'Special Report' Panel on Bush's Decision to Send Condoleezza Rice to France, Georgia and Candidates' View on the Situation

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from August 13, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I'm sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to France, where she will confer with President Sarkozy. She will then travel to Tbilisi, where she will personally convey America's unwavering support for Georgia's democratic government.

We expect Russia to meet its commitment to cease all military activities in Georgia, and we expect all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw from that country.


BRET BAIER: President Bush today in the Rose Garden also saying that he is sending U.S. military aircraft to the capital of Tbilisi with humanitarian relief supplies.

So what now? What about the situation on the ground? U.S. officials and our reporters there are saying it's clear Russia has violated the cease-fire that's been in effect.

Some analytical observations from Bill Sammon, Senior White House Correspondent of The Washington Examiner, Jeff Birnbaum, columnist of The Washington Post, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Bill, let's start with you. What the president said and talked about today, sending Rice, sending U.S. military with supplies, what about that?

BILL SAMMON, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I was standing in the Rose Garden actually, hoping Bush would take questions, hoping in vain.

And it occurred to me that there are certain problems in the world that, A). aren't the United States' fault, and, B). we can't do much about. And I think this is one of them.

I think Putin recognizes that Bush is entering lame duck territory here the last few months. We're stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan with our troops already. There is no way on god's green earth we are going to get into a shooting war with Russia over a place called South Ossetia, as wrong as it may have been for Russia to do that.

And I think effectively Russia has won this one. They have taken three steps forward. They have gone into these two breakaway provinces and beyond. They have gone into Gori. And it almost seems like we're satisfied if they take one step back now and just get back to those two provinces.

And I think the final result is that Russia is going to control these as puppet provinces, and perhaps this will embolden them to go further.

BAIER: Jeff, the president said "Get out of our way" directly to Russian troops, Russian leaders as the U.S. military moves in there and the Secretary of State goes there. Is this a possibility of exploding things should something happen?

JEFF BIRNBAUM, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: I guess there is that possibility.

But I really think that what the Russians have done here is the equivalent of a brush-back, a baseball pitcher throwing a little close to the batter, making the batter step back. And that's what Russia was doing- -flexing its muscles, saying that it can create a problem, but I think will, on the next pitch, meaning in the next few days, will pull back, will not attempt to go any further into Georgia.

And, the reason is that the United States is not ineffective as Bill is suggesting. I think that there are plenty of non-military actions that the United States not only can do, but probably will do.

For example, we'll begin to speed up the inclusion into Ukraine into NATO. We'll deprive Russia of getting into the World Trade Organization, something they want very much. And we'll threaten to remove Russia from the so-called G8, which is really the G7 allowing Russia to come in and join the rest of western democracies.

And that kind of walling Russia off from the rest of the developed world is a sanction of a sort that the Russians will feel.

BAIER: What about protecting the democratic-elected government of Georgia? Conservatives, some of them, saying that this Bush administration is not doing enough. "The Wall Street Journal" in an editorial saying today—

"U.S. credibility is again on the line as the Bush administration stumbles to respond to the Russian invasion of Georgia. So far the administration has been missing in action, to put it mildly.

Moscow is sending a message that in its part of the world, being close to Washington can be fatal. If Mr. Bush doesn't revisit his Russian failures, the rout of Georgia will stand as the embarrassing coda to his presidency."


CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: That's the point. The story here is Georgia is not South Ossetia, and this is not a brush-back pitch, it's a beam ball.

The objective is not a couple of provinces in the middle of nowhere. It's to bring down the pro-western, democratically-elected government of Georgia.

Putin has two ways of doing this. He can march into the capital. As we saw in an earlier report, Russian tanks were about 12 miles out of town.

But I think he won't do that, or at least he's stopping right now temporarily, because he sees another way. The other way, and I think people have overlooked this—the terms of a truce negotiated by the French, in Moscow and Tbilisi are extremely unclear. Every issue in it, where the troops are going to end up, who will be sovereign, what peacekeepers will be allowed, has to be negotiated between Russia and Georgia.

And the president of Russia has said he will not negotiate with the president of Georgia, he has to go.

