'Special Report' Panel Rates Obama's U.N. Speech

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from September 23, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We know the future will be forged by deeds and no t simply words. Speeches alone will not solve our problems. It will take persistent action. So for those who question the character and cause of my nation, I ask you to look at the concrete actions we have taken in just nine months.


BRET BAIER, HOST: President Obama speaking here at the General Assembly at the United Nations today, interrupted several times for applause. But what about the speech overall and the message it sent to the world? Let's bring in our panel tonight from Washington -- Steve Hayes, senior writer for "The Weekly Standard", Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Alright Steve, let's start with you, an overview of your thoughts of the speech.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I thought it was a terribly embarrassing speech.

Just think about the last sentence that we heard in the introduction there, "When you question the cause or character of my country, think about the concrete actions of the last nine months." Basically what President Obama is saying there, think about me when you think about the goodness or the greatness of the United States. I think that is an unbelievably arrogant thing to say, and, sadly, it wasn't the only thing that he said in the speech that was like that. I think the whole speech was filled with that.

I think what we saw today in so many ways is representative of the way that the Obama administration wants to elevate the United Nations and make it a serious global policy-making body. And it's also emblematic of the way that the United Nations is a broken institution. You have Muammar Qaddafi, a rogue dictator, a crazy man, speaking -- supposed to speak for 15 minutes, ends up speaking for some 90 minutes, filled with untruths, half-truths, complete nonsense. The United Nations was never able to enforce its resolutions on Iraq. It is not able to enforce its resolutions on Iran. It is not even able to keep Muammar Qaddafi from talking for more than 15 minutes. I think it was a dangerous speech in many ways.

JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, I couldn't disagree with Steve more. I thought it was a terrific speech.

And the reason I thought it was a terrific speech was President Obama laid out concrete steps that his administration has taken since coming into office to prove that they, in fact, want to work with the rest of the world.

When he talked about prohibitions on torture, when he talked about working on global warming, when he talked about working on the Middle East, even his meeting yesterday with the leaders from Palestine and Israel.

So what we see here is President Obama saying, I understand, and I think this speaks to something Steve was talking about. He says he understands that he is a symbol to much of the world.

And it's not about him personally, he said. He didn't say it in an arrogant tone. He said it was about the symbolism, the hope that the U.S. would begin to work, be less militaristic in its attitude. And so here is President Obama saying here are steps we have taken and now you guys have to step up, too, and work with us in terms of this difficult job of achieving world peace.

And he mentioned that the U.N., of course, was founded by an American president, Franklin Roosevelt, and he spoke about the need to really make the institution work. And I don't think there is anything wrong with saying that the international community has to work in terms of putting sanctions on Iran. And I think that's what it led up to. I think that would be the news that came out of the speech today.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I could see all the other nations racing to step up and do what the United States wants.

This speech hovered somewhere between embarrassing and dangerous. You had a president of the United States actually saying no nation can or should try to dominate another.

I will buy the "should try to" as kind of adolescent wishful thinking, but no nation can dominate another? What planet is he living on? It is the story of man. What does he think Russia is doing to Georgia?

But the alarming part is what he said in the same paragraph where he said that it is -- makes no sense anymore-- quote, "The alignments of nations that are rooted in the cleavages of the cold war."

Well, NATO is rooted in the cleavage of the cold war. The European Union is rooted in the cleavage of the cold war. Our alliances with Japan and Korea and the Philippines, our guarantees to Taiwan and Eastern Europe are all rooted in the cleavage of the cold war.

Interesting noun, incidentally. So he is saying that is all now irrelevant. What does he think our allies are going to think who hear this?

Obama's speech is alarming because it says the United States has no more moral right to act or to influence world history than Bangladesh or Sierra Leone.

It diminishes the United States deliberately and wants to say that we should be one nation among others, and not defend the alliance of democracies that we have in NATO, for example, or to say as every president has said before Obama that we stand for something good and unique in the world.

And it is not the equivalent, for example, of the alignment of Chavez with Ecuador and Bolivia and Nicaragua and Russia and Cuba and Iran. And that's what I think is alarming about that speech.

BAIER: Steve, one of the things here at the United Nations, obviously, every year are the bilateral meetings that happen outside this building behind me. Yesterday we saw the Israelis and Palestinians meeting with President Obama.

Today President Obama met with the Russian president. And Russian President Medvedev, said this about possible sanctions on Iran. He said "Russia's position is clear. Sanctions rarely lead to productive results. But in some cases sanctions are inevitable."

Is that seen as some kind of a breakthrough with Russia, at least, today?

HAYES: Well, I will believe it when I see it. The Russians have made clear in the past several weeks that they have very little intention of actually imposing new sanctions on Iran, and have spoken out forcefully, I think, against such sanctions. So has China.

If the president gets this as a breakthrough, I think it will be great. I think it's probably too little too late, but if he leaves the United Nations with that in his pocket and it is something that we actually see after the G-20 and after the October 1st meeting, good. I would be all for it.

BAIER: Juan, after that speech, the president's speech, can he twist arms with these countries to really step up in the Iran equation?

WILLIAMS: I don't think there's any question about it. I think that's what the headline is out of the speech. As I said earlier, I think he is leading the world community to the point of saying, listen, I have changed policy. I have taken concrete steps to open a more diplomatic approach to resolving problems, and now I need your help.

