Obama's ISIS plan: Is it enough and will he follow through?
This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," September 13, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report," President Obama's war plan. He's unveiled a strategy for taking on ISIS, but will it be enough to destroy the terror groups? And does he have the political resolve to see it through?
Plus, a mixed reaction on Capitol Hill. But does the president need Congress to move ahead.
And fresh developments in the IRS targeting probe, including a phone call that raises new questions about the Justice Department's role in spinning the scandal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support from partner's forces on ground.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
That was President Obama Wednesday laying out his plan for taking on the Islamic State. In a prime-time address, the president vowed to degrade and ultimately destroy the terror group through a coalition-led air campaign and support from Iraqi Kurdish and Syrian opposition forces on the ground.
It's an effort the administration acknowledges could take years. So is it the right approach? And can the president be trusted to follow through?
Let's ask Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; and foreign affairs correspondent, Bret Stephens.
So, Bret, you've been urging the United States to act against ISIS for a long time. Now that the president finally has, pick up the good things first about his approach. What do you like about the strategy?
BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Look, air power can be very effective, especially against an enemy that has decided to get itself into Humvees and tanks and armored equipment, which can be picked off from the air. It's no longer a guerilla movement. It's much more of a conventional force.
GIGOT: Stop their freedom of moment.
STEPHENS: Absolutely. We can have effective proxies, particularly in the Kurdish Peshmerga, if we give them the kind f military support that we need. And I think that's absolutely right.
GIGOT: Do you have doubts about the Iraqi military forces as proxies?
STEPHENS: Well, look, there are good questions to doubt. Certainly, the efficacy of Iraqis, although somewhat less so now that they have their backs to the wall and they really have to fight. And it's good finally to see the president adopt a strategy of supporting a moderate Syrian opposition, which, just a few weeks ago, he was telling us was a fantasy, could ever even emerge. At lea, there's that effort. However, the idea of no ground troops is --
GIGOT: We'll get to that.
But the Syria point seems to me to be a crucial one. Because as the president said, you have to deny the Islamic State safe haven. The fact he's doing that increases the chances considerably.
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yeah, I think that's an important development. Previously, the U.S. involvement was limited to humanitarian assistance and protecting U.S. assets and individuals up near Erbil. Clearly, the Pentagon was straining under those restraints. He has essentially green-lighted our military planners in this area so that they are going to be expand their target.
For instance, they ought to be able to carry out drone strikes against Islamic State leaders, and these guys are not hiding out in the mountains of Waziristan. They're a little bit more exposed than they are in Pakistan. And the fact that he's going into Syria suggests that at least the front has been expanded there. And I think that that gives us an opportunity to start hitting targets in Syria that will degrade --
GIGOT: What about this issue of the ground troops? Because the president was at pains to say "no combat troops." But, number one, I don't think that's really accurate, because Special Forces are going to be there. At least training and probably, over time, carrying out kill missions or at least we're going to have to do that if we want to succeed. Because that's how we defeated the al Qaeda in Iraq during the surge in 2007.
STEPHENS: That's right. By the way, when you say no ground troops, you're putting a lot of innocent civilian lives at risk because, ultimately, no air strikes, precision strikes, particularly when we have to go after Islamic State leaders in major population centers like Raqqa in Syria or Mosul in northern Iraq. I'm afraid the president is once again making -- putting down a marker which he's going to be very hard put to maintain while at the same time pursuing a goal of the ultimate destruction of ISIS.
GIGOT: OK, with all of that, is this fight winnable?
HENNINGER: Well, I think it may be -- it depends on what you mean by the fight shall if you talking --
HENNINGER: -- just ISIL in Iraq --
GIGOT: Can he degrade and destroy ISIS? That's his goal that he set out.
HENNINGER: With the strategy he articulated, I do not think he can. I think it is the first step in a strategy that could develop. I don't see how you can limit our commitment to 475 trainers. It inevitably has to get bigger than that. The problem with that is you start to raise recollections of Vietnam, gradualism, gradual escalation. The question is, is this president committed enough to do what he needs to do to hit ISIS both in northern Iraq and Syria?
