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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on How the Candidates Would Approach Terrorism and Whether Clinton Would Have Been a Better VP Choice

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from September 11, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Since 9/11 our troops have taken the fight to the terrorists abroad so we do for the have to face them here at home. Thanks to the brave men and women, and all those who work to keep us safe, there has not been another attack on our soil in 2,557 days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: That, obviously, if President Bush is proud of anything, one senses that he is proudest of that.

Some thoughts on this and what led to it from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, same job, Roll Call, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, all are FOX News contributors.

Fred, this issue, oddly, seems to have receded into the background in this election year, and yet today we're sort of confronted of it and reminded of it with some force.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, it has. And you hope we don't fall into this idea of the polio fallacy. What happened is nobody gets polio anymore, and so because they take the vaccine, people think there's no polio out there, I don't have to take the vaccine.

In this case, it would be, well, we haven't had a terrorist attack in seven years, so we don't really need to take the extremely strong measures in order to protect ourselves against terrorists, when, in fact, we do.

And there is a great difference between McCain and Obama and what they would do. It's basically a difference between being on offense and preferring hard power, which is McCain's and Bush's, and a softer approach, soft power with negotiations and diplomacy and more defensive.

HUME: To be perfectly fair, though, Obama is talking about using hard power in Afghanistan.

BARNES: He certainly is there, and he has talked about using hard power in Pakistan as well despite Pakistan being a sovereign country. He set conditions for it, if we knew exactly where Barack Obama was —

HUME: Usama Bin Laden.

BARNES: Sorry — Usama Bin Laden, if we knew where he was that we should go get him whether the Pakistanis said it was OK or not.

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: If you look at the rhetoric of both sides, both McCain and Obama are in favor of using a combination of hard power and soft power. You kill the bad guys, or kill the alligators and drain the swamp at the same time.

And you extend aid and do public diplomacy and police work and you do intelligence and you do financial stuff and you do military, as you were pointing out about what Obama says.

Now, what it really comes to, actually a test of the case, Obama wanted to pull out of Iraq prematurely. Had we done it, as the McCain campaign correctly charges, Al Qaeda in Iraq would have won and would have achieved a grand victory, and we would be behind the curve, way behind the curve, and have suffered a strategic defeat.

When it comes to the question of giving telecommunications companies immunity from lawsuits to — when they allowed the government to listen in on foreign terrorist conversations, Obama was against it. He didn't filibuster, but he was against it.

So the public trusts McCain to fight a war on terrorism more than it does Obama, and I think they're right.

HUME: Charles, enclosed in this is a debate about approaches. They are not mutually exclusive, but one viewpoint would emphasize making America safer by shutting down the avenues through which weapons could be gotten into this country or terrorists could creep in.

And the other argument says that will never work. You can't close down everything. You have to go over and fight them over there so we don't fight them over here. You heard that in President Bush's remarks.

Which, in your view, has been the greater contributor to the fact that we have had seven years without a further attack?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Fortress America is impossible in a free society. You can't have it.

What you can do is harden, as we have — the Homeland Security department, the Transportation Security Agency, the guys at the airport, and we have had a reorganization of our intelligence. All of that has helped.

However, we have also been out there, not only in wars, but doing stuff that the liberal press and a lot of Democrats have protested about and excoriated.

What Bush has done in seven years, and what he understood seven years ago, is that the whole approach, which we had for decades, including the '90's, of treating a terror attack as a criminal act that requires a prosecutor and a judge and a jury, is insane. It's an act of war.

And what he did it applied techniques that we had used in the Second World War and other wars — you find the bad guys and you either kill them or you kidnap them. You put them in a secret prison, you interrogate them, harshly if you have to, simulated drowning if you have to, and you get information, as we did out of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which yielded, according to the CIA, more information than any other source, which is the reason that thousands of Americans are alive today who would likely be dead.

That's how the war on terror has been succeeding, and that's why we have had seven years of no attacks. That is a towering achievement for which Bush and Cheney have gotten almost no credit from their contemporaries, but will get a lot of credit from history, absolutely.

HUME: Even Joe Biden these days says Hillary Clinton might have been a better running mate for Obama. We will find out what the FOX all- stars think about that after a break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR JOE BIDEN, (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hillary Clinton is as qualified or more qualified than I am to be vice president of the United States of America. Let's get that straight.

