All-Star Panel: Will president order strike on Syria if Congress says no?

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Stars


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 6, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


TONY BLINKEN, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The president, of course, has the authority to act, but it's neither his desire nor his intention to use that authority absent Congress backing him.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I put this before Congress for a reason. I think we will be more effective and stronger if, in fact, Congress authorizes this action. I'm not going to engage in parlor games now, Jonathan, about whether or not it's going to pass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But your deputy national security adviser said it is not your intention to attack if Congress doesn't approve it. Is he right?

OBAMA: I don't think that is exactly what he said. But I think I've answered the question.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Obama in Russia today. And the question is, if Congress votes no, will he act anyway? At the State Department, the spokesperson there was peppered with that question as well.


MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: What Assad feels in terms of our response will not be a pinprick. He will know it when it happens. It will be more than just what some people have talked about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you are going to say a Congressional vote to give the authorization will show that America's speaking with one voice, then surely the converse has to be true, that if the Congress doesn't authorize it, America is also speaking with one voice.

HARF: Not at all, because the president, obviously, would believe we should do it.


BAIER: OK, so what about all this? Let's bring in our panel. We welcome Howie Kurtz, news media analyst here at Fox News, Nina Easton, columnist for Fortune magazine, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Well, Howie, what you do make of this back and forth? The deputy national security advisor telling NPR essentially, if Congress doesn't give the authority, he has no desire or intention to use it.

HOWARD KURTZ, NEWS MEDIA ANALYST, FOX NEWS: First of all, the president clearly ducked that question, as we just saw. The fact that we are all debating what will you do if Congress says no puts a kind of a feeling in the atmosphere here inside the beltway that Congress may well say no.

The president has been losing ground on this debate every day. Today was no exception. Reporters' questions were mostly skeptical, I would say.  The answers were kind of long winded with historical digressions into Kosovo, and Bosnia, and Rwanda, I should say, and WWII. And if the president couldn't answer this question, why shouldn't lawmakers, whose constituents are overwhelmingly against Syrian intervention, why shouldn't they reflect the views of those voters? He did not have a good answer for that.

BAIER: Howie is right, Nina. If you do a head count right now, this thing is not passing, and it's not passing big. It's going down in flames.

NINA EASTON, COLUMNIST, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: I think he is potentially barreling into a presidential crisis of his own making. By the time he steps to the podium on Tuesday night, we will not see any change in opinion in Congress. It's already baked in, and largely because, as Howie mentioned, you have this 10 days of public hand ringing. I drew a red line. No, I did not really draw a red line. The world drew a red line. I'm going to not go without Congress. No, I need Congress. I want to go to war, but not too punitively. And I think that has not instilled confidence.

And what is also interesting is the number of lawmakers who come out of those intelligence briefings without the confidence that this administration has the wherewithal to know what to do with all of the unintended consequences of a strike.

BAIER: And that is not partisan. Both sides --

EASTON: Both sides. And I think if you are asking lawmakers to defy voters who are deeply opposed to this, you better instill a level of confidence and those lawmakers better have a sense that you know what you are doing and you are prepared for every consequence.

BAIER: Charles, Howie mentioned that the president making a number of different statements. He talked about Rwanda three times, actually, in this press conference. And also, this one, where he wanted to make sure everyone knew he was not making an analogy.


OBAMA: I'm not drawing an analogy to World War II other than to say when London was getting bombed it was profoundly unpopular, both in Congress and around the country, to help the British. That doesn't mean it wasn't the right thing to do. To bring the analogy closer to home, you know, intervention in Kosovo -- very unpopular. But ultimately, I think, it was the right thing to do. And the international community should be glad that it came together to do it.


BAIER: It was an interesting news conference, Charles.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I don't think you have ever seen a greater display of indecision, ambivalence. Sometimes you can use studied ambiguity to scare the other guy to make it useful. With Nixon, it was said that the Soviets thought he was so potentially nuts that actually he deterred a lot of action because you never knew what he was going to do, but he could do damage and he could be decisive.

With Obama, we have never seen that. The only action he has taken that was decisive was tripling the number of troops in Afghanistan. When he announced it in the same sentence he announced that we were leaving. So he announced ambivalence, ambiguity, uncertainty. How do you send a nation into war when you are clearly unsure? And the ambivalence he has about the Syria operation has been on the table for two years. He says Assad has to leave. He doesn't act. He says there is a red line. He doesn't act. Everybody understands that here and in the region. And that is why a lot of people, including me, who would support a president who is committed here, who is serious about this, and who had a plan and a strategy, are saying can we really entrust an opening into a civil war with a president who clearly doesn't want to be on the scene? That is why he has gotten no support internationally and no support at home.

BAIER: The administration has had a tough time, Howie, talking about the rebels and exactly the composition of them. Today General Idris, the head of the rebel opposition group the Free Syrian Army, had an interview with Martha MacCallum on Fox and he essentially said if there is a light strike, it will do more damage to the rebel forces. What do you think about the reporting of the rebels? It is obviously difficult to get ground truth here throughout all of this.

KURTZ: Well, I think a turning point was The New York Times with that front page photo the other day and the video obtained by the newspaper of Syrian rebels lining up a bunch of prisoners, beating them and then executing them. That makes many Americans already skeptical, saying -- well, whose side are we intervening on?

At the same time, I think there are a number of Republicans on Capitol Hill who might well be supporting this intervention if it was George W. Bush making the push. But in fairness, a lot of them are hearing from their constituents, no, we don't want any part of this. And obviously, the president also has difficulty with his liberal Democratic base, many of whom are sort of reflexively anti-war, weary of the Middle East entanglements, and afraid that the limited time strike that the president is talking about may not turn out to be not so limited and this could drag on.

BAIER: Nina, the administration in numerous forums has conceded that the reason it has taken them so long to get weapons to the rebel forces is because they were trying to vet them.

EASTON: Yeah but this goes back. Keep in mind last summer, the CIA director at the time, who is now gone, the secretary of state at the time, the secretary of defense at the time went to the president before there was such an influx of Al Qaeda and terrorist forces. There were some, but it is clearly gotten worse since last summer, a year ago -- more than a year ago when we did have an opportunity to vet and support rebel troops that would be on our side and act in our interests.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think that is absolutely right. His excuse now is to say well, the rebels are not all good guys. But, of course, that is the result of the fact of two years of indecision. There are strategic ideas which McCain and others, the leader of the Southern element of the rebels has proposed. Hit the air bases, disable the air support that Assad has. That would have an effect on the ground, and the rebels in Damascus are prepared to react. But Obama apparently wants a demonstration strike, and that is why he is in trouble.

BAIER: Two things down the row real quick. Congressional vote, yes or no? And if no, would he act?

KRAUTHAMMER: I think it will not succeed. And I think he will not act if it doesn't pass.

EASTON: It might pass the Senate. It won't pass the House. And I think that he will find cover with something like a proposal by Joe Manchin, this Democratic senator, that says delay, let's delay and try to get more support.

KURTZ: Hard to see it passing the House at this point, and a little bit hard to imagine the president defying a vote of Congress that he asked for, therefore placing himself in this box.

BAIER: Thank you, panel. Next up, the Friday Lightning Round.

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