'Special Report' Panel on Fight Against Taliban in Pakistan and Obama's Involvement

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from May 6, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BAIER: The latest on the ground as President Obama welcomed the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the White H ouse in an administration full court press to push for cooperation against the Taliban militants in both countries.

So let's bring in our panel — Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of the "Weekly Standard," Nina Easton, Washington bureau chief of "Fortune" magazine, and Mort Kondracke, exec utive editor of "Roll Call."

Mort, your thoughts on the day and what was accomplished or talked about?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "ROLL CALL": Well, I think what has happened here is that President Obama and his team have decided that even though the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan have their flaws — in Zardari's case, in Pakistan, he is politically weak, in Afghanistan's case, Karzai is corrupt, and so — but, nonetheless, we're stuck with these guys, and so we're going to go all in.

And the president made quite an eloquent statement today about how we're going to do everything that we need to do to win and both — defeat Al Qaeda in both places.

Counterinsurgency strategy, David Petraeus-style in Afghanistan, and try to get the Pakistani military to learn how to do that instead of just blowing everybody away in Pakistan.

And also, what you might call the "three cups of tea" solution to this problem, referring to that best-selling book — you know, lots of economic aid, lots of education aid, lots of help, and so on.

And it's the only way to go.

BAIER: Nina?

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: They are unreliable partners, as the Bush administration learned. But he's talking tough with them while distancing himself at the same time, while embracing them. It is a sort of three-track approach.

But the good news, I think, is, at least on the Pakistan front, the fact that the Taliban is so close to Islamabad, 60 miles away, is actually a wakeup call for this regime, this government there — I shouldn't call it a "regime," a government — that it can actually now — there is fear within the population about the Taliban.

Which I think, with the government now is going to be more willing to stand up to them rather than cut deals with them, which is what they did recently, cutting a deal to impose Islamic law.

BAIER: Sharia law, yes.

EASTON: And so I think, in that sense, there is a potential for some progress on the Pakistani front.

BAIER: Fred?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, I'm not getting my hopes up. Look, I'm not faulting the Obama administration, but it's a terrible situation.

And, look, what is the overriding U.S. interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan? It is securing the nuclear weapons in Pakistan. That's the number one thing.

And we know we can't trust the Pakistani military. They're all infiltrated with people who not only are sympathetic to the Taliban, but have supported the Taliban and given them military aid.

And also understand that, as long as the Taliban is there as a threat, not as big of a threat as it is right at the moment, but it's still there as a threat, that means the money from the U.S. will just come rolling in. So I think what needs to happen is, look — is to tell them that we will still continue to provide you with aid, but you have got to let Americans be a part of the people protecting the nuclear weapons, because we just can't trust any of the Pakistanis to do it.

And I would also add I agree that Obama's statement today was terrific, long term support, and so on.

But that's not the only voice coming from his administration. You know, just a couple days ago, three days ago exactly, Bob Gates, the Defense Secretary, was saying, wait a minute now, we just sent in more troops, but I don't think we can send any more in any time. And then you hear from David Obey on Capitol Hill, you know. He worries about funding anything over there for more than a year.

So Obama is not the only voice.

EASTON: Yes, and the fact of the matter is these two leaders are the linchpin for Obama's war, which he has sort of declared as the good war, and now he's got heat, as you mentioned, from Obey, he has got heat on his left —

BAIER: Congressman David Obey.

EASTON: Congressman David Obey — and not just him. I mean, you see it on the blogs. There is a lot of restlessness already about this war. Let's see bench marks and timetables, and this isn't going to be an open-ended purse.

So Obama really needs these two leaders to perform.

BAIER: What about the messages coming from the administration? We heard what the president said today. Privately administration officials will tell you that they don't have a lot of confidence in President Karzai from Afghanistan. They don't make any bones about it. They just say it.

And then you had the president saying at the press conference that Pakistan is a fragile government, and that the government is not providing for the health and services of the people.

Not those are messages that essentially are not confidence-building for those two places.

