Get Tough on Iran or Pay the Price Later?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," October 15, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report", another good week for Mitt Romney. Has the former Massachusetts governor got the GOP presidential nomination all wrapped up? Or is there an anti- Romney waiting in the wings?

Plus, the Obama jobs bill fails in the Senate. Where does it go from here?

All that, and Iran's terror plot. How should the U.S. respond to an assassination attempt on American soil?

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

Well, it was a good week for Mitt Romney. The GOP presidential hopeful turned in another solid debate performance in the all-important state of New Hampshire and he won the much-sought after endorsement of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. While the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed Businessman Herman Cain's star rising, it also shows Romney's biggest rival, so far, Texas Governor Rick Perry, continuing his fall. And, through it all, his support remains steady.

So, does the former Massachusetts governor have the nomination wrapped up? Or is there an anti-Romney waiting in the wings?

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz; columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; and assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman.

So, Dorothy, we keep reading this week that Republicans are getting used to the idea that Mitt Romney is the inevitable nominee. Do you agree?

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Yes, I do think they're getting used to it. But there is exactly what you said, these are all good questions. I don't think there's another anti-Romney who is going to transcend the current Romney. But this is like one of those old Hollywood movies of the 40's and 50's, there is this guy that you like, but you know you're not really in love with him.


And, in the end, after all of the travails, he's the one you want. I don't think that's going to happen. But what is going to happen --


GIGOT: Wait a minute. You don't think that --


RABINOWITZ: I don't think that people are going to suddenly decide we are passionately in love with this man. What they're going to decide is he can win and nobody else can win. And all the rest of this is nipping away at his heels. All of these warm-hearted people, like Herman Cain, who is a true figure of --


DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST, DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, I would qualify this. I think that he's gaining support among professional politicians, like Chris Christies, insiders, and campaign contributors. These are the people engaged in the politics all the time. They've decided the only thing that is important is defeating Barack Obama.

GIGOT: Right.

HENNINGER: And this is the guy who looks like it. But I think out there across the broad Republican electorate, there is still a lot of anxiety. They are not enthusiastic. And if you pitch this down the road, if the idea is that, come next September or so that these people are supposed to fall in line, at the moment, the Republican base out there is not falling in line for anybody or any politician.

GIGOT: This is -- this is -- Dan makes a fascinating point because in all of the polls so far, Romney, despite the fact the he's been clearly the best performer in the debate, despite the fact he looks to be at least if you look at the merits, the best, most formidable candidate, rather, against Barack Obama, he can't crack 25, 30, 28 percent in the polls. He can't make the sale.

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: No. I think those numbers tell you that voters, Republican voters do not want to settle for Romney. They're still looking to fall in love. And it's interesting that Wall Street Journal poll where Rick Perry has this enormous erosion over recent periods, but none of it goes to Mitt Romney. And it's basically --


GIGOT: They're looking for somebody else. They're all looking for somebody else.

FREEMAN: They're always looking for somebody else. And that's because they don't trust Mitt Romney to advance what are normally considered Republican principles, conservative principles. His signature achievement, Romney-care, despite what Chris Christie said, it is very close to Obama-care. It has the same architecture, it has the individual mandate, it has the exchanges that people are forced into to manage the business of insurance. So I think that this is going to be a continuing problem, is trying to get conservatives who vote in Republican primaries to accept the fact that the nominee this year is not a conservative.

RABINOWITZ: But the reason is going to have to prevail, you know? All of the alternatives that are warming their little hearts, that they're playing with, Herman Cain -- no, it can't be Herman Cain.

GIGOT: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Why not?


GIGOT: Why not?

RABINOWITZ: Because Herman Cain has had -- it's boring to repeat it -- no experience.

GIGOT: He's had a lot of business experience.

RABINOWITZ: He's had a lot of --


RABINOWITZ: He has never --


GIGOT: Real life experience as opposed to the Washington experience.



GIGOT: Isn't that what people want, is somebody who isn't in that hot tub?

