This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," August 27, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: There's no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria -- the Syrian regime.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The options that we are considering are not about regime change. They are about responding to a clear violation of an international standard that prohibits the use of chemical weapons.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R - AZ: The question is will those attacks just be retaliation and Bashar basically goes on as normal, or will those attacks degrade his capabilities, particularly his air capabilities?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: Well, there is not much doubt in Washington that the administration, the president, is going to do something, launch some kind of attack against Syria in response to chemical weapons used by, what the administration says, was the Bashar al-Assad regime. There is some pushback from members of Congress, including the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, who released this statement just minutes ago. He called the Syrian use of chemical weapons beyond the pale but said, quote, "Any U.S. military action could bring serious consequences or further escalation. The president should be making the case to the American people, and his administration should come to Congress to explain their plans. The consequences are too great for Congress to be brushed aside."
With that, let's bring in our panel, Charles Lane, opinion writer for the Washington Post, Nina Easton, columnist for Fortune magazine, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. OK, Chuck, thoughts on how this is all coming together?
CHARLES LANE, EDITORIAL WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think there's a couple things that occur to me just off that last piece. The really strong rhetoric so far when you talk about making a case to the American public has not come out of the president's own mouth so far. It has been Joe Biden in the clip we just saw, and before that, John Kerry talking about how morally obscene this was. The president himself, his last comments were very equivocal last week in that interview with Chris Cuomo. So even now I see him kind of holding back, preserving his options. But this is really -- is snowballing very quickly and the president is about to act, not just because of Syria. He's worried about Iran. He has to be worried about Iran in the sense that whatever he does here – whatever he does to defend the red line he laid down months ago is going to be very closely watched by Iran, which is Syria's ally, and of course, has its own nuclear weapons program, and which has a new president has been making overtures to the U.S. about negotiation.
NINA EASTON, COLUMNIST, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: Yeah, I think Iran, the audience is bigger than Assad and Syria if you're going to take a military action. The audience is Iran, North Korea, the audience is potentially users of WMD. So this is really a key moment for the president.
I do think there are these calls now from Congress as we saw that they want some form of consultation or possibly even a vote. I think it would be in this president's self-interest to go down that road and to get some kind of congressional consultation or signoff on this because I think Chairman Royce really put his finger on it when he said there's potential unintended consequences no matter what you do. Even if you took the route of degrading Assad's military capability, even if you took it -- made a clear path for the rebels to take over, how do you know the rebels that we want will be the ones to take over? How do you know that Assad won't, for example, retaliate by striking Israel? How do we know that Assad's allies China and Russia decide to make a bigger project out of all this? You want Congress, somewhat, at least key members of Congress having your back as you go down a road that's filled with unintended consequences and landmines.
BAIER: So would you call Congress back in? Because they're not back in until September 9th.
EASTON: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: But it is precisely because of all of those unknowns that if you're going to cross the line, you're going to cross the Rubicon and enter into the war by killing people, by launching cruise missiles, as the administration clearly is about to do, that it do something, not just as an expression of outrage, as a kind of show of Obama's conscience. If you're going to cross the line, with all of the possible consequences you've outlined, which could be serious, then have a strategic effect.
We don't hear that. We heard Carney say it isn't about regime change. Well, then it is a pointless exercise. If it is going to be an attack, what it should be aimed at, as General Keane was explaining, having the objective of weakening the regime, of stopping Assad, who is now winning this war, and giving the rebels a chance of winning the war or weakening Assad.
Imagine the effect on the rebels who have been abandoned. Nobody helped them up until now. And the word from Washington loud and clear is the Americans are going to act. This is a country that took down the Taliban in 100 days, took down Saddam in Iraq who had been in power 30 years, took him down in three weeks. We have the capacity to take away the air assets of this regime. If we are going to have an attack, it should be aimed at that. And if it is not, we shouldn't be doing anything.
BAIER: Here is what John McCain on this very point has said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R - AZ: Bashar Assad has to -- felt he had to use these weapons, but he had used them before. And the president said it was a red line, and he interpreted it as a green light. Now we will see what kind of action we take. And if it's simply that we launch some cruise missiles and do that for three days and not have a significant effect on the momentum on the battlefield, it will have an unhelpful effect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: There are many others, Chuck, who say, listen, once you're in, you're in. I mean, you own it. It is the Colin Powell doctrine, in the wake of Iraq and other decisions, if you're going all in, you're going all in.
LANE: Well, that's why I think the president is tempted not to go all in. I think he is tempted, and the reports we are getting are that he is likely to do something that amounts to a sort of punitive strike. In fact that's what the president of France is calling for, to punish the use of chemical weapons.
BAIER: But to hear all these people talk about it, that would potentially be the worst of all options.
LANE: Well, again, it depends on how -- what damage it actually does and so forth. But it seems like, I repeat, it seems like from all the signals we are getting, they have in mind a punitive strike, something that just sends a message that we strongly disapprove of what you've done. And there are precedents for that. We've seen that during the Clinton administration in Iraq and the cruise missile strikes on Sudan and retaliation for alleged involvement in terrorism. So I think --
KRAUTHAMMER: All of them had no effect and had the opposite message of America being unserious in every case. When we did the cruise missile attack in '98 under the Clinton administration after the bombing of our embassies, Usama bin Laden concluded America was unserious with the recourse. Three years later, we had 9/11.
LANE: But Charles, I really do think you have to ask yourself the question, is the limited punitive strike worse than doing absolutely nothing and I am not sure that's true.
EASTON: Then there's the Libya example where they sent in 110 tomahawk missiles, British and U.S. war ships, sent those in, and then there was a NATO enforced fly zone for six months which ended with a civil war with Qaddafi being deposed. So the problem with Syria is it's more complicated because the rebel situation is more complicated. And you've got the potentially unsecure WMD of chemical.
BAIER: We're going to continue this but final word on this topic?
KRAUTHAMMER: Look, I think it is a question of are you serious or not. Assad will understand, it is a punitive strike and he emerges from the smoke essentially unhurt strategically, he wins this round. And it will have been all for nothing, and risking all of the things that Nina had talked about, needlessly.
BAIER: Next up, continuing this topic, how to fight another pulled punches war, and the pushback that's coming, not very loud, but it's still coming.
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