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Journal Editorial Report

Will White House ever change course in ISIS fight?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," May 30, 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 ISIS sets sites on Baghdad, the Obama administration shows little signs of changing course. But is blaming the Iraqis a solid strategy? And is Iran stepping in to fill the void?

Plus, a now poll suggests Americans are moving to the left on cultural issues. So are social conservatives an endangered species? And what does this mean for 2016.

And it's being called the White House's latest power grab. So could the EPA's new water rules spell big headaches for private property owners?

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

As ISIS continues to advance in Syria and Iraq with its sites set on Baghdad, the Obama administration is showing little sign of changing course with Defense Secretary Ash Carter blaming the recent fall of Ramadi on the Iraqi army showing, quote, "no will to fight." And White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest telling Fox News that the U.S. news reporting is U.S. is not responsible for saving Iraq from the terror group.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Our strategy is to support the Iraqi security forces in doing what we will not do for them. The United States is prepared to train them, to equip them, and to back them on the battle field with coalition military air power as they take the fight to ISIL in their own country. The United States is not going to be responsible for securing the security situation inside of Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; Global View columnist, Bret Stephens; and editorial board member, Joe Rago.

So, Dan, doesn't look to me like they are showing signs of changing course.  Do you see evidence they might change strategy, because the current doesn't seem to be working?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I don't think the Obama administration has any intention of changing the course. And if that is the case -- I mean, Josh Earnest could not have been more emphatic in that statement -- then I think one has to turn to alternative explanations. And I think one that we do have to --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: For why they are not changing course.

HENNINGER: For why they are not changing course is that the Obama administration expects their partner in the Mideast, i.e., Iran, to take the lead in southern Iraq. It's a Shiite combination of Iran and southern Iraq, and to fight ISIS. In other words, they just regarded Iran as somebody with whom they can do business, even though General Sulaimani, the head of the Quds forces, attacked the United States this week in saying they are not going a damn thing for the Iraqis.

GIGOT: But the price of that, Bret, would be significant strategically because it would mean it would give the opportunity, if we depended on the Shiite militias in the Iraq to fight ISIS.

BRET STEPHENS, GLOBAL VIEW COLUMNIST: Right --

GIGOT: We ceded to them and Iran a big chunk of influence over Iraq.

STEPHENS: We're making -- the administration is making two fundamental mistakes here. One is that idea that if you are being really hard headed about this, well, if Shiite militias are fighting it out with ISIL in a country like Iraq, we're all winners. Let it go on forever.

GIGOT: Balances --

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHENS: There is a balance of power and it contains itself. What we learned from the Iran/Iraq war on the 1980s is that these countries come out of these long wars more vicious, more emboldened, more capable. But the larger problem with what the administration is doing is the administration is it's pretending this is somehow a problem that pertains to Iraq and Iraq alone, not to us. The reason we need to confront ISIS isn't to stand up to government in Baghdad. We need to confront ISIS because it is attracting 22,000, 25,000 foreign fighters, including many Americans, and these people are going to come back to Western countries.  This terror is going to spread if we're not able to stop it there.

GIGOT: If you are the president of the United States and do what President Obama did in September, you say our goal, our strategy is to destroy and degrade ISIS, and then within a year, you haven't done -- made any progress there, in fact, they have advanced, then you have demonstrated American weakness, and you enhance the attractiveness of ISIS.

STEPHENS: That is exactly right. And now we're seeing, you know, a number of lengthy magazine stories, one in the "New Yorker" quite recently, of what is attracting these young people all over the world to ISIS?

GIGOT: Success.

STEPHENS: Well, it is success. They are the strong horse, as bin Laden said many years ago, in the race in the Middle East. It makes matters worse if the administration keeps arguing that we're winning against ISIS when there is so much powerful evidence to the contrary. That is group winning on both fronts.

GIGOT: Dan, how big a threat are we going to see to Baghdad itself? This has echoes, for those of us who remember, to the fall of Saigon. Could we see a black ISIS flag over the U.S. embassy in Baghdad?

HENNINGER: I think it's entirely possible. We have to look at what happened in Ramadi. When ISIS went into Ramadi, they set off six or seven tremendous truck bombs.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: The size of the Oklahoma City bombing.

