'Special Report' Panel on Dems Vs. Republicans on the Iraq War and Obama's Speech

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from March 19, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The surge has done more than turn the situation in Iraq around. It has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In order to end this war responsibly, I will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will start bringing our troops home in the first 60 days of my administration.


BRIT HUME, HOST: That, folks, is what you call a disagreement.

Some thoughts on it now from Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of "Roll Call," Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Well, the president says that a major victory is within reach. The other two say we're going to end this war as soon as absolutely possible, and the sooner the better.

Question -- let's assume that they get the chance, one or the other of them -- will they do it? Will they end the war immediately?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "ROLL CALL": My guess is that they will begin withdrawals, but, depending on the situation on the ground, they will pace their withdrawals such that they will avoid a catastrophe.

I mean, I cannot believe that they would be so irresponsible as to follow some preordained timetable for withdrawing in 12 months or 16 months, as Obama wants to do, and ignore what the commanders on the ground say, et cetera, et cetera.

HUME: The question was put in a conference call to the Hillary campaign.

KONDRACKE: I know. I was on that conference call. And the answer was that, regardless of conditions, Hillary Clinton would do this.

But this was Howard Wolfson that said this, it was not Hillary Clinton who said it. And both Obama and Clinton at various times have talked about how they will do this in a measured fashion. And Obama said today that it would not be precipitous, et cetera.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: He often says we have to get out as carefully as we got in carelessly.

I think this is setting up the Democratic base for another disappointment. They thought the Democratic Congress would end the war when they elected them in 2006. And if Democrats vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama thinking that the war will be ended, as in lock, stock, and barrel everybody home, I think they will be wrong.

Hillary Clinton, even though she once gave an interview to Michael Gordon of "The New York Times" where she actually said "No, I won't get involved in a civil war, even if that's what our removal leaves in its wake," I find that hard to believe.

The United States is responsible for what happens in Iraq. And Hillary Clinton, if she is the president, or Barack Obama, are also going to be responsible for what happens in Iraq if we leave.

They have left themselves tremendous amounts of wiggle room. "I will start bringing the troops home." Anybody can start bringing the troops home. Bring home a couple hundred of them.

HUME: You can argue that Bush has.

LIASSON: George Bush has been bringing the troops home.

I think the debate that we are having, and we have said this the other night, on the Democratic primary, it is all about who is going to bring them home faster and who was against the war first, earlier.

That is not the debate you are going to have in the general election. In the general election you will be dealing with the reality on the ground in Iraq, and what you think is going to happen --

HUME: Can they do any kind of hinting? Can they stop saying in the general election that they're not going to do this as quickly as they possibly can, that there will be an immediate beginning to the pullout?

LIASSON: I think that they're going to have to pass the commander in chief test all over again with a different set of voters.

KRAUTHAMMER: I disagree. I take them at their word.

I think you underestimate, first of all, the ideological commitment to end the war on the part of Democrats, and, secondly, how in a democracy, after a year-and-a-half of campaigning, you are trapped by your promises. You cannot run an election on the stark contrasts which we just commented on and then say, well, I'm commander in chief, I changed my mind.

What's going to happen if Democrats win, they will absolutely start a precipitous withdrawal, and then they will alter the course not dependent on the facts on the ground in Iraq, but on public opinion.

If a pullout is started, and there is a catastrophe in Iraq, and it shows up on the news, and people are upset, and public opinion all of a sudden shifts, then Democrats will have a finger to the wind, and the president, Obama or Clinton, will reconsider.

HUME: You mean by sending troops back in?

KRAUTHAMMER: Either back in, or slowing down, or something.

But unless there is a change in public opinion, they will liquidate the war. And I think it will be a catastrophe, and they may, in the future, have to reenter. Obama has even spoken about that.

But I think if you think that they're going to wake up on the day after Election Day and Inauguration Day and say "I changed my mind," that that doesn't happen and it won't happen.

KONDRACKE: I think that they will undoubtedly, depending on the situation on the ground, be promising through the election that they will end the war. It is like Dwight Eisenhower saying I will go to Korea. They're not going to back way off.

But they're going to do nuances, and, as Mara said, they have plenty of nuances in their statements already, and I cannot believe that any president of the United States short of George McGovern wants to actually come home America and not be responsible. Both of them have said that -- we have national security obligations in that region.

HUME: Suppose we seem closer to victory than we do today, things have continued to improve -- would they abandon all that even gradually and not go for the victory?

KONDRACKE: A lot of it depends on what the numbers are like, and all that stuff. Would they abandon it? I don't think they would abandon it.

