'Special Report' Panel on Obama and the Surge; Analysis of Latest Political Poll Numbers

Published July 29, 2008

| FoxNews.com

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from July 28, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-ILL.) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have said that I will begin withdrawing our troops as I take office, and at the pace that has been outlined not just by me but by military commanders. We can have one to two brigades out a month, and that we should have our combat troops out by 16 months.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: Well, OK. So he is committed to that timetable, that's it, right? Well, there is also this from over the weekend. That first was with Bill Hemmer in an interview with FOX News, and then there was this from another program:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I have committed to making sure that we've got a residual force that can do a couple of things. We can provide logistical support, intelligence support—training for Iraqi troops is still going to be critical.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: So he would leave behind a force, you see. And that force would have, as you heard Barack Obama describe it, several missions. Some people have estimated that to do all those three things would take, you know, 50 to 80,000 troops.

So, what does Obama say about how big the force would be—Mara?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: He doesn't say. He said it would be entirely "conditions-based."

Look, it's really interesting. He usually lists one other task for the force, and that is fighting terrorists. He left it out in that quote, so that's even a longer list of things for them to do. And I guess they wouldn't be called "combat troops" because all those would be out in 16 months. They would be called something else—

HUME: "Residual troops."

LIASSON: Residual troops, and there might be a lot of them there.

(LAUGHTER)

HUME: So Obama has been saying or suggesting in recent days that there is a consensus emerging. The question then arises who is moving toward whom here?

LIASSON: I think everyone is moving towards everyone in a way.

Look, the success of the surge allowed the president to talk about time horizons. That, plus the upcoming Iraqi elections, pushed Maliki to talk about a withdrawal schedule, that he seems to think Obama's sounds pretty good. And...

HUME: You mean for political purposes?

LIASSON: But also I think he is increasingly confident about his own troops.

HUME: Always has been.

LIASSON: Yes, but maybe he has some real reasons to do it now. So everybody's coming together.

But you know what, life is unfair, politics is unfair. McCain might have been right about the surge, but Obama's getting the political benefits.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think there is a consensus, but you know why there is one? It is all created or unlocked by one single thing, and that's winning in Iraq.

We are winning in Iraq. The surge produced it, no matter what Obama says, everybody knows that. And he denies it at his peril, or at least at risk of his credibility.

But that is what opened up everything. It means that we defeated the Iranians in Iraq. It means we defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq. So where does Al Qaeda go? They don't have all the terrorists streaming in from Syria now. They're going to Afghanistan.

So Afghanistan is now a bigger problem than it was before, because in the place that really matters, Al Qaeda has been defeated. The terrorists have been defeated there.

And because the war on terrorism has gone so well while on offense, and not on defense—remember John Kerry and Democrats have talked about that it's a law enforcement matter, John Kerry in 2004 talked about —"it's like dealing with a persistent nuisance that you have to deal with." It won't go away but we can deal with it with law enforcement and so on.

It hasn't been dealt that way. It's been dealt with militarily, on offense by the Bush administration. And Obama seems to be endorsing that as well.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: There is a consensus between the administration view, the Maliki view, the McCain view, and the Obama view, and it's not because, as Obama would say in Berlin, all of us have come together.

It's because, as Fred indicates, and as Maliki and others are clearly believe, the war is not just being won, it is won.

Maliki believes that he is secure, that the strategic threats to the new Iraq, meaning the Sunni insurgency is over. Al Qaeda is defeated— despite the terror outrages that we had today.

And there was an article even in The New York Times over the weekend about how the third threat, the Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, is defeated. It's lost Baghdad. It's lost its toe hold, [it's] demoralized, and the leaders are essentially hiding in Iran.

That means that the new Iraq, as Maliki and others have seen, irreversible. And if that is so, then all that we're talking about is a couple of months here and there.

And Maliki also believes, and I'm sure he's right, that no American president handed a victory in Iraq, as Obama would be were he to become president in January, is going to jeopardize the victory, and also poison his presidency, by losing Iraq all over again and having a new insurgency and a new sort of Vietnam-like situation.

So the only debate was not over how long it would take—would it be based on conditions or not? And Obama has cleverly said 16 months— however, based on condition, and conditions will dictate how large a force is left behind. And that, of course, would be a way that he could wiggle out of any firm timetable.

So he's essentially in this consensus with McCain, that it depends on conditions, and conditions are so good and so unexpected that a rapid withdrawal is now possible.

HUME: Let's get back. Mara says everybody is moving towards everybody else.

BARNES: I think it's more in Bush's direction, because look, the single most important decision made by any figure in recent years anywhere in the world was Bush's decision in favor of the surge. It was not just more troops, it was a counter-insurgency strategy led by General Petraeus which was probably the bigger part of it. That is the most important thing that happened.

Well, in his interview with Bill Hemmer, Barack Obama says well, it was a mistake going in, but we're there now, and we have to be very careful getting out.