RABINOWITZ: They want somebody who knows a little bit about foreign policy. Nobody has ever entered the White House -- this is the leader of the freeway world. Let us be real about this. We all like Herman Cain. I -- no one exceeds my admiration for Herman Cain. He cannot be the president. And yet, there is this kind of a playfulness, which is a very destructive playfulness. It is like essentially political joke and saying -- and I know this is a primary, you have to have primary values and all of that stuff, but we have --


HENNINGER: But you know, Dorothy, we're in an unusual environment in this election cycle. You've got the Tea Party phenomenon, which is real, all right? And if you look at the internal details of these polls, it's pretty clearly that Mitt Romney is, in effect, not running as the Republican nominee. He's running as the nominee of the Independent voters. I mean, what he is running is a strategy directed right at those Independents. And this is not an insensible strategy. He's got to pull them over to his side if he's going to win. The question is, is he going to be able to do that without alienating this really agitated, intense Republican base out there, and is looking for a candidate who reflects their values?

GIGOT: I think -- isn't his big problem that people wonder if he has any core convictions.

FREEMAN: You have to wonder.

GIGOT: I mean, he's changed so many positions --


FREEMAN: You look at all of these issues, global warming, abortion, things that a lot of people have passionate views about, and he's all over the map when you look at his time line here, so --


RABINOWITZ: If I might suggest, that core convictions are exactly what the president currently in the White House has.


RABINOWITZ: And look where we are now.

GIGOT: Yes. The difference is they're the wrong convictions, Dorothy --


GIGOT: -- as opposed to ones that would lead us to the right direction --

RABINOWITZ: How about --


GIGOT: -- how about recovery -- to getting back to a better economy and better policies. That's the issue. The Republican electorate is looking for somebody who says, here is the direction we're to go in, here is what I really believe and here's how I'm going to get there. Mitt Romney is basically -- you don't know where he stands.

RABINOWITZ: You do know where he stands, in my view. You know where he stands -- he's not wanting to transform the government of the United States or the system of the United States. We have here a candidate who can win. and there is nobody currently in the race who can make that claim.

GIGOT: Very quickly, James.

FREEMAN: I don't believe in the electability argument. I think people are actually looking for reform and so the idea that you can get along by not offending anyone, I don't think that's the story of this coming election.

GIGOT: It could also be a trap --

FREEMAN: Absolutely.

GIGOT: -- because Obama makes this a philosophical choice. If the opponent isn't willing to fight on that turf, he could end up losing.

When we come back, he says he won't take no for an answer. So what's next for President Obama's jobs plan now that the Senate has rejected it?



PRESIDENT OBAMA: A lot of folks in Washington and the media will look at last night's vote and say, well, that's it, let's move on to the next fight. But I've got news for them. Not this time. Not with so many Americans out of work. Not with so many folks in your communities hurting.


OBAMA: We will not take no for an answer.



GIGOT: Well, the answer was no on Tuesday when the Senate rejected the president's $447 billion jobs bill. So, what's next?

We're back with Dan Henninger and James Freeman. And also joining the panel, Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

So, Kim, the vote, had it been taken in the Senate on the merits of the bill, would not even had 50 votes as a majority because four Democrats said they would vote against it, so --


GIGOT: Five. OK, so, what does it say about the popularity of the president's proposal?

STRASSEL: Well, the bill failed, but it was always going to fail. I mean, this is the point. As the president put forward legislation, 90 percent of which is the same Keynesian stimulus that got us 9 percent unemployment, paid with for high taxes, the Republicans were never going to go for it. This was -- he was putting it out there to make a point. And again, as you said, even Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, had to spend all the week twisting arms just to get enough Democrats to not lose face, and have 50 votes to -- but they didn't get enough to proceed. So this was something neither side liked and it was never going to go anywhere.

GIGOT: All right, Dan, what does it tell you about what the president's strategy is? If they knew this was going to fail and the president then comes out and says, I won't take no for an answer? We're going to keep --


GIGOT: Is it just, we're going to fight this -- have this debate right through the election?

HENNINGER: Oh, I think so. I think the president's strategy is, for better or worse, to run against obstructionist Republicans.

GIGOT: But this is a Democratic Senate, not --


HENNINGER: Well, that's the interesting subtext of this.


The Republicans are within four seats of taking the Senate. You can bet that Harry Reid does not want to lose control of that Senate, right? Obama's approval rating is heading towards 40 percent. We're getting to a point among the Democrats, where. In the Senate and the president, it's every man for himself. And at some point, you know that that President Obama is going to go out there and start running to save his seat. And Harry Reid has got to do what he's got to do to save those moderate Democrats in the Senate.

