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Special Report

All-Star Panel: Senate passes measure to arm, equip Syrian rebels

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 18, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS HOST: Some thoughts on this case now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, Fox News contributors all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)       

BAIER: Well, that was December of 2008, and we have brought the team back together. Fred Barnes, special throwback edition here to the panel, Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, a columnist at Roll Call. Thank you all for being here.

MORT KONDRACKE, COLUMNIST, ROLL CALL: Thank you.

BAIER: It's an exciting time to have you all back. This happens as we've just received word up on Capitol Hill, the Senate has voted to approve that stopgap spending bill. As you look live at the Senate floor, that's Senator Begich from Alaska. The bill is the CR funding the government through December 11th, avoiding a shutdown on October 1st. But it also, more importantly for the White House, includes funding requested by the White House for Syrian rebels fighting against ISIS. The Senate voting on that House-passed version of this, and now it will go to the president to sign into law. We may hear from the president some time on this.

So with that, let's bring in the panel. So Mort, what about this fight against ISIS and what the president here is trying to do and with this just passing, what this says about the overall environment?

KONDRACKE: You know, the situation with ISIS reminds me of one of my favorite movies, "Independence Day," which Fred and I were both in, by the way. So if you remember the movie, there's this alien species that wants to kill everybody on earth. Well, ISIS is sort of like that. It wants to kill everybody who's not them, or at least convert them. And so as in the movie, you have lots of people who have an interest in defeating them. So there's a potential big coalition that includes the Saudis, that includes Jordan, and it includes every Shiite, including Iran, and it includes the whole West.

So what this potential coalition needs is leadership, which it has not had from Barack Obama. I think Barack Obama's got two years to prove that he's not a failed president. I'm sure he doesn't want to do this by being a war president, but this is what history has handed him. I mean, this outfit will butcher anybody who gets in its way and it's got to be defeated and he's going to have to do it. And it may take boots on the ground. He should not be ruling that out. And, you know, he's got to convince this coalition, who doubts him, the Saudis doubt him, everybody in the Middle East doubts him, most of the Americans doubt him, so he's got to convince them that he means business.

BAIER: Mara, there is remarkable unity on this front up on Capitol Hill even this close to a midterm election. We don't have the final vote yet, but it was 73-22 last time we checked. It could shift. But that's kind of a ringing endorsement of this arming Syrian rebels, which is not exactly popular.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: No, it's not popular, but fighting against ISIS is popular. And the American public almost turned on a dime on this. They were, you know, big group -- majorities or pluralities of Americans were saying we should do less abroad, enough already, no more foreign wars. The beheadings really changed things. The president -- for a change politics had stopped at the water's edge on this.

Now, he has to make it work. I think they've been pretty careful about how they've defined boots on the ground and a big ground war. There will be boots on the ground. There are boots on the ground. There are almost 2,000 Americans over there now. There probably will be more. The question for me is, at what point does this get to be too many boots on the ground for the public to support? I think we have a very long way to go until we get there.

BAIER: Fred, we're just hearing that the president will make a statement tonight 7:00 p.m. eastern time, you'll see it here on Fox, coming from the White House, a statement after this vote in the Senate. Your thoughts?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I wish he would make a statement that's clearer than some of his statements so far.  Unfortunately, military planners who are planning what American forces do in Iraq in particular, they don't know what -- really what the president wants, how he wants this to end, this fight against ISIS. They don't trust the idea of training Syrian troops. They regard it, many of them do, anyway, that the president leans on this while we have these Syrian troops we've trained so we don't need American boots on the ground. We don't need American soldiers who are actually doing the fighting, combat soldiers.

And these Syrians, of course, who were in -- fighting against the Assad government in Syria, are a very dubious group. Many believe that they've had to make an arrangement with jihadists just to stay alive in Syria. They're not the moderates they're touted to be.

And then of course, there's still the contradiction that Mort talked about.  Every military person I've talked to says you can't win without American boots on the ground. Not 2,000 who are just trying to help the Iraqi troops, or something, but real American -- not 100,000, but a lot more than Obama has in mind. You can't win without them. And Obama keeps saying we're not going to have them.

BAIER: Yes. Let's listen to the White House today. Jonathan Karl from ABC along with Ed Henry, our White House correspondent, pressing on the semantics issue about boots on the ground.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it would be troops serving on the ground, troops wearing boots, I assume, they would be combat ready, and they would be in the line of fire. How are you not considering these troops that are combat troops?

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, again, John, in a variety of ways. The first is that they're not responsible for going in and occupying large swaths of Iraqi territory. They're not in a position where we're certainly not talking about 140,000 or 150,000 of them. And we're not talking about their principle responsibility being to directly and personally engage the enemy in combat. They are not in a combat role.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: This has evolved, Mort, this defining it.

KONDRACKE: You know, but this is not leadership. This is not war. If this outfit is worthy of going to war against, then you shouldn't just get an authorization to spend some money to help some people in Syria. You ought to go straight out and get an authorization to go to war against ISIS from Congress. And that's what Congress should be voting.

BAIER: Would they vote for it?

KONDRACKE: Yes, I think they'll vote for it. As in Australia today, where they arrested some people who were -- who allegedly were going to behead people, something is going to happen in the United States. You know it's going to happen. And if ISIS doesn't do it directly, it's going to inspire somebody to do it. And it could be that Obama is waiting for that to happen. And then, you know, there will be the political backing to do anything that he wants to do. I don't think he ought to wait for that. I think he ought to lead and get us on our way. We've got to go.

BAIER: Last word, Mara, on this.

LIASSON: I think the president is where the American public is. He doesn't want to get out ahead too much. But I agree, if there's a September 11th style attack, something like that, this is what General Dempsey was talking about, then, of course, this thing will change and there will be more combat troops.

BAIER: Next up, the election landscape and how this all factors in for the fall. 

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