Is the US doing enough to fight Islamic extremism abroad?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal: Editorial Report," November 21, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

STUART VARNEY, FOX HOST:  Up next, on the "Journal: Editorial Report," last week's terrorist attacks in Paris and this week's siege of a Mali hotel leave President Obama on the defensive.  Will the administration re-think its response to Islamic terror?

Plus, as Congress votes to step up screening of Syrian refugees, is the security risk real?

And with terrorism and national security front and center on the campaign trail, is the 2016 landscape about to see a major shift?

But first, these headlines.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There will be set-backs and there will be successes.  The terrible events in Paris were obviously a terrible and sickening set-back.


VARNEY:  Welcome to the "Journal: Editorial Report."  I'm Stuart Varney, in this week for Paul Gigot.

Well, critics pounced on that comment from President Obama, made just three days after a series of coordinated attacks killed 130 people in Paris.  Since then, another terror attack at a Western hotel in Mali.  And the White House is on the defensive as Republicans and even some Democrats question whether the administration is doing enough to fight Islamic extremism abroad and protect American citizens here at home.

Joining the panel this week, "Wall Street Journal" columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; columnist, Bill McGurn; editorial board member, Mary Kissel; and columnist, Bret Stephens.

I'll begin with you, Bret.  That attack in Mali seemed to me to demonstrate the reach of global terror these days.

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST:  That's right.  So far, what we know is the attack was perpetrated by an offshoot of al Qaeda.  It's important to remember, in 2013, with little help from the Obama administration, the French Foreign Legion helped turn back an effort by al Qaeda to take over this entire country, which is twice the size of Texas.  It's important to remember that ISIS and other jihadist groups are gaining offshoots throughout Africa.  You saw attacks in Kenya, the Westgate Mall, for example.  Boko Haram, the major Islamist group in Nigeria, is now an affiliate of ISIS.  As the president is touting really tactical victories in northern Iraq or even eastern Syria we are seeing this group metastasizing around the globe, able to conduct successful attacks in Beirut, in the Sinai, in Paris, and now also in Mali.

VARNEY:  Dan, what's your response?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR:  Well, consider the irony of the past week.  We had massacres in Paris, then the assault on the apartment building in Saint-Denis where they killed a mastermind, now Mali.  It is really -- the world is feeling as though it is going through another 9/11 moment.  But consider the irony.  That was 2001.  Here we are in 2015, and the president of the United States, Barack Obama, is saying we have experienced a set-back.  After 14 years?  And he's been president for seven years.

MARY KISSEL, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER:  Yeah.  There is something unhinged about that.  It was a clinical and a bloodless response from the president.  He shows no sign of changing his strategy.  It's extraordinary.

By the way, it's not just those attacks.  Remember, we saw the airliner down in the Sinai.  We have Lebanon.  We have attacks stretching from northern Africa, as Bret said, to the Middle East into Afghanistan.

VARNEY:  Bill, Mary described the president's response as bloodless, until he was talking about Republicans, his political critics.

BILL MCGURN, COLUMNIST:  Yes.  Look, that gets to President Obama has been remarkably consistent.  This is a foreign policy at the faculty lounge.  He has two facts that have consistently defined his policies from the moment he started running as a candidate until today.  One is no boots on the ground.  Two is "I'm the anti-George Bush."  If George Bush puts people in Guantanamo, he'll close it.  If George Bush interrogates people, he will call it torture.  If George Bush intervenes in Iraq, he's going to say we should win in Afghanistan.  And that is his approach.  It's a political approach where Republicans --


STEPHENS:  I have been trying to think of the right way of thinking about Obama's approach, especially when he calls event like in Paris a set-back or the conquering of Ramadi.  Do you know the Monty Python skit "King Arthur against the Black Knight?

VARNEY:  I do.

STEPHENS:  You know, 'tis but a scratch.  There is a sense of that.  We are being hit time and again by a president, who, unlike Jimmy Carter, absolutely refuses to change course.  This is an important point.  Jimmy Carter came into office saying we have an inordinate fear of Communism.  Really, the same kind of mentality Obama brought with him when Obama was talking about an exaggerated fear of terrorism.  In 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, Carter understood that he had been mistaken.  This president seems determined to go out of office without acknowledging the danger he has courted --


MCGURN:  And George W. Bush changed policy in Iraq when the policy was failing.

