JOURNAL EDITORIAL REPORT

Can we win a war against an enemy we refuse to name?

Jihad spreads as the Obama administration hosts a summit on 'violent extremism'

 

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," February 21, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," as jihad spreads to Libya and beyond, the White House convenes a summit on "violent extremism," causing many to wonder if we can win a war against an enemy we refuse to name.

Plus, pro-Russian rebels seize a key Ukrainian town, exposing Sunday's cease-fire a sham. Where will an emboldened Vladimir Putin head next?

And President Obama's immigration rebuke. What this week's ruling means for the administration's attempt to govern by executive action.

And the bitter showdown over funding on Capitol Hill.

Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

ISIS extended its bloody reach into Libya this week with the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians. But as the Obama White House hosted a three day summit on countering what they call "violent extremism," the president and his staff once again refused to use the term "Islamic" to describe the threat, a distinction, they say, is necessary in part to deprive terror groups of legitimacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders, holy warriors in defense of Islam. We must never accept the premise that they put forth, because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders. They are terrorists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz; and "Global View" columnist, Bret Stephens, author of the new book "America In Retreat."

So, Dorothy, the president's summit was supposed to rally support for his strategy to counter ISIS and violent extremism, as they call it. Did it accomplish it?

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: No. I think it's remarkable how clear it is that it did not accomplish that and that it ran into a wall of skepticism and opposition that you can just feel. You can feel in the commentary. And you hear Americans listening --

GIGOT: And what is the nature of that? Why didn't it succeed?

RABINOWITZ: Well, because they recognize, at long last, that these little explanations about Islam -- the president, for example, has this opportunity each time to say it is the responsibility of all of us to reject the idea that Islam has anything to do with these groups like ISIL. And Americans are sitting there and saying, "Really? It's my responsibility?" No, it is not our responsibility, Mr. President. The responsibility is to defeat this bloody enemy out to destroy. And it is not our responsibility to take on these politically correct abstractions with which you have fed this --

GIGOT: But, Dan, OK, Dorothy's point is often -- I mean, that's a frequently heard point. What about this idea that the president says, look, we cannot confer on them Islamic legitimacy, which using the term would do.

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, I mean, nobody is conferring that sort of legitimacy on them. I think, basically, Paul, that this is a thing -- it's a cover story to divert attention from what Dorothy is talking about. Rather than debating the nature of Islam, we should be debating the operational details of taking them out. But Barack Obama is making it clear he's not going to in anyway escalate the operations against Islamic State. We've got these limited sorties and we've engaged what he calls a coalition, and that's it, and he's not going beyond that. But I think the president is falling behind the curve, Paul. Public opinion, at least reflected in the polls, seems to be getting greater in terms of going over there. 67 percent say the Islamic State is a clear-and-present danger, and something like 57 percent apartment greater ground game over there.

GIGOT: Bret, let's go to this idea of the use of "Islamic," because some of the president's defenders, Fareed Zakaria, for example, the columnist, says "This is a semantic side show, it isn't really important, and we're focusing on the wrong thing." Do you agree with that?

BRET STEPHENS, GLOBAL VIEW COLUMNIST: No, I don't. I think it's very important to recognize that part of the reason that Islamic State has been so successful politically and militarily is that it is very much Islamic. Its vision, its aims, its method, its theology is all deeply rooted in Islam. And it's simply factually in error to suppose that somehow it has nothing to do with Islam. Nobody argues that it speaks for a majority, or even a significant minority of Muslims, but you can't really confront this kind of enemy and understand why it has been as successful as it is if you don't understand the culture and theology from which it is springing. So what the president is doing is engaging in a semantic diversion, which takes our eye off the ideological power of this movement.

GIGOT: What about this idea, Dorothy, offered by the president and secretary of state, that to counter this movement you have to offer more economic opportunities? You have to reduce poverty. Go to the root causes argument.

RABINOWITZ: That was really wonderfully out of this world, and everybody recognized that. The only thing that was missing in their recipe was classes in self-esteem for the young Muslims.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: So you don't think that's the root cause?