GIGOT: James, the Senate Democrats put together this millionaire surtax to replace the president's other tax increases because they thought it might scare up some Republicans to vote for it. It didn't work. Why not?

FREEMAN: It's not a popular plan on its own. I should say, a lot of people like the idea of taxing millionaires more, but what the president needed to do here was combine that with some kind of serious, perhaps entitlement reform, deficit reduction, something to grow the economy. You needed something beyond let's hit millionaires. You need to give people an idea that you've actually got a strategy for growth. What that would take is talking to members of Congress, not in an address, not through press conferences, not from across the country in a speech, but actually discussing with them --

GIGOT: What they might be willing to vote for.

FREEMAN: -- what they might be willing to do. And there is still a deal on the table if he wants to do it on tax reform. Lower the rates. Get out all the loopholes and the favors for particular industries that he says he doesn't like. But he won't -- he won't do it.

GIGOT: Kim, it doesn't look like that's the direction they're headed. They're talking about dividing this -- the president's proposal up piecemeal now or putting it up for a vote to see what can pass. Is anything individually likely to pass in that fashion?

STRASSEL: Some very tiny things, a couple of things that have already passed the House. There's this 3 percent withholding issue. It's a provision that says that the companies that do business with the government automatically have 3 percent of their contract withheld for taxes. They want to get rid of that to give those companies that cash to maybe invest or hire new workers. There's also provisions to give tax credits to hire veterans coming back from the wars overseas, maybe infrastructure spending, if people could talk about a way to pay for it in a fiscally responsible way. But that's about the extent of it. There's not going to be any grand deals coming out of this.

GIGOT: One victory though this week did happen in the Senate and the House. The president got his trade bills passed with majorities of Republican votes.


HENNINGER: The irony is improbable not to notice. He could have had this deal 18 months ago, but labor objected, so they didn't do it.


They are predicting that South Korean deal alone will produce 280,000 jobs, but not in time to help him in his reelection. Why didn't he do it when it could have helped him?

GIGOT: What does this say about the possibilities of bipartisanship?

HENNINGER: Well, I think on genuine job reducing legislation, the possibility for bipartisan is certain, but most of what was in this jobs bill wasn't going to do that.

GIGOT: All right.

When we come back, Iran's act of war. How should the U.S. respond to an assassination attempt on American soil?



OBAMA: This is a -- not just a dangerous escalation, this is part of a pattern of dangerous and reckless behavior by the Iranian government. The thing that we're going to continue to do is to apply the toughest sanctions and, you know, continue to mobilize the international community to make sure that Iran is further and further isolated and that there's a price for this kind of behavior.


GIGOT: That was President Obama on Thursday, in his first public reaction to the Justice Department's charge that the government of Iran was behind a plot to attack Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States by blowing him up inside a Washington, D.C., restaurant.

My guest this week says that sanctions are not enough and that the White House needs to respond militarily or pay a much steeper price later.

Reuel Marc Gerecht is a former CIA officer and a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He joins me now.



GIGOT: So, Iran is vociferously denying any role in this. And some people are saying, well, it makes no sense because Iran had nothing to gain from this. How do you read the evidence?

GERECHT: Well, I mean, if the evidence stands up and, so far, just about just about everybody who has looked at it inside the American government believes it to be credible, it seems pretty clear the Iranians were behind this attempt.

GIGOT: So, what -- what -- what were they thinking? Because, it obviously is raising hackles here in the United States and it could be perceived as an act of war, certainly an act of terror on American soil. What is the calculation in Iran?

GERECHT: Well, I think the biggest calculation is just that the supreme leader -- and I believe the supreme leader was certainly responsible for authorizing this effort -- I mean, he enjoys -- he enjoys attacking the United States. I think it's impossible to overstate the degree to which he hates the United States, to which he holds the United States accountable for most of his problems. Attacking the Saudis here is a double winner because there is a real battle underway in the Middle East between the Saudis and the Iranians. The problems of the great era of revolt has jeopardized Syria's main ally in the area, Syria. The Saudis have been pretty aggressive in supporting the Syrian opposition. All in an all, I'd say I think it makes -- it is quite understandable that they would do this. And worrying part is, in the past, they haven't, and I think the primary reason they haven't is they feared American outrage. And I'm not so sure that's true any more.

GIGOT: So you say that this could be a response to weakness, a perceived weakness on the part of the United States toward Iran?

