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Special Report

What Hiroshima visit reveals about Obama's foreign policy

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 27, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Seventy-one years ago on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city. It demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.

We've come to ponder the terrible force unleashed in the not so distant past. But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Obama in Hiroshima, Japan today. Let's talk about the implications here from what he said and what he didn't say. Let's bring in our panel: Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic; Fortune magazine's Nina Easton, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

OK, Jeff, your thoughts on what he said.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, THE ATLANTIC: Well, it's more what he didn't say I think that was also important. He was very explicit about not apologizing. And it was more that he didn't refer to the war.
He referred to the concept of war and the evils of death and destruction, but it was anodyne in that sense. It was a very important move for him leaving the presidency. He's been obsessed, as we know, for years with the threat of nuclear weapons. And he wanted to remind the world of what they can do without talking about who did what to whom. And so that was interesting.

BAIER: The Federation of American Scientists weighed in on this speech and the specific focus on nuclear weapons, saying "Mr. Obama's visit to Hiroshima takes place in the shadow of his nuclear weapons legacy. The Obama administration has reduced the U.S. stockpile less than any post-cold war administration. The number of warheads dismantled in 2015 was lowest since President Obama took office." And then these are the actual stats of the stockpile changes since the end of the cold war. And there you see President Obama 13 percent during his time. He talks about and has talked about, Nina, this for quite some time.

NINA EASTON, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: Eliminating nuclear weapons. And by the way, it's not just President Obama. It was a bipartisan thing, a lot of former Republican officials saying that they want to eliminate nuclear weapons. But I think there's a dangerous moral equivalency when you start just focusing on American stockpiles, for example. You know, the 30 years leading up to the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, 80 million people were killed in two world wars. With the American nuclear leadership, the last
70 years there hasn't been a world war.

And, you know, and yet you also have these bad actors with nuclear weapons, which is where in my mind we should be to focusing. North Korea, it's very realistic to think about them launching a nuclear strike. You have the always unstable Pakistan with nuclear weapons there. You have potential nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. You have potential of Iran getting a nuclear weapon even with the nuclear deal. And I think you lose focus on this conversation about nuclear weapons and the real danger and threat of nuclear weapons when you focus on American stockpiles.

BAIER: Charles, you wrote about this and how President Obama is a foreign policy idealist.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: We saw it today. Here's a guy who went around the world when he's inaugurated -- I don't want to use the word "apologize," but confessing of long history of American sins, from the maltreatment of Indians to the coup of Iran in 53, the coup in Guatemala, the list is very long, and it's sort of -- he closed the circle of that apology tour today in Hiroshima.

And to say it wasn't a formal apology, of course he wasn't going use the word, and, yes, he did speak of war in the abstract. But he did it in Hiroshima. If you want to do a speech about war in the abstract you do it in Prague, which is what he did in 2009. When you do it in Hiroshima, of course you're talking about World War II, of course you're talking about American dropping the bomb, and of course the implication is that we have a sense of guilt about, not an overt apology.

This is a visit he should have made next year as a private citizen, in which case he can speak like a naive private citizen about escaping the logic of fear. What other way is there of dealing with nuclear weapons other than the logic of fear, i.e., deterrence? Eliminating them is never going to happen and will weaken us. Do we want to be without nuclear weapons when there's a nut case, Pyongyang, who is acquiring them, with apocalyptic, genocidal mullahs in Iran are acquiring them? Of course not.

And the president speaking as president representing the United States, I thought it was embarrassing, the utopianism, and the implicit apology dishonored our nation. It's not something he should have done.

GOLDBERG: Two quick points. The first is that it doesn't bother me the visit to Hiroshima. On the other hand, I would say it would have been nice to have a, let's call it a coordinated-uncoordinated sequence of events in which the Japanese prime minister had gone to Pearl Harbor, for instance, and directly apologized or indirectly apologized for sinking the "USS Arizona," for instance. And then somewhat later in the process have the president go Hiroshima.

There's another point here, which is that this is realistic politics. This is not idealistic politics in the following sense. Japan is a treaty ally.
Japan is one of our most important ally in Asia. This is a conservative Japanese prime minister. And he wants to buttress this relationship, as does President Obama, to contain China. So if this is a hurdle, a small hurdle but still a hurdle you have to get over, then President Obama did a realistic thing by strengthening the Japan-U.S. relationship.

BAIER: The people of Japan didn't want an apology. They want to make sure the U.S. is defending them. They want to make sure the U.S. has their back.

GOLDBERG: I think both things are true. I think they want recognition of the horror of nuclear war. But I think that's more important ultimately given North Korea and given China, they're actual, traditional foes.

EASTON: I think it was totally fine for him to go and not apologize and offer condolences. What's interesting, though, is the condolences tend to lack context, historical context. I've been to Hiroshima. I've been to Nagasaki. There's absolutely no reference to how that decision was made, the brutalities and atrocities of the imperial regime. And the people that he offered condolences to were as much victims of that regime as they were of the United States.

GOLDBERG: The Japanese are not the German. The Germans are very good at acknowledging their past. The Japanese not so good.

KRAUTHAMMER: Two points. Number one, if you want to strengthen the Japanese-American alliance and reassure our allies in the region, there are a dozens of way to do it -- say challenging the Chinese in the South China Sea -- other than dishonoring our decision in ending the Second World War.

And the second point is the Chinese, the Japanese are famous in Asia for not apologizing for the Rape of Nanking, for all the other degradation.
And for us to be showing the way with this needless apology of something we have nothing to apologize for to a nation that has refused to do what the Germans, for example, have done, I think compounds the error.

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