RABINOWITZ: This panacea has been pushed down the throats of Americans since the terrorism struggle began in the early 1970s. Root causes, that's where we got --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Well, most of -- many of these terrorists aren't coming from poverty background.

RABINOWITZ: That's exactly right.

GIGOT: They are middle class, upper middle class, very well-to-do. It's the ideology that animates them, religious fervor that animates them, not some grievance about their class status.

RABINOWITZ: That's right. The problem is -- and you see it exemplified in the answers. If I may bring up Ms. Harf from the State Department, who made a great show. But you want these young men to be given jobs. You've heard this all the time. OK. Why aren't they making businesses? Think of a mind that can't conceive of this transcendent ideology that really does motivate these. It's beyond people living in the world with Facebook and living in the world of America cannot imagine the fiery power of this battle. And this is what the administration --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: But I want to get to you briefly and talk about Libya. The disintegration has been so notable in the rise of ISIS there. What happened so quickly and to have things go so bad?

STEPHENS: Well, very simply, after we had defeated Gadhafi, we essentially abandoned Libya. There was no follow up. There was no post-war operation. There was no attempt to shore up the transitional government, which, in fact, at the very beginning was rejected -- rejected Islamism entirely with any kind of meaningful support. So it's once again a case of declaring victory far too soon, getting out, and then seeing things fall to pieces. Exactly what happened in Iraq. It tells us that we simply can't create power vacuums around the world and expect them to be filled by anything other than the kind of chaos that you find throughout much of the Middle East.

It's a good thing --

GIGOT: Right. Right.

STEPHENS: -- that President Sisi, of Egypt, is attempting to step in but it should be the president of the United States.

GIGOT: All right, Bret.

When we come back, pro Russian rebels take a key rail town in eastern Ukraine, leaving last Sunday's cease-fire in tatters. So where will Vladimir Putin head next?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Russian-backed separatists drove Ukraine's army from a key railway hub in the eastern part of the country this week just days after the two sides agreed to a cease-fire. Thousands of Ukrainian troops fled the besieged town of Debaltseve, making fresh speculation that Moscow is attempting to carve out a land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula.

We're back with Dan Henninger and Bret Stephens. And Wall Street Journal columnist, Mary Anastasia O'Grady, also joins us.

So, Dan, is this anything, this last week, anything but a total victory for Vladimir Putin?

HENNINGER: You know, I think I have to agree with you on this, Paul. This is no longer a work in progress. This is a victory that Putin has consolidated.

We had footage in the past week of what was going on in the battle of Debaltseve, and the Russians by now have moved in heavy artillery, tanks, and missile installations.

GIGOT: Right.

HENNINGER: The Ukrainians are completely over matched. Even sending them defensive weapons at this point would be inadequate. I recall a weekend interview we had recently with Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, head of the Army command in Europe. And General Hodges said in that interview, "What the Russians are doing is not a foray into Ukraine. Those are the sort of equipment you would send in for a permanent installation." So I think he's rolling up Ukraine, and after he's done this, he's going to move in another direction.

GIGOT: He was willing -- he was able to take territory in Ukraine, even as the cease-fire was going on, and he managed to block further E.U. sanctions because the Europeans have no appetite to that and are using the cease-fire as an excuse not to impose new sanctions. And President Obama has taken weapons off the table. At least it's no longer being discussed. It looks like he's won on every side, Putin.

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST: No. It's absolutely mind-boggling the paralysis the Obama administration displays here, really, when not only is, you know, Putin taking Ukraine, but, you know, the British defense minister last week said that they had captured an Estonian border guard, OK? So that's messing with the Baltics, and that requires a NATO response. And we haven't had one. If he doesn't do something here, this is the end of NATO.

GIGOT: Just on that point, Bret, Michael Fallon, the defense minister, said that the same kind of tactics that Putin has used in Ukraine, which is diversionary -- he intervened by denying it, put troops in on the sly, and stirred up ethnic tensions inside a country. Could be used in places like Estonia and the other Baltics, and that implicates, as Mary suggests, NATO and Article V, which requires us to defend these treaty allies.

