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'Special Report' Panel on Fighting Taliban in Afghanistan

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from August 10, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARL LEVIN, (D-MI) SENATOR ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I don't think we should commit at this point to more troops for two reasons. Number one, it takes NATO allies off the hook from keeping their commitment. And, number two, it takes some of the pressure off the Afghans themselves to help move that army much more quickly.

LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R-SC) SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: My message to my Democratic colleagues is that we made mistakes in Iraq. Let's not Rumsfeld Afghanistan. Let's not do this on the cheap. Let's have enough combat power and engagement across the board to make sure we're successful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, "SPECIAL REPORT" HOST: Two key senators this weekend about the situation in Afghanistan, as General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is expected later this month to announce an increase of troop levels there, at least that is what he is expected to do, as a number of articles have cited McChrystal as saying that it is a bleak situation on the ground fighting the Taliban and that the Taliban is strong.

One of those articles by the "Wall Street Journal," in fact, had a pushback on the Pentagon and the White House, saying that in fact U.S. troops are not losing to the Taliban.

Let's bring in our panel to talk about Afghanistan, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the "Weekly Standard," Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of "Roll Call," and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Steve, your thoughts on, first of all, what McChrystal is quoted as saying, and the perception about the situation on the ground as it is today.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think McChrystal was saying things do not look good in Afghanistan. That shouldn't really be news to anybody who has been paying attention.

What he is doing is preparing a report, a strategic assessment of the situation on the ground there. They have done what is called a troop to task review, or are finishing that right now, which will tell the White House, presumably, how many people, and the secretary of defense, how many soldiers are going to be need to do the things they need to do to achieve the victory that President Obama set out in his speech in late March.

What's interesting is that the White House seems to have rolled out a new Afghanistan plan over the weekend with General Jones on the Sunday shows. There was a big article in "Politico" on Saturday.

So that puts the White House in front of General McChrystal. I don't understand what the point of having your general, who you handpicked and sent over to do this strategic assessment, what's the point of having him over there doing this if you're going to roll out a new plan before he actually even comes to you with his recommendations?

It doesn't make much sense to me.

BAIER: Mort?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "ROLL CALL": When General Jones was on our air on "FOX News Sunday," he did not rule out additional troops. He was specifically asked by Chris Wallace, "Are you ruling out more troops?" And he said no, he was not.

That's contrary to what he had said before, that if the president would ask for more troops, he would have a WTF moment a what the — blank — moment —

BAIER: Mort, this is a family show!

(LAUGHTER)

KONDRACKE: Right. But so he peeled back from that.

Look, in addition to what McChrystal said today, McChrystal was clearly signaling that he wants more troops. And one of his advisors, Anthony Cortisman from the strategic center — Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that we may need between three and nine more brigades, which is to say 15,000 to 45,000 more than the 21,000 additional troops that the president has supplied. So everybody is sort of shadowboxing here as to what is going to come up. And Obama is going to have to make up his mind.

BAIER: And is there the political will to do this in this White House, do you think?

KONDRACKE: There better be, because if Obama backs off this, having said that Afghanistan was the good war and that it was vital to American interests are to succeed there, and he's not willing to do what his commander wants him to do, then it looks like he is saying it is OK to lose.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think that is the key issue, where is the political will? Does Obama or the Democrats have it? Mort, you talked about the good war, as the Democrats see it. Bagshram, who is a high political operative who worked on the Kerry campaign in '04 wrote a very interesting article in December of last year which he talked about that campaign, and he said at the time the Democrats raised the issue of Afghanistan and they made it into the right war and the good war as a way to attack Bush on Iraq. In retrospect, he writes, that it was, perhaps, he said, misleading. Certainly it was not very wise. What he really meant to say, or at least that I would interpret it, it was utterly cynical. In other words, he's confessing in a way that the Democrats never really supported the Afghan war. It was simply a club with which to bash the administration on the Iraq war and pretend that Democrats aren't antiwar in general, just against the wrong war. Well, now they are in power, and they are trapped in a box as a result of that, pretending an opposition that Afghanistan is the good war, the war you have to win, the central war, and the war on terror, and obviously now not terribly interested in it, but stuck. And that's why Obama has this dilemma. He said explicitly on ABC a few weeks ago that he wouldn't even use the word "victory" in conjunction with Afghanistan. And Democrats in Congress have said if you don't win this in one year, we're out of here. He can't win the war in a year. Everybody knows that, which means he has no way out.

KONDRACKE: There is no question that the left is going to be against this war, because they're against he every war, right? So — but Obama has been very firm about this. It was not just the campaign push.

KRAUTHAMMER: Do you think sincerely so. Do you think he believes it is a central war on terror?

