This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from April 8, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: Al Qaeda in Iraq and a number of other extremist elements have been dealt serious blows. The capabilities of Iraqi security force elements have grown, and there has been noteworthy involvement of local Iraqis in local security.
RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: I said in September that I cannot guarantee success in Iraq. That is still the case, although I think we are closer.
I remain convinced that a major departure from our current engagement would bring failure, and we have to be clear with ourselves about what failure would mean.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, HOST: A couple of snippets from what was said today at some length on Capitol Hill by those two gentlemen about the situation in Iraq -- this was the long-promised update on the report they gave thaw heard Ambassador Crocker refer to last September.
Some observations on this now from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of "The Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and Bill Sammon, Senior White House Correspondent of "The Washington Examiner," FOX News contributors each and every one.
Let's set the political byplay, which was considerable, aside for the moment and just talk about the thrust of the testimony of these two men. A lot of this, I suppose, was expected, because the reporting out of Iraq is pointed in this direction. But what about it, Fred?
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Things are better. Things were better on almost every front, they said, particularly militarily. In response to any number of questions, they corrected the record about what happened in Basra when Prime Minister Maliki sent troops down there to fight the -- block the army of Muqtada al-Sadr.
HUME: His fellow Shiite.
BARNES: Yes, his fellow Shiite.
And what they pointed out was that, one, here is a guy who is supposed to be a sectarian leader -- that's what he is accused of, Maliki -- actually attacking someone who had been his supporter, and getting the country behind him. And he said that over and over again -- the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shia now are all behind him.
And it has had a tremendous impact on the country, though militarily he didn't make much progress in Basra -- I think it was this weekend before last.
The truth is everything you hear from Sadr now is, well, I'll call off my march. Oh, I want to have a ceasefire. Oh, I'll disarm my troops if the ayatollahs say I should. I think he is in retreat and fears being extinguished both as a religious leader and as a political figure.
So I think that was a corrective that was important in their testimony.
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Look, Maliki has been under pressure for a long time, and he has had to prove something to these other allies of his who aren't Shiites, which is that he can crack down on extremist elements in his own sect, and he did.
He didn't do it perfectly, and he did it with a lot of problems, but he actually took that step, and I think that won him a lot of points.
HUME: The benchmarks are now up to 12 of 18, Bill, that have been dealt with, and a couple of big ones, according to this testimony?
BILL SAMMON, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: A couple of big ones. They had the pensions legislation. They've scheduled provincial elections. They have had the de- Baathification reform.
They haven't got the hydrocarbons one passed, but 12 out of 18 --
HUME: That's the oil law.
SAMMON: Yes, but they basically dealt with that through the budget anyway. So the program --
HUME: They got no Bill, but they have a program.
SAMMON: They got it going in another way.
The problem with the Basra stuff is that there's a danger of that obscuring the broader gains that we are supposed to be looking at when these guys only come once every seven months to testify on Capitol Hill. I think you have to look at where did we come in the broad arc of this war and it's really dramatic when you think about it.
The Democrats were focusing on, not to get into the politics, but they were focusing on the Basra stuff, because that's a blip in this greater arc, and the Republicans are focusing on the greater arc because it's been so dramatic.
Think about it in December of '06. We had the Anbar was terribly dangerous. Zarqawi had incited basically a civil war. There was terrible violence. We didn't have enough troops there.
Fast forward to now. Zarqawi is dead. The civil war is done. There is no hope of turning Iraq into some Islamic state of Iraq. And we now have enough troops where we've gotten this thing under control and Anbar is much safer.
So I think that's the big picture, not Basra.
LIASSON: Even Democrats like Barack Obama have acknowledged that Petraeus has been very effective and this stuff has worked. The surge is going to end in July, at least the troops are going to be withdrawn --
HUME: Those that were part of the surge.
LIASSON: Yes -- and, of course, what the Democrats were questioning was what about the future? Are you going to be able to withdraw any other troops? And Petraeus says he wants this 45-day period of reconsideration, or recommendations and consolidation -- assessment, a period of assessment. He is not using the word "pause," pause in the withdrawal.
And that's what Democrats are looking for -- when can we start getting out.
BARNES: That's what they want in Iraq, to get out -- not winning, but getting out.
Brit, you used the word "benchmarks." Look, I watched most of the testimony and I may have missed some of the Democrats, but they never asked about the benchmarks. I didn't hear a single question about that.
Maybe I missed one, I didn't see all of it. But I saw a lot of it. And you know why they don't care about the benchmarks? Because they're going well -- 12 of 18, and the important ones, particularly the provincial elections.