It's not in any way diminishing the United States. There is no need for chest-pounding by the United States. We are the big boys. We are the world's only superpower. You think it is to our advantage to have our president stand up there and bellow at people that we're powerful? It's not necessary. What's necessary is saying I need your help in this international community in terms of sending people to war when it's necessary, in terms of enforcing international law when a country like Iran becomes an outlaw. That's what he did.

BAIER: Charles, last word here quickly. You've said of other speeches by President Obama around the world that they are very apologetic in nature. Is that your sense in this one as well?

KRAUTHAMMER: This one was worse. When he (inaudible) about how he had reversed the course of America and how those who doubt our character aught look at our actions, among the actions he cited was our joining the U.N. Human Rights Council, which is led by the worst human rights violators on the planet.

It is an Orwellian, farcical organization. The idea that we should be on it is regrettable, but the idea that we should be boasting about it as an American achievement is a scandal.

BAIER: All right, panel, stand by. The president is said to be considering another strategy shift in Afghanistan. What happened to the one made last spring? We will ask the panel coming up.



OBAMA: Today I'm announcing a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and this marks the conclusion of a careful policy review led by Bruce that I ordered as soon as I took office.

What I'm not also going to do, though, is put the resource question before the strategy question. Until I'm satisfied that we've got the right strategy, I'm not going to be sending some young man or woman over there beyond what we already have.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: Let me tell you what's the worst part of this is that the administration has told General McChrystal not to send his recommendation for the additional troops.


BAIER: Well, the first clip was President Obama back in March with a big rollout of what was said to be the new strategy in Afghanistan. The other one was last weekend, where he said we couldn't move forward without putting -- with troops before a new strategy is in place.

We're back with our panel. Juan, is this beginning to be a major problem for the administration that this sense that the request from General Stanley McChrystal has been held back by politics with this administration?

WILLIAMS: I think it would be a problem if the sense was that he was being censored, and I think that's what a lot of people who are proponents of immediately sending more troops to Afghanistan feel. But from the White House perspective, their perspective is, as you just heard from President Obama, let's settle the strategy issue first. Let's not just have the defense leadership, the military leadership, be the only voice in this discussion, because they're going to immediately ask for more troops because their attitude is going to be a surge.

BAIER: But Juan, what was March 27?

WILLIAMS: I'm sorry, I didn't hear you, Bret.

BAIER: What was March 27th?

WILLIAMS: I think that was an effort to say, listen, we have since then had an opportunity to take a look again. I mean, remember, we're here at the end of September.

Vice President Biden has been a very loud and insistent voice inside the White House counsels about the fraudulent election that has taken place since then, about corruption that persists and especially among drug dealers, some of them tied to the government.

These larger problems are just -- and of course the history of eight years of military struggles that have not resolved the issue there. So what you see now is the thought that, wait a second, if we put more money into Afghanistan as opposed to more boots on the ground, if we put more money in terms of economic development, education development, and then target specifically the Taliban and Al Qaeda, that's the war that the United States cannot lose. That's the war on terrorism.

And this is going to be President Obama's war very shortly, so he wants to get it right.

HAYES: Look, Bret, what the president is trying to do is come up with an explanation as to why he announced the strategy on March 27 and now says that he doesn't have a strategy. And he's having a difficult time doing it.

So what the White House has done in the past day or so is put out a new explanation. And the explanation they are using is the one that you heard Juan use, Juan say.

He said that the fraudulent elections or the troubles with the elections in Afghanistan have caused them to go back and revisit their policy, which I think is rather an extraordinary position given the fact that Hamid Karzai had been democratically elected.

He is not the friendliest leader to the United States right now. There are certainly serious issues with the election in Afghanistan this time around. But they're using that, I think, to take a look a second look at their broad Afghanistan policy.

And then you have an election in Iran that was stolen, openly stolen. Nobody thinks that was a serious election. And they won't alter their policy in Iran based on what everybody agrees was a fraudulent election.

I think this smells increasingly political and they're having a more and more difficult time explaining why they're announcing a new strategy or trying to come up with a new strategy when they announced one back in March.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think the Obama administration announcing that it's trying to change its strategy because it has just discovered corruption in Afghanistan is almost comical. Everybody has known. It has been around all along. It’s not a new fact.

What is happening here we have on the one hand advice from our commander on the ground who wants more troops and who sees a strategy which is the only strategy that he thinks will work. On the other hand, the advice from the vice president, the sage of Wilmington, the man who proposed splitting Iraq into three, who wants a minimalist strategy of attacks by drones and kind of hands-off warfare.

Well, it's exactly the minimalist strategy that got us into the dire circumstance we now have in Afghanistan. It's the minimalist strategy that the Democrats attacked and demagogue for year after year and said it was inadequate, and it's the minimalist strategy that McChrystal, who is the world's expert on the kinds of hands-off drone attack, which he did in Iraq, has said has zero chance of succeeding in Afghanistan.

Who are you going to believe, a commander on the ground or Biden?

BAIER: All right, Juan, very quickly, we're being told that this request is going to come before week's end. We're almost there. Will President Obama accept the request from his general on the ground?

WILLIAMS: If you mean accept the request, I don't think there's any question. There is no disrespect for General McChrystal or the military advisors. And Bob Gates, the defense secretary, is right in the midst of all these counsels at the White House. So that's not the issue.

The issue to me is does he come up with a new strategy? If he doesn't come up with a new strategy, then the surge effort has got to be -- he's got to accede to that request.

BAIER: That's it for the panel.

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