HENNINGER: Right. Prime Minister al Abadi, of Iraq, said it was as though a nuclear bomb had gone off. Totally disruptive. They can go into Baghdad and at least start doing that sort of thing, that causes complete chaos inside the city. And at that point, it is hard to predict whether we would be able to defend, say, the American embassy.

GIGOT: I want to go to now to the domestic politics, Joe. I want to show -- let's show a shot of Rand Paul attributing the cause of the rise of ISIS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL, R-KY.: ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of those were snatched by ISIS. These hawks also wanted to bomb Assad, which would have made ISIS's job even easier. They created these people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Did the U.S. create ISIS, Joe?

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: It's sort of a strange theory of the historical causation. The hawks that he's talking about haven't a modicum of influence on policy for the last seven years. You might as well blame the imperialists who redrew the Middle East after World War I.

The truth is we know where the Islamic State came from. Its predecessor was al Qaeda in Iraq. This was the insurgency that was largely defeated in 2007 under General David Petraeus' surge. The Sunni awakening kind of survived as the marginal force. And when the U.S. withdrew in 2011, AQI filled the vacuum and has come back better armed, more experienced and more deadly.

STEPHENS: As in Syria. I mean, ISIS emerged from the chaos of Syria because we were not willing to arm and train moderate rebels that could have overthrown the Assad regime.

GIGOT: But what is Rand Paul up to here, Bret? He is obviously trying to stand out in the Republican crowd, but is this the best way to get the nomination?

STEPHENS: I think it is a bizarre strategy. When you listen to that clip, he sounds awfully like his father. The suggestion, which is actually morally disgraceful, that the hawks, John McCain, created ISIS, created these people who are beheading us. And as a figure of speech, it is unbecoming. But the main problem here is, in an era where Americans understand there's a new disorder, this kind of talk will not serve him well.

GIGOT: All right, thank you all.

When we come back, are social conservatives a dying breed? A new poll suggests Americans are moving to the left on cultural issues. What's behind those numbers? And what does it mean for 2016?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Does a new poll spell big trouble for Republicans in 2016? A just released Gallop survey shows, for the first time, the number of Americans who describe themselves associated with liberal on social issues was on par with those that are conservative with both at 31 percent. That marks the highest percentage of social liberals and the lowest share of social conservatives since Gallop began asking the question in 1999.

We're back with Dan Henninger. Wall Street Journal political columnist, Kimberly Strassel, joins us; and "Best of the Web" columnist, James Taranto also joins the panel.

So, Kim, does this survey result surprise you at all? What does it mean?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: I think if you look at the numbers, Paul, the movement is actually quite small. If you just go back to last year, conservatives still outpaced liberals by three or four percentage points. So you have seen a slight shift. But it does matter in some regards. What it suggests is that if you look within the Republican Party, you seem to see fewer conservatives identifying themselves overall in a trending way as well over the years --

GIGOT: Right.

STRASSEL: -- as very socially conservative. And if you look in the Democratic Party, you see more people identifying themselves as very liberal, and that again trending over the years, continues to grow.

GIGOT: And that shifts the nature of the coalition within each party but also the breakdown among voters, James, how do you see the results? Are they that significant?

JAMES TARANTO, BEST OF THE WEB COLUMNIST: Well, I think they are significant, but only in one respect. I think it is completely explained by the dramatic shift in public opinion in favor of same-sex marriage.  Gallop also tells us, in 2005, 37 percent of Americans supported same-sex partners. Now it is 60 percent.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: -- have changed their minds. Social conservatives, the terms isn't defined in this poll. It's just offered and people can make what they want of it. But one main thing it means is someone who is a hold out on same- sex marriage. Hold outs, by definition, are diminishing in number, and that explains the shift.

GIGOT: And the survey shows that, on abortion, for example, the views of Americans haven't changed dramatically. Still about 45 percent who say it is morally acceptable.

TARANTO: That is because people change their minds on abortion in both directions. But people who accept same-sex marriage almost never change their minds and come out against it.

GIGOT: But what about issues of drug legalization, the death penalty?  We've seen a shift towards opposition. There are a whole series of -- for example, suicide -- not --

(CROSSTALK)

TARANTO: Assisted suicide.

GIGOT: Assisted suicide. There's been a shift to the left.

TARANTO: Yeah, but I don't think it's necessarily -- I think those are issues that cross party lines much more than abortion and same-sex marriage.

