Foreign policy fights a sign of what's to come in 2016?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," July 26, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," fighting intensifies in eastern Ukraine. Two more fighter jets shot out of the sky. Putin holds firm. The White House talks new sanctions. So what does it all mean for the future of U.S./Russia relations?

Plus, the debate is on. Texas Governor Rick Perry and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul square off on foreign policy. If this is round one, who's left standing in 2016?

And lost and now found -- maybe. The IRS chief says tapes that could contain Lois Lerner's emails are now in the hands of investigators. So what's on them? And will officials finally fess up?

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

The Russian-backed rebels accused of killing 298 innocent people on a commercial airliner are not backing down. The separatists say they shot two Ukrainian fighter jets out of the sky Wednesday, not far from where the doomed Malaysia Airlines jet went down. Russian President Vladimir Putin is promising help, but says there are limits. Here at home, President Obama is taking a lot of heat for not being tough enough. So is Putin playing us?

Wall Street Journal deputy editor, Dan Henninger; and editorial board member, Matt Kaminski, join me with more.

So, Matt, a lot of people hoped -- I'm not saying they expected -- but they hoped that the Malaysia Airlines shoot-down might stop the war in Ukraine. It hasn't worked out that way.

MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: No. I mean, it was a very big event for us, for the world that was really forced to wake up to the conflict. But unfortunately, it was actually not that big of an event and didn't really change the calculus either for the Ukrainians, who are trying to defeat essentially foreign troops --

GIGOT: On their soil.

KAMINSKI: -- on their soil and trying to defend their country against Russia, nor did it change Putin's calculus.

GIGOT: Why wouldn't it change Putin's calculus? He's now been exposed in most of the world. You saw the headlines in the London tabloids, around the world, essentially putting the burden, the blame on Putin. Why hasn't he shifted his calculus?

KAMINSKI: Because I think something important happened earlier this month in the weeks before the shoot-down when both we and the Europeans threatened sanctions and then didn't move to impose sanctions on Putin. Putin didn't think we were serious. But Putin also saw the Ukrainian government, the Ukrainian military doing a lot better to defeat the rebels. So Putin decided in early July to send far more sophisticated weapons, including --


GIGOT: Including anti-aircraft --


KAMINSKI: Exactly. But tanks. He's been shelling Ukrainian territory from Russia for weeks, which the U.S. has finally come out and stated as fact this week, that we have also picked this up.

GIGOT: And he's sending heavy weapons now, since the airliner shoot- down over the border.

KAMINSKI: Throughout, yes, exactly. Nothing's stopped. The flow has been kept going. But the important thing for Putin, I think, is to realize that Putin has a choice. He is -- he cannot -- I think he has a choice, will he let these rebels lose, or will he do everything to make them succeed? But now he has to do a lot more because the Ukrainian military is getting its act together.

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, I think we should the goal here. Vladimir Putin does have a strategic goal here.

GIGOT: What is it?

HENNINGER: To absorb Ukraine towards the Russian sphere.

GIGOT: Pull it back and make sure it doesn't join the West.

HENNINGER: Make sure it doesn't join the West. And this is something Russian leaders have tried to do for virtually 60 years. He has a goal and he's pursuing it. And I think he understands that the West at this point is not going to push back against him. We have gone back many times on this program to Obama's Syrian red line where he told Bashar al Assad that if they didn't stop using -- then he pulled back from that. This week, on Monday, he stood in the White House lawn and said that if Vladimir Putin didn't understand that these separatists were -- this is after the shoot- down.

GIGOT: Right, sure.

HENNINGER: After the shoot-down --

GIGOT: Holding them responsible.

HENNINGER: After the shoot-down of the Malaysia Airline. Holding them responsible. But he said if he did not control these separatists, who were now a threat to the broader world community, as Obama put it, there will be costs. This was another red line. And Putin has already had experience with those red lines.

GIGOT: I want to go back to what Putin is doing in Russia, and saying in Russia, the Kremlin media because it's really an alternative universe from what we're reading and what the rest of the world is reading. They're blaming Ukraine and they're blaming the United States for shooting down the jet.

KAMINSKI: They're raising all kinds of alternative theories. One of them is that they were aiming for Putin's plane that was coming back from Latin America that was nearby. That it may have been Ukrainian fighters who were shooting jets out of their own air space for reasons that are unclear.

But the important thing for us is that Putin has boxed himself in in Russia itself. He has told a completely alternative version of essentially global reality of what's happening in Ukraine.

GIGOT: For years.

KAMINSKI: For years, but especially since the Ukrainian revolution was such a humiliation for him. His crony was toppled in February. A mass movement for freedom, for democracy. The Ukrainians did it on their own. The West didn't really help in any way. So Putin is trying to explain these are fascists, these are people who hate Russians.

