This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from September 11, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Let us renew our resolve against those who perpetrated this barbaric act and who plot against our still. In defense of our nation we will never waiver. In pursuit of Al Qaeda and its extremist allies, we will never falter.
SEN. CARL LEVIN, D-MICH.: We need a surge of Afghan security forces and we have not done nearly enough to put that in motion.
Before we consider additional combat troops, we ought to take these steps to strengthen the Afghan army.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, HOST: Well, that was Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressing some of the doubts of Democrats on Capitol Hill about sending more U.S. troops in Afghanistan, as the president pledges to fight Al Qaeda wherever it is.
So where are we now? Let's bring in our panel: Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, Nina Easton, Washington bureau chief of Fortune magazine, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.
Bill, let's start with you about troops and fighting the War on Terror.
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I hope President Obama doesn't falter and I hope he accedes to and responds to General McChrystal and General Petraeus' request for enough troops to fight and to succeed in Afghanistan.
I'm worried Democrats on the Hill are heading for the exits. People within his own White House and within his own administration, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, I'm told, is telling him you should not be the Lyndon Johnson of this era. You should not get your presidency mired down in a tough war. You should figure out a way to get out of there.
I very hope President Obama goes with the generals and not with his political advisers. He cannot — to lose in Afghanistan, to withdraw from there from the place from which 9/11 was launch, to lose to the Taliban, what that would do in Afghanistan itself and Pakistan, the shot in the arm it would give jihadists all over the world, the weakness it would show on the part of America, I think it would be terrible.
But I've got to say, Generals McChrystal and Petraeus, I think Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates want to fight and win. I'm not sure anyone else is telling President Obama that's that that's the right thing to do in his own administration.
BAIER: Nina, do you sense that the political winds are shifting up on Capitol Hill when it comes to Afghanistan?
NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: I think there is different political winds. I'm not sure — I'm going to take Senator Levin at his word and say that he is possibly not the Nancy Pelosi on this issue who clearly wants troops out as soon as possible.
McChrystal himself has called for, in his report — according to published reports, at least — he's calling for a surge of Afghan troops. They want to double the Afghan army. They want to double, or nearly double the police force.
He complains that when you go out on a major operation, say, with 11,000 American troops, you might have like 500 Afghan troops with you. They understand this. This is part of what they want to do. They want more boots on the ground, a more interactive, more one-on-one training with the Afghan security forces.
But the point that he makes in this is that you need more American soldiers there to be able to train the Afghan troops. So I think, you know, Levin and McChrystal are somewhat on the same page. A lot of it is about timing. Do you refuse to send in American troops or more American troops without more Afghan forces being trained?
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I think Levin's proposal, the part of it in which he says he wants an increase in the Afghan army is unobjectionable, and everyone shares that ideal. You want to get it to about a quarter of a million within several years, which ought to be enough to hold the country.
The problem is that you have to learn the lesson of Iraq. If we're in a downward spiral where the violence is increasing and the enemy is on the ascendancy, no amount of troops in Afghan army as in the Iraqi army is going to prevail. The Iraqi army was completely ineffective at the end of 2006 when the worst of the violence occurred.
What has to happen first, as we learned in Iraq, you have to have a surge of American troops which will then be able to create the conditions under which the Iraqi army can hold and sustain itself.
That's exactly what happened in Iraq. We had our troops in population protection and earned the trust of the people. We were able to get intelligence, get the bad guys. And that's a virtuous circle.
You have to reverse the downward spiral of the war as it happened in Iraq. If you try to only sustain and build a large Afghan army in the absence of turning around the trajectory of the war, it will be too late and completely ineffective.
BAIER: Eight years after 9/11, you ask most U.S. intelligence officials what the biggest threat is for this nation, they will say Iran. There are a number of developments: Iran is active in Afghanistan, we have confirmed that. Iran has thumbed its nose at the world about its nuclear program.
Now we're hearing that possibly Russia may be selling some S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran and that possibly Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a secret trip there to try to prevent that sale.
Bill, are we getting closer to a point of no return when it comes to Israel and Iran?
KRISTOL: I think we're getting closer to the Obama administration having to decide, are they serious about stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons?
I mean, Iran gave this contemptuous response to our offer to talk about the nuclear program, saying yes, we will talk about global climate change and those sorts of things. And the administration apparently, it's being reported this afternoon, said, OK, fine, we'll talk about that.
