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Journal Editorial Report

US being booted as a major political player in the Mideast?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," October 3, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST:  This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," Russian air strikes in Syria leave the Obama administration scrambling. Just what is Vladimir Putin up to and how should the U.S. respond?

Plus, after John Boehner's resignation, the battle for the next House speaker heats up.  So can Republicans unite behind a new leader and a winning strategy?

And the latest batch of e-mails could spell fresh trouble for Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign.  We'll have the details after these headlines.

(FOX NEWS REPORT)

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

A dramatic escalation in the four-year old Syrian civil war as Russian warplanes began launching air strikes there Wednesday in the Kremlin's biggest Middle East intervention in decades.  The strikes are targeting opponents of Bashar al Assad's regime, including CIA-back rebels.  It started just two days after President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin sat down to discuss the Syrian conflict on the sidelines of the U.N.
General Assembly in New York.

Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; and foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens, join me with more.

So, Bret, all of this seems to have caught the administration unawares.  They didn't see it coming.  They didn't see a lot the relationship with Iran, that Russia has now, coming.  What does this mean for U.S. interests in the region?

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST:  Briefly, we're essentially being booted from the Middle East as an important geopolitical player. It's happening piece by piece.  The Iraqis have started turning to the Iranians and the Russians in Syria.  I think we might see it eventually in Afghanistan as well.  And the reason is the United States is not seen as an especially reliable great power protector.  It's not seen as an effective force.  We have a president who has set red lines and then retreated from those red lines.  Into this vacuum, the Russians, the Iranians and others are moving, and moving, I'd say, very definitely and much faster than anyone expected.

GIGOT:  Dan, what is Vladimir Putin after here?  What does he want, other than, as Bret said, pushing the U.S. out?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR:  I think he wants to be effectively the big foot in the Middle East, the primary player.  The idea, which the White House is putting out now, that Russia itself is going to get sucked into the Middle Eastern quagmire, is totally false.  I think the Russians, who are now working in concert with the Iranians, General Suleimani, the head of the Quds forces, went to Moscow about a month ago, and the --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT:  They seem to have cooked this up.

HENNINGER:  They seem to have cooked this up.  We know that the prime minister of Iraq, Mr. Abadi, has been sharing intelligence information with the Russians, again --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT:  Again, as a surprise.

HENNINGER:  Again, a surprise.  Look, they're going to set up the Middle East so it's basically there at a low boil.  Putin is perfectly happy to have ISIS and the terrorists running around up there and pushing back against them.  All those other countries, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, are now going to be calling Moscow to see how they can make an accommodation.

GIGOT:  Wait a minute.  Putin went to the U.N. and said this is my anti-Islamic State coalition.  You're saying that he really doesn't want to defeat ISIS?

HENNINGER:  I don't think he wants to defeat ISIS particularly.  I think he's happy to secure Assad in Damascus and the surrounding area and let -- you know, they'll sort of fight ISIS to a stand still but it allows him to be in control of --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT:  Wait a minute.  Why wouldn't he want to defeat the jihadists, some of whom have been coming from Russia to go into Syria, and then might return?

STEPHENS:  Look, there are a range of positives for Putin in terms of what he's doing in Syria.  First of all, the investment is very small.
This is not an Afghanistan-style Soviet quagmire, hundreds of thousands of troops returning home in body bags.  This is 2,000, 3,000 men.  It gets to shore up --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT:  They're not going to be on the front line?

STEPHENS:  No.  That's -- Hezbollah is the cannon fodder, the guys from Lebanon --

GIGOT:  Right.

STEPHENS:  -- the other Shiite fanatics.  They're the ones that will be on the front lines.  But they'll be shoring up the Assad regime and some of its strongholds, particularly around Latakia Province --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT:  With air power?

STEPHENS:  Exactly, with air power, perhaps Special Forces, calling in strikes.  There's a lot they can do.  They cemented an alliance, a de facto tactical alliance with Iran.  They're humiliating the United States, which was always something that Putin has been after.  And by the way, not unimportantly, he is essentially generating a diplomatic card in Syria that he can use in any number of other situations, whether it's over future sanctions in Ukraine or bargaining, say, for the future of a country like Moldova, the Baltics.  There's a whole world of opportunity that's opening up for him at a very low cost.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT:  And not just future sanctions.  Maybe he can go to the Europeans and say, you know what, those refugees flooding your doors, I can help you with that, I can do something in Syria to stop, to slow that down, but the price, you have to lift those Ukrainian sanctions you already have on, which some of the Europeans don't like anyway.

