Was Trump's Syria strike a military success?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," April 14, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, FOX NEWS HOST: Welcome to the 'Journal Editorial Report.' I'm Paul Gigot.

The United States, with partners France and the United Kingdom, launched missile strikes on Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians by Syria President Bashar al Assad.

During his address to the nation last night, President Trump promised that this might not be the last military action in Syria.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.


GIGOT: But Trump's own secretary of defense seemed to offer a different view.


GEN. JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Right now, this is a one-time shot, and I believe it has sent a very strong message to dissuade him, to deter him from doing this again.


GIGIT: Retired Navy Admiral Robert Natter served as commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet and the Seventh Fleet. He joins me now from Washington.

Admiral, welcome. Thank you for being here.


GIGOT: On the terms that the secretary of defense set out, General Dunford set out, militarily, was this strike a military success?

NATTER: Oh, I think so. Certainly, it had limited objectives. Those objectives were hit and most likely totally destroyed. It does send a very clear signal to the Syrian leadership that the civilized world's not going to put up with this.

GIGOT: OK. But on that question of deterrent -- and you heard both the president and the secretary use that word, 'deter' -- we did that a year ago. And here we had in the interim a very effective strike then. And since then, we've had the Syrians use keep call weapons many, many times. Why is this strike going to be more of a deterrent than that one?

NATTER: Well, this strike was about double the number of missiles, and I would say the targets were much better targets than the last strike. And it's already been stated by our leadership that if this happens again, then this will be accelerated, and there will be other targets hit. I don't think there's any doubt that that's the case. And certainly, with our allies involved, it's very believable.

GIGOT: OK. And these targets were better because these were the actual chemical sites, as opposed to production and delivery sites, as opposed to an air base the last time, is that the point?

NATTER: That is the point. And I'm sure there are other targets that would be more strategic and would be much more painful for the Syrians.

GIGOT: OK. Now the Russians, of course, condemned the attack, denied that Syria had been responsible for chemical attacks. But were you surprised that they laid back as they have? They didn't, apparently, take really active measures to try to stop the missiles or take any military response.

NATTER: Well, look, I'm convinced the Russians aren't excited about getting into a military engagement with the United States. That would be with catastrophic for them. It would certainly be very painful for us. They have limited objectives in Syria, and they're not ready to go to total war with us over those limited objectives. I think that's obvious.

GIGOT: So how effective though are the Russian missile defense radars in Syria? Because they've been delivering a lot more of those in the last couple of years. Is that something that, militarily, if we went in in any future attack, say, particularly with fighters, we'd have to disable those, I assume, or we could be in trouble.

NATTER: Well, again, it depends on if they attempt to engage our assets that are going in there. Certainly, we have the right of self-defense. The Russians know that. The Russians were advised in advance and coordinated the air space for this. And -- for this. And so, again, limited objectives on our part and limited response on the Russians' part. I think that's appropriate.

GIGOT: OK. Going forward, do you see a strategy here, a larger strategy by the administration going forward in Syria and what our role there is going to be in the days ahead?

NATTER: Well, I think they're certainly focused on Syria. Their concern is, obviously, the sustainment of a leader that is stooping to use outlawed weapons of mass destruction against innocent civilians. It's more complicated by the fact that the Iranians are there, the Russians are there. The Turks have different objectives than we do there. So this is, to say the least, a quagmire. And I think that our approach to this -- because it is in our self-interests to have our interests protected there - - is appropriate.

GIGOT: OK, but the president said, he's been saying before this chemical attack, look, I want to get out of there, and we're going to get out soon. Now, if that happens, what would that mean, do you think, on the ground in Syria, and what message does that send to Russia or Iran which, obviously, have longer-term designs on Syria?

NATTER: Well, our presence there has resulted in some very good operational successes on the part of the people and forces that we're supporting. Getting out of there is a term that needs some more definition, I think.

GIGOT: It depends on what you mean by getting out. But let me ask you this specifically, you remember when the first President Bush set up a safe zone in northern Iraq that was very effective. Didn't threaten Saddam Hussein's rule, but it did protect the Kurds. Do you think we could do that militarily in parts of Syria?

NATTER: I think that would be possible with the cooperation of the Turks and with at least the conversation with the Russians. The last thing, though, we need to try and do is establish a safe zone where there's current conflict and where there are differing interests and arguments over who should control that safe zone.

