'Special Report' Panel on War in Afghanistan

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from September 16, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There is no immediate decision pending on resourc es because one of the things that I'm absolutely clear about is we have to get the strategy right, and then make determinations about resources.

So we are going to proceed and make sure that we don't put the cart before the horse.


BRET BAIER, HOST: President Obama today talking about U.S. forces inside Afghanistan and when that decision would be made, if he makes it.

Now, that's coming as we hear from our sources on Capitol Hill and in the military telling FOX News that General Stanley McChrystal's pending request will be for somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 more U.S. troops inside Afghanistan.

And we are told by sources that is encountering huge resistance on Capitol Hill and that there is sticker shock up on the Hill. The White House is now trying to get more time on this issue.

Let's bring in our panel about U.S. forces in Afghanistan: Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The president is stuck and he appears to be undecided.

I think it is somewhat remarkable for the president in the middle of a war after he has been the commander in chief for over eight months to admit he doesn't have a strategy, so he doesn't want to commit the forces until he has a strategy. Well, he needs a strategy or while our troops are out in the field. And if the reports about what McChrystal is asking for are true, that really is going to be a giant leap.

This is a situation of all in or not in at all. And I think it's the right kind of decision, because McChrystal and, of course, General Petraeus, who is the conceiver and the man who carried out the surge in Iraq, have a sense that you either have to do it right or you don't try it at all.

Now, Obama's problem is this: His political advisers are completely against anything of this kind. They don't want him to become LBJ, the man with the great domestic program brought down by an un-winnable counterinsurgency.

They don't want to lose their left and they will. There's no support among Democrats of any importance in the house and the Senate.

But lastly, I think the political insiders are loathe to be dependent on Republicans if they escalate the war. They are going to have to depend on the likes of Joe Lieberman to get them through this, and that's a wedding none of them want to attend.

BAIER: Mara, we heard the Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mullen, say there will be a request for more forces. Just to hear this number, however, from General McChrystal is pretty shocking.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: It is pretty shocking. Now, maybe that's not the number that will come out. Maybe it is going to be in pieces. He asked for a certain amount of that right away.

Look, I think one of the things the president was referring to when he said he has to figure out the strategy, he has to figure out how he will sell it to his own party. And part of that will be all sorts of demands for the Afghans to shoulder a certain amount of the burden, to "Afghanistize" the conflict over there.

But I think it's inconceivable that a Democratic president who ran on the war in Afghanistan — he said that was the good war, that was the war that George Bush took his eye off the ball from, that that was the central front in the War on Terror. I can't imagine how he could turn down the request and advice of his top military commanders and not do this.

I think he ran on escalating the war on Afghanistan and he will have to do it. And if he has to make an alliance with John McCain and some Republicans, I actually think that the big politics for this are not bad for him. I don't think the left of his party will revolt in such a way that he is not going to be able to do this.

BAIER: Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well look, if Charles is right, and I suspect that he is about the political advisers opposing any escalation in Afghanistan, they might have mentioned that to him during the campaign when, as Mara said, he campaigned on Afghanistan being the good war in opposition to Iraq.

But the president said a week ago tonight health care was not a crisis. That's how he introduced his major health care speech is not a crisis, but it's urgent and we need to work on it.

So he spent the week making campaign-style trips, given campaign-style presentations from Minnesota to Pennsylvania. He's doing Sunday shows, nearly all of the Sunday shows...

BAIER: Except "FOX News Sunday."

HAYES: Except "FOX News Sunday." He is doing David Letterman Monday night. He is doing cable access in Rochester at some point. I mean, he's doing basically everything there is to do on television. He's doing all of this in support of something that he himself said is not a crisis.

Afghanistan is a crisis. It's a war. It is the war he campaigned on. And he said in March that it was crucial that we win Afghanistan not only for U.S. national security but for global security. He should be able to find the time to make this decision.

BAIER: Charles, is there any way in your mind that this administration signs on to a surge of that size in Afghanistan?

KRAUTHAMMER: If that's what the general has asked, the president will have to say yes. This is a rookie who has no experience in this.

And if it were an Eisenhower in the White House, he could tell the generals, "That number is too high. I have experience in the Second World War." Obama will say, "I was a community organizer and those numbers are too high" — I think not.

Democrats have a reputation of being soft on national security. That's why they cynically inflated the importance of Afghanistan when they campaigned in '04 and '08, knowing that their heart was not really in it. Obama has to make a decision and it is going to have to be up or down. I'm not sure he has a compromise here.

LIASSON: I really agree with that. I think that Democrats wanted to say they were not pacifists. They weren't against all wars and even Barack Obama in his famous speech in Chicago said I'm not against all wars, just dumb wars.

And he chose the war in Afghanistan as a war that was important to our national security. I just don't see how he doesn't follow through on that.

