All-Star Panel: How to deal with issues in North Korea, Syria

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," April 4, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


CHARLES HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: It only takes being wrong once. And I don't want to be the secretary of defense who was wrong once. So we will continue to take these threats seriously.


CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel demonstrating just how focused he is on the threats coming from North Korea. And we are back now with our panel. So there were reports today that the Obama administration is dialing back some of its measures, show of force, such as sending B-2 bombers over the Korean peninsula, F-22 fighters over the Korean peninsula, for fear that it may be triggering of a North Korean response and a miscalculation by the new leader. Is that a wise move, Jonah?

JONAH GOLDBERG, AT LARGE EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: When you are dealing with somebody as bat-guano crazy as Kim Jong Un, I don't know if anything can be actually a wise move. You can talk about it both ways. You can talk about if we pull back, that will be purr received as weakness or if we pull back that might give them breathing room. Personally, I'm very worried about an actual war coming out of this on the Korean peninsula.

WALLACE: Really?


WALLACE: Why? I know obviously they are saying terrible things. But the North Koreans have said terrible things for half a century.

GOLDBERG: Well, in part I think that Kim Jong Un, unlike his dad and granddad, is sufficiently crazy and has been raised in a bubble where he doesn't understand where these lines are the way his predecessors did. And he may actually believe what his own generals are telling him. It's funny. I was listening to NPR the other day, and they had an expert on saying until they actually pull back -- they don't allow the South Korean workers into this Kaesong facility, everything will be fine.


GOLDBERG: And then I turn on the radio in the morning and they say they've announced they're not letting them in. That was a supposedly a very dangerous sign. I worry about it.

WALLACE: So it is interesting. Supposedly this has been highly developed over the course of dealing with these successive Kims over decades, a playbook of how you respond, because this is a familiar pattern. They make threats; they bluster; they do various things; stop short of war. And we, you know, almost like a kabuki dance, respond by showing force. But there is apparently some concern that the Pentagon and in the administration this playbook doesn't work with this Kim.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Because they don't know him, and that's why. There is so much unpredictability and so much that we don't know. And that's why it is so hard to calibrate our military show of force. I think the North Koreans know exactly what would happen to them if they attacked the South or sent missiles to the United States. I mean, that would be the end of their country. But, the U.S. doesn't want to do something that's going to freak this guy out because it has no idea how is he going to react.

I think the key to this is China, as it always has been. North Korea can't exist without China. China wants stability on the peninsula. And it needs to step in and make that happen.

WALLACE: But apparently, Charles, at least the signs are that the North Koreans are ignoring their Chinese sponsors so far on this crisis.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: And China has never shown that it's prepared to value anything above maintaining the existence of the client regime it has in Korea, because the one thing it will not accept is a united Korea run by the South, which, in fact, could possibly be nuclear. And thus, it tolerates, it supports, it subsidizes this insane regime -- has and will continue to.

But I don't quite agree that everyone knows, including Pyongyang, how we would respond. It's not at all clear that we would response to say, look, two years ago, they attacked an island in South Korea, they all of a sudden open up with artillery. They killed civilians on the island and there was almost no response, which actually hurt the government in the South, because there was no response.

WALLACE: But they have a new president who is supposedly more conservative.


KRAUTHAMMER: I understand -- says. But she herself is untested. She is a new president, the daughter of a previous one with no real experience. So, I'm not sure anybody knows. It could be that we would have a very limited response. There is not going to be a nuclear attack because it doesn't have a way to make a small -- a small weapon that could be delivered on a missile. But if there is a conventional attack it could be that we will not respond at all or there will be simply a response that will be proportional, which means it will be useless.

WALLACE: Then there is Syria. It's been now -- it's very interesting, Jonah, more than two weeks since this mysterious attack on an area near the city of Aleppo, on rebels, question as to whether or not it was a chemical attack or not. Let's look at what President Obama said then and let's look at what today the State Department said. Take a look.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have to make sure that we know exactly what happened, what was the nature of the incident, what can we document, what can we prove.

VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: My understanding is that the team is still preparing to go, but I'm going to send you up to the U.N. for further clarification on that.


WALLACE: And that apparently is the truth. Two weeks plus later the team hasn't even left for Syria.

GOLDBERG: Whether this was chlorine from a factory as James Rosen was reporting, or an actual deployment of chemical weapons, I think people legitimately don't know the answer to that.

WALLACE: But you are certainly not going to find out if you don't send the team to find out.

GOLDBERG: I don't think the Obama administration is all that eager to find out because they are committed on this red line rhetoric. And if they find out it was a chemical weapon then it grades things up for them.

LIASSON: It's going to be hard to find out even after they go. Doing forensic investigation in the middle of a warzone is not so easy. It might be very hard to do anything that's -- to find anything that's definitive. But the president did say something very definitive which is this is a red line, and if he has proof of it he has to do something about it.

WALLACE: But if he doesn't have proof of it he doesn't have to do anything.

LIASSON: Right. But I think that if there is proof it's hard to keep that bottled up.

WALLACE: But again, it gets harder and harder to find the proof – alright, that's it for the panel. But stay tuned of a blooper reel of President Obama playing sports.

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