The McLaughlin Group
Issues: San Bernardino Attack / Russia-Turkey Conflict / Climate Summit
John McLaughlin, Host
Pat Buchanan, Author & Columnist
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast
Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune
Tom Rogan, National Review/Opportunity Lives
Taped: Friday, December 4, 2015
Broadcast: Weekend of December 4-6, 2015
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ANNOUNCER: From Washington, THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP, the American original. For over three decades, the sharpest minds, best sources, hardest talk.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, HOST: Issue One: Slaughter in San Bernardino.
MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Mayhem came to San Bernardino, California, on Wednesday, when two terrorists, Syed Farook, age 28, and Tashfeen Malik, age 27, shot 14 people dead and wounded 17 more, 10 critically. San Bernardino is on the eastern edge of Los Angeles.
The investigators believe Farook and Malik were seeking to align themselves with a Syria and Iraq-based, quote/unquote, "Islamic State" terrorist group.
Over the last year, Islamic State has called for attacks in the West. It was also responsible for the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Farook and his accomplice targeted their victims at the Inland Regional Center, which specializes in supporting developmentally impaired individuals.
The attack has reignited two contentious U.S. debates. One debate over gun control laws and the other debate over President Obama’s strategy for fighting ISIS.
Democrats say U.S. gun laws need to be tightened to keep firearms away from unstable individuals. Republicans say President Obama must use more aggressive force in fighting the Islamic State on its home territory and with more U.S. troops on the ground.
Commander-in-Chief Obama addressed the San Bernardino horror, citing the anomalies in our U.S. terrorism control laws.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For those who are concerned about terrorism, you know, some maybe aware of the fact that we have a no-fly list where people can’t get on planes. But those same people who we don’t allow to fly could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm and there’s nothing that we can do to stop them. That’s a law that needs to be changed.
MCLAUGHLIN: Why is President Obama at pains apparently to divert attention from his administration’s failure to prevent this terrorist attack, by scapegoating guns? You understand the question?
PAT BUCHANAN, AUTHOR & COLUMNIST: Yes, I do, John. There’s no doubt about it. The president has been dead-wrong. He said ISIS has been contained. It’s a JV and we got them in this area and is diminished.
They are diminishing in terms of the area they control. But now, what ISIS is doing I believe and I think this is an example, because we now have connections between that woman and ISIS, is ISIS is being hammered at its base and it is lashing and I think calling into action sleeper cells and other attackers in the West to do the kind of massacre that took place in Paris and in San Bernardino, basically just to make a statement to the world that we are fighting the West and we are at war with the West, and it’s very successful.
And I think the president is almost in denial. I mean, up until Friday, he had not mentioned Islamic terror or ISIS or anything in connection with this, and I think the whole Democratic Party is trying to return it into a debate on gun control. And that’s a debate, quite frankly, they are losing. The country is looking at Islamic terrorism.
MCLAUGHLIN: It may go further. "The Washington Post" fact checkers took Obama to task for using false statistics in his claims about mass shootings. Are you surprised that the president is stretching the truth again? Eleanor?
ELEANOR CLIFT, THE DAILY BEAST: No, I’m just surprised you’re stretching the truth again, trying to blame this whole thing on President Obama. This is a new form of terrorism, if in fact it bears out to be that.
It looks like the woman in this Bonnie and Clyde pair is the key and she spent some time in Saudi Arabia. And one of the theories that they’re investigating is that Saudi-based terrorists are using what’s called the "honey pot," putting brides out there, Islamic brides, to entice American Muslim men into acts of terror, if you will.
I think that’s -- we don’t -- there’s so much we don’t know. There’s so many oddities to this, where a young mother with a six-month-old baby would go on this kind of killing revenge, and why they would choose a target that really doesn’t have huge symbolic value.
So, I don’t know if we’re going to find that this is directed from ISIS central somewhere, or these are people who get inspired, what kind of network they have here at home.
