Grading Obama on Iraq Drawdown Plans

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," December 12, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What has happened over the last several years has linked the United States and Iraq in a way that is potentially powerful and could end up benefiting not only America and Iraq but also the entire region and the entire world.

This administration took a gamble. It staked American prestige and the national security on the premise that it could go in, overthrow Saddam Hussein, and rebuild a functioning democracy. So far, each time that we have made an assessment of how that gamble has paid off, it appears that it has failed.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Senator Obama back in 2007 talking about the Iraq war and President Obama today alongside the Iraqi prime minister saying the Iraq war is over and all the U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year. We're back with the panel. You see the two leaders meeting in the Oval Office today. Charles, what about this and the statement and the moment?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I thought it was remarkable. Here is a president having failed in the job he had, which was in three years to negotiate an agreement with Iraq where there was some U.S. presence. There's going to be none, which means that our influence is gonna be greatly diminished.

And in fact, we we're not gonna have 16,000 people in the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Well that would make sense if we were a major influence in Iraq, which we won't be. And without our military for protection, do we really want that many Americans out there relying on protection of others? I think they're gonna be sitting ducks. So I think we're in a very difficult position.

And it's clear that Iraq now is swaying to some extent to Iran influence as we saw in Iraq's decision to abstain in the Arab League to essentially suspend Syria and to extend sanctions, which is gonna be very very difficult on the Assad regime. What the Arabs are seeing, the Sunni Arabs is this sort of Shiite crescent Iran, Iraq, Syria, and of course Hezbollah in Lebanon as a threat. And that is why I think they are really intent on the fall of Assad, because that would be a blow against Iran, Shiite influence. And that is why Iraq abstained. And it tells you how much Iraq is now in an Arab and in a Middle East context no longer responding to American interests in any significant way.

BAIER: This is a big moment for the administration in that politically it plays well to get all U.S. troops home, despite what Charles is saying here about concerns going forward. But what about the dichotomy between those two statements we saw, A.B., and the fact that there really was no mention at all, not once, of the Bush administration or decisions made during that time.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Well, when he was asked about whether or not he still believes it was a dumb war he said history will be the judge of whether or not getting into this war was a right decision. He is trying to say he's finished it off in right way.

No matter what he said as a senator he is invested now, this relationship with Nouri al-Maliki will always be strained, but he must have one. This is an essential relationship because, obviously, Maliki is close to Iranians.

And as they try to, not only must President Obama work to secure gains that we made for stable Iraq but he really needs, as he tries to mitigate the threat of the Iranians flexing their muscle in the region, he can't lose this relationship. So there's a sticky issue now with the Lebanese detainee and whether or not we're gonna take him back here or the Iraqis can keep him. There is a lot on the table. But for President Obama politically and substantively, he must keep this relationship going. He must have a line in with Maliki no matter what.

BAIER: Bill, the president did mention sacrifice of troops, the blood and treasure the U.S. has spent in Iraq. Your thoughts on the statement and the day?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I thought the statement was moving, actually. And that is the great irony for me. He said we had shared sacrifice in Iraq, the blood and treasure of U.S. and Iraqis fighting terror. He implied that we've had success and by saying that while history will judge whether it was right for him to get in, in the first place, I think that's the appropriate thing to say as president, he wasn't going to repeat his position that he had as senator.

And he said what happened in Iraq and in effect, the success there could benefit Iraq and the region and the U.S. So in a certain way it was an eloquent, I thought, tribute to what we've achieved over a difficult eight-year period over there.

And then he, as Charles says, he sort of, in substance throws it all away by not being serious about leaving a serious U.S. presence there that can help hold Iraq together, help preserve Iraq as a friend, help Iraq be a counterbalance to Iran instead of succumbing to Iranian influence. So for me, watching the statement, which I thought was appropriate and even somewhat moving, made even more -- made me even more unhappy and upset about the fact that he didn't negotiate an agreement and leave a reasonable number of U.S. troops there.

BAIER: Although what is the reasonable number? At the end, negotiations had it at 10,000. Then down to 3,000.

KRAUTHAMMER: The generals wanted 20 to 25, something comparable to our presence in the countries after the Second World War and Korea, elsewhere, Germany and Japan. And it would have been less but it would have been effective.

BAIER: That is it for the panel. But stay tune to hear from one Republican presidential candidate's biggest supporter.

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