This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," March 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," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulls off a big win in Israel. Is his victory a defeat for President Obama? And what does it mean for the emerging nuclear deal with Iran?
Plus, Republicans in Congress face a major governing test as differences over defense spending threaten to derail their budget blueprint.
And silencing global warming skeptics. We'll tell you about the Democratic campaign to intimidate professors and organizations that dare question their climate change agenda.
Welcome to the Journal Editorial Report. I'm Paul Gigot.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sailed to victory in Israel this week after a hard-fought battle both at home where he faced a strong challenge from the left and here in the U.S. where the administration appeared at times to be openly hostile to his re-election bid. So is Netanyahu's decisive win Tuesday a defeat for President Obama? And what does it mean for the emerging nuclear deal with Iran?
Let's ask Wall Street Journal "Global View" correspondent, Bret Stephens, who is just back from the Middle East.
So, Bret, let's talk about Israel first. What does Netanyahu's surprisingly comfortable victory mean for U.S./Israel relations? Are we headed for a rougher road?
BRET STEPHENS, GLOBAL VIEW CORRESPONDENT: Well, to judge by the way that President Obama has behaved since that victory, I suspect we are. This was a humiliation for Obama. Remember, in the past --
GIGOT: That's a strong word. He wasn't on the ballot.
STEPHENS: Well, in a sense, he was. And in a sense, Prime Minister Netanyahu might thank President Obama for the assist he provided in the margin of his victory.
GIGOT: How so?
STEPHENS: Well, because for a lot of Israelis, this came to be seen as a contest not between Netanyahu and his left-wing rivals but sort of a question of Netanyahu versus Obama. Would Obama's push against the prime minister be vindicated by the results at the polls? And I think a lot of Israelis did not want to give Obama that satisfaction even if they have plenty of misgivings about the prime minister and his style of leadership.
GIGOT: OK, so the prime minister had come here two weeks ago to talk about Iran. What is the impact going to be of this victory on any negotiations that President Obama wants to finish with Iran?
STEPHENS: Well, I think he's going to see a much more vigorous Israeli opposition. The contender in the Israeli election, Isaac Herzog, had promised more of a go along, get along approach with the United States even if they had precisely the same --
GIGOT: But it will affect President Obama's instincts and decisions.
STEPHENS: No, I don't think it will have any impact. The only difference is that you now have a real Israeli wild card in terms of how they react to a potential deal.
GIGOT: You mean the implication there is potentially use of military force?
STEPHENS: The implication is that the Israelis may be much more aggressive and act as freelancers in the region rather than simply go along with whatever dispensation the U.S. comes up with.
GIGOT: Briefly, on the Palestinian issue, you had the prime minister seeming to flip-flop, saying -- reversing his previous position that he was in favor of at the end of the day of a two-state solution and then reversing that in the campaign, and then afterwards saying, well, we can have that ultimately. Is that going to revive the talks at all? Or are we'll likely see that --
STEPHENS: No. Look, the talks were dead anyway. This was -- this was bad politics. It was desperate politics by Netanyahu before the election and it's clumsy politics now. But he was reflecting on the reality. Those talks were dead. These talks won't happen as long as Hamas is in charge of Gaza, so long as the Palestinian leadership remains opposed to sort of the makings of a realistic settlement with the Israelis. So he was just giving voice to a certain reality that it's incredibly unlikely that any deal would emerge during what remains of his time in office, whether it's two, three, four years, probably several years after that. The question is, does the administration use this as an excuse to now go a unilateral route and perhaps vote for a Palestinian state at the U.N.?
GIGOT: Do you think it will?
STEPHENS: I suspect not. I think the politics of that will be very tricky for the administration, despite clear democratic disdain for Netanyahu.
GIGOT: And its main priority is getting assenting Congress for the deal --
STEPHENS: That's right.
GIGOT: Let's talk about your interview with the president of Egypt, general -- former general, al Sisi. You had two hours with him. So how -- and he took over after the deposed the Muslim Brotherhood president.
GIGOT: He's getting a lot of criticism in the U.S., particularly from the left, for being a dictator. What were your impressions and what do you think he means for U.S. interests in the Middle East?
STEPHENS: First of all, he's not a dictator. He's wildly popular among Egyptians. He went through an election. So to describe him as a dictator is wrong.