GIGOT: Do you think we would have to have the cooperation of the Russians?

NATTER: I think at least the acknowledgment on their part that such a zone would be in the benefit of the situation in Syria. Yes.

GIGOT: OK. Admiral Natter, thank you very much for being here. Appreciate it.

NATTER: Thank you.

GIGOT: U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley warning the world that America is locked and loaded and ready to respond if Syria uses chemical weapons again. Our panel's take on how Russia will react and what it means for the future in Syria, next.



NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: With yesterday's military or action, our message was crystal clear, the United States of America will not allow the Assad regime to continue to use chemical weapons. Last night, we obliterated the major research facility that it used to assemble weapons of mass murder. I spoke to the president this morning, and he said if the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded.


GIGOT: That was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announcing the United States' intention to the U.N. Security Council in response to the use of chemical weapons by Bashar Assad just as tensions with fellow Security Council member and Assad ally, Russia, are increasing. So how will Russia and Iran respond to the allied action, and does the Trump administration have a larger strategy for Syria?

Let's ask 'Wall Street Journal' columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger, editorial board member, Mary Kissel, and columnist Bill McGurn.

So let's start with just the basic first question, was this strike appropriate and necessary? Necessary?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yes, I think we can conclude that, Paul. It most certainly was necessary. It was a chemical attack, it was a god-awful chemical attack. Chemical weapons have been abhorred since World War I. We have conventions against it. And it was necessary to hit those three sites. But what we have to understand is the administration, I think, has made crystal clear at this point in time the pretext for this was only the chemical weapon attack. Not anything else that has been going on in Syria in the civil war or the adjacent regions.

GIGOT: OK. But is that by itself enough to justify such an action? Are chemical weapons so abhorrent and such a violation of norms that it's worth this kind of one-time attack?

HENNINGER: Yes, I think they are that abhorrent. And I think what the president has said, if they use chemical weapons again, Assad runs the risk of another attack by the United States. I don't mean in the larger sense of the strategy in the region that may have been sufficient, but they did put down a marker on chemical weapons.

GIGOT: Of course, it's basically saying if you use a particular kind of method to kill people -- chemicals -- you will pay a price. But if you use barrel bombs or saturation bombing, you won't.

MARY KISSEL, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: That's right, Paul. And the administration made very clear last night in a series of statements that this is not about the civil war, it is only about enforcing that norm against chemical weapons.

GIGOT: Right. Will it work as a deterrent, do you think?

KISSEL: I don't think so, Paul. If President Trump is so concerned about stopping the use of chemical weapons, he's also in the same breath acknowledging that Assad might use them again, suggesting he still has them. If he cares so much about the CWC, that arms control treaty, then we should have gotten rid of all of these facilities. It should have been a much larger strike.

GIGOT: And we know, clearly, we have been following and monitoring these facilities. We knew they existed, because we knew they could hit them, Bill. Yet, it took a long time for us to hit them after last year's strike.

BILL MCGURN, COLUMNIST: Yes. Look, I think it was an encouraging step. You know, I remember Saddam Hussein thought he was going to survive Shock and Awe, and he bet one too many times, and he ended up in a spider hole, you know, dragged out. We don't know where it's going to go. I would say it's necessary but not sufficient.

The two things about Russia that I think are necessary to note is, you know, one, we keep saying what's Russia's response going to be? That's what the world wants to know, right?

GIGOT: Well, they denounced the strike and said you will pay a price, but we don't know what that will be.

MCGURN: But let's remember, Russia is there because it was a face-saving out for the Obama administration not to do anything. They were supposed to get rid of these weapons. And that's why they're there.

GIGOT: Right.

MCGURN: And instead they got a foothold. So I think what the president ultimately has to do, we have to change the equation from worrying about what Putin's going to do to bad guys worrying about what's America going to do.

KISSEL: Well, we have to establish leverage on the ground. If President Trump --


GIGOT: On the ground -- whoa, whoa. You mean troops?

KISSEL: No, not necessarily troops, Paul. There are lots of other things that we can do.


KISSEL: But, look, if President Trump wants a negotiated settlement to Syria ultimately -- they talked again last night about the Geneva process that the U.N. --


GIGOT: That's the peace process trying to settle the civil war.

