This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," June 15, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
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MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., FORMER GOVERNOR: It's time for to us bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can. And I want those troops to come home based on not politics, not based upon economics, but instead based upon the conditions on the ground determined by the generals. But I also think we've learned, that our troops shouldn't go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation.
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BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Mitt Romney talking about Afghanistan in the debate on Monday. Before the break, we asked you if you agree with Mitt Romney's statement that the U.S. should bring its troops home from Afghanistan as soon as possible? 84 percent of you agree, 16 percent of you do not in our unscientific poll.
What about this for the Republican candidates? Is this more of a sense of where they're going to be on Afghanistan? We're back with the panel.
Steve, since the debate, Romney has talked and answered questions about this numerous times, clarifying it doesn't want to make it about dollars and cents, and not about politics, and saying it's about the general's conditions on the ground. Here is what he said in June of 2009 at the Heritage Foundation. Quote -- "America sacrificed the blood of its sons and daughters and sent treasure abroad, helping nurture democracy and human rights all over the world. I know of no other such example of national selflessness in the history of mankind...America is still the hope of the world. We must confront clearly and courageously the threats to freedom and we must resolutely sustain the capabilities we need to protect out security and sustain the cause of liberty."
As far as matching that with "Our troops shouldn't go off and try to fight a war of independence for another nation," is that a problem for this campaign?
STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I think that is the problem. I think they need to square that circle. And it's a difficult circle to square. What he said that night in the debate that night had Republican hawks, policy anylists e-mailing one another, what does he mean? Is he calling for immediate withdrawal? So I talked to people who are familiar with his thinking. And they said no, look, he misspoke. That's not what he intended to say. He's not calling for a precipitous withdrawal.
But the thrust of the reporting of what he said has characterized his comments that way. You have a front-page story in the New York Times about this, you had a New Yorker story about it, something in Politico saying, this is Mitt Romney stepping back from the views, his hawkish views that he had previously articulated. And so I went to the campaign again today and said, look if this is the perception that this is what he was saying, ya know, shouldn't you guys think about putting out a statement that actually says no, this is not in fact, what he meant? And they haven't done that. So it leaves you sort of unclear about what exactly what his meaning was when he said those things.
BAIER: Mara, he was criticized by Lindsey Graham today, senator from South Carolina today saying, why not stick up for national security aspect of --
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Look, I think that there is an isolationist trend in the Republican Party. It's not just Ron Paul anymore. It's Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich who talked about how Obama never should have gone into Libya. And the fact is that what he actually stated was the Obama position, that he's going to try to bring the troops home as soon as possible based on what the generals tell him.
But this was not a national greatness, kind of aggressive American action abroad in defense of freedom. Those were not the ringing statements that you used to hear from John McCain and George W. Bush.
BAIER: No it is not just Mitt Romney. We should point out --
LIASSON: No, it's all of them.
BAIER: Jon Huntsman who is expected to announce next week said this in an "Esquire" article, quote, "If you can't define a winning exit strategy for the American people, where we somehow come out ahead, then we're wasting our money, and we're wasting our strategic resources." About Afghanistan, "It is a tribal state, and it always will be. Whether we like it or not, whenever we withdraw from Afghanistan, whether it's now or years from now, we'll have an incendiary situation. Should we stay and play traffic cop? I don't think that serves our strategic interests." That's pretty clear, Charles.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: And that is exactly the arguments that the Democrats made in 2007 in opposing the surge in Iraq. "It is a tribal society, we're gonna have to leave, everything will implode anyway, so let's get out today." And now Huntsman is applying it to Afghanistan.
I think he riding away, Mara is right, there is a streak of isolationism among Republicans. In fact, isolationism historically, was more on the right than on the left, in between the wars, before the Second World War. It was a conservative movement with ya know Norman Thomas, the socialist, as the token -- the guy on the left. But Charles Lindberg was not exactly a lefty. So historically it has been. It went into retreat after the Second World War and the Cold War, and now the Cold War is over and it's back.
But Huntsman I think has made a strategic decision. If you are an antiwar Republican, you're gonna be a darling of the media. They are gonna propel him into the national spotlight. I think it's a very smart tactical movement. He's gonna have to defend this on his feet, and I'd like to see him do it.
BAIER: Much more on this foreign policy topic and all of these candidates in a panel to come. That's it for this panel, but stay tuned to see some musical analysis of Monday's Republican debate.
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