Global Hotspots Present Political Challenges

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," December 28, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The Iranian navy is exercising around the Strait s of Hormuz. And I think they are trying to ratchet up the impression that they are prepared to do almost anything militarily to protect themselves. I think in this case as well they are trying to intimidate the Obama administration and many European countries that don't want to see those sanctions increase.


SHANNON BREAM, GUEST HOST: And that is former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton talking about another threat from Iran to close the very valuable Strait of Hormuz.

Let's talk about it with the panel. They are back, Steve, Chuck, and Charles. All right, and for its part the U.S. Navy -- the fifth fleet -- has had to comment on this, saying basically any disruption will not be tolerated. What do we do?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, if the United States military, the Navy has one role in the world it's keeping open international waterways. We have been doing that since the Second World War. The British had done it for 200 years. It's now our job. And for Iran to threaten the Strait of Hormuz, which is the most important strait on the planet because about a quarter of all oil passes through it, is I think quite risky on the part of Iran.

It's doing it because the Obama administration is on the verge of imposing very serious sanctions on Iran which will essentially shut down at least gradually its oil exports and the Europeans are considering a boycott. That will really hurt the Iranian economy. The regime is already a weak one and worries about that, so it's threatening.

But the United States Navy can certainly handle the speedboats of the Iranian Navy. And I think this would be a mistake because it will not intimidate the west. The fact that Saudi Arabia said it will increase production two million barrels a day. If Iran is cut off it's a loss of three, and the rest could be made up by Libya, Iraq, and our even strategic petroleum reserve.

So on that, I don't think there will be a spike of prices in the world. In fact today with the Saudi announcement, the price of oil declined. I think it's a mistake, because if you provoke the United States Navy, it could really do damage to any military capacity Iran has.

BREAM: Chuck, how seriously should we take the threat?

CHARLES LANE, EDITORIAL WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Just about as seriously as the fifth fleet showed it's taking it. I personally think Iran is in a little bit of a corner here for many of the reasons that Charles said, because finally Congress and the Obama administration seem to find a way forward on sanctions that really have teeth.

Mind you, these sanctions don't go into effect immediately, and the president can waive them in interest of national security. It looks like that is part of the bargain. So perhaps Iran is trying to bully and bluster its way into somehow not getting them imposed. But if they want to try to close the Straits of Hormuz, that means war, and I think a war that they would lose.

BREAM: Steve, I want to turn to another hot spot, Syria. The Arab League monitors have gone and tried, it appears with limited success, to get a look at what is going on there, and with at least one report questionably saying well I don't see anything bad. But parts they have been turned away from not being able to get to people to really assess what is going on.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Of course. This is what was going to happen. This was inevitable. You said in Arab League monitors, and I think the biggest risk is they give false comfort by providing precisely these kinds of reports, saying, look, we didn't see anything bad, therefore nothing bad is going on.

I think what they didn't count on, what the Syrians didn't count on is the fact that the news was going to continue to trickle up the way it has through subterranean means by getting out YouTube videos and showing exactly what is going on with the police force in Syria.

The question I think, the policy question that faces the United States and the Obama administration yet again as we continue to call for Assad to go, is what are we prepared to do about it? You need to start to have a more serious conversation about a no-fly zone in Syria. After having done what we did in Libya, it begs the question why aren't we doing this in Syria.

KRAUTHAMMER: There is one point on the Arab League delegation. The head is a Sudanese. And not just any. He is a military commander who was actually in charge of establishing the militias that carried out genocide in his own country. So this is a guy who isn't exactly a human rights advocate.

Also remember that Sudan is an ally of Iran and Iran is the chief sponsor of the Assad regime in Syria. So as Steve indicates, this is an Arab League delegation that which give cover that Assad could use, particularly headed by a guy like this. So I'm not so sure. And he has said I haven't seen anything, which if you are a demonstrator being shot, arrested, or tortured is not good news.

BREAM: Chuck, today, the State Department telegraphed we have to let it play out and let them do the mission and then we'll see what happens.

LANE: Charles, you have to admit the guy is expert on massacres, so at least he is qualified in that respect.

BREAM: Sadly.

LANE: It's a little ridiculous, this Arab League mission.

The administration has remained in the background throughout the process in Syria, apparently in the view that any overt measures or support the United States would lend in favor of the opposition would somehow provoke a worse backlash from the government.

But let's be serious, this is a civil war now. It is tanks and guns in the street. It's a bitterly divided country along three or four different confessional lines. And it is absolutely linked with what is going on with Iran because of the umbilical connection between the two regimes.

I think the administration is going to have to start looking at this whole picture in a broader context and start drawing connections between the unrest there, the unrest and the conflict we are having with Iran, and come up with a comprehensive approach to both.

BREAM: Quickly, any impression of the funeral today for North Korea's departed leader?

KRAUTHAMMER: As Orwellian as it gets, the mass demonstration, the mass expressions of grief. People have been predicting instability and collapse of this regime since 1950s. It hasn't happened then, it's not going to happen now. It will happen eventually, but there is no sign whatsoever of any cracks in this regime.

BREAM: All right, panel, thank you very much.

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