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Special Report Roundtable - October 11

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The enemy's doing everything within its power to destroy the government. And to drive us out of the Middle East, starting with driving us out of Iraq before the mission is done. The stakes are high, as a matter of fact, they couldn't be higher. If we were to abandon that country before the Iraqis can defend their young democracy, the terrorists would take control of Iraq and establish a new safe haven on which to launch new attacks on America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Every time President Bush seems to listen to the buzz in Washington, to be on the verge of some change in his Iraq policy -- the latest buzz surrounds -- revolves around former Secretary of State Baker who was said to be prepared to recommend such a thing, and perhaps for the president to embrace it -- he comes out and says something like that.

Some thoughts on all this now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of the "Weekly Standard"; Mort Kondracke, executive editor of "Roll Call"; and Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio -- FOX NEWS contributors all.

So, what are we Washington beltway observes to make of this performance by the president today and the force of what he was saying?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, there's not going to be a change in strategy. He was asked specifically about some of Baker's comments, where maybe some kind of change in course or change in strategy is need. And he said we'll make tactical changes all the time to try to do better on the ground and I'll listen to the generals if they need more troops of if they want to do something different, but the strategic goal is going to remain the same, you know, getting the Iraqi democracy on its feet.

HUME: Has anybody who is a critic of this policy or anybody else for that matter, suggested an alternative strategic goal?

LIASSON: Not an alternative strategic goal but I think some people have suggested maybe we need more troops there.

HUME: Right.

LIASSON: You know, that's.

FRED BARNES, "WEEKLY STANDARD": Joe Biden has, his goal is to have -- is to divide Iraq into three separate countries, basically, or at least economist regions. You'd have the Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south and in the poor middle area, without much oil, you'd have the Sunnis. Obviously the Sunnis don't want that to happen. But it is a different strategic goal rather than one separate, united Iraq that's stable and Democratic. That's Bush's goal. He's far from reaching it.

I thought the more serious problem for him at the moment in Iraq is Baghdad and there were several questions on what about all the violence that's going on in Baghdad? You know, they find 80 bodies here and 60 there who've been -- who -- with their arms tied behind their back, they've been executed and so on, and the president acknowledged that the violence was bad and has even gotten worse and attributed some, at least, to the fact that American and Iraqi troops are engaging the terrorists and the death squads and people like that in Baghdad.

I personally didn't find that particularly encouraging. Look.

HUME: In other words, you think it only gets worse?

(CROSSTALK)

LIASSON: Well that was the reason for the increase in American casualties not for Iraqis being killed by each other. That was the reason he gave for the increase in American casualties.

BARNES: Well no, I thought it was overall casualties. But either way, it wasn't encouraging. And look, this is the test. Baghdad is the test. If you can't secure the capitol city with about a quarter of the population of the country, you can't win.

MORT KONDRACKE, "ROLL CALL": Well, he also said that the Maliki government was doing the kinds of things that it needs to do in order to get the country on a good political course, that is trying to put the Shiites and the Sunnis together, trying to negotiate with previously hard lined Sunnis, trying to get the militias under control, cashiering this one whole brigade that was infiltrated by the militias and stuff like that.

What your interview, yesterday, with Condi Rice seemed to suggest that we were kind of pointing to the end of the year as the time by which the Iraqi government had to get busy on its overall agenda and the president was kind of saying, well, they're getting there, they're getting there, to keep encouragement alive, I think, among the America people largely.

LIASSON: Well, the big question is everybody's pointed to the end of the year. Zalmay Khalilzad has said that. Other people have given the six month timeframe. What happens after that if they haven't been able to?

HUME: Is this -- this is apparently a factor in the decision about whether to bring in more troops because you're trying to get the Iraqis to step up. And the sense seems to be, although the administration won't say this exactly, that the more we do, the less they'll do, which seems to be a factor in the decision about whether to reinforce the...

KONDRACKE: The military argument has been that we present too much of a target if we.

HUME: We'll it's not only the military.

KONDRACKE: .increase the number of troops. But on the other hand, what are we doing in Baghdad? We're pouring more troops into Baghdad because they're necessary in order to accomplish this vital mission of trying to pacify that city. I mean, Fred's right, if we succeeded past the...

HUME: But most of the troop buildup in Baghdad has been Iraqi.

KONDRACKE: Yeah, except that we have transferred forces in there, we have increased our...

HUME: No, no, there's no doubt about that. I'm just saying that the buildup is.

KONDRACKE: There is some speculation on this strategy change that what Baker and company might recommend is negotiations with neighbors, that is to say, Syria, Iran and other countries to allow them to create spheres of influence in Iraq, it seems to me that that would be a disaster. That that would be the turnover.

HUME: We don't know what they're going to say.

KONDRACKE: Well, You know, there has been speculation to that effect. I mean, their -- Baker and company have not said.

LIASSON: That would be an extraordinary recommendation. I don't know how they would package that to somehow be commensurate with what Bush's...

BARNES: If Baker wants to propose something that will somehow be accepted by President Bush.

HUME: A couple of side deals with Iran and Syria?

