How should US respond to Russia's air provocations?

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," April 13, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: Russia present the greatest threat to our national security. So if you want to talk about a nation that could cause an existential threat to the United States I would have to point to Russia. And if you look at their behavior, it is nothing short of alarming.

ROBERT GATES, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: So Putin is all about how do you reestablish Russia as a world power, as a power to be reckoned with? You're not going to ignore us anymore. We are going to be a player. And, by the way, if in doing all that I can poke the United States in the eye, I will leap at the chance.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: He is somebody that if you don't deal with him from strength, he will try to take advantage of you. That's the way he operates.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Talking there about Vladimir Putin and provocative actions he may take, he has taken. Well, there were another couple of those actions this week.

Russian warplanes configured in simulated attack profile buzzing the decks of the U.S. guided missile destroyer not once but twice this week. The U.S. Navy and the military describing it as a very aggressive action this way, as you look at the still pictures. The USS Donald Cook was conducting flight operations with a Polish helicopter Monday when two Russian SU-24 attack aircraft approached at an unsafe speed and altitude, buzzed the Navy destroyer as the helicopter was taking off from the destroyer's flight deck. A defense official tells FOX News the Russians jets came within 1,000 yards of the provider just flying 100 feet off the ground. The defense official said the next day, a Russian jet came within 30 feet of the destroyer.

So what about this and what it means, what it says? Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Ron Fournier, senior political columnist of National Journal and the author of the new book, "Love that Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught me about a Parent's Expectations," a great read, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, all three authors here. Congrats on the new book.


BAIER: What about this? Russia clearly is provoking and it's one of many of these different aggressive moves in recent weeks and months.

FOURNIER: Yes. We're dealing with a third rate power who is trying to, as Gates said, make an outsized mark on the world stage. I happen to think -- my opinion here is if we had a President Trump or a President Cruz we would still have the same aggression from Putin. It is in his best interest to try to get us all riled up. And I think President Obama, the case that they're making in the White House is not to take the bait, not to over- respond to this kind of activity. Russia obviously isn't going to go to war against us. If they do, we'll annihilate them.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: This isn't about threatening war on either side. These are about the Russians demonstrating to the east Europeans who assumed that at the end of the cold war, at the settlement of 1992, east Europe was safely in the western camp. They were now in NATO. They would be protected.

They have seen what has happened in Georgia. They have seen what has happened in Ukraine. They've seen the flaccidity of the Obama response to all the provocations. And they want to show the east Europeans you cannot count on the United States. They want to show they can do anything to us, including this kind of humiliation of flying within a few feet while we are conducting exercises with the Poles who are our strongest ally in the region.

The response is not to shoot them down, although we would all enjoy seeing that. It would be to either do the same thing to them. They operate in Kaliningrad, which is a Russian enclave, heavily armed, and show them that we aren't afraid.

And the other response is the Russians are responding in essence to a minor increase in our military presence in the Baltic States and Poland. We should respond by upping that response, doubling it and making it a permanent one as a way to say, if you want to play, we'll play harder.

BAIER: Steve, a couple things. One is you heard former defense secretaries talking about Russia and the now chairman of the joint chiefs saying Russia was the big threat. When I talked to the Ukrainian president, he said those Baltic States should be worried that Putin has a vision of an old Soviet empire and he thinks it's going to move.

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: He's made that clear, and people around Putin have made that clear. I think he's right to say that they should be worried. This is in response to the president's determined effort not to overreact, which usually means for the president not to react at all or to apologize for the United States and its actions.

And we've seen this, I think Charles mentioned Russia. We've certainly seen this with respect to Russia. Remember, John Kerry went on all the Sunday shows and said Russia will be isolated for what it has done to the Crimean peninsula. They will be cast out of the community of civilized nations. It never happened. The United States drew them in even closer, went back on our word on that.

The same was true, of course, with Iran. The same was true with the Syrian redline. Vladimir Putin knows that Barack Obama is not going to do anything about this. At most Obama would consider sending additional resources and troops to the Baltics. I think even that would be a bridge too far.

BAIER: Isn't it true, though, that even though Russia's economy is hurting and some of these sanctions have had an effect, Putin is playing a bad hand pretty well as far as geopolitical dominance?

FOURNIER: Yes, but what is the ultimate endgame here? Do we think sitting around this table that Obama or the next president will let Putin march on the rest Baltics states? I don't think that is going to happen. Do we think that he's going to keep trying to have an outsized image on the global stage and to embarrass our president no matter if it is a Republican or Democratic president? Yes.

BAIER: Quickly, I want to talk about ISIS. The president talked about that with the CIA and his National Security Council today. Here is General Odierno talking about the former head of the army, the army chief, talking about what is needed to defeat ISIS.


GEN. RAY ODIERNO (RET), FORMER ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: I haven't studied it intently to give you a number, but I'm going to tell you it is a big number.


ODIERNO: Bigger that than.


ODIERNO: Probably around 50.


ODIERNO: But that's with the coalition's capability.


BAIER: And 50,000 troops need to defeat ISIS. Here's ISIS by the numbers -- 19 countries, territories where ISIS has a direct presence, 74 ISIS plots or attacks including 21 in the U.S. against the west since 2014, 300, about the number of Americans who are spreading ISIS propaganda or engaging in other ISIS individuals via social media, 6,600, those who traveled or attempted to travel to join ISIS in Syria, and 11,539. Those are the air strikes conducted in Iraq and Syria as of yesterday, Charles.

KRAUTHAMMER: This is often an excuse. The spread of ISIS is an excuse to say, well, it is everywhere. It's ideology. It's in the Internet. What's the point of risking anything in the Middle East? The fact is as we've seen with Al Qaeda that if you have a safe haven from which you can operate, you can do tremendous damage. And if that safe haven is destroyed, which essentially it was for Al Qaeda and Afghanistan at the beginning of the Afghan war, the amount of damage that you can do afterwards is a lot smaller simply because you don't have a safe haven, a place to train, but also the psychology. These apocalyptic movements are all about who is winning and who is losing. It will be a tremendous defeat for ISIS and for the cells spread everywhere in the world if they were ultimately to lose their safe haven in the Middle East. They would not be able to say we are the wave of the future and I think they would have the biggest impact on recruiting, bigger than anything else that we can do by tweeting.

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