'Special Report' Panel on Obama's National Security Team; Mumbai Massacre Aftermath

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from December 1, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: I'm a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions. I think that's how the best decisions are made. So I'm going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House. But understand I will be setting policy as president. I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out, and I expect them to implement that visio n once decisions are made.


BRET BAIER, GUEST HOST: President-elect Obama today rolling out his national security team. Among them, Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Robert Gates staying on at the Pentagon, Eric Holder as attorney general, Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security, retired Marine General James Jones as national security adviser, and Susan Rice as U.S. ambassador to the U.N., which the president-elect said he will raise to Cabinet level again.

So what about this rollout and what this team means for this administration incoming? Now some analytical observations from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent with National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — FOX News contributors all.

Mara, let's start you with.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: A lot of continuity, a lot of strong people. He certainly isn't afraid to have a former rival in the Cabinet with him. I think it's very reassuring. It's very centrist, experienced and pragmatic.

It doesn't sound like he's going to make a radical departure in foreign policy from the last phase of the Bush foreign policy.

BAIER: Charles, he was asked in this press conference about some of statements he made about Hillary Clinton in the primary, that her foreign policy experience amounted at one point amounted to having tea with leaders around the world.

He said that was then, this is now.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: He did not raise her combat experience in Tuzla. He sidestepped it the way you'd expect him to do. He's rather nimble.

But I think Mara is right about the centrism of his appointments. If he has Clinton in the Cabinet at that high a post and James Jones, who are the quintessential centrist establishment figures, and he keeps Bob Gates on at Defense, that's the kind of change I can believe in.

It is, I'm sure, a disappointment to his left. But even more disturbing, I'll bet, is what he said about Iraq. That was really — he gave about every caveat he could for his withdrawal statement.

As we heard earlier, he said "It's only combat troops," which means he is leaving in a lot of residuals. Secondly, he said he will speak with his generals, which is a way of saying it will depend on conditions on the ground.

Third, he said it will have to be consistent with American safety. And fourth, he added — in case you weren't aware of how much room he wanted to actually give himself — he said it has to be consistent with the safety of Iraqis as their own government takes over.

Now, that's a huge amount of space. He understands that if he blows Iraq, which I think is perceived today as a won war, if he blows it, it will poison his presidency. And he will not allow himself to be locked into a timetable which could undo all that's been gained.

BAIER: In fact, Jennifer Griffin reported tonight that of the 146,000 troops often on the ground in Iraq, technically 50,400 are listed as combat troops by the Pentagon. So there is a lot of wiggle room when you start talking semantics — Fred?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: He has named Bob Gates at Defense and Jim Jones as national security adviser. Jones didn't support the surge, but both have publicly talked about not withdrawing American troops from Iraq too quickly.

And, besides, now that there is a Status of Forces Agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, which says that all American troops should be out by the end of 2011, then that's the governing thing now, not some statement that Obama made during the campaign.

But I have to say, if you told me a couple of months ago that Bob Gates would stay in defense and Hillary would be secretary of state and Jim Jones was going to be national security adviser, I would have thought you were crazy. And yet there they are.

And he elevated Susan Rice, who, Mara, you'll remember, she was rumored as a possible national security adviser just a few months ago. She might have Cabinet status, but she has been exiled to the U.N. So she's not going to be a factor.

Poor Joe Biden won't be a factor either. Hillary will squash him.

And I think John Kerry really was expected to be secretary of state. After all it was at his convention that Obama was picked to give the keynote address, that famous speech in 2004 and yet Kerry is nowhere.

This is, as Mara said, this is a continuity group on Iran, on Iraq, on dealing with India, probably on the Middle East, on Afghanistan. This is the Bush policy carried into Obama administration.

BAIER: Mara, if you are a liberal, or as they like to say, a progressive, and you're looking at today's news conference, are you cringing? Are you saying I hope Obama can steer this ship?

LIASSON: Yes, you are probably saying that.

