This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," September 7, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," President Obama seeks Congress' blessing for a strike on Syria. Will he get it? We'll look at the politics playing out on Capitol Hill and the best military options if America does attack.
Plus, the Justice Department sues Louisiana to block school vouchers for minority children, all in the name of racial equality.
Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
Well, a scramble for support on Capitol Hill this week following President Obama's decision to seek congressional approval for a strike on Syria. A divided Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly passed a resolution authorizing military action, previewing the challenge ahead for the administration when lawmakers return from summer recess on Monday.
Speaking in Stockholm, Sweden, Wednesday, Mr. Obama made it clear he won't take the fall if Congress fails to act.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My credibility is not on the line. America and Congress' credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger; foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens; assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.
So, Dan, you wrote this week that you think Republicans in Congress should support the president's call for the use of force resolution. Why?
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, let me preface it by saying that Barack Obama does not make it easy to convey this point of view.
HENNINGER: Because he's done such a poor job defending his own position and the institution of the presidency, which is my point. This is not merely about a country called Syria or about a president named Barack Obama. It's about the institution of the presidency, which is committed to the United States in this region. It's also about the fact the world is not a static place, Paul. It is volatile. It is always volatile. If the United States, Congress, its legislature, is seen handing the president of the United States a defeat on this, pulling him back out of the world into Washington, then places like the Korean peninsula, the south China Sea, which is being disputed by China and Japan, or even Iran and the idea of nuclear proliferation there, all these things will start to be enhanced. I think that is the risk we are running by defeating this resolution.
GIGOT: James -- James, 40 months to go on this presidency.
JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Right.
GIGOT: It would be quite a signal to the world. What do you think?
FREEMAN: It would be great if we had another president. I think Congress should vote no because the truth is they can't vote to give the president credibility just as they can't vote to give him humility or wisdom. I think as you look at it here, basically, he is asking a lot of people, given that he hasn't defined the mission clearly, and ultimately, it comes down to two possible outcomes, and they are both bad.
GIGOT: What about the that signal that Dan made, the point that Dan made that if Congress denies him, with this much time left in his presidency, you're going to send a signal to the world that it's open season.
FREEMAN: He's been sending those signals nonstop the past week, and this is, I know, why it's so difficult to support him, even the red line. There is an argument once the president of the United States draws a red line, we ought to back him up. He basically said, I didn't draw that red line. Wasn't me.
So he's made it very unclear what he is doing there. He originally started out saying he wanted to make sure he didn't hurt Assad. Now after talking to John McCain, it seems like he is willing to consider victory --
-- but then that victory leads to what? A civil war there that I know he doesn't want to engage in.
GIGOT: Bret, what about the point that James makes about the inadequacy, uncertainty of the military strategy here that it looks just to be punitive for the sake of responding to the chemical attacks and, therefore, is inadequate?
BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Look, as you've pointed out, you go to war with the president you have.
STEPHENS: Rumsfeld's famous line. It was useful to hear the president seem to offer a much more robust military response in demand to people like John McCain, but that path is made much more difficult for McCain, for Lindsey Graham, for the more hawkish side of the Republican Party, when they are fighting a war with the Rand Paul wing --
GIGOT: Right. But you still think it's worthwhile?
STEPHENS: Absolutely. It's good politics. It's the right policy. It's good politics because I think President Obama is desperate to blame the Republican Congress for a defeat, for tying his hands. I think he would like that. He wouldn't be hurt by it. And it's the right policy because the alternative is that Congress, which as Dan said, is constraining the president when he is, in fact, prepared to act against a rogue regime using chemical weapons, tied to Hezbollah, tied to Iran. These are not trivial American national security interests. We ought to be cognizant that this is a regime that is a state sponsor of terrorism using weapons of mass destruction.
GIGOT: What does it -- what message would it send to Iran, Dan, if Congress denied the president the ability to attack on Syria? Would they assume it's open season for the rest of this presidency?
HENNINGER: I think they would. The first thing they would do is understand that their supplying of arms to Assad, which they are doing by flying over Iraq, could continue and increase, augmented by the Russians, raising the possibility that Assad would win. And if Assad wins, you've got the Iranians creating a kind of hegemony in the Middle East. Turkey and Saudi Arabia would have to, I think, come to a condominium with Iran.
