This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from December 25, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
BRET BAIER, "SPECIAL REPORT" HOST: A Christmas special with Steve Hayes, Charles Krauthammer, Mara Liasson, and retired Major General Robert Scales. 'Special Report" starts right now.
Welcome to Washington and Merry Christmas. I'm Bret Baier.
Our first topic, Afghanistan. Thirty thousand additional U.S. forces will head there over the next several months. It's a big investment for the U.S. military and a big political gamble for President Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And as commander-in-chief I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.
ADM MIKE MULLEN, JOUNT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We clearly are not winning right now. In a counterinsurgency, you're either winning or you're losing. There's no middle ground here.
GEN STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, US/NATO AFGHANISTAN CMDR: This is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. I think it's the end of the beginning and I think everything changes right now.
OBAMA: Starting in July, 2011, we will begin that transition, that transfer of responsibility.
MCCHRYSTAL: The mission in Afghanistan is undeniably difficult and success will require steadfast commitment and incur significant costs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: I am joined tonight by a special group of panelists, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, and retired Major General Robert Scales, Fox News military analyst.
First of all, Merry Christmas to everybody. General, let's start with you. Militarily Afghanistan, how it's laying out, how the strategy will unfold in the next weeks and months.
MAJ GEN ROBERT SCALES (RET), FOX NEWS MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, this is a very, very tough hill to climb, Bret. Right now, things are quiet because it's wintertime but come April, we're going to see a resurgence of the Taliban and a quest for control of the war. This is called gaining the tactical advantage, and right now, the enemy owns it.
And what the soldiers are concerned about are several things. First of all, this idea of will, do the American people have the will to see this through? Second is the issue of the Taliban. Will they continue to be strong? Third is the concern about the ability of the U.S. forces to sustain this over the long hall.
That's the 800-pound gorilla, because the first surge was between the first and second tours for units in Iraq. This will be between the fifth and sixth for some units and some special forces units are into double digits. This is a long, hard slog. It's not going to be done overnight.
BAIER: Charles, we talked many times an American public that is war weary. You also, as the general mentioned, have a U.S. military that has been through tour and tour and tour. What about this strategy and how it's going to unfold?
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, when you add on to that the tentative tone of the president when he announced the surge, we heard him say this is a vital national interest and then immediately he says in 18 months we start leaving or we start to — he calls it a transfer. If it's a vital national interest, you shouldn't have an exit date because that means the country — its security ultimately hinges on this, and it's an odd — it's an odd conjunction of two ideas.
The president, in the end, gave the generals, Petraeus and McChrystal, the policy they wanted, slightly fewer number of troops but he's getting a contingent from the Europeans so it's almost about 40,00 if you put them together. They're getting them on a slightly delayed timetable. He's speeding it up, but he took three months so they are not going to be really in place until — all in place until late next year at which point he's going to be reconsidering the policy in December of 2010.
Nonetheless, if McChrystal and Petraeus, who are the world's expert on this, Petraeus having succeeded with the surge in Iraq and McChrystal having run the special ops in Iraq for four years, if they think that this can work, meaning you can reverse the momentum of the war, you can create a space in which you can build the Afghan army, I think you have to give them deference. But I worry about the uncertain trumpet in the president's speech and the policy because, as the general tells us, war depends on will, and that's what the enemy will be looking at.
BAIER: And, Mara, there isn't a lot of will on the left in the president's own party.
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: That's true. This was a policy that was disappointing to many members of his own party. I think right now he's finding more support among Republicans for the surge in Afghanistan, although it is interesting that the polls taken right after his West Point and Nobel speeches showed a pretty big uptick in support for the war. The country is war weary, but they were willing to support this policy.
Now, there is sort of a typical rallying effect that the commander-in-chief sends troops somewhere and people rally to him, and I don't know if that will hold over if we start taking big casualties but I think he has more support than he did for this.
Now in terms of the left, Nancy Pelosi has been pretty honest about saying you're on your own, pal, to the president on this one. You know, you're going to have to whip your own votes in the House. I'm not going to really try to help you, but I think in the end, the Democrats will not deny the president the funding he needs to do this.
STEVE HAYES, WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes. I think that's right. I think — I knew you're one of the few people who believe this. I think this actually could be a political winner for the president if he takes the time and makes the effort to make a sustained case about why we're there, precisely what we're doing, and let some of his uniformed military make that case on his behalf to rally the country so that we have the kind of will that I think is necessary to win. I think he actually could. What concerns me, though, is that you have, I think, still several weeks after his announcement of the policy, mixed messages coming from the administration.
Just two weeks ago, Joe Biden, vice president, was opposed to the policy. He said that this is not a counterinsurgency strategy. And that's a rather stunning thing to say after the kinds of announcements that the president made, the things we've heard from Petraeus and McChrystal. You have to get your team all on one page if you're going to win a war. You can't have that kind of mix messages or it undermines what we're trying to accomplish.
BAIER: To that point, general, from a military's perspective, if you get messages that perhaps are a little mixed from the top, from the White House, and you saw Admiral Mullen talking to the troops, you saw General McChrystal talking to them, it's a little more difficult to tell them what they're doing, right?
SCALES: Well, there are several audiences at play here. Obviously, the troops are affected because the troops want to win. One of the reasons why the morale has held up so well in Afghanistan is the troops believe they're on the winning team. The real focus of will is not the American troops but the Taliban because they react to mixed messages far more positively from their perspective than the American forces do. And then the other one, of course, are the Afghans and Pakistanis, seeing vacillation, seeing uncertainty, their whole purpose is to join the winning side, and if they see that the Americans are not resolute in this, then the future is uncertain.
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