GIGOT: Right.

HENNINGER: But, Matt, by all evidence, the Russian population is buying it.

KAMINSKI: Because they --

HENNINGER: Even the intelligencia is signing on to it.

KAMINSKI: Well, a lot of them are actually leaving Russia. The people still in Russia do live in a very closed space. They don't have access to other sources of information.

GIGOT: When you lie to your own people so systematically, that's how you can take a country to war.


GIGOT: Because you back yourself into a corner and you end up having to strike out at the world.

Now, Dan, I talked to a Senator who went to the White House and said the White House was telling them, we're really upset with the Europeans, the Western Europeans. They're doing nothing about Putin. As if they're the people who are supposed to lead in resisting Putin. What do you think of that?

HENNINGER: Well, I think it is feckless. The Europeans are --


GIGOT: The Europeans are feckless?

HENNINGER: Well, I think both the White House and -- look, the Europeans are simply not going to lead.


GIGOT: They're Europeans.

HENNINGER: Look -- no, Germany. Germany, after two world wars, it's simply never going to take the initiative. You talk to Germans and they'll tell you there is no possibility that Germany is going to lead in a situation that might lead to more war. The French, the French are selling a missile-class warship to Russia.

GIGOT: Unbelievable.

HENNINGER: And Hollande says he will not back down on that. So you have a mess over there. The only way anything will happen is if the United States -- if Barack Obama sends his secretary of state, instead of sending him to Gaza, sends him to Brussels and comes with a plan to impose sanctions on Russia.


HENNINGER: But unless the U.S. leads, it is not going to happen.

GIGOT: -- Ukraine. And so this is part of a strategy to isolate Putin, raise the costs economically, and really put the pressure on.

OK, gentlemen, we've got to go. Thank you. I get the last word this week.


When we come back, a foreign policy fight on both sides of the political aisle. Could 2016 be on the line?


GIGOT: President Obama's approval ratings are suffering from multiple crises at home and especially overseas. A new FOX News poll shows 56 percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of foreign policy. But he's not the only one getting flack for his stance on all things abroad. Disapproval is crossing party lines. Texas Governor Rick Perry and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul are trading blows over the growing threat from ISIS and what the U.S. should do about it in Iraq. Perry and Paul are considered early contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. So is this conflict a preview of 2016?

Wall Street Journal deputy editor, Dan Henninger, and editorial board member, Matt Kaminski, are back with us.

So, Dan, I want you to explain a paradox for me. On the one hand, you heard Barack Obama's approval ratings way down on foreign policy. Yet, if you ask the American public what to do about specific cases, Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, always say, don't intervene, don't get involved. Yet Obama is being punished because of his detachment on foreign policy. How do you explain that seeming contradiction?

HENNINGER: I think the explanation is pretty straightforward, Paul. They don't want to get involved because they've been spending the past five years watching Barack Obama basically not handle foreign policy. I mean, what you're suggesting is that, if we were to commit to Ukraine or to the Middle East, would you want to follow Barack Obama? And if he's such an uncertain trumpet, I think, unfortunately, it's a very rational decision on the part of the American people to want to step back at this point. I mean, you're talking about presidential leadership.

GIGOT: But is that fair? Aren't they also tired of Iraq and tired of Afghanistan after a decade?

HENNINGER: You know, Paul one poll that jumped out at me is the Islamic State in Iraq took over a third of Iraq in seven days. The Washington Post asked people, should we do something? 44 percent said we should commit air strikes against them, 59 percent of Republicans said we should and 44 percent of Democrats said we should hit ISIS. I think there is still an instinct on the part of American people when they see a serious problem to act if they are properly led. But it is not the job of the American people to create American foreign policy. That job falls to the White House.

GIGOT: I would also put it a little differently, Matt. President Obama spent five years telling the American people there are really two options on foreign policy. One is you intervene militarily full force, like Iraq and Afghanistan, or you do nothing.


With all of the things you can do in between, like forging alliances, like arming surrogates, for example, in Syria, like putting together coalitions, like economic and diplomatic pressure, that sort of thing he hasn't explained adequately to the public about -- and about U.S. interests in the world.

KAMINSKI: Also, remember how he won this office. He won as the anti- war president and anti-Iraq president. The message didn't change two years ago when he beat Mitt Romney. So he himself has been so stuck in 2008 in this sort of endless loop. I think there's a legitimate point about war fatigue. It took us 20 years to get over Vietnam and that handicapped us from doing anything in the Balkans in the '90s. But I think what people are seeing now and how where the mood is shifting is they're seeing it's a very mad, mad world out there or some say a "Mad Max" world.