MCLAUGHLIN: This --
CLIFT: I think there’s just a lot we don’t know. But the recruiting tools and social media have really transformed the way radicalism can take root. And I -- you know, no matter how many troops you send in and I don’t think more troops are the answer, is not going to solve this. It’s a very different kind of terrorism.
And I think so far, President Obama has the right tone, attitude and strategy.
MCLAUGHLIN: What’s the best way to diminish the appeal of ISIS to disaffected Muslims? I ask you.
TOM ROGAN, NATIONAL REVIEW/DAILY TELEGRAPH: Well, I think the key thing here is to recognize that there’s a connection point between the success, the perceived success of the Islamic State and spreading.
And I would disagree with Pat slightly in terms, if you look at the territory in North Africa, Libya, Tunisia, Indonesia, across the Middle East, in Europe now with these attacks, but also this direction, where you have the Islamic State being able to perceive itself to others as this empire, this caliphate that has succeeded, that is untouchable by the United States, that has recruits, this woman being inspired, apparently. And again, Eleanor is right that we have to wait for the facts.
The problem there is that where that exists, the narrative of propaganda is self-fueling and self-perpetuating and attracting more recruits. So, how do you do it? You have to puncture the banner. That black flag that they wave around is very important as symbol of power.
What you have to do is to be much more aggressive in confronting them, both in their lines of control in Iraq and Syria, but also to some degree, having more special forces, aligned with the Sunni tribes in Anbar and Deir ez-Zor, which is western Iraq and eastern Syria and to usurp it, to say that actually Sunni Muslims are the ones most abused by the Islamic State, which they are. And they are usurping the Islamic faith in terms of Sunni Islam and through that, you build that political and military (INAUDIBLE).
But I would agree with Pat in the sense our present strategy is sort of the president in denial, doesn’t help because ultimately, this is -- it’s a bound up in ideology and military dynamic.
CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, he’s not totally in denial. I mean, the president is responding to changing conditions, and also trying not get the U.S. too far out over its skis over there. That’s why in England, a country you’re familiar with, they’re debating about sending in troops as well.
ROGAN: They do.
PAGE: Even at the time when they’ve been cutting back their military spending, just as we are, and also war weary as they are, understandably. And also, we’re seeing ISIS now is moving -- Pat’s right -- they’re getting pummeled on the ground in Syria and Iraq, but at the same time, they’re moving internationally. This is a new way of using Facebook, using the singles marriage market, bride shopping market, and all to infiltrate the U.S.
And significantly, this fellow is not a refugee. He was born and raised in Chicago. All this talk about the nature of refugees, they are the most carefully screened.
BUCHANAN: But, you know --
PAGE: But people here on the visa waiver program or the bridal waiver in this case --
CLIFT: Fiancee waiver, yes.
BUCHANAN: You know, Clarence, something really happened with this guy that he would go in and slaughter all of these friends and coworkers.
BUCHANAN: Apparently, there was no any great dispute on that. But let me just say to Tom’s point, a lot of groups, because of the success in Paris, the success in massacres, are identifying their own cause.
BUCHANAN: I think Boko Haram in Nigeria --
ROGAN: In Nigeria.
BUCHANAN: -- they’re all saying, we’re an affiliate now, we’re an affiliate now. The radical Islamists, this guy -- ISIS is winning because it’s perpetuating these horrible acts of terror.
ROGAN: Like a magnet.
BUCHANAN: And it looks like it’s winning.
CLIFT: And if we have more incidents like this -- and I sure hope that doesn’t happen -- the gun debate would change very quick in this country if we recognize how easy it is for people to come in and get AK-47 assault weapons to be taken off the market.
BUCHANAN: The cops had semi-automatic weapons, fired 300 shots, killed them all. People are buying guns today, you can bet on it.
MCLAUGHLIN: All right.
CLIFT: -- where the cops had it.
MCLAUGHLIN: Hello? Hello?
CLIFT: The fact that you can’t get on a plane but you can still buy a weapon, that is shameful that the Congress couldn’t even pass that --
MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question --
CLIFT: -- they’re so in the grips of the National Rifle Association.
