Romney on Pres. Obama's ISIS plan: 'We have to be serious about going after these people'

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 10, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: In just two hours, President Obama will tell the nation his plan to combat ISIS. Will he order air strikes in Syria?

And as we get ready to hear the president's strategy, you're about to hear from former presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, Senator Marco Rubio, and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.

We begin with former governor, Mitt Romney.


VAN SUSTEREN: Governor, it's great to have you back ON THE RECORD.


VAN SUSTEREN: Well, there is a lot going on in the world. The president is speaking tonight. But before we get to sort the president's speech, I'm curious, how did we get to this point, where now the world seems enormously dangerous, again. We are seeing the beheading of two Americans, that doesn't count the hundreds of thousands of other people being terrorized and killed. How did we get to this point?

ROMNEY: Well, the point that we have reached is really the result of the president's foreign policy. I used to joke during the campaign the president didn't have a foreign policy. And I know Hillary Clinton recently said about the same thing, he doesn't have a real policy. But the truth is he does have a foreign policy. And it's one that's based upon America withdrawing from the world in some respects, in some respects, apologizing for our heavy footprint over the years, shrinking our military. In a place like Syria, not getting involved to support moderate voices.

In Iran, when there were demonstrators in the streets, not saying anything, not getting involved. And the result of that is that people see American weakness, see a lack of resolve on the part of the president. They hear him talk about a red line and then back away from it. And bad people do bad things when they think there is not going to be some kind of punishment. And unfortunately, bad people are doing bad things all over the world. Syria was an enormous opportunity for us three years ago. I, and a lot of other people said that, but he just watched. And now three years later he is finally acting and it's -- I'm afraid, it's unfortunate that it took so long.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, he had people from both sides of the aisle about Syria. He had, of course, Senator John McCain, which you might expect, but secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, also was eager to be more aggressive in Syria. And so now we find the situation we are in. He says that he is not going to put boots on the ground in Syria. And the experts say that the only way to get ISIS is to go into Syria, and the only way to get ISIS once you are in Syria is boots on the ground, which puts us in a very bad position.

ROMNEY: Well, the military minds are going to have to sort out exactly what action we should take. Clearly, the right action was three years ago, to arm the moderate insurgents there in Syria, to get rid of Assad. You wouldn't have seen ISIS at that stage had we taken those kinds of actions and if we had had a Status of Forces agreement in Iraq. Those things combined, I think, would have prevented ISIS from forming and doing what it's done. Obviously, that's the past. You look forward. And you say the right course is for us to take aggressive military action. Hopefully, the boots on the ground that come from our friends in the region will be able to get the job in coordination with our training, with our intelligence, and with our assault from the air.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you have any -- I mean, any level of confidence about that's going to happen that we are going to be able to adequately train and arm the people on the ground, the rebels in Syria, or even the Kurdish forces? I mean, do they have the ability? And do we have the ability to train them and arm them?

ROMNEY: Well, the insurgents in Syria, three years ago, obviously, gave a real scare to the Assad regime, had the Assad regime running for cover. They were strong enough at that point. They needed to be coalesced and armed. We didn't do that. As a result of not having done that, al Qaeda and ISIS and other jihadists have swarmed in. And they have really played a key role in the fighting in Syria. And the moderate voices have been, in many respects, almost disappeared. So can we rebuild that three years later? That's a real question.

Likewise, a real question as to what involvement will come from nations that are also opposed to ISIS, whether it's Jordan or Turkey or Saudi Arabia. There are sufficient armed forces in the region to be able to fight and defeat ISIS. But will they come in sufficient numbers? Will the president be able to garner that support is something time will tell.


ROMNEY: But, clearly, it's critical that we have got to take that action.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, we have issues of wars, we always sort of set politics aside. We are all on the same team for this one, Republicans and Democrats, Independents, everybody. In going in to tonight's speech, I assume ISIS will be watching. And other leaders around the world will be watching. Americans will be watching. Our military will be watching. You know, what is it that the president needs to do? I mean, what's his task tonight?

ROMNEY: You know, his task tonight is, once again, to describe what he would do and to talk about the actions he is going to take and what his commitments are. The challenge, of course, that the president has, is that he has done that before. He did it in Syria with the red line before. And people have come to see in the president someone who speaks eloquently, and oftentimes definitively, but then doesn't follow through. And so there will be a great deal the discounting behind his words. But then people are going to look for action. I certainly hope that you are going to see from the president the follow-through that's been missing in the past. But if there is the follow through with our military support, and if we're able to get support from our friends in the region, then we'll be able, ultimately, to defeat ISIS. How long that's going to take, what the costs will be in blood and treasure is something which is hard to calculate at this point.

But, look, this is the first time really since 2002 that jihadists have had a major swath of territory and a source of income from where they can train and launch attacks against us and against our friends. The president's policies have put us in a place of danger unlike anything we knew prior to 9/11. And this is a -- this is the result of a foreign policy gone severely awry. It's almost hard to imagine how the president's foreign policy could have been worse as it relates to keeping America safe from jihadists having territory and funds from which they can attack America.

VAN SUSTEREN: In some ways, this didn't really sneak up on us. Of course, now we are all appalled because we saw two Americans in orange jumpsuits get executed. You know, the video was put on the Internet. But this has been going on for several months. We have also got the situation at Boko Haram in Central Africa. This is not only crisis where we have got these radical extremists. What do we do about them?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, Greta, this is the frustration that I think a lot of people felt, which is the Obama administration, whether they thought this was reality or just pretended it was, somehow anticipated and told the American people that, hey, al Qaeda is on the run. They didn't even want us to refer to these people as jihadists. They said, oh, this is just al Qaeda. Well, no, actually, it's jihadists. It's a very broad term. They come in various places in the world and they are spreading out in a number of continents. And we have to it be serious about going after these people and keeping them from taking over territory, getting sources of funding, having training camps and launching attacks against us.

And, you know, I know that many people don't feel President Bush had it exactly right, but he did have certainly right the concept that this is a war against this huge movement around the world. And when you sit back and pretend like it's not a real movement, and there are not people doing these things that endanger ourselves and our friends around the world, well, then, obviously, bad things happen. And they have been allowed to grow and expand throughout Africa, throughout the Middle East, and throughout other parts of the world. And now, as you know, even recruiting people from the West.

I mean, this is -- this is that's not been secret. This is something that our intelligence community has been briefing the president on. Members of Congress have talked to the president, saying you need to be ready for this, you need a plan for this. And, my goodness, he didn't have a strategy? He hasn't been thinking about a strategy? It's, frankly, hard to imagine.

But, at this stage, look, let's commit to doing what's necessary to remove ISIS and remove this jihadist threat from peace-loving people around the world, because that includes us.

VAN SUSTEREN: Governor, always nice to see you. And we'll all be watching tonight to hear what the president has to say about this very serious issue. Thank you, sir.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Greta. Good to be with you.