All-Star Panel: Politics of airstrikes in Syria

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 23, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: To a sovereign Iraq, that is able to maintain its territorial integrity and provide for its own security. We are committed to a Syria that is at peace and is not having the sorts of spillover effects that are burdening its neighbors.

So, again, I just want to say thank you to all of you. This is obviously not the end of an effort, but is rather a beginning. But I'm confident we've got a partnership that's representative and will be able to be successful.


BRET BAIER, HOST: President Obama at the United Nations meeting with some of the Arab partners who took part in the strikes inside Syria last night. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, as well Bahrain, Qatar and Jordan.

As you take a look at the map of those strikes, they were significant. Two more added to that map. And that shows the different places -- throughout Syria that these strikes took place.

Let's bring in our panel, Jonah Goldberg, at-large editor of National Review Online, Kirsten Powers, USA Today columnist and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

OK, Charles, thoughts on these strikes and what we're looking at today.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: What the president emphasized in his short remarks today was the good political factor, we had gotten five Arab states and these states to join us in an attack on Sunni extremists.  That is -- helps us politically and diplomatically, but it is not a broad coalition of the kind that will make a material difference in terms of the fighting on the ground.

We don't have any of the major allies, and there's no UK, we don't have Turkey, so what the president is talking about is the face of this, so it isn't exclusively American, but it doesn't solve the main strategic problem, which is without forces on the ground there's no way to root out ISIS from Syria.

I think the overall strategy as it's beginning to develop is this. They will try to expel ISIS from Iraq given the fact that they have potential allies, the Kurds and the Sunni tribes that Petraeus had joined us during the surge. So that's a possible ally that could expel them.

But in Syria, there's no strategy for other than degrading them. They will not be destroyed in Syria. The Syrian moderates won't even be in the field for a year and there is nobody else who will be out there volunteering. So that means this is a containment strategy.

BAIER: Kirsten?

KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY: Well, I do think it's -- it is very important that there is an Arab face to this. I don't think we should downplay that at all, that's critically important. And I think the face matters, politically it matters, and look, we wish that they were doing more than they are doing, but even just having their affirmation of this effort, I think is really important.

And I -- the Pentagon says that they feel that these strikes have been successful, I think we have to wait and see, we have to wait and see just how successful they are, how much of an impact this has on ISIS, we have to remember that ISIS is still in Iraq, and there's a lot more bombing going on in Syria than has gone in Iraq. And so there needs to probably be a more multipronged approach to this.

BAIER: One of the strange things about this was this Khorasan group that you just heard Catherine Herridge talk about. And we heard the administration not talking about an imminent threat to the homeland, to the U.S., and then we had a different tone today and over the past day and a half. Take a listen.


JEH JOHNSON, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: At present, we have no credible information that ISIL is planning to attack the homeland of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: There's a new group of former AQAP fighters in Syria pose a risk at the same level as ISIS and ISIL?

JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: That's a good question, and, you know, in terms of threat to the homeland, perhaps they do. This Khorasan group, so called, which I guess is out there, is potentially yet another threat to the homeland, yes.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: In terms of the Khorasan group, which is a network of seasons al Qaeda veterans these strikes were undertaken to disrupt imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western targets.


BAIER: Thursday, is possible, maybe, maybe they're a threat. Monday, this is happening, this is an imminent threat. I mean, do you think --

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW: Yes, you get the sense that this was just a target of opportunity because -- they're very careful in their language.  They said imminent threat plotting, not an imminent threat. So they were plotting an imminent threat but they weren't actually --

BAIER: They said they were in the final stages --


BAIER: -- in implementation.

GOLDBERG: And look, my basic philosophy is, whenever you have a chance to bomb al Qaeda, you should bomb al Qaeda. And this -- talking about how it's the Khorasan group, basically it's the bell labs of al Qaeda, that's what they are. And this is the research outpost. These are core al Qaeda which were allegedly on the run, but now we apparently have to bomb them.

I'm going to disagree a little on the panel on this. I agree entirely that the striking -- the strike was politically and diplomatically valuable and important for all the reasons that's been already said. Militarily, I think this is basically a light show. We told -- we told ISIL two weeks ago that they were going to -- that we were going to bomb them, we've been circling drones over them for two weeks. They knew that this was coming, all these buildings were empty of any serious leadership.

And, you know -- and Kirsten is right about talking about Iraq. But, you know, in Iraq, New York Times had a very good piece on this. You know, we have ground troops in Iraq and we have done nothing to beat back ISIL.  I think this is still basically a strategy that's being made up on the fly, and the administration had a good political win internationally and domestically, because everyone treated this as if this was a huge big deal.  But I don't think militarily it amounts to very much as all.

BAIER: What about the notifying, not only Syria but Iran? Reuters writes that the issue was first discussed in Geneva and then an Iranian official telling Reuters that they went through New York, Iran was assured that Assad and his government will not be targeted in any case of military action inside Syria, and that not only was Syria notified, but Iran was notified.

KRAUTHAMMER: Telling Iran, I think, is the continuation of their fishing for some covert alliance with Iran over this with the implication that we'll go easy on nukes. I think that is a terrible strategy. Telling Syria it makes sense. You want to let them know if you see an airplane overhead, don't shoot. It's us. And obviously the Syrians have no interest in shooting.

We are, in fact, we don't intend this, but in fact in reality acting as the Assad air force right now. We're attacking ISIS, which allows Assad to attack the moderates, which is what he is doing. He doesn't attack ISIS so it helps him.

The point I was trying to make is that militarily, this is not significant.  This is a diplomatic stroke of sorts. Still a very narrow coalition. The fact that on the ground they don't have the strategy of -- for defeating ISIS and on the Khorasan group let's give them the benefit of the doubt.  And say they knew this was going to come. They didn't want -- for once in their lifetime they didn't announce something that was going to happen ahead of time.

If you watch Clapper answering that question, he was being rather cagey, yes, they could be. And we heard -- and then you zap them. Hopefully it was unexpected because otherwise ISIS expected every bit of the attack last night. If the Khorasan group didn't, that would be a nice little twist.

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