Will the left shut down Obama's drone strike policy?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," February 9, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report" the Obama administration's drone policy gets new scrutiny as its architect faces congressional hearings. Will the left get its way and shut it down?

Plus, it's being billed as a Republican Party civil war. We'll take a look at the debate over the future of the GOP and the candidates it needs to win elections.

And the Wall Street Journal is just the latest American media outlet to report being hacked by the Chinese government. Why they do it, and what it means for our national security.


JOHN BRENNAN, COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISOR & CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: The president has insisted that any actions we take will be legally grounded and thoroughly anchored in intelligence, will have the appropriate review process, approval process before any action is contemplated, including those actions that might involve the use of lethal force.


GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

That was John Brennan, the president's counterterrorism advisor, and his pick to lead the CIA, in his confirmation hearing Thursday defending the administration's policy on drone strikes. A key architect of that policy, Brennan's testimony came the same week that the White House reversed course and agreed to provide lawmakers with a classified Justice Department memos authorizing drone use to kill Al Qaeda operatives, including U.S. citizens abroad.

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; and editorial board members, Dorothy Rabinowitz and Matt Kaminski.

So, Dan, what did we learn about the drone policy that's been secret, semi- secret --


GIGOT: -- for so long this week.

HENNINGER: I think what we learned was an affirmation of what we know about the drone policy. It was stated pretty well I thought by John Brennan. The bottom line is that the drones are being used to kill al- Qaeda or Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in northern Pakistan and Yemen, but nowhere else. And that there is, in fact, a Justice Department memo laying out the legal justification for the drone attacks. It's not clear to me why the Obama administration felt they had to keep that memo secret. It was going to come out eventually anyway, but they do have a justification. And so I think -- in that the drone attacks are being run by John Brennan.

GIGOT: Right. And the justification goes back to the congressional authorization to use military force in the wake of 9/11 plus succeeding National Defense Authorization Acts passed by Congress.

So, Dorothy, the left really does, however, dislike this program or the way it is operated because there was a big assault on Brennan in the hearing?

DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: There was. If the administration had rented a town hall and announced the justification, it would still have not diffused the left because --

GIGOT: Why? They want to kill this program?

RABINOWITZ: Yes, of course. Because they have forever distorted the meaning of due process and are continually accusing the administration and the war on terror of violating all due process, when, in fact, due process is elastic theory. It's an elastic justification. You can't find the terrorists, there are ultimate means, you will get this person. You don't even, under due process law, have to tell who or what you are doing. Just provide the guidelines.

GIGOT: But it's also not criminal justice we're talking about here.

RABINOWITZ: That's right.

GIGOT: This is wartime decision-making, which we're taking -- which they're doing this against enemy combatants, people that have taken up arms in the United States. This isn't somebody in Iowa or, for that matter, it's not even somebody around the world who we just decide, hey, we don't like him.

You have to be, Matt, associated with Al Qaeda or associated forces and taken up arms against the United States. That is clearly in that legal memo.

MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Going back to all time, you are allowed to kill your enemies under international standards of war and law. The Supreme Court established seven years ago that the U.S. government can kill a U.S. Citizen who has joined an opposing force. In that case, it was the Nazi military. In this case, it is Al Qaeda.

I think the problem that we've come up against, they waited so long to make both the military and legal case for doing something that's clearly legitimate and clearly limited that they are now feeling that backlash from mostly from their own flank really on the left.

HENNINGER: One more quick point. These terrorists' primary weapon is the blowing up of civilian populations using suicide bombers, whether in New York, London, Madrid or, indeed, in Pakistan or Libya. Wherever they fight, what they do is blow up innocent people going about their daily business. That is the enemy we're talking about.

GIGOT: What about the charge, Dorothy, that the administration is too quick to default to drone distant killing, as opposed to trying to capture and then interrogate terrorists where actually you get the best intelligence to be able to prevent future attacks?

RABINOWITZ: That is really a good question. There is a powerful suspicion that the drone serves the administration's effort to cleanse itself of the boots-on-the-ground danger. Cleanse itself of a place, where to put these people. We have no place. We have no camps. We have no --

GIGOT: We have Guantanamo but they don't want to use it.


RABINOWITZ: But they don't want to use Guantanamo.