KISSEL: That's correct. Then we can't be afraid of Russia and Iran. One of the things that struck me about General Mattis's comment last night was he was very careful to say we avoided civilian and foreign casualties, and yet, they wave their hands around about how Russia is responsible for these chemical weapons. Why are we so afraid of Russia?

Putin can't afford to lose men and material in Russia. And basically, we also learned last night that our means, our military power is far superior to anything that Russia and Iran are fielding right now in the theater.

GIGOT: Dan, that's the question. The president made in his statement almost a plea to Russia and Iran saying is this the kind of behavior you want to be associated with? Their response was, apparently, yes.


So, but are they going to be impressed with this military action, or is it going to be, ah, there's no threat to us and move on?

HENNINGER: I think it's likely that Russia and Iran will step back. There will not be any more use of chemical weapons, they're not going to invite the U.S. and its allies back in. But, look, we talk about Syria, Syria is now basically a protectorate of Iran and Russia. They are significantly there. The Israelis are very upset that Iran is starting to establish Syria as a military base to attack Israel. So there is something more that has to come out of this.

Now, let's go back to Secretary of Defense Mattis. There was reporting several days ago that the president was upset with him because he was not offering more robust options, and the reason was that General Mattis did not think there was a strategy after the strike.

GIGOT: And I think he's right about that.

HENNINGER: Now recall, President Trump said on Monday there will be a decision on this by the end of the day, as his new national security adviser, John Bolton, was literally walking in the door to take his job. We have got to get to the point where Mr. Bolton, Secretary of State Pompeo and General Mattis are able to sit down and talk about a strategy going forward. I think this strike gives them the breathing room to do that.

GIGOT: All right.

When we come back, President Trump lashing out at James Comey ahead of the former FBI director's book. So should we expect any bombshells? And how should the White House respond to his coming media tour?


GIGOT: Well, James Comey gets set to kick off his book tour Sunday. President Trump is wasting no time firing back at his former FBI director, tweeting on Friday: 'James Comey is a proven leaker and liar. Virtually everyone in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did until he was, in fact, fired. He leaked classified information for which he should be prosecuted. He lied to Congress under oath. He is a weak and untruthful slime ball who was, as time has proven, a terrible director of the FBI. His handling of the Crooked Hillary Clinton case and the events surrounding it will go down as one of the worst botch jobs of history. It was my great honor to fire James Comey.'

We're back with Dan Henninger and Bill McGurn.

So, Bill, first, anything new we learned here from the book about the Comey relationship with Trump?

MCGURN: No, I think we're learning that Director Comey hated Donald Trump as much as Donald Trump seems to hate Director Comey --


GIGOT: Let's take out the 'seems.'


MCGURN: Right. It just seems Donald Trump doesn't leave a lot of doubt --


GIGOT: Yes, slime ball?

MCGURN: However, the substance of the note, I think, is true. About lying to Congress --

GIGOT: Do you think --


MCGURN: When he told Congress, I didn't make my decision on indicting Hillary inform after we interviewed Hillary Clinton, and you see he drafted a statement before, I mean, normal discourse -- I don't like to call people liars, but normal discourse, you'd say there's a truth issue here.

GIGOT: But is there anything here we're learning that could assist the case, say, of Robert Mueller.

MCGURN: I don't know, because I don't think Mr. Comey wants to take responsibility for that. I think he took responsibility for getting Mr. Mueller appointed, but I don't think he wants to say Donald Trump obstructed justice or did anything for the charges. It might actually undermine Mr. Mueller's case.


HENNINGER: Exactly. I mean, look, there is no smoking gun in this book. If there were, we would have read about it across the top of 'The New York Time' and 'The Washington Post.' All it is, is a personal complaint about Donald Trump. Nonetheless, James Comey is doing interviews on every media outlet in this country. And, you know, Trump is in a blood war with the mainstream media. We know that. And they are now setting up Mueller as his primary opponent for the moment. And the game is entirely political, Paul. It is to undermine the president, push down on his approval rating using James Comey as the cat's paw. But there's really not much more there --


GIGOT: There are a lot of unflattering anecdotes.


GIGOT: I haven't finished it yet, but I read substantial portions or it. It really, a lot of the behavior that he says about Trump, you would say that's not presidential.

MCGURN: Right.

