NATO Gets More Aggressive

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 28, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


DAVID RITTGERS, CATO INSTITUTE: They're going to continue to serve a surgical stri ke capability, and in particular the most recent attack attacks in north Waziristan, it's an area where the Pakistani government itself doesn't have great control of either.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE, AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN ENVOY: Every bridge is out, by the way, in the same area you were discussing a moment ago. There may or may not be a connection and I'll leave it to you to decide whether there is or not. But the bridges are all gone in that area. The flooding has washed away the roads.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: U.S. officials don't talk about it publicly, but privately they concede there have been an increase in the number of strikes -- there has been an increase in the number of strikes, predator drone strikes along the north Waziristan section of Pakistan, in fact 20 within the last few days in September. There you see Waziristan along the Afghan-Pakistan border -- 20 drone attacks in just three airstrikes from military helicopters into Pakistan that killed some 125 people along that area in the past couple of weeks.

What about this, and what is behind it, and what is the politics and the policy fallout? Let's bring in our panel, Bill Kristol, editor of "The Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer -- Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think there's several reasons why there's been this escalation. Number one, we heard from Holbrooke, it's a tactical one. If you have an opportunity with the bridges washed out and there isn't the mobility and these guys can't escape. If you've got them and you have the intelligence, apparently there's been an increase in intelligence, and they're immobile, you hit them.

Secondly, we see all of this, all of these scares in France, England and Germany and there is a lot of indication of near imminent or at least in the works, attacks within Europe, and by the fact they're protecting the Eiffel tower, obviously, this is a -- this would indicate something large hitting iconic targets, and apparently it's emanating out of Pakistan. That would be the second reason. And the third is, actually, there's a war on in Afghanistan. We're now beginning the phase where we are trying to retake Kandahar, and the hinterland for the people who control Kandahar and that area, obviously, is in Pakistan. And we are hitting the sanctuaries, essentially in a way--

It's an odd analogy, but I think it does hold which is the way that in the Vietnam War we went into the neighboring countries like Cambodia, which was also a place where there were sanctuaries and when we were having offenses in Vietnam.

So, I think that's probably why. The one thing I'm a little concerned about it is we know about it, we really shouldn't. It is an embarrassment, the Pakistanis aren't happy when the leak is made. And if this is all being leaked in private, it shouldn't be. It should not be an irritant which we already have a lot between us and Pakistan.

BAIER: You're usually very critical of the administration. Is this something they're doing right?

KRAUTHAMMER: Absolutely right. And it looks like its coordination with the land war happening in Kandahar and southern Afghanistan, so I think it makes a lot of tactical and strategic sense.

BAIER: Mara?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Yeah, I think that for anybody who thought that President Obama wasn't going to prosecute the war vigorously, this is a pretty good example of why they might have been wrong or too pessimistic.

He's continued the Bush policy and doubled down on it. He'd done more drone attacks. Now he's taking advantage of the flooding there. Although the flooding is a terribly destabilizing thing for the Pakistani government, this is one of its positive side effects.

BAIER: Because as Holbrooke said, Bill, the bridges are washed out and some roads are washed out and perhaps tough for people to move. What about the talking about it? We've seen Pakistan release a couple of statements, but there hasn't been a lot of pushback like there was for just a few strikes in the Bush administration?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yeah, for whatever reason, General Petraeus or -- and President Obama have the ability to go know into Pakistan to some degree so far without much pushback. Maybe the Pakistanis now understand what a threat a resurgent Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan is to Pakistan.

You know the Pakistani government a year and a half ago sort of looked as if it might be teetering against the threat of the fundamentalists of the Taliban, and I think they may have -- some people at least in Pakistan may have second thoughts being very cute and playing games too much with the Taliban.