HENNINGER: If you want to get really upset, support for polygamy is up 9 points.

(LAUGHTER)

Seven to 16.

(CROSSTALK)

HENNINGER: The worst is yet to come, Paul.

(LAUGHTER)

But, you know, if Hillary Clinton is going run on these issue, who could blame her? She has to somehow change the subject from two things, the economy, which contracted 7 percent in the first quarter, we have just learned this week, and foreign policy, which is in a state of chaos, over which she was responsible for four years during this administration. If she wants to run on these subjects, I would say she is free to. But that is not what's on voters' minds.

GIGOT: Kim, does this explain the fact that maybe eight, 10, 12 years ago, let's go back even to the 2004 campaign, where Republicans ran against gay marriage, what they wanted this kind of the cultural fight. That is, Republicans wanted to polarize the electorate on those grounds. Now you see Democrats wanting to polarize on some of these issues. And I think that goes a long way to explaining the Hillary Clinton strategy. I mean, her husband signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 to get elected, re- elected. And now -- she was against gay marriage until 2013 or so, and now she is going to use that as her own wedge against Republicans.

STRASSEL: Yeah. And the reason why is she's looking at the success Barack Obama had in 2008 and 2012 in making it to the White House and the specific coalition he put together. And that coalition involves women, often unmarried women, as well as young voters, as well as minorities. And what Hillary Clinton knows is that for many of those particular voters, social issues are a little bit more of a bell ringer than some other things. And so this is her way of getting in with them, especially because, again, this is a person they don't necessarily -- some of those coalition members don't trust her so much on the economy and other issues. So this is her way of getting their attention.

GIGOT: OK.

Is -- does this mean, James, that Rand Paul is on to something when he tries to broaden the appeal of the Republican part party or the young people who are more Libertarian on these social questions?

TARANTO: I think Rand Paul is on to something when he talks about broadening the appeal. I don't know that I would equate social liberalism with Libertarianism necessarily. There are a lot of non-Libertarian implications. For example, you look at the birth control issue, where they are trying to force companies to give birth control.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: That becomes a religious liberty question.

TARANTO: Right. But social liberalism is not necessarily the same thing as the Libertarianism.

GIGOT: How should Republicans respond, Dan?

HENNINGER: Well, I think they have to acknowledge that social morals are changing. One thing I think they could argue in their favor is that some of this data suggests that intact American families are beginning to break apart a little bit, the support for unwed mothers, for instance. And you could make the argument that if you are going to have a strong society, ultimately, you do need strong families. And they should at least talk about that. They don't have to do it in a kind of aggressive way that Rick Santorum did four years ago, but I think they should not fail to defend it.

GIGOT: Kim, briefly, do Republicans have to shift on gay marriage and on abortion, or not?

STRASSEL: What they've got to do it talk about it in another tone. What we know is that voters appreciate candidates with the strong morals. It is a question of being told how they have to view it. They don't like that so much.

GIGOT: All right, thanks, Kim.

When we come back, it is being criticized as the Obama administration's latest power grab as the EPA claim jurisdiction over tens of millions of acres of private land. What the new water rules mean for property owners, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: The Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday announced a sweeping rewrite of the Clean Water Act, with a rule that extends federal jurisdiction over tens of millions of acres of private property. The Obama administration says the measure is meant to clarify which smaller streams, tributaries and wetlands are covered by the anti-pollution and development provisions of the law. But critics say it goes too far in expanding the reach of government regulators.

We're back with Dan Henninger and Joe Rago. And Wall Street Journal senior editorial page writer, Allysia Finley, also joins us.

So, Allysia, you have been following this. How extensive is this? Are the critics right?

ALLYSIA FINLEY, SENIOR EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: Basically, this will give the EPA and the U.S. Army of Engineers control over tens of millions of acres of private land.

GIGOT: Is that the purpose here, to get control of private -- because when I think -- I think when a lot of Americans think of water regulations, you know, we want to control the Mississippi and clean up dirty rivers and lakes. We all want that. But this goes further and really gives them authority to go in and regulate private property, private land, not just waterways.

FINLEY: Right. If you have a canal or -- that sometimes has water -- not canal, but a creek or pothole on your land that occasionally fills with water, this would give the EPA power to regulate it.