So here is this clean, astringent, completely -- how they thought that they could get away permanently with this without bringing down all of it on their heads? And I have to say, one has a sense of kind of just cause in this outburst of trouble that they are in right now.


GIGOT: Even from the left, Dorothy? But you don't agree with the critics of the drone program do you? I mean, you --

RABINOWITZ: Certainly not.

GIGOT: -- you like the drone program essentially.

RABINOWITZ: I like the drone program. I don't know anybody who doesn't, except Code Pink.

GIGOT: So what is the administration doing -- what mistakes did they make?

RABINOWITZ: They made the mistake thinking they could keep secret this program and they could justify it. And --

GIGOT: You mean without not having to justify it? Just leave it go without having to justify it?

RABINOWITZ: Just let it go.

If you listened to Brennan yesterday, you could see this absolute perfect emblem of confusion about everything, not only the drones, but waterboarding and everything. This is perfect exemplar of the administration's muddled view on this. What they wanted above all was not to have to go invade and not to have to go fight.

GIGOT: So the drones are a kind of default for them?

RABINOWITZ: Yes, indeed.

GIGOT: All right.

Thank you all.

When we come back, the future of the Republican Party, from Karl Rove's plan to pick winning candidates to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's red state model. Who or what will drive the Republican revival?


GIGOT: Well, it's the latest intra-Republican feud and it came to a head this week with the unveiling of a new super PAC called the Conservative Victory Project, and effort headed up by American Crossroads founder, Steven Law and Karl Rove. The group's aim is to rebuild the party in the wake of the 2012 elections and win back control of the Senate. To that end, they pledge to take sides in primary races, backing candidates they see as more electable. All this has set off a fierce backlash from some conservative activists who see the move as a way to sideline conservative candidates in favor of more establishment choices.

We're back with Dan Henninger and Dorothy Rabinowitz. And assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman, also joins the panel.

So I should say at the start, Dorothy, Karl Rove writes for the Wall Street Journal and is a Fox contributor. Get that out of the way.

So what do you think of his effort in the primaries?

RABINOWITZ: I think he's doing a great service. It was overdue that someone would take this completely rational position. Yes, it is the latest -- underscore the latest. This has happened before. If you remember Barry Goldwater Rights. The Goldwater Rights were very angry people, too, but compared with today's base, they were the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They were calm. We have seen Karl Rove (INAUDIBLE), motivate a lot of Republican heart, who actually watched what went on with the primaries, who heard the extremist views of so many of the candidates. In deference to what is now known as the Republican base, they sounded a very solid word, but it is not.

GIGOT: All right.

But what about the fact that a lot of the establishment so-called candidates that Rove backed also in the last primary lost, also in the last campaign also lost -- Tommy Thompson, in Wisconsin, for example; Danny Rayberg (ph, in Montana -- they were not Tea Party candidates and they got beat?

RABINOWITZ: But there was a wave. There was a ground swell. You could be swept up. But nobody should be forgetting Karen Angle, O'Donnell --

GIGOT: Sharon Angle.

RABINOWITZ: Sharon Angle, sorry.

GIGOT: Christine O'Donnell.

RABINOWITZ: Were sure fire old time Republican candidates. Castles, Mike Castle who could have been elected --

GIGOT: This is in Delaware, 2010 --

RABINOWITZ: In Delaware, yes.

GIGOT: -- beaten by Christine O'Donnell, who came up of nowhere, supported by Tea Party and --


RABINOWITZ: Nowhere. And passionately so.

GIGOT: Letting Democrats hold the seat.

James, what do you think of this effort by Rove?

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: I think you understand why conservatives are skeptical. When William F. Buckley Jr., years ago, said, I think we should support the right-ward most candidate that could win the election, it had a lot of creditability because he defined American conservatism. Karl Rove for years has been the guy in political and policy debates arguing against conservatives in the Republican Party. So the idea that conservatives would trust him to find conservatives who can win is a little strange.

But I think there is also a tactical question of tactical campaign operation, too. I think a lot of Republicans are looking at Karl Rove and saying he raised a lot of money this time. Are you fighting the last war - -


FREEMAN: -- a lot of TV instead of getting into social media? I think there's also the question of, look, the Republicans nominated the squishy moderate in Mitt Romney, and he lost. So it's a little strange afterwards to say we went too far right.

GIGOT: Mediate this dispute, Dan.