There is a tremendous amount of forbearance and deference and goodwill towards Obama on the left. I don't hear the kind of griping and grousing that you would expect.

Now, when they look at this Cabinet, it's not an antiwar Cabinet by any stretch of the imagination — 16 months has gone out the window, I think we can say that. But they do hear him say that he wants more diplomacy, he wants to spend a lot more resources on that. Where exactly he's going to get the resources I don't know, but he's going to try.

Look, I think that the left has so many things to be happy about that they're willing to swallow some of the things they're not happy about. But clearly, it is not a left wing cabinet.

BAIER: Last word on this one.

The finger-pointing continues in the aftermath of the Mumbai massacre. We will talk about where India and Pakistan go from here when we return.



HUSAIN HAQQANI, PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: I think that this particular attack should be seen in the context of global terrorism and not in the context of India-Pakistan relations. We have accused each other of many things in the past.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the most important thing we can do right now is to try to foster dialogue. That's not to say that we're not in a very serious situation. And in some ways, that whole region is like a forest that hasn't had rain in many months, and one spark could cause a big, roaring fire, which we're trying to avoid.


BAIER: There you hear the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. talking about the situation after the Mumbai attacks, and White House press secretary Dana Perino also talking about concern between India and Pakistan.

This as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Europe. She is heading to India to continue discussions with the Indian government as the investigation goes on. Right now the death toll stands at 172 from these coordinated attacks.

What about the rising tension and where to go from here? We're back with the panel. Charles, this group Lashkar-e-Taiba is said to be behind these attacks, long-ties to the Pakistani intelligence service. In fact, some people say the ISI created this group to deal with Kashmir, the disputed area between India and Pakistan.

KRAUTHAMMER: You have two warring truths about these jihadists. It's absolutely true that they are the children of the Pakistani government and intelligence services in the past, particularly under Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in the '80s, who helped Islamicize Pakistani society.

But the other fact is after 9/11, Musharraf, his successor, helped to cut those ties. And then after the attack on the parliament Delhi in December of '01, there was a complete renunciation of these ties.

So the irony is that you have the real government, the elected government of Pakistan, which is antagonistic to these jihadists. And, in fact, the wife of the president was assassinated.

And you have the military, which is rather pro-American and is actually engaged in the attacks on the jihadists in the provinces of Pakistan. But they are being acute accused and attacked by Indians.

The reason that Rice is in that region is to try to make sure that it doesn't become an India-Pakistan explosion. The worst outcome here is if India sends its troops into Kashmir and Pakistan responds, it means all its troops against Al Qaeda and the jihadists are withdrawn, and that's exactly the objective of the attackers in Mumbai.

BAIER: Mara, in India there is a lot of anger with the Indian government, that they had a warning back in October, and that they really didn't do enough to protect people. How does that impact the international stage?

LIASSON: Well, there's pressure onto Indian government to do more. I mean, two of the questions at the press conference today with Obama was shouldn't the Indians do exactly what you said you would do with Pakistan, in other words, go over the border to hunt down terror suspects if the Pakistani government won't do it themselves?

Of course, he didn't answer on that one.

But one government minister has already had to resign. Not only was there a warning, they seemed completely unprotected and unable to deal with this right away after the attacks.

I think that's a problem. There is a lot of pressure in India for retaliation.

BAIER: And a big challenge for the Obama administration coming in — Fred?

BARNES: I don't think fostering dialogue is going to help, particularly.

There had been a lot of dialogue between Pakistan and India in recent months under the new president, President Zardari. Was friendlier toward Pakistan — I'm sorry, toward India than any government had been in a long time. Kashmir had diminished as an issue.

And, actually, relations were better than they had been in a long time. That's one of the reasons why these terrorists attacked, is because they don't want that.

So I think what India needs to do is take advantage of these friendlier relations and encourage the Pakistanis to continue whatever effort and accelerate the effort to clean out their government of pro-terrorist people, and end the safe havens in the northwest of Pakistan.

Obama can help on that, too. He can push the Paks.

BAIER: We'll be watching this one.

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