GERECHT: Yes. I mean, I think, as a general rule of thumb, the Iranians tend to back off when they think they're going to get really hurt. They tend to push when they think they can get away with it. I mean, this affair was not particularly well executed, but again, lots of Iranian operations in the past are not -- were not particularly well executed. This reminds me a lot, for example, of the Paris bombings in 1986 that the Iranians were responsible for. And the French internal security service figured out they did it within a week.

GIGOT: Is it at all plausible, as some people are suggesting, that maybe this was the job of a rogue military faction or a faction within the Revolutionary Guard Corps that somehow went off on its own, and that Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, would not have known about this?

GERECHT: I doubt it. I mean, Khamenei has empowered the Guard Corps while is playing musical chairs with its leadership. He seems to have a pretty firm grip on the Guard Corps. I doubt seriously that the hand- chosen leadership would undertake to take this operation without notifying and getting the approval the supreme leader.

GIGOT: You wrote this week that the engagement of the United States, not just in this administration, but across other administrations, actually is "poisonous" -- that was your word -- to Khamenei because he finds the attempt for the U.S. to conciliate a threat to Islamic values and it may undermine his regime. So in a perverse way, our attempts at peace may be encouraging him to be more violent?

GERECHT: Yes. I mean, I think the Obama administration made the same mistake that President Clinton made and that is their, in some ways, commendable desire to reach out to the Iranians, to find some means for dialog, actually achieves the opposite of the intention. That is, it makes Khamenei much more angry. It makes him much more worried about the Western cultural invasion and makes him much more worried that such an outreach will affect domestic politics. And it did. I mean, the -- the Democratic rebellion in the summer of 2009, the green movement, cited Obama openly as saying let's have -- let's have peace, let's have talks with the United States. That, in Khamenei's mind, was very dangerous repercussions from Obama's attempt at engagement.

GIGOT: All right, now you say we should strike back militarily. So far, the administration is not going -- they're talking about tougher sanctions. What kind of military strike are you talking about? What should we consider?

GERECHT: I think the most intelligent thing to do would probably be going and -- limited thing, would be to go after Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities, particularly those that were used to support their operations inside of Iraq, which led to the death of hundreds of U.S. soldiers.

GIGOT: And identify our response, tit for tat, saying this is in response to the assassination plot?

GERECHT: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, right now, the Iranians are escalating and the Americans and doing nothing. I think it's a bit silly to assume that individuals, who have risen to power through -- largely through violence, are going to be terribly impressed with sanctions as our response. I think, down the road, we're asking for more of this.

GIGOT: All right, thank you very much, Reuel Gerecht, for being here.

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


GIGOT: Time now for "Hits and Misses."

Kim, first to you.

STRASSEL: This is a miss to RIM, the maker of Blackberry, which managed to single-handedly paralyze the entire globe this week when a glitch in its system caused users to not get e-mails for hours, even days at a time. And this brought entire work places to a halt. If nothing else, this is a sort of scary testimony to the degree to which society has become completely reliant on being mobile. If one system goes down and the result is total pandemonium. It isn't as inconvenient, it's terrifying.

GIGOT: Yes, but some of us could hide out for a couple of hours for a change.


All right, Dorothy?

RABINOWITZ: Well, everybody knows that what's going on on Wall Street. And what is always interesting about the so-called protests are the enablers, the official, the politicians rushing in to get their share of the limelight by endorsing all of these people. Well, who are these people? They're telling us what? They're against free. They want no genetically modified food. They want people to pay their college tuition. All of this wonderful political wisdom. Marching in the middle of them are priests and rabbis and others. One of them held the golden calf. Let me tell you, when all of this nonsense is over, there will be, along with those who came, to tell us how wonderful these protesters were.

GIGOT: All right, Dan?

HENNINGER: Paul, on November 11th, President Obama is going to attend a basketball game between Michigan State and North Carolina on the deck of an aircraft carrier. This is just as the House Armed Services Committee has been reporting that the Navy's fleet, because of spending reductions, has fallen 260, 50 below what they think they need. I think the president could better spend his time letting the Navy get what it needs to protect us rather than turn it into a playground for basketball game.

GIGOT: All right, Dan.

That's it for this week's edition of the "Journal Editorial Report". Thanks to my panel and especially to you for watching.

I'm Paul Gigot. I hope to see you right here next week.

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