This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 16, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEC. LEON PANETTA: It has alway s been important for us to make clear that reconciliation has to be Afghan-led and what President Karzai's statement confirmed is that Afghanistan is now very much involved in the process of reconciliation. And that is extremely helpful and important to determining whether or not we are ultimately going to be able to succeed with reconciliation or not.
THOMAS DE MAIZIERE, GERMANY DEFENSE MINISTER: These talks will be better the less we talk on them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: That is the German defense minister saying the officials should not be talking about these peace talks going on between the U.S., the Afghan government and the Taliban. New element there is the Afghan government at the table.
We're back with the panel. Charles, what about this? How it's been structured, and how important it is to the overall effort?
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: There is wisdom in what the German spokesman said. It's rather hilarious to see headlines that say "Karzai Announces Secret Talks". You know, if they're on the front page of the Post, it is't exactly a secret talk anymore.
But what is happening here is that he is trying to become relevant. The Taliban had refused to engage in negotiations with him. That's exactly what happened when our negotiations with the North Vietnamese at the end of the Vietnam War. We are trying to draw down troops, get some kind of an agreement and leave. Hand over the fighting to the Vietnamese.
The North Vietnamese called the South Vietnamese and government a puppet and refused to engage in negotiations with anybody except us. The enemy in Afghanistan has done exactly the same thing in calling Karzai, a puppet. Up until now, it looks as if they have accepted Karzai as a negotiator. And as a result, I think there is a better chance of perhaps splitting off the good Taliban, or the ones who are prepared for some accommodation having an agreement.
In the end, it is going to end up like negotiations in Paris on the Vietnam War. Here, the Pakistani will be the fourth element at the table. But the question is in the end when we are out, will this end up with helicopters on the roof of the American embassy in Kabul, and nobody knows.
BAIER: Juan, the real question is can Hamid Karzai survive once NATO forces do start pulling out? Perhaps that is what this is all about.
JUAN WILLIAMS, THE HILL.COM: I think that is the heart and soul of it. The world changes in 2014 in Afghanistan. Karzai's term ends. U.S. forces are supposed to leave. So the question is do you strengthen Karzai? Is the U.S. able to strengthen Karzai going in to 2014 to establish the idea that there is a government there, a sovereign government? And that the Taliban has to negotiate with whatever comes after Karzai. Because there is going to be a government. And if the Taliban wants to get on board and be part of that government, they have to acknowledge Karzai and acknowledge the power of the United States at this moment.
And I think that is the critical element, especially given the military purpose. Remember, the Taliban is being defeated this moment by the U.S. forces.
BAIER: Many people, Fred, say Karzai is not exactly an expiring leader. And is --
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, WEEKLY STANDARD: I go along with that.
BAIER: Yes. And has been accused of a lot of corruption.
KRAUTHAMMER: But he knows how to dress.
BAIER: So, your thoughts about how he factors in to this now?
BARNES: I factor him in being not as important as he thinks he is for sure. But look. I mean Charles went as far -- up to the point of having a piece of -- in Vietnam I'm talking about. In Vietnam and then what happened? It was not enforced. The North Vietnamese kept troops in South Vietnam. And then once the American troops had left, they easily took the rest of the South Vietnam and turned out the Vietcong were the one who were the puppets, they were a complete fraud and North Vietnam took over the whole country.
So, here we have the Taliban -- of course, the Taliban wants a peace agreement. Just like the North Vietnamese did. A peace agreement that will see the American troops leave and then they can exploit it. And defeat - I mean, as Juan said. The Taliban's losing to the U.S. troops, the NATO troops but they are not losing to Karzai and his troops.
And then, they can take over the country in the same way the North Vietnamese did years and years ago, 34 years ago. And - I mean, you can see it. We have seen this movie. Once the American troops are gone, it's all over. And to think, the one thing I disagree with Charles is, maybe you were being facetious about the good Taliban. They all want the same thing. The good ones and the bad ones.
KRAUTHAMMER: But what you are leaving out is the role of Pakistan. It is going to be decisive because it supports the bad, bad guys, as well as some of the good bad guys. But in the end it may not want completely hostile Afghanistan. It wants Afghanistan naturalized.
So India isn't dominant -- it could accept an agreement that allowed American influence, a Karzai government in place. And sustain it, because of its influence over Afghanistan. And that I think is our best hope. It isn't like the Chinese and the Russians who wanted us out and humiliated in Vietnam.
BAIER: The bad, bad guys and good, bad guys. It's like the known, knowns and the known, unknowns.
KRAUTHAMMER: And then there are the Goldilocks bad guys.
BARNES: I find it hard to believe that the Pakis are going to come to our aid in a really important way.
BAIER: That is it for the panel. But stay tuned for some untraditional nuptials.
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