Secondly, the great surprise with Sisi is just how vocally not only opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood he's been, but how vocally he's called for reform in Islam. We spent a great deal of time talking about just what means. He said, listen, central to Islam, there's no compulsion in religion. This was --
GIGOT: He's a devout Muslim himself.
STEPHENS: He's a devout Muslim, which is why his predecessor, the Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsey, had selected him as defense minister back in 2012. And then came out surprised when Sisi led the movement to depose the Muslim Brotherhood.
GIGOT: Well, you say he's not a dictator but his methods can be rough. I mean, he has -- the government has arrested journalists --
GIGOT: -- for example. It has arrested -- mass arrests of the Muslim Brotherhood. That's giving cause for some people in the United States to say let's cut off aid to Egypt.
STEPHENS: I think that would be incredibly foolish for the United States to do. Look, you're dealt the leaders -- you're handed the foreign leaders you get. No, he is not a dictator. Is he a liberal? No, he's not that either. And we discussed that at some length. He said, look, this country needs security and prosperity, and when we get those things, liberals should be able to demonstrate all day and all night as far as he's concerned. But he says, I'm a man who took over a country that was at the edge of an abyss and we have to deal with the basics of national survival before we move on to --
GIGOT: Is he willing to deploy troops to help us fight Islamic State?
STEPHENS: I don't think he's willing to deploy troops but he's prepared to create what essentially amounts to a pan Arab force to provide a trip wire against further Islamic State encroachments in the world.
GIGOT: All right, Bret, thanks so much. Fascinating stuff.
When we come back, Republicans in Congress release their budget outline for 2016 in what many see as a big test of their new majority. But will a split within the party over defense spending derail an agreement? We'll have our own debate next.
GIGOT: Republicans in Congress rolled out their budget blueprint for 2016 this week in what many see as a big test of the GOP's ability to govern. But divisions within the party are already threatening to un-do any agreement as deficit cutters and defense hawks square off over how much money to give to the Pentagon.
And we're back with foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens. And Wall Street Journal assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman, and noted fiscal hawk, also joins us.
So, James, looks like the House is sticking to the outline, sticking to that -- to the caps on defense, which mean really flat spending, year over year, though, they have something called an overseas contingency operations fund that they'll fund. But is that smart strategy to stick to the caps?
JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Well, it is, because the point is we need a have a good defense not just now but in the future. While the issue of our crushing debt has slipped off the headlines because the Federal Reserve has been creating all these artificially low rates, the fact is even the Congressional Budget Office says these debt payments will triple over the next decade. We have to get a handle on that. We have to have a vibrant economy if we're going to be a military superpower. And this is a step towards giving us that.
GIGOT: So what do you think of that overseas contingency operations fund, which I think that's going to be $90 billion. That's not -- that's outside the caps. Essentially, it's kind of an emergency spending bill to fight ISIS and other defense operations. Is that kosher or would you off set that with other spending cuts?
FREEMAN: Right, I think everybody who looks at this situation reasonably understands you want to find everyone in ISIS and shoot them, and this is a fund that allows them to do that. But basically, the problem with America's military right now is not its budget. It's the commander- in-chief. You look around the world, it's the same situation in Iran. This crazy deal is not happening because we're not spending enough on defense. It's because the president actually wants to allow some of the most dangerous people in the world to develop their nuclear program. So it's about maintaining that capability with our military going forward and having the economic ability to do so.
GIGOT: Is it worth blowing up a budget accord to get more defense spending?
STEPHENS: Because we have a dangerous world. I find it weird that people who describe themselves as fiscal hawks will keep the pretense of keeping the Pentagon budget within the Budget Control Act, but yet say, oh, we'll spend an additional close to --
GIGOT: But that's crucial because the spending caps, if you break those, what happens is President Obama says, oh, you want more money for defense, I want dollar-for-dollar increase on anything on domestic spending.
STEPHENS: Yes, I mean, look, I get -- I understand the politics of that. But one thing that's important to note is we are living in a world where the risks are proliferating in ways we haven't seen in decades. Europe is a major security concern for us in a way it hasn't been since the 1980s. The Middle East remains one. In fact, it's getting worse. We have an admiral telling us that China now has more attack submarines than the United States does. And it's simply wrong for James to say that the problem isn't the budget, it's the president. The problem is -- yes, the president is a problem, but we have historically low rates of defense spending, 3.4 percent or so of GDP.
