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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Violence in Iraq

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from October 1, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIG. GEN. MARK GURGANUS, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCES WEST: We think that the surge forces absolutely was the catalyst for this, because it just allowed us to be in some places that we had not been able to be with a permanent presence. And that is exactly what it takes to reduce the levels of incidents of violence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: So what was this that the surge was a catalyst for?

Let's look at these numbers. These are U.S. deaths in Iraq over the past several months. As you can see in June, 101, on a jagged line declining to 64 in September. That was the lowest in a year. So progress, presumably there.

And let's look at civilian Iraqi deaths, which is a huge number — 1,773 in August, cut in half-basically, in September.

Something clearly seems to be happening. Let's try to find out what from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of Roll Call, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all — Fred?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Obviously the surge is working. Those numbers show that.

Those numbers, which I would mention, by the way, at least the editions of The New York Times and Washington Post that were delivered to my house this morning, they were not mentioned. They did not mention these very important numbers from the surge, which has turned the corner.

We know the Sunnis are joining forces with the Iraqi government and U.S. forces. The Sunnis, now, they were the ones who were the source of the support of the insurgency. In greater numbers, not just in Anbar, but all around Baghdad and in Baghdad, they are joining the Iraqi army, the Iraqi police force, helping U.S forces.

We know Al Qaeda is clearly fading. They announced this big Ramadan surge of their own, and they did have one successful bombing where they killed 24 Sunnis and Shias at a reconciliation meeting.

As I say, the mainstream press does not report a lot of this. You do see it — the success there, though, is reflected back here politically, and you see Democrats in the House this week are going to have votes on three utterly toothless resolutions.

And there was a dumb one in the Senate last week about dividing up Iraq that the Iraqis didn't like.

HUME: It passed.

BARNES: Yes, it passed. You have a lot of Republicans voting for it. And the Iraqis, Sunnis, Shia, and all of them complaining about it, they didn't like it.

Here is what I am waiting for now — I know Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will never say he was wrong when he said Iraq was lost. But I hope someday soon he will say he misspoke.

MORT KONDRAKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: This is key, these U.S. casualty numbers are key. If they keep going down, we can get them down into lower numbers even than this, then Bush has got as much running room as he needs.

I think he has got a lot running room anyway. The Democrats are not going to really try to impose any kind of a significant drawdown of troops or a cut off in funding for the foreseeable future. I do not even think in March they're liable to do it.

But if the U.S. casualty rates keep going down, and if you get some progress towards political reconciliation there that could offer the possibility of long-term success, then I think this thing has really turned around. I think it is quite remarkable. But we still need to see the reconciliation.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: We need to see beyond one month — one month is excellent news, the September numbers. It could be a fluke.

HUME: One big bombing could balloon it next month.

KRAUTHAMMER: Exactly. But this is important — if, and only if, it begins a trend. If we have a new plateau — in other words that we have lowered the level of violence over a number of months, and that there is actually a trend of continuing in the decrease in the number of deaths, then something important has happened.

What is remarkable about the September number is that it occurs at a time when we have more troops out there on the ground, so, statistically, more chances of higher casualties. And, also, our troops, unlike in the old strategy, where they were in large basis, under the Petraeus strategy are out there on the street exposed.

So if you get more exposure and more numbers of troops, but fewer deaths —

HUME: You would expect, wouldn't you, that if you were going to be more aggressive in sending the troops into harms way, as you suggest, that the casualties would go up, and then that would not necessarily be an indicator of failure.

KRAUTHAMMER: Exactly. And that is what happened in the early months of the surge. We had high numbers in July, high numbers in August, which you would expect.

What you would not have expected is the drop in September, unless you are having success against the enemy, and you are making it hard for the enemy to operate, and there appears to be evidence of that.

Again, one month, but if it continues, it is extremely important.

KONDRAKE: USA Today, which ran this story, unfortunately, on page A16 today, had a graph which showed the number of combat deaths. That was 41 in September, and it was a steady decline from June, when it was something like 183.

So there is marked progress over a period of months. And one hopes that it continues. If it keeps going down at that kind of rate — 41 deaths is tragic, it's horrible, but it is progress, it is definite progress.

BARNES: Numbers will (ph) go down, and it is politically important in Washington, particularly to Republicans, who take that as a measure of success there. The truth is combat deaths may go up as they continue the counterinsurgency. I am surprised they are this low. And if they go up — Brit, you touched on it just a minute ago — if they go up that is not necessarily a mark of lack of success. It could be a part of success.

I hope it does not happen, but —

HUME: Yes. The formulation you do not normally see is fighting more, dying less. Usually you fight more, you are out there more —

KONDRAKE: The other crucial ingredient here is the Iraqis being able to take our place. And there was a marine combat unit that left, I believe, Anbar this month, and the commander said that the Iraqis are not ready to completely take the role that they —

HUME: Let's assume for sake of discussion that the Iraqis do not anytime soon get to the point where they're able to take charge of everything, and that American forces need to be there in a helping and supporting role for a long time.

What would be the political effect of a situation in which a greatly reduced American presence was still need there, but with greatly reduced casualties? Wouldn't Iraq disappear from the front pages?

KONDRAKE: Well, it is disappearing from the front pages because it is being successful right now.

