Will Congress, America buy into Obama's plan against ISIS?

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in



PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: With respect to Syria, it's always been a fantasy, this idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists, and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, battled hardens Hezbollah. That was never in the cards.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-NV, MAJORITY LEADER: It's clear to me that we need to train and equip Syrian rebels and other groups in the Middle East that need some help.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Ahead of this big speech, one of the things the president will be talking about is training and arming the Syrian rebels. As you saw, that was a sound bite actually from just one month ago in an interview with the New York Times Tom Friedman.

Take a look at the latest Fox News polls. Obama's leadership on foreign policy, the question, weak and indecisive, now 57 percent, as you see the breakdown there. ISIS will try to launch an attack on U.S. soil, likely 77 percent, unlikely 19 percent. And is President Obama prepared to do whatever it takes to defeat Islamist extremists? And there you see the breakdown. This breakdown, by the way, self-identified Democrats 40, Republicans 39 percent.

Let's bring in our panel, syndicated columnist George Will, Ron Fournier, senior political columnist of National Journal, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. OK, about this speech, George?

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The president in the run up to the speech has radiated reluctance, and that's understandable, because the nation that listens tonight has a cultural memory that Henry Kissinger outlined in an interview with USA Today this week. He said "Since the Second World War we have been in five major wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and the war with Iraq. Of those, only the middle one, the Gulf War, turned out to the satisfaction of the country.

The president's Middle East undertakings so far have been a sterile attempt to get peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, an equally sterile attempt to get Iran to forego its nuclear weapons program. The most recent report is that 12 of 15 compliance data have been missed by Iranians, and the Syrians giving up their chemical weapons, which it turns out they're not quite doing as they said they were.

All of this is the background of a president who said we're now going to war. It took us three years. It took less than four years to defeat Nazi Germany. So that in itself indicates that he may be parsimonious of power at this point, and again reluctant to fully engage.

BAIER: You look at just the excerpts the White House has put out, and that obviously tells us usually not a lot. But this suggests that this effort will be different, he will say, from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.

RON FOURNIER, SENIOR POLITICAL COLUMNIST, NATIONAL JOURNAL: Actually, this is the case I think these excerpts do show us a lot. They show us that the president knows how to read polls. He's trying to channel the public. He's talking about a broad coalition involving Muslim states -- degrading and destroying ISIS, and no combat troops. That matches the majority of the public right now, folks who aren't on the far right and the far left. The majority of the public is both hawkish and dovish. They're afraid of ISIS. They want ISIS fought. They don't think the president has been leading, but they don't want ground troops. That might not be the best way to handle things, but it's what the American public right now in its conflicted mindset wants, and it apparently is what the president is going to give them rhetorically tonight.

BAIER: Charles, one year ago, the president told the American people that the U.S. military doesn't do pinprick strikes when talking about his efforts against Syria and the chemical weapons redline.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Which is roughly what he's doing, what he's done in Yemen and Somalia, which in the speech he's going to say is the model for what he's about to undertake in Syria, which is a contradiction of everything that we thought we have been hearing over the last week.

If he thinks that Yemen and Somalia are comparable to ISIS, I mean he's living on the moon. The real comparison here is to the original Afghan campaign where we had a very small number of boots on the ground, special ops, the spotters, a lot of them actually on horseback, with the Northern Alliance, the local militias on the ground supporting us and opposing the Taliban, and of course overwhelming airpower, and they destroyed, we destroyed the Taliban regime in 100 days. That's a serious campaign.

Is Obama going to do this? I don't know. The question is his seriousness.  But we just heard him saying a month ago that it's a fantasy to imagine that the pharmacists and the doctors and the farmers of Syria can in any way go against their enemies in the place, and now he's going to announce that he's going to give the pharmacists tanks, and without any other support on the ground somehow they're going to prevail. I think that's unlikely.

And when he tells us of the broad alliance, so far it's nine countries, all NATO except Australia. Are any of them going to put soldiers on the ground? Have we heard that? And if you compare it, what's the gold standard for a large coalition, George W. Bush in Iraq, the one that Democrats called a unilateralist who took us in alone, 37 countries with boots on the ground.

BAIER: Here's how Nancy Pelosi describes the dichotomy of how members felt about training and arming the Syrian rebels.

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 10, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CA, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I think that the threat of ISIS has changed some of the attitudes of members who before were concerned about our training and assistance falling into the wrong hands. But weighing the equity of fighting ISIS, it's something we have to do. And we have to do it soon.


BAIER: Now remember that sound bite we played was from the president one month ago, August 8th. So clearly he's evolved in that short amount of time. But aren't we reading between the lines here, George, that really it was the videos of those two beheadings that changed this policy?

WILL: Sure. If that hadn't happened this also would not be happening.  Nancy Pelosi says "we." What's the antecedent of that pronoun? In the two excerpts we have from the president's speech tonight, there are eight important words. Three of them are "a broad coalition." Now we used to refer to a coalition of the willing. The question is how broad, and what are they willing to do?

The other five words are "partner forces on the ground." Whose are they?  The fact is ISIS is a threat to the United States; it can cause bloodshed and human tragedy in this country. It is not an existential threat to this country. It is an existential threat to various regimes in that neighborhood, and the question remains will they step up and police their neighborhood?

BAIER: We'll start about the politics of all of this when we continue with the panel after a short break. 

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