HUME: They would see it through, you mean?

KONDRACKE: Yes, I think they would see it through.

HUME: Do you agree with that, Mara?

LIASSON: I think if a precipitous withdrawal would leave behind a big mess, they're not going to do that.

HUME: When we come back, the reaction to Barack Obama's speech on race and his long-time pastor's incendiary remarks. Stick around.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A speech worthy of Abraham Lincoln.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An extraordinary speech.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In many ways an act of honor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The best speech ever given on race in this country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Remarkable exploration of race from both sides of the color divide, from both sides of himself.


HUME: Well, those are pretty good reviews for Barack Obama's speech from some of our colleagues in the media.

Back with our panel on this subject. Charles, we haven't heard you on this. You weren't in here yesterday -- your thoughts about the speech and the reaction to it.

KRAUTHAMMER: The reaction was rubbish that we just saw. His speech was nothing more than less than apologia, an explaining away of Jeremiah Wright's rants done with elegance, nuance, and complexity.

Essentially, it said that -- if you look at his remarks, this is what Obama was saying -- he explained it away in two ways -- moral equivalence, and white racism.

The moral equivalence is on the one hand you have Jeremiah Wright, and on the other hand you have Geraldine Ferraro --

HUME: And his grandmother.

KRAUTHAMMER: -- and grandma, who occasionally would utter a private, racist epithet, as if she had shouted these in a crowded church or a crowded theater as a way to arouse and envenom the audience as Wright did.

Obama is a guy who glories in his capacity for intellectual distinctions. There is a huge distinction between a woman of the generation of a Truman, who also uttered epithets about Jews and blacks in private, and the propagation of race hatred in a congregation on behalf of a pastor.

And the second element of that speech was extenuating, and explaining in a way as a reaction to white racism. He says, look, you have to put Wright in context, context is history, and the history he gave is a history of racism starting with slavery and ending at Jeremiah Wright and his anger and frustration.

This kind of extenuation is what you used to hear from Jesse Jackson, except in Obama's case, dressed up in Ivy League language and Harvard Law School nuance. And that's why the commentary that we saw on this was so rhapsodic. It touched two erogenous zones -- white guilt and intellectual flattery. And that's all it was. I think it was a brilliantly conceived failure.

HUME: Mara?

LIASSON: That's a tough act to follow, man. That's all I can say.

I did not feel as harshly about the speech as Charles did, as he expressed so eloquently.

Look, I think he did some of the things you described, but I think he did more. He explained why Wright's words were divisive and wrong, and he also talked about white resentments and the context in which they came from, where white people who are immigrants, for instance, who had nothing to do with slavery, feel resentful when a job or college place goes to an African-American.

But I do think the interesting thing about the commentary -- I was pretty wowed by the speech, so were a lot of people -- however, when it came to the question came as whether this was going to solve his political problem -- because it was a political speech delivered because he had a political problem -- you think "could he have discussed this stuff earlier, could he have brought up this incredible dialogue he's been in with his minister over things they disagreed with.

He hasn't talked about that, and I think that is an unanswered question. Did he ever talk to Wright at the time about the disagreement?

HUME: Did he ever object?

LIASSON: Did he ever object? He certainly objected eloquently in the speech. Did he ever object contemporaneously?

But the big question is will it reverse the damage that the playing over and over again of Wright's statements has done to him, and you do see it in the polls.

KONDRACKE: He said in the speech something that is quite true, that America is hungering for the message that he is delivering, the message of unity, the message of reconciliation, and depolarization of our politics, working across Party lines, all that stuff. People want it.

The question is, is he the real deal? Can he deliver on it? Has he ever delivered on it? And here we have an example of him in action -- spending 20 years in the church of this racial rabble rouser, and saying nothing to stop the Reverend Wright, or challenge him in any way that we know of.

Furthermore, he told "The Chicago Sun Times" a couple of days ago that he had never heard this stuff before.

HUME: He told us that, too.

KONDRACKE: Yes. And so now he says, oh, well, I did, and that I cringed at it. So that's a change in his theory.

But, beyond that, there is no example of him in the Senate ever forming a bipartisan coalition on any major substantive, tough issue. And, furthermore, you look at his agenda, this populist, liberal agenda, and you run through -- there was not a single thing I could see in that agenda that would attract any Republicans, thereby reaching across party lines.

LIASSON: That's a different issue, and I agree that you can't find that. But he has gone to black audiences and delivered some pretty tough talk about responsibility and self-help. I don't think it's true that he never talked about it.

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