'Special Report' Panel on President Obama's Strategy for Afghanistan

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from October 6, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF.: That we all respected that he was looking into every aspect of this, and that we would, again, honor what he had to say. Whether we agreed with it or voted for it remains to be seen.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: I hope that at the end of the day that the president will follow the advice some of some of our finest generals who we believe know what it would take to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Half-measures is what I worry about, not getting completely out of Afghanistan.


JIM ANGLE, GUEST HOST: Congressional leaders emerging from a meeting at the White House with President Obama on Afghanistan.

Let's bring in our panel: Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard; A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

President Obama told everyone this is a difficult decision. He understands how important it is. Charles, is he engaging in careful deliberation or stalling for time because there are no easy — certainly no easy political options here?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: You know, it isn't as if Afghanistan sprung up on him a week ago. It has been around for eight years. He has been running for president for two years on a promise to resource the war adequately, to look at it seriously and to win it. That's what the Democrats have proposed.

So it has been a serious issue for over two years. He says in March, he announces on March 27, a new comprehensive strategy, so he has been thinking about this. And then he added, which is not often remembered, this comes at the conclusion of a review. When he goes through all the people he consulted with, the commanders on the ground, allies, NGOs and the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan and members of Congress — it was a serious review in March.

He appoints his own general later and then he says two months ago it is a war of necessity. You would think he has thought it through.

And now all of a sudden he is rethinking it. It is because of the political pressure. The public opinion polls are going negative on him. He has gotten his left in the party and it is all about the politics. It is not about the strategy.

You have the best generals in the world. McChrystal on counterterrorism and Petraeus on counterinsurgency — the best in the world who know exactly how this is done and who conclude you cannot do a counterterrorism strategy, only counterinsurgency.

And all of a sudden he is relying on Biden, Rahm Emanuel and himself to go against the advice of these experts?

Hard to believe.

ANGLE: A.B., he is in a bit of a bind here because, one, the base of his party doesn't want to do anything in Afghanistan, it would appear.

But on the other hand, if you do not put in the troops that General McChrystal wants and has recommended, you are taking a big risk that if something happens with Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, that he would be blamed for the rest of his presidency for not having followed the advice of his generals.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: That is true. But Vice President Biden and perhaps General Colin Powell and General Jim Jones and others are advising that the threat really remains now in Pakistan, and that Al Qaeda is concentrated there and that if we spend resources we don't have militarily in Afghanistan at this point to go after the Taliban when Al Qaeda is an international global terrorist threat more pressing to our national security, that he will blow a chance to get into Pakistan at the right time and take care of Al Qaeda where it's based.

And that, I think, although there are political pressures from Moveon and the left of his party, to be certain is, I think, a huge challenge to weigh.

I agree with Charles that he laid out his own strategy and General McChrystal has come up with a plan for the mission that president Obama outlined in March.

But he is not just listening to Rahm Emanuel and Vice President Biden. He is listening to a chorus of voices who are concerned that Pakistan is where Al Qaeda is concentrated and we have to spend our resources there.

ANGLE: It was just mid-August when the president said, what Charles had been referring to, this was not a war of choice. This was a war of necessity. Those who attacked on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked the Taliban insurgency will be an even larger safe haven from which Al Qaeda will plot to kill more Americans.

That was in mid-August. It is a pretty clear assessment of what the stakes are here.


And he also said, Jim, that he wanted an integrated strategy, that basically you couldn't do just Pakistan. You had to do Pakistan and Afghanistan, because if the Taliban takes over in Afghanistan, it would obviously open it up for Al Qaeda to return there, and it would put enormous pressure on Pakistan and on and on. And he was correct about that.

What I worry about is exactly what John McCain mentioned and that is a halfway measure. And that is the sort of emanations you feel coming out of the White House, that he would do this, rather than — he could affirm — I think there's three choices:

He could affirm the strategy and back General McChrystal and send in more troops.

He could go with Joe Biden and have just withdraw troops and have a counterterrorism strategy, which you can do anyway because we're already doing it with the predators going after Al Qaeda chieftains and so on.

Or the third strategy, where you don't change strategy but have a halfway measure. And the one you hear is well, we'll send in 10,000 troops and they will be trainers for the Afghan troops. In other words, we will say we're sticking there but it is a half measure and it will lead to defeat.

That's what I'm afraid the White House will do.

ANGLE: Charles, on half-measures, one of the things is we have tried to get the Afghans to go along with us. We have made certain commitments.