KONDRACKE: Right. Well, part of the problem is, is that we bucketed $10 billion in aid to the former Musharraf regime, all of it military, very few strings attached. The Pakistani used it to buy stuff that would be useful against India, but not against the Taliban. That has got to be reversed.

Fred's absolutely right that the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan is the crucial factor here.

And somehow we are going to have to make arrangements with the Indians and warn the Pakistanis that if it looks as though that might fall into Islamic hands, Al Qaeda hands, that we're going to have to bomb out those nuclear facilities, and we want to know where they are.

BAIER: And a positive after all this public diplomacy?

BARNES: Well, I think Obama did say the right thing, what he had to say.

And Nina is right. These are the only two guys there. You got to deal with them. But don't get your hopes up.

And particularly what the Pakistanis say when they come and talk to Americans. The one thing, you know the one thing the Pakistanis do better than anything else? They are great diplomats. Their ambassador here is liked by everybody. And so they promise everything, and they never deliver.

KONDRACKE: But Zardari really does have an interest in beating the Taliban and Al Qaeda. They killed his wife, for heaven's sake.

BAIER: The men who gave the Bush administration advice on how to question terror suspects may face some punishment. We will talk about that with the panel after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've had administrations come in every four years or every eight years. But no one has ever been prosecuted for professional judgments that they made beforehand, or been sanctioned by some professional organization.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: The expectation now, according to sources, is that three Justice Department lawyers for the Bush administration who authored those memos, Jay Bybee, John Yoo, and Steven Bradbury, will not be prosecuted. This is based on a draft ethics report. But two of the men, Bybee and Yoo, may face disciplinary action by state bars.

Well the ACLU is not happy about that. We're back with our panel — Nina?

EASTON: Well, I think criminal prosecution was always unlikely. There is the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act that basically gave pretty broad protection to a lot of these officials as long as they didn't know what they were doing was "illegal."

But I think any kind of disciplinary action still has the effect of criminalizing policy advice.

And, mark my words. I think the outcome will be not just in this area. Watch in the financial sector. Watch when the government is not getting its money back, and, you know, banks aren't spending it the way they want to.

We're going to start seeing the same kind of "disciplinary action," possibly criminal action, against officials of the Bush administration, possibly, or officials in the banking industry.

This is a pretty sweeping sensibility that I think could take over in other areas. I think it's scary.

BAIER: Mort?

KONDRACKE: You know, this is the next shoe to drop. But there's an even bigger show that's going to drop on May 28, or thereabouts, when the pictures that go along with the so-called torture memos that were issued a couple of weeks ago came out.

It's going to be people being waterboarded, people being banged against these plywood walls. It's going to be in stress positions. And there is going to be — the whole frenzy is going to start again.

And my fear is that we're going to have not a kind of quiet 9/11 commission or quiet Senate Intelligence Committee investigation to come out with the facts of this thing, but we're going to have the whole kind of Starr chamber, Leahy-style truth and consequences commission, where CIA officers will are going to be come in and sworn under oath, and it will demoralize and injure our intelligence service.

BAIER: Fred, does this — with this draft Ethics report coming out, does it fuel that kind of hearing potentially?

BARNES: Certainly — look, who are the people that have gotten all worked up? It is all the people who do want to prosecute these three lawyers who didn't do anything wrong. The reason you don't prosecute them is because they're innocent, of course.

And it would be almost impossible to win. You would have to prove that they didn't believe what was in those memos. They just delivered them. They knew the law was the opposite, but they wrote this in order to allow the administration to waterboard a terrorist who they captured.

So, look, there's no public demand for this at all. The polls are — well, most people don't want the prosecutions. Most people think waterboarding is torture but still ought to be used.

So, look, it would be horrible. And look, again, this, and exactly what Mort is talking about as well, the photos. Who can stop the photos going out in their tracks? Who can stop the Justice Department from even recommending somebody be disbarred? There is one person that can do that instantly, the man who wants to move forward so much and not look back.

His name is Barack Obama. He can stop all this.

BAIER: Nina, the administration doesn't want to be here.

EASTON: Well, they got themselves here —

BAIER: I know, but now.

