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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Barack Obama's Trip to Afghanistan and Iraq

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from July 21, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The situation is precarious and urge nt here in Afghanistan, and I believe this has to be our central focus, the central front on our battle against terrorism.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And you can't choose to lose a war in Iraq, in my view, in order to win in Afghanistan. Of course we have problems in Afghanistan, and as we succeed in Iraq there will be troops available to go to Afghanistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BIRT HUME, HOST: So you see the debate joined between John McCain and Barack Obama, Obama finding his experience in Afghanistan reinforcing, apparently his view that Afghanistan must be the point of focus and not Iraq, McCain saying you can't lose one to win the other.

Some thoughts on this news from Fred Barnes, the executive editor of The Weekly Standard; Jeff Birnbaum, columnist of The Washington Post, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — FOX News contributors all.

While we have been on the air here, Obama has said in an interview with ABC News that he does not change his view of the surge, that it was wise for him to oppose it. He is not, apparently, disputing that the surge has succeeded militarily.

So what about all of this, what about the trip, Fred?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, there are two things to say about it. One is this business about the surge.

To start with, Barack Obama has acknowledged the gains that have been made there militarily and otherwise, although he said that there needs to be more done politically, which everybody would agree with. But somehow the surge is not the cause of that, and he would vote against it? That just doesn't make any sense.

I think he's going to have trouble if he maintains that position. Obviously, the surge and the counterinsurgency strategy that has been put in place by General Petraeus is the cause of the military gains and, ultimately, the political gains. That's one plus one equals two.

So I don't think he can maintain that, anymore than he can maintain this idea of turning what is basically a Democratic talking point that Afghanistan is more important than Iraq into a piece of high strategic policy. That's crazy.

Look, in the remote Afghanistan, in the mountains of Pakistan, if you could pick a place in the world where you would like to have Al-Qaeda stuck, that's it. And yet he says this is more important than Iraq, a country that is on the verge of becoming a stable Arab democracy in the heart of the Middle East, an oil rich country? That's crazy.

That's the first part. The second part in this trip so far, in making himself look like a world leader, he's done pretty well. It looks good, but what he says is ultimately going to get him into trouble.

JEFF BIRNBAUM, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: I don't know. I think that he has a remarkable convergence here on policy. Prime Minister Maliki appears to be moving in Obama's direction, or Obama in Maliki's direction last week.

Clearly, there are time frames that Maliki and President Bush are coming close to, goals of getting troops out, and Maliki told Der Spiegel, the German magazine, that he likes the idea of 16 months, with some changes, I think is how the translation read.

HUME: Some room for changes.

BIRNBAUM: Some room for changes, that's right.

So I think this was a very special gift to the Obama visit and the Obama campaign. We haven't heard from Maliki himself, even though Obama and Maliki did speak just today, I think.

HUME: Then the Iraqi government was saying today through some spokesman that the year 2010 looked like a reasonable-that's not inconsistent with what Obama said.

BIRNBAUM: Not inconsistent-very close.

HUME: So where does that leave McCain, and where does that leave policy, Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It really hurts McCain and it really helps Obama. This was a stroke of luck or design.

Maliki's playing a really interesting game. He basically cast his vote in favor of Obama. And you have to ask yourself why. I think it's because he thinks that the war strategically is won. The threat to Iraq as a stable state and his government's existence is over. It was in question, in jeopardy two years ago and the surge has worked.

Even though there will be other attacks —

HUME: Isn't it the case, too, Charles, that Maliki has consistently overrated the ability of his military to do things, and it had been an issue between him and the Bush administration in the past? They have had to bring him along.

KRAUTHAMMER: That is true. He overestimates his strength, which I think is an error.

But, look, I'm trying to understand how he looks at it. He thinks he is stronger than perhaps he is, let's just assume that. But he thinks he is going to be in power, and the threats to the existence of his state are essentially over.

So now he is asking who do I want to be on the other side negotiating with me a status of forces agreement, a McCain or an Obama? A McCain who sees an American presence as equivalent of what we have in Japan or Korea or Germany, which means America stay. It uses its influence. It has freedom of action and projects its power by staying in the area, staying in Iraq.

Now, he probably would prefer an America that is not that important, involved, active in his country. And that's what he gets out of Obama.

Obama wants to get out of Iraq as soon as possible. He does not understand as McCain does that there is a great strategic advantage in having an alliance, a relationship with Iraq in which, for example, you might have American air bases deterring Iran, being a listening post, and relieving our need to use our naval assets in the region and using them elsewhere.

So he looks at this in a larger perspective. And Maliki, as an Iraqi nationalist, wants to have a president who wants less. And that's why I think he is endorsing Obama.