But look, General Petraeus went over there, and I think when he went over there he was assured by President Obama he would get to try to win the war. He wasn't going there to hang on for a year and find a fancy exit strategy. They've been working hard there in Kabul and they have planned this offensive in Kandahar where they're going into Kandahar City. There is also going to be an offensive by the marines next door in and Helmand province. They also are trying to do a lot of damage to the counterterrorism strikes by using the drones. So you know, the surge, I remember in June of 2007 with General Odierno under General Petraeus in Iraq said the surge of forces has been completed, the surge of operations is now beginning. The surge of forces has just been completed and there are 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, and I think we are going to see a surge of operations in the next few months.

BAIER: The New York Times attempted bomber [sic] was tied back to the Pakistani Taliban, and publicly when that was happening in the early stages, the administration talked about it was a clumsy attempt, the Pakistani Taliban perhaps wouldn't be able to launch something across the sea.

And yet now there's a lot of talk of possible attacks and possible imminent plans to launch something in Europe.

KRAUTHAMMER: Look, Al Qaeda is degraded. It's on the run. It's in hiding, but it's not destroyed. And they haven't had a major attack in years. They've had these one-offs here and there, which are not impressive if you're looking for something that will catch the attention of the world.

From what we hear from the Europeans and the threat level and the closings of these iconic areas and structures, it means that they're looking at something large, and if you hear about that these days, you don't wait. You strike. You strike particularly at headquarters, and that's where the northern Pakistan, the border regions, is headquarters.

BAIER: And Mara, the left has been fairly silent.

LIASSON: We haven't heard anything about this. I think that the left is against the escalation of the war. I don't think they're going to focus on drone attacks. They've never made that a kind of specific issue.

But I think that come December, especially next summer, you are going to see some demands for probably a greater pull down than there will be. But if it's successful and it looks like the war is working, I think a lot of that, those complaints go away.

BAIER: Last word, Bill.

KRISTOL: President Obama said something like "I can't afford to lose the Democratic Party." I hope personally he decides he can't afford to lose the war, and if he loses a bunch of Congressional Democrats, that doesn't matter as long as he's winning the war.

BAIER: Logon to our homepage at You can check out the show notes portion of the page and keep up-to-date on the situation on Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Up next, the president's chief of staff, will he stay or will he go? And who is in line to replace him?



OBAMA: I think that Rahm will have to make a decision quickly because running for mayor in Chicago is a serious enterprise and I know this is something he's thinking about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has he told you what he wants to do?

OBAMA: He hasn't told me yet. But as soon as he does I'm sure we'll announce it.


BAIER: President Obama speaking about his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel possibly running for mayor of Chicago. It is expected; at least our reporting is that a decision could come as early as Friday.

Here's the possible replacements' being talked about here in Washington. First, the insiders -- these are the folks who are under consideration, we're being told, and it's being reported.

Deputy National Security advisor Tom Donilon, Ron Klain, an aide to Vice President Joe Biden, and Obama senior adviser, Pete Rouse. Now, here are the outsiders, people being mentioned -- former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, one time Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, and CIA director Leon Panetta. What about this, whether he'll go or stay, and who's next?

Back with the panel -- Mara?

LIASSON: Well, it seems like he's going to go. He's been totally open for wanting to do this for a long, long time. He never thought the opportunity would come up so soon. Of course he's going through this with his family. They did just move here after all. So we don't know for sure, but all indications are that he'll go.

As far as what happens afterwards, it sounds like Pete Rouse will be the interim chief of staff, and Obama doesn't have to decide who he wants to replace Rahm with right now. He can wait till January, even. And that might be a good idea because he has to see what happens--

BAIER: Reaction to the mid terms.

LIASSON: -- in November. A lot of times when the presidents get a real drubbing in the midterms they bring in somebody else, new blood. They want to send a message that they got it, that things will be different. I mean, Ronald Reagan brought in Howard Baker, Bill Clinton brought in Leon Panetta. I mean these things happen.

BAIER: Looking at the polls now, looking at this midterm -- obviously we don't know the full extent of it -- and looking at the insiders, how do you see that message being sent?

