Let me ask you about that Peter. Here you have Panetta, Dempsey, Clinton, Petraeus, really the entire national security team -- with the exception of the national security advisor -- saying arm the rebels, the White House said no. Why do you think not?
PETER WEHNER, COLUMNIST: Yeah, I just added that, that our allies as well. Saudi Arabia, Britain, France, Qatar they understood the importance of Syria. Why not? Look, I think that the president at his core does not like to intervene in these kinds of things. And I think also during an election he understood that the public was war weary and he didn't want to take that chance.
I think this is going to be a big mistake in retrospect. As Nina said, you've got 800,000 people displaced, 60,000 that are dead. And Syria is really a kind of linchpin in the Middle East, and if this goes, it's going to destabilize the region, it may well spark a regional war. And if Assad fell and if we were able to shape the opposition forces, this would be a big blow to Iran. So I think when the history books are written, this will be a big missed opportunity.
WALLACE: And let me, Steve, bring in one more thing and that was Greg Palkot's fascinating and quite disturbing report today where he went to one of these refugee camps on the Turkish border. As Nina said, there are 800,000 refugees have fled for various parts of the Middle East. But it was really a small town – a small city, 13,000 people living like that. And on the one hand, you understand the president's and our country's reluctance to get involved in another conflict in the Middle East. But it's coming at quite a cost.
STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: That was a heartbreaking report. I think it already is a moral stain on America that we didn't do anything; that we stood by. And it's particularly so because of the president's own words. He is the president. He can overrule his advisors. That is his job. He is elected to make hard decisions.
But if you go back to the justification that he used to support U.S. intervention in Libya, a moral justification first and foremost back in March of 2011, he said that the United States would be shirking it's natural responsibilities, if we didn't get involved. He said to brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and more profoundly our responsibility to show our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. And then he said some nations might be able to turn a blind eye to these kinds of atrocities but then he said the United States is different. But apparently not in this instance. Apparently we're not. So we've seen more than 60,000 deaths in Syria. At that time it was 6,000 in Libya.
WALLACE: Yeah 60,000 -- some people are saying 80,000, and it continues. That is it for the panel, but stay tuned to see how one little girl reacts to "Gangnam Style."
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