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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Obama's Timetable for Withdrawal From Iraq and Congressional Heat on Energy Prices

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from July 15, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator McCain has argued that t he gains of the surge mean that I should change my commitment to end the war.

But this argument misconstrues what is necessary to succeed in Iraq, and stubbornly ignores the facts of the broader strategic picture that we face.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Obama is departing soon on a trip abroad that will include a fact finding mission to Iraq and Afghanistan. And I note that he is speaking today about his plans for Iraq and Afghanistan before he has even left, before he has talked to General Petraeus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: Indeed, Barack Obama said today that we must withdraw from Iraq, as he plans to do and has always planned to do, on a 16-month timetable, and the reason for that, in part, is to move troops into Afghanistan, a war he says we must win.

Some thoughts on all this now from Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of Roll Call, Nina Easton, Washington Bureau Chief of Fortune magazine, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Well, Mort, let's look at a couple of polls which have shifted over time in a way you might not expect. This is the Washington Post, support or oppose a timetable for withdrawal — 50 percent say they are for it, 49 percent against.

But a similar poll-would you prefer the next president to do an immediate withdrawal — 43 percent favor that; keep troops without a fixed date, that commands a majority.

So its six of one, half a dozen of the other, but it is an opinion even split in this country about that. This is a debate that appears to be up for grabs.

MORT KONDRAKEM, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: I think that the political climate has shifted on this because of the undeniable reports of success in Iraq. I mean, finally, it has gotten through to the public. The press, I must say, was behind the curve on this, but it's undeniable, so everybody has been reporting that there has been big progress.

I think that McCain will be helped by this argument that he is using. This is something that Americans really understand, that you don't put out your position before you have done your fact finding trip. I mean, that is sort of politics 101, or even kindergarten politics, that you don't come to your conclusion before —

HUME: Why did he see the need to do this now instead of after?

KONDRACKE: Exactly. I think he's stuck in a political position where his base expects him to stick with — Obama's base expects him to stick with the program.

And, remember, he deviated ever so slightly two weeks ago, where he said he might refine his withdrawal schedule, and he had to go out and have another press conference within an hour or so of the first one in order to step it back.

I just think that the base won't stand for wavering on this issue.

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: I think he got spooked by the reaction to that comment about refining his policy. And, frankly, I think it was a big mistake to give this speech before he went, before he goes to Iraq.

Not only does it open him to ridicule from McCain, saying you haven't even been to Afghanistan, you haven't met with General Petraeus, you missed hearings on Afghanistan, but it also boxes him in policy-wise, because here he is saying I want to withdraw from Iraq responsibly. And he uses that term a lot.

But he's going to go to Iraq, and we know from what commanders are saying on the ground already — the commander in charge of Baghdad, for example, saying it is very dangerous, quote, unquote, to impose a timetable. That's the kind of feedback he's going to get.

So when he comes back — he gave this major policy speech today. and when he comes back, it just doesn't leave him a lot of wiggle room to adjust to his policies.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I agree. He came, he saw, and he flinched. I think he thought he had to move to the center on the war because, obviously, the facts on the grounds are changing. As we see in those polls, public opinion is changing as well.

A year, two years ago, you would have never have had even an even split on the issue of withdrawal.

And I think he wanted to move to the center, which is why he made that speech, that remark a couple of weeks ago in which he spoke not only about refining a policy, but saying withdrawal would depend on stability.

"Stability" was the new word. He never used it before, he hasn't used it since. Stability implies I withdraw if Iraq remains stable, i.e. I withdraw only if conditions allow, which is essentially McCain's position.

I'm sure that what happened is he got such a blowback, such reaction from his left, you know, they would say, look, if you want to flip on guns, on telecom immunity, on the flag pin, that's OK, we'll tolerate that, but not on the war. The war is a deal breaker.

I think he got so spooked that he decided he had to tack back, which he did on the same day, and then he really nailed it in this speech.

I think the reason he gave it is to assure the net roots and his left that even if he goes he's not going to use the Iraq trip as an excuse. It was a perfect excuse for a shift, but he is essentially leading out, saying it can't happen and it won't happen.

HUME: All right, long-term-and when I say "long term," I mean fall election — does this help him, long term or not?

KRAUTHAMMER: It hurts him. The swing in public opinion is moving inexorably away from his position, Obama's fixed position. And by the fall, there will be even a stronger majority in favor of being careful.

HUME: What about, though, the way he is framing it now? He is framing it now as getting out of Iraq to finish the job against al-Queda, the original terror stronghold in Afghanistan.

