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Special Report Roundtable - November 21

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I strongly believe the United Nations Security Council ought to act today. For the sake of peace, the free world must reject those who undermine young Democracies and murder in the name of their hateful ideology.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: The president today reacting to the murder in Lebanon of Pierre Gemayel, a cabinet minister of considerable political distinction in terms of his family. A long line of Gemayels have served in high posts in Lebanon. He was anti-Syrian influence. The finger of suspicion, as we noted earlier, of course, has pointed toward Syria which is now renewing its ties with Iraq.

So, what about all this? Some thoughts from Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard; Morton Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call; and Nina Easton, Washington bureau chief of Fortune Magazine -- FOX NEWS contributors all.

Nina, what to you make of this tonight?

NINA EASTON, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: Well, I think it shows what a tight wire act all this is as we have this kind of changing zeitgeist where there's a broader talk of bringing in Syria and Iran into the problem solving over Iraq.

You've got James Baker meeting with the Iranian ambassador to the U.N., you've got Tony Blair saying that we should bring those two countries in. And saying actually the problems in Iraq are outside it as much as inside it. But again this -- what happened today shows that it's not going to be easy. We've also, of course, got the Iraq Study Group potentially proposing that. It's probably something that's going to have to be done, but it's difficult...

HUME: What? To try to bring Iran and Syria into...

EASTON: Brining these two in.

HUME: To try to expect them to play a constructive role. Now, Joe Cirincione argued earlier -- in a report earlier in this broadcast that Iran and Syria, these are Shia countries, they expect there will be a majority of Shiites running Iraq, and therefore they have an interest in stability there. Has their behavior evidenced an interest in stability there?

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: You know, the Syrians are suspected of harboring the leadership of the insurgency, the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, letting Sunni al Qaeda and Mesopotamia types cross back and forth across the border, funnel weapons and money across the border that feeds the insurgency. I think they are playing both sides.

Syria is not -- it's ruled by Allowite, who are a kind of a Shiite offshoot. But it's basically a Sunni country and so it's got feet in both camps and the thing is that it is -- look, I agree with the John F. Kennedy line that you never fear to negotiate, you never negotiate from fear. On the other hand, you know, looking at this and wondering what earthly interest Syria and Iraq have in the stability of Iraq, I don't see.

HUME: In Iran.

KONDRACKE: In Iran. I mean -- so, we go to the Iranians and say, "OK, let's -- let's negotiate about the security of Iraq," and they say, Well, OK. We'll help with stability. Let us have nuclear weapons." Syria says, "Let us have Lebanon." You know, what are we going to negotiate about? That's the question.

FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD: Yeah, no, that is. And the U.S. may not be negotiating from fear, but the U.S. and the Iraqis are negotiating from weakness. Look, anybody in the Middle East, looking at the U.S. now, will say there is indecision in Washington over which way to go in Iraq.

You know, there's the long strategy, the big strategy, the bug-out strategy with Democrats taking over. A lot has happened since November 7, Election Day. And clearly the Iraqis, themselves, are feeling this indecision. So, what would be -- if they are worried about American continued support and troops in Iraq, what would be the obvious step for them to take?

Well, try to get into some kind of better grace was their neighbors -- the Syrians and the Iranians. I think that pretty much explains what the President Talabani is doing in first -- well, in going this weekend to the Iranians and then this deal has been made to formally -- have formal normal relations with the Syrians again.

HUME: That raises an interesting question. Is there really any hope that Syria and Iran, given their history and given all that they've done and not done, with regard to Iraq, will play a constructive role in that country?

EASTON: Two points on that. One is let's look at the options that are left. The options that have been used before are dealing with the modern Arab countries which hasn't gained us a lot in Iraq.

Secondly going back to your point about what do they have to gain? Thousands of Iraqis are crossing the border, are fleeing Iraq every day. This isn't good news for its neighboring countries. Instability...

HUME: I know, but what good will talking to Syria and Iran do? Prevent them from crossing?

EASTON: Engaging them in -- not preventing them from crossing, but moving towards some -- something that will enable -- will move those countries away from its support, Iranian support for the Shia militias, and Syria, the big problem of course, with Syria is this border where they're letting in al Qaeda and letting in...

BARNES: Well, they can seal the border -- the Syrians can seal it. Look, what the Iranians want...

HUME: What do we have to offer them? That's what I want to know.

BARNES: The Iranians want a satellite Shiite government in Iraq. That's clearly what they want. And then the Syrians, they want somehow to have a free hand in Lebanon and they're both working toward for that.

Look, I mean this Pierre Gemayel was killed today, the obvious explanation is often the true one, the Syrians, at the same time Hezbollah is trying to get a veto over anything the Syrian government decides -- they wipe out one of the -- the Lebanese government decides -- they wipe out one of the leading anti-Syrian cabinet members in Lebanon.

HUME: Question is -- Nina, can you think of anything that we could offer, that we would have to say, "OK, Iran, you help us here," what can we do for them?

EASTON: I think in Iran's case, they're sort of, can't get no respect. I think they clearly want to be a player on the world stage, they clearly want to be a power...

