Debate over global policy in Syria

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," April 19, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


LEON PANETTA, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Lastly, we are reviewing and planning for a range of additional measures that may be necessary to protect the Syrian people. By acting along these lines, we are increasing pressure on the Assad regime every day. Make no mistake. One way or another, this regime will ultimately meet its end.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Talking about Syria there. But the bombing, the violence continues. An estimated 9,000 Syrians have been killed by President Bashar al Assad's forces so far; 230,000 displaced. The Friends of Syria, these are 14 nations, not including China and Russia, met in Paris today to find out a way to enforce this cease-fire that is not being enforced now or topple the regime. But one thing was clear up on Capitol Hill today from the defense secretary.

PANETTA: At this point in time, Congressman, the decision is that we will not have any boots on the ground, and that we will not act unilaterally in that part of the world.


BAIER: A lot of talk about what the U.S. will or won't do about Syria. Back with the panel. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: When, the secretary of defense says "make no mistake about it, one way or another, the regime will meet its end," well, it could in 50 years. But then he follows on and says "we are going to do nothing." You look another, the conference in Paris, of the 14 so-called Friends of Syria. They're doing nothing. The only people who are doing stuff is the Russians who are supplying the weapons, with which Assad is slaughtering people in Iraq as well as Hezbollah. Look, what's our objective? Stopping the fighting or getting rid of the regime? All the U.N. peacekeepers are doing is giving legitimacy and cover for the ongoing war. It doesn't stop the shelling. The shelling is going on. And it's a way to actually, to prevent any intervention from the outside. I think what our policy ought to be -- and I do not understand why it's not - is to provide support for the rebels, to arm the rebels, to train the rebels. Probably in the refugees -- in the refugee settlements in Turkey. The Turks would be on our side. But to stand around and say the regime will ultimately collapse is empty, and it's really almost dishonorable. We're not lifting a finger.

BAIER: A.B, the defense secretary said today the U.S. could be part of a coalition to use force, but so far there is not a sense that that is even in the works right now.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: No. And there is not -- there is just not the will within the administration -- if you talk to people who are familiar with their thinking -- to arm the rebels, because the opposition -- because they're disparate groups of people who have potential terrorist connections, and they don't know enough, and they'd rather proceed with caution than to embrace them.

So those advocating, Senators Graham and McCain, and others advocating this, you know, helping the opposition, and hoping for a similar model to Libya, it's -- the Assad regime is much more resilient, they have a much more strong military capability. It is true that the cease-fire is a joke to buy them time, and they want to pretty much control it themselves.

It's not working, and, you know, and when the secretary of state says from Friends of Syria, we're looking at other options, there are really not a lot of options unless there is going to be this collective military operation and it just doesn't look like that's on the table at all.

BAIER: Nina, Syria -- if this is true -- is buying time with the cease-fire, Iran, according to Israelis and others here in the U.S., buying time with these nuclear talks.

NINA EASTON, COLUMNIST, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: And Assad in particular is looking out at the landscape and looking at what Qaddafi went through and said look, this guy sat here for six months and would still be there if not for the air assault by NATO. Assad has China and Russia in his pocket, he's got the military. You know, a cease-fire and U.N. observers is a step to keep some sort of semblance of peace, I guess, even though it's only 300 observers we are talking about in the huge country. But where do you go from there? You know, A.B. talks about -- I think rightly so, they are approaching this with caution. You don't want to jump into this fairly messy situation. But they're stated terms since last August is to get rid of this regime. And you're not going to do that with the U.N. observer troops.

BAIER: There will be much more on this story. That is it for this panel but stay tuned to see the dangers of live television.

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