GIGOT: But his point -- what about his point that he's not going to spend it anyway for the next two years and, once President Obama is gone, you can increase spending.
STEPHENS: Well, that's just not -- look, I mean, you do not build aircraft carriers in a couple of weeks. One of the problems that George W. Bush had when he became president and we found ourselves at war within nine months or 10 months of him coming to office is that he suffered from the very small defense budgets that Clinton had had during the 1990s. You know, you ask someone like Jack (ph), one of the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan is we couldn't deploy sufficient troops early enough.
GIGOT: Former Army general, Jack (ph).
Yeah, go ahead.
FREEMAN: Yeah, the historically low rates are on our borrowing. And I think this is allowing people to not realize how the math is about crush us. OK? We're paying the same interest on the federal debt now as we did 20 years ago when the publicly held debt was less than a third of its current size. So once interest rates go back to normal -- and they will -- CBO is saying 10 years from now we'll be spending $800 billion, more than $800 billion just on interest payments on the debt. That's more than the entire defense budget even if you count the overseas stuff.
STEPHENS: There's a famous British prime minister who said he'd rather take risks with defense than risks with finances. His name was Neville Chamberlain.
GIGOT: Oh, pulling out the Neville Chamberlain card here. Come on. Are you going to pull out the Churchill card, too?
So what about the fact that I hear from some defense hawks that they should -- that national security is a good potential issue for Republicans in 2016. And defense spending is part and parcel of that. You don't want to give that up as you go in -- Congress goes in to set up the issues for 2016.
FREEMAN: I think they will make a mistake if they have that argument hinge on money. These are decisions about strategy and I don't think anyone really -- most people do not disagree with fighting ISIS. This is not something that requires us to wreck our finances and our economy for the long term.
GIGOT: Briefly, Bret.
STEPHENS: Look, I think that Republicans are going to be in a bad place next year if Hillary Clinton or whoever the Democratic candidate is going to be able to say I'm the hawk on national defense. These guys are -- have smaller numbers.
GIGOT: All right, guys, we have to go. Thank you very much.
The biggest mistake would be letting the budget fail. They need that budget so they can overcome Harry Reid in the Senate.
Still ahead, Democrats in Congress are putting the squeeze on global warming skeptics, threatening academics and organizations that dare question their climate change agenda. Kim Strassel joins us with the details after the break.
GIGOT: Are congressional Democrats trying to silence climate change skeptics? Last month, more than a hundred think tanks, trade associations and companies not towing the liberal line on global warming received letters from Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer, Ed Markey and Sheldon Whitehouse demanding information about their funding. This follows an inquiry by House Democrat Raul Grijalva into seven academics who have questioned President Obama's climate politics.
Wall Street Journal "Potomac Watch" columnist, Kim Strassel, joins us with more.
So, Kim, what's the -- what's the goal of these -- sending the letters to all these groups?
KIM STRASSEL, POTOMAC WATCH COLUMNIST: It's a witch-hunt. It's designed to send a message to everyone that if they do not agree with the president's agenda on climate, if they do not accept global warming, that they are going to get harassed, that they're going to have all of their e- mails and correspondence and question about what they work with dug up and thrown out for the public to go through. It's designed to simply make them step back and stop.
GIGOT: It's also designed to say, look, you're getting funding from this or that corporation perhaps and that somehow taints what you are saying because you're in hock to fossil fuel interests. Isn't that part of the --
STRASSEL: Yeah. But here's the thing, Paul. The seven scientists on the receiving end of these letters that came, that Congressman Grijalva sent, as they have pointed out, when you publish things in peer-reviewed literature, you're already required to state any associations and fundings that prove a conflict of interest. So this information is already out there. It's mostly about -- it's mostly about trying to muzzle them, trying to get them to shut up.
GIGOT: Well, Richard Lindzen, who has been on this program, the former MIT climate scientist, he's held his views for years. It doesn't matter who really funds him.
How is it different getting their funding from, let's say, the Sierra Club does or other interest groups if they're funded by somebody like Tom Steyer, the billionaire who has a clear agenda on climate change. Is it any different?
STRASSEL: No. There's no difference whatsoever. Again, I mean, also, too, you have to put this in the context of this is now a trend. It's part of a theme, a campaign by Democrats that they do to anyone they don't agree with. Remember, a few years back, we had Dick Durbin, a Senator from Illinois, a Democrat, very senior in the Senate, he launched a campaign against the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is a free-market group that pushes states to adopt free-market reforms. And he demanded -- sent out letters to companies demanding to know if they funded ALEC. Again, it was designed to try to embarrass people out of doing that funding and make them stop.