EASTON: See, I wouldn't overstate those polls and the public support. I think Obama, actually, there is some argument to be made that his speech was poll tested, because according to "The Washington Post"/ABC poll, a slim majority of Americans still don't believe that we're making progress in Iraq, and a slim majority believe, yes, Afghanistan is worth fighting, and, of course —

HUME: Mort, do you agree with Charles that it is a mistake, or Nina that it may not be?

KONDRACKE: I think the situation is set up for McCain to profit from all of this, especially if he uses the arguments that Obama made against the surge.

But, the enemy does have a play here. If they blow up something big in Iraq, or they blow up something big of ours in Afghanistan, it could change the dynamics.

HUME: Either way, right.

The president is turning up the heat on Congress on energy prices. We'll talk about that issue next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: They can pass energy legislation. I readily concede that it won't produce a barrel of oil tomorrow, but it is going to change the psychology that demand will constantly outstrip is supply.

NANCY PELOSI, (D) CA, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: This economy needs the president's attention, and he doesn't need to have any diversionary tactics about drilling offshore, which, by his own admission, isn't going to have any effect for many years to come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: so what about that? That's an interesting question Nancy Pelosi raises. The president is talking about drilling off shore. The Democrats are saying, look, it won't do any good for years to come. We need something that addresses our situation now.

Their own proposal is to do something about speculation, which is — I'm not sure there are many economists that would say that will make much difference either. But how is this debate going — Nina?

EASTON: Nothing will happen for years to come. That's the problem with this whole argument. Alternative fuels aren't materializing overnight. The Democratic Senator from Colorado is standing in the way of oil shale production in the west — Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah, where apparently it holds as much oil as the rest of the foreign oil supplies outside the U.S.

So none of this stuff is going to happen. Nuclear power isn't going to come online overnight.

I think what the president was trying to do today was aimed at speculators, which was that you talk — a lot of economists do argue that if you say that there is supply online, and you make it clear that Congress and the president-

HUME: That's it's coming eventually.

EASTON: It's coming eventually, which, by the way, both Congress and this administration, I think, are guilty of not moving fast enough, you know, five, six, seven years ago — if you make that case, then oil prices will drop. And they kicked down today, by the way.

HUME: There was a huge drop, but is it fair to say that the administration is negligent in this in light of the fact that the president has been asking for more drilling since he walked in the door down there, and has gotten nowhere?

EASTON: I don't think — you need to push on all fronts. You need to push on alternative fuels as well, and they haven't done that.

KRAUTHAMMER: As Nina indicated, Democrats complaining that oil will take time is the height of hypocrisy when their proposals are to go into a green world, to use wind and solar, biomass, the grass stuff, which is not only going to take longer but is almost entirely speculative.

The only way you are going to harness wind today to help oil prices is if you rig up sails on top of our cars.

The oil is there. We know how to get it, and it is accessible rather quickly. It would have an effect on the markets, especially on the futures market, if the moratorium on drilling offshore and ANWAR were lifted.

The world would see, and the traders would see that America, with the best oil technology in the world and the safest, is going to unleash itself. And that's going to have a huge effect on the market.

Also, Sanford Bernstein, the investment firm, reports that there are existing oil rigs of the west coast in shallow water, which apparently were idle when the moratorium was imposed, which would produce oil within a year.

And I would suggest also depleting the strategic oil reserve if you had new sources opening in ANWAR. You could get half a million barrels a day, and it would last until oil came online in the Arctic.

HUME: Then what do you say for the day that Israel bombs Iran and oil production and we have a conflagration of some kind in the Middle East, and an emergency —

KRAUTHAMMER: You would still have stuff in that reserve. And by the time it's depleted, oil offshore and ANWAR becomes our strategic reserve.

HUME: Mort?

KONDRACKE: I completely agree with offshore drilling and ANWAR, and all that.

But when the president said I don't want to be a "told you so," but you go back and look at our strategy we have been advocating for years and years — if he had said in 2001, listen, seven years from now we're going to have $4 a gallon gasoline, mark my words, and he made that case a long time ago, it might have worked.

As late as February, somebody asked him about $4 gasoline, and he said he hadn't heard this was a possibility. But he didn't come up with the idea that we're addicted to oil in this country until the 2006 State of the Union.

HUME: But his policy prescriptions have been steady all along — more supply.

KONDRACKE: Yes, but he didn't do anything about alternatives or any of the other-you remember the switch-grass speech. Suddenly he discovered it.

HUME: That's it for the panel.

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