The historian Bernard Lewis said a few years ago when we were talking about withdrawing from Iraq that the U.S. risked being seen as "harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend."

Is that the kind of judgment that is hanging in the balance here?

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, if you're — the war in Afghanistan hinges on which way the people go. The enemy has very low support in public opinion, around 6 percent. They don't want to return to the bad old days.

However, if you're a peasant who is not political either way, all you want to know is who is going to be here next week after the Americans leave, if the Americans leave? If the Americans leave, I'm going to get slaughtered. If the Americans stay, I join the Americans, I fight them. It all hinges on that.

They don't want to be left behind the way the Mung were in Southeast Asia or the South Vietnamese who supported us. And it's all about staying and it's all about resolve.

The president is showing this incredible ambivalence and almost regret for the way he, in a way, sort of committed himself early. If you're an Afghani, you are worried about supporting the Americans.

ANGLE: OK, while the president was talking about Afghanistan, he was not talking to the Dalai Lama. We'll talk about that with the panel, next.


PELOSI: Unless we speak out for human rights in China and in Tibet, we lose all moral authority to talk about human rights anywhere in the world.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: There was an agreement to do this later in the year and that's what's going to happen.


ANGLE: OK, so the White House has delayed a meeting with the Dalai Lama until after the president meets with Hu Jintao, the leader of China in November, though the White House wasn't quite clear about that, but the Dalai Lama's representative said they agreed to delay the meeting.

Charles, a simple scheduling problem?

KRAUTHAMMER: This is obviously a concession to the Chinese. I'm not against concessions but I want to see a concession that gets something in return of significance.

For 18 years, presidents have met the Dalai Lama. All of a sudden our president has delayed it. That is obvious signal that everybody understands. It is bending a knee to the Chinese.

Look, if you want to bend a knee, get something in return. We sold out Taiwan in Nixon's visit to China, but in return we got an extremely important strategic relationship.

Obama sells out to the Russians the Poles on missile defense to Russia, and he gets nothing. Concessions are OK, but a concession with no return is appeasement and naivete.

And here I don't understand exactly why — what he fears from China. Do it if you believe in human rights, and otherwise you don't have to see them at all if you believe it gets in the way of relations, but show us something in return. He has shown us nothing yet on any of his concessions.

ANGLE: A.B., there is a lot of issues between the U.S. and China. He obviously wants their help on climate change because they need to reduce their emissions, he needs help from them on North Korea and Iran, though he hasn't gotten a whole lot certainly on the latter.

There are a lot of things on the table that the president is worried about, but did the Dalai Lama get lost in the shuffle here?

STODDARD: They made a very concerted effort to let the Dalai Lama know he would not be visiting with him. As much as the White House is acting like this is a last-minute surprise, and there has been some confusion, they are being quite squirmy about the fact that they let him know awhile back this meeting will be deferred and delayed and you will not be having the traditional White House meeting you have become accustomed to.

And I agree with Charles that it is clearly an effort to try to influence the Chinese, hoping that as you look toward some kind of concessions an cooperation on climate change, the ever extended had on Treasury bonds, and obviously help isolating Iran, that this is going to bear fruit.

We have seen all year long not only Nancy Pelosi, long a champion of human rights and a thorn in Beijing's side —

ANGLE: It was almost a General McChrystal statement there...

STODDARD: That when she and Hillary Clinton went to visit, they talked about how they were going to just put aside the discussion of human rights so that there were things on the table we need to cooperate about.

And this is the new relationship of whatever they calling strategic reassurance with China. The Obama administration has clearly made the decision that they're going to get something, much as they hoped with the Russians, out of the Chinese. And we will see what happens.

BARNES: I know, but it is not up to them to assure us that they're going to get something. It is up to the Chinese to assure us they are going to give something.

Strategic reassurance — what in the world do we need to reassure the Chinese about? What that we're going to invade in Manchuria or something? Come on. We don't need to offer them assurance or reassurance.

I would point out that Nancy Pelosi, whatever she said on that earlier trip when Hillary Clinton said human rights were off the table, she has been very good on human rights in China all down the line. I think a lot of people recognize she is a lot tougher than we expected her, than I expected her to be as House speaker, but she has stuck with this issue. It doesn't please the Obama White House, that's for sure, but it does please the Dalai Lama and it should.

ANGLE: I'm waiting to hear for cries of agony from Hollywood about all this.

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