BAIER: And quickly, the politics of this affecting other agenda items for the president?

LIASSON: I don't see them as that complicating. I don't think Afghanistan is going to undermine health care, I really don't. I think they're on two very separate tracks. The coalition that you assemble on the Hill to support each one of them are quite different.

BAIER: A former president says criticism of the current president is racially motivated. We will get the panel's take on that, next.



JIMMY CARTER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he is African-American.


BAIER: Former President Jimmy Carter weighing in on critics of President Obama, adding this, that he believes the criticism has bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among white Americans, white people, many of them not just in the south but around the country, that African-Americans, quote, "are not qualified to lead this great country."

We are back with the panel.

Mara, today the White House came out and said again, Robert Gibbs saying the president does not believe that criticism comes based on the color of his skin, but this is a...

LIASSON: I think Jimmy Carter is working for the Republican National Committee. I really think until comments like that in this particular dustup, the White House had the upper hand.

Joe Wilson was clearly out of line. It was inappropriate...

BAIER: The congressman from South Carolina who yelled "You lie!"

LIASSON: A clear violation of the House rule to call the president a liar, to impugn the president's motives. Members of the House's words have been taken down for many, many years for transgressions like that or less, by Republican speakers, too.

In any event, then Jimmy Carter, you know, stands up and gives this interview and says it's racial. The White House doesn't believe that. The White House doesn't want that to be the line of argument here, and I think that he's really hurt the president.

BAIER: The White House doesn't, Charles, but others have been talking like this in recent days. I mean, we just talked about it last night on the panel.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think there are people who genuinely believe this and then I think there are a lot of people who don't but who want to use it as a way to stifle opposition and debate.

Look, in the Bush years, we were told that dissent was the highest form of patriotism. Indeed, Obama himself as a candidate once used a formulation like that in talking about his refusal to wear a flag pin.

And now, dissent used to be the highest form of patriotism and now it's the lowest form of racism. In August and over the summer it was a form of mob rule, a demonstration of anger, unruliness, anarchy and now it has gotten worse.

Look, this charge is so stupid. It is also so offensive, and it's lacking in any evidence of any kind that I think it's — Mara is right. This only helps the Republicans, and that's why the White House is not playing into it. It will increase the intensity of the opponents of Obama health care and the policies, because people don't want to be told when they genuinely disagree with a policy that the reason is the lowest of all reasons, namely, racism.

BAIER: About rebuking Congressman Wilson, today the Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele responded to one of the most extreme statements about the rebuke if it didn't happen from a Democratic lawmaker. Take a listen:


REP. HANK JOHNSON, D-GA.: I guess we will probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside intimidating people.

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: What the heck is that? Where did that come from, because I disagree with your healthcare policy, that all of a sudden now people are going to be donning white hoods and robes?

That's that is the level of stupidity in this argument that I think confuses people, distracts us from the real discussion on health care, and it needs to stop.


BAIER: Steve, your thoughts about this issue as it develops over the past couple of days?

HAYES: It is interesting to point out the obvious in the charges being made about a party, the opposition mostly being the Republican Party that is headed by Michael Steele, a black man. And people don't want to make that point, they don't want to say the obvious. But it's worth at least noting.

I mean, what is remarkable about this discussion over the past several days is that there was no precipitating event. There really wasn't anything — Joe Wilson said nothing that had any tinge of racism. He said "You lie."

The panel agreed and we talked about this before, that it was inappropriate. He apologized once. I don't think he needs to apologize for the rest of his life. But other than that, there is no evidence. Nobody can point to anything and say here is where this is coming from.

Jimmy Carter is a tired old man who doesn't make sense on most issues these days. And I wager if you were to poll the people who attended the massive rally here last weekend and attended these town halls all over the country over the past several months, you would probably find less respect for Jimmy Carter than you would for Barack Obama, even as they vigorously oppose Barack Obama's policies.

BAIER: Mara, this is something the White House would rather have go away?

LIASSON: Yes, the discussion about race, sure.

Now, the White House is perfectly happy to make the argument that there are people who are uncivil and that they're not conducting themselves appropriately, and they are fomenting all sorts of lies about the president's policies. But that's quite different than turning this into a racial debate.

KRAUTHAMMER: One note on Jimmy Carter: He is the only person on the planet who has not one but two books on the bin Laden must read list. I'm not making that up. You can't make it up, actually. It's true.

So that tells you a lot about Jimmy Carter and it tells you a lot about the charge of racism that he is now main presenter of that argument. He has really hurt that side, and I think it discredits him and the argument.

BAIER: The lawmakers who bring this up, though, and make this charge, does it backfire?

KRAUTHAMMER: It could work locally in certain highly charged districts. But the worst element of it is it undermines the promise of the Obama presidency of bringing us into a post racial America, and that hurts the Democrats gravely.

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