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'Special Report' Panel on General Petraeus and the Anti-War Faction

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from September 11, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-TEXAS: This smear campaign consisted of an entirely unwarranted and fallacious attack, and sought to impugn the name of a highly respected man of integrity.

SEN. DICK DURBIN, SENATE MAJORITY WHIP: I think in this particular ad there was a poor choice of words to suggest that there was the trial involved in the testimony of General Petraeus.

But, I might remind my colleague and friend from Texas, even the best of us can occasionally get tangled up in a poor choice of words.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: What those two gentlemen are discussing, of course, is the now famous ad posted in the New York Times yesterday, a full page ad by moveon.org, the liberal activist organization that is very much an antiwar organization suggesting, as you could see, that General Petraeus may be guilty of betrayal of his country.

And the subtitle there, which you probably could not read, was "Cooking the books for the White House."

Some thoughts on this and the underlying debate from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, and the syndicated columnists Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Well, really, this is all about the same thing, and that is General Petraeus arrives in Washington and makes whatever impact he was going to make. Moveon.org does what it can to counteract that with an ad. How has it all turned out — Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think the momentum has shifted. It was going to shift because there were actual changes on the ground, and, ultimately, that the news of what is happening in the war reaches Washington about six months late. It began arriving here with other observers, but when you now heard from Petraeus and Crocker —credible, honest, straightforward witnesses — about the progress that is happening—and it is not yielded, it is not held up as the light at the end of the tunnel. It is held up as a realistic chance of success. And that is all America wants.

America is not antiwar, it is anti losing the war. It is also antiwar that has no direction. A year ago we were losing because we had no direction. Now we have a trajectory now. It is improvement. It is not radical, but it is steady. And if it continues for half-a-year or a year, there will be a dramatic difference.

And I think that message, which I think was un-contradicted in these hearings, will carry enough of public opinion to make the president able to carry out his policy with success at least for the next year.

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: I think there has been a slight improvement in the president's circumstances. By the way, Moveon.org did not retract its ad today, but it does have up as the frontispiece on its website, a sort of patriotic observance of 9/11, saying that we deeply mourn the people who were lost on 9/11. So, meanwhile, they're defending themselves.

I think that what has happened is that the effort by…

HUME: Mort checks in regularly with moveon.

KONDRACKE: I checked today to see what they were doing in response to the attacks on them. They're trying to change their image a little.

Anyway, I think what the upshot of the Petraeus testimony was was that some Democrats are a little less antiwar than they were. And I think this was going on anyway, with Brian Beard from the state of Washington, and so on. And Republicans are firm now.

And so the $12 million that Moveon.org spent over the summer to try to get Republicans to get away from the president has not worked.

And I think that what Petraeus said about troop withdrawals by the end of the year should satisfy the one waverer that we heard since the summer, and that was John Warner of Virginia, and I think it should hold him in line.

And the White House thinks that, by the way.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, WEEKLY STANDARD: The one thing about that moveon.org for the Republicans, it is the gift that keeps on giving. You showed John Cornyn, the Texas Senator at a press conference — well, just about an hour ago, it was his five minutes before the questioning of Petraeus and Crocker during the hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he starts by holding it up again.

And it really is outrageous. Mort's right — what it has done is firmed up Republicans.

HUME: Not that ad, but the circumstances.

BARNES: The circumstances, and the ad too. It makes it very hard for them to…

HUME: You think that ad was such an atrocity that it really affected the debate?

BARNES: I think it makes it hard for Republicans to vote against the recommendations made by Petraeus. Not that many were inclined to do so, anyway, but I think it makes it impossible.

Now one thing after two days of hearing Petraeus, and I think I watched almost all of it, there is one thing Democrats will never do again. And you know what that is? That's bring Petraeus back to testify. He killed them. He was totally unruffled. He had no trouble with any question that was asked him, no the trouble at all with any of them.

Well, Barbara Boxer did not ask any.

HUME: No, she didn't ask any.

He did have a little trouble at first answering the question about whether a victory in Iraq would make us safer. And he said at first he did not know, and then he later admitted that…

BARNES: You asked him a question like that last night.

HUME: What's the payoff?

BARNES: What was the payoff. And he said what was right — the payoff is this would be a crushing defeat for Al Qaeda. And Al Qaeda internationally might not recover from it.

HUME: What about the idea that Al Qaeda is the principal adversary in Iraq? Is that believed by most people in your view, Fred?

BARNES: No, I don't think it is. But I think we have moved in that direction.

HUME: What do you think, Mort?

KONDRACKE: It is a civil war that has got to be stopped. And the civil war is not yet over, and it will not be over…

HUME: I understand, but what about Al Qaeda?

KONDRACKE: Al Qaeda represents the most violent fraction of the violent actors in Iraq.

HUME: So you don't believe that Al Qaeda is really a principle actor in the drama.

KONDRACKE: I think it is a principle actor, but it is not the totality of it. If we beat Al Qaeda we have not solved the problem yet.

KRAUTHAMMER: But it is an extremely important actor because it kindles and it magnifies the sectarian tensions. The bombing in Samara was extremely important.