HENNINGER: Oh, I'll mediate, indeed with a little bit of cynicism. Politics is now an industry. While this is to a great extent about principle, it's also a lot about money. There is tremendous resentment among Rove's competitors that he has been siphoning all of these tens of millions out of the donor universe. There are these deep-pocketed donors out there that, by and large, decide whether to give to American Crossroads and withdraw that money and give it to somebody else. There is an enormous competition out there for that money.

GIGOT: If you are a Republican donor and you see the results of the last election, you know, $350 million was spent on Senate races or whatever it was -- please correct, someone, if I'm wrong. But it was a lot of money. What were the results? They lost two seats.

HENNINGER: Trust me, these donors have opinions about that.

GIGOT: Shouldn't they? Shouldn't they say, let's get a higher class of candidates, somebody who doesn't blow up his own candidacy with stupid statements.


GIGOT: Is that too much to ask?

HENNINGER: But, you know what? Politics is also a public performance art. You can't nominate people who can't perform in public. That's the dilemma.

GIGOT: Yes. But that is the point of Rove and that is the point of the donors and particularly with Democrats who come in at the end of these Republican primaries and say, we're going to help the least electable Republican candidate. What Rove is saying is, we're going to stop some of that so we can actually have better quality of nominees.


RABINOWITZ: It is possible to say, OK, Rove -- but he has his hands on something that is really a profound truth about one of the reasons the Republican Party is in such disarray. He should not be the subject. It is the focus he is that is making -- we should not be having unelectable people.

GIGOT: Right.

FREEMAN: Republicans believe in markets. I think there's a question of, show us the measurable, Rove. You had all that money. You spent it on X. What was the result exactly? There were bad candidates, as you point out, on the right wing and in the center for Republicans. Both lost. I think candidate recruitment needs some work. It's a question of the credibility for conservatives of who is going to lead that effort.

RABINOWITZ: But, James, what can you say about a Republican Party today that threatens, with a contest, anybody who deviates from what is so called a violation of the bases purity? What can you say?

FREEMAN: They nominated Romney.

HENNINGER: You know -- we haven't even brought up one concrete issue that we are complaining about here. Which raises the question of -- the "Wall Street Journal" had an interesting story about the so-called red state model, which is governors like Sam Brownback and Walker and the rest of them, who are cutting taxes and doing something real.

GIGOT: Education reform, pension reform. But we're going to have to wait to get to that another time, I'm afraid.

HENNINGER: All right.

GIGOT: We've exhausted our time today.

Thank you.

When we come back, the Wall Street Journal becomes the latest U.S. news organization to report being hacked by the Chinese government. Why they do it, what can be done about it, and how big a threat is it to American national security? Next.


GIGOT: The Wall Street Journal revealed last week that the email accounts of nearly two dozen editors and reporters and even some of our editorial writers had been hacked by the Chinese government. In recent months, hackers have also targeted The New York Times and Bloomberg News, all part of an ongoing attempt to monitor American news organizations' China coverage.

We're back with Matt Kaminski. And Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens, also joins the panel.

So, Bret, how extensive is this China hacking of the United States companies, private and public, the government?

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: As you know, last year, we had a visit from a U.S. lawmaker with knowledge of intelligence affairs and he said there are two kinds of companies in America. There are companies that have been hacked by the Chinese and those that don't know they have been hacked --


-- by the Chinese. So it's absolutely ubiquitous. And we've been seeing story after story. Google being hacked --

GIGOT: Right.

STEPHENS: -- and making it public. The Wall Street Journal broke the story about British Aerospace. Its programs with the F-35 being hacked.

GIGOT: But is this a nuisance or is this genuinely a threat to national security or to the U.S. economy?

STEPHENS: It's a real threat to the U.S. economy because it allows the Chinese to steal terabytes of intellectual property. And it shows up suddenly with the China putting out fighters that look like our fighters --


-- and new bullet trains that look like German or Japanese trains. So it allows them to have these technological leap frogs without the huge investment that American companies and other Western companies put into research and development. That's a serious threat to the world economy?

GIGOT: Why do they do this? Bret gets out the economic -



GIGOT: -- easier to steal secrets than it is to actually -- innovation than to do it yourself. Why else do they do it?