The administration has gotten a lot of time from its critics, including people like me, OK, wait until September, let's give them time to play this out. They really are now facing a moment of choice in the next few weeks on whether they will be total patsies for Iran or whether they are going to try to impose really serious sanctions and really threaten the use of force.
BAIER: That's the last word on this panel. Stay with us. Democrats consider going it alone on health care, ACORN under fire again, breaking news about that, and the Coast Guard creates a scare. The Friday lightning round is next.
BAIER: Coast Guard officials say they are not apologizing for a training mission on the Potomac River not far from where I'm standing today.
It was reported today by a number of media outlets that shots were fired, and that set everyone off. In fact, Reagan National Airport stopped flights for awhile.
What about this? And it turned out to be nothing. It was just a training exercise and shots were not fired. We're back with the panel.
Nina, the timing of this?
EASTON: Well, I think this is a 24-hour news story. It's going to go away. It is nothing, like you said. If I am going to talk about the war on terror today on September 11th, I'm going to worry a couple of mile from that in Langley, Virginia, where this administration has undermined and is continuing to undermine the capabilities of the CIA.
Intelligence breakdowns were what led to 9/11 and this administration, by appointing a special prosecutor, by trying to criminalize the national security policies by the past administration, I think is doing damage to the safety of the country.
KRAUTHAMMER: I agree. I think this administration has adopted a September 10th mentality that all of this since 9/11, including 9/11, is a matter of law enforcement and not of war.
I would just say about this little incident that in the roughly half a trillion we spend on defense every year, we ought to include a few calendars for the Coast Guard.
BAIER: Bill, it was a timing issue.
KRISTOL: It was. On the other hand, the media made up the fact that they had shots and now the media is criticizing the Coast Guard about a training exercise about which the media misreported. So maybe the media is little more at fault than the Coast Guard.
BAIER: To be fair, they heard it over a scanner. It was a practice, apparently, on the radio. But still, media organizations went with it and it absorbed a lot of the day.
Another story we have been following, ACORN. These undercover videos have shown some ACORN members giving amazing advice, very interesting advice, to folks about setting up prostitution rings and brothels for underage girls.
Well, now two people were fired in Baltimore. Today, two more employees were fired in Washington, D.C. And now the U.S. Census Bureau is cutting all ties with ACORN.
Bill, what do you think about that?
KRISTOL: I think Glenn Beck gets results. He is doing the vetting that the administration might do on its own grantees and on its own employees. And so it is like private sector vetting here of the use of taxpayer money. It's very useful.
EASTON: I like the suggestions by the ACORN staff that the law seems to be something that you might want to follow or might not.
I would love to see an investigation of ACORN in its role in the housing crisis, because they were very instrumental — and by the way, ACORN receives government grants — they were very instrumental in counseling people who couldn't afford homes and how to get homes without down payments and how to get aid to even pay for their fees to get into these houses.
BAIER: Charles, quickly, are we a few undercover videos away for a staffing issue for ACORN?
KRAUTHAMMER: ACORN has all of the appearance of a racket. This is not the first piece of evidence.
I think what is worrisome — it is good that the census is cutting its ties. What is worrisome, if you look at the stimulus package, there are all kinds of loopholes which could funnel millions of dollars into ACORN, and that ought to be looked at, audited, and stopped.
BAIER: All right, real lightning here: Health care reform — Democrats threatening again about reconciliation, the nuclear option. Do they use it, Charles, Nina, Bill?
KRAUTHAMMER: I think so, they will. The president's speech was hyper-partisan. He made it clear he's going it alone. He showed no respect for the opposition or for any people who have raised objections.
It looks as if he is going to want to reform a sixth of the U.S. economy on a straight party-line vote.
EASTON: Well, if he does, I will just say that this is going to be a boon to Republicans next year, because the sort of disdain he showed, for example, for the town halls, where he called it political bickering, I think, only further angered people.
And I think Charlie Cook, the non-partisan political analyst, has already said the Democrats are on a slide going into next year's midterm elections. I think this is going to hurt them.
KRISTOL: I think they will try to jam it through on a partisan vote in the House and with reconciliation in the Senate. But I'm not convinced they can get 218 Democrats in the House or 51 Democrats in the Senate.
The bill does provide federal funding for abortion. That is a showstopper for a certain number of Democrats — 38 or 39. There are other issues where I just wonder if they can even get the Democrats to push it through.
BAIER: Thank you, panel, for playing the Hollywood squares tonight.
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