President Obama's mixed messages on US strategy in Syria

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," November 3, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many will look at it and say you have broken your promise about boots on the ground. Have you?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, keep in mind that we have run special ops already. And really this is just an extension of what we were continuing to do. We are not putting U.S. troops on the frontlines fighting firefights with ISIL. But I have been consistent throughout that we are not going to be fighting like we did in Iraq with a-- battalions and occupations. That doesn't solve the problem.


BRET BAIER, ‘SPECIAL REPORT’ HOST: President Obama on the Special Ops troops heading into Syria, talking about that. A number of military experts say, as the president said, we have been on the ground for quite some time, and now he is making that covert operation public to take credit for putting something, doing something on the ground.

Meantime, the "New York Times" had a story about the coalition falling apart, the Arab alliance. In part it says "Beyond the early logistical factors the new alliance faces what is perhaps a more serious challenge in the long term. Though it's intended to begin clawing back territory in the Islamic State in most Arab areas, nearly all of the group's fighting power comes from the ethnic Kurdish militias. That demographic reality is likely to further along Turkey, a vital American ally that considers Kurdish autonomy near its southern border a security. It also limits the forces abilities to strike the jihadists in predominately Arab communities.
Kurdish fighters have less motivation to fight for these areas and could deep anger residents by doing so. It is a complex situation." We're back with the panel. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, COLUMNIST: Well, the president likes to tell us several hundred times that -- what he is not doing. He is not launching another Iraq war. Yes, we know, Mr. President, you are against the Iraq war. But it's now more than a decade later and it's seven years into your administration, five years into this civil war, and you have done nothing.

What he is he talking about and what you have mentioned, it's to give appearance motion. It's to make it look as if something is happening so that at least he can say, can issue statements. It has done nothing on the ground. The Russians and the Iranians and Hezbollah have shown how you change the status of forces, the balance of forces on the ground by doing something.

They are right that a civil war generally isn't ended by military means, although I would give you the example of Appomattox. That was a pretty definitive ending. Nonetheless, when you want to end a war, yes, it will be diplomatic ending, but the way it's ended, who wins, who loses, depends on where the forces are on the ground. The Russians and Iranians have shown they will do something. Obama shown over and over again 50 Special Ops in this vast Kurdish area, everybody knows it's a joke. And the irony is that Turks have been attacking our Kurdish allies in that enclave, which is why we can't do a no-fly zone.

BAIER: We have, Ron, been operating a Special Operations force base out of Iraq for quite some time. But the Russians, it does not appear that they are moving the needle on the ground, which is leading some to say they may be quick to leave Assad on the side and say maybe we'll go forward without Assad.

RON FOURNIER, NATIONAL JOURNAL: Yes. Assad has got to be sweating bullets right now, don't you think?

It's an awfully complicated set of decisions the president has to make. And I think a lot of Americans are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and not want to have a whole lot of troops in the Middle East right now. What they expect and they should demand that he at least be honest and clear and consistent. The president of the United States said I will not put troops on the ground in Syria. That is clear, that is sweeping.
We had grounds on the troop in Syria. So when he asked did you break your promise, the only answer is yes. It's not to wiggle away and spin it around some more. It's the dishonesty of this that gets me.

GEORGE WILL, COLUMNIST: About three weeks ago the president sent a letter to Congress saying he is send approximately 90 troops to Cameroon to fight Boko Haram. And in the letter he said these forces are equipped with weapons, that's a start, for the purpose of providing their own force protection and security. It is really hilarious to watch the semantic summersaults. He said they will not be on the front lines, as though there are lines like the trenches in World War I. It's a fluid situation. We just hear him say not battles and occupations. But remember, this is an administration that bombed Libya for eight months and got its compliant lawyers to say this did not constitute, quote, "armed hostilities" for eight months. So these people are if nothing else semantically nimble.

FOURNIER: This vague mission, the spinning, this lying, it is very much like Vietnam.

BAIER: On the upside, if Russia, as the president has talked about, is stuck, he can't get the military motion along with the Iranians to move the ball, does the political solution have more problems?

KRAUTHAMMER: I don't think they are stuck. What they did do immediately and quickly was to arrest what looked like a pretty possible, perhaps a probable collapse of the regime. So that has stopped. It's arrested, and they are now pushing back, taking more territory.

The big beneficiary, of course, is ISIS since the Russians are attacking the non-ISIS forces. So ISIS has occupied areas north of Aleppo. But this idea about chucking Assad -- they don't need Assad the person. The Russians in the end will sacrifice him, who care about him, if they can and they will establish another Alawite strongman from his clan. It would be advantageous for the Russians not to have the albatross of Assad's crimes but to have a secure Alawite mini-state which is what they are trying to construct.

BAIER: All right, down the row, is this the camel nose under the tent on the number of troops on the ground?

KRAUTHAMMER: No. Obama is not going to do more than he is doing.

FOURNIER: Yes, he is punting it to the next president who will jack up the numbers.

WILL: No. No more troops.

BAIER: That's it for the panel.