GIGOT: How can they justify that?

FINLEY: Well, they really don't. They claim that there is not enough science, but they have the expertise and experience in these areas and, thus, they can regulate.

GIGOT: And showing that somehow if you have, let's say, a part of your property -- you are a farmer, you have property that stays wet most of the time, that somehow that drains into a creek, which drains into a tributary, which drains into a river and may drain into a lake, and is that the legal connection that they made?

FINLEY: Well, they claim a significant nexus, is what they --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: That's what I mean, yeah, from A to B to C --

(CROSSTALK)

FINELY: That drives some sort of correlative property that they just basically invented.

GIGOT: What is the problem they are saying they are going to solve with this?

FINLEY: Pollution. They're --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Pollution, but my backyard isn't polluted if it has marshland.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: It's clean as the whistle. So what are they cleaning up?

(LAUGHTER)

FINLEY: Well, they are really just trying to ban drilling, oil drilling and other kind of economic activities.

GIGOT: Ah. So they are trying to deter development of property --

FINLEY: Exactly.

GIGOT: -- and be able to have a say over what private property owners can do? Is that it?

FINLEY: Yeah. Basically, more control over people's private property.

GIGOT: OK.

Are they going to get away with it, Joe?

RAGO: As you can imagine, this is fairly unpopular, and not only among Republicans.

GIGOT: Right.

RAGO: We've known this rule has been coming out for about two years.  There has been a series of votes. About two dozen Democrats in the House have voted against this rule. There is strong opposition in the Senate.  And as you can imagine, Democrats live on land, too, that might fall under this regulation.

I also think this is going to be litigated for years. And it is one of the risks of President Obama's unilateral executive power grabs. We've seen it on climate, health care, immigration, and now here.

HENNINGER: Exactly. To Joe's point, this is the way Democrats now govern when they are in power. Barack Obama said, if Congress won't act, I will.  What people thought he meant is the Republican opposition in Congress. He means also Democratic opposition. Because in cases like this, they cannot get bipartisan support for what the EPA has just done. So solution, simply issue a finalized order and let the devil take the hind most.

GIGOT: Allysia, enough bipartisan support in Congress to overturn the regulation?

FINLEY: Yes, but you don't have veto-proof majority.

GIGOT: OK, so a majority would be able to oppose it?

FINLEY: Probably even in the Senate.

GIGOT: In the Senate.

FINLEY: A veto-proof majority.

GIGOT: But maybe not two-thirds to override.

FINLEY: Two-thirds.

GIGOT: What about the chance of using spending control to riders and spending bills and such?

FINLEY: I think that is definitely going to be on -- in the pipeline.

GIGOT: Joe, what do you think? They got it, briefly?

RAGO: No. I think this is going to be resolved by the courts.

GIGOT: OK. All right. Thank you all.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Kimberly, first to you.

STRASSEL: Yet another miss for the Clinton Foundation, which we have now found out, was paying $10,000 a month to that old Clinton crony, Sidney Blumenthal, for services that seemed to apparently mainly revolve around letting Mr. Blumenthal pursue other business opportunities and secretly advising Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state. This is just more proof, Paul, the Clinton Foundation doesn't seem to be so much a charity as it does a full employment opportunity and holding pen for Clinton operatives while they wait for yet another Clinton campaign to go work on.

GIGOT: Thanks, Kim.

Allysia?

FINLEY: This is a miss to FIFA, the international soccer organization, which, this week, U.S. Prosecutors charged 14 FIFA executives and marketing executives with a variety of kickback schemes spanning two decades. This really shouldn't be surprising, given that the president, Sepp Blatter, has controlled this organization like Tammany Hall over the years.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: OK, thanks, Allysia.

James?

TARANTO: I have a hit and a miss for Rusty Hicks. He's the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and was a leading advocate the L.A.'s new city minimum wage of $15 an hour. Now he wants an exemption for union shops. He says it would allow workers the freedom to prioritize what is important to them. So a hit to recognizing the freedom of contract is, in his words, a good thing --

(LAUGHTER)

-- and a miss for trying to deny it to workers who don't belong to unions.

GIGOT: OK, so what is going to happen? Are they going to get that exception or not, James?

TARANTO: I'm guessing not, because the hypocrisy is just too blatant.

GIGOT: All right, thanks, James.

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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