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'Special Report' Panel on President Obama's Relationship with General McChrystal

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from October 2, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, U.S. FORCES AFGHANISTAN COMMANDER: You have to navigate from where you are, not from where you wish you were. A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a shortsighted strategy.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It's OK with the administration for General McChrystal to go on "60 Minutes." It's OK for him to give a speech at the Institute for Strategic studies in London, but the administration does not want General McChrystal and General Petraeus before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

How does that work?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, HOST: Well, Senator McCain and others up on Capitol Hill are upset that General McChrystal hasn't briefed them yet. As you saw him there in London Thursday talking about the strategy in Afghanistan.

Today he met with the president aboard Air Force One before the president left Copenhagen. They met for about 30 minutes. As you see these pictures here, talking obviously about the strategy as these meetings continue, and decisions are looming.

Let's bring in our panel. Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard. We welcome Chris Cillizza, White House reporter for the Washigton Post. And syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Steve, you see the pictures of the president meeting with General McChrystal today. What about this back and forth and McChrystal speaking out?

STEVE HAYES, WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes. Well, I think the first thing to say that it's always good when the commander in the field has private one-on-one time with the president, so it's a good thing that that happened. My gripe with it is that it was 25 minutes. I mean is 25 minutes is about what it takes a really, really picky male to have a haircut. That's just not enough time.

BAIER: Where do you get your haircuts?

HAYES: Well, I'm not that picky. It takes me only 10 minutes. It takes me 10.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You haven't met John Edwards.

(LAUGHTER)

HAYES: He takes about an hour, I think. Look, you need to spend more than 25 minutes with your leading general. And I think this came on the back of a meeting that they had yesterday at the White House.

And the other, I think, rather interesting development today was a piece in The Washington Post in which The Post reporters discussed with people who were in the meeting what was said there, and these people, these senior administration officials, I think, went to great lengths to try to discredit General McChrystal and the strategy that he's laid out.

Really an unprecedented, I would say, attack on the guy who is leading the charge in Afghanistan right now.

BAIER: Chris, there is a rift that seems to be developing here and it's pretty public.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTON POST: That's what I was just going to say that struck me. If you look at the campaign, and to be honest, the campaign is mostly what we can judge President Obama on. He did not have -- you know, as he should, Senator McCain did not have decades of how he would approach these issues.

The campaign was instructive. The campaign was famously known for not engaging in these detailed debates in public. They kept them private. They made decisions. It was not like the McCain campaign. It was not like the Clinton campaign in which you saw public discussion of private events.

This is a very public rift between sort of the Joe Biden camp of we need more narrow, targeted strikes and the McChrystal we need more troops. And as Steve pointed out, when you have administration aides on background going back and forth going at the person that the Obama administration put in charge of the Afghan operation.

This is not someone who is hefted upon them. He was put in charge by the Obama administration. It's a striking difference from the way in which the campaign was very effectively run.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It's beyond style. It's also a question of we are looking at a crisis of military and civilian relations. McChrystal was in London. He was asked a question specifically about a plan that is almost identical to what the Biden proposal is, and he said, as we saw in that clip, do you think it will work? No. Will you support it? No.

Now that is really near the edge of pressure on the White House. Now, McChrystal may or may not have had a hand in the leak of the original report, but what he said now today is a challenge.

Now, Newsweek reports that he has said that if he is given a different strategy, he will not resign. I'm not sure I believe that. I understand why he would say it, if he were to say otherwise today, it would look like a threat and a kind of a blackmail, but I cannot imagine that if his plan is rejected and if he is given to proceed on a plan which he has said now in public in London cannot succeed, how, in good honor, he could send his troops into battle with a plan saying and knowing it would fail.

I think he would resign, and that would be a crisis for the Obama administration.

BAIER: Steve, in London, he also was asked what about speaking out as much as he has, and so forthrightly and openly about all of this in public, and he said, "I haven't been told differently, but sometime I might get crushed later."

Joking, but it is pretty remarkable for a general to have not briefed even behind closed doors the Senate Armed Services Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and to be on "60 Minutes" and in some foreign policy center in London.

HAYES: Absolutely. And I think the right answer if you're the Obama administration or if you're the White House and you're frustrated with what he is saying and the fact that he's been out saying is telling him not to say it anymore. Ask him to step back.

The incorrect response is to leak, to trash him on the front page of The Washington Post, or to otherwise take shots at him.

Now I think Charles is exactly right about whether he would resign. I think it's entirely likely that he would not stay and preside over a war that he thinks or knows will fail, and I've talked to people who are close to him and have worked with him in the past and they said under no circumstances would he stay and preside over a failed war with his troops in the way.

BAIER: Well, Chris, what about this decision, and politically, can President Obama deal with the political shock of a general resigning if it doesn't go his way?

CILLIZZA: It would be difficult, and I say it would be difficult because the president is dealing with, in some ways, a similarity on the domestic front as on the international front. This isn't simply a Republicans versus Democrats issue.

I've give you an example, healthcare. A lot of Democrats say we will not vote for a bill that doesn't have the public option. The president has been more cagey about it saying he supports it, but it's not a be all, end all.

Well, in Afghanistan, you have many Democrats certainly in the House who are very wary of further troop commitment, so that's I think the difficulty from a political perspective. This is a president that was elected with 365 electoral votes, the biggest support in the upper echelon of the Democratic base we've seen in a very long time in politics, but that base is not behind him 100 percent on either of those issues and that makes it tough because there's not an obvious political right answer.

BAIER: Charles, last point.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think the level of crisis would depend on what Petraeus does. If he resigns, then you really have a crisis of MacArthur proportions.

