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Do Presidents Have Obligation to Avenge Americans Killed by Foreign Governments?

This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," March 22, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Back of the Book" segment tonight: As we reported last night, President Reagan ordered an attack on Colonel Qaddafi in 1986 after a series of accidents culminating in two Americans being killed in Berlin, Germany, allegedly by Libyan terrorists. Mr. Reagan said this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When our citizens are abused or attacked anywhere in the world on the direct orders of a hostile regime, we will respond so long as I am in this Oval Office. Self-defense is not only our right; it is our duty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'REILLY: So the question becomes: Is it the obligation of every American president to do what President Reagan did?

Joining us now from Washington, Fox News political analyst Charles Krauthammer. So, this is a tough one, you know, because you get Qaddafi. We know he was responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, but the U.S. let it go. We maintained relations with him, you know, and all of that. And I'm saying to myself, if I'm president, don't I have a responsibility to avenge the deaths of Americans at the hands of a tyrant like this?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think there are a lot of different cases. In the case we're talking about where Reagan did retaliate is a clear attack on Americans and a clear retaliation where he tried to kill Qaddafi, out and out straight. We've done that when we have an address. You've got to have an address.

Often it's a terrorist attack, like happened in the Clinton years when they attacked the embassies in Tanzania and in Kenya. There with a terrorist, you don't have an address. What we did, you'll remember, in 1998, Bill Clinton came back from vacation. He announced an attack on a drug factory in Sudan we thought that Usama bin Laden owned, and we lobbed a few cruise missiles into empty tents in Afghanistan.

I think your reference to 9/11 is the best example of retaliation. The ultimate attack, 9/11 attack, the ultimate retaliation. We went into a country, invaded it, deposed the regime, killed as many as we could, scattered the rest. I mean, there are a lot of other reasons for the war in Afghanistan, but that was -- one of them certainly was revenge. But if it's a terror group like Al Qaeda, you often don't have a return address.

O'REILLY: OK. And people know…

KRAUTHAMMER: And often have to wait a decade if you want to do the retaliation.

O'REILLY: You have to have -- you have to have absolute proof before you go after the people. I absolutely agree with that.

KRAUTHAMMER: Right.

O'REILLY: But in the case of Iran, they pick up three American hikers on the Kurdish border and they hold two of them; one of them got out. North Korea picks up two ladies, you know, on the Chinese border, and they hold them. And they do this and they do that. Over the years there have been many incidents. Maya Guez incident. So the American president, I guess, has to calculate what's good for the country, or does he have a mandate to right these wrongs?

KRAUTHAMMER: He's got a mandate, but there's a difference between retaliating for a terror attack, which is now over, and retaliating over the seizure of hostages. Because when you've got hostage, you've got a living, breathing American at the other end whose life is in danger.

In fact, Reagan, the guy we have cited here as the guy who did the retaliation for the attack on the disco in Germany, his worst hour was that, when we had our hostages held in Lebanon, he caved. He gave arms to Iran. And he wasn't even successful in springing the hostages. Even Reagan was when you're faced with a hostage -- and we are a civilized society. We care about every individual. We want to strike the enemy who seizes a hostage. But you can't because you don't want to endanger the life of the hostage, and that's why it's a dilemma that every president has faced and no one has ever had a good answer to.

O'REILLY: Yes, Thomas Jefferson, the Barbary pirates, had to do the same thing. Last question, 25 seconds. You believe the president of the United States has a moral imperative to absolutely engage in all of these things, has to do it?

KRAUTHAMMER: Yes. When an American is seized or killed, yes, he should retaliate. He has to let the world know that the price of blood of Americans is extremely high. Otherwise, if it's not, we will be the target everywhere. Hostages is a tough case. Qaddafi has a price on his head because of what he did in 1988. If in the course of this war we kill him, it will be justice.

O'REILLY: OK. Charles, thanks very much.

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