KONDRACKE: Yes, I absolutely do. He has continued to say it over and over again. He has beefed up what we're doing in Pakistan. The left does not like the idea that we're using predator raids in Pakistan, but he's continued to do it, successfully.

KRAUTHAMMER: Mort, he tells us that the war on terror doesn't even exist.

HAYES: President Obama made a big speech in March in which basically he took everything that Charles said that he said during the campaign, that President Obama said during the campaign, and doubled down, in effect.

He said we need to win. We need to refocus the aims of the war more on eliminating Al Qaeda, specifically. But he also committed to sending more troops at that time, and spoke the kind of language that I think conservatives and supporters of the Iraq war were hardened by. He said at one point, we will defeat you.

So in that sense, as late as March, he sort of drew another line around that box and I think further boxed himself in, which makes the politics of this very difficult for him.

BAIER: And it all comes to a head when? This month?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, he is going to have to make a decision on troop increases. And if he does, he has to have his heart in this. And here is a president who has said he won't even use the word "victory." Why would you send troops to fight and die if you're not interested in victory?

BAIER: Are the people loudly voicing their concerns about health care reform un-American? It appears some House Democratic leaders think so. We'll find out what the panel thinks, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY: And to demonize citizens who are energetic about this strikes me as demonstrating a kind of weakness in your position.

In other words, you want to change the subject. And rather talk about the half a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts, let's talk about somebody at some town meeting that misbehaved. It strikes me that's missing the point.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, (D) MISSOURI: And there is so much information out there. There is just a whole lot of misinformation that people have taken. And I understand the fear of the unknown is a powerful thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Well, the town halls have been a constant topic of discussion here in Washington and around the country about health care. And today in "USA Today" the House Speaker and House Majority Leader wrote an op-ed in which they said "These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views but of the facts themselves. Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American. Drowning out the facts is how we failed at this task for decades."

We're back with the panel. Mort, what do you think about this?

KONDRACKE: Well, Nancy Pelosi has backed off from what she said previously. She was accusing the people who were demonstrating as being Nazis and waiving swastikas and stuff like that. Now it's merely un- American. Look, it was bad form for the Code Pink ladies to disrupt Congressional hearings and raise a racket against the Iraq war. It is just as much hooliganism to have these right wingers, or whoever they are, barging into these meetings and preventing a reasonable discussion. And I'm amazed at how chicken the Republican leadership is about saying, look, you guys, calm down. Ask tough, probing questions of these congressmen. Embarrass them if you like. But don't shut the place down.

BAIER: Senator McConnell said as much on "FOX News Sunday" this weekend.

KONDRACKE: Well, he mentioned everyone should be civil, but these people should have the right to speak and all the rest of it.

I think the leadership is afraid of Rush Limbaugh, apparently, because Rush Limbaugh is encouraging all this stuff.

BAIER: Charles.

KRAUTHAMMER: The Democrats are pulling a rabbit out of a hat, and the Republicans or conservatives are handing the Democrats the rabbit. The Democrats have no argument. They have no facts. They don't even really have a bill.

And if people were just to stand up and quietly and civilly raise questions, the money doesn't add up. The CBO has said that you say it is going to control costs, but it increases it by $1 trillion. All of this stuff, it's really out there. They would be winning this debate as they were before the town halls.

What's happening is this is causing a backlash. It's completely unnecessary. It is shooting yourself in the foot. If you want to demonstrate, you want to shout, you do it outside carrying signs. When you walk inside, you ask questions.

This is going to have two effects. Public opinion will make people, if anything, rather unsympathetic to those who oppose the bills.

And secondly, it's going to give a great excuse for the Democrats when Congress returns to push a partisan bill with no Republican support and say it's because the opposition is not — is simply oppositionist without any arguments and is acting in an irresponsible way.

This is a disaster, and it shouldn't be happening.

BAIER: Steve, there is a lot of coverage, obviously, of the folks that are concerned about health care, raising their voices, et cetera. But there isn't a lot of coverage of these other organizations that are on the other side.

Healthcare for America Now is a national grassroots campaign, more than 1,000 organizations, 46 states, according to its Web site, representing 30 million people. They have a detailed playbook for thwarting town hall protestors. It's both sides on this thing.

HAYES: This is a massive campaign. Both sides are trying to win the PR war. And I think Charles is right that as a descriptive matter that Democrats have won the last week because they have managed to change the subject.

What I think is important, though, is that that doesn't change the overall politics of this. I think the damage was done over the course of several weeks when people were exposed to the arguments and the actual plans. They became more and more skeptical of the kinds of reforms that the president and Congress are talking about.

It certainly may help the White House spin a partisan victory on health care if that's, in fact, what they get. It doesn't, I don't think, change the underlying dynamic that a lot of people are skeptical of this level of government involved in medical decisions.

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