BAIER: That is it for this panel. But up next, the lightning round, and guess what, Olympics is the lead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I urge you to choose Chicago. I urge you to choose America, and if you do, if we walk this path together, then I promise you this. The city of Chicago and the United States of America will make the world proud.

JACQUES ROGGE, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE PRESIDENT: The city of Chicago, having obtained the least number of votes, will not participate in the next round.

OBAMA: One of the things that I think is most valuable about sports is that you can play a great game and still not win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Well, Chicago got 18 of 94 votes on the first ballot in the International Olympic Committee decision about the 2016 Olympics. It eventually went to Rio de Janeiro which there is a celebration down there but what about the impact on the president and going over there to make that pitch?

This is the first element of the lightning round. Charles.

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, he used sports analogy. Let's do a tally. He goes abroad, he denigrades America over and over again, he apologized for everything from Hiroshima to everything that the Bush administration ever did, as a way to rebrand America, ingratiate himself and restore our leadership and what does he get? Rio.

BAIER: Blame it on Rio.

KRAUTHAMMER: Brush up on your Portuguese.

BAIER: Chris.

CILLIZZA: My wife is the head hockey coach at Catholic University. We lost yesterday 3-2. We played better than the other team, but one thing that I have learned, there are no moral victories. There are victories and there are defeats. And that speech, when the president landed back from Copenhagen was, "We gave it the old college try and we did the best we can."

When we write the history, there's a win and there is a loss. And that's just the simple facts of how politics is played.

BAIER: Steve.

HAYES: I was rather struck by the actual substance of the speeches that Michelle Obama and Barack Obama gave. They were so focused on themselves, which I thought was one thing that might have been very off-putting to the judges. You're there to sell America, and in fact, and we've seen this movie before, he was saying buy America because you like me. It didn't work.

BAIER: Did -- this is an unorthodox lightning round, but did the staff make a mistake by not adding the headcount up properly that they would at least be in the final two?

KRAUTHAMMER: It was almost unimaginable that a president would actually go abroad if he didn't have it wired. And look, this was the perfect audience for him, a collection of global Euro trash who love all this anti-American stuff, and it didn't even work on them.

BAIER: Whoo. OK. Chris, you want to follow that?

CILLIZZA: Well, I'm not going to say global Euro trash, but we get it, Charles. I do think that what you saw was the exact reason why politicians, especially presidents, don't go into things typically where the outcome is not pre-ordained because things like this happen.

You know people always complain about the conventions. There is no excitement anymore in national conventions. It's because when the president goes abroad.

BAIER: When it goes up like this.

CILLIZZA: . and they go from being the winner or the frontrunner or second place to fourth, that's bad.

BAIER: Last word.

HAYES: And real quickly, Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod both mentioned specifically the politics of the International Olympic Committee upon return or on their way back. That's a bad idea. I mean talk about looking like sour grapes, you talk about the political process, it's too political?

BAIER: Congratulations to Rio.

The economy. 263,000 Americans lost jobs in September. The unemployment rate now is 9.8 percent. 26-year high. The vice president was out saying the stimulus package is working. Steve.

HAYES: Well, I'm not sure you send the vice president out to make that argument. It's not going to be effective. What matters -- it matters now to the people who are unemployed, obviously. What matters politically is what the unemployment numbers look like at the end of next spring and next summer.

If they turn around, I think he can be -- he won't be harmed by this in the way that Republicans think he will be now.

CILLIZZA: Let me piggyback on Steve's point. It was incongruous to have the vice president out there. I understand why they did it, the president was in the air, et cetera, et cetera.

The problem is, the vice president has been lead cheerleader number one for the economic stimulus package. He's gone all around the country talking about all the jobs it's creating, how great this is doing, how great the economy is doing. It makes him a more difficult messenger as a result to say look, it's not a straight line. It's going to be tough, it's this, that, and the other thing. It's complicated.

KRAUTHAMMER: When the numbers are that bad, and they're jumping and they're throwing, and the number of newly unemployed rises, I don't think it's good salesmanship to actually speak about the stimulus package.

People already know it was a boondoggle and had almost no effect. They ought to wait until the numbers are reversed next year if that happens. Speaking about stimulus. It's not very smart to bring it up when all the numbers are going the other way.

BAIER: A quick bring-your-own-comment down the row here. Charles.

KRAUTHAMMER: The Polanski affair, a guy who's on the lam for 30 years, a child rapist, a director, arrested in Switzerland, and the most amazing story here is the outpouring of support for him from Hollywood bigwigs to directors and others.

If anybody ever wanted to examine the gap between normal, decent America and Hollywood, it's a chasm.

BAIER: Chris.

CILLIZZA: I'll pick a different affair. John Ensign on the front page of The New York Times today. "A lesson in Politics," which is if there are things that might come out, they will come out and try and get out in front of them. John Ensign admitted an affair.

BAIER: The senator from Nevada.

CILLIZZA: He later was forced to say his parents had paid $96,000. It wasn't called hush money but to this family. Now a report comes out that he had sought to arrange a job for his former chief of staff, the man whose wife he was having an affair with without telling the people he was arranging that the affair was ongoing.

BAIER: Steve.

HAYES: Speaking of tawdry behavior and betrayal, Brett Favre will be playing on Monday night, wearing a Minnesota Vikings uniform. It is appalling and it is I think the worst possible outcome of his two-year long betrayal of the Green Bay Packers' fans, peppered with lies, peppered with misstatements, and now he's going to be playing for the enemy.

BAIER: Ah yes.

KRAUTHAMMER: Worse than Roman Polanski.

(LAUGHTER)

HAYES: He might be if you're a Packer fan. If you grew up in Wauwatosa, he might be worse.

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