GIGOT: Is it going to work, I guess? Because it seems to me that some of these groups have sent letters saying, you know, no thanks, we're not going to tell you this because it's not -- it's not your business, and we're not going to shut up.
STRASSEL: It was hugely encouraging. Just in the last few weeks, yeah, you had groups like Cato, which is the Libertarian organization, their CEO, Mr. Allison, sent a letter back to the Senators and said, you know, this is a First Amendment protection, we're not handing over any information to you. And you have had a lot of groups do that. You have had some companies do it too. Koch Industries, which was a recipient of the letter, their general counsel sent a letter back and gave them -- the Senators a little lesson in freedom of association and the First Amendment. So -- But I think it's worrisome, Paul, that you don't hear it from everybody and that's kind of concerning.
GIGOT: So, James, what's the bigger picture here if you step back on the politics of this? I mean, remember, in the first two years of the President Obama's administration, they had clear running, they had majorities in the House and the super majority in the Senate, and they couldn't pass Cap and Trade. They're not likely to do that -- it's impossible to do that with a Republican Congress. So what's the larger political strategy here behind these?
FREEMAN: The larger thing is why the global warming crowd wants to shut up the skeptics since the skeptics have a lot of good facts right now. This has been a terrible decade for the warming crowd. It you look at the -- the doomsday predictions have not panned out. The warming trend predicted has not occurred.
GIGOT: The models predicted warming that would be continuing and it hasn't happened in the last 10 or 15 years.
FREEMAN: 10, 15, even 20 years in terms of what was expected. Now it may be that really didn't understand how water vapor interacts with CO2. Maybe they --
GIGOT: They say it's hiding in the oceans.
GIGOT: That's the argument that all the heat is collecting there.
FREEMAN: So the models haven't been accurate. So they don't have that fact going for them. And then you have these very powerful trends. The world basically loves fossil fuels. As much as subsidies have gone into wind and solar --
GIGOT: It's cheap, efficient energy.
FREEMAN: It's cheap and efficient. It's pulled millions of people out of poverty and will continue to do so. We have this U.S. energy revolution providing more, not just cheaper fuel, but even, on their terms, cleaner. If they want less emissions, we're now switching from coal to cheap, natural gas.
FREEMAN: Lower CO2, for people who care about such things. All the facts on the ground are bad for what you might call this controversy industry or the global warming industry that's trying to muzzle the opponent.
GIGOT: All right, thank you both.
We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits & Misses" of the week.
GIGOT: Time now for "Hits & Misses" of the week.
Kim, start us off.
STRASSEL: A miss for President Barack Obama for suggesting that this country should move to mandatory voting in elections. The president was pretty nakedly partisan in saying why he likes this idea, saying it would force young people and minorities to vote, which, as we all know, are groups that do tend to vote for Democrats. But more importantly, the president seemed to miss the point that the First Amendment's protections for free speech also provides protections to not speak. And that means being able to skip elections. So Mr. Obama might want to brush up on his Constitution.
GIGOT: All right.
STEPHENS: This is a hit for former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, who heads this weekend to Iowa to explore a prospective presidential bid against other Democratic contenders. I think it ought to be an invitation for perhaps a New York governor, let's say, or a Massachusetts Senator to start exploring other -- these possibilities. The Democratic Party, after all, should be Democratic. It shouldn't have a coronation for its next presidential nominee. "Let a thousand flowers bloom," as someone once said.
FREEMAN: Paul, Chris Borland, an NFL linebacker, is in the news for retiring because of a concern about head injuries.
GIGOT: At age 24.
FREEMAN: At age 24. A very promising player. We wish him well. I think it's also good to note this week the comment from Dr. Joseph Maroon, the Pittsburgh Steelers' neurosurgeon, who pointed out the true statement that riding bicycles and scooters is more dangerous to kids than football. Now, we're not saying no one should ride a bicycle, but hoping this leads to a more thoughtful discussion on risk.
GIGOT: All right.
Bret, Martin O'Malley, zero chance of getting the nomination.
STEPHENS: Well --
FREEMAN: Run, Elizabeth, run.
GIGOT: Less than zero.
That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.
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