HUME: It was successful…

KRAUTHAMMER: Absolutely successful. Zarqawi had a strategy, and it succeeded. He wanted a civil war, and he, essentially, ignited it. And if you feed Al Qaeda, you can start with a healing of that civil war.

KONDRACKE: But You still have to defeat Muqtada al-Sadr.

KRAUTHAMMER: Exactly, but, look, one enemy at a time.

BARNES: Al-Sadr is a pushover compared to Al Qaeda.

HUME: He has also ordered his militia to stand down.

When we come back with out panel, six years later, are we safer than we were before 9-11? A big debate about that — stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: An answer to the question I often get asked—it is clear to me that we are much safer than we were prior to September 11, 2001.

JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Are we any closer to getting rid of terrorism than we were six years ago? And the answer to that is "No." In fact, we are further away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Two views about how we're doing on the war on terror that has been waged since 9/11, 2001. There is some controversy about this. A lot of people know that a lot of things have happened, but are we really safer? How is this debate going? Mort, go ahead.

KONDRACKE: I thought the best line of the week on this was from Admiral Redd, who is now the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, who said that we are safer than we were on 9/11, but we are not safe, and we will not be safe for a generation, because this is a long war.

And it seems to be true. The Al Qaeda has not attacked back in the United States again. As a matter of fact, Judy Miller wrote a piece in The Telegraph, saying instead of attacking us in commemoration of 9/11, he sent out a video tape, which indicates progress on our part.

And so, clearly, we're safer than we were. The whole purpose of the foreign police of the United States is to fight Islamic terrorism now, and we barely recognized the threat back before 9/11.

But we're not safe, as witness Al Qaeda's ability to attack in Germany which we foiled. But we do not know whether there are any Al Qaeda plants in the United States. I would guess that there probably are, waiting around for the right message from Usama bin Laden.

So this is going to go on for a long time, which is why we have to do things like give the government this FISA power that they asked for and the Congress reluctantly gave them, and only…

HUME: This the electronic eavesdropping…

KONDRACKE: Yes. And that seems to have worked in the German case.

BARNES: This is why we are safer. We have the Patriot Act, we have this warrant-less surveillance, which is what cracked open the German case and the terrorists were stopped before they could commit their acts of terror.

HUME: We still do thousands of surveillance cases with warrants.

BARNES: Of course we do, but this was a foreign suspected terrorist, and it worked. And it has worked in other cases.

Look, Al Qaeda does not have the country now. They controlled a country, Afghanistan, before. Usama bin Laden surely would have tried to have had some big attack today, the sixth anniversary of 9-11 if he could. But he couldn't, so what does he do? He hands around a video.

Here is what I worry about — not the NSA that does all this electronic surveillance, that's great. It is people's lack of understanding, including the guys who're the head of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, of the nature of the enemy.

They wrote a piece on the Washington Post on Sunday, Brit, that seemed to think why is Islamic extremism and the terrorist threat out there? It is our fault, it's America's fault. We're not nice to the Palestinians. Guantanamo — that's stirring them up.

And then this notion that somehow because we are in Iraq, that is a great recruiting tool. The Al Qaeda is a Sunni group. What is the big change that has happened in Iraq? Sunnis turning against Al Qaeda.

But, anyway, with all that notion, when in fact the threat is driven by a religious ideology, and it is simple as that. And if you think it is somehow that we have not been nice to the Palestinians, then you have missed the point.

KRAUTHAMMER: We can never know how safe we because we can be hit tomorrow, as we were unexpectedly on 9/11. What we can say is we have been gone six years, and nobody expected we would go six weeks or six months.

The people spoke about Al Qaeda has a cycle of a year or two or three. Well, it doesn't have six year cycles. It cannot hit us, it hasn't, and that is because of the actions of this administration, determined, steely, and relentless, starting with a decision six years ago today of the President of the United States to shoot down a civilians airliner if necessary.

That was the beginning of this — the kind of steely determination, including all of the elements that Mort and Fred have talked about, including the secret prisons and the interrogation which yielded and interrogated people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — more information according George Tenet than any other source of information about the future attacks — the kind of thing deplored by the ACLU and the liberal press has been extremely effective.

And then, lastly, and incredibly effective war in Afghanistan. Not a retaliation on the morning after 9/11, which would have happened in the Clinton administration — a useless launching of cruise missiles — but a determined, completely invented war plan — it was not on the shelf — which expelled Al Qaeda and scattered it, and has kept its off-balance for six years now.

That is why we have not had an attack. It is a remarkable development, and history is going to look on this and say six years without an attack, that is an amazing achievement.

BARNES: Remember President Bush's first reaction? I agree with Charles about Vice President Cheney, but moments after the attack, when he heard about it, he said we are at war. Not that we have to go and criminally prosecute these horrible people who do this, we have to catch them and put them in jail, but we are at war.

And that is the policy that Bush has followed.

KONDRACKE: I cannot believe that after an attack on the mainland of the United States that Bill Clinton, had he been president, would not have declared war on the Taliban too.

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