I think he left something out. You know, there's a big thing that he left out there, that the Bush original strategy was changed completely. They adopted the surge strategy with the counterinsurgency, and that is what has changed everything.

HUME: There are some interesting new poll numbers out today. The all-stars analyze them help explain them to me when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: So, probably a week of me focusing on international issues doesn't necessarily translate into higher poll numbers here in the United States, because people are understandably concerned about the immediate effects of the economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Well, it translates into higher numbers, it would seem, in some polls.

Let's look at the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll. This is a rolling average of three days of polling, about a thousand people are interviewed each night, something less than that, and it shows as of this morning Barack Obama up eight points over John McCain. He was up nine yesterday. It looks like a big bounce from the trip, right?

But Gallup also polls separately for USA Today. And you should note that there is a difference between the polls. This is one is of registered voters. This next poll is "likely voters," and it has McCain up by four!

Now, likely voters, you ask the people on the phone did you vote in the last election, how sure are you going to vote in this election, how engaged are you are in the campaign to try to find out how likely they are to vote?

Republicans have tended in history to do better. But this is a striking distance, and in this same poll of likely voters a month ago by Gallup, Obama was up by 6. So they have seen a ten-point swing in McCain's direction in this poll.

So what do we make of these two? Let's look at the Real Clear Politics average of all the current polls, and it shows that Obama is up by just over three points.

Panel, help. Did he get a bounce from the trip or not? Mara, what do you think?

LIASSON: I think the bounce from the trip was more important in the internals, and we have to wait to see more polls about this.

HUME: What do you mean by "the internals"?

LIASSON: Is he a credible commander in chief? Does he seem like he's presidential. Internals meaning the questions you ask after the head to head matchup question, which is would you vote for him.

I think that the investment in that trip was for those results, not necessarily to give him a huge bounce right now a month before the convention ahead of John McCain. If he has changed the way people look at him, erased some of the inexperience problem and he looks more presidential, that will help him.

I think the big mystery is Obama is running so far behind his brand —the Democratic Party is doing pretty well these days—and John McCain is running so far ahead of his brand-the Republican party is really in the basement. Why?

I think it's just simply because Barack is so new and inexperienced and hasn't yet crossed the hurdle of being a credible commander in chief. He's working on it.

BARNES: I don't think he's very new anymore! I think we've seen a lot of him over this year. He's not experienced, that's true. But I think is pretty well-known now.

I think there are a couple of things holding him back. One is that he is very, very liberal, and I think people know that.

And the second one is, and I think the more important one that's holding him back now—and something obviously, because as you heard me say before, I've been expecting for several months— a breakout, where he would be far ahead like the Democrats are ahead of Republicans, 12 to 15 points. He hasn't gotten there.

But I think people are concluding that despite all this transcendent talk about "bringing people together," and in Berlin, "we're all citizens of the world," and then the world came together to fight communism-

HUME: "People of the world, this is our time."

BARNES: I think people are recognizing that he's just a regular old pol. He's a liberal one. He's an extremely well-spoken one. He carried off a great trip to Europe that was well staged and he didn't say anything foolish at all.

But he spins and quibbles and makes up thinks and denies things and pretends like he says things that he didn't, and all the stuff that we have seen politicians do so many times, all the reasons you hate to have them on your show, because they do that and they tell you nothing.

We see that in Barack Obama. And it's not just us. I think others do, too.

KRAUTHAMMER: I'm not sure, I don't think he got a bounce. I'm not sure it was his intention. You don't get a bounce out of standing in front of 200,000 Germans at a rally who are chanting your name. Bad vibes sometimes, historically.

(LAUGHTER)

And, look, he wasn't intending to get a bounce in the polls that he would ride into election there. I think Mara is right. If you are going to get a bounce, it will be out of the love fest in Denver at the end of August, and you ride that into election day.

HUME: Let me ask you a question on that. He didn't expect to get a bounce.

KRAUTHAMMER: Right.

HUME: What was the purpose of the speech in Berlin? I can understand the purpose of meeting with all those leaders and getting those pictures of him with Angela Merkel and Petraeus and all. I understand all that.

But that phase of the trip in Europe was campaign financed What was did the campaign think it was financing with that deal?

KRAUTHAMMER: That speech was the only mistake of the trip.

HUME: Really?

KRAUTHAMMER: His intention was he thinks Americans are unloved abroad; Americans want to be loved abroad. He'll be loved in front of a lot of Germans and everybody will be happy.

That, I think was a slight miscalculation. People don't really care about being loved abroad, and the way that you have to earn our love abroad is to make a lot of concessions to European opinion, which is not popular at home.

However, all the other steps in the trip were extremely helpful— standing up with is Sarkozy, the President of France at that press conference. He was eloquent, he was elegant. He was taller than "Sarko," he was less excitable than Sarko. He was more presidential than Sarko.

The idea of the trip was to establish a predicate, a premise that one day he could be president, and credibly so abroad. And there he succeeded. It is going to help him in November.

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