VARNEY:  You don't think President Obama will change policy?



VARNEY:  He will not use America's military?

HENNINGER:  Absolutely not.  That is the bottom line that we all have to understand for the reasons Bill just articulated.  He's obsessed with George Bush's war in Iraq.  He will not go beyond his current strategy over there, no matter what happens.


HENNINGER:  And he's going to create political problems for the party doing that.

VARNEY:  Then he's abdicated leadership of what we used to call the free world.

HENNINGER:  Francois Hollande --


KISSEL:  Look at what's happened in Syria.  Who is leading in Syria?  Putin.  He's thrown the U.S. in cahoots with Iran through this nuclear deal.  He's not siding with the forces of freedom.  He has no intention of lopping the head off the caliphate stretching from Iraq into Syria.

MCGURN:  And he hasn't abdicated.  He's never shown leadership.  Look, he announced a surge in Afghanistan only because, during the war, he attacked Iraq as a distraction.  That's the only reason he was all interested in Afghanistan.  Bob Gates in his memoirs talks about the moment he realized President Obama didn't even believe in his own Afghanistan policy.  He's never been for the -- he's been consistent.  We're all -- we're always irritated by it but he stayed on course.

STEPHENS:  Look, this is the president who believes that American retreat is in both our interest and the world's interest.  Shrink America's footprint, things will go well.  And what we're discovering in the Middle East is that the Middle East won't leave you alone.  What happens there doesn't stay there.  It is not Vegas.  So we now see these metastasizing dangers with a president who won't understand that he can't look away from the problem.

VARNEY:  All right, we hear you.

Now when we come back, showdown in Washington over the flow of Syrian refugees into America.  Is the security risk real?



OBAMA:  The idea that somehow they pose a more significant threat than all of the tourists who pour into the United States every single day just doesn't jibe with reality.  That's not what law enforcement thinks.  That's not what anybody, who's looked at this problem, thinks.


VARNEY:  Well, despite President Obama's claim that they are no more dangerous than the average tourist, the House, including 47 Democrats, voted Thursday to approve new screening requirements for refugees coming to America from Syria and Iraq, a bill the White House has vowed to veto.

Dan, that sounded to me like broad-based political opposition to the president's stance.

HENNINGER:  That vote on the refugee bill Thursday was a significant political event.  On Wednesday, the White House said that the president would veto the bill if it came to his desk.  The expectation was that there would be enough Democrats in the Senate to sustain that veto.  It came to a vote in the House and he lost big.  This is an enormous loss of political faith for Barack Obama and the White House.  And what it suggests is that the comment we just heard, that they are no different from tourists, Democrats are getting very nervous and they are beginning to put space between them and Barack Obama.  We saw that with Hillary Clinton's speech to the Council on Foreign Relations this week, which at least moves somewhat off to the right of his strategy right now.

STEPHENS:  But, you know, part of the problem isn't just a matter of policy.  It's a matter of trust in this president.  Because this is a president who has a record of making confident pronouncements about the foreign policy, about American security, which turn out to be not only slightly wide of the truth but the opposite of the truth, starting famously with the J.V. team, al Qaeda on the path to defeat, Yemen a great success in the history of counterterrorism, winning in Iraq and Syria, and so on.  So every time this president says something, what we just heard, any normal person has to say, I'm not sure he has a real grasp of what the threat is.

VARNEY:  Is there a real threat?  If these Syrian refugees in the pipeline were to come in, do they represent a real threat to --


MCGURN:  Wasn't there a Syrian refugee involved in the Paris attacks?

VARNEY:  There was.

MCGURN:  So obviously, there's a threat.  We have the FBI director saying that he cannot vet thse people.  The Republicans, as Dan said, they've changed it to a security question and President Obama has never really has been strong on security.  If you go back to the larger point, Walter Russell (ph) says ask President Obama's least favorite question, why do we have Syrian refugees?  It's because of the massive failure of his policy in Syria.  He would much rather change the debate to the hard-hearted Republicans and so forth.  But as Dan said, even some of the Democrats aren't going along.

KISSEL:  What you are saying is the president is using the refugees as a wedge issue --


KISSEL:  -- to help Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.  Let's think about that for a moment.  That's very, very frightening.

And to Bret's point, it's not just about President Obama's foreign policy incompetence.  It's also that the average American can look around and see a broad failure of pretty much every bureaucracy that they touch, whether it's the IRS or the HHS or the Veterans Administration.

