Will America go it alone against Syria?

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," August 30, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Instead of being tucked safely in their beds at home, we saw rows of children lying side by side, sprawled on a hospital floor, all of them dead from Assad's gas.

Now we know that after a decade of conflict the American people are tired of war. Believe me, I am, too. But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility.

We also know that we have a president who does what he says that he will do. And he has said very clearly that whatever decision he makes in Syria, it will bear no resemblance to Afghanistan, Iraq, or even Libya.


DOUG MCKELWAY, GUEST ANCHOR: There you have it. Secretary of State John Kerry, laying out in a very compelling, emotional terms, the case, the evidence for the chemical attack by Bashar al-Assad's forces against his own people, the opponents in his country, and laying out the case why the American people should respond.

Let's bring in the panel now. We've Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Charles Lane, opinion writer for the Washington Post, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

We'll have more on the president's remarks a little bit later in the segment.

But, Steve, let's start with you. What do you make of it today?

STEVE HAYES, WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I mean, Secretary Kerry gave a very impassioned case for intervention, very strong case for intervention. And, you know, we saw some of it there. I guess what struck me in listening to him and thinking about the administration's case more broadly is the tension between the case that they're making, the urgency, and the strength of the case that they're making for intervention, and then what they've already announced that we're going to do.

I mean, they're making this case that suggests we ought to be entering a real war, aimed at changing the regime and changing conditions on the ground, and yet they're talking about limited strikes, not targeting regime elements. There's, I think, some real tension between those two things.

And Secretary Kerry also said that the world is watching to see how we respond to this use of chemical weapons. I think that's true, but it was also true that the world was watching when Assad used chemical weapons earlier, something that the White House briefers mentioned on a conference call today with reporters.

And it's certainly been the case that the world has been watching as we've been watching more than 100,000 people be killed on the streets of Syria. So I think the administration is going to have to do more to reconcile the strong case they're making for intervention and the announcements and I think likely attack that will be a slap on the wrist, or as Charles called it, a pin prick.

MCKELWAY: Chuck, so many inconsistencies, contradictions in this policy.

CHARLES LANE, WASHINGTON POST: Sure. And it -- I mean, if we wanted to start listing all the inconsistencies, we can go back to John Kerry's own record as somebody who's very soft on Bashar al-Assad, and thought he was a promising reformer. Now described by John Kerry as a thug and a murderer today.

But I think, you know, all of the inconsistencies are a given, you can't deny them. This problem, though, how now distilled down to a very simple matter. The president said there was a red line. Assad crossed it. Whatever else, besides those two facts may be, it doesn't really matter. The president has to do something, maybe relatively minimal, as Steve says, to back up his red line and it's going to happen in one way or another.

And John Kerry is trying to lay the ground work for that, quite emotionally, with few facts to back it up, but let's face it, that's what this is all about.

MCKELWAY: And, Charles, you made a reference in a piece you wrote recently to the guns of August, which is of course a reference to August 1914 when Europe was -- and other parts of the world, stretching all the way to the Darnell's, was a powder keg ready for someone to light the match. What are the historical parallels if any?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, look, the real problems at the beginning of the last century was the growth of Germany. How to contain it. Europe didn't know how to do it. They ended up with two world wars as a result.

The analogy today is Iran in the Middle East. It's a rising power. It's an aggressive one. It's a (INAUDIBLE). It wants a place in the sun, it's acquiring nukes, and it scares the hell out of the Arabs. It's a Persian country. And it now has a client in Syria.

The war is being driven by Iran. There's actual evidence that Iranian agents, Revolutionary Guard who were involved in the poisonous gas, Iran that controls Hezbollah, which spread terror in the Middle East and in the region, and Iran is the one driving the war. Iran is looking and it's also developing the nukes, of course.

The problem is that if you -- if you get into this war, even in a limited, I think, almost absurd way Obama is doing, he is giving them so much notice that even if we drop all the ammunition on the three or four ships, it wouldn't -- I mean, everything of importance has been moved.

Iran is strengthened. And the question is it's going to look as if the U.S. -- U.K. has already walked away. Iran is in the driver's seat.
And America is slinking away. And the problem is if you make a miscalculation here, and you let Iran imagine that it is in charge, it threatens to attack Israel, Syria or Hezbollah, Israel will respond fiercely and it could get out of control.

So it isn't as if Obama imagined. Although, you know, he says I'll do a narrow thing, I'll do a limited thing, it's not going to be boots on the ground, as if he is pleading with Assad, you know, don't take it seriously, it's just going to be a few bombs in the desert.

Well, if he miscalculates and the Iranians and Hezbollah reacts, we could have a regional war, a major regional war.

MCKELWAY: Before Secretary of State Kerry's address today, members of Congress were briefed by a team of the president's national security officers -- officials, I should say. Listen to one senator, Senator Inhofe, a Republican of Oklahoma's reaction to that hour and a half long briefing last night.


SEN. JAMES INHOFFE, R-OKLA.: There's a new term you're going to hear over and over and over again as we did last night. It's called a broad range of options. Secretary Kerry said that we're going to offer the president a broad range of options, but you know, we talked for an hour and a half and they didn't mention one of the options.


MCKELWAY: It's interesting that term he used there, because, Samantha Power, the new U.S. U.N. ambassador, many, many years ago in an interview with The New York Times said this, and I quote, "If you think of foreign policy as a tool box, there are a whole range of options." There's that phrase again. "You can convene allies, impose economic sanctions, expel ambassadors, jam hate radio," she said. "There's always something you can do."

Is the Obama administration's foreign policy based on Samantha Power's view?

HAYES: No, I don't think so. I think if it was we would have been intervening -- I mean, if she had had more sway we would have been intervening earlier and doing much more than we are contemplating doing now.

And I think Charles is exactly right. The question is, the president goes out and announces that he intends this to be a shot across the bow. The problem with that is that a shot across the bow implies that if they don't heed the warnings, Syrians don't heed the warnings, there's going to be a lot more coming.

And the president has already made clear that there's not going to anymore coming. What if Bashar al-Assad decides to use chemical weapons again. What will President Obama do now? He's already signaled to the world, he's announced to the world that he has no stomach for doing anything more.

Will he do it again? The red line has already been breached. Will it matter that it's been breached again? It had been breached before this attack.

LANE: Well, I mean, I think we don't know how strong this retaliation, if any, is going to be. I think it's a -- you know, we're all assuming it's just going to be a pin prick, it won't hurt Assad, et cetera, et cetera. You know, I wouldn't be too sure. Let's wait and see exactly what develops.

KRAUTHAMMER: Limited, narrow, no boots on the ground, it's not open ended. Obama and Kerry say we are weary of war. Do you think that they're listening in Iran and in Syria and they're trembling in their boots? You know, this is a call to arms, this is a very uncertain trumpet.

MCKELWAY: Let's respond to that. Go ahead.

LANE: Well, I mean, like I say, Charles, I agree with you that all of the language and all of the announcement is weak, but let -- you know, we don't know exactly what the impact will be if the strike --

KRAUTHAMMER: I'll make you a small wager.

LANE: All right.


MCKELWAY: On that note, we're going to block that --

KRAUTHAMMER: $10,000 as Romney would say.


Will America go it alone against Syria?