This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from March 29, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If I thought for a minute that America's vital interest were not served, were not at stake here in Afghanistan, I would order all of you home right away.
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: The general notion that Afghanistan in 2010 could be twice as deadly as it was in 2009 is not unreasonable. We could lose 500 or 600 people this year. We lost 300 last year. We have lost about a thousand overall, as most people know. And in the worst of the Iraq wars, we were losing about 800 people a year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, "SPECIAL REPORT" HOST: President Obama making a surprise visit to Afghanistan, visiting with the troops there, thanking them for their service, also delivering a message to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
In the meantime, as you heard there, the stats are going up — 79 combat-related deaths so far this year, double the total from this time last year. The number of U.S. wounded rose from 85 in the first two months of last year to 381 this year. That is the backdrop in which this visit took place. Let's bring in our panel about Afghanistan, Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Fred, first the visit and the overall situation in Afghanistan.
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I think the situation is better in Afghanistan. Otherwise, the president might not have gone. I'm glad he did go.
He gave a great speech, I think one of the best speeches of his presidency, and certainly an expression of his — not only America's, but his own personal commitment to winning the war in Afghanistan.
And he used what I counted up, the d's, the five d's he said we will — I wrote them down here — "disrupt, dismantle, defeat, destroy, and deny" Al Qaeda any sanctuaries, any safe havens, five d's. It was very strong language.
But you know what got the biggest cheer when he spoke to the soldiers and others, but mainly I think it was 2,500 of our troops over there, when he said we will persevere. America doesn't quit. You don't quit. We don't quit. We're not going to. We will — he never uses the word "victory," but we will finish the job. It was a terrific speech and a very strong commitment.
On casualties, on combat deaths, look, when you have so many more troops in combat, you will have more of them killed. And, you know, there are tens of thousands more in combat which are there because that's what — that's how process go being made.
BAIER: Juan, he also described what was a stern message to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: He has got to stop the corruption. I think the corruption works against U.S. interest because it makes it harder for the Afghan people to trust not only in the Afghan government but by extension in U.S. forces that are moving.
And remember, the key to so much of the military strategy now is winning the hearts and minds, winning the confidence of the Afghan people, that the United States is going to be there and there is going to be a legitimate government in Afghanistan to conduct local domestic affairs.
I would add one thing to what Fred said, which is the United States has had success, first in Helmand province and I think that's a tremendous sign of success, what's happened there, even though we have seen the spike in deaths but, as Fred said, we have more people on the ground and we are really making — having incursions against the Taliban.
But the second thing is that we are getting ready to go into Kandahar, to Kandahar city. And we're telling the Taliban we are coming. So there is going to be another major fight. So I think this was a critical moment for the president to reaffirm that this is a mission that he is thoroughly committed to.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think this was a statement on his part. Afghanistan is arguably the single most important foreign interest we have. It overshadows the Middle East. It overshadows the arms agreement we had with the Russians, overshadows almost everything that's an act of war. We have high casualties.
And I think the president is saying that he has been distracted, if you will, for the last year by health care. He was not — he was a domestic president. He still is, of course, but he wanted to pivot out of his triumph on health care to show Afghanistan it is number one. I think that's very important.
And I am encouraged by the words he used in his speech. Nonetheless, he repeated the idea that starting the summer of next year, July or August, we're going to start withdrawing.
Now, I understand his intent, but when you send that message, you have got to ask yourself, the people in Kandahar, people in the peasantry in Afghanistan. They know we are coming in June. We're giving them advance warning as a way of saying if you have been hedging your bets, the Americans are coming, you better help us give us information. You will be on the right side.
But if they hear Americans are going to be leaving or begin leaving in a little over a year, they are going to have second thoughts.
The key here is can the Afghans when we take Kandahar, which we will this summer, can they stay behind? The idea is clear-and-hold. We can do the clearing. They have to do the holding.
And it's really an open question whether the Karzai government has the authority and, if you like, the cleanliness to run this country. We're going to be seeing the number one test of that right there in Kandahar.
BAIER: Fred, just coming across now, President Obama in an interview with NBC talking about his meeting with Hamid Karzai says this, "I think he is listening, but I think that the process is too slow. We have been trying to emphasize the fierce urgency of now."
BARNES: Well, there is a cliche for you, but I don't think that helped much.
Karzai, look, the most important thing is to win militarily to secure cities, to make the Afghan people safe, and then — and then there will be a possibility of solving the political problem.
But you have to have military success first, and obviously Karzai can help on that by ending some of the corruption, and so on. But the main thing is the military success. Without that, nothing else works.
BAIER: And Juan, did this speech this weekend push back some the critics on the left for — the Dennis Kuciniches of the world who have called for complete withdrawal from Afghanistan? There are others.
WILLIAMS: They are not pushed back. There are people that just don't believe that the United States should be at war and shouldn't have sent additional forces into Afghanistan. This has marked a real departure from the Obama administration from the left.
And it's a grounds on which, you know, in the aftermath of what's going on in Iraq is just, you know, war is not a popular thing. But if you look at the polls right now, most Americans support what the president is doing on Afghanistan.
I don't think that those polls necessarily reflect the hard left. The hard left remains antiwar in this country.
And that's why I think it's part of his equation was to say we still intend to return sovereignty to the Afghan people. We're not here as an occupier, to speak to Charles' point.
And, secondly, I think it's really important to the — for domestic politics for the left in this country, but for everyone, to say you know what, we have a horizon. Here is our goal. We intend to achieve and it be able to leave. We are not there indefinitely.