MCLAUGHLIN: Let’s move it along.
Exit question: How badly will this terrorist attack hurt Obama politically? Will the impact be: A, major, B, significant, minor, C, or D, inconsequential?
BUCHANAN: I think it’s major but I think this, John, people consider the president -- I hate to say it -- mildly irrelevant in all this right now. And the country is moving to the right.
CLIFT: I give it a C, and the Republicans are going to exploit the hell out of this --
CLIFT: -- and create as much fear as they possibly can.
MCLAUGHLIN: Right. We know they’re good at that.
CLIFT: And they are good at that. That’s right.
ROGAN: It’s major because people recognize the disconnect between the president’s statements and the policy dynamics on the ground.
PAGE: Well, I think President Obama does need to get ahead of this story, frankly, because we are certainly in a situation of national fear, understandably, and national anger. And he has to convey --
MCLAUGHLIN: Does it major, significant, minor or inconsequential politically
PAGE: I’ll give it -- I’ll give it a 8 1/2, John. How about that?
MCLAUGHLIN: Eight and a half sounds to me like --
BUCHANAN: Significant. He’s saying significant, John.
PAGE: Very significant, yes.
MCLAUGHLIN: Very significant. I think you’re right on track. I call it major, not only a strategy to contain ISIS failed overseas, but now, it has failed at home. Watch for Obama’s approval rating to drop below 40 percent.
Issue Two: Boots on the Ground?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASHTON CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We’re deploying a specialized expeditionary targeting force to assist Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces and put even more pressure on ISIL.
MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): President Obama has long opposed U.S. boots on the ground. No deployment of combat ground forces to fight the Islamic State terrorist group also known as ISIL and ISIS. But this week, Commander-in-Chief Obama’s defense secretary, Ash Carter, announced that a, quote, "expeditionary force", unquote, of special operations forces will be deployed -- boots on the ground -- to Iraq to fight ISIS. A small number of those U.S. special operations forces are already operating in northern Syria.
The new expeditionary force will have three main objectives. First, it will gather intelligence on ISIS terrorist leaders and operations. Second, it will work with local forces to attack ISIS bases and rescue hostages. Third, it will assist U.S. and coalition jets in destroying ISIS targets.
And while Republicans in Congress and many Democrats have welcomed the deployments, not everyone is happy. Some liberals fear a quagmire, and some conservatives that this expeditionary deployment is not sufficient.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLAUGHLIN: What is President Obama’s rationale for putting combat boots on the ground?
I ask you, Eleanor Clift.
CLIFT: His rationale is that this is a doubling down of the strategy he already has in place and it’s not a massive invasion of tens of thousands of troops. It’s -- I think the number they put on it is 200. And I think it’s kind of the least bad option that’s available. He keeps asking other people if you have better ideas, tell me what they are.
Putting a substantial number of U.S. troops on the ground in a Muslim country is counterproductive, disastrous. The flaw in this strategy is that there have be boots on the ground to hold any ground taking back from ISIS and so far, none of the Sunni nations have been willing to put that up. So, more of the same.
BUCHANAN: John, here’s one of the problems is, the Iraqi government has said, we don’t want America’s expeditionary force. The Shia militia whom we fought during the Iraq war says, well, we may be shooting at the Americans, and this is a very small force, frankly, and you hear talk of entering troops into Syria.
It is time that the Congress of the United States and the Republican Party either pass or rejected an authorization of military force because we are getting into this thing with on the side of the Turks who are up against the Russians. And you got a real problem coming down the road of a direct conflict with Russia.
PAGE: Let me just complicate matters a little bit to say that part of the problem here is that term "boots on the ground". What do we mean by that? Because right now, we got --
MCLAUGHLIN: We know what boots on the ground is.
PAGE: Well, John, we almost 3,000 men over there now, men and women over there right now. They all wear boots, but that’s not boots on the ground. When we talk about boots on the ground, we talk about combat brigades, battalions.
BUCHANAN: We’re talking about military action. That was what I stated.
