'Special Report' Panel on Progress in Iraq, Clinton Campaign Shakeup

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from April 7, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER: What's happening is in Sadr City is stil l less than what some people expected the militias to do. Many expected the militias to have a decisive victory over Iraqi security forces, but this did not happen.

LT. COL. RALPH PETERS, U.S. ARMY (RET): I cannot stress sufficiently that the media reports about Basra and Ba ghdad operations in the last two weeks being a disaster got it 180 degrees wrong.


BRIT HUME, HOST: The subject, of course, is the military operation undertaken by the Iraqi government against the Shiite militia in Basra, and also in parts of Baghdad as well, which were deemed at the time they concluded, when there was a ceasefire, to have been largely a failure by the Iraqi government.

There seemed to be some further assessments going on, as you heard in those comments there from Ralph Peters.

Some thoughts on this now from Fred Barnes, the Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Charles, when we talked about this a week or so ago, the consensus seemed to be that this had gone rather badly. Now you have Sadr expressing at least some willingness, through a spokesman, to disband his militia. Were the early assessments off base, do you think?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, you know, Iraq is a country of sandstorms, and we have to wait for a final judgment until all the sand is clear.

A week ago, Sadr had scored a victory because Maliki had announced when he initiated the assault on Basra that his objective was to disarm and destroy the Mahdi Army, which he didn't do because he accepted a truce. So it was a setback, and it looked as if Sadr held his own.

The good news is that Maliki essentially has ignored that truce, as we heard earlier in the show. He pushed ahead with his troops and took over the ports in Basra, which is where the money is, and that's very important. The troops also held their own against the Mahdi Army assaults in all the smaller towns between Basra and Baghdad.

And, most importantly, as we now are seeing, he's pushing ahead in Baghdad. Sadr understands that if Maliki continues, he's going to lose.

HUME: He, Sadr?

KRAUTHAMMER: He, Sadr is going to lose, because he has now is the rest of the Shiite coalition, his own allies—remember, he is the guy who put Maliki in power—turning against him—the Sunnis having essentially abandoning the insurgency, Al-Qaeda on the run, and the Americans ready to back the government in attacking him, as we did with some of our air support in the south. Against an array like that he loses in the long run, which is why he is probably looking for a way out.

And the fact that he is worrying about elections, that Maliki is deploying a political weapon against him, the threat of shutting him out of the provincial elections, shows how the democracy here is taking root. He's worried about gaining power in the south, which he might with elections, but if he continues in holding on to his militia and is shutout, he will lose everything.

So it's a sign of how there's progress on all of the fronts, including the military and political. But Maliki has to keep on this and not accept another truce in the future.

HUME: It would appear now to be more from Nouri al-Maliki than we have been accustomed to expect, wouldn't it, Mara?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Yes. And also, look, progress in Iraq is always really messy, and it's never kind of in a straight line, and, yes, he did do some things we wanted him to do, and there were some units that you know, didn't participate or turn tail, and we weren't notified properly about it, I mean there were...

HUME: ...that turns about to be not true, which we knew.

LIASSON: We knew, but the fact is that he is doing some of the things we wanted to do. The Mahdi Army has been a problem for a long time. And I think that, you know, the people who think there is progress in Iraq are going to point to that. They will start doing that tomorrow when Petraeus testifies.

And for people who think there's absolutely nothing that can happen there, no good that will come of it, and every problem means that it can never succeed, they'll point to these deficiencies in the operation.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes. They're not going to have much to point at, though.

Look, what was the charge against the Maliki government in the first place? It was a sectarian Shiia government, as Charles said, put in power partly by the votes of Sadr's faction in the parliament. And yet the supposedly sectarian army is now taking on and is pledged to defeat the Mahdi army whether or not Sadr dissolves it—they've demanded that he dissolve it, but they're going to destroy it if he doesn't, particularly if American troops are involved, they'll destroy it.

This is exactly what we wanted Maliki to do. He has with him now—the government is united, the Sunni, Shiia and Kurds. There is a name for that when they all come together on something, it is called "political reconciliation," and they're all working on this.

Look, destroying these militias was something that Maliki was going to have to do at some point, and a lot of people wondered whether he would ever do that. Well, now he's doing it. I think it's a tremendous sign, and I don't see how you can see it as anything other than that.

KRAUTHAMMER: What you have, if you step back and look at it from a larger position, is that the Sunni extremists on the one side are being marginalized...

HUME: ...Al Qaeda, that is.

