Rising Tensions in the Middle East; Missouri Voters Send Health Care Message to Washington

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from August 4, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


GEN. THOMAS MCINERNEY, (RET.) FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: This is a h uge deal because it means that no non-stealth aircraft can survive the surface- to-air missile threat that the Iranians will put up. And that means that the Israelis have got to strike very quickly.

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Iran is very concerned that an attack by Israel or perhaps even by the United States may be imminent. That's why there is a lot of speculation in the region that they're trying to provoke an incident between Lebanon and Israel hoping to divert Israel's attention, resources to its northern border and away from the Iranian nuclear weapons program.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: What's this all about? The Iranian regime is claiming on state-run television that is has obtained four S-300 long range surface-to-air missiles which, if true, would boost Iran's ability to defend against air strikes on its nuclear facilities. They say they got it from Belarus and another source. The Pentagon and White House saying they have nothing to support that, whether it's true or not.

Yet, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs asked about a possible U.S. strike or plans of it this past weekend. Take a listen:


ADM. MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I think the military options have been on the table and remain on the table. And certainly in that regard, it's one of the options the president has.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: But the military has a plan should it come to that.

MULLEN: We do.


BAIER: What does this all mean in the big scheme of things? Let's bring in our panel: Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard; Erin Billings, deputy editor of Roll Call, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Charles, let's put this in perspective. We know that the Israeli prime minister made a secret not-so-secret trip to Moscow to try to prevent Russian from selling these missiles to Iran. If they have them, what is the significance here -- or even if they don't, what's the significance?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I'm not sure it occurred. Belarus, allegedly the source, has denied it and the Russians have denied it. The U.S. is skeptical and I think the Israelis are skeptical as well. But I think -- and if it did happened it would be a big deal because it would accelerate Israel attacking. If they have a few of the batteries it would make Israeli attack right away because if they have a lot of batteries it would make an Israeli attack almost impossible. But even if it didn't happen, it's important because the Iranians are saying it, touting it, basically saying that you can't attack us.

I think this is of a piece with some of the other things we've been seeing. We have president of Iran saying that Israel is planning attack on two countries. I think he was meaning Lebanon and Syria. You had attacks on Sinai into Israel presumably by Hamas. Hamas is agent of Iran. You had rockets from Gaza in to Ashdot, a city in Israel. Hamas again, very tied. This would undoubtedly be a Hamas rocket.

And you have the incident in Lebanon. The Lebanese incident looks as if it was not staged by Hezbollah or by the government. Nonetheless, I think what Iran is doing is playing at brinksmanship. It's worried. When it hears the chairman of the Joint Chiefs saying not only is the military option on the table, but we have a plan, that worries them a lot because the United States could inflict tremendous damage on Iran if it wanted to.

That's why I think it's playing brinksmanship as a way to remind the world we can start a world with Israel anytime through Hezbollah, Lebanon or Gaza, and we presumably have the missiles to shoot down American attackers or Israeli attackers.

It's a high-stake game and I think the Iranians are getting a little bit worried about the change in attitude of the United States.

BAIER: As you look at the map, obviously everything is condensed in this area of the world in the Middle East, as we talk about many times. And Charles, you mentioned the action from the south and the north on Israel in recent days. Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke about that, and Iranian president reacted in Iran. Take a listen:


ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU (via translator): Don't test our determination to defend the citizens and soldiers of Israel. Our policy is clear: Israel responds and will continue to respond with force to any attack against the citizens and soldiers.

IRANIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD (via translator): The Zionist regime has no place amongst the nation of the region. And such games will not save it. The best solution to Palestine issue would be to pack up what you've got and take it with you.


BAIER: Erin, in recent days we have heard different things from the administration about Iran. Is there a sense in Washington that things are stepping up, that there is more of tension and awareness in the capital?

ERIN BILLINGS, DEPUTY EDITOR, ROLL CALL: I think so. I mean, clearly the tensions are escalating in the region. I think Admiral Mike Mullen spoke to it on Sunday. He said he was very concerned about, or "extremely concerned" I think is what he said, and that they do have a plan for the military action if it becomes necessary.

I think this had been a concern, though. This is not, as Charles said, this is not an isolated incident. This is a pattern from Iran that we've seen.

And so -- where do we go from here? I don't know. Sanctions clearly haven't worked. But tensions are pretty high there. They seem to be getting higher. Israel has responded. I mean, look what happened with the flotilla incident not long ago.

BAIER: Bill, some people in this town are adding up all the pieces, saying this is a bad picture overall.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, it's a very dangerous part of the world. And, I think the big news for me -- I think it's very unlikely. I talked to people who served in the Bush administration, a colleague of mine spoke to someone now in the White House who is a straight shooter, foreign policy expert. I think it's very unlikely that Iran is telling the truth.

BAIER: About the --

KRISTOL: In the claims about the S-300s. There are other ways we would know that I think, and I think people in our government do not believe it's the case.

But I think Charles is right. The boasting or the bluffing is itself interesting. For me, the big story is this: When people in the administration now talk about Iran they sound like people in the Bush administration talking about Iran. It's a threat, it's difficult. We prefer not to have use force, we are escalating the sanctions.

I talked to someone who was at a meeting with the president and the president had a bunch of people to the White House, foreign columnist and TV people. Charles, you weren't there either. I wasn't. I don't know why. I didn't -- I think the invitation, the e-mail address was messed up on my invitation. So I wasn't there, you weren't there.

KRAUTHAMMER: The post office lost it.


