All-Star panel: New questions about President Obama's Mideast strategy

All-Star panel reacts to chaos in yemen


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 26, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: The vacuum created by America's failure to lead in the Mideast is setting in motion a calamity that could result in a bloodletting between Sunnis and Shias that we haven't seen in 1,000 years.

This Arab coalition probably will not stop in Yemen, and Iran will probably push back. God help us all.


CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: Republican Senator Lindsey Graham commenting on a situation that seems to be spinning out of control across the Middle East. And we're back now with the panel.

So George, here we are in Yemen -- and I want to make sure I get this right -- here we are in Yemen helping the Sunnis fight the Iranian-backed Shiites, while in Iraq we're on the side of the Iranian-backed Shiites fighting the Sunnis. Please explain to me whose side are we on?

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Both. It depends on the theater, and there are a number of theaters in this small region, theaters of war. The good news it seems to me is the Saudis are actually acting, and although people are saying, gee, they didn't even tell us they were going to do it, that's also a good sign. These are nations. It's their neighborhood. It's up to them to do something about it.

I mean, after all, look, the Islamic State is no more a state than Red Sox nation is a nation. It's a Gerry-built, temporary phenomenon that could be no match for the conventional forces of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the rest. It's time they step up and do it. We are giving them logistical, intelligence and air support. That's fine. But it's up to them to do the rest.

WALLACE: Well, I certainly see your point about the Saudis. On the other hand, I have got to say, Juan, I don't have a clue what U.S. policy is anymore. We are negotiating with the Iranians. We are fighting with the Israelis. We are fighting against the Sunnis in some countries and with the Sunnis in other countries. Do you have a sense what President Obama's Mideast strategy is?

JUAN WILLIAMS, THE HILL: Yes, I think it's pretty clear, it just a policy that doesn't make people happy, as you have heard from Senator Graham. He construes it as leading from behind, ineffectual, creating a vacuum that then invites the kind of tensions on the ground that are in an explosive theater. As George saying, it depends on the theater. But overall, if there is going to be a World War III, I suspect it's coming in the Middle East.

I disagree with you. I don't think we are fighting with the Israelis. We have disagreements, policy disagreements over the deal with Iran --

WALLACE: I don't mean we are shooting at them.

WILLIAMS: No, we are not fighting with them. But I mean, we are fighting, we are shooting in those other instances that you cited. But I think that what you have here is a situation where the United States, President Obama's administration, let me -- I don't know how you separate those two. But let me say his policy, in answer to your question, is that the United States has been on the ground, has invested time, money and blood. We are still a presence there. But the question is, should would we be taking the lead? The critics say this is leading from behind and insufficient. I think if you listen to Lindsey Graham, he is really calling for military action, for the United States --

WALLACE: Basically what you are saying is we are pulling back?

WILLIAMS: I think we have pulled back. And that's the story of this era.

WALLACE: OK, is that working?

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: No, I think it's actually much worse than that. Look, we have realigned with Iran. We should be under no illusions about that fact. And I think you go back and you can point to two things crucial in looking at the current context. One was our willingness to engage in totally secret talks directly with the Iranian regime back in Oman, back in Oman in the 2011-2012 timeframe. We didn't tell any of our Gulf Arab allies about it. We didn't tell Israel about it. Congress was kept in the dark. This was the Obama administration acting alone.

Second, in October of last year President Obama sent a letter to the supreme leader of Iran in which he said -- after having declared that Assad must go and that he couldn't cross a red line -- President Obama sent a letter to the supreme leader of Iran and said, in effect, we won't come after your client in Syria. We are not going to target Assad, we're not going to target his security forces, and oh, by the way, we might be on the same side in this fight against ISIS. So it's not just leading from behind. It's actively shifting our alignment towards Iran.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about that, because it was a very, I thought, provocative and I thought also quite controversial op-ed today by Max Boot in the Wall Street Journal. Do you really believe, I mean, I could understand, you know, the enemy of the enemy is my friend argument, but do you really believe that we are shifting, President Obama intends to shift our strategy, our alliance from Israel to Iran?

HAYES: Well, I don't know about from Israel to Iran, although certainly if you look at policies and comments from the administration over the past several weeks you could ask that question in a serious way.

But go back even further. Go back to the 2009 timeframe where there were, again, letters to the -- letters to the Iranian supreme leader. And then when we discovered in the fall of 2009 that Iran was building the secret nuclear facility at Qom -- outside of Qom at Fordow -- the president, you had Nicolas Sarkozy condemn it. You had Gordon Brown condemn it in the strongest, harshest terms and say this means that Iran isn't serious about its obligations to the international community. And then President Obama spoke and had these bizarre couplets where he would say things like, look, this is unacceptable, but this really presents an opportunity for the Iranian regime.

WALLACE: George?

WILL: Well, I agree with what Steve says our policy is becoming, which is to realign and deal with what we consider is the big power in the region, which is Iran. I disagree with, however, Lindsey Graham's assertion, which is that all of this is more or less explainable by the fact that we're not leading. I think kindling in that region is dry and has been for some time. I think they are perfectly capable of making a sovereign mess of things on their own. A witty political scientist has diagnosed what he calls "narcissistic policy disorder," which is the belief that everything in the world is somehow explainable by something we did or failed to do. And I don't think that's right.

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