Kim, let's talk about the politics. Does the president have the vote right now as it stands here on the weekend?
KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: He does not. Here's the problem. The people that would be most likely to support a president in strong military action, the Republicans, are, for all those reasons just set out in this show, not likely to rally around him -- a lack of strategy, the lack of work he's put into rallying public support -- which means that the real list here is going to be on the Democratic Party, the president's party. They are the party that is genetically against any sort of action overseas. You've got dozens of Democrats who have come out already in opposition to this. The president has been gone all week. His party is fracturing. He's got a lot of work to do if he wants to get this over --
GIGOT: Kim, the Republican speaker, John Boehner, and his deputy, Eric Cantor, both came out earlier and supported the president. So that would be a signal to some of the Republican members, look, you have political cover if you want to support the president. Are they whipping this --
STRASSEL: They are not whipping this vote. What you hear when you talk to Republican members, Paul, is immense frustration. They go out and they have -- they are talking to their constituents, they are home on recess. Public sentiment is running about 9-1 against this. They keep saying, we need -- the cover we need is from the president who is the only one who can go out and make an address and convince the American people that this is the right thing to do.
GIGOT: So what does the president have to say to sell this?
STRASSEL: Look, the American people are usually not pro war by nature, but always open to an argument that this is the right and proper thing to do. We know this president knows how to sell things. He's famous for crisscrossing the nation to sell his domestic agenda. He's got to go out and do this and point out what Dan and others were saying about the line and importance of American credibility.
GIGOT: He has to make clear what is the strategic national interest here, why it's important to do it, and actually sound like he means it for a change.
All right. When we come back, as political negotiations continue on Capitol Hill, the president's foreign policy team plot possible military moves, but will the attack they're planning make a difference on the ground in Syria?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: -- military plan that has been developed by our Joint Chiefs and that I believe is appropriate. It is proportional, it is limited, it does not involve boots on the ground. This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: President Obama, Tuesday, once again assuring that any military action against Syria would be limited in scope. So what is his foreign policy team planning, and will it make a difference?
We are back with Dan Henninger and Bret Stephens. And Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Matt Kaminski, also joins us.
Bret, the argument is we have no national security interests in Syria, so let's stay out.
STEPHENS: That argument is wrong. We have vital international security interests there. One is to make sure chemical weapons, which are weapons of mass terror, aren't used and aren't shared with Hezbollah. Syria has been trying to supply Hezbollah with sophisticated munitions. The Israelis have gone in several times to prevent those transfers. So we care about the use of those weapons. We want to make sure that Syria does not become a training ground and safe haven for terrorists. But the fact is that al Qaeda has gotten stronger the longer this war has gone on. The longer we allow it to fester and continue, the stronger al Qaeda becomes. Third thing is we are interested in regional stability, particularly the stability of countries like Jordan. Jordan now has 500,000 Syrian refugees. It was already straining --
GIGOT: And you think its stability is jeopardized by --
STEPHENS: It's seriously jeopardized. This is not simply -- this is not simply Syria. It is a regional --
GIGOT: Right. But you haven't mentioned what I think is arguably, at least in my view, the biggest one, which is Iran.
STEPHENS: Exactly. I was saving this for last.
GIGOT: OK. You don't get to make -- you know --
STEPHENS: This is the vital point. This is a proxy war in which Iran is fighting for dominance in the Middle East. And it sees, through victory in Syria, a straight line that runs through Shiite Iraq, Alawites pro Iran --
GIGOT: Alawites being a Shia-related sect.
STEPHENS: Right. And all the way to the Shiite terrorist group, Hezbollah, dominating Lebanon. So whether Iran suffers a strategic setback or it gets strategic advantage by winning in Syria is not a matter of indifference to any American, particularly if we are worried if this is also a regime on the cusp of acquiring nuclear weapons.
GIGOT: So what, Dan, assuming you agree with Bret that we have an interest here, what do you think -- would an attack, not just a limited attack, what would a sensible attack as part of a larger U.S. strategy look like?