She's a truly close personal friend. She is qualified to be president of the United States of America. She's easily qualified to be vice president of the United States of America. And, quite frankly, it might have been a better pick than me. But she's first rate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Partly that's Joe Biden kind of good naturedness and friendship with Hillary, but a peculiar thing to say. One can only imagine what would happen if Sarah Palin said somebody might have been a better choice. There would have been a chorus of amens from the American left, to be sure.

Anyway, there it is, it's out there, and it raises an intriguing question. Some people have wondered whether the big moment at Democratic convention might not have been the great speech as it was dubbed at Invesco field, but instead the non-choice of Hillary.

Fred, your thoughts? You wrote about this.

BARNES: Yes. Look, all you have to do is talk to Republicans in the rust belt — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and states like that — and they will tell you Hillary would have been a huge problem if she was the nominee and a heck of a lot bigger problem for them as Obama's running mate than Joe Biden is.

Biden has really added nothing to the ticket. And you know, this notion that somehow he's a working class, lunch bucket Democrat is something that I don't think working class, lunch bucket Democrats believe, because he's not that at all.

He is the third senator from Pennsylvania. You never heard anybody from Pennsylvania say that, even though the Philadelphia papers, I guess, cover him some.

But Hillary did have a following. She developed a populist streak, and obviously won in Ohio and Pennsylvania and Michigan and those states.

One of the things you find if you talk to reporters, and I have talked to several of them, who go to the McCain-Palin events — it's not hard to find the Hillary people, the women who are there to see Sarah Palin.

But the main — I just think that if Obama had picked Hillary, would McCain have then picked Palin?

HUME: Good question.

BARNES: It wouldn't have been quite the game changer that it turned out to be, because she had just been the second woman picked at the VP. So I think it's unlikely that he would have.

KONDRACKE: He might have felt pressure to answer a woman with a woman, and it would have been an interesting match-up, because Hillary probably would have taken on Palin a lot more — instead of leaving it to Obama to do.

But the problem with the Hillary nomination is that there is all this stuff of opposition research that's been conducted on her and Bill for years and years and years. The Republicans anticipated that he she would be the nominee. They must have a book, you know, four feet thick of stuff about —

HUME: Do we know down deep why Obama refused to take her? Normally if you have an opponent and an opponent gets nearly as many votes as you do and shows the ballot box strength that she did, that person gets on the ticket. It's as simple as that.

She didn't. What was the real reason, do you think?

KONDRACKE: The two reasons that I heard in Denver were, one, that she would have been a target for the opposition research attacks of the Republicans, and, secondly, and the main reason was, that Obama didn't think you could run a White House with three presidents — namely, himself, Hillary and Bill.

And you would have had a lot of back-channeling and leaking to the press and stuff like that, and he basically couldn't trust her.

KRAUTHAMMER: If we had Hillary against Palin as the vice presidential nominee, it would have been a duck hunter against a moose hunter. That would have been really interesting.

Look, I think the reason that Obama did not choose her-Fred is right — they assumed it was a question of governance.

All of this is before Palin, before the Palin effect, which everybody is surprised about. A month or two ago, it looked as if the Democratic path to the White House was a clear one, and you go for a safe choice.

Biden is a safe choice, except that is, as we saw in that clip, he doesn't know when to stop when he's ahead, saying Hillary might have been a better choice.

But Obama decided on governance. He didn't want to have, as you say, three presidents in the White House. It would have been a place of poisonous palace intrigue for eight years, and it would have been a disaster.

HUME: But would it have helped win the election?

KRAUTHAMMER: Absolutely. That's why I think it was a mistake in retrospect, because if you don't win, you don't govern.

HUME: What does it say about Barack Obama that he doesn't think that he could have kept his vice president in hand?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, she's an unusual vice president, and also the wife of an ex, which has never happened. So there is a lot of baggage which was historically unique in her case, and that's why he stayed away.

KONDRACKE: Look, I think it was a responsible decision on his part, and I don't think he anticipated that McCain could come up with the kind of surprise that he did.

BARNES: Who did?

KONDRACKE: McCain!

HUME: That's it for the panel.

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