GIGOT: You know, they're self-involved and they're nasty.

MCGURN: Right.

GIGOT: It's not -- like using the word slime ball, for example.

MCGURN: Right.

GIGOT: But there's nothing that really assists the legal case that we haven't already seen. And Comey himself even says that he can't conclude that firing Comey --

MCGURN: Right.

GIGOT: And remember when he told Comey, Trump told Comey about Michael Flynn, please, see what you can do, that's not the exact phrase but something like that, he says I can't conclude that was obstruction.

MCCGURN: Yes. Two things. One is I think we should say that, you know, a president using the word slime ball is not, you know, what I would do as a former speech writer and so forth.

GIGOT: Right.

MCGURN: However, that said, Mr. Comey's behavior in leaking these memos to a professor that he knows, I think it's equally dishonorable. It's just done --


GIGOT: Leaked to the press.

MCGURN: Right. The way he did it is very sneaky, and I think it speaks a lot to what he does.

Look, as Dan said, I think the reason it's going to get a good reception is precisely because of these anecdotes. The left's hatred of Donald Trump and some on the right is that he's a vulgarian and so forth, and this is going to feed that. So he's useful to the anti-Trump narrative. However, there's a big asterisk here. A lot on the left do not forgive him for his intervention at the end of the campaign.

GIGOT: Right.

MCGURN: And the inspector general's report is going to come out soon all on Hillary stuff, the Hillary investigations. And I think he might be having his moment now. You saw is, I mean, Lanny Davis came out with something saying --

GIGOT: Former Clinton aide.

MCGURN: -- he should have been fired before. So they're never going to forgive him for that. So it'll be interesting to see when the I.G.'s report drops what the second reaction to this book is.

GIGOT: He also uses the analogy to the mafia, says Trump wanted mafia loyalty. Don't they call it organized crime, Dan?



GIGOT: There's not enough organized about Trump or this White House to do that, and there's certainly not the Rule of Omerta, because everybody talks about everything all the time.

MCGURN: Well, Loretta Lynch seemed to exercise it pretty well when she ordered him to refer to --

HENNINGER: And there was a Rule of Omerta inside the FBI. The spectacle of a former FBI director writing a book like that, expressing these sorts of opinions about a president, former FBI director William Webster, Louis Freeh, they would have gone to their graves before doing something like this in public.

GIGOT: All right, let's finish up with, Dan, Michael Cohen --


GIGOT: -- the raid on Trump's office by the special council, at the -- by the southern district of New York at the request of the special counsel. What does that tell us about the probe?

HENNINGER: Well, I think it tells us that the probe -- something must be going on here deeper than looking up files on these two porn actresses. I'm very concerned about this, Paul, because I think, related to it is the fact that the president has been having such a hard time finding Washington lawyers to represent him. And listen, these are guys who will represent anybody. And so the president, I think, is becoming dangerously isolated as the probe gets tighter and tighter. He's only got two or three people working for him in Washington. His personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is now off the table and talking to the prosecutor. I think the president is in a tough spot right now.

GIGOT: It's a big vulnerability, Bill, isn't it? Briefly.

MCGURN: It is. And I think it's an outrage that they did this. Joe DiGenova was on TV the other night, former U.S. attorney. He was asked, come on, Joe, didn't you raid a lawyer's office at one time. He said, not one, never. It's a big step. And unpopular clients deserve their rights too. That's one of the lessons of law.

GIGOT: All right. Still ahead, House Speaker Paul Ryan announcing his retirement after 20 years in Congress. Karl Rove on his legacy and the potential midterm election fallout, next.


REP. PAUL RYAN, R-WISC., SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I will be retiring in January, leaving this majority in good hands with what I believe is a very bright future.





RYAN: When I took this job, one of my conditions was that we aim high, that we do big things, that we fashion an agenda, that we run on that agenda, that we win an election, and then we execute that agenda. I am so proud that that is exactly what we have done and what we are doing right now.


GIGOT: House Speaker Paul Ryan announced this week that he won't seek re-election in November and will leave Congress in January after 20 years.

I spoke to 'Wall Street Journal' columnist and former Bush adviser, Karl Rove, earlier about what Ryan's retirement means for the GOP.


GIGOT: Karl Rove, welcome.

Paul Ryan saying he's not going to run for re-election. You said this week that it was a blow to Republicans. Why?