BARNES: Yeah, that's not it. Here's the other problem and that is President Bush and others have said they endorse President Maliki or prime minister or premiere, or whatever his title is -- the head guy in Iraq, and maybe he'll turn out to be a strong effective leader. He hasn't so far, though.

LIASSON: He hasn't yet.

HUME: When we come back, the president insists that the U.N. Security Council is the best place to deal with North Korea. We'll talk about that approach, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We all agree that there must be a strong Security Council resolution that will require North Korea to abide by its international commitments to dismantle its nuclear programs. This resolution should also specify a series of measures to prevent North Korea from exporting nuclear or missile technologies and prevent financial transactions or asset transfers that would help North Korea develop its nuclear or missile capabilities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Well, they're said to be working on such a resolution up at the U.N. but they haven't agreed on the language because, well, China has some problems with it. That doesn't mean it won't get done, but there you are. So where are we in all of this?

KONDRACKE: Well, I thought Bush was dead on when he said, you know, people used to accuse this administration of wanting to go it alone on -- negotiations -- in respect to other countries. Now we're doing that -- we're doing multi-lateral negotiations, six-party talks with North Korea, now they're saying that we should go it alone. I think it was a very good argument. That's what the Democrats and Kofi Annan today said that there ought to be bilateral talks with North Korea.

I mean, what -- and Jimmy Carter suggested that there might even be secret talks, the United States would engage in secret talks? Just imagine how the -- South Koreans and the Japanese and the Chinese would feel if we were going around them and conducting secret negotiations yags with the North Koreans and making deals that involve their security behind their backs. I mean, you know, I can't imagine that they would like it. As they didn't like it back in 1994 when we do it.

LIASSON: Look, the argument about bilateral verses multi-lateral, I mean, it's absolutely correct to say that the bilateral approach that the Bush administration has been trying for six years hasn't succeeded either.

HUME: The question I'm going afford Mara is this: Is it now time, therefore, to try a bilateral approach again or is it manifestly and almost obviously better to put the North Koreans in a situation where if they don't go along they're not just defending the United States but they're also taking action to the north, China, Japan.

LIASSON: Clearly, that is the argument that Democrats like John Kerry and other people have made for years is that when you broaden -- when you get the world involved, you get broaden our allies.

HUME: We're stronger.

LIASSON: .you have more leverage. But, I think there's another danger here is that this administration keeps laying down red lines. It said a nuclear armed North Korea would be unacceptable, intolerable -- Christopher Hill said North Korea can choose between a future and nuclear weapons. Now President Bush is saying there has to be these measures to prevent North Korea from transferring its capability. Every one of those has been crossed.

HUME: In other words, it appears that the North Koreans, in your view, have a nuclear weapon?

LIASSON: Yeah.

HUME: Really?

LIASSON: Well yeah. And I think every one of these.

KONDRACKE: And our red line is backing up again.

LIASSON: I think the rhetoric and the action have been really discordant and I don't know why North Korea should be afraid of this latest threat since they've crossed every other line we've...

BARNES: Well they haven't. I don't know. Well, the lines weren't that red. I mean, they were kind of vague and the...

LIASSON: Well, unacceptable? Intolerant? I mean, I.

BARNES: No, I agree.

HUME: Wait a minute. Let's just stop for a second. Does anybody at this desk belief that North Korea now has a nuclear weapon that can be delivered anywhere?

KONDRACKE: No.

BARNES: No, but they have a nuclear weapon.

LIASSON: Well, but they're pretty close.

KONDRACKE: They're testing.

BARNES: OK, some nuclear device. But whatever it is it's unacceptable. Well, we have to do something about it. I think there was a mistake.

HUME: We know that because of what?

BARNES: We know that because, one they've said so. Two, we've given them a lot of nuclear stuff and that's the consensus of opinion of people who are supposed to know about these things.

(LAUGHTER)

Do I personally know whether they've had one no, I don't.

HUME: But, OK, but it's not clear that they successfully tested a nuclear weapon this...

LIASSON: No, but it's a matter of time, we think.

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: They either have or are going to have.

LIASSON: Sure. They're farther along than they were yesterday or the day before.

BARNES: They're further along than what we want them to be.

LIASSON: Yeah.

BARNES: If you believe what Jimmy Carter wrote in the "New York Times" you believe this is all President Bush's fault. He put them in the "Axis of Evil" and you know, they react unfavorably when they're called horrible names like that. Bush was absolutely correct. This is the North Koreans. They want -- they want to be a nuclear power. They've done all this on their own regardless of whether it was Jimmy Carter being nice or President Bush being tough, but they both failed. I agree with Mara. The bilateral failed and the multi-lateral.

HUME: So what's next? So what do we try?

KONDRACKE: Well look, we have said this a thousand times, that it's China. China is the key to this. If we can persuade China or China can be persuaded by the Japanese or some other way, to put the squeeze on North Korea, then something might happen. But, absent that I don't think we can do it. The South Koreans, Japanese and us are not going to be able to do it.

BARNES: Yeah, now the North Koreans are saying they won't come back to the six-party talks unless we stop these -- the U.S. stops this horrible stuff blocking them from counterfeiting American money. I tell you these people, you can't deal with them.

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