President Bush Agrees to a Limited Drawdown of U.S. forces
This is a rush transcript from "The Beltway Boys", September 15, 2007, that has been edited for clarity.
FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Coming up on "The Beltway Boys," the general speaks and the president listens. President Bush agrees to have a limited drawdown in forces in Iraq.
MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: We will tell you how the political climate has changed. What the Democrats are planning next.
BARNES: Plus, moveon.org's slime job against Petraeus puts Democratic presidential contenders on the defensive.
KONDRACKE:And the Republican presidential race is narrowing with Fred Thompson moving up in the polls.
BARNES: "The Beltway Boys" are next, right after the headlines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The more successful we are, the more American troops can return home. In all we do, I will ensure our commanders on the ground have the troops and flexibility they need to defeat the enemy.
SEN. JACK REED, (D), RHODE ISLAND: And endless and unlimited military presence in Iraq is not an option.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNES: I am Fred Barnes.
KONDRACKE:I'm Mort Kondracke. And we are "The Beltway Boys".
BARNES: Tonight's hot story, buying time. That's what General David Petraeus did for the Bush Iraq policy, the surge and giving America a chance to win in Iraq. He bought time with that, Petraeus did, with his testimony on Capitol Hill that was riveting. And I think, as far as Iraq, is concerned Washington is different. Washington has changed because of Petraeus.
Look, they obviously the thing he did was to guarantee himself, as the commander in Iraq, more time and flexibility in dealing with the enemy there. That is al Qaeda and the insurgents. The other thing he did was destroy, Mort, destroy — I don't think that's too strong a word — destroy any Democratic hopes of imposing a timetable on Bush for withdrawing troops, forcing him to withdraw troops at a particular time.
KONDRACKE:For the moment.
BARNES: For the moment? That's what we are talking about, Mort. We are dealing with the moment. Democrats next week will have to fall back on some what vaporous ideas about they will seek goals, maybe change the mission or limited tours of duty and so on. Things that I know you think might pass. I don't think they have a chance to pass. So Democrats were - - Republicans were firmed up in their support of the Bush policy or rejection of Democratic alternatives.
Even John Sununu of New Hampshire, who did a little wavering, is now arguing for united Republicans. I think he will get that.
Nevertheless, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid hasn't given up. Now he has come up with a new argument, trying to go lure Republicans away from Bush the Democrats have on Iraq. It's the Republican Senator's war in Iraq. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID, (D), NEVADA: I call on the Senate Republicans not to walk a lock step as they have with the president for years in this war. It's time to change. It's the president's war. At this state it appears clearly it's also the Republican Senator's war. I hope they will drop that legacy next week.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNES: I don't think that's going to work. And the fact is Petraeus calmed Republicans so much that it won't work. Listen to Trent Lott, number two in the Senate. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TRENT LOTT, (D), MISSISSIPPI: I actually think that the Republican position is stronger now. The confidence in Petraeus and Crocker, the way they presented their report, the determination to begin to drawdown as many as 30,000 troops by next summer, with the hope that number could be larger. I think that has tended to calm Republicans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNES: Mort, I know you're not calm. You want to jump in. I want to show you one more thing. It was left to colleague, Bret Hume, to ask the key question of General Petraeus when he interviewed him a day or two ago on FOX. What is victory in Iraq, what will it bring us? Here is General Petraeus' answer. Watch
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL COALITION, IRAQ: I think an enormous payoff is the fact that we may be able to defeat al Qaeda. Al Qaeda Central, if you will, does regard Iraq as the central front in its war of terror. So this would be an enormous blow to al Qaeda, if we were able to defeat al Qaeda in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KONDRACKE:I think Petraeus and Ryan Crocker have bought Bush six months for running room in Iraq. I am surprised Republicans have held as firmly as they have. The Democrats have been annunciating this theme their purpose was to get Republicans to go against the president.
I still think, as we move toward the '08 elections, Republicans will not relish the prospect of 130,000 troops in Iraq, especially if casualties are high. It's a warning to President Bush that this Webb, Jim Webb amendment, which would restrict the time that troops can serve in Iraq, and therefore restrict the number of forces we can send to Iraq, might get 60 votes. If they get 60 votes, that means 12 Republicans will probably support it, up from 4 who supported an anti-Bush resolution back in July. I think that March is the next date that...
BARNES: It's about time.
KONDRACKE:In March we will have a reconsideration. I think more Republicans will hold if there is more good news on the ground in Iraq, specifically if there is evidence Iraqis are standing up and reconciling and reducing the civil strife that's going on there.
And secondly, Petraeus promised that there would be a change, a transition in mission for the U.S. troops. If go, we reduce our combat missions and casualty levels go down, then Bush can run this out until the end of his administration and possibly achieve something we can call victory, which I dearly hope is the way it ends up. As I say, it requires more success on the ground.