STEPHENS: Well, first of all, let's remember that we guaranteed Ukraine's territorial sovereignty. President Clinton and Prime Minister John Major put their signature to the Budapest Memorandum in 1994. So we're already letting one commitment go by the wayside. Latvia, Estonia, many other countries, Moldavia, are countries that have large ethnic Russian populations, Russian-speaking populations. And the possibility for Putin, for his secret services to create so-called people's militias to stir ethnic grievances where none previously existed, to use tools like "Russia Today, other propaganda tools to create this kind of -- these kind of -- this ethnic unrest is a very real possibility. And we are imaging that somehow Ukraine is separate from the rest of Putin's territorial and strategic ambitions in Europe. I think that's a really big mistake.

GIGOT: Right.

STEPHENS: I think Ukraine is a test case for Putin.

GIGOT: So what about the Western leadership here, Mary? You have Angela Merkel, of Germany, Francois Hollande, of France, basically, saying even though the cease-fire is being repudiated by Putin, saying we hold dear to its tenets. I mean --

(CROSSTALK)

O'GRADY: You know, Paul, let's face it, the U.S. has been the leader in NATO. Without U.S. leadership, these European leaders are not going to do anything because they are either afraid or they are pressured by economic interests, particularly in Germany. They need U.S. backing. You know, President Obama has to show that he will get on their side and stay there. And they just don't -- he doesn't have that credibility at this point any more.

GIGOT: I guess, basically, saying, look, Angela Merkel, they are not going to do anything, because without American leadership -- that's Mary's point. I fundamentally agree with that. What do you think about the prospects that, given the way -- what's happened in Ukraine here in the last week, there might be some awakening in the White House to respond.

HENNINGER: Paul, the Pentagon has been very aggressive in putting out photographs and information about what the Russians are doing in Ukraine.

GIGOT: Yeah, and in the interview you suggested --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: -- was very forthright and very unusual for a military man to say that.

HENNINGER: So I think the U.S. military is acutely aware of the issue and they undoubtedly are making plans if they are asked to respond. So it's not to say that the United States is asleep. And I think pressure is being brought to bear on this White House eventually to act. It's hard to imagine they can do nothing indefinitely.

O'GRADY: But the key word is "eventually." And that's a worrisome thing for the Ukrainians.

GIGOT: Could be 2017.

(LAUGHTER)

When we come back, a federal judge blocks President Obama's attempt to rewrite immigration law and hands Republicans a chance to avoid a Homeland Security shutdown. So will they take it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: A federal judge in Texas this week blocked President Obama's executive order granting temporary legal status and work permits to some five million undocumented immigrants, handing a victory to the 26 states that challenged his authority to unilaterally rewrite the law.

Wall Street Journal Potomac Watch columnist, Kim Strassel; and editorial board member, Joe Rago, join us with more.

So, Joe, first question, how solid is this legal opinion? Is it likely to hold up on appeal?

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Well, it's a very narrow opinion and it's very solid on those grounds. What -- the administration has justified this rewrite by saying this is just routine prosecutorial discretion, it's what we've done in immigration for 50 years. And Judge Hanen looked at this and said, well, I'm not going to touch prosecutorial discretion, but you're also doing affirmative things. You're giving work permits, Social Security numbers, travel permission.

GIGOT: And you're imposing costs on the states.

RAGO: And you're imposing costs on the states, therefore, they have the right -- there's a due process administrative law that the administration violated, and that's a legal question that I think the appeals courts aren't going to say we need to overturn this immediately. I think the stay will be in place for quite a while.

GIGOT: So a good chance that this -- the merits of the case will be decided down the road, but the important thing, this preliminary injunction may well stay for many months.

RAGO: There's only political urgency here. There's no legal urgency to overturn this decision, to rule on the merits. Let's let this play out, I think the courts will say.

GIGOT: So, Kim, what does that mean for the Republican strategy on Capitol Hill where they have been trying to defund this and using the Department of Homeland Security basically as a hostage? They backed themselves, in my view, into a boxed canyon that may end up -- that this may give them, this ruling may give them an opportunity to march out of. What do you think?