BIRNBAUM: I don't think Obama is ruling out some sort of military presence, though much smaller, in Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

BIRNBAUM: But if you have the prime minister of the country defining victory basically, how do you have us defining victory a different way? I think it's a difficult question.

BARNES: I couldn't agree with you more. Maliki has given gift.

But, on the other hand, look at some of the things that Obama is saying. That's what — I was criticizing something completely different from that. Clearly he did, and that's why I say politically and just appearing. And by appearances, Obama has gone away so far.

He was invited in to see Maliki. He sits in the head of state seat right by Maliki where Bush would sit. He's just a candidate.

KRAUTHAMMER: He had a good day.

BARNES: He did.

HUME: Saturday was the carrot, today was the stick, or was it? Secretary Rice is warning the Iranians to get serious about nuclear concessions. We'll talk about carrots and sticks in Iran, and all that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUME: Well, we were going to discuss the goings on with Iran over the weekend, but during the break we decided we ought to talk about two things-one, what Barack Obama said this evening about the surge, and also what The New York Times and John McCain had to do with each other over an article by McCain submitted to The Times.

First, Barack Obama comments. He was asked by ABC News tonight, and I quote from the text of the interview "If you had it to do it over again, knowing what you know now, would you support the surge?" Obama- "No, because keep in mind that question-"

"You wouldn't?"

"Keep in mind these type of hypotheticals. It's very difficult to know. Hindsight is 20/20." Later, "But I think that what I'm absolutely convinced of is that at that time we had to change the political debate because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one I just disagreed with."

Barack Obama on why he would still vote against the surge and believed it was the right thing to do.

What about that, Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: That's 100 percent gibberish. I have heard it try to fill airspace, but that is a failure at filling airspace, and all of us have tried that at times.

That sentence doesn't start anywhere and doesn't end anywhere. There's no actual answer, because, in fact, he made a mistake on the surge. That is not an opinion, it is a fact that the surge has worked. Everybody has agreed it has worked, and he was against it.

HUME: He said at the time he gave the reasons that it wouldn't solve the political problems, that it was straining our military.

BARNES: It would increase sectarian violence rather than quell it.

HUME: What he says now is the reason was further strains on the military, and it didn't solve the political problems. What he said at the time, though, was that it wouldn't work militarily.

BARNES: It wouldn't work militarily, and would make things worse, that sectarian violence would get worse.

Look, there is a perfectly good answer here that I think he could give. Why didn't he just say-look, I voted against it, and I still have qualms about it, but, you know, it has worked. Violence is gone. There is great movement on the political side.

There needs to be more political unification, but I'm glad to see it. And in fact, what I think has happened in Iraq means that my plan for removing almost all American troops and at least all combat in 16 months works-

HUME: Don't you think David Axelrod, the Obama campaign manager, should call Fred Barnes?

BARNES: I know, but for some reason Barack Obama can never admit that he is wrong. He quits public financing, and he says he going to the real public financing.

HUME: I know.

Now, The New York Times has sent back for revisions a proposed John McCain op-ed piece contribution that comes after one that was published by Barack Obama in which Barack Obama set forth his policy on Iraq. In doing so, The Times said what, Jeff?

BIRNBAUM: The Times said that they would very much like to publish a response, but what was sent in needs to be rewritten because it needs to be, essentially, less an attack on Obama and more about McCain's proposals in Iraq that includes actual-"timetables" is the word that's included there — and a how-

HUME: For a withdrawal?

BIRNBAUM: For a withdrawal, and how victory can be achieved there.

In effect, The New York Times is asking McCain to respond to Obama's position on Iraq on Obama's terms, and present something that he, McCain, opposes, which is timetables, which is a very surprising response.

May it's just maybe loosely written. It's not unusual at all to ask for revisions of op-ed pieces. But the use of "timetables," the word by The New York Time's response, I think is a gift to the McCain campaign, because they can say the liberal New York Times is shutting the door on a legitimate response from us.

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, if a paper offers space to a presidential candidate, and there are only two left, it should offer equal space to the other, and it shouldn't be dictating what's written.

Everybody knows when you see an op-ed written by a senator or a presidential candidate, he didn't actually write it. It's the staff, and Obama has a staff, apparently, of 400 working on foreign policy. He's got his own state department that he lugs around with him wherever he goes.

So this is a committee report, and it's his position, you know, massaged and edited, and McCain deserves the right to have a response in the way he wants to. It's absurd to demand that it be along Democratic guidelines.

HUME: So this will go down as the day that Maliki gave Obama a gift and the editors of The New York Times gave McCain a gift.

BARNES: The Maliki's gift's better, though.

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