BARNES: Of course it does. We have had some so far. Again Petraeus —there's no reason to think there won't be more success now.
You have to admit, though, that the political wind on Iraq is still behind the back of the Democrats. All of the polls show that. There has been a slight easing in the anti-war position, you have seen in a couple polls, but only slight. They haven't changed much.
But some of these Democrats did not help themselves in these hearings with Petraeus. I cite to you particularly Senator Hillary Clinton of New York who said she had to suspend disbelief when listening to Petraeus. In other words, she couldn't believe him, he's lying, he's not telling the truth. I think that was a mistake. She was jumped on for that.
Did you watch Senator Barbara Boxer from California?
KONDRACKE:Actually, I missed her.
BARNES: Rambled on and on and on with a lot of insinuations and innuendoes and then not give Petraeus any chance to respond. I think after Petraeus was such a powerful witness, without getting excited, without getting ruffled or anything — the scariest words in that speech the president gave to the nation on Thursday night, the scariest words is, Petraeus will be back in march to report to Congress again. If I were a Democrat, I wouldn't be in favor of that.
KONDRACKE:Look, the worse example of the week was the moveon.org ad accusing Petraeus of betraying the country. Petraeus, Betray Us. It's juvenile, but implies they think that he's not a loyal American, even though he has all of that salad on his uniform.
I think the left wing bloggers and moveon.org represent a real strategic threat to the Democratic Party. They provide the Democratic Party with a lot of money. But on the other hand, they exact in return a lot of obedience. And they try to intimidate Democratic Senators. They clog up the phone lines with phone banks. They say that if anybody doesn't agree with them they face political extinction and so on.
I think they remind the electorate of Jane Fonda and those Trotsky- like hooligans who used to be at Vietnam demonstrations in those days, and the anti-bomb movement, ban-the-bomb movement and nuclear freeze, Henry Wallace and all of that in the face of the Russians in the Cold War days. I think they are a long-term liability.
As evidence of that, Hillary Clinton was asked on this on-line debate — discussion that they had this week by Charlie Rose, how do you respond to the Petraeus add?
Here's what she said. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLIE ROSE, COMMENTATOR: Did you think the moveon.org advertisement about General Petraeus was either appropriate or necessary?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that we should focus on what the problem is here. The problem is a president who has a policy that flies in the face of reality.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KONDRACKE:In response to which John McCain had a perfectly devastating comment. If, quote, "If you are not tough enough to repudiate a scurrilous, outrageous ad such as that, then I don't know how you are tough enough to be president of the United States."
And I think you're going to see a lot more of that coming from Republicans in the general election.
Coming up, Fred Thompson gets a boost in the poles. Plus, remember Chinagate and the fund raising irregularities of Bill Clinton. His wife is facing troubles of her own. The "Ups and Downs" are next.
KONDRACKE:Let's check the "Ups and Downs" for the week. Up: Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson. He has gotten a bump in the poles since announcing his candidacy last week. The latest FOX poll shows Rudy Giuliani in the lead but Thompson closing, gaining 7 points since last month. Also gaining is John McCain who jumped up 9 points.
Well, our poll still shows Giuliani with a 12 point lead, down from just 15. The real clear politics average has him at only 6 down from about 20. So it indicates the people are catching up with Rudy Giuliani.
Further threats to Giuliani are, one, Mitt Romney leads in Iowa by 17 points and New Hampshire by 10. Thompson is ahead in South Carolina. So Giuliani has to get moving in these early states or he will be behind when we start getting into the primary. And I think...
BARNES: Let me ask you a question. What do you mean by people are catching up with Rudy Giuliani.
KONDRACKE:In the polls. In the polls.
KONDRACKE:I am not talking about voters. No, no, no.
Thompson, meanwhile, had a great beginning but it seems to me he still has to show real gravitas, and not simply that he has a deep voice.
BARNES: You wonder and I wonder how much of a bump John McCain would get out of that strong performance at the New Hampshire FOX presidential debate — 9 points. That's a lot. I think McCain is lurking with great potential when anybody — particularly Thompson or Giuliani, who I think he would benefit from any slippage on their part. Just a little from Giuliani and look where McCain went. My advice, watch McCain.
Down: Disgraced Democratic fund raiser Norman Hsu. Stories of his legal and emotional struggles won't go away, much to the chagrin of Hillary Clinton, whose campaign gave back $850,000 bucks in tainted contributions from Hsu.
Why is this — I mean, she gave the money back. Why is this such a problem, this campaign contribution thing with Hillary Clinton? Because of the history. The last thing she wants to do is recall in her campaign the problems that beset herself and her husband, mainly her husband, in the White House.
Peter Baker with the "Washington Post" says the problem with Hsu thing is — I'll quote him here — "The eerie echoes of the last Clinton campaign finances scandal."