KARL ROVE, COLUMNIST: Well, first of all, because of his leadership. I mean, he came into a fractious caucus and was the one person with the moral authority to unite all the wings and all the disparate groups of the party and make them move raggedly together in the House. Second of all, he's a man of tremendous principle who has helped the Republican Party embrace pro-growth economic policies, whether it be tax reform or trade are or regulatory relief. And what he did as the Budget Committee chairman to educate his fellow Republicans as to the necessity of entitlement reform and then helping them come to grips with how they could explain it to the American people was extraordinary leadership --

GIGOT: But let's talk --

ROVE: -- and will be sorely missed.

GIGOT: Let's talk about that because I think you have to say tax reform, big victory, enormous success. But on the budget stuff, they didn't get entitlement reform done. He got it through the House on Medicaid and got it through the House on Obamacare, but he couldn't get it through Congress. So that's a failure on the chalkboard.

ROVE: Well, but you know what, I wouldn't attribute the failure of the Senate to pass it to Paul Ryan's responsibility. He's the leader of the House. I'm sorry the Republicans in the Senate didn't take it up. We always knew that it was going to be difficult to get it done there. But they got it through the House, and that was his principle responsibility. And the pressure will be on in the years ahead. We're going to look back, in my opinion, 10 years from now and find that we have made reforms and entitlements in this country that spring from the work that Paul Ryan patiently did on the Budget Committee and the Ways and Means Committee and as speaker. And you've got to start somewhere, and he got a lot more progress than I would have anticipated by getting the House rallied behind it and get it through the House and on to the Senate.

GIGOT: OK. I want to talk about his dealings with Donald Trump. Because, you know, Ryan kind of gets it from both sides. On the one hand, some on the right say, you criticized Trump too much, you weren't helpful enough. People on the left say, look, you should have denounced Trump, you should have said that he's unfit to be president, and not work with him. How do you think he handled Trump?

ROVE: Well, I think he handled him well, because he was the leader of the House Republicans. He was elected on the same ticket with Trump. He had a responsibility as a party leader to help the sitting president. But on the other hand, he was true to his principles. And I thought it was good for the country and good for the party and, frankly, good for President Trump to have Paul Ryan speaking his mind in a candid, thoughtful and respectful way when he did disagree with the president. For example, in the days after Charlottesville. I think the president terribly mishandled that issue, but I thought Paul Ryan helped set him on the right course, and we began to see some of the things that Paul was saying and the tone that he was adopting to be reflected in some of the comments from the White House. But, look, there's always a tension between responsibilities of a party leader in the Senate or the House leadership and the relationship they have with the president. And I think Paul, given a difficult situation, handled it well.

GIGOT: There's a lot of commentary, particularly from the left, that Paul Ryan, the Paul Ryan party, political party, Republican Party is now dead with his departure. It's now Donald Trump's party. So the growth wing, the Jack Kemp wing, the Reagan wing of the party, the inclusive wing is now dead. What -- how do you respond to that?

ROVE: I think that's wishful thinking. I think that's the left saying what it wants to have happen, not what is really happening. Look, Paul set an example. He helped not only draw into politics a lot of new young people who are -- who share his aspirations for the kind of Republican Party that he wants, but also helped persuade some of his colleagues of longstanding that they had to help take these timeless principles of conservativism and apply them to the challenges the country faces in a confident and optimistic way. And we wouldn't have gotten tax reform had we not had that kind of leadership, because he was asking -- with Kevin Brady, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee -- they were asking their colleagues to do difficult things and to go home and explain them, and they did. And good for them in doing that. But, no, I think that's wishful thinking.


ROVE: As is the idea that we've seen the last of Paul Ryan. I don't think we have.

GIGOT: All right. Let's talk about the midterms, which are coming up. Paul Ryan saying he's going to stay at speaker. Some back benchers saying, no, he should leave early. I don't think that's going to happen. What do you think his departure means to the Republican Party in the midterms? He's a big money raiser. I guess he could still do that but not maybe with as strong a perch.