HENNINGER: I think it would consist of two, maybe three things. One would be what we editorialized about last week, which is to use tomahawk cruise missiles from a standoff hundreds of miles from Syria.
GIGOT: And also standoff aircraft.
HENNINGER: Standoff aircraft to destroy and degrade the six functioning air fields that they have in Syria so they can no longer bomb the rebels. Second would be to supply the moderate rebels -- and they can be identified -- with military arms -- anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft weapons and such -- so they can stand off and stand up to the Assad regime. I think that is probably going to produce a stalemate. And the third element should be to try to press and push this process towards a negotiated settlement, which is the way all these wars end. Neither side is going to defeat the other. It may lead to a partition of Syria, but I think that that perhaps is inevitable. But that is the direction in which we should be pushing.
GIGOT: That strategy, Matt, would then argue for helping the rebels avoid defeat. But there is this question a lot of people ask: What happens if the rebels win? What do we get then? There is enough uncertainty about that. Bret mentioned this. The jihadists could, in fact -- I know he disagrees with me -- but the jihadists could, in fact, emerge from a Syria rebel victory.
MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: That risk is much higher if we are not engaged. I think the needed goal has to be not only to degrade Assad's abilities but to shift momentum of this war. It was going against Assad for a very long time. After he used chemicals, it went towards him. I think the point of any bombing campaign has to be to try and push people to defect from his army, to give the rebels confidence to push back, and to make them feel they owe the U.S. something, which would give us leverage in Syria in a post-Assad Syria.
GIGOT: But is there a danger if rebels win, Bret, that the jihadists will prevail in a post-Assad state?
STEPHENS: There is a danger but that danger is significantly increased the longer we stay out of the war. This war began as a series of peaceful demonstrations seeking to topple Assad the way Mubarak was toppled in Egypt. Al Qaeda was not an element in this war really for more than a year after it had been --
GIGOT: Now they are. So let's deal with facts as they exist.
STEPHENS: So let us make sure that we support the Free Syrian Army in a way that allows them to defeat Assad and defeat al Qaeda. By the way, Al Qaeda consists largely of foreign fighters. These people have a habit of wearing out their welcome very quickly.
GIGOT: The Wall Street Journal reported Friday, Matt, that the U.S. has intercepted, from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, an order to Shiite militias around the region, strike back at American targets if the U.S. hits Syria. What do you think -- are we going to be drawn into a larger conflict here?
KAMINSKI: As Bret points out, this is a proxy war with Iran. Iran knows this. It's probably about time that we have fully realized implications of this. This is why we should have been there two years ago. On the better- late-than-never argument, it's important to move in now.
GIGOT: Thank you, gentlemen.
When we come back, the Justice Department sues the state of Louisiana seeking to block a school voucher program aimed at helping poor and minority students. We'll have the details next.
GIGOT: Well, it was designed to give at-risk students a chance to succeed. Passed in 2012, the Louisiana Scholarship Program allows some of the state's poorest kids to transfer out of failing public schools and into private schools using taxpayer dollars. But the Justice Department filed suit late last month asking a federal court to stop 34 school districts from handing out these vouchers, claiming the scholarships, whose recipients are almost all minorities, slowed the desegregation process.
Wall Street Journal editorial page writer, Allysia Finley, has been following the story and joins with us more.
First, some background. How does this Louisiana voucher program work?
ALLYSIA FINLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: First of all, they go to students - - 250 percent are poverty line, who attend schools rated "C" or below, which an "F" school has a graduation rate of 50 percent.
GIGOT: 50 percent, so a really, really rotten school. So what is the objection the administration has to this program?
FINLEY: They say it's in keeping the desegregation process under a federal desegregation order going back 50 years ago. Of course, 90 percent of these voucher recipients are black.
GIGOT: What is the evidence? Is it compelling?
FINLEY: They only offer two examples so it's hard to tell. The state is contesting this though.
GIGOT: In some of the cases, the students who are leaving the schools are minority kids, making the schools they leave behind more white than anything else. They are actually increasing the -- so it's a question, should black students be barred from going to schools which give them a better opportunity because they're leaving the schools behind?
