All-Star Panel: Crisis in Syria: Shift in strategy?

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 10, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


WALID AL-MOALLEM, SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (Through Translator): We are ready to inform about the location of chemical weapon, halt the production of chemical weapons, and also show these objects to representatives of Russia, other states and the United Nations. Our adherence to the Russian initiative has the goal of halting the possession of all chemical weapons.

KERRY: It has to be swift. It has to be real. It has to be verifiable. It cannot be a delaying tactic and if the United Nations Security Council seeks to be the vehicle to make it happen, that cannot be allowed to simply become a debating society.


BAIER: Secretary Kerry on the hill today talking about the Russian proposal for Syria to turn over all chemical weapons.

We're about under 2 1/2 hours to the president's nationwide address and we're told by senior aides that he has drafted it and redrafted it many times as the events have changed.

Let's bring in our special expanded panel again. Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Juan Williams, columnist with The Hill, and syndicated columnist, Charles Krauthammer.

OK, Steve, the president will call for a diplomatic pause to the votes in Congress over whether to authorize military force tonight.

STEVE HAYES, WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, that certainly merits an address to the country. I mean the problem I think that the president --


I don't mean to be -- I don't mean to be dismissive, but the problem for the president is there's really not much for him to say at this point. You know, I mean, we have -- we have seen this as we talked about before, this ad hoc decision-making lead us to this point where the president really doesn't have much to say.

I mean, we've not got a proposal that the secretary of state said yesterday, can't be done, and it is now the policy, the leading plan of the United States government and the Obama administration.

I think this has -- this may have short-term political advantages for President Obama and there's a reason that the White House has shown some relief if not quite glee about this turn of events, but I think it has potentially disastrous long-term geostrategic consequences for the United States in the region and around the world.

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: For one thing as the president speaks tonight it is not clear what this Russian proposal means. France, seizing on it much as the president and his team did, has called for a meeting of the Security Council. Russia immediately blocked that. Then Russia announced that all this would have to be accompanied by the United States for swearing any use of force in Syria, which takes all of the things that Senator McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham were trying to accomplish in this, which was an effort to turn the tide of battle in the war off the table if it were agreed to.

Now one presumes the administration will resist this but if it does and what happens to the Russian proposal? What happens to Syria, which has at least now agreed that it has chemical weapons? What happens to the whole thing? It looks like the whole thing could blow up and turn to nothing.

BAIER: Juan, to that point, Secretary Kerry is scrambling off to Geneva tomorrow to meet with Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister for Russia. It looks like trying to salvage this deal after Russia pulled out of the U.N. Security Council meeting today. We heard maybe because they were mad at what Kerry said up on Capitol Hill today.

JUAN WILLIAMS, THEHILL.COM: Well, I mean, I think the administration's feeling is that Lavrov and the Russians want to push the United States as much as possible in order to get as much as possible. And that's why they did not want to act prematurely in their view in the United Nations.

But I have to say, you know, given my hawkish friends that I think that they're right. I mean, I just don't understand it. If you say that there is a red line, if you say that this man has violated international protocols with the use of chemical weapons, even taking away the weapons, leaves him, I think, in the position of saying, well, I acted and got away with it. So, to me, that's an outrage.

Secondly, I think that the question about how it's actually done, how it's executed, I'm not sure that it's practical unless you say to me, you know, hey, Juan, I'm going to come to your house and I'm going have a cop with me and I'm going to get the gun. Well, then I say, OK, Bret, I guess this is really happening.

So if he says to the United States, yes, you guys are coming in and you take it because you're the ones that were going to fire missiles, I could believe it. But right now, I fear that what John Kerry said, what Speaker Boehner said is true, that, you know, you need to think that this may be a delaying tactic.

BAIER: Well, let's listen to Speaker Boehner and the minority leader.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R – OH, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Diplomacy is always a better outcome than military action. But I will say that I'm somewhat skeptical of those that are involved in the diplomatic discussion today.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D – CA, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: The initiative from the Russians has done is said to the -- has given the president a victory. There is a strong belief in our caucus that we should try everything first.


BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: If she imagines that this is a victory, she is delusional. The policy now is in total disarray. What happened yesterday was clear. The Russians were throwing Obama a lifeline because Kerry had made a gaff. They gave an opening for Russia to look like the peacemaker. But as we talked about last night, their single objective is to make sure that Assad wins the civil war. That's their interest.

They have no interest in chemical weapons one way or the other. They have a base there. This is the Iran-Hezbollah-Syria access. It dominates the Middle East. The Russians are behind it. They supplant America as the dominant actor in the region. First time since 1970. So what it was offered yesterday, we'll deal with the chemicals, but you're going to have to deal with Assad. If there's going to be inspection, you have to do it with Assad, to recognize Assad, you have to go under the protection of his military. You're going to have to obviously tell the rebels to stand down.

And now Putin isn't even stealthy about it. He said openly today that if there's going to be anything about chemical weapons, the United States has to openly say we'll not use military force.

BAIER: He said that at about 3:00 p.m. And you can hear the drafting of that speech.

KRAUTHAMMER: That was the key. Anybody who was naive enough to imagine that this was a sincere offer, to quote, Hillary Clinton yesterday, this is the objective. No American action. A promise and a pledge, so that Assad and his side wins.

This is what this is – and there's no way the chemicals are going to be dismantled in the middle of a war. Libya took eight years when there was no war. So this is -- the Russians today demanded a meeting with the Security Council and they wanted what? A presidential statement from the council, which is absolutely useless. It carries no import and they don't want a resolution, which the French are introducing, which would be Article 7, which would mean the use of force.

So their strategy is clear. Obama has walked completely into it and he's got nowhere to go now.

HUME: It will be interesting to see what he says tonight. I mean, Steve's point is well made that -- you know.


He gives having a presidential speech to the nation to call for a diplomatic pause on a vote that he originally asked for the networks' time that he wanted to have happen and wanted to win?

This is -- you know, it's hard not to laugh at this. But this has now been reduced almost to the level of entertainment.

KRAUTHAMMER: He's going to speak to a nation that has no intention of striking and announce that he's going to have a pause in striking.


WILLIAMS: No, but -- in all seriousness, you know what the Fox poll showed, most Americans feel that they have not heard from the president, so tonight is an opportunity to hear directly from the president. I think one thing that he does have --

HUME: What could he say?


HUME: What could he say?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think two things that he has to say. One thing--

BAIER: He'll say -- he'll say that the military threat -- the threat of military action led to this point where Syria --


WILLIAMS: That's a political point.

BAIER: That will get him through about a minute.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. Yeah -- no, but that's an important political point. I think that's what Nancy Pelosi was doing there by trying to offer victory to the president and to appeal -- appease her caucus, but I think the most important point would be for him to say, and by the way, most Americans in the Fox poll agree with this. He still has the authority to strike on his own should he choose to do so.

HUME: After all this, can anyone imagine that there'll ever be a vote in the United States Congress to authorize a U.S. -- use of U.S. military force to knock out Syria's chemical weapons?

HAYES: And we knew that. I mean, that's -- the claim by the Democrats and the president and his supporters, that it was this credible threat that has produced this outcome that they find something to celebrate is preposterous. I mean you had the president's advisers saying we wouldn't strike without the ascent of Congress. Everybody in the entire country, everybody in Damascus, everybody in Russia knew that Congress was going to vote this down and John Kerry said it was unbelievably small.


HUME: And it's going to be unbelievably small anyway. Yeah.

HAYES: How in the world can anybody argue that that's a credible threat of the use of military? It's not. It never was.

WILLIAMS: Right. He wasn't going to do it without this.

HUME: But you could have easily argued that Lindsey Graham and John McCain were responsible for it.


HAYES: That's the point.

WILLIAMS: Do a thing unless there had been some threat.

KRAUTHAMMER: The reason that the Russians acted is not the fear of a strike which was going to be unbelievably small and wouldn't have happened in the first place. It was because of the opportunity to lead Obama who was way out on a limb into a cul-de-sac where Obama now is, where his only alternative is to ensure that Assad remains in power or to do something that would be incredibly unpopular, probably unconstitutional, and then he doesn't want to do in the first place.

BAIER: More on the speech and also Secretary Kerry in all of this on Syria when we come back. Keep it here.

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