HUME: Because the good news never gets on the front page.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, WEEKLY STANDARD: That's a good point. If it were like South Korea, where we have 35,000 troops, Bosnia, 6,000, Germany, still 60,000, where there are no casualties. As long as the casualties are nonexistent or low, it won't be a political problem.

KRAUTHAMMER: It is all a function of casualties. If we can maintain a presence in Iraq, which is the strategy of the president for after he leaves office, and it will probably happen even under a Democrat, then what we have is success.

What you have is American influence on a large central Arab country with few casualties — that has to be called a success.

HUME: Next up with the panel we will discuss who is winning that mad dash for campaign cash. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FRED THOMPSON, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And the two things we have got to do most at hand is to stay with our principles, the ones that have worked for us not only as a party, but for the benefit of our nation.

And, secondly, nominate someone who is a common sense conservative who can win next November.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: And you will not be surprised to learn that the common sense conservative that Fred Thompson thinks can win in November is Fred Thompson.

And let's take a look at the fund-raising totals for this last quarter because, since no one is voting, we have allowed money numbers to give us an idea of what is going on — that and polls.

As you can see, Mitt Romney led the way with $15 million, and that gets him up to $34 million. Giuliani is second. The overall total — there you can see for the first two quarters, Giuliani and Romney are pretty close.

Fred Thompson, with his first big quarter, $8 million, which is more than his staff had been indicating that he was going to raise, so they lowballed a little, maybe, and John McCain down at $5 million.

And in the combination of the two quarters you can see that Fred Thompson is a little low on money overall, but he is very much in the race at this moment.

And Let's look for a moment at the Democrats fund-raising, and you will see that Hillary Clinton continues to be out raised, although the third quarter totals were a virtual tie, by Barack Obama.

John Edwards well behind, and Bill Richardson coming up a bit, but well behind them.

So what does it mean gentlemen when it comes to this race? Thompson is trying to establish himself. He is out in Iowa, this is a four day swing out there, he does not have much traction in Iowa yet. What happens?

KONDRAKE: What counts is cash on hand, and we do not know what the reports are, how much they have blown through of the money they have raised. And have to begin to really have a treasure trove of money in order to spend on these primaries that are coming up about four months, three months.

So that is the number that counts, and I guess we will know in a week or so.

The other point is that money is not everything. Obama has led all way through on the Democratic side and he is not making it in the polls. It does not necessarily translate into political support.

So wait and see. The other big factor is what is going to happen to the fact that Edwards now has to take public financing. Does that discourage his support in, principally Iowa and also New Hampshire, but principally Iowa? And if so, where do those people go if they are going to decide that Edwards can't make it? Do they go to Hillary or do they go to Obama?

KRAUTHAMMER: A couple of interesting numbers here — Richardson had a pretty good quarter for a second tier candidate, about $5 million, creeping up on Edwards, which shows that if you sell your soul to the devil, he pays you.

HUME: How so?

KRAUTHAMMER: He is the most experienced guy on foreign affairs, and he went way, way out left on Iraq. Where everybody else is cautious, he is for withdrawing tomorrow.

HUME: Everybody, right? Just cut and run?

KRAUTHAMMER: Cut and run, and leave equipment behind so you add to our humiliation. That little detail of leaving equipment behind probably added a couple of million of the far left vote.

So that is how you can raise money, if you want to stand out. He knew that he is in the crowd of second-tier, he had to stand out, so he did it by a becoming the withdrawal candidate, immediate withdrawal.

Also on the other side, you see with Thompson's numbers, his staff, as you said, had lowballed it so he came out slightly up ahead.

You would expect that with hard numbers in fundraising, you would actually have something statistically useful and objective. It is not. It is all subjective depending on how your staff spins numbers and how the observers interpret it.

I saw one interpretation on a blog in the New York Times looking at Obama's 19 million, which is remarkably high, and saying some supporters are worried because it is less than the astronomical sums he had raised in the first and the second quarter.

So there are no objective criteria here. It is all spinning.

BARNES: And I predict that the press will jump on Bill Richardson and give him a huge boost now as a stronger candidate than he really is and exaggerate his strength, the same they did with Mike Huckabee after he finished in the meaningless Iowa straw poll in August.

HUME: He finished second, or something, right?

BARNES: He finished second, and the media is tired of the other candidates, and they like to write about Bill Richardson some, just like they wanted to write about Mike Huckabee.

I would mention this because it backs up something Mort said, that how much you raise does not indicate necessarily how well you will do. At the end of October, 2003, among the Democrats in that quarter, Howard Dean raised $12 million. He was $5 million ahead of the next closest candidate, who was John Kerry.

And what this tells you is that no matter how much money you have, if you blunder, you're going to fade as a candidate, and no amount of money can save you. That is what happened in his case.

HUME: So that raises the question of how many people think that the discipline and, some would argue, even colorless campaign that Hillary Clinton has run will allow her to stay in the lead and avoid blunders and, thereby, win the nomination? Or at least avoid an early pratfall?

KONDRAKE: She has got to perform. She cannot just play it safe the whole way. She has got to say things that distinguish her, and she has. But she has to keep doing it, and she can't just sit on her lead.

HUME: We'll see about that.

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