HENNINGER:  Let me try to extend Bret's point.  We know that on September 9th, the Russians said that they would like to start building ground bases in the former Soviet states in central Asia.  They're in negotiations in Belarus to exactly that.  And they're making permanent, the ground force bases, on the border with Ukraine.  What's going on here is he's establishing his presence from central Asia to the eastern Mediterranean.  It's a thought-out plan.  He sees his opportunity with Barack Obama as president, and he's taking it.

STEPHENS:  Look, Putin's ambition has always been to restore Russia as a great geopolitical player.  And the fact is that, objectively, you would say this country doesn't have the resources to do it.  It has a GDP about the size of Italy.

GIGOT:  Well, that's the question.  That's what Obama and the White House are saying, look, he can't pull this off, it's just not going to work, it's going to tax them, extend them, and they'll pay for it.

STEPHENS:  Yes, but Putin is -- again, this is a 2,000-man deployment. A Great Britain or a smaller power could carry this off equally well.  He's not having to make a particularly big investment for a very large return. It's frankly like Donald Trump putting his name on a building that he doesn't necessarily own.

GIGOT:  Getting royalties.

STEPHENS:  You know, he gets a lot of royalties and gets a lot of prestige.

GIGOT:  Thanks, guys.  We'll be following this for a long time.

When we come back, the battle for the next House speaker heats up in the wake of John Boehner's surprise resignation.  So will in-party fighting continue to derail the GOP agenda, or will Republicans in Congress unite behind a new leader?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT:  Congress avoided another shutdown this week, passing a bill that keeps the federal government open through December 11th, and pushing the fight over Planned Parenthood funding down the road.  The vote comes less than a week after House Speaker's John Boehner's surprise resignation.
And a leadership fight is playing out on Capitol Hill ahead of an election scheduled for next week.

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

So, Joe, let's step back for a second.  The Republican House elected its biggest majority -- the people elected the biggest Republican majority in the House since 1928, I believe.  Why can't they get 218 votes to govern?

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER:  I think in a lot of cases they have unrealistic expectations, and they don't understand the virtue of political patience.  The more conservative wing of the Republican Party wants to repeal Obamacare.  They want to cut spending.  Those are things --

GIGOT:  So do we, Joe.

RAGO:  -- that are very hard to do when you only control one of the political branches.  I also think there's just a lot of hyper-polarization in Washington.  John Boehner was a casualty of that.  You've got an uncompromising president and a wing that just want to fight with him instead of trying to find common ground for maybe some progress, which we've seen, I think, on trade.  On spending, you've made modest progress.
On entitlement reform, even, with a medical bill that passed Congress this year.  So there is some accommodation to be had.

GIGOT:  So, Kim, the Republicans now debating who is going to be their next leader.  Kevin McCarthy, the current majority leader, is the favorite.
But the conservative rebels, who've pushed out Boehner, they don't have a candidate of their own who can win, do they?

KIM STRASSEL, "POTOMAC WATCH" COLUMNIST:  No.  And that's what makes this so strange.  We aren't really having a leadership race.  We're about to have a leadership interview.

(LAUGHTER)

Because, you know, it's an odd thing.  These people are unhappy.  But as you said, they have not put up their own candidate.  That's how you would normally go about it.  Two sets of approaches, different ideas on policies, fight it out, see who is victorious.  But that wing, they like to complain.  They don't have to put anyone forward.

So what's going to happen is Kevin McCarthy is going to go bend the knee to some of these groups to try to get to 218 votes, see what their demands are, see what he is willing to give, and they'll decide if he's acceptable to them and whether they will vote for him.

GIGOT:  So they will be a blocking, wrecking crew.  They just can't be a governing crew, the back benchers in the House.

So what does that mean, Dan, for the ability of the House to get any thing done?  Does it mean that this group has essentially a veto power over the rest of the Congress?

