All-Star Panel: Will Obama's plan to deal with ISIS work?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 8, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS MODERATOR OF "MEET THE PRESS": Are you preparing the country to go back to war?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am preparing the country to make sure that we deal with a threat from ISIL. Keep in mind this is something that we know how to do.  I am going to be asking Congress to make sure that they understand and support what our plan is. And, it is going to require some resources I suspect above what we are currently doing. 



JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Does the president intend to ask Congress for authorization to expand his campaign against ISIL.


KARL: Just a yes or no?

ERNEST: Unless we are talking about a very specific order from the president, it is hard to talk in very specific terms about what we want Congress to do, but as a general matter what I can say is that the president is interested in their buy in.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: No definition of buy in, but this all leading up to a nationwide address on Wednesday and meeting with lawmakers tomorrow, this plan. Now, our friend, Ron Fournier at the National Journal wrote this about the statement that it will not involve U.S. troops.

"At the White House, I found two senior officials, who when promised anonymity, acknowledged that politics plays at least part in the president's no ground troops pledge. It is not a matter of midterm, they insisted, but rather a reflection of the public's aversion to war.

Quote, "Any presidential historian will tell you, one official told me, 'that you cannot get ahead of the public when it comes to war'." Let us bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, Senior Writer for the Weekly Standards, Kirsten Powers, USA Today Columnist and Syndicate Columnist, Charles Krauthammer. Steve?

STEVE HAYES, WEEKLY STANDARDS SENIOR WRITER: Well, the public is no longer opposed to war in Iraq or in Syria, or taking the battle to ISIL depending on how you define war. There is a CNN poll out today that says 90 percent of the American public thinks that this presents a serious threat. And, 67 percent think the president has no clear plan; 59 percent think the way that the president is handling it currently, basically, by doing nothing is wrong.

So, if they are going to use public opinion as a way to get out of doing something, that does not work anymore. I think the real question now -- there is basically one question. Does the President recognize that this is a significant threat? Has he changed his view on the nature of this threat?  Because it is pretty clear all along that he did not see it as a major threat, did not see it as a threat to the homeland.

You heard that criticism from people who used to serve in his own administration. You heard it from Republicans. You heard it from Democrats. So, has the president changed his mind? Does he now see it as a threat or is this basically an effort -- a public relations effort to look like he is doing something because there is pressure on him to do something? I think that is the key question.

BAIER: To that point, Kirsten, here is the president with Chuck Todd being asked about that now infamous comment about JV team. 


TODD: Long way -- Long way from when you described them as a JV Team. Was that bad intelligence or your misjudgment?

OBAMA: Well, no, no, no, no. Keep in mind, I was not specifically referring to ISIL. I have said that regionally. There were a whole series of organizations that were focused primarily locally.


BAIER: There was a lot of back and forth at the White House briefing today about that. PolitiFact said this, "President Obama wasn't specifically referring to ISIS with comments about extremists being JV Team." Truth-O- Meter, false. Washington Post, four Pinocchios. The interviewer was certainly asking about ISIS when Obama answered with his JV remarks. This is like a third time at this Kirstin --


BRET:  -- it is kind of interesting that this is the president's answer. 

POWERS: Well, I think part of the problem is for him to admit that he said that is almost something he can't recover from. I am not justifying him lying about it; but, it is one of those things, that how do you recover from that? How do you recover from saying that? Even though we all know that he said that. You can go back and read it. It is quite clear what he is talking about. 

BAIER: But when that happens, is it like the White House thinks, well, they are just not going to know?

POWERS: They just think they can keep saying this and people who are with them are going to believe them and people who are against them are not going to believe them versus flat out saying, "You are right. I just completely -- I said that. I made light of this."

BAIER: Right.

POWERS: You know, I think it is not just that he made light of ISIS, he also, as we know -- when he -- the whole Al Qaeda has been decimated is on the run. The whole narrative was, we do not need to worry about this anymore. There is nothing out there. It is not, no Al Qaeda, ISIS, nothing. We are safe and we are fine.