KIM STRASSEL, POTOMAC WATCH COLUMNIST: Yeah. They are in a huge box canyon because they sent this funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security, the House Republicans did, to the Senate. It was a very aggressive bill. It stretched back and tried to roll back all kinds of Obama immigration actions. As a result, they guaranteed they would not get any support from Senate Democrats. They can't move that bill in the Senate. Come this next Friday, the Department of Homeland Security is going to run out of money, which is going to put them in a position where they could be accused of messing with national security at a very dangerous time.

GIGOT: OK, so what's their strategy now?

STRASSEL: So if they had any wit, they would use this as an exit ramp and what they would say is, look, thanks to this judge, the Obama immigration action is a dead letter, we can now move ahead and fund the Department of Homeland Security. That's the argument that's being made by a lot of Republicans now. Part of the question is how quickly this moves. What you may see is a short-term extension of the Department Homeland Security funding to give it a little bit more time to see how this lawsuit resolves. But this is a discussion now in D.C.

GIGOT: They will only march part way out of the boxed canyon?

STRASSEL: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: I mean, why not take the whole thing? Why not use this as an opportunity to move on other things? Because was happening immigration issue is becoming a bottleneck to everything else the new Republican Congress wants to talk about.

STRASSEL: They are doing some amazing things. Nobody is hearing anything about them. The problem John Boehner has and Mitch McConnell has in the Senate is that this more "fire and brim stone" wing of the Republican Party, especially in the House, has a lot of votes, and they are demanding that they make some sort of stand against Obama on this immigration thing. So that's going to be the trouble, getting past that. They ought to just call it quits and move forward. And we'll see if they have the ability to do that.

HENNINGER: Paul, look, Judge Hanen has put the law in motion. The judicial branch is engaged, as Joe said. These House Republicans are going to begin to look like the mirror image of Barack Obama. It is an irrigation of power unto themselves. Let the law take its course.

GIGOT: What do you think, Joe, about the prospects for anything else happening on immigration here in this Congress? I mean, solving specific problems with either more agriculture visas, more hi-tech visas, or some guest worker program, that sort of thing.

RAGO: I think they are pretty low, Paul. They could probably get it through the House, I think, if they broke the rule that a majority, the majority has to support it. I think there's probably --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Obviously, they need Democratic votes.

RAGO: I think there's probably votes there, but I don't think the political will is there to do something like that, and definitely not the political shrewdness.

GIGOT: Kim, very briefly, do you agree with Joe?

STRASSEL: Yeah. When Barack Obama issued the executive order, he made the entire environment toxic. There was a real possibility. But right now. The feelings are so bitter, it's not going to happen.

GIGOT: OK. All right, Kim, thank you.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits & Misses" of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Time now for "Hits & Misses" of the week.

Kim, start us off.

STRASSEL: A miss to Hillary Clinton and the tens of millions of dollars that we are now finding out has been flowing from foreign countries into the Clinton Family Foundation ever since she left the State Department. This is a woman, Paul, who wants to be president. She's suggesting it would be OK for her to sit in the Oval Office answering those 3:00 a.m. calls from countries that are giving her foundation bucket loads of cash. This is all so very Clinton, the ethics, the conflicts of interest. And it's a reminder to the country that if they sign up for President Hillary Clinton, they will get more stories like this.

GIGOT: The foundation as political brand extension. OK.

Mary?

O'GRADY: A hit for Governor Scott Walker for defending his decision to drop out of college. You know --

GIGOT: Wisconsin governor.

O'GRADY: Wisconsin governor is not the first successful person to be uninspired by the conventional path. But he is the first Wisconsin governor to stand up to public sector unions, which is why his college record is a cause for hysteria on the left. It's hypocritical and I think that he gets a lot of credit for refusing to back down.

GIGOT: All right.

Joe?

RAGO: Paul, this is a hit to cholesterol, which has been exonerated after 40 years.

(LAUGHTER)

The federal board that sets nutrition guidelines this week notes that dietary cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern for a link to heart disease. This is a victory for the humility that is supposed to belong to the scientific method and another reminder that government is never on mission.

GIGOT: Yeah, is this a hit for being wrong for 30 years or --

(LAUGHTER)

RAGO: This is a hit for fixing your mistakes.

GIGOT: And scientific -- and some skepticism about government health advice.

That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.

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