KRAUTHAMMER: ...Al-Qaeda is holed up in Mosul, the last stand, and will be really attacked heavily by Iraqis and the American army. And as the Sunni insurgency recedes, the American effort and the Iraqi effort turning against Shiite extremists, and if you can marginalize the Shiite extremists and the Sunni extremists, you end up with stability in Iraq, which is our objective.

HUME: Well, we'll hear more about that when David Petraeus testifies starting tomorrow.

When we come back, Hillary Clinton's opposition to a free trade deal with Columbia was no secret. Now she has lost her senior campaign strategist over the issue. That story next.



DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D-NY): We've got to have new trade policies before we have new trade deals, and that includes no trade deal with Columbia while violence against trade unionists continue in that country.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: President Uribe has addressed those issues. He has addressed the trade unionists by stepping up funding for prosecutions, establishing an independent prosecutors unit, and creating a special program that protects labor activists. If this isn't enough to earn America's support, what is?


HUME: President Bush there plumping for a free trade deal between the U.S. and Colombia, which he today sent to the U.S Congress for its action— the congress has 90 days to accept or reject. It is wildly unpopular among most Democrats, and it is opposed by both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — Hillary Clinton as you heard there.

Fred, this, of course, turned out that over the weekend that her chief political strategist Mark Penn had held a meeting with some interests who were in favor of it, and he was trying, apparently to assist them. This was the end of him.

BARNES: Well, it would have been a faux pas if she were winning. But the fact that she's losing after following his strategy all these months means that it was a fatal meeting for him. Once the word broke he participated in that— you know, he advising them on how to get the treaty passed, and she's against it, that's a little embarrassing.

But the truth is that his problem was twofold. One—his strategy—it's inevitable she'll win. She has all this experience, and leaning on those things didn't work. And he's extremely unpopular. He didn't have anybody to fall back on. All the other Clinton people in the campaign seem to hate him. So there he goes.

I think it's too late for any significant change in the campaign to happen that will really affect how she does in Pennsylvania and Indiana and North Carolina and the ten primaries that are left, but at least she made the labor people happy, and they ring her bell.

You know on this Colombia free trade thing—this is a perfect chance for Barack Obama to vote for the treaty, to vote for it—because it would be the first time he has not been a Democratic Party aligned voter who does whatever a special interest like labor unions ask him to do.

HUME: Any chance of that, Mara?


The other great irony of this—remember when Barack Obama's economic advisor, Austin Goolsbee, has this meeting in Canada, where he supposedly said don't worry, guys, Obama really is for NAFTA even though he's kind of bashing it on the campaign trail.

At the time, Hillary Clinton said, quite famously—it was almost like a Gary Hart moment, why don't you put a tail on me?—she said "Can you imagine if one of my advisors met with a foreign government?"

Well, he did, and he's gone.

The other irony in this, and there are so many of him, is after he said it was an error of judgment to meet with the Colombian ambassador, the Colombian government said "Hey, we're insulted. You can't have the contract anymore." So he lost Colombia as a client and Hillary Clinton.

HUME: He lost both clients.

KRAUTHAMMER: That was poetic justice—he got whacked from both sides.

The reason it really hurts her is because it highlights her negotiable relationship with principles, policies, and the truth.

After all, what is the big achievement of the Clinton administration? Free trade. The president pushed it, her husband, he pushed it. He brought his party along. And it was a monument, it really was an achievement, NAFTA, and he was proud of it. And she derives her claim of being experienced and all that from the existence of the Clinton administration and her role in it.

And here is a central of achievement, and in Ohio, with her back against the wall politically and with the state hurting, she comes out against NAFTA, of course, and Columbia, and all this, which is clearly a contradiction of everything in her husband's administration has stood for.

And the flip-flop involved in this and her campaign manager involved in negotiations is just too much. Piled on top of the Bosnia stories, sniper-gate, the story of the Ohio hospital where she said, you know, she repeated week after week about how a woman was turned away and how all of this motivates her wanting to help the American people. It didn't happen. And this idea—

HUME: It didn't happen quite the way she said.

KRAUTHAMMER: She was not turned away. That's the key to the story.

HUME: It's more complicated than that. That's the way she said it.


KRAUTHAMMER: The point is it piles on again and again. And these are people, the Clintons, in whom anything said, imagined, or proposed is temporary!

LIASSON: There's a big difference between the story of the woman at the hospital and Bosnia. She was actually in Bosnia and it happened to her. The other one, she didn't vet the story, her campaign couldn't get the story—

HUME: But this thing about Obama and who came out first against the war first while in the Senate—that turns out to be another hot one, apparently.

All right that's it for the panel.

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