Democrats vs. Petraeus on Capitol Hill

This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," April 8, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MEGYN KELLY, CO-HOST: Joining us is former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and Dan Senor, former adviser to Iraq's former interim government. He is also a FOX New contributor.

Good evening, gentlemen.

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KELLY: Well, I could not have asked to watch that with two better- schooled gentlemen. Very interesting points. Dan, you were pointing out when Obama was questioning the general and the ambassador that he contradicted himself — that Obama contradicted himself. How so?

SENOR: In January 2008, at a primary debate, the Democratic primary debate, hosted by ABC News, Charlie Gibson, who was moderating the debate, asked Barack Obama about the success of the surge. He was trying to get him acknowledge that there has been progress made as a result of the surge. Sen. Obama would not say so.

He said the Sunni awakening, the sons of Iraq, the sort of uprising in the Sunni areas that have worked with coalition forces in isolating Al-Qaeda, was not a result of the surge. He said it was a result of the - by the way, this is about as direct a quote as you can get. He said it was the result of Democrats winning congress in November of 2006 and the message it sent to the Sunnis that because the Democrats were gaining power in Washington, the United States was going to be pulling its troops out so they better start taking matters into their own hands. That's what he attributes the success of the Sunni awakening to.

Now, he's saying it's as a result of the surge. So it is fabulous that Sen. Obama acknowledges that the surge has yielded some progress and success, but it is a direct contradiction of his analysis some 60 days ago.

KELLY: Interesting. And still, Ari, he is still on message in other ways, calling this, as Bill pointed out, a massive strategic blunder, that going into Iraq in the first place, saying number one, Al-Qaeda is in Iraq today, whereas maybe they weren't before. And number two, there is an increased Iranian influence in Iraq versus before the troop surge and the invasion.

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think that is a reflection of the fact that Barack Obama's top priority is to win a primary. He's still running in a Democrat primary. Well, looking back to 2002, 2003, it was meaningful. In the general election of 2008, it will have much less value because people want to know what are you going to do today.

The other thing I was struck by listening to Sen. Obama speak there is when Gen. Petraeus came before him previously and when the surge was announced - particularly when it was announced, he said it won't do any good. He said militarily, 130,000 troops is not nearly enough and won't militarily accomplish anything. But of course, militarily, it's fundamentally changed the landscape on the ground in Iraq in a way that allows us to be making political progress.

KELLY: But Dan, that is not what we heard from Democrats today. We heard they have not been meeting enough political benchmarks, that progress is not sufficient enough. We may have done well militarily but it hasn't done what they wanted it to do, which is to allow these political benchmarks to be achieved.

SENOR: Well, the question is are the political benchmarks an end in themselves. Or are the political benchmarks are sort of signal or indicator of the kind of progress we want to see? So let me just give you one trend line that we've seen.

In April of 2004 when I was in Iraq, we had an uprising in western Iraq and Fallujah at the same time as we had an uprising from Muqtada Al-Sadr in Southern Iraq. We asked the Iraqi political leadership to lead the confrontation with both of these extremists in the Shiite community and the Sunni community. And we asked Iraqi security forces to lead the fight.

Neither things happened. The Iraqi political leadership refused to confront the extremists in their respective communities. And about 40 to 50 percent of the Iraqi security forces out there collapsed in battle or flipped sides, literally, like many of them just walked off the job.

Fast forward to today: Nouri al-Maliki made the decision to confront Sadr, a Shiite. We often say, will they ever confront their own? He confronted an extremist in his own community. And by the way, he notified Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker at the 11th hour. This wasn't planned with them. He let them know after he had made the decision, right before the mission of the operation was executed.

Secondly, Iraqi security forces, while their performance was uneven, they absorbed most of the casualties. They basically were on the front of this fight. And less than five percent this time actually collapsed or flipped sides on the job so that the trend lines are important and what it reflects vis-a-vis reconciliation and progress politically.

KELLY: Ari, let me ask you quickly. Just observing the dynamics, Hillary Clinton cross-examining, John McCain, Barack Obama. Your thoughts?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think there is a stature gap when you look at the three senators. I think that Sen. McCain, by far, looked like he is best prepared to be commander-in-chief and that he had the best intuitive understanding of the issues. I think Sen. Obama here was kind of groping for words. He was nowhere near the normal eloquent Obama he usually is.

KELLY: And a lot of Republicans think that if we go forward into a general election with McCain on one side and Obama on the other, we'll see more of that, because their feeling is he is better on the stump than he is in the debate forum.

FLEISCHER: Absolutely. Hearings like this, it's serious work that's a reminder why it's hard to become a president when you're a senator.

KELLY: Interesting. Guys, thanks so much. Very interesting. We're so lucky to have you here. Dan and Ari, thanks.

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