KAMINSKI: To me, what is new here is the attacks on media companies. We've known that for a very long time the Chinese have really been so focused on commercial espionage and cyber is now the best way in, in a way. But the attacks against The New York Times, against the Journal suggest there's now a great concern within China and the Chinese Communist Party of their image abroad and back in China. A lot of these stories reveal things about the Chinese leadership, how much money they have, internal squabbles that they don't want come out in China itself. And what they're trying to do is sort of figure out who the sources are for these stories. It's part and parcel of their political repression at home.

GIGOT: Our information is that they did not, in hacking us, go after customers, for example, or commercial business. They really wanted to monitor our coverage, to see who our sources were --


STEPHENS: Right. And we ourselves are personal not affected, but sources in China, the method by which we get information. There was a huge scandal with this character, Bogi Li (ph) and his wife, accused of murdering an English businessman.

GIGOT: Almost made it to the politburo, at the senior levels of the politburo.

STEPHENS: That's right.


STEPHENS: And there were revelations about the huge wealth of China's senior leadership.

GIGOT: So is this the nature of secretive authoritarian regime that does this kind of thing? I mean --


STEPHENS: This is a Communist country. It is a sinister country that believes in espionage, believes in under-handed methods. We tend to forget this aspect of China looking at skyscrapers in Shanghai and so on, but that is the nature of the regime from the beginning.

GIGOT: But is this going to work for them. I mean, they haven't stopped us from publishing any stories? They're not going to stop us from publishing those stories.

STEPHENS: Right. It's sinister but it is also stupid in they way that sinister often is, because ultimately this was going to be discovered and it was going to be exposed. It's self-defeating on their part because they have to develop an innovation culture, and trying to steal secrets is not going to help them do that.

GIGOT: What can we do? What's the United States to do? Individual companies can try to harden their systems. We're trying to do that. Track what they do. But what can the United States, as a policy, do?

KAMINSKI: As companies need to keep innovating, because this will keep happening. The Times and the Journal found these hackers now, but everyone is sure they are going to come back. And I think the government has trying to find ways to share the know-how that the national security agency and the Pentagon have with the private sector. Because the government has invested for a very long time in cyber defenses.

GIGOT: Right.

KAMINSKI: Their defenses are probably much better than the defenses around the private sector in the U.S.

GIGOT: Not probably. I think -- I mean, I think they are.


Everybody we talk to say the U.S. government has developed a cyber command, for example --


GIGOT: -- do a pretty good job of hardening their systems. But the private sector doesn't do nearly as well. But should we make this a real priority in dealing with China, Bret, briefly?

STEPHENS: It has to be. Because intellectual property is the property of the future. It's what really matters. If the Chinese are going to continue to steal it, we have to stop them.

GIGOT: OK, Bret. Thanks to you both.

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


GIGOT: Time for "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Dan, first to you.

HENNINGER: Paul, the postal service has announced it's going to terminate Saturday delivery of mail. This a big hit because it means it's probably one fewer day a week you have a chance getting the wrong mail.


Now, where I live in New York, we get misdelivered mail about every third day. I got a W-2 form this week for a fellow who lives hundred blocks north of me. We've made friends with the people on the next street --


-- taking our mail back and forth to one another.


Now, the Postal Service says this will reform the post office. I say the proof is in that mailbox.

GIGOT: All right.


STEPHENS: This is a miss to that well-known playwright and poet and, dare I say, Tudor propagandist, William Shakespeare.


This week, as everyone knows, the remains of Richard III were exhumed. We know Richard II mainly through the play. Mr. Shakespeare, which condemns him as a terrible, awful king. As he is being -- as Richard is being exhumed, he's also being rehabilitated. Shakespeare said, "I scorn to change my state with kings," but we should just do that.

GIGOT: All right.


FREEMAN: This is a miss to the least interesting lawyers in the world who populate the Anti-Trust Division of the Justice Department. They are suing to block the merger of Anheuser-Busch and Modelo, which makes Corona beer. They seem to think, even though breweries are opening up at a rate of more than one a day --


-- that these companies will control the beer market. All you really need to make beer, of course, is a bath and a guy with a beard. So this is not a market they can control.

GIGOT: Bret, we've always suspected you of Plantagenet revisionist tendencies, and now you are outted.


All right, and remember, if you have your own "Hit or Miss," please send it to us at jer@foxews.com. Be sure and follow us on Twitter @JERonFNC.

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

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