STEPHENS:  It is galling, it is galling for a president, who was allowed the tragedy in Syria to fester and grow into the great humanitarian disaster of our time, to lecture Republicans about their moral obligations.

And I want to make an added comment about what he called a religious test.  No one, certainly no one around this table advocates a religious test.  But it is the case that in the Middle East today Christians aren't simply in the firing zone.  They are being targeted for persecution and genocide, just as the Yazidis are.  So they are in the same position that the Jews in Europe were the Second World War.  So the president is making some suggestion, oh, we should favor the Christians over Muslims.  No.  We should favor the Christians because they are at risk of being completely wiped out by --


VARNEY:  That is not a religious test?

STEPHENS:  So then, in that case, he would be on the side of those who oppose -- he would be on the side of the Roosevelt administration, at least in the early part of the war, that didn't lift a finger to save the Jews of Europe because they said, what we have to do is win the war.

MCGURN:  He's implying we are using religion to keep people out.  And what Bret is suggesting is religion can be a factor for letting people in and giving them relief if they are targeted in part because of it.  It's a big switch-a-roo.

VARNEY:  It is not like Congress is saying, no, you are not coming in, not now, not ever.  They are simply asking for a pause --

KISSEL:  That's right.

VARNEY:  -- which, in light of Paris and Bamako, seems to be a perfectly rational --


MCGURN:  -- say, clean bill of health.

KISSEL:  Yeah, and also, it reflects what the American people believe.  There was a Bloomberg poll out earlier this week that showed a majority of Americans want to halt the refugees for now.  But it also showed that a plurality say that they believe that Islam is mainly peaceful but is twisted by a very few.  So the Ryan bill simply reflects what the American public wants.

VARNEY:  Last word, Dan?

HENNINGER:  Yeah.  Let's move past the refugees.  The question is, how do we protect ourselves?  The FBI director, or the head of the CIA, John Brennan, said, I don't have the tools to surveil them anymore because we have so pulled back on our surveillance capability.  That's the 9/11 moment that has returned.  We are going to have that debate over how we should be keeping track of these people.

VARNEY:  All right, Dan.

Still ahead, foreign policy makes a comeback on the campaign trail.  So could the recent terror attacks shake up the 2016 presidential race?



DONALD TRUMP, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We got to go and we're got to knock the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of these people.


TRUMP:  We've got to do it.


TRUMP:  We've got to do it.



VARNEY:  Donald Trump, ramping up the tough talk, oh, yes, as the presidential candidates shift their focus to global terror and national security.  So, could we see a change in the 2016 landscape in the wake of the recent attacks?

Mary, Donald Trump talks about a registration, a registry of Muslims, and you say?

KISSEL:  I say that's what Democrats do, they separate people by race and gender and ethnicity.  Look, I think the next Republican debate is going to separate the pros from the amateurs.  Donald Trump has not laid out any coherent foreign policy, any plan to protect the American homeland or our allies.  This is a distraction.  Hopefully, what we'll see in the next debate is an explication of what he really believes.

VARNEY:  Could I say this, Dan?  Paris, Bamako, helps Trump, hurts Carson?

HENNINGER:  I don't think there's any question about that.  It mainly helps Trump.  Let's understand Donald Trump's candidacy is a direct result of the Obama policies we described earlier in this program.  Seven years of failure, both economic policy, domestically, and certainly foreign policy.  People are to the point where they agree with Donald Trump.  No more bleep, no more B.S.  And it comes out as simply trying to bomb them.  Now, we need a much more serious policy than that.  But that is why Trump is getting all this support.  They're --


STEPHENS:  But I think this is an opportunity for someone like Marco Rubio to shine, because, look, it's nice to have that visceral reaction.  In that sense, it is the appropriate visceral reaction.  But you need people in a complicated world who know what they're talking about.  Who, for instance, could have named Bamako or found it on a map --


-- as you could have, Stuart --


STEPHENS:  -- before these latest attacks.  When you listen to Trump talking about Syria, you have a sense of a guy who never gets beyond the viscera, and that's important.

VARNEY:  But he's saying what people want him to say in a way they want him to say it.

STEPHENS:  Right.  And what people should also want is a president who knows his way around the world.