LIASSON: Well, I think that if a lot of Democrats think it would be a good thing if the White House did reach out to somebody outside, somebody who could be a real surrogate.

Don't forget, for some reason and I've never figured this out, President Obama has great foreign policy surrogates -- Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, people can go out and talk for him, and they're big heavyweight people. But that's not true on the domestic side. There just never has been someone who could be a real surrogate for him. Those three guys, as talented and competent as they are that you put on the screen, are not surrogates for him. Now, I don't think that the three outsiders you put up are seriously in the running either, but I think a lot of Democrats would like the president to look outside at someone who could reach out to the business community, to the Hill. It's going to be a completely changed environment after November no matter who ends up with majority on Capitol Hill, and he needs somebody new to meet that challenge.

BAIER: Critics like Bill Kristol would say it's because the domestic policies are tough to defend.

KRISTOL: Yeah, I'm not looking for the job, Bret. But if I felt I could serve the country, I would be an excellent chief of staff to President Obama and reach out to the business community, reach out to conservatives, bipartisan administration after they lose the House and maybe the Senate.

But I don't want to be campaigning here too much on this set. I have better relations with Fox News; perhaps I could even help with that.

I don't know what -- it is kind of stunning for him to be leaving. I guess mayor of Chicago, may have been a boyhood dream, but still, White House chief of staff is a pretty important job, and now that you're leaving a month before the midterm election is a little unusual.

LIASSON: He has to if he's going to run for mayor.

KRISTOL: I guess so.

BAIER: Filing deadline.

LIASSON: November 22nd.

KRISTOL: And one could make nasty comments about rats fleeing a sinking ship, because there have been a lot of them leaving -- the budget director --

BAIER: One could.

KRISTOL: And one could say that he's the chief rat, but that would be wrong.

BAIER: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: How do you follow that?

Look, I think he clearly is leaving. I think Obama is going to want to get an insider for two reasons. Number one is he likes people he trusts. And he was an outsider. He doesn't have a long history here in Washington.

But I think the deeper reason is that when you bring in an outsider, somebody who's a public face -- Mara spoke about Reagan bringing in Howard Baker, but that was in Iran-Contra. Clinton bringing in Panetta, but that's after the debacle in the midterm election.

It's an admission that I was, I didn't quite get it. It's an admission that I didn't govern effectively or correctly, that I was off in my early days. It was -- and it's a reach for getting kind of legitimacy on you by means of appointing somebody whom everyone likes.

Obama is not someone who is going to make a tacit admission of that sort I don't think. I think he doesn't want to admit he was wrong in the way he governed, and that would be, I think, what would be understood. As you say, the message it would send is I get it now. I don't think he believes -- I'm not sure he believes he didn't get it. And that's why I suspect simply from his nature he'll find somebody on the inside.

BAIER: Mara, what about the internal chemistry? You have that Chicago crew, Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod will be leaving to run the presidential reelect effort, David Plouffe comes in, his former campaign manager from the campaign. What about the internal mixing of people?

LIASSON: I think that Pete Rouse is the most beloved. Of the three inside candidates you just showed he is kind of, the best liked inside and considered the best kind of stabilizing force of the insiders.

Ron Klain who is now the chief of staff for the vice-president is not really in the inner, inner, inner circle of the Obama-ites, and Tom Donilon is fairly new, too. I think of those three people Pete Rouse is clearly the top candidate for insiders.

BAIER: Is there any chance Valerie Jarrett would be --

LIASSON: I don't think so. She doesn't seem to have expressed any interest in it.

And you know, I think that the big question is -- does he think he needs to look outside for any reason? And right now, we're not seeing any indication that the president thinks that way, but after November things might look different.

BAIER: Did you want to give your cell phone number?

KRISTOL: There's one Democrat in this country that knows a lot how to save an administration after you lose Congress after your first two years, and he's available. Bill Clinton. Why not?

BAIER: There you go. That's it for the panel.

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