ROVE: Yes. No, not as effective. Which is why, look, I hear the thought we ought to -- him having made the decision he's not running for re-election, let's have the leadership battle, get it settled, have clarity and move forward. But that leaves us with one new person as speaker rallying support for the fall. I'd rather have what we look like we're going to have, which is Paul Ryan as speaker, still able to go out there and ask people for money and support for our candidates, but also at least one, if not two contenders in the form of Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise for his replacement. Let them show what they can do. Let them show their chops. What can they do to help their colleagues win re-election? How can they rally financial support, political support, enthusiasm and message discipline that will help our candidates win? I'd rather have three people, Ryan, McCarthy and Scalise, than just one.

GIGOT: OK. All right. Thank you, Karl Rove, appreciate it.

ROVE: You bet. Thank you, Paul.


GIGOT: Still ahead, Paul Ryan's retirement setting off a scramble to replace him as speaker. Who Ryan thinks is the man for the job and whether his fellow Republicans will agree, next.



RYAN: I am proud of what this Congress has achieved. And I believe the future is bright. The economy is strong. We've given Americans greater confidence in their lives. And I have every confidence that I'll be handing this gavel on to the next Republican speaker of the House next year.


GIGOT: House Speaker Paul Ryan touting the accomplishments of the Republican conference during his tenure and voicing optimism that he'll hand the gavel to another Republican when he retires in January.

We're back with Dan Henninger, Bill McGurn, and "Wall Street Journal" editorial page writer, Kate Bachelder Odell.

So, Kate, you've been following the Republican conference. What do you think Ryan's retirement means for their ability to govern?

KATE BACHELDER O'DELL, EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: I'm not sure it's a positive sign. If you remember how we got into the Ryan speakership in the first place, it was because Kevin McCarthy -- who would now like to be speaker -- dropped out because he was not able to command a majority. And the reason for that is because the House Freedom Caucus was peeling off 30 or 40 votes. We wrote in a time in an editorial called the Republican crack-up - -


-- that the Freedom Caucus might be able to deny McCarthy or anybody a majority and give the Democrats more leverage, which ultimately is the story.

GIGOT: So Ryan was the only one willing to take the job and was able to govern, for the most part.

I think, Bill, he leaves a big hole in the growth wing of the party.


GIGOT: He's been a real spokesman -- tax reform wouldn't have happened without him.


GIGOT: And --

MCGURN: And he delivered on the health care even if the Senate didn't. Look, I think he had the best qualification for the job in Washington. He didn't want it, right? He took it out of obligation. He did a good job. And, look, people -- you know, one of the criticisms of Paul Ryan is he's become a Trumpian Republican. I think the reverse is really true. To the degree Donald Trump has had big successes, it's more because of when he's adopted Ryan-esque-type programs, not just the tax cuts, but the deregulation and so forth and a growth-oriented thing. That came from more traditional Republican sources, primarily Paul Ryan.

GIGOT: Military spending, for example, some other things.

What about --


MCGURN: There's a lot of Ryanism in there.

GIGOT: What about the entitlement reform failure, Kate?

ODELL: Sure, it always looks like the window on entitlement reform is closing.


And it was disappointing --


GIGOT: When did it open, that's what I'd like to know.



ODELL: The failure on Medicaid ultimately not Ryan's fault, but still disappointing because that's supposed to be one of the more straightforward entitlements compared to Social Security and Medicare. The House is going to consider some modest change to food stamps this year, but even those look remote, right? So it is --

GIGOT: That might pass the House but probably not the Senate.

ODELL: Right. It's disappointing. But I agree with Karl that these ideas sometimes take a long time, and Paul Ryan has left a lot of a road map on how to do it, if we can get somebody else.

GIGOT: What about this critique that Ryan was not critical enough of Trump, should have really been a lot are more screaming about the attack on norms and democracy and so on?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I think that misreads his role as speaker. He's trying to lead the Republican caucus. These are people who represent their own districts. It was already a fractious group when he took it over. And I think it's truer to say, as Congressman Peter King said a few days ago, they're going to miss Paul Ryan. Because he was the one who held them together. It's kind of bad news and good them together. It good and bad news here. The bad news is they could fall on each other with long knives and just carve up the Republican caucus --


GIGOT: I'm confident that many will try.

HENNINGER: The good news is we've already had the -- that was last year when the Freedom Caucus and the rest of them started to do that. It's possible, Paul, that a lot of them have learned their lesson, because they are staring down the barrel of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And the question is, A, do they want that, or how bad do they want it to be next year.