STEPHENS: And that's the question for American allies. You're already beginning to see a lot of supposedly core members of the coalition carve out exceptions, that the Germans won't use combat forces, the Turkish aren't allowing us to use --
GIGOT: They aren't.
STEPHENS: They're not -- to use the air base to go after them. Why? Because they are persistent doubts about the quality of American leadership and the sincerity of the president's commitment. And I think we are better served having a short and effective war that uses a larger number of ground forces, heavier duty air strikes, rather than an ends twilight struggle that goes three or four years past the Obama's presidency and leaves it to its successor.
GIGOT: Why take up the question of Syria? That seems to be the hardest strategic issue here. Because there's a lot of people who say, look, if we go after ISIS in Syria, we degrade them, that will help Bashar Assad's regime and his Iranian supporters. How do you go after ISIS in Syria without assisting Assad?
STEPHENS: In fact, ISIS and Assad are in a kind of partnership. And there's a reason why the Assad regime helped ISIS sell oil. It is in the Assad regime interests to make this a fight between the regime and ISIS because it tells groups like Syrian Christians, look, you're going to be with us or be slaughtered. In fact, a striking ISIS creates the kind of space within the opposition for the Free Syrian Army to --
GIGOT: But that means that training rebels is crucial here, the moderate rebels, the non-radical, the jihadists. But we haven't done that for three years and we don't know if that's going to work.
HENNINGER: It's a chance for him to do what he should have done a long time, hit Bashar Assad's air fields. Go back to the red line and complete that job. That's what will degrade Assad in Iraq.
GIGOT: Do you agree with that?
STEPHENS: Well, look, it's absolutely essential. And Assad remains our enemy. This is a guy who has killed 200,000 people, gassed people to death. He's Iran's best friend. We shouldn't let him survive.
HENNINGER: And he's still gassing them.
GIGOT: All right.
When we come back, the president's speech is getting mixed reviews on Capitol Hill. But does he really need Congress to move forward with his ISIS strategy?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: An F-16 is not a strategy. And air strikes alone will not accomplish what we're trying to accomplish.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL, but I believe we are strongest as a nation when the president and Congress work together.
So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: The president Wednesday calling on Congress to get behind his plan to defeat ISIS, which includes funding to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels. So how are Republicans and Democrats reacting so far?
Let's bring in "Wall Street Journal" "Potomac Watch" columnist, and master of all things political, Kim Strassel.
So, Kim, how much support does the president have for his strategy?
KIM STRASSEL, "POTOMAC WATCH" COLUMNIST: What you're seeing in Congress, Paul, I would describe best as very broad but somewhat lukewarm support.
The Republicans are happy to see the president finally has a plan. I think their concerns are that he has not gone far enough. The Democrats, who remain reflectively isolationist, nonetheless, want to give some support to the head of their own party. So they are generally coming on board, too.
So there definitely is the groundwork for some sort of resolution or authorization should the president really want one.
GIGOT: Bret, let's take the Republicans first. The criticism, as Kim said, seems to be coming from the "you're not going far enough," with a couple of exceptions, Rand Paul being one of them. But most then saying, why rule out ground troops? Is there enough support from the Republicans there for the president?
STEPHENS: Oh, I think he's going to get the support that he needs. It's one of these cases in which the president may come to rue the distain for which he has routinely treated Republicans on so many other votes, so many other issues that, that they are not going to give him the support --
GIGOT: Rue, how? How? Why would he -- if the Republicans are going to support him, he'll say, well, it doesn't matter, they are helping me.
STEPHENS: Well, we'll see where we are a year from now when this campaign continues and the Republicans may not be providing margins that he needs.
GIGOT: OK, Democrats --
HENNINGER: More problematic.
GIGOT: Yeah, that would be my guess here. You would think, their history, a lot of them voted for the war in Iraq in 2003. When the going got tough, they turned in 2004. John Kerry famously, who voted for the war before, he was against it.
The president himself, President Obama, walked to the -- ran to the --- one reason he won the White House and defeated Hillary Clinton was his opposition to the war.