BAIER: You talked about the polls. Really quickly, "The Washington Post" has a new poll out about approval, disapproval of the way the president is handling Afghanistan — 53 percent approve, 35 percent disapprove.
Go ahead, Charles.
KRAUTHAMMER: That's in part because of our success up until now. It's because we haven't had quite the wave of casualties that we had in Iraq, also because we haven't seen a downward spiral.
But let me just add one point here, the idea that we are occupiers in Afghanistan. There is not a sentient person on earth who thinks America wants to occupy Afghanistan. There is nothing in Afghanistan. There is nothing anybody would want, and we don't.
Everybody understands it's a defensive operation. It's a way to protect ourselves against jihadists. So the idea of America heavy-handedly walking in and planting the flag I think is not an issue we need to worry about.
BARNES: Can I say something really quickly? What President Obama was emphasizing was winning, persevering, not quitting. He wasn't emphasizing when we are going to depart.
BAIER: Go to our home page at FOXnews.com/Special Report to tell us where you think the president's trip was the most significant story of the weekend. There are others there. We will talk about another of the nominees in the online poll, the president's recess appointment, in three minutes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: We have had in a number of instances there were filibusters to hold up appointments for weeks, and then when they finally were broken, a majority of Democrats and Republicans ended up voting for the nominees. It was just an exercise in obstructionism. That's not good for the country. It's certainly not fair play.
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER, R-TENN.: He said — even though 41 senators said no, and some Democrats said no, I'm going to put this guy in the into the national labor relations board who has indicated in his writings that he believes by federal regulation you can abolish the secret ballot in union elections, which is one of the major issues before the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: President Obama this weekend filled 15 administration posts using what's called a "recess appointment." In other words, Congress goes on recess, the president makes the appointment without Congress' approval. Most of them were not controversial, but one guy, Craig Becker, he has been put on the national labor relations board. He's a union lawyer. He was general counsel for the SEIU and also for the AFL-CIO. So fierce opposition from Republicans and there's a lot of talk about this. We're back with the panel. Charles?
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I would like to get into high-dudgeon over all of this, but all I can muster is low-dudgeon, because the Republicans and Democrats when in office use. President Bush used it to appoint our ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, and he served there for over a year on a recess appointment.
Here, I will admit that doing 15 recess appointments on a Saturday is slightly excessive. But the one that — I mean, the one that really I think is offensive in the group is the one that you mention. And the reason is this guy Becker is essentially an agent, an advocate of the unions in what is the NLRB quasi-judicial body.
So it's like having a prosecutor on the jury. You really ought not do that. He's a guy who is very extreme in his opinions. Card check, which the unions have wanted and which the Congress will not approve, is the way to abolish the secret ballot in union elections. The unions want it. The country does not.
And if the administration attempts to implement it by executive order, you know that with this guy on the NLRB it will get at least his approval. So I think that's why people are objecting.
It goes with the high handedness of this administration overriding the popular will, if you wish, and is expressed in three elections, expressed in public opinion, in implementing health care in a reluctant House and Senate, using all kinds of maneuvers. It's in the same vein.
But the president is feeling he is king of the world, and that's why he did it.
BAIER: Juan, understanding that President Bush made roughly the same number of appointments at this time in his presidency, does this appointment of Craig Becker poison the political well, as Charles suggests, further?
WILLIAMS: I think it does. I don't think there is any question. You don't have to be anti-union to look at Craig Becker's credentials and say this is someone who is in the pockets of America's unions. He is there literally as an advocate for unions on the National Labor Relations Board. That doesn't make sense.
They are arbitration group. That's their job is to look at disputes and come to some recommendation about what is fair. I don't think Becker is a fair hand here.
But now, let's put my objections aside. I know the White House position on this is that the NLRB for years now under the Republican administrations has been in the business of undermining unions, that they are strongly antiunion.
So the way the White House interprets this is we are trying to return some balance to the NLRB. They could not make the case before the Senate because Becker could not get approved. I think that's telling. But that's their position. I understand it. I just happen to on personal basis disagree with it.
BARNES: They could have easily not let this nomination Becker and picked somebody else, maybe the second favorite candidate by the labor movement. And that person would be someone who wouldn't unite all 41 Republicans in the Senate against him. But, President Obama passed that up.
I this think this again shows something that will happen for the rest of the year, and that is Obama is going to go for broke. He will try to get every liberal he possibly can appointed to boards and courts and everything else and seek to shove through every piece of liberal legislation this year, whether it's cap and trade or financial reform or whatever, card check.
BAIER: Do you think card check has a shot?
BARNES: I think they're going to try to do it, because they know one thing, and President Obama knows this very well. After November, they're not going to have these large majorities in both the House and the Senate.
And so, look, he doesn't run again until 2012. After this election, then he can become more moderate and can he become bipartisan and make himself more electable in 2012, sort of what Bill Clinton did, and it worked well for Clinton and it obviously could work for Barack Obama too.
But this year between now and November I think Obama is going to try to — this is going to be rampant liberalism.
BAIER: Is that the blueprint?
WILLIAMS: One more point for the White House here, which is they are angry at the idea that their nominees get blocked by Republicans, and to their mind, you just heard from Axelrod it's pure obstructionism. And the particular concern was about two appointments to treasury, that Geithner never got his team in place in the midst of all the economic turmoil.
KRAUTHAMMER: That happened over and over again in the Bush years. One thing I would say is in arguing to Democrats to push the entire liberal agenda in the rest of this year, the president can always argue, look, your seat is lost anyway on account of health care, so you might as well support me on x, y, and z.
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