GIGOT: Doesn't also, if you're elected speaker of the House, and just have a president, don't you have an obligation to actually try to accomplish something for the country?

MCGURN: That's why --


GIGOT: No, serious point. What are you going to do, I refuse to work with this man --


GIGOT: -- because I don't like everything he says? He can't do that.

MCGURN: That's what a lot of people will never forgive him for. Look, there's two parts of the conservative wing of the Republican Party that dislikes Ryan. Some people crazily think he's a RINO. You have to make compromises when you are speaker. The other half will never forgive him for not torching Donald Trump. And I saw this at a meeting at the Republican convention when people were asking, why don't you denounce Trump? He said, look, the House is going to be the only check on President Nancy Pelosi. And I think he behaved very honorably, but a lot of people will never forgive him for that.

GIGOT: All right.

Who is the favorite, Kate, in the run for speaker?

ODELL: Right now, it is Kevin McCarthy. He wants another shot at it. And he did step aside in 2015 instead of doubling down on what would have ultimately become a bloody fight. We are hearing there might be a challenge from Jim Jordan, who is the well-known Freedom Caucus member.

GIGOT: From Ohio.

ODELL: From Ohio. And I don't think anybody thinks he can command 218 votes, but he deserves a shot at it if he wants the job, and why not?

GIGOT: By all means, let's go for it.

More power to him if he does, Dan. I think, you know, if these guys think they can command a majority for their point of view and for that leadership, I think they ought to have it out. But then whoever loses basically has to say we're going to follow --


HENNINGER: Exactly. That's what I mean about having some optimism. They have been through that crucible before. They were completely in the opposition. Now there's an opportunity in the battle with Kevin McCarthy to show that they can act in a constructive way. There's going to be an argument, no question about it. But the question is, will it be to destroy the Republican caucus or allow it to survive the post-Ryan era.

GIGOT: All right. When we come back, the political fallout after last night's strike on Syria. How it might affect how we move forward in Congress. Stay tuned.


GIGOT: After last night's strike in Syria, President Trump is dealing with the political fallout of his decision to further U.S. involvement in Syria after seven long years of civil war. And while some are applauding him for his restrained and targeted response to Assad's use of chemical weapons, others are saying that he should not be able to make that decision unilaterally.

The former vice presidential candidate and Virginia Senator, Tim Kaine, tweeting: "Trump's decision to launch airstrikes against Syria without Congress' approval is illegal. We need to stop giving presidents a blank check to wage war. Today, it's Syria, but what's going to stop him from bombing Iran or North Korea next?"

We're back with Dan Henninger, Mary Kissel and Bill McGurn.

So, Mary, step back a bit before we get into Kaine --


-- what's the general response been politically?

KISSEL: Remember, it was a Democrat who wanted to enforce the red line in Syria first. That was President Obama. So I think, generally speaking, on both sides of the aisle, there's an acceptance that this was the right thing to do and that President Trump's last strike wasn't enough of a deterrent, and that this strike was proportionate to that. So I think, broadly speaking, there's support. I think he'd have more support if it was part of a larger strategy about how to approach Syria in the context of the broader Middle East.

GIGOT: And yet, Chuck Schumer said, I support the response because of the use of chemical weapons. This is the Democratic leader in the Senate. But, hey, don't get us involved in anything over there. That's -- how much support would he really have by Democrats if he did do the kind of strategy we're talking about?

KISSEL: Well, I think Democrats are always looking for a campaign issue. You've got the midterm elections coming up. Often, it's not about the broader national security interests of the United States, it's more about political power. Sorry, if that sounds too cynical, Paul.

GIGOT: What about the Republicans, Dan? Rand Paul, of course, says -- agrees with Tim Kaine. But, generally speaking, tends to be supportive.

HENNINGER: Tend to be. In the Congress, I think it's been pretty full support, other than Rand Paul. They're behind the president on this.

The big question though is whether he has that kind of unified support out there in the Trump base. I mean, there are a lot of populists, and they do have the representatives in the media who think we should not be involved, that this violates Trump's America first dictum and that we should pull the troops home, as he said he was going to do about a week ago. That's what they want. And the question is, are -- how many of those people, we know there are spokesmen, but how many people on the ground in the Trump electorate are going to be upset at this strike. My guess, Paul, is not that many. Most of the people, Trumpians out there would support a president taking action.