BARNES: They are that. They don't have to get U.S. approval for that...

EASTON: The other thing -- and I'll tell you the other thing about Iran is that they -- the stock market's dropped there, significantly. They have trouble getting access to foreign credit. Being part of the international community will bring them economic benefits.

BARNES: Well, if they could do one thing instantly and they get all the money, all the investment, all the respect. They just have to stop building nuclear weapons. That's all they have to do. They know that. But they don't want to stop.

KONDRACKE: Look, we are going to end up talking to them. The question is what are we going to end up talking to them about? And are we negotiate from strength here?

HUME: Well, what's the answer?

KONDRACKE: Well, they're going make demands on us and we're going to try to make counter demands. What I'm afraid of is what's going to get pulled into this is the Arab-Israeli dispute, as well. In which case, you know, you're going to start -- the answer to everything will be that the Israelis have to give up to the Palestinians which is a completely different issue from Iraq, but nonetheless...

HUME: All right, when all is said and done thought, this is going to be up to the president to decide whether to do this. In your view will he do it? Will he sit down with these people?

EASTON: I think yes.

KONDRACKE: I think he will send emissaries to those countries. But I don't think we're going to have a peace conference over Iraq.

BARNES: Yeah, I don't, either.

HUME: Do you think he'll talk to them at all or is he going to veto the whole idea as hopeless?

BARNES: Well, I hope he vetoes it as hopeless. I mean, look, there have been conference after conference after conference after conference and have things gotten better as a result? Never.

EASTON: They've left that at the door.

HUME: When we come back with our panel, should the federal government negotiate drug prices for seniors? Can the government do it? That's next with the all-stars. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: There is no question that we should be able to bargain for our senior citizens with the pharmaceutical companies to get the best price and the lowest price possible. It works for the Veteran's Administration, there's no reason why it shouldn't work for the United States government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: That was incoming House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel of New York voicing an idea that many Democrats have voiced on the campaign trail and sense that we ought to bargain with the drug companies as a national government to cut the prices of the drugs that are bought through Medicare and other government programs. What about this idea? Is it a good idea, Nina? Is it an idea that's going to be forced on the Bush administration? What about it.

EASTON: Well, economically, it's probably not a good idea.

HUME: Why?

EASTON: I think, potential of leading to drug shortages and, you know, the government moving in and affecting the market. But I think politically...

HUME: Well, you're not saying it will lead to shortages of the drugs that exist now, are you?

EASTON: Yeah. I mean, I think if you get in and you start negotiating, you affect the market and you affect supply and demand, when you are as large as the Medicare program...

HUME: Well, is the problem that or is the problem you'd curb the profits and discourage the research in the future...

EASTON: Right. I apologize. I think that is the other issue is that you do discourage profits. But I just want to go back to the political issue in this, when you speak of profits. I think it's a politically potent thing for the Democrats because drug company profits soared after this -- after the prescription drug program went into effect -- they soared -- record profits. And you look at that and to explain to seniors why can't the government step in and negotiate the same way they negotiate with the V.A. drug plan, why can't they do that and negotiate lower prices? To explain that to senior citizens on a fixed income, you know, that's an uphill battle, I think, for the White House.

KONDRACKE: J.D. Power and Associates, the consumer satisfaction people, have surveyed this and 75 percent of seniors say that they are happy with the prescription part D, the prescription drug program as it exists.

HUME: Well, that may mean they're happy with the help they're getting, but that doesn't mean they think they're paying fair prices.

KONDRACKE: Well, they're paying lower prices than anybody expected. The average premium was expected to be $34 a month per average Medicare premium it's down to $27 a month.

HUME: And this gives them an insurance policy that pays for their drugs?

KONDRACKE: Right, I mean look, what I'm tempted to say and I will say is that, you know, Milton Freedman has passed away in more ways than one. I mean, the Democrats do not belief in the private market -- private competition. The way the Medicare prescription drug plan works is that private insurance companies negotiate formularies with these various drug companies and they have lowered the price.

(CROSSTALK)

KONDRACKE: What the Medicare system will not negotiate the price, it will set the price, the way it sets the price for regular Medicare procedures, doctor procedures. And what you have then is government control of the pharmaceutical industry, which is going to be a disaster. The reason that V.A. prices are lower is, it's basically a socialized medical system. You go to a V.A. doctor, you go to a V.A. hospital, you go to a V.A. pharmacy and the V.A. pharmacies only have 25 percent of the drugs that seniors actually use all the time. So, you know, it doesn't work. The private market does work. But the Democrats don't believe in it.

BARNES: You know, of course not. This is theology for Democrats. I mean, the empirical evidence, as Mort expressed, is very strong that the market -- I can't think of many things where the market has worked so well to drive down prices with this competition, but they don't care about that.

HUME: What about the politics of it, though?

BARNES: The politics, look, if they can make the case effectively, which I don't think Democrats have so far, but potentially they could, that we will get you lower prices still and yet provide you all the variety of drugs you're using now that could be a strong argument.

For more visit the FOX News Special Report web page.

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