KRISTOL: Yes. I talked to someone there. He said -- he's been in a lot of these things and said what struck him, leave aside the business of style, President Obama and the top team sounded an awful lot like other American president talking about a dangerous and difficult part of the world and how we have to look strong and get allies on board to deal with the threats.

It was very different in tone from the I'm now president, Barack Obama, and the whole world is going to change. And Muslim world is going to be transformed giving a speech in Cairo, all that kind of ridiculous utopianism of the first year, at least a lot of it I think they have gotten beyond.

BAIER: Charles, quickly, there was a little tension inside Tehran today following reports of motorcade for Iranian president there might have been an attack. The government insisted it was a fan setting off a firecracker because he was excited to see the president. There were reports that it might have been bigger than that.

What about the possibility that the opposition could take out the president?

KRAUTHAMMER: There is a long history of fans using explosives as a way to welcome a visiting popular president.

Again, this is an opaque society. Who knows what is true or not? I wouldn't surprised if there was an attack. We know from last year that there is tremendous opposition, simmering opposition because it was repressed, to the government. Some of the sanctions are having some effect, so that increases the opposition.

Incidentally, those who argued against sanctions, saying it will hurt the Iranian people and strengthen the government are dead wrong. It strengthens the opposition because it weakens the government.

But I think it is a government nervous about its legitimacy inside and again is hearing new rumblings and attitude from Washington. And that's why it's making threats and bluffs and hoping to scare us and the Israelis away.

BAIER: When we come back, what Missouri's rejection of mandatory health insurance means to the president health care law.


JIM LEMBKE, R-MISSOURI STATE SENATE: I think that this is going to propel the issue into November where there are other states that are going to have something very like our health care freedom on their ballot.

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER HARRY REID, D-NEV.: Once you explain what is in this bill, the American people of course like it. The more that people learn about this bill, the more they like it.


BAIER: OK, talking about the health care law. Here is what the Senate Majority Leader said about it a couple of weeks ago, quote, "Remember, any poll you see today, the majority of the American people support what we did here with health care."

Well, here is the vote breakdown from the Missouri primary ballot. Proposition C, this is against the health care law mandate -- the mandate to purchase health insurance -- there you see against it, yes, 71 percent, no, 29 percent, a huge win for this proposition and perhaps a big blow for the Obama administration in a bellwether state of Missouri.

We're back with the panel. Erin, what does this mean in the big picture of politics and health care heading to the midterm?

BILLINGS: You heard Harry Reid saying it will get more popular with time. We haven't seen that. In fact, Democrats have not done a very good job selling health care generally, and I think this is emblematic of that.

But look, this is one piece of the health care law. This piece actually doesn't take effect until 2014. This was a symbolic win, particularly for conservatives who don't like the health care reform law.

But this is also one of the most controversial aspects. Mandate, people don't like mandates as it is, being told you have to buy insurance or otherwise face a penalty. Those are the things that the voters, particularly in this economy, don't care for.

So if Republicans are smart in my mind, they will hone in on some of the issues, the particulars, keep it simple and focus on issues like this that clearly aren't popular and try to sell that heading into November, because it's going to be tough for Democrats to defend.

BAIER: Bill, the White House is trying to sell it. We saw the president on his computer trying to steer people through what benefits they can get through the health care law.

Here is the latest Fox News Opinion Dynamics poll question. Changes under the new health care law, do they go too far? And 45 percent say yes, they do. Don't go far enough -- 25 percent. There you see the rest of them.

What do you think about this issue?

KRISTOL: The proposition was two parts, actually, two clauses. You should not be forced to buy health insurance, there should be no mandate. And you should have the right to buy the kind of health insurance you want.

So it was kind of a classic statement of the Republican position of keep government further removed from either making you buy it or telling you the parts, conditioning the way in which the health insurance is sold to you, which is what Obama-care is about.

So I think it was a de facto referendum on Obama-care. It was an astonishingly lopsided result. I talked to one Democrat today who was shocked by it. And we're seeing a huge retreat. Robin Carnahan, Democratic Senate candidate in Missouri, who supported it -- she's on tape supporting Obama-care. She put out a statement last night and said people in Missouri don't want too much of the Washington big government stuff around.

McCaskill, the other senator from Missouri who was a very strong supporter and was on every TV in the country last year pretty effectively as the Democratic arguments went, supporting Obama-care. She said something like "message received."

BAIER: And it was every county except two.

KRISTOL: Proposition C carried every county except for city of St. Louis and the city of Kansas City.

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: I would like to celebrate this, but I would caution against over-reading it. I don't think it's a proxy for the whole health care law. I think if you had a referendum that would have said that in the state of Missouri, any insurance company shall no longer deny insurance to anyone because of preexisting condition, it would also win overwhelmingly. If you pick the parts that Democrats like, I think it would win. If you pick the parts that Republicans know people don't like, it loses.

Yes, it was a huge margin, a 40-point margin, which said something. But I don't think it's a stand-in for the whole bill. I think it remains probably a 10-point difference between those who favor the bill as a whole --

BAIER: Because this is symbolic in that the federal fight in court will continue on this very issue.

KRAUTHAMMER: And if it has an effect I think it has a subtle and long range effect. The Supreme Court will judge on this ultimately, and it does, despite its isolated and majestic robed eminence, it does read the polls.

It's going to be a close decision whether this is constitutional. When you get overwhelming statement on this narrow issue of people in Missouri saying we don't like it, it may help at the margins to tilt balance against what is an extraordinary expansion of the federal government's power under the commerce clause.