BAIER: Charles, what about this plan, that law bring the lawmakers in, give some kind of speech. We do not know whether it is in the afternoon or in primetime yet on Wednesday. But not really -- it does not sound like, a plan let us start this bombing. It sounds like a kind of laying out the blueprint. 

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think it will be more of Obama's rhetoric. He wants to show he has a plan. The other mistake he made was when he said he did not have a plan. He has now been spending two weeks undoing that.

You will know whether he really has a plan if he announces Wednesday night that the line between Syria and Iraq no longer exists in the real world; therefore, the United States will not make a distinction in going after the people who slit the throats of two Americans, will not make a distinction between one side or another of what is now a fictional international line.

So, number one, is he prepared to do anything about Syria? The other is what does this mean he has a coalition? You know, people ridiculed the George W. Coalition in Iraq. It was, in fact, 37 countries with boots on the ground. Is there anybody who is going to be on the ground other than the ones who are already there, the Kurds, the Iraqis and what is left of the free Syrian army?

For example, he rounded up eight NATO allies. Are any of them going to be on the ground? I doubt it. How many will join the air campaign? I assume the British, perhaps Australia and – I don't know (inaudible) -- and he boasts about the Arab League supporting them. Of course, rhetorically, they are going to hold our coasts and support us.

Are the Saudis or the UAE are going to participate in the air campaign?  That would be a good thing. Any of them are going to have boots on the ground? I doubt it. But, that is what has to be in this speech; otherwise, it is not a plan. It is a recovery from him saying, I do not have a strategy. 

BAIER: Steve, when asked about this boots on the ground deal, the president said, "Well, the boots on the ground are going to be Syrian -- the free Syrian army." Now, this is the same free Syrian army that he talked about weeks before as kind of not up to the task. 

HAYES: A fantasy. 


BAIER: Pharmacists and doctors.


HAYES: Pharmacists and doctors, yes. He said it was a fantasy to think that it would have made any difference if the U.S. supplied them with arms and funding. Look, I think this just reflects the president's muddled thinking on this. I mean he has not had a strategy. He is trying to decide whether -- I think whether, you know, he was completely wrong to have underestimated them or at least he is sort of coming to grips with the fact that he may have been completely wrong to underestimate them in the manner that he did.

But, there is still some tension here. I mean what will be most telling in his speech on Wednesday is whether the president talks about specific action and talks more about what the United States is going to do to eliminate this very serious threat or if he talks more about what we are not going to do to limit ourselves.

I mean, not putting troops on the ground as you turn to allies and ask them for your help and, as you try to convince the country that this is a serious threat that we need to be going to war for. There is some tension there. It just doesn't seem to fit.

POWERS: Well, I think if you listen to Josh Earnest today, you did get a little bit of clue at least. The president does not seem to have moved that much since the last time he spoke. Meaning that they see this is a regional threat. And, that they went after about the free Syrian army, why now? Why the free Syrian army. The response was, "Well, because, basically it was, it is their problem." You know, it is the Iraqi's problem in Iraq. It is the Syrian's problems in Syria. 

HAYES: Yes, until they behead another American journalist. 

POWERS: Right. And, with no real indication that it was our problem and even went back to the original talking points of the reason that we even got involved in Iraq in the first place, dealing with ISIS was because humanitarian issues and because we had staff on the ground, essentially.  So, it will be interesting to see if the president is still in that place or if he is going to come out and expand this and to say this is not just their problem, this is our problem, too. 

HAYES: And, look. We had -- If I can just quickly. If you go back and look at the testimony in the worldwide threats, hearing from the senior leaders to the intelligence community, February 4th of this year, you had people like James Clapper saying, "This is an immediate threat to Europe. It is going to be a threat to the U.S. Homeland." So, if the president today is pretending that this is not a threat to the United States here, he is not listening to what he is hearing by in large from his top intelligence officials.

BAIER: Next up. The president backpedals on immigration.

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