So what's going to happen, I think, is that, as we saw, the Russians have cut Georgia in half. They're on the outskirts of the capital. Georgia is paralyzed. Nothing is going to happen, and there will be no negotiations as long as the government stays in power in Georgia.

BAIER: And if Russian troops don't withdraw from the areas outside of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, then what?

KRAUTHAMMER: Nothing is going to happen unless negotiations occur.

And what's going to happen is the Russians are going to wait until the Europeans wobble and buckle, and insist on a change in the government of Georgia, the establishment of a puppet government, and then the negotiations will start, and then withdrawals will occur.

That's the strategy of Putin, and that's why our strategy has to be that, above all, we support the government in Georgia. That's why Rice will be there, and that's why our planes will be flying into that capital, hopefully unmolested.

BAIER: Last word in this panel.

What are the presidential candidates saying about the latest developments in the Russian-Georgia war? We'll discuss that with the all-stars when we come back.



When this crisis began, Barack Obama, the administration, indeed, and all of our NATO allies took a very measured and reasoned approach, because we were dealing with the facts as we knew them.

John McCain shot from the hip, very aggressive, very belligerent statement, and he may or may not have complicated the situation.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all, this isn't a time for partisanship and sniping between campaigns. This is about hundreds if not thousands of innocent people whose lives are either being taken or they are rendered homeless or wounded.


BAIER: Susan Rice, foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama, saying that John McCain was shooting from the hip initially in this Russia- Georgia conflict. John McCain responding today, as you heard, really not firing back.

We are back with the panel. Jeff, the back and forth on the politics of this war has been interesting to watch.

BIRNBAUM: It certainly has.

And policies, too, have been very interesting. And Obama's has evolved, it's fair to say. He did start with a very evenhanded view, that is, that both sides, Russia and Georgia, should come to their senses.

And then gradually he began moving to a much harder line against Russia, which is where John McCain started, and he remains.

McCain did not really move. He found that the bad guy in this was Russia and fingered Russia from the beginning. Obama has gotten to that point now, and I think that Rice is — that Susan Rice's point there was, in effect, a defense of Obama's slow start in getting to where everyone is now.

And McCain, in particular, McCain has worked hard, I think, to show that he really is an expert in this region, that he knows the president of Georgia. They admitted today they actually did once do water sports together, the president and McCain a couple of years ago, and McCain has known the guy since the mid 1990's.

And, this is all—the point of this is that McCain is trying to emphasize his expertise in foreign policy, which the polls show is a weakness for Obama.

BAIER: So, Charles, is it working?

KRAUTHAMMER: I'm not sure it's going to have a major effect. Each has a weakness and a risk here.

McCain has to be careful here about appearing bellicose. He has the reputation as the guy who was in favor of the war in Iraq who would continue it for 100 years and who wants to start a war with Iran, and if is not careful, he will be accused as the guy who goaded us into a war with Russia.

I think he has been careful. His statements are well-crafted. He speaks about wanting restraint, but he does speak about real sanctions, diplomatic, American and European against Russia.

Obama's issue is he can appear clueless, and he did at the beginning of the crisis, in which he talked about the Security Council as helping achieve a resolution, which is ridiculous since Russia has a veto on it and nothing happens.

BAIER: And he also put out a statement calling for aggressive diplomacy.

KRAUTHAMMER: Even today he talked about high level and direct diplomacy as if the level and directness of diplomacy is what is important as opposed to what actually is said and threatened and offered and negotiated.

SAMMON: I think the guy running for president, i.e. McCain, is able to be a little tougher in his rhetoric than the guy who is the president, who is always more constrained by the realities of the situation. So, therefore, I think McCain got away with it.

It's universally recognized now that Obama has come around to McCain's way of thinking. So this, politically, has benefited McCain as an issue.

Secondly, you have Barack Obama walking on the beach in Hawaii. I know he scheduled his vacation now and he can't help that. But even Bush has cancelled his vacation in Crawford, Texas do deal with this. So the visuals don't look great for Obama.

And, finally, it puts the focus of the presidential campaign back on national security, which generally tends to favor the Republicans.

The other thing is McCain was tough on are Russia years ago, just like he was tough on the surge before anybody else, so it makes him look a little be prescient.

BAIER: OK, last word on this panel.

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