PAGE: Well, these are mostly support for the -- for the drones and the planes in the air. You need to have special ops on the ground to be able to identify your targets.
PAGE: Now, that’s not the same as moving in with battalions that are taking land. This is all a specialized part of the operation.
MCLAUGHLIN: I don’t think I’m going to sleep better at night for hearing that.
PAGE: Sleep better, John. (INUADIBLE) is really in control.
ROGAN: I do think it is too little in terms of (INAUDIBLE). The reason you can’t get the Sunni Arabs buying in is because they see the United States having betrayed them over Iran, right or wrong, Pat would say that’s the right course of action.
But at the same time, look, this is good that we have people calling airstrikes on the ground now. It will mobilize more people. Hopefully, it engages the Sunni tribes. But it’s the secondary point.
What I think you’re seeing in Iraq is actually, yes, the Iraqi government condemned this. But interestingly, the Abadi government actually, behind the scenes, approve of this.
What I think you see going on here is the United States trying to say to Prime Minister Abadi, stand up and build this cross-sectarian government and you know what, we’re going to have your back a bit here against those Shia militias on the Iranian side. And actually on that, I commend President Obama.
CLIFT: Yes. Ash Carter said in his testimony that the troops are there in the invitation of the Iraqi government.
ROGAN: It’s internal Iraqis.
CLIFT: They’re playing some politics in things they say, but those troops are there by invitation.
BUCHANAN: You also got the Sunnis and the pro-Western Sunnis in Anbar province are scared to death at this Shia militia coming in and liberating them, because it means the end of them.
CLIFT: Well, that’s the failure of the Iraqi government. And, look, you’re going to hear cries of mission creep and slippery slope and all of that. But I do think this comes under the heading of "tweaking", and if this strategy has any hope of succeeding, the tweak was needed.
BUCHANAN: The real problem, though, John, is in Syria.
MCLAUGHLI: OK. Let’s move it along.
Putin Versus Erdogan.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We will long remember what they did and they will long regret what they did. We know what needs to be done.
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKISH PRESIDENT (through translator): We don’t want any tension, for the time, being with Russia. We have consultations of the highest level, very advanced economic relations. So, with a country in such a situation, how could we wish for such a tension?
MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): A Russian air force jet entered Turkish airspace last week and was shot down by Turkish fighter jets. Recall that Turkey is a member of NATO, the Western alliance set up to deter the Soviet Union, which is now Russia.
But while one Russian airman was rescued, his co-pilot was killed by rebels on the ground. A Russian marine was also killed during the rescue.
In response, Russia bombed a Turkish aid convoy in northern Syria and has now deployed fighter escorts and advanced anti-air missile systems into Syria.
The risks are clear. As a NATO member, Turkey has the right to ask for NATO military support, including from the United States, if Russia attacks its territory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLAUGHLIN: How serious is the friction between Russia and Turkey?
I ask you, Clarence.
PAGE: Well, we certainly don’t want to see World War III develop in that area. But this is serious in terms of the anger on both sides, and -- but Putin the other day said that he’s not interested in military action. He’s but they’re definitely exercising sanctions, as far as economic sanctions, diplomatic sanctions. There’s a big oil pipeline that Erdogan’s family has a big interest, in which the Russians are just suspending talks on that.
So, they’re putting pressure and it’s going to stay on.
MCLAUGHLIN: You know, Turkey has good beaches. And you know what’s happening now? Russian tourists are cancelling plans to visit Turkish beaches and Turkey is being vilified as hostile to Russian visitors and a dangerous place to visit.
BUCHANAN: John, this is more serious than a lot of words here. What the Turks did was stupid, dangerous. Shooting down a Russian plane, they knew it.
MCLAUGHLIN: Was it accidental?
BUCHANAN: It wasn’t any accident. The plane was over the slice of Turkey for 17 seconds or something. It was deliberate. It was an ambush of that plane.
