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Special Report

Setbacks for US in Afghanistan

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 15, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The discussions that I just completed wit h President Karzai and also with the other Afghan leaders, we really did focus on strategy for the future and what needs to be accomplished as we move towards the end of 2014 and then beyond 2014.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If we maintain a steady, responsible transition process, which is what we've designed, then I am confident that we can put Afghans in a position where they can deal with their own security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Obama yesterday talking about the war in Afghanistan as his team tries to fend off the political push to really accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. troops there. Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for the -- demanded really, the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from villages in rural areas and forcing all of those troops to stay on their bases. This after Defense Secretary Panetta was on the ground, as you heard, meeting with Karzai and talking to him. Whether that demand holds we'll see.

We're back with the panel. Charles, what about this back and forth and Karzai's demands in the wake of this massacre, obviously, of Afghan civilians?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The entire Obama Afghan policy is in disarray, serious disarray. When the leader of a country that you are supposedly defending calls for you to get out of his country and to essentially hunker down in the barracks, you've got trouble. When the opposition, the enemy declared today that it is not even going to negotiate, it won't even deign to enter into negotiations with us, it's announcing that it doesn't have to offer us anything because obviously the United States is in a panic and is exiting.

BAIER: That's the Taliban saying that they are suspending the peace talks that had only really just begun.

KRAUTHAMMER: Right, because why should they offer anything if Obama is going to leave, if the Americans are going to leave and they don't have to make any concessions. It's going to be handed to them on a platter.

And then you get the third event on the same day, which is that unprecedented picture of American soldiers leaving their weapons at the door or when listening to a speech by their own secretary of defense. I mean, that is the equivalent of the diplomatic of helicopters on the roof of the embassy. It is a sign of how much our policy is in disarray. And I think it comes from the top when the president announces from the beginning a policy of surge and withdrawal. We are now in the withdrawal phase, and once a withdrawal happens in a counterinsurgency, it goes downhill very fast.

BAIER: Some commanders over there said about the arms, the weapons at the door for Panetta, is that they wanted the Afghans to put their weapons down and they thought that they would make it easier if they put --

(CROSSTALK)

KRAUTHAMMER: But it tells you how much of an absence of trust exists. And the only way America leaves honorably if it hands over its authority, and that requires the trust that is missing right now.

BAIER: Kirsten?

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK POST: Well, yes, I mean, they have to -- we've already seen how many Americans killed by the people that we're supposed to be working with. So everything has basically fallen apart. And it's a tragedy. It's a little mystifying why Obama has even decided to stay there as long as he has, in my opinion. I understand he made that campaign promise, but it hasn't been going well for quite some time.

And the New York Times had a story where they interviewed an imam about why people didn't respond to the killing of -- the slaughter of civilians the same way they responded to the accidental burning of a Koran. And the imam thought that was just a crazy question because to them the accidental burning of a Koran is obviously worse than killing nine children and all sorts of other people.

And so there is such a disconnect -- the idea that we're going to negotiate with these people. I mean, how are we ever going to reach an agreement when they have that kind of mentality? There is not a single American that could ever get their mind around that idea. I mean even if it was the bible that had been burned, nobody would ever think that that is worse than killing people.

JONAH GOLDBERG, AT LARGE EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: [INAUDIBLE] they were bibles with terrorist messages written inside of them, which was why they were being destroyed in the first place.

BAIER: So is the president's stand about sticking to the plan and the 2014 date, is that going to fall apart?

GOLDBERG: I don't see how it doesn't. This thing from the surge onwards, I have always believed he was politically motivate to do dot surge, fulfill a campaign promise. But as Charles has said many times on this panel, he never after that expended any political capital to reinforce the mission, to give major speeches saying what we're doing is important. It was always just let's put this on the backburner and see what happens.

And now the house of cards is crumbling and it's very hard to imagine a political climate in which Obama feels incentivized to risk political capital when you even have Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, and a lot conservatives saying get out. I mean what climate is that where all of a sudden Obama is going to take point on this now? I think it's too late.

BAIER: Where are all the people saying stay in? Are they loud?

GOLDBERG: They're not loud. And some of them are very smart important people. Many of my colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute, Fred Kagan and others, they're making very passionate cases that we've made serious advances, Bill Kristol and all the rest. There are those voices. But I think they're being in some ways, just simply drowned out by the unbelievable ennui about all of this.

BAIER: Last word?

KRAUTHAMMER: I do believe we made a lot of advances on the ground and we've had a lot of success on the ground. But in the end a guerrilla war is won and lost in terms of psychology. And the psychology is completely drained away from any idea that America and the NATO allies are going to stay. And once that idea is widespread among our troops, among our allies, and particularly among Afghan and the civilians who will be at risk, it's extremely hard to carry on.

BAIER: That is it for the panel. But stay tuned to see another example of reporters who need to pay attention to their surroundings.

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