GIGOT: Right.

KAMINSKI: Sort of instability all over the place. And things are not going well. That's why he has such low marks for foreign policy. I think Americans see that things are going terribly in a terrible direction and more terrible things will keep happening. That's why you will have --


GIGOT: This undercurrent of --


KAMINSKI: -- of activist presidents and --


GIGOT: Well, let's talk about that alternative. The Republican debate on foreign policy, Rick Perry versus Rand Paul. Rand Paul has, I think, noninterventionist instincts, to put it kindly, some would say isolationist. That's the world he comes out of, with the exception perhaps of Israel. Rick Perry saying, you can't do that. What do you make of this debate?

HENNINGER: I think the interesting figure here is Rick Perry. I mean, I hate to say it, but I think if the isolationism were real, Rick Perry would be pedaling it.


GIGOT: Why do you say that?

HENNINGER: Political ambitions has excuses.

GIGOT: You mean if the real sentiment of the American people were isolationists, he would be playing to it?

HENNINGER: Yes. Rick Perry is a politician. I think if he thought it was real that he would be doing it.

And as far as Rand Paul goes, this is a guy who is basically a rookie running for the presidency of the United States. He has to differentiate himself. And if you look at his campaign, he's been sort of putting together his own coalition of the ascendant (ph), as they say about Obama. It's techies, it's urban sophisticates, it's isolationists. He's got a program for minorities now. He's running his own campaign. And the isolationist strain is part of that. But I do not think it reflects sentiment inside the Republican Party.

GIGOT: Who do you think has the better pulse on the mood within the Republican Party?

KAMINSKI: I think I agree with Dan that Rick Perry reflects more the mainstream view in the Republican Party and probably the country as well. Because Rand Paul, like his dad, is an isolationist. But what is very telling, Hillary Clinton is running a more hawkish pseudo campaign --

GIGOT: Right.

KAMINSKI: -- on foreign policy. She's running to the right of Obama and Rand Paul is running to the left of Obama. I'm not sure there's -- on foreign policy.

GIGOT: Where is she running to the right of Obama? Where has she said, look, I disagree with the president? Because she's associated with his policy.

KAMINSKI: No, but she disagreed with the Syria policy, that she was pushing for the U.S. to arm the rebels in the summer of 2012.

GIGOT: Right.

KAMINSKI: She has always sounded a bit more hawkish than Barack Obama. I think that's very telling. From the moment she left office, there were some select leaks about, you know, positions she took inside the administration.

GIGOT: Quick question, Matt. If she gets the Democratic nomination and Rand Paul gets the Republican nomination, will she be the more hawkish candidate?

KAMINSKI: Oh, without a doubt.

GIGOT: Without a doubt?

HENNINGER: I think she has to watch her left. The left is going to want her to support Obama's left wing foreign policy. And if she doesn't, I think they'll pull back from her. She's got a dilemma.

GIGOT: All right, guys, thanks.

When we come back, could there be a break in the IRS targeting probe? New details on how backup tapes may lead investigators to Lois Lerner's infamous missing emails.



REP. DARRELL ISSA, R-CALIF., CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: You asked us to believe that your very special experts couldn't save one piece of data from this drive or one just like it, correct?

JOHN KOSKINEN, IRA COMMISSIONER: That's what I was advised, yes.

ISSA: The American people don't believe that. You realize, that the idea that we can recover the last 17 or 18 seconds from "Challenger" exploding above our atmosphere, falling to the sea, and being left under the sea for a year, that we could recover the voice from that, makes people wonder why a product that simply came in and out of the office with Lois Lerner every day, suddenly, not one piece of data could be recovered.


GIGOT: That's Congressman Darrell Issa grilling IRS Commissioner John Koskinen on Capitol Hill this week. At the same hearing, Koskinen also testified that investigators have found backup tapes in the Lois Lerner email probe. So those lost emails may not be so lost after all.

We're back with Dan Henninger. And "Wall Street Journal" Washington columnist, Kim Strassel, also joins us.

So, Kim, to paraphrase Vince Lombardi in a different context, what in the heck is going on around here?


KIM STRASSEL, COLUMNIST: So this is crazy, Paul. About 10 days ago, congressional investigators got a tip from a guy who works in the IRS counsel's office. He was giving private testimony and said, well, we may have some tape after all and they might have Lois Lerner's emails. Koskinen, who we just heard, in fact, confirmed that, indeed, they look as though there may be some backup tapes and, indeed, her emails may be on it.

