All-Star Panel: Defense officials question strategy in Iraq

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," November 11, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: It's being done now, quite frankly, because the Iraqis have reached a -- they have demonstrated the willingness and the skill to go after ISIL. So they have reached a point where they need additional help and guidance, particularly in areas like Anbar.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Again, these additional troops are being called noncombat, even though they are going to places like the Anbar province, which is very dangerous. We're back with our panel. Charles, your thoughts?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, this is an inevitable step. It was one that Obama had to take. He doesn't want to announce it. He wants to pretend there is not going to be combat and he's extremely risk averse. One of the reasons the troops are frustrated is because they aren't allowed to do a lot of the things that they need to do.

Nonetheless, we may be making some progress. It all hinges on whether the Iraqi army is really capable. It looks as if it may have retaken one town today, which would be a good step. We have to have advisors with them in the field. That's the problem. Will Obama do that? I don't know.  It's clear that he has no intention of doing anything serious about Syria.  So that's understood. This is not mission creep. This is mission shrinkage. What we're trying to do is to do Iraq. This could take years but Syria is going to be left untouched. That may be logical, but it's going to be a very long time.

BAIER: Steve, you heard from Mike Waltz, former commander Special Forces about the frustration he hears in the field, like real frustration that their hands are tied.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Deep frustration, I think. I mean, they understand what it takes to fight and win a war. They did that, many of them, at the end stages of the Bush administration. I think what you are seeing, both in private -- you are hearing in private, you are now seeing in public. I mean, you've had comments in recent days from Martin Dempsey who has been, I would say, pretty --

BAIER: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

HAYES: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, been pretty friendly to President Obama, in effect a yes man has been the criticism. Even he has been raises some objections and raising the possibility that we have to send more troops. You are hearing Chuck Hagel split from the White House in a way that you hadn't heard that before. It follows on the heels of critical comments from Leon Panetta, Bob Gates. When you have people like that voicing their frustrations in public, some former public servants, some currently serving, I think it gives you some sense of just how frustrated the uniform military is because that's making its way up to those leaders.

BAIER: Meanwhile, A.B., there was frustration also about the veterans' health care situation that has obviously been going on for quite some time. Take a listen.


BOB MCDONALD, VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY: I have to propose an action. It then gets handled through an administrative process, and they, like a judge, an administrative judge, either agrees or disagrees. And so I have to make sure that we do thorough evidence gathering and research as we do the proposal because we want to make sure it sticks.

PETE HEGSETH, CONCERNED VETERANS FOR AMERICA: Why is Secretary McDonald playing bureaucratic defense when he could become immediately the champion of all veterans in America who look around and wonder why they wait months for an appointment, yet employees who created cultures where they were covering up wait times get paid administrative leave. The chasm between those two is a national outrage.


BAIER: So there's the plans to fire all these folks who have been intimately involved in all of this. But it's just taking time.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Well, that's the way the bureaucracy is set up. And I think Mr. McDonald is certainly a credible candidate for this job. A lot of people have a lot of faith in him that can he turn this around. He did express an interest in getting rid of terminating anyone who violated the principles of the VA. It's just he is making clear it's a long process of getting people from paid leave to actually losing their jobs.

And so there are vets groups frustrated right now. There are other vets groups saying they believe he started the agency down a good path and it's going to take time. They are already cleaning up their systems.  People are getting contacted about backlogs. And so I think people are going to have to have faith that it is being addressed. And with heavy scrutiny from Congress I think it will continue to be addressed.

BAIER: Supporters would say it's like a Navy term of turning an aircraft carrier. It's going to take some time to turn.

KRAUTHAMMER: And it will and I would give them a pass on that. I think he is trying to do it. If you want to change bureaucracy, it takes as long time.

However, the question is, why aren't the vets getting choice cards?  In other words, cards which allow them to go into the regular health system and to get care and get reimbursed? That's a way to get around the bureaucracy. Ultimately, it could be a cure for an obsolete top down system. Let the vets have choices.

BAIER: Thank you, panel. A lot of people are writing in about this book Mike Waltz, "Warrior Diplomat." We should point out we didn't in the interview that 100 percent of the proceeds go to the Green Beret Foundation, 100 percent. So, forgot to get that in.

That's it for the panel, but stay tuned for a recap of the president's latest TV interview.

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