MCGURN:  Look, I think the biggest issue is Hillary Clinton.  She just last week gave a speech saying it wasn't America's fight.  She now has a speech that it's not America's fight but it's a global fight that America must lead against radical jihadists who are not Muslim.  And she says anyone that sort of suggests they are is a problem.  That would be news to the king of Jordan who says this is a civil war inside Islam.

Look, the ISIS terrorists in Paris took better care of their communications than Hillary Clinton did on her server.  She's going to have some tough questions.  I think Chris Christie is going to put it to her.

VARNEY:  You think Chris Christie --


MCGURN:  Former U.S. attorney.


MCGURN:  The issues are really intelligence, interrogation, and some of these means by which we combat them.  When it gets to specifics, I think Hillary Clinton will be -- will not have the real answers.

HENNINGER:  But, Bill, the question is, how do people like Chris Christie, Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio get elevation amongst the media tsunami that pushes all the attention over to someone like Donald Trump?

VARNEY:  Well, Jeb Bush came out very early, on Friday morning, the day of the Bamako attack, came right onto FOX News and said, we're going to have boots on the ground, short, limited engagement, but put them there.  He was very quick to jump on this, Jeb Bush.

STEPHENS:  And he's right.  Look, he's absolutely right.  Even Hillary Clinton, in her latest iteration, Hillary seven-point-whatever, is beginning to tiptoe that way.  They understand that suddenly Syria is a liability for the Democrats because of it's -- of the disorder that it's spreading out from there.  You have to resolve the Syrian situation.

What you also need is a president, unlike President Obama, who understands that there are ways in which you can apply limited force for decisive ends.  Not 100,000 troops on the ground, but maybe 10,000 troops on the ground.

VARNEY:  Does Ted Cruz have a problem with collection, data collection, and his stands on the NSA, in light of Paris and Bamako?

KISSEL:  Yes.  I think he has a big problem.  Marco Rubio, this week, exposed Ted Cruz for what he is.  He's a crass opportunist.  That vote against metadata collection reduced the ability of American intelligence services to find the terrorists needle in a haystack.  And I would expect Marco Rubio to continue to press that line of attack.  I think Cruz gets away with it with the GOP base because he wraps himself in the American flag and the American Constitution.

MCGURN:  Just to --


KISSEL:  And that's not good enough today.

MCGURN:  To follow up Dan's point, I think the challenge for Republicans is to put this to Hillary Clinton while she's in the primary, because once she gets the nomination, she'll move to the right of Ronald Reagan if she has to.  These are questions she does not want to answer at a Democratic debate.

VARNEY:  All right.  We have to take one more break.  When we come back, our "Hits & Misses" of the week.


VARNEY:  It's that time, time for our "Hits & Misses" of the week.

And, Dan, you're first.

HENNINGER:  I'm giving a miss to this week's university gone wild.  That would be Princeton University --


-- where students occupied the president's office, demanding that the 28th president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, who was also president of Princeton, that his name be expunged from every building at Princeton, and his mural erased at the dining hall at Princeton, because they say Woodrow Wilson was a racist.  I think the left has a list.


Thomas Jefferson, founder of the University of Virginia, among other things.

VARNEY:  Stop it, Dan.  Stop it right now.

HENNINGER:  They're not going to stop.

VARNEY:  Mary?

KISSEL:  I'm going to give a big miss to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, the topic of many of our editorials, who, this week, made another siren call for higher corporate taxes, as she tried to elbow in on the presidential race and influence that.  Memo to Democrats, if you want more revenues to redistribute, you need to lower taxes, encourage investment, grow the economy.  But I guess they don't teach that at Harvard.

VARNEY:  I'd give you another 30 seconds for more on that.

Bill, yours?

MCGURN:  A missed opportunity, Bobby Jindal left the Republican race this week.  He never really connected on the issues.  And one of the tragedies is that one the best issues was education and school reform, where he helped preside over the complete transformation of the New Orleans school system in a very, very healthy way.  He ought to go up to Detroit and help them figure out things there.  But that's up for stakes now, for grabs now in Louisiana, with the runoff gubernatorial election.

VARNEY:  All right, everybody.

Please remember, if you have your own hit or miss, be sure to tweet it to us at JERonFNC.

That's it for this week's show.  I'm Stuart Varney.  You can catch me weekdays on "Varney & Co."  That would be at 9:00 a.m. sharp on the FOX Business Network.  Thanks to all of my panel and to all of you for watching.  Paul is back next week.  We hope to see you then.


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