This is a rush transcript from "Special Report With Bret Baier," August 25, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
GEN. JAMES CONWAY, COMMANDANT OF THE MARINE CORPS: We know the president was talking to several audiences at the same time when he made his comments on July, 2011. In some ways we think right now it's probably giving our enemy sustenance. We think that he may be saying to himself, in fact we have intercepted communications that say, hey, we only have to hold out for so long.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S./NATO AFGHANISTAN COMMANDER: The message that July, 2011 was meant to convey was not one that we are going to head for the exits and look for light switch to turn it out as we head out the door. It was not about an exodus. It was really about a message of urgency.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
BRET BAIER, HOST: Two generals, one a Marine Corps commandant and one the top man on the ground in Afghanistan, describing and explaining the July, 2011 date brought up by President Obama about Afghanistan and when troops would start moving out or begin the process to do that.
What about this back-and-forth and other elements of General Petraeus' interview with Jennifer Griffin?
Let's bring in our panel, Mark Tapscott, the editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner. We welcome Mark. Erin Billings, deputy editor of Roll Call, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.
Charles, first, let's talk about General Conway's comments. He is a plain-spoken guy, he says it like it is. I know General Conway, and he was asked a question about July, 2011, and gave that answer.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think it's absolutely astonishing. This is a serving soldier, a leader of the Marine Corps, a commandant, who is basically saying that his commander-in-chief has given sustenance, which is a polite way of saying aiding and abetting the enemy.
Now a lot of us have said this. We said it a dozen times on the set because it's pretty obvious, but it's different if it comes from someone in the chain of command. Now, it's true that Conway is leaving at the end of the year, but nonetheless he's active duty now. That's quite remarkable.
And the more interesting element of this is not just that it's his opinion but he cites evidence from intercepted communications where they tell each other we have to wait it out. And you notice he doesn't cite contrary communication which a guy says oh wow, I watched the secretary of Defense on ABC News and he walked it back. That level of analysis doesn't exist in Afghanistan.
What's happening is the president's statement is truly making it difficult to fight the war.
I think what is interesting is how Petraeus attempts to finesse think, he pretends, he says, well, it means in July, 2011, if there are areas entirely under our control and it's safe, we will transfer over to Afghan authorities, which is plausible. There might be the main hockey rink in the capital to be turned over if it's in a secure area.
But I think all of them are really regretting the announcement of the withdrawal and telling the president openly it's a mistake, and he needs himself to walk it back.
BAIER: Erin, to be fair to General Conway, he went out and talked about how his marines will be on the ground after 2011 and turned it around, saying it could be advantage that some of the Taliban will take it on the chin from the Marines who are going after them, even though perhaps the Taliban thinks the U.S. is all leaving.
That said, however you cut that comment, the administration comes off on the short end of the stick.
ERIN BILLINGS, DEPUTY EDITOR, ROLL CALL: And I'm sure the administration is not happy he made comments. If he were not leaving at the end of the year, I wonder what other conversation might go on behind the scenes.
Having said that, I don't think they have any illusions we're getting out of there July, 2011 hard and fast. And Petraeus has said that, even the president has said, look, this is a starting point. As Petraeus said earlier in the interview with Miss Griffin that this is a starting point and a time when we're doing some limited withdrawals. But I don't think anyone is under illusion we are getting out in July 2011 regardless of politics.
BAIER: Mark, thoughts?
MARK TOPSCOTT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: If you go back to Obama's speech at West Point he did not say definitively hard and fast we will be out in the beginning in July. He said a process will begin. Administration people since then have talked about it and political people have accepted it as a hard and fast rule.
BAIER: Vice President Biden among them --
BAIER: -- quoted in a book saying bet on it.
TOPSCOTT: But I have to wonder. I think the most interesting thing about his comment is he must have felt some sense of freedom or opportunity to say that.
BAIER: General Conway?
TOPSCOTT: Yes, General Conway.
KRAUTHAMMER: When you announce process, that's a very subtle notion, and war isn't a subtle operation. You've got Afghans on the ground whose lives are at stake --
KRAUTHAMMER: -- if they choose the wrong side. And they hear a president say our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011 to begin the transfer. Well that sounds like Americans are leaving.
BAIER: Mark, another thing that struck me was the talk of reconciliation with the Taliban. General Petraeus went in fair detail about how the Afghans are reaching out. What about that? Is that how U.S. officials think perhaps that this is an endgame in Afghanistan?
TOPSCOTT: I was struck that he very quickly acknowledged that yes, we have been at least facilitating some.
The whole discussion here reminds me frankly, I'm old enough to remember the neutralist government that was established supposedly in Laos in 1962. That didn't work out very well. It was a reconciliation government.
BAIER: General Petraeus, Erin, mentioned sitting down in Iraq with folks who had U.S. blood on their hands, and he mentioned Northern Ireland. He got into fair detail about how this is going forward.
BILLINGS: That's right. You mentioned the Taliban. They do have to get them to the table. And that I think underscores how long the process might take. You know, we don't know how this is going to play out. Karzai obviously has been somewhat of an unpredictable player in all of this. So, yes.
BAIER: Last word, Charles. There are critics out there saying are there moderate Taliban?
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, it isn't as if there were moderates in Iraq. It was Iraqis-Sunnis opposed to us, opposed the new regime after the fall of Saddam, who were so incensed by what Al Qaeda had done they turned against it. We don't have -- and then it sought our assistance and became our ally. It wasn't if it had a change of heart suddenly overnight.
Here, I don't see a lot of evidence of elements of the insurgents against us, split against other elements and thus looking for an alliance. So I think the situation is different. We haven't heard of a lot of elements in the enemy in Afghanistan who have now gone over and become our allies.
BAIER: Perhaps we'll start to hear that.