EASTON: In a pretty — they don't want to be here, and they don't know how to back it out.

And I still go back to Mort's 9/11 commission. You have to put this energy somewhere. You have to put all this craziness somewhere, in a commission or something, to contain it.

KONDRACKE: Yes, but Obama keeps stoking this thing. He doesn't snuff it out. He stokes it.

BAIER: Please go online with "Special Report" right after the end of tonight's broadcast. It's a live interactive show. We'll have more from the panel on some of the hottest stories of the day, and reaction to your questions and comments. Join us, foxnew.com/sronline.

You can also, and this is a new feature, submit your videos in a new segment we call "Your Special Report." Show us how the issues are affecting you. Follow the link from our home page and select "Special Report" in the category field. It's very complicated, but we'll get it to you.

(LAUGHTER)

Each week we will pick out one or two of the best videos and feature that during our online show. Arlen Specter has been told by his new colleagues to head for the back of the line. We'll talk about what looks like a Democrat double- cross, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In discussing that issue with Senator Reid, the fair approach, which we both agreed to, was to be where I would had I been a Democrat coming into the Senate with my election in 1980.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: That's the deal he thought he had, Senator Arlen Specter, when he switched from being a Republican to Democrat. However, Tuesday night, Senate Democrats, the Senate voted to strip Specter of his seniority, effectively moving him to the back of the line, making him equivalent to a freshman.

The chairwoman of the committee, the steering committee, which sets committee assignments, Senate Democrat Debbie Stabenow from Michigan, said: "There were concerns about his actions."

So what now? We're back with the panel — Fred?

BARNES: Think two words, and those words are "card check."

What Democrats want to do is they want to ensure that Specter now votes straight Democratic line. And if he doesn't — look, this all but tells him, if you don't vote the way we want to as a Democrat, we're not going to give you any seniority, and who knows whether we'll discourage people from running against you in the Democratic primary in 2010.

Card check is the big one, because —

BAIER: That is the —

BARNES: That's the one that would allow unions to unionize without having a secret ballot election among the workers. And you have to sign these cards. It's easier to get people to sign cards, and then they can't take it away.

But in any case, Specter said that, look, I'm against card check, and I'm still going to be against card check as a Democrat. No. They will force him to switch on that, and any other Republican-type votes that he might still want to take, or else he's going to be in even more trouble in 2010.

KONDRACKE: But he ratcheted up the factor by saying that he was also going to be against the "public plan" in the healthcare reform debate. So that's two, you know, that they're going to have to back him down from.

What I think is fascinating is, suppose Joe Sestak, this Congressman from Pennsylvania, runs against Specter. Barack Obama will go campaign — he said he would go campaign for Specter, even in the primary.

So what is that going to do? What is the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania going to do about all that, and the unions and all that? They're going to run against Obama? That is going to be fascinating.

BAIER: Because without seniority, he loses a little bit of that panache in Pennsylvania.

EASTON: He loses the Judiciary Committee, he loses the whole — he doesn't get to stand up there during the Supreme Court nominations and be the ranking member on the committee. He doesn't get the appropriations spot. He can't shovel money into Pennsylvania.

He is finding out, too, he's find out this welcome mat in the Democratic Party is not quite so welcoming.

You know, it's already, if you read the liberal blogosphere, this is being called a boneheaded deal between Joe Biden and Harry Reid to bring Specter in.

Sestak, a retired admiral, progressive record, is really being promoted as someone who could run against, could really mount a challenge to Specter.

And then on the Republican side, keep in mind, we've got Toomey —

BAIER: Former congressman.

EASTON: — former congressman conservative.

But you have also got the incredibly popular former governor Tom Ridge who could jump in.

So this is not going to be — I wonder if this is sort of the end of the line on Specter's political life. I don't know.

BARNES: Specter is a survivor. He is one of the world's great survivors. So he will flip on card check. He'll flip on the public plan and vote for it, too.

BAIER: Not only that. He said that he supported Norm Coleman in Minnesota, and then came out and said he misspoke and that needs to remember his teammates now.

BARNES: He'll remember them now.

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