So they don't even ask about it. They talk about the cost of the war. This was their new argument in moving the goal post now, it's that the war cost too much.
HUME: So you heard something here about the analysis of what the witnesses said. Next, we look at what the Senators said, and two, in particular, or three. Stay tuned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our goal, my goal is an Iraq that no longer needs American troops. And I believe we can achieve that goal, perhaps sooner than many imagine.
But I also believe that the promise of withdrawal of our forces regardless of the consequences would constitute a failure of political and moral leadership.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: I think it could be fair to say that it might well be irresponsible to continue the policy that has not produced the results that have been promised time and time again at such tremendous cost to our national security and to the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States military.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: Now, whoever you may think got the best of that back and forth, I want you to watch this now. Barack Obama comes along later in the day before a different committee, same witnesses -- and note the difference in his demeanor from that of his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we were able to have the status quo in Iraq right now without U.S. troops, would that be a sufficient definition of success?
CROCKER: I can't imagine the current status quo being sustainable with that kind of precipitous drawdown.
OBAMA: That wasn't the question, no, no. I'm not suggesting that we yank all our troops out all the way. I'm trying to get to an end point. That's what all of us have been trying to get to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: He went on to say an end point that all of us have been trying to get to. So there you have Barack Obama -- his face, his manner, his demeanor -- Fred?
BARNES: I liked him better, obviously. I thought he handled it well. He asked what seemed like legitimate questions. Sometimes they were loaded. It was clear that for him the end point is when are conditions going to be such in Iraq that we can withdraw a substantial number of troops out?
HUME: And why not the conditions that obtain right now? And, of course, if he had gotten any acknowledgment on that point from either of those guys, it would have made a major difference in the debate.
BARNES: I thought he made a very strong impression. On the other hand Hillary Clinton acted as if there had been no political progress at all in the last six months, or if ever. And of course there has been tremendous political progress.
Has there been 100 percent progress? They passed all this legislation for provincial elections. And then there is all the progress, as we probably should have expected in a country where the politics are heavily tribal and sectarian, they're from the bottom up in the provinces. And it's been going gangbusters there.
SAMMON: Look how her demeanor was different. She looked washed out, grim, deflated, almost defeated, because, first of all, I think she was worried about overstepping like she did last time she questioned Petraeus and, basically, called him a liar. We have to suspend disbelief. This time she went for a safer target, which was John McCain.
But the demeanor was so different than Barack Obama. He was saying some tough things too, but it reminded me of a passage in his memoirs where he talks about one of the things I learned growing up with a mixed racial heritage was I learned this trick where if you made no sudden moves and you talked smoothly, I discovered that white people would say such a nice white black man and he's not angry all the time.
And I couldn't help but think of that when I saw that today, because he is still asking those tough questions, but he is so likable that if you turn down the volume, I think he will get a lot more votes than Hillary, who looks grim.
LIASSON: Well, she looked serious, let's leave it at that. And there is no doubt that she is probably exhausted from this incredibly long campaign.
But he had some reasonable questions. He wanted to know, is this status quo good enough -- in other words, could we withdraw now if he thought it was sustainable. Clearly the answer is no, this isn't good enough. We're not there yet.
HUME: And what about McCain in all of this?
LIASSON: McCain -- I think these hearings were almost designed -- I don't mean purposely -- but they were the best for him, because his argument is that the surge is working. If we withdraw precipitously, without regard to consequences, which is what he said, there will be a disaster.
And it's really interesting, because the Democrats have been citing this Institute for Peace report which was written by many members of the former Iraq Study Group, which said we haven't nearly gotten close to the goals that we wanted, the kind of political stability and security situation that we wanted there, but the report also said that if we did withdrawal precipitously there would be chaos, civil war, possibly genocide.
So that is the stalemate that the Democrats are in right now. They want to get out, but the consequences are too awful.
BARNES: The important thing McCain did was not use his argument in favor of the surge, which we've heard before, but he asked tough questions. They were not softballs.
He said, look, what about the thousand Iraqi troops that, basically, ran off back in Basra? What about these mortars being fired in the Green Zone, what are you doing about that? And legitimate tough questions like that, rather than just questions where you are making some argument or are trying to embarrass somebody.
SAMMON: I noticed that Petraeus, he let his wingmen, Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman ask the leading questions and say haven't we made a lot of progress? And McCain looked a lot more reasonable by asking the tough questions, so he wasn't saying wasn't I right about the surge all the time?
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