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Special Report

Panel on New Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan; Juan Williams' Wild Card Pick

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from February 19, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, US/NATO AFGHANISTAN COMMANDER: The Afghan people are at the center of our mission. In reality, they are our mission. We must protect them from violence, whatever its nature. If we gain that trust, we cannot lose. If we lose that trust, we cannot win.

MAJ. GEN. ROBERT SCALES (RET.), FOX NEWS MILITARY ANALYST: This war isn't being fought against mindless, ignorant peasants. It's being fought against a wily enemy smart enough to use our rules of engagement against us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, "SPECIAL REPORT" HOST: The rules of engagement we told you earlier in the week and our own Fox reporter on the ground Conner Powell showed how Marines could only fire on Taliban fighters if they see the Taliban fighters with weapons. If the Taliban puts them down, the Marines can't fire on them.

In addition to that, no harsh treatment of any detainees or any rough language is permitted by the Marines, and they have to release the Taliban within 96 hours if they are captured. Oftentimes they are turned over to the Afghan locals and then released by them.

What about this as the fight goes on in southern Afghanistan? Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Steve, reading the L.A. Times, they had two pieces today. One was how Marines are finding the Taliban sniper threat is becoming much more accurate. And, on another page, it was about this rough treatment or harsh language prohibited when you have a detainee in any way, shape, or form.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Right. I remember back when I was embedded at the beginning of the Iraq war. I was imbedded with an interesting group that combined soldiers, Marines and some Iraqi ex-patriots that were going back to help liberate their country.

And the Iraqis were there in a sense to provide this kind of cultural training for our soldiers and Marines, tell them what to do, tell them how to interrogate, tell them how to talk to the people that they were likely to encounter and/or capture.

And I thought that was appropriate. That kind of cultural sensitivity makes sense, and in a counterinsurgency campaign, it is, in fact, maybe the difference between winning and losing.

I think the concern here is when it lapses into political correctness. And that, judging from some of the comments we heard the other day and from the reports in Los Angeles Times, that's a real concern here. I mean, you can't have people who aren't able to speak harshly to their captives in that kind of a scenario.

The Marines that I was with, and this is a common phrase, had this aphorism, "There is no better friend, no worse enemy than a U.S. Marine." That's fine. As long as we keep following that, and as long as that's true, I think we are fine. The risk is, are we emphasizing the former instead of the latter?

BAIER: Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think the difficulty here, imagine if it was your son or mine or daughter out there, the difficulty is that we put them in a situation where it's not a traditional war, where it's not just go kill the bad guys and they are in the other uniform.

Now we have people who are dressed in civilian clothes, people who may be hiding or being hidden by village elders. It's not exactly clear.

And General McChrystal, I think, has brought in a very effective strategy on paper. That's why President Obama gave him the additional troops. He says this gradually will work. We can in the time prescribed get the will and support of the Afghan people and say that we're going to restore government, deliver services.

The whole goal here is to put people back in charge and stabilize that government. That's a tough job to ask a soldier to do when you've got snipers proving highly accurate shooting at you. It puts the soldiers, it seems to me, under undue pressure.

But that's the mission. That's what General McChrystal has signed off on. That's what President Obama has signed off on. That's the deal.

BAIER: Yes. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, it's clear, as Steve indicated, that when you are under these constraints and these restraints and these rules, you're increasing the danger to our troops. There is no doubt about it.

The question for me is, is that decision made by the political types who want to appease world public opinion, who want to make it easy to get applause when you are addressing a crowd abroad, to preen about how good soldiers we are, I don't think that is the case here.

If it were, I would be really strongly against it and I think it would be scandalous, risking the lives of our soldiers in order to garner the applause of people whose applause we don't need.

But it seems pretty obvious that in this case the decision is a military one by the commanders on the ground. We heard McChrystal here, General Petraeus, they made a military calculation that in order to achieve the mission, you have to increase the risk by acting in this restrained way.

It's the equivalent of looking at two hills and deciding that you're going to send a company up to take the harder hill, thinking that that strategic position will give you a better chance of winning the war. The harder hill here is restraint, because it's a guerrilla war and has to do with hearts and minds.

So even though I'm sort of instinctively very suspicious and worried about these very constraining rules of engagement, I would defer to the military here because they are making a calculation that this is the best way to win the war.

BAIER: Well, you have some commanders, and General Scales speaks as a retired commander, who say that these may be going a little too far. They say that, you know, you have an enemy that is learning, has learned, and is planting IEDs, doing sniper attacks, and knows the rules of engagement.

So they put down the weapons and they come out and wave at the Marines. That's pretty frustrating for the Marines on the front line in Marjah.

HAYES: I can see where it would be frustrating. If we are going to listen to anybody, General Scales is a good person to listen to.

On the other hand, that's war. That's what happens in war. The enemy makes adjustments, you counter-adjust. This is sort of how things progress in a war.

And I think if you are talking about Stan McChrystal and talking about the basic strategy, we've seen it before. We have seen that these strategies work, not exactly the same, but certainly in Iraq this is —

BAIER: I don't know if these were the same rules of engagement in Iraq. Do you think?

HAYES: No. They weren't precisely the same, but the overall principles that animated these strategies were the same. We need to win the local populations. We need to secure a belt, you know, provide an ark of stability.

BAIER: Yes, hearts and minds.