FINLEY: And making them more white?
GIGOT: It doesn't seem to make sense. What is the evidence in other school districts where vouchers have been tried, other cities, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., on whether vouchers help or hurt desegregation?
FINLEY: It's funny. Seven of eight studies show they increase integration, especially at the schools, the private schools where the black students end up attending.
GIGOT: Why is that?
FINLEY: Because they are leaving segregated neighborhoods where -- or segregated schools and they end up attending more affluent schools.
GIGOT: They are able to leap over the geographical boundaries that are restrictive.
FINLEY: That restrict them.
GIGOT: If the neighborhoods are segregated, Dan, obviously, the schools are segregated, vouchers allow them to get out of that district.
HENNINGER: Yeah. Yeah. I think it's really difficult for most people to understand the Justice Department's logic here, which is quite strongly that this lawsuit is not what it purports to be. It seems to be clearly, and the governor of Louisiana says this, that justice --
GIGOT: Bobby Jindal.
HENNINGER: Bobby Jindal -- that they are carrying water for the teachers unions in Louisiana. All right?
GIGOT: Because the teachers unions don't want the school voucher programs. They don't want the competition. So it's any legal avenue --
FINLEY: They not only want the competition, they just want bodies in the seats because it strengthens them if they have control over all these children in Louisiana. Unfortunately, when they have control of the children, they fail.
GIGOT: You've been doing some digging on this, too, Dan, and you found a particular administration official who seems to have been behind this? Who is it?
HENNINGER: Former Civil Rights Division leader, Thomas Perez, who is now the secretary of labor, is very famous for imposing something called a statistical disparate impact theory on lawsuits around the country. He was in Louisiana doing discovery on this case in January. This, to me, is clearly a Perez operation.
GIGOT: All right, James --
GIGOT: -- how should Bobby Jindal respond?
FREEMAN: He's responding in the right way, which is fighting this and also pointing out that this program is working. Parents are happy. The parents of the kids getting the vouchers and being able to upgrade their schools are happy. Scores are going up. It's mind-boggling that a law originally intended to fight segregation is keeping black kids in failing schools, preventing them from getting better opportunities. It's so embarrassing that the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan acted this week as if he had never heard of the case when asked about it. I think if he is that embarrassed, maybe he ought to consider resigning.
GIGOT: Yeah. That's -- what is the outcome here, briefly, Allysia, what do you think?
FINLEY: Well, obviously, the state is contesting it. It will really depend on where the federal judge rules. He's shown some sympathy towards the Justice Department's arguments, in fact.
GIGOT: What a shame.
All right. We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits and Misses" of the week.
GIGOT: Time now for "Hits and Misses" of the week.
Kim, you start it off.
STRASSEL: Since this may hopefully be my last chance ever to do this, yet another --
-- miss to Anthony Weiner, who is running for mayor of New York. At a campaign stop in Brooklyn, Mr. Weiner got in a shouting match with a voter who had told him, among other things, that Mr. Weiner's texting of lewd photographs of himself ought to disqualify him from office, to which Mr. Weiner responded that this man should not judge him. What this outburst misses is that this is exactly what elections are about, voters judging candidates, and it may explain why Mr. Weiner is at 7 percent in the polls today.
GIGOT: All right, Kim, thanks.
KAMINSKI: Paul, who wasn't inspired by Diana Nyad this week who achieved a personal and athletic triumph by swimming 110 miles through shark-infested waters, breaking jelly fish, a 90-minute squall to make it all the way across Key West on her fifth try at this and becoming the first person to do this without a shark cage? It inspires everyone from my kids all the way up to people with grayer hair.
GIGOT: Not speaking personally, of course.
HENNINGER: Paul, Barack Obama touts the value of a college education. Well, that is going south. The Census Bureau has just reported the number of students or people enrolling in college has dropped for the first time since 2006. It was a big drop. It was about 500,000 people. I would say, given the fact that Obama's low-growth economy is producing unemployment and underemployment in college graduates, these kids unfortunately are probably making a rational decision right now.
GIGOT: Wow. All right, thank you, Dan.
That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. We sure hope to see you right here next week.
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