'Special Report' All Stars Debate Whether Progress in Iraq Justifies Sustaining the War

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from July 30, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think that we can, potentially, achieve some measure of stability. And that is far preferable for our interests than complete collapse of the state and all out genocide and regional war.

So I think that while it is too early to say that we can achieve stability, we have a chance, and the military tactics themselves, at least, look quite good right now.


HUME: That is news because of person from whom it comes. And it came from Michael O'Hanlon, an analyst at the Brookings Institution, and no friend of the Iraq policies of this administration.

And it also came in a joint op-ed piece from a colleague of his, Pollock, and here is the piece, as you see it there. Kenneth Pollock and Michael O'Hanlon are now calling this, "A war we just might win." That is a considerable turnabout for both of those gentlemen in terms of the way they believe this war is being waged.

Some thoughts on the meaning of this now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, FOX News contributors all three.

So, Fred, what about this? We hear it from people in the military, we hear it from long-time supporters of the war. Now we are hearing it from people who have opposed the way the war has been waged. Tell us.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: It tells us that something is happening in Iraq, and it is good. I think you are referring to John Burns in The New York Times, who had been very pessimistic several years ago about the future of Iraq and the possibility of creating a stable democratic government there.

Now who has seen what happens in Anbar, and where the Sunni Sheiks have turned against Al Qaeda and have joined the U.S., and so on, and he is much more optimistic now. I wouldn't say bubbling over, but than neither is Michael O'Hanlon and Ken Pollock—

HUME: But they do say this, and I quote, "Morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel they now have a superb commander in General David Petraeus. They are confident in the strategy, they see real results, and they feel, now, they have the numbers needed to make a real difference."

BARNES: There is undoubtedly real progress there. We have seen some in Iraq, some in the belt around Baghdad, where Al Qaeda mounts its attacks and suicide bombings, and on.

And what they asked for, what they suggested in their piece, O'Hanlon and Pollock did, was something, actually, not very radical at all, just saying look, let's let this thing go past September at least until the end of 2008.

HUME: In the next year.

And that is a pretty modest request. But it is not one that Democrats like to hear. They don't want to hear this.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I talked to Michael O'Hanlon last week before this piece aired, or was printed in the paper, and he basically said he hopes the Democrats will stay open- minded about the surge. Now he agrees—

HUME: Stay open-minded? Don't they have to get open-minded?

LIASSON: Or be open-minded about the surgeon.

And I think this is significant. He calls himself a hard-powered Democrat, in the tradition of Sam Nunn. He isn't somebody who is reflexively against the surge, but he has been hard-nosed about looking at whether it was working or not.

And although he says there is absolutely no political progress that he can point to, or at least no significant political progress—

HUME: You mean by the central government. He certainly noted the ground up progress in Anbar.

LIASSON: Yes, yes, sure. But no political progress, but he does think that this should be given a chance to work. And I think that we are now starting to see bits and pieces of the debate we are going to have in September when David Petraeus makes that report.


HUME: John Burns is the Baghdad Bureau Chief of The New York Times, and he enjoys a very good reputation among all who cover the place.

KONDRACKE: And there is an interview that is being carried right now by Hugh Hewitt, the radio talk show, as we speak, I believe, in which he says that there is undeniable progress militarily in all these places that we have mentioned, and some we haven't.

Deaths are down. Attacks are down. Suicide bombings are down. Al Qaeda is on the run, et cetera, et cetera.

He does say, however, that there has been no narrowing at all of the gulf between the Sunnis and the Shia in the central government, no progress toward any kind of political settlement, as O'Hanlon and Pollock also say.

And my fear is, my guess would be, too, that the Democrats will fasten on what hasn't been done, that the benchmarks haven't been achieved, that the Iraqi Parliament is on vacation for the month of August, and will use that as the excuse regardless of what Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker say in September to declare that the war as lost. I think that they are impervious to good news about Iraq.

LIASSON: But they don't have the votes to force an actual change in the policy.

BARNES: See, that is why—I agree with what Mort said, and Mara as well—that's why the important people here who might be affected by Michael O'Hanlon and Ken Pollock and John Burns, and others by General Petraeus and what he says are Republicans.

Because if you can hold on to Republicans—the fear has been that there would be a bunch of Republican senators in particular who would be fleeing from the president's policy. We have already seen some go soft — Lugar, and Warner, and Gordon Smith, and others, but that there might be a real retreat by these senators come September.

I think when you get more like this from people like Michael O'Hanlon and Ken Pollock, I think it gives you an indication of what we are going to hear from General Petraeus and Ryan Crocker come September, and it can affect the Republicans.

I agree with Mort about the Democrats, they are not going to change much. We saw yesterday on FOX News Sunday, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin declaring that the surge is not working. Well who knows better? These guys who have just been over in Iraq, or Senator Feingold who hasn't?

KONDRACKE: One person whose testimony will be very influential will be James Jones, former Commandant of the Marine Corps, who has been sent over there by Congress to assess the readiness of the Iraqi Security Forces to handle the job. And I think his report on that—

HUME: He is going to be saying what everybody is saying—it is not as good as we'd like, but their better?

KONDRACKE: If he has got anything positive to say, it seems to me that would bolster the Republican too.

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