HENNINGER: Well, you know, one of the things that was noted at the end of the week is that Secretary of State John Kerry was declining to call this a war against ISIS.
HENNINGER: The president won't use that word either. OK?
HENNINGER: It's very interesting because the Democrats do not want to be in a, quote/unquote, "war in Iraq." I mean, Obama himself is obsessed with not being in "Bush's war in Iraq."
GIGOT: It is a war in Iraq.
HENNINGER: They will not call it a war. The progressive caucus wants a vote on authorization. And there's an irony in this because what Obama has already done the air strike, they did under what they call the Authorization for Use of Military Force, the original 9/11 authorization, which --
GIGOT: In 2002.
HENNINGER: -- in 2001, which Obama, in the national defense speech last year, called for the repeal -- the repeal of the AUMM. So the Democrats are very ambivalent and torn here. Like we have said earlier, it depends on the president pushing and leading here.
GIGOT: Kim, how much time do you think the president has here to make this work, to show progress? If it drags on six months or a year, are you going to see the emergence on the left, in particular, of significant opposition?
STRASSEL: Absolutely. The people who have come out to support him again, they are being very cautious in this. You had a couple of candidates -- Mark Begich, who is running out in Alaska, flat-out say that he didn't agree with what the president was doing and he was not going to give him a blank check. But the problem is, you know, the president wants this sort of backing. He wants it both because he wants a little bit of cover for this decision and he also knows that it does look better if Congress gets behind him.
But if a year from now, things are tough, you can bet that the Democrats are going to split off. And you will probably see an emergence as well of an anti-war candidate to come out and oppose the president, or someone like Hillary Clinton who might be running to succeed him in office. And that could be a big split in the Democratic Party.
STEPHENS: And this goes to the heart of the president's -- the problem with his strategy, which is a strategy that is asking Americans to sustain a war over many years, is going to run into political opposition. That's exactly what we learned with President Bush and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This is why this has to be a short, sharp, and successful war.
GIGOT: I think the president, under the Constitution, has the authority to do this without going to Congress, particularly under the resolution in
2001 and even 2003, because we're still acting in Iraq. Do you agree with that or should he go to Congress to get such an authorization?
STEPHENS: No, I absolutely agree with it. And I'd like to see Eric Holder come out and say that this administration opposes the 1973 War Powers Resolution. It's time to put that to rest.
GIGOT: What about as a prudential political matter, should he go to Congress?
HENNINGER: Well, it's a two-edged sword because Congress is always capable, as we have suggested here, six months from now, pulling back. If he could get a clean authorization, supporting what he's doing, that would be a political plus. But, you know, putting it in the hands of Congress to debate this at a time, as Kim is suggesting, they really don't want to do it, I think could bog down into an unproductive debate that would undermine the president's authority.
GIGOT: And even if though vote for him this time, that won't stop them from jumping ship six months --
GIGOT: It didn't before. It didn't before.
When we come back, new developments in the IRS targeting investigation, including a phone call Republicans say confirms what they've long suspected, that the Justice Department is collaborating with Democrats on how to spin the scandal.
GIGOT: New developments in the ongoing investigation into the targeting of conservatives groups by the IRS, with the tax agency revealing last week that it lost the emails of five more employees, including a senior aide to Lerner, the former official at the center of the scandal. That news comes amid fresh claims by House Oversight Committee chair, Darrell Issa, that Eric Holder's Justice Department is improperly collaborating with Congressional Democrats in its own IRS probe. And this time, he says he has a phone call to prove it.
We're back with Dan Henninger and Kim Strassel. And "Wall Street Journal"
senior editorial page writer, Colin Levy, also joins us.
So, Colin, tell us about this phone call and what it means.
COLIN LEVY, SENIOR EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: Paul, so what happened here, you had a senior communications aide to Attorney General Eric Holder who accidentally called up House Oversight Republicans thinking he was calling House Oversight Democrats.
LEVY: So -- right.
Saying, listen, I've got this information and I don't want to get it in the hands of the majority before we can control it, so do you think you could leak it so we can have a chance to comment publicly on it? So that's essentially what happened here. On one level, yes, this is a ridiculous gaffe. But on another level, it really does show a very coordinated effort here to obfuscate and delay this investigation.