GIGOT: But there's an awful vocal group of people on talk radio and elsewhere, on Twitter, who are denouncing Trump --

MCGURN: Right.

GIGOT: -- these are his supposed supporters -- for even this action, you're saying, you know, you promised us to come home.

MCGURN: I think there's differences, as Dan was saying, between, say, talk radio, people like us, editorial boards and stuff, and the average Trump voter, or the average American voter. Most Americans like shows of strength, especially if it looks like it's going to work.

GIGOT: Right.

MCGURN: It's when it doesn't look like it. Trump is caught. There's a reason there is no larger rationale. He's caught. He campaigned against involvement in Bush-like, long wars.

GIGOT: Right.

MCGURN: He campaigned very strongly on that. So the people that criticize him, they have a case. And he also campaigned against Obama-like weakness, which gave us ISIS.


So he's trying to thread that needle. You know, these one-off attacks are a way of doing it. It's probably not going to be satisfactory, but I think the American people are going to be very much behind this.

GIGOT: Well, and if you want that larger strategy we talked about earlier in the program of a safe zone of some kind, Mary, it's the kind of thing you can do. You don't need to have an Iraq-like policy.

KISSEL: Right.

GIGOT: This was done by the first President Bush just with air power in Iraq, the northern part of Iraq. But it would take those kinds of air sorties, and it would be -- it's a strategy you'd have to sell to the American people.

KISSEL: Right.

GIGOT: I don't know the president really wants to do that.

KISSEL: Well, President Trump has already sold an Iran strategy. If you'll recall, last year, when he said he wanted to contain Iran's ambitions.

GIGOT: Excellent point.

KISSEL: Syria fits directly into that. That --

GIGOT: Iran's ambitions.

KISSEL: Correct. That wasn't mentioned last night. President Trump also defined the mission as defeating ISIS and Al Qaeda groups in Syria. Well, guess what? It's Assad or son of Assad stays in Syria, you're going to have terrorism there because the terror threat is in response to Assad. So it's a big issue --


GIGOT: I don't remember a lot of Democrats saying, you know, President Obama, you must come to Congress for permission to do your bombing runs in Syria.

MCGURN: Right. And more than that, one of the false choices President Obama gave us was that there was nothing we could do between a full-scale invasion of Syria and washing our hands.

GIGOT: Right.

MCGURN: Look, there's a lot of way to do a safe zone. You could have Arab armies enforce it and so forth. We support the air power, have some people training people. We don't have to have an Iraq-kind of invasion.


GIGOT: Briefly, Dan, do you think Congress should get into this?

HENNINGER: No, not at all. Nancy Pelosi wants them to send the strategy up so they can approve it. And 535 commanders in chief usually doesn't work.


GIGOT: All right, thank you all.

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


GIGOT: Time now for 'Hits & Misses' of the week -- Bill?

MCGURN: Paul, big hit to Jalen Brunson, of the championship Villanova Wildcats. After deciding to turn pro, he wrote a love note to his school, published on ESPN. Most important, he is going to graduate. This is part of a larger story we do not hear about, schools where there really are student athletes. Villanova has a 100 percent graduation rate for its basketball team. Look, I am an NBA guy, so my heart is with the lady Irish this year.


But I have to say a big hit for Father Donahue, Coach Wright and the entire Villanova nation for showing us you don't have to cheat to be a winner.

GIGOT: All right.


ODELL: This is a miss for the White House, which this week floated a very bad idea, Paul, which is new subsidies for farmers who might be hurt by the escalating trade war with China. We are creating a trade problem and then we need new subsidies to solve the problem that the Trump administration created. Maybe, we just instead not have the trademark and we will not need these new subsidies. Let's hope this one never sees the light of day.


HENNINGER: Here's a mess that will not come back any time soon. A miss to Mississippi.


Mississippi this week announced its closing 102 bridges under pressure from the Federal Transportation Administration. That is a lot of bridges in one state. Because they are falling apart. Why are they falling apart? Because Mississippi does not have enough money to fix them. Most of Mississippi's money is going to pay off public pension obligations. Which is kind of a proxy for a problem all over the country in repairing infrastructure. Bottom line, Paul, I think tax increases are coming one way or another.

GIGOT: All right.

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

That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel. Thanks to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.

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