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Special Report

America's troops are in harm's way in the Mideast

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 30, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In Iraq, in our fight against ISIL, three Americans have given their lives in combat on our behalf. And today I ask you to remember their stories as well. Whether they stood up in times of war, signed up in times of peace, or were called up by a draft war, they embodied the best of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHANNON BREAM, GUEST ANCHOR: The president speaking today, memorializing Memorial Day.

Let's bring in our panel, syndicated columnist George Will, Julie Pace, White House correspondent for the Associated Press, and Charles Hurt, political columnist for The Washington Times. Good to see all of you today.

And as the president was speaking today, of course we have thousands of men and women around the world who are serving. George, that was the first time I've heard him say on camera that there are actually Americans who have died in combat fighting ISIS.

GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: This must be a particularly difficult Memorial Day for the widows, orphans, and caregivers of American soldiers and marines who were wounded or killed in Fallujah. It's a sense of Groundhog day for Americans with regard to this, over and over again.

That said, the president has talked about ending wars in the region. What he can end is American participation, and that turns out to be a lot harder than it seems, because what happens there doesn't stay there and we now see the blowback of migrations coming from that torn region.

The president is doing all that the country will permit him to do, and that is air support and logistical support. Beyond that, they will put up with very little, except, as you point out, people are still getting killed.
They are supposedly advising and assisting. But conflict where there are no static lines as there were in World War II or the trench warfare of World War I, in a fluid situation like that, the idea you can put people close to combat and not in combat is probably a chimera.

BREAM: We talked earlier about Valerie Jarrett having said this administration ended two wars. But there are thousands still in some of these hot spots. Kevin Corke reported some 5,500 Americans in Iraq, nearly 10,000 in Afghanistan and hundreds more in Syria, as well, Julie.

JULIE PACE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: I would think that the numbers in Afghanistan are particularly striking to me. Before this year we had far more troops in Afghanistan. There's been this war that really hasn't been on the public's radar, and yet you have had so many Americans serving there for so long. So those are the people I often think about on this Memorial Day just because they have given such a sacrifice for so long without frankly a lot of Americans fully appreciating what they have been doing.

BREAM: OK, George, and you mentioned Fallujah, and of course there's now this operation under way to retake Fallujah. I want to play a little bit of a Navy SEAL, Dave Sears, who spoke earlier today on what it's going to be like for Iraqi forces with the help of others to try to do that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CMDR. DAVID SEARS (RET), FORMER U.S. NAVY SEAL: If Iran continues to be an antagonist in the region, you are going to fuel the sectarian divide that is going to leave Iraq divided, recruit new people for ISIS, and continue this longer. Anytime there's passive support for the ISIS fighters in an area or even active support, that is going to slow any advances of progress that the Iraq army is going to make. Fallujah is going to be in rubble, and it's going to be how they handle that afterwards, how the Iraqi government, the central government handles the rebuilding of Fallujah.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BREAM: And Charles, that's always the key, because even if they can be successful in what going to be a really difficult fight, it's the aftermath of how you sustain any kind of stability or create it. That's the tough thing.

CHARLES HURT, THE WASHINGTON TIMES: Yes. And this president successfully ran twice on the promise to end these wars. You know, what I always think about is, as difficult as it is for, as you mentioned, the soldiers and families, the sacrifices they have to make, to be -- making those sacrifices in a situation like this where you have a commander and chief who has ran twice against, you know -- promising to end the wars, he now says he ended the wars. Yet we still have people dying over there. I can't imagine a more appalling situation under which our troops could be fighting.

BREAM: Well, George, and what is left for the next person, be it a President Clinton, Sanders, or Trump?

WILL: They are going to find they have inherited conflicts because we can't end conflicts. And they are conflicts that we can't say will never touch our interests. So obviously we are going to pick up there.

The question is, is there any longer any reservoir of support for those -- for American participation on the ground? You mentioned Afghanistan, much the longest war in American history. Granted, it's a low grade fever of a war, but it's a war and people have died there and we are not going back.

HURT: And I think a big reason why a lot of people find Donald Trump so appealing is that he has kind of an isolationist message. And, you know, they don't want to be over there fighting in the wars, but they also don't want the threat coming here.

WILL: There's an isolationist message except he says he's going to get rid of ISIS, "quickly," close quote. I don't know how he's going to do that without intervening. And he's also going to take their oil. I don't know how he does that without boots on the oil-soaked ground.

PACE: He's telling people what I think they would want to hear. I think everyone likes the idea that you could go into one of these countries in the Middle East, quickly depose of a leader or a terror group, and then walk away. And that's frankly just not how this works. That's what this president has come to find and plenty of previous presidents as well.

WILL: We didn't go into Libya, but we went over Libya. And for eight months the most attractive assassination in history, we chased out and eventually killed Gadhafi. And now we see the fruits of that in those capsized boats, people trying to escape a failed debate.

BREAM: So many vacuums, and we see what happens in that region when these countries, it's a whole different world literally. They don't operate with immediately putting into place a constitution, a democratic government, a representative government. It's a very difficult fight.

WILL: General McChrystal in Afghanistan spoke of bringing in a government in a box. It turns out it's difficult to get a government in a box.

BREAM: And Charles, there are so many competing interests there because we've got Iran, we've got Syria, we've got Russia, we've got China. It's complex beyond measure.

HURT: It is very complex, which is why, you know, these past solutions really never work out. This president, you know, I think of his foreign -- if there's going to be an Obama doctrine, it will be surrender without peace.

BREAM: Julie, how much do you think it's going to factor in the fall election, these hot button foreign policy issues?

PACE: I think right now they are on people's minds. They're not necessarily at the forefront of people's minds. But as we often see in the elections, something can happen somewhere in the world that can very quickly change the conversation.

BREAM: George, final word to you on this topic.

WILL: The first beheading video from ISIS changed the Republican race for president dramatically. In a sense it eliminated Rand Paul who represented a much less interventionist foreign policy. And something like that, events have a way of intruding.

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