Now, here's what interesting about this. He also acknowledged this has come out of the fact that the treasury inspector general is conducting yet another investigation. He was the guy who blew the whistle on IRS targeting in the first place. And it appears these tapes have only been found as a result of his investigation. This is the same IRS who, only a month ago said, without a doubt, these tapes are all gone. There's no way we can --


GIGOT: OK, so given --

STRASSEL: So now they've had to reverse themselves.

GIGOT: OK, so given that, how are we going to find out what is the real truth here? Who is going to be the person who is responsible for going in and saying, yes, we have them or, no, we don't. Or are we going to have to rely on the word of the IRS again --


GIGOT: -- and then we'll be back here six months later saying, sorry, can't find them again.

STRASSEL: That is the billion-dollar question. Here's the problem. As I said, it looks as though this is coming out of a treasury inspector general investigation. He is not obliged to make public anything he does until he puts together a report. Now, he has told a judge here that he's got 11 people working on this investigation. But this is all happening behind the scenes.

Meanwhile, the IRS is using that special inspector investigation as an excuse to not tell Congress things, saying, look, we don't want to mess with the inspector general's investigation. So, you know, now the other question is whether or not you shouldn't have a court appoint a forensic investigator to look at this.

GIGOT: Let me ask you that. There are some civil lawsuits that are going -- moving forward, separate from these probes that you were talking about. And judges have asked the IRS to explain the missing emails. Is Judge Reggie Walton, for example, in Washington, does he have the capacity to appoint, say, a forensic expert who could go in and do his own investigation of what happened?

STRASSEL: He absolutely does. In fact, that's the question that's facing him right now. Last Friday, the IRS filed a declaration with him giving him a bit of bland information about the history supposedly of what happened to the tapes and to the hard drive.

GIGOT: Right.

STRASSEL: He now has to decide whether or not that answer is adequate and whether or not he wants to appoint a forensic investigator. Let's hope he does, Paul, because I think that will be one of the only ways we actually get some public information about what's happening at the IRS.

GIGOT: So here you have the tax agency of the United States --


GIGOT: -- which is responsible for handling confidential tax records, and they can't keep track of the most basic emails, hard drives? I mean, something wrong with this picture?

HENNINGER: Something is tremendously wrong with this picture, Paul. Just set aside the issue of the investigation of the conservative groups. I think, to the average American taxpayer, the question here is whether the Internal Revenue Service, which -- is guilty of frightening incompetence. I mean, incompetence that's mind-boggling to anybody who works in the private workplace or whether something more maligned is going on here. And as Kim suggests, the only way we're going to find out is if Judge Walton appoints an independent forensics expert to get into that agency and find out what their problem is. It cannot go on like this.

GIGOT: Kim, is this part of a larger problem of just data handling and transparency inside this administration? You've been following this issue as closely as anyone.

STRASSEL: This is an administration that claimed it would be the most transparent in history. And we have disappearing hard drives and missing emails everywhere. It's not just the IRS. You know, Congress was also told recently they're looking into, for instance, the EPA and a guy who is central to their EPA investigation, they're looking into the Pebble Mine veto --


GIGOT: In Alaska --


STRASSEL: -- in Alaska.

GIGOT: Right.

STRASSEL: And one of the guys who they're most interested in, who seems to encouraged the agency, the EPA to take this route, guess what? His hard drive crashed, too.

GIGOT: All right.

STRASSEL: Yeah, it's amazing.

GIGOT: Kim, thanks so much. We'll keep following this for folks.

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


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

Kim, start with you.

STRASSEL: A hit to Republican voters who are now in the final stages of their primary season and have managed to get there without once devolving into the ugly and debilitating civil war that Democrats and the media were rooting for. We saw that again in Georgia this week when they picked another very strong candidate for the Senate, David Perdue. He joins a slate of nominees that are going to position the party, give them their best shot of actually taking back the Senate and doing something about this presidency in a long time. It didn't have to be this way. And Republican voters look like they're focused.



HENNINGER: Paul, I'm giving a miss to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and California A.G. Kamalla Harris. Both are trying to force nonprofit groups to identify their private donors if they wish to raise money in those states. Mr. Schneiderman claims he'll keep the donor names confidential, but it's impossible to believe. This looks like another effort to go after conservative groups.

GIGOT: All right.


KAMINSKI: Well, here's a miss to a mayor of a town in Holland who said this week that Maria Putin should be expelled from the Netherlands after the downing of the plane in which over 100 Dutch people died. Now Maria Putin happens to be Vladimir Putin's daughter and she happens to live there. Like many Russians, she is voting with her feet and choosing to live abroad. And it's the only way to vote in Russia these days.

GIGOT: Getting out of town. All right.

That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel. Thanks to all of you in particular for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.

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