White House response to violence in Afghanistan

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 27, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


GEORGE LITTLE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT PRESS SECRETARY: When we learned of the incident last week involving sacred religious text including the Koran, we took immediate steps to apologize to the Afghan government. Anyone who believes they can weaken our resolve through these cowardly attacks is severely mistaken.

BUCK MCKEON, R-CA, HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I think enough is enough. I'd like to hear some apologies from some of those that have attacked us around the world, that have killed our people.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Four U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan since the protests began there, big protests over the weekend, continuing today with a car bomb at the Afghan airport. What about the situation and the policy involved? Let's bring in our regular panel now from Washington, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Kirsten Powers, columnist for The Daily Beast, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Charles, I know you all talked about this on Friday, but it really seemed to pick up over the weekend, and now two more service members killed. What about this and the latest developments in Afghanistan?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think what's happened over the last few days is definitive evidence of how ineffective the apology has been. If I thought the apology would save one American life I'd swallow hard and say it's all right the president to go ahead and do it. But he did do it and it did not sooth the savage mob. In fact, it intensified the violence. We had the shooting in cold blood of the two American advisors in the interior ministry happening the day after that apology. We had the grenade thrown at American soldiers in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, the next day. And then we had this morning, as you mentioned, the suicide attack on the American base outside of Jalalabad. So clearly it didn't have any effect whatever.

But I think, even more important than the embarrassment, I think, of all of those wall to wall apologies is what it does to our strategy, because our strategy is to hand over the war to the Afghans. The intermediate step is for us to embed advisors, civilian and military, with Afghan officials. The problem now, is that there's a small minority, a small, but a deadly minority of Afghan officials who so hate the United States, or to put in a conspiratorial way, who are so infiltrated by the Taliban enemy that it is now no longer safe. So we have withdrawn our advisers, which undermines the entire strategy and puts in question the entire effort in Afghanistan.

BAIER: Steve, let me ask you this. Democrats are pointing to the apology by President Bush back in 2008 to Prime Minister Maliki from Iraq when a Koran was desecrated there, and they're saying what's different now? That's what they're pointing to here, as far as the apology goes.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, look, I think it's fine if you want to acknowledge a mistake, which I would categorize what President Bush did as basically acknowledging a mistake. It would be fine if all that's all that had been done in this instance. But it wasn't. We had repeated apologies and extended apologies in a way that I think made the United States look like we were almost supplicants, like we were seeking their favor. That's not healthy.

I think what's important for the United States now is to look to find a way in which we reestablish the fact that we are in charge over there, that we are dominant over there. Look, if you want to have the United States government acknowledge this mistake and then make an argument about the damage that was done by these extremists who are passing messages through writing in the Koran, which, by the way, is against the teachings of the Koran, and then talk about consequences for similar behavior in the future, something so that we acknowledge the basic problem that was caused by the extremists at the time.

BAIER: Kirsten?

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK POST: Well, I just want to go back to Charles talking about the fact that the violence has intensified since Obama made his apology. There's no connection between the violence intensifying and the apology. I don't think that we have seen more violence because of the apology. And I think the only reason not to make an apology would be if it was going to lead to violence, and I don't think there's an argument that it did.

I still believe that it's the right thing to apologize, it's the right thing to set the standard. Conservatives are I think are blowing this out of proportion and saying that all of these apologies when in reality we had a letter from the president, which was a diplomatic letter, to Hamid Karzai. We had General Allen say a couple of remarks about it, and somebody here apologized to the Muslim community. I don't think that's overkill.

And the only reason not to make an apology would be is if it would risk more American lives, which it doesn't. And I think that we have our standards and our standards are we don't burn Korans and when we do we apologize for it.


BAIER: Charles, quickly, does this, does this affect policy as far as the plan for the Obama administration and what plan they had for handing over to the Afghans.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think it does. I think the brave talk out the Defense Department there that it will not alter our strategy is simply bravado. I think if you cannot trust the advisors whom Americans are working with and who are the ones who will be taking over when we leave, then the entire strategy of the transfer of authority in power is in jeopardy. And I think it means they have to recalculate, as to whether, how and when the Americans and the other-- and the Europeans can actually leave.

BAIER: 15 seconds, Steve.

HAYES: We are in the middle of negotiating a strategic partnership agreement which would leave 20,000 Americans there into 2014 after 2014. The fact that this is happening now in the middle of these negotiations, not helpful for anybody and I think jeopardizes our future relationship with Afghanistan.

BAIER: Steve, Kirsten, and Charles, thank you very much. I know it's much warmer in Washington than it is here in Birmingham, but it's a lovely place here. Thank you very much.

That's it for the panel. Stay tuned for some final thoughts from here in Michigan, before the big day tomorrow.

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