HENNINGER:  To some extent, Paul.  They just passed this government extension into December.  And there 91 Republican votes for doing that, 151 against doing it.  It passed because of the Democrats.  And the Democrats are now going to have this, and the Republicans, a serious negotiation over a longer extension.  But if the Democrats want to just step back and not do business with the Republicans, you do face the possibility that this group could precipitate a government shutdown, and the Republicans will get blamed for that.

GIGOT:  Well, the problem is, Joe, if you don't -- if you're the majority party and you can't put together the 218 votes needed to govern and pass what you want, then you have to go to opposition and say, OK, I need your votes, what do you want?  Then suddenly, the debate and the agenda move left.

RAGO:  And I think that's why John Boehner stepped down because he probably would have needed Democratic votes to save his speakership.  The example I think Republicans should be following is actually Nancy Pelosi in 2007.  She was under intense pressure from --

GIGOT:  The new speaker then, at that time.

RAGO:  Under intense pressure from the Democratic left to defund the Iraq war.  She said, hold on, hold it together.  She didn't shut down the government.  President Obama went on to win in 2008.  They had unified control of the government and passed 40 years of liberal wishes.

GIGOT:  All right, Kim, so is Mitch McConnell next, the Republican leader in the Senate?  He's obviously been the target, with John Boehner, of conservative ire.  Is his job in jeopardy?

STRASSEL:  Look, this gets to why this is happening.  This group in the House, they are channeling what is truly a huge frustration out there among their constituents and the base.  They feel that not a lot gets done, that there's dysfunction, that the party does not have a plan.  And they want some scapegoats.  That has been John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.  But this gets to the question of unification.  To present the other side here, I mean, a lot of these people in this wing of the party, what they argue is we just want a leader that's got a plan and that's going to show us a little bit of fight.  They mentioned, for instance, the trade fight that happened, and said, look, put at much effort into some of the priorities that we all care about in that regard and taking it to the Democrats in that way, as you did on trade, and then when it comes to questions of government shutdowns or other things, we'll have your back.  That's what they claim they want out of the leaders.

GIGOT:  We'll see if they can get it all together.

When we come back, Hillary Clinton's e-mail woes deepen as those classified messages continue to pile up and as the FBI confirms that it's looking into her server setup.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT:  The State Department released the latest batch of e-mails from Hillary Clinton's private server this week, and the number of messages now considered classified has grown to more than 400.  Wednesday's release also revealed that Russian hackers targeted her personal account at least five times during her tenure as secretary of state.  This, as FBI Director James Comey confirmed Thursday that the agency is looking into the security of Clinton's home-brew computer system.

So, Kim, how is -- what have we learned this last couple of weeks -- the main things we learned about e-mails and her server?

STRASSEL:  The main thing is that most of the things that Mrs. Clinton said back in March at her press conference are being proven, one by one, to not be true.  We know, as you mentioned, have more than 400 e-mails that the government has deemed to contain classified material.  This, despite her saying that there was no classified information on her account.  She also had claimed her server was secure the whole time.  We at least know now about five attempted hacks by Russians.  We do not yet know if she clicked on any of those attachments that came through, if she put her information at risk.  That's what the FBI is looking into.  We also found out that there is a two-month gap in her e-mails.  She claims she turned them all over.  But it turns out, at the very beginning of her tenure as secretary of state, she was using her personal e-mail address, but not yet using that server.  So, those e-mails were on some other server, and her campaign claims to not know where they are.  So those are simply missing.

GIGOT:  So her big vulnerability, I think, Dan, is that it's classified information, the mishandling of that.  Because if the FBI, which now is investigating, applies the standards to Mrs. Clinton that is applied to other former officials, like David Petraeus and John Deutch, former CIA directors, it will be very hard for them not to say that she committed a misdemeanor, at least, in mishandling classified information.  And if that's the case, then that's legal vulnerability.

HENNINGER:  It's real legal vulnerability.  And I think, across the Democratic Party, there's increasingly great concern that they're going to get out there to a point where she is going to have to answer for this and they will be left without a candidate.  That's why, for instance, in the past three months, the past quarter, Hillary raised $28 million.  Bernie Sanders raised $26 million.  He is right there with her.  Who would have thunk it?

