All-Star panel rates White House's handling of Ukraine crisis

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 19, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


ANDERS FOGH, RASMUSSEN NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: We have seen other crises in Europe in the past decades, the western Balkans in the 1990s, Georgia in2008. But this is the gravest threat to European security and stability since the end of the cold war.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We stand resolutely with our Baltic allies in support of the Ukrainian people and against Russian aggression. As long as Russia continues on this dark path they will face increasing political and economic isolation.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Vice President Biden in Lithuania saying that Russia's naked aggression will be met with force if it expands into the Baltic states. This as the president has given a series of local interviews, one of them to an NBC affiliate in San Diego in which asked about the situation in Ukraine, he says this, "We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine. What we are going to do is mobilize all of our diplomatic resources to make sure that we've got a strong international coalition that sends a clear message, which is that Ukraine should decide their destiny. There is a better path, but I think even the Ukrainians would acknowledge for us to engage Russia militarily would not be appropriate and would not be good for Ukraine either."

Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.


STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Look, this is a disgrace. The way that the president of the United States and his administration is handling this is so unserious on so many different levels. You heard from the NATO secretary-general that this is a crisis, a crisis like we haven't seen in decades. What is President Obama doing? He's filling out his NCAA bracket. He's hosting a film ceremony for Caesar Chavez. This is not a serious response to what is, I think, a real crisis. We overuse the word "crisis." This is a real crisis.

The president of the United States shouldn't be declaring we won't use military force in Ukraine. I suspect that's something Vladimir Putin already knows, but he shouldn't declare that. It may come to the point where we have to even if we don't want to, even if we have a war weary public where we may have to repel Putin's advances by force.

One thing has become clear in the past few days. There was a question as to whether Vladimir Putin would be satisfied simply by annexing the Crimean peninsula. He is not satisfied by that. It's very clear. There was, I think, ominous words today spoken in the United Nations to the Human Rights Council by a diplomat from Russia suggesting using in effect the same exact arguments about protecting ethnic Russians in Estonia, not just Ukraine now, opening up the possibility that Russia could use this justification to make more advances into Baltic states. This is a huge problem. It's a huge crisis. The White House better get its act together and start treating it like a crisis.

BAIER: That's one of the reasons, Mara, for Vice President Biden's trip to places like Poland and Lithuania. I want to play another sound bite where he is trying to shore up the NATO allies in saying that they'll be there, the U.S. will be there if Russia continues its aggression.


BIDEN: President Obama wanted me to come personally to make it clear what you already know, that under Article Five of the NATO treaty, we will respond. We will respond to any aggression against a NATO ally. I know that President Obama will want to use the upcoming NATO summit in South Wales to generate concrete commitments to insure that NATO is able to meet its article five obligations to all members.


BAIER: Just to explain, the Article Five is the treaty that the U.S. signs that if any of those countries are invaded that the U.S. would step up and help and militarily step in. But the fact, chief Washington correspondent James Rosen points out, Mara, the fact he would then mention the summit in south Wales where the president wants to generate commitments and talk about this, well, that summit is in September.


BAIER: Six months away.

LIASSON: That doesn't make any sense to me.

BAIER: That doesn't make any sense.

LIASSON: That doesn't make any sense to me. Ukraine is going to do some kind of military exercises with the U.S. and NATO countries. This has to be done much sooner than that. It's one thing to say as the president said we're not going to engage them in Ukraine. It's another thing to draw the line at other countries and other incursions. I think that has to be done, and you can do that without provoking a military conflict. You can make a show of force.

BAIER: Maybe that's the long-term thinking of the administration is.

LIASSON: That makes no sense to me. You can't wait until September to generate the commitments. The commitments are generated by article five. They're already made. This is a big challenge for NATO, a big challenge for the U.S., who is the leader of NATO. And it's one thing not to go to war with Russia over Ukraine. George W. Bush decided not to go to war with Russia over Georgia, a similar thing. Ukraine is a bigger, more important country. But NATO has to make it clear that this can't go any further.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It's not enough to say it makes no sense. Obviously Obama is thinking something. And I think Steve is absolutely right. He is simply completely unserious about the gravity of the situation. He says our role is to use our diplomatic resources so we've got a strong international coalition that sends a clear message. The United States is not Western Union. The United States is the leader of the western alliance. He doesn't seem to understand that.

And while he's working on the brackets for the NCAA, things are not stable. The Russians today, as you reported, took over essentially the headquarters of the Ukrainian Navy. The Ukrainians have tossed in the towel. They're going to withdraw their forces. They have given up on Crimea. The question is, will or will not Putin advance into eastern Ukraine? Remember, Crimea has no land access from Russia. The only way to supply Crimea, which depends on its water, its gas, and other resources on Ukraine, is for the Russians to take eastern Ukraine. That right now is a live question. Obama is adding nothing on the scale that would dissuade Putin.

BAIER: Just to interrupt, two concrete things President Obama could do today, right now, that would change the equation.

KRAUTHAMMER: Right now you send the chairman of the joint chiefs tonight to Kiev, not Geneva, to Kiev, to discuss with the authorities urgent delivery of weapons, defensive weapons in case the Russians advance into Ukraine to Kiev. Remember, eastern Ukraine is not as monolithically pro-Russian as Crimea was. If Putin goes into Kharkov, for example, there is going to be a fight. The Ukrainians will put up a fight. They need weapons. They need American weapons, NATO weapons. He could do that today.

And for the longer run, he should announce immediately a renewal of the missile defense agreement with the Poles and Czechs because the only source of strength Russia ultimately has is its nuclear arsenal. With a missile defense it dissolves into insignificance.

BAIER: It's clear from this quote in this local affiliate interview the first option is not something President Obama wants to do.

HAYES: No, absolutely he doesn't want to do it. I think the overriding objective for the Obama administration on a number of different fronts, whether you're talking ability Iran, Syria, or Russia, is to avoid military confrontation. We can all understand why he wants to avoid it.
Everybody would like to avoid it. But there comes a time where that can't be your leading objective. When you have one of the world's great powers invading other countries or annexing other sovereign states, you have to take that seriously. The president in his speech in Moscow in the summer of 2009 said state sovereignty must be the cornerstone of the international order, and he specifically mentioned Georgia and Ukraine. Now he's shrugging off state sovereignty.

BAIER: Last thing, Mara, does this change, does the policy change, does the stance change because of the criticism from the Republicans, that comes from around the world?

LIASSON: I think what has to change is the sanctions have to continue and get strengthened. And 11 people having their visas suspended and assets frozen is not enough, and it doesn't seem like Russia doesn't think it's very tough either since their stock market went up after they were announced. So I think the sanctions have to continue. Europe has to put them on. Probably you have to bar Russians from doing business with our banking system. It has to get to the point where it's going to hurt Europe and the United States, too. It is a two-way street, but something has to be done to isolate the Russian economy, which the president said was the purpose of them.

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