Let me say this: Erdogan is an unstable guy, in my judgment, and we cannot allow Erdogan, who’s a member of NATO, to drag this country into a shooting confrontation with Russia. That’s the real danger in --
CLIFT: Neither country wants a shooting war and what -- Erdogan reacted that way because the Russians have been bombing Turkmen in Syria, they’re ethnic Turks, and it was sending a message.
The problem is you have two strongmen here. Neither of them is very good at backing down. So, I think President Obama’s got a task on his hands to sort of de-escalate the whole thing. And I think so far, it’s calming down.
MCLAUGHLIN: Let’s have a little bit of other erudition here. The European Union cut a deal with Turkey, worth 3 billion euro, and aid in joining the European Union, in exchange for Turkey sealing its borders to refugees and migrants. Isn’t that a deal? Isn’t that deal a threat to Russia’s interests?
I ask you.
ROGAN: Well, look, Russia wants -- because of the energy pipeline going through Turkey, Russia has been trying to bring Erdogan back into the orbit.
I agree with Pat. I mean, Erdogan clearly is a bit of a wacko. I mean, that is clear in terms of things he’s done before, banning Twitter. He’s an unstable guy. His son has a problem because the Russians don’t like his son because of what he’s been messing with some oil with ISIS.
The problem is, I would say, why I would disagree with Pat is that the Russians have been doing this. They’ve been pushing the line and crossing over into Turkish air space. Turkey has a right to defend its airspace.
What I would say as well, though, is that the United States can play more of an influential role on Erdogan if we were to be seen with this escalation actually in Syria with the Special Forces recently. That provides us more credibility because these Turkish are obsessed with Assad.
But you have to be able to influence --
BUCHANAN: But who are we fighting? We’re fighting ISIS presumably. And Assad is fighting ISIS, and Russians are fighting ISIS.
ROGAN: Well, no, they’re not though, are they?
BUCHANAN: And Hezbollah is fighting ISIS.
ROGAN: They’re not fighting ISIS.
BUCHANAN: We’re fighting both sides.
CLIFT: Yes, but they got other agendas that they were also accomplishing.
CLIFT: And they’re all across purposes. So, it’s tricky.
BUCHANAN: The key thing is, no confrontation between America and Russia, because nothing in Syria justifies a conflict with Russia.
ROGAN: If you say to Erdogan, listen, do not go over there and cross the line, but at the same time --
BUCHANAN: If you do, you --
ROGAN: -- but you say to Vladimir Putin, do not cross into Turkish airspace because it’s a NATO member and we would defend our ally.
BUCHANAN: I would tell the Turks, if you shoot down another Russian plane, goodbye and good luck. You’re on your own.
MCLAUGHLIN: Multiple choice exit question: What impact will it have on ISIS if the Iraqi offensive to retake Ramadi succeeds? Will it be: A, catastrophic, the beginning of the end of ISIS’ pretence of statehood, B, major because it will show ISIS can be beaten, C, minor because Ramadi is far from ISIS’ stronghold, or D, negligible?
BUCHANAN: I think it’s significant. It’s not like Mosul, but it is significant because steady defeats of ISIS are the best thing that can happen, because it takes away their great cachet worldwide.
CLIFT: Yes. I --
MCLAUGHLIN: ISIS has the veneer of invisibility. So, you’re partially correct. I’m helping Eleanor out with her answer.
BUCHANAN: They lost in Kobani.
CLIFT: I’m going to say, I’m going to say, negligible because the assessment that ISIS was mainly interested in building their caliphate and their state has proved to be wrong, that they are now interested in exporting their fanaticism and I think that’s actually scarier.
MCLAUGHLIN: Too tough on ISIS.
ROGAN: If you’re going to Google Tom Rogan, what will happen to Ramadi? It’s going to be very tough because ISIS are burnt, but if you can do it, it’s good because the Anbar tribes get more consolidation with the United States.
PAGE: It’s good because you put ISIS on the run. But you’ve got to keep them on the run. At the same time, they have a two-prong approach now. They’re operating internationally, as well as trying to hold ground for their caliphate. But they want to draw the U.S. into an all-out war because that’s part of their prophecy, you have all-out Armageddon.