Remember Johnny Chung? Remember Charlie Trie? Remember Pauline Kanchanalak and those people that — the fundraising problem was so bad for Bill Clinton, you remember, at the end of the 1996 race, he won the presidency easily. But when the scandal broke, it prevented Democrats from winning the House of Representatives back.
KONDRACKE:It brings back all of that memory, which is why Hillary was very smart to give back the money right away and get it over with. I think it is behind her unless there are more — you should pardon the expression — Hsus dropping.
BARNES: I'll pardon it.
Coming up, the GOP's goal of taking back the Senate got a whole lot harder this week.
And Hollywood is weighing into the Iraq debate with a whole slew of new films. We will take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly.
BARNES: Welcome back to "The Beltway Boys". We are continuing our look at the "Ups and Downs". Down: Senate Republicans. With two key Senate seats up for grabs in '08 and a vulnerable incumbent facing a tough Democratic challenger, Republicans are scrambling to fill the gaps.
Mort, they have a lot of scrambling to do, as you know. Just on Friday, Jeanne Shaheen, the former Democratic governor of New Hampshire announced she's run against John Sununu, who beat her narrowly when he was elected five years ago. He's running way behind her in polls. And he's probably the most vulnerable Republican.
That's not the only Republican seat that's vulnerable. John Warner retired in Virginia. Mark Warner, a Democrat, announced he is going to run. He's the most popular politician in Virginia. He'd be hard to beat. There are a couple of Republican candidates who want the nomination for that Senate seat, Congressman Tom Davis or Virginia and former Governor Jim Gilmore, the state's underdog.
Then there's Nebraska. With Chuck Hagel retiring, you would think the Republican — it would be easy to replace him with another Republican. That's not necessarily true. Look at the other Senator is from Nebraska.
KONDRACKE:A Democrat. .
BARNES: Yeah, Ben Nelson.
KONDRACKE:Right. So the score is 51-49 operationally. In order to have a — break filibusters, you need 60 votes. Democrats need 60 votes. That means a pick up of nine or 10 depending on what the vote is.
The Republicans pick up New Hampshire, Virginia, Nebraska and Colorado, which is an open seat. That gets them to 55. If they can pick up Oregon, Minnesota and Maine, they will get to 58. They are still short of 60. I think it would take a landslide. You would have to get Kentucky or North Carolina, or New Mexico, unlikely, to get over the top. Unlikely, but not impossible.
BARNES: Down: Tommy Lee Jones. He is unapologetic about his movie "In the Valley of Elah." A film that critics say paints U.S. troops in Iraq as murderers, drug addicted, prostitute-patronizing thugs.
KONDRACKE:I confess I have not seen the movie. I guess commenting on it without having seen it is bad form. I will have to see it some day. Tommy Lee Jones said it's based on our idea that the entry into Iraq was fraudulent and it fits in with a lot of other movies.
The new theme of America's-always-wrong Hollywood left is not that — in this case, it's about a soldier who comes back from Iraq and gets murdered by buddies of his. He has experienced dramatic shock because of atrocities that he supposedly committed. And the buddies are also experiencing traumatic shock as well. This is a combination. It's the old Vietnam story that American soldiers are thugs and it's the new anti-war story that the American soldiers are victims, all rolled into one.
BARNES: It's difficult. But Tommy Lee Jones manages it. There are other ones that are redacted by producer Brian DePalma that, again, is about an atrocity committed, a rape and murder of an Iraqi girl committed by American troops.
Mort, there have been atrocities by Americans in Iraq. They are not representative, which these movies suggest, that this is the way American soldiers have acted in Iraq and, prior to that, in Vietnam. It's just not true. The stuff written by people like Robert Calflin (ph) about the way these troops, and particularly the way the young officers actually operate is they are heroes. Hollywood ought to do movies about them, not these movies about these horrible things that are unrepresentative.
KONDRACKE:I would like to see movies about the guys we're fighting, al Qaeda, chopping off the heads of two little children and putting them in baskets to scare their parents.
Anyway, "The Buzz" is up next. Don't move a muscle.
BARNES: What's "The Buzz," Mort?
KONDRACKE:I interviewed General Jim Jones this week who says the Iraqi military is stepping up soon enough that they could have remissioning, as he calls it, of U.S. forces pretty soon. But he says the most important mission people are not attending to is border control. The Iranians are pouring weapons and operatives across the border, giving aid to militias, the Shiite militias, like they did in Hezbollah in Lebanon. That has to be attended to and you hear little about it.
BARNES: When President Bush had those anchors for lunch before his speech Thursday night, he talked about — the first time they had heard about it anyway — this long-term security relationship with Iraq. Some of them were stunned. And Bush had it in his speech as well. This was not the time to break it up. Let's succeed with the surge first. And then, get back to that subject.
All right, that's all for "The Beltway Boys" this week. Join us next week when the boys will be back in town.
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