HAYES: Right.

BAIER: Last word, Juan.

WILLIAMS: It is all about hearts and mind. And there was a tremendous quote actually in the L.A. Times piece that you referenced, Bret, in which a sergeant by the name of Jason Moore said it's really hard to put aside feelings when someone is shooting at you, but we do it and abide by these rules because we want to make it clear to everybody that we are better than them, "them" being the Taliban.

So it really is a mental, strategic decision.

BAIER: We'll be back in three minutes with the Friday lightning round and your choice online topic of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: Every week on Foxnews.com, the "Special Report" page, viewers vote on what topic we should discuss first — you see it right there on the right-hand side — during the Friday lightning round, this is it. This week Juan Williams wild card pick was your pick, and that is where we begin tonight.

Juan, you are the wild card choice. What's the pick?

WILLIAMS: Well, I'm just stunned by the exuberance being exhibited at the Conservative Political Action Committee here in Washington. We have never seen such large crowds and so much, really, passion from the floor. I mean, people shouting and screaming, you know, when Scott Brown showed up, unbelievable, waves of applause, enthusiasm.

When Dick Cheney, the former vice president showed up, again, people encouraging him to run for president. I think there is a sense right now this is the conservative moment, that passions that were once for President Obama have ceded and now conservatives are on their way to big victories in the midterms.

I just wonder if this is a rational exuberance to some level. I would concede that conservatives might expect that there is going to be some tensions with the tea party types and, you know, some of that is going to diffuse some of this passion come midterm elections.

But, still, I don't see them taking over the House, and I think taking over the Senate still in question.

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: It's rational exuberance. That's the correct answer, if you were asking a question. I'm not exactly sure.

Look, I think it's a good week. And I think what is so interesting is how the Republican Party is absorbing the energy of the spontaneous opposition which emerged over the last year. That's a difficult proposition.

The liberals and the press are interpreting it as a war among Republicans. It's actually not. It's the party that has the structure absorbing the energy of these spontaneous demonstrators who are organizing.

And what you get is a range. You get Scott Brown, who is a moderate, and you get a Marco Rubio who brought down the house who is a conservative. I think it's extremely harmonious. There are going to be a lot of challenges in primaries, but I think overall it's a tremendous asset for the Republicans.

BAIER: Straw poll results this weekend — Steve?

HAYES: Look, I think this has been a false distinction all along that the mainstream media has decided to spend a lot of time talking about.

In effect, the people who left the Republican Party were either self-identified independents — they joined tea parties, what have you. The country is still a center-right country. That's the bottom line.

And as Charles pointed out in his terrific column today, Obama is trying to impose a left wing agenda on a center-right country. It's really not much more complicated than that.

BAIER: We didn't spend a lot of time talking about this, but take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOODS: The issue involved here was my repeated irresponsible behavior. I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable, and I am the only person to blame.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Tiger Woods in a very orchestrated announcement today. Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: On the Tiger hysteria, I'm AWOL on this. I don't want to know. It's not my business. It's not anybody's business. It's between him and the family. He didn't cheat in golf. He cheated in life.

I could barely watch all of that statement. It was cringe- inducing. I'm sure a lot of it was sincere, but too much information. This is private stuff, and, unfortunately, in our culture, there is nothing that is private anymore.

BAIER: It's pretty amazing, Juan, people were gathered around televisions I saw today.

WILLIAMS: I was in the airport today, and that's just the case. Things shut down for a moment, because I think this is really not about an individual. It's about a corporate brand, Tiger Woods. It's about Tiger Woods as, you know, Mr. Perfect, the disciplined guy, the guy who can go out there and do it all, especially for corporate America and for advertisers.

And he has taken a step back, and I think that's what we saw today was he was sending a signal. I think James Rosen picked this up in his reporting this evening, and saying, you know what, this is a signal to advertisers, he is coming back soon. Get ready.

BAIER: Steve?

HAYES: The whole episode is sad and disappointing. I don't really care about Tiger's endorsements. I think people spent way too much time talking about him. And, you know, I won't look at him the same.

BAIER: OK. We will leave it there.

Quickly, final, bring your own comments.

HAYES: My comment is about stimulus funding, and this has been widely overlooked, and it might be the best stimulus money we have seen spent yet. The State University of New York in Buffalo received almost $400,000 to pay people, 100 people, $45 each for three weeks to study the relationship between smoking pot and malt liquor.

(LAUGHTER)

That's your government at work.

BAIER: Whoa, Juan? You're passing?

WILLIAMS: No. I think this fight between the "New York Times" and New York state governor David Paterson is fascinating. And it's fascinating because you even have Rick Lazio, the Republican, potential gubernatorial nominee, saying the "New York Times" should come out and tell us what they know. The "New York Times" publishes pieces about one of its aides selling crack cocaine as a kid. He's relying too much on friends.

And then the governor shooting back at the "New York Times" is failing in journalistic standards. Fabulous fight.

KRAUTHAMMER: The British and the French are in a snit over apparently hit squads of Israelis that rubbed out a Hamas bad guy in hotel in Dubai. There was no collateral damage. Nobody else was hurt. It was a clean hit, surgical.

We are using predators every day in Afghanistan that don't rise to any of that moral standard. Snit undeserved.

BAIER: That was pretty quick. We got it all in.

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