GIGOT: Has the Justice Department said anything about this, acknowledged it or explained it?
LEVY: Oh, you know, the aide basically said, oh, it's perfectly reasonable for the Justice Department to be talking to House Republicans and House Democrats and, you know, no big whoop. That's sort of --
GIGOT: This follows the case you've been reporting on of the Justice Department investigator, Andrew Strelka, who, before he was assigned to this IRS case, was actually -- had worked at the IRS department under Lois Lerner. And now he has been taken off the case. But that also suggests just some -- at the minimum, an ethical lapse, but worst, some kind of coordination.
LEVY: Right. That's right. That's what this information was supposedly about. We don't know what it was or is yet. But it was supposedly about Andrew Strelka. And no one knows where he is. He left the Justice Department. He was taken off the cases in question after stories came out about it, but no one knows where he is. So, apparently, we're going to find out more when the Justice Department thinks that's reasonable.
GIGOT: All right, Kim, what else can we expect here as this investigation goes forward?
STRASSEL: Here's why this matters, Paul. I think what you're seeing over the past week, and especially because of the latest revelation about the Justice Department -- remember, the Justice Department is supposed to be investigating this IRS scandal. And instead, what we've got as an accumulation over the last few weeks is a bunch of evidence that suggests the IRS and Justice Department and other departments of the Obama administration instead appear to have been spending the past year doing everything they possibly can to impede congressional investigators in getting to the bottom of this affair.
So not just coordinating with Democrats. We now have news about Lois Lerner's Blackberry being wiped. This happening after Congress had already starting investigating, after the Treasury inspector general had begun his investigation. You have the emails of other critical people in this scandal gone as well, at least five of them.
STRASSEL: You have redactions in documents that are being sent so the investigators can't actually see the core conversations. And by the way, I should also note, the only reason we even know any of this is because of outside litigation, which has enlisted the help of the judicial branch, and judicial branch has been forcing the IRS and others to come clean with some stuff. That's why we're finding out they haven't been clean with congressional investigators.
GIGOT: So do you expect more of this information to come out from these independent lawsuits, these non -- not through Congress, but through the judicial system?
STRASSEL: The most important one right now is a case that's been brought by Judicial Watch, which is a watchdog group. And in that case, it's a FOIA case, a Freedom of Information Act case.
STRASSEL: And that has given the judge the ability -- he is not happy with what the IRS has been sending. And he's definitely going to give them more power to look at stuff.
GIGOT: All right. Thanks to both of you for following this. Somebody has got to.
We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits & Misses" of the week.
GIGOT: Time for "Hits & Misses" of the week.
Colin, let's start with you.
LEVY: Paul, this is a hit to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which announced this week that it's donating $50 million to help fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The United Nations estimated it's going to cost
$600 million to stop and eradicate the disease. So the government response here has been slow and lackluster. I'm really glad to see the private sector stepping up in a big way.
GIGOT: All right.
STRASSEL: A hit to Texas Congressman Jim Hensarling for almost single- handedly forcing a D.C. debate on the Export/Import Bank. That entity, taxpayer funded, doles out subsidies to corporations. It's been on autopilot for decades. Mr. Hensarling devoted most of this year to exposing its costs and damages. He didn't entirely win the fight. It's going to get a short-term reauthorization, but we are closer than we have ever been to potentially getting rid of this huge Washington boondoggle.
GIGOT: All right.
HENNINGER: Paul, a big miss to the University of California system, which this week derecognized the Christian group Intervarsity Christian Fellowship on 23 campuses because it said that the group insists that its leaders, not its members, but leaders, have to conform to the group's belief. California says this discriminates against everyone else. It almost sounds to me as though they are putting a form of secular Sharia installed on the University of California's campuses.
GIGOT: So they have to have atheist leaders if they want?
HENNINGER: You have to accept them.
GIGOT: OK. All right.
And remember, if you have your own Hit or Miss, you can tweet it to us @jeronfnc.
That's it for this week's slow. Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.
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