All-Star Panel: No US strategy for dealing with ISIS in Syria yet?

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," August 28, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I don't want to put the cart before the horse. We don't have a strategy yet. I think what I've seen in some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we're at than we currently are. And I think that's not just my assessment, but the assessment of our military as well.

There's no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Obama today speaking to reporters before he met with his National Security Team, talking there about possible airstrikes inside Syria against the terrorist army ISIS. The White House scrambled after that news conference to say that the White House and administration does have a strategy, just not for military strikes in Syria yet.

Let's bring in our panel. Tucker Carlson, host of "Fox & Friends Weekend," Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of the National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Mara, it didn't seem like there was a real purpose to all of it.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think the purpose was because he's going away, it's Labor Day weekend and there are a lot of questions swirling around. But he didn't have an answer for them. And that was the problem I think of that news conference. The thing he wanted to do was say that economic growth is looking pretty good. He didn't mention that at the top and then I think he was completely overwhelmed by everything else that's going on.

When you listen to administration officials in the last couple of days, it sounded like they were getting ready to do something in Syria, that the drones were over there doing surveillance, they were trying to figure out what kind of targets they could hit in a way that wouldn't help the Assad regime. Now it seems like it's put on hold until -- at least until after he's consulted with NATO allies on the trip he's going to take next week.

BAIER: Tucker.

TUCKER CARLSON, "FOX & FRIENDS WEEKEND": I wasn't bothered by his admission they don't have a strategy. But you ought to have -- I mean, this is a fast-moving series of events. You ought to have reference points and reality, though. And the fact they haven't learned the most basic of all lessons is a little bit scary. So here you have Gadhafi, Mubarak, Saddam Hussein, all evil dictators toppled with U.S. help, replaced by, in a lot of cases, things that were worse, chaos, which is always the worst thing.

You can see that very easily happening in Syria with Assad. Assad is a bloody dictator, but was he worse than ISIS? No. And so it seems to me the first point they ought to make is, we don't want any more chaos. We know that's the worst thing for our interests and for the world. And they don't seem to have figured that out.

BAIER: Speaking of -- let's get your reaction first.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, I thought the president could no longer surprise me. I was wrong. He shocked me today. The president of the United States, in the middle of a real crisis, a few days after the beheading of an American, deliberately sort of spitting in the face of the country and demonstrating his cruelty, the president gets in front of the world and says, I don't have a strategy. If that is true, don't say anything.

Why do you announce you don't have a strategy? But even worse, was what he said about Ukraine. He basically said on Ukraine, I do have a strategy. The strategy is to do absolutely nothing. He said, you know, Russia is only hurting itself. I can see that. The rest of the world probably will see it later. But he can see that. Russia has stupidly declined to take all the off-ramps, I've offered it in Ukraine, it's only losing. It's more isolated in Ukraine, and he basically said we're going to do nothing. I'll wait until I chat with the allies next week.

I thought he had a phone. How about picking up the phone and talking with the allies? You know, the phone is a way to communicate rather rapidly. But he basically said we're not going to give them weapons. Obviously we're not going to send troops on the ground. But what he could have said was, we are going to now impose the sanctions I have been saying for months we will impose if there's an invasion. And this was an obvious invasion.

Obama said there's nothing new here. And move along, as if the sending a column of tanks and army personnel carriers and self-propelled artillery into Ukraine is not what it obviously is. It's an invasion.

BAIER: Now, Charles, you're putting the cart before the horse here, I had that for panel two. But we like dealing with multiple things.

KRAUTHAMMER: But that's because -- but that's because I don't have a strategy.



Mara, talk about Syria here. This administration obviously, this is a year -- roughly a year after considering strikes about the chemical weapons. Take a listen to this little montage of President Obama.


OBAMA: It's not a question of when Assad leaves -- or if Assad leaves, it's a question of when.

OBAMA: Assad will leave power. It's not a question of if, but when.

OBAMA: I am confident that Assad's days are numbered.

OBAMA: I think Assad must go and I believe he will go.

OBAMA: I don't think there's a situation where we have to choose between Assad or the kind of people who carry on the incredible violence we've been seeing there. I don't see any scenario in which Assad somehow is able to bring peace and stability.


BAIER: That's striking.

LIASSON: It's striking, and you know, the administration, I give them credit for one thing. In Iraq, they explained what they wanted to happen. They were going to bomb ISIS and they wanted the Iraqi government to reform itself in a more inclusive manner. On Syria, all they can say is we want to strengthen the moderate opposition. The problem is that these are the same moderate opposition that the president told Thomas Friedman that it wasn't a good idea to send arms to because they were a bunch of pharmacists and dentists and doctors.

And that's kind of all he's got right now. And it's a real problem. They have to find ways to stop ISIS in the safe haven that's established in Syria without strengthening the guy he said whose days are numbered.

CARLSON: But this is -- I'm surprised. This is what happens when you have a foreign policy run by college sophomores like Samantha Power, whose driving instinct is to stop cruelty wherever it happens. No, the driving force for an American foreign policy is to protect American interests. And again, chaos and craziness which inevitably gives rise to lunatic groups like ISIS always everywhere, in every country, it always happens, that is contrary to our interests.

And so getting out there and saying, we're going to topple this guy. Really? Because he's mean? Do you know how many mean people around the world? I mean, that's crazy. That's children running the foreign policy of the United States.

BAIER: The New York Times editorial board comes out with this editorial, and then we hear from the administration obviously. And the president today kind of walking back his timeline. But take a look at this.

"There are too many questions to make that decision about strikes in Syria now. And there has been far too little public discussion for Mr. Obama to expect Americans to rally behind what could be another costly military commitment. If Mr. Obama seeks any further escalation of military action he will have to explain how airstrikes against ISIS in Syria fit into a broader strategy, how they could be successful, what success means and how they might be done without benefiting Syria's dictator, Bashar al-Assad, who is under attack by ISIS and other Sunni opposition forces."

It goes on to say, "Officials told the 'Times' on Wednesday that such a decision is not expected until later in September. After next week's NATO summit meeting and other consultations."


KRAUTHAMMER: Look, there's nothing wrong with the president deliberately constructing a strategy. After 9/11, Bush did not immediately lob a missile into an empty tent in Afghanistan, as Clinton did in 1998, after the attack on our embassy, which is a useless gesture. He waited a month, and then he waged an extremely effective campaign with a few CIA on the ground, with air power, and using the northern alliance in Afghanistan, that toppled the government in three months. It was a remarkable exercise in planning and strategy and it was successful.

If Obama is doing that, over the next month, that's a great idea. You line up other people to help us in the air campaign, perhaps Australia and Britain. You get other troops on the ground and use the Kurds and the Iraqis, and what's left of the Free Syrian Army and you coordinate. That's OK. But the reason he had to say this today is because his own incompetent administration had gone way out on a limb, his own secretary of defense, the chairman of Joint Chiefs had implied that we're going to bomb tomorrow and thus he had to pull it back.

The president has to run a foreign policy and have the minimum of discipline, instead of spending all his time undoing what others have said or what he has said. This is fairly elementary. It's diplomacy and strategy 101.

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