PAGE: And we cannot go into a war on their terms. It will have to be on our terms.
MCLAUGHLIN: It has major impact. It will end the myth of ISIS invincibility and hurt recruiting efforts and morale.
Issue Three: Climate Summit.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That this is a turning point, that this is the moment we finally determined we would save our planet, is the fact that our nations share a sense of urgency about this challenge, and a growing realization that it is within our power to do something about it.
MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): President Obama joined 140 other world leaders at a climate summit in Paris, France, this week. What’s their mission? To reduce global carbon emissions and limit global temperature increases to two degrees Celsius on pre-industrial levels by the year 2100.
But while Pope Francis says carbon emissions have put humanity, quote, "on the edge of suicide", end quote, major disagreements remain. Less wealthy nations are demanding that the West deliver $100 billion a year, starting from 2020, to help them adjust their economies.
And China, the world’s largest carbon emitter says it won’t stop increasing its carbon emissions until 2030.
Finally here at home, 24 states out of 50, and Republicans in Congress, are opposing carbon restrictions.
Still, Mr. Obama has some star power himself. Celebrities like Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, and Microsoft creator Bill Gates have set-up, quote, "BEC", Breakthrough Energy Coalition. Also, another genius, Jeff Bezos, creator of Amazon.
Together, they will personally spend billions of dollars, funding clean energy research firms.
MCLAUGHLIN: Are President Obama’s global warming plans dead on arrival in Congress?
BUCHANAN: They certainly are, John. You’re not going to get anywhere on either house of the Congress. The Republican Party opposed them. But more than that, China indicates it will start cutting back around 2030 on what we’re doing.
India is not going for the whole program, Europeans might. But the $100 billion, we’re going to transfer to the despots of the third world is not going to happen,
BUCHANAN: It’s ridiculous.
BUCHANAN: I had a meeting with 150 people and they have a great chance of urgency, but there’s no comparable sense of urgency among the American people.
CLIFT: Well --
BUCHANAN: Or among the people of the Earth.
CLIFT: There is a sense of emergency among millennials who understand that the planet they inherent will be compromised if this issue wasn’t faced head on. It’s an important moment when all these nations come together, granted what they will sign won’t have any enforcement, but it is an important first step.
And you’re talking about his legislation. It’s dead on – he doesn’t have any legislation going to Congress.
CLIFT: He’s working through regulation and the courts. I want to protect the air that we breathe. So, a lot of this depends on the president in this country being followed by a Democrat, because Republicans are -- conservatives in this country, the only conservative party in the world that is made up of climate change deniers who don’t want to face up to this.
And so, I love the fact of the optimism, with all of these billionaires coming on board, trying to tap into not only American ingenuity but worldwide ingenuity, to try to -- you know, to greet this problem with technology.
BUCHANAN: What do you want, Eleanor?
CLIFT: Laugh if you will, Pat, this is a very serious -- this is an existential problem that the planet is facing in future generations.
MCLAUGHLIN: This is what President Obama has committed the U.S. to do: cut CO2 emissions by 28 percent from their 2005 level. Such cuts to be complete by 2025. This will impact everything from coal-fired utilities and household electricity rates to mandatory energy efficient appliances.
MCLAUGHLIN: How does it sound to you?
PAGE: Well, it sounds fine. You know, Eleanor is right. This can be done through regulatory measures without going through Congress. Pat is also right that Congress is going to let anything go through of a series nature right now, with Republicans in charge.
But I think the fundamental problem though is that climate change has become part of the culture wars now, and attitudes are baked in according to what party people belong to, or what their ideological leanings are and not those wonderful numbers you’re reading off there. That’s really more of what, a green eye shade aspect of this -- it’s not legislation, but it’s just regulation.
MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction: the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in its upcoming December the 15th meeting. Wall Street will react to the news with a yawn, not a stock market rout. True or false?
PAGE: I got to go, true.
MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is: unmistakably true.