GIGOT:  Wait a minute.  $28 million, Joe, is a lot of money.

HENNINGER:  So is 26!

GIGOT:  Well, it is.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT:  Especially for a guy who says he doesn't want to raise money because he's above all that.  But the issue of Hillary Clinton's candidacy is simply -- it would suggest -- the $28 million suggests to me that there's still -- basically, she is the front-runner.

RAGO:  She's absolutely the front-runner.  She's at about 50 percent in the polls, 20 percent for Sanders, another 20 percent flowing to somebody like Joe Biden, who hasn't even announced yet.  But I think there is a dissatisfaction with her.  It's kind of a lingering, low-level running dissatisfaction with her among Democrats because this highlights her big vulnerability, which is that she's untrustworthy.  People don't trust her.
And all these questions that continue to leak out are going to continue to hammer her campaign.

HENNINGER:  But it's been head-to-head with Republicans, Joe Biden beats them all.  She does not.  The pressure is their fault.

GIGOT:  The pressure is on Biden to get in.

HENNINGER:  Yeah.

GIGOT:  I talked to a Clinton supporter this week, though, Kim, who said she did not think that Biden would get in.  And if he did, the best day would be the day he announced, because all his other vulnerabilities will come in.  So Hillary Clinton is not giving up here.  And I saw this week, she called up, maybe as late as last week, Bill Clinton, came in and weighed in on her defense.  So, you know, when you bring in the big dog, you must be worried that there is some problem here, you need him to come in and try to put out the fire.

STRASSEL:  They are worried.  And here's why, because you're talking about the money, you're talking about the establishment.  They very much still view Hillary Clinton as their person.  They view her as the horse that's going to get them into the White House.  But when you look out and see that support surging to Bernie Sanders, there's a frustration among the Democratic base that they aren't really getting a choice, that the parties seem to have coronated her.  I think that's why you see so much controversy over the fact that there are so few debates that will happen on the Democratic side.  I think it's a very interesting question how much of Bernie Sanders' support is really because people like Sanders and how much of it is just a protest vote over the fact that they don't want to have to vote for Hillary Clinton.

GIGOT:  And if Biden gets in, the best argument he'll have is that in those head-to-head polls, he beats all the Republicans.  The only Republican right now in the head-to-heads that Hillary Clinton beats, Donald Trump.

HENNINGER:  Right.

GIGOT:  He's tied with all the rest of them.  So that's a pretty good argument.  Biden says, I can win.

All right, we have to take one more break.  When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Kim, start us off.

STRASSEL:  A miss to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren for her ugly attack on Brookings Institution scholar, Robert Litan.  Litan, for the record, is a liberal, but he has the misfortune of being an honest liberal, which means he wrote a paper that was highly critical of some financial regulations that Warren supports.  Rather than engage in debate, Elizabeth Warren engaged in character assassination, bogusly questioning Litan's ethics and causing such a firestorm he was forced to sever ties with an institution he was tied to for 40 years.  It was really quite an ugly spectacle.

GIGOT:  And not a profile in courage by the Brookings Institution at all.

STRASSEL:  No.

GIGOT:  Joe?

RAGO:  Another miss this week, this one for Hillary Clinton, who tanked the biotech market.  Mrs. Clinton gave a big speech last week endorsing price controls on pharmaceuticals.  Shares plunged, erasing about
$150 billion of value, money that won't be used to search for cures for cancer, Alzheimer's, AIDS.  We're ending a remarkable period of innovation.
It's like the early days of the Internet.  But politics has a way of injuring the real economy.

GIGOT:  Dan?

HENNINGER:  Well, Paul, if a book is worth -- if a photo is worth a thousand words, then the book is being written on Barack Obama.  There was a photo of him at the United Nations this week extending his hand to Raul Castro of Cuba, smiling broadly.  Then there was that famous photo of him trying to shake hands with Vladimir Putin, who is looking at Obama's hand like he's offering him a dead fish.  And finally, he had to be more or less forced to meet with Petro Poroshenko, the president of Ukraine.  So he has a lot of time for anti-Democratic dictators but very little time for Democrats trying to survive.

GIGOT:  All right, thank you all.

And remember, if you have your own hit or miss, be sure to tweet it to us @JER on FNC.

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.

END

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