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Special Report Roundtable - November 30

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's the right guy for Iraq and we're going to help him. And it's in our interest to help him, for the sake of peace.


WALLACE: That was President Bush today after his meeting with Iraq Prime Minister Maliki. Here to discuss the way ahead in Iraq, Michael Barone, senior writer for U.S. News and World Report; Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call; and Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio -- FOX NEWS contributors all.

Well, if anyone expected a big change in U.S. policy in Iraq coming out of this summit, they had another thing coming. The president gave Maliki, as we saw there, a strong vote of confidence. He said that the U.S. is there to help him succeed. Mort, should we read this as a version of "stay the course?"

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: Yes, I heard nothing to indicate that there's any change. The president ruled out what seemed to be the two key recommendations that are coming from the Iraq Study Group, one is a drawdown of American troops. The president said, you know, we're not going to start fading out of here.

And he also has been ruling out direct negotiations with Iran and Syria, which also are part of the recommendations. And he is sticking with Maliki, and the only change, the only thing new that came out of this summit was that we're going to accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, but even that was pretty indefinite as to how we're going to do it, how fast it's going to be done.

Now, Maliki said that he hoped that his forces would be able to take care of security by the middle of 2007, which is fine, but there is no timetable for this to happen.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about this, Mara, because there's been all this anticipation of the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan commission headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, which we now know is going to come out with its report next Wednesday. I heard what Mort heard, it seemed that every recommendation that we hear, that the ISG is going to come out with, the president was in effect saying today, no.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think there is a little bit more wiggle room that the president left about the negotiations with Iran and Syria. He said that Iraq had talked to them. You know, they are a sovereign power, maybe that's the way you set that thing up. You know, you don't come in and do the negotiating for your client state, you make sure they are not viewed as a client state and they do their own negotiating. So I think there's a little bit of opening for that.

The Iraq Study Group is apparently going to suggest some kind of a slow withdrawal without timetables...

WALLACE: A pullback.

LIASSON: A turning over -- a more rapid turning over of the responsibility to the Iraqi Security Forces. I don't think the president has necessarily closed that off, but...

WALLACE: Sure doesn't sound like he was headed in that direction?

LIASSON: No, but I think he wants to put an Iraqi face on this whole fight and he has said that all along.

MICHAEL BARONE, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT: Well, I would point to one other report that the president's probably going to get in December -- still say it's next month until tomorrow -- the -- and that's the -- General Pace, the chairman of joint chiefs of staff has a review being conducted by some high-level and well-thought of military officers of our military course in Iraq.

And that suggests to me that General Pace, who is not in the chain of command that goes from CENTCOM commander John Abizaid to the secretary of defense -- has some problems with what we've been doing in Iraq with General Abizaid's strategy and it's going to suggest some alternatives. One of those that's been talked about frequently, and Steve Hadley referred to it on the plane, Air Force One in his colloquy with reporters, is embedding more U.S. troops in Iraqi units and not having...

LIASSON: More trainers, yeah.

BARONE: Yeah, trainers and people that would be operating with them instead of having as many American troops, sort, of fenced off in their own units in these well-protected bases.

A number of people from all rangers of the political spectrum have called on this and I think it's possibly we may see other military alternatives which President Bush may look more favorably on than he has what we are told is coming out of the Baker-Hamilton Commission.

WALLACE: But Mort, what about the political reality here at home? I mean, let's face it, this -- the Democrats won this election and in no small measure because people are dispirited about the war in Iraq.

If he is going to stand by Maliki, if he is going to say "We are there and we're going to keep him and we're going to complete the mission," as he said earl in this week, not today, is that enough for the Democrats and Republicans who can read these polls and...

KONDRACKE: I don't think so. I think that the Democrats are not going to -- they're going to rhetorically demand to pull out faster. I don't think that they're going to require it at the beginning, but as time goes on, if things don't improve, and things are horrible over there at the moment, as we all know, you're going to see Congress passing sensor the Senate resolutions, demanding this and that maybe even passing a law.

John Kerry was talked today about something hike, you remember the Bolden Amendment way back in the Contra days, saying that here's what America's policy is, the American policy is to withdraw. You know, I think that they will not pull the plug on funding for the troops, but they'll certainly pass everything short of that.

WALLACE: But Mara, just very briefly because we are running out of time in this segment, what to you think happens if the president remains resolute and the Democrats and maybe even some Republicans begin saying no?

LIASSON: I -- My guess is that the division will be as stark and clear as that. I think after the Iraq Study Group comes out, you're going to see some, little bit of movement on either side. I think both sides are looking for a way out of this. It's not going to be the same positions as you see today.

WALLACE: All right, we have to take a break here, but next up with the panel, we know one person who's in the 2008 presidential race, but who's going to join him? Stay tuned.



VILSACK: Today, we have in the White House a president whose first impulse is to divide and to conquer, who preys on our insecurity and fears for partisan gain.


WALLACE: That's Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack announcing his intention to run for president and making the Democratic case against President Bush. And we're back now with Mort, Mara, and Michael.

So, Vilsack leads the way into what we expect to be a whole heard of Democrats running for president. As you sit here at this very early point, Michael, how do you see the potential Democratic field?

BARONE: Well, I see the field divided in a couple of ways. No. 1, between people who start off very well known and popular, which would include Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York; Senator Barack Obama, not known in as much depth, but Democrats and Americans, generally, have liked what they've seen when he's been on the national stage. And between some that are less known, I mean Tom Vilsack would obviously fall into that category. Governor Bill Richardson, though he's been, you know, on national broadcasts many times in his various capacities, if he runs would be in that category.

I also think it's an interesting question which of these candidates, if Democratic voters are interested in how a person can handle the grave responsibilities of protecting Americans in the state of the world that we're in now. I mean, some of these candidates -- or potential candidates, can cite major national security or White House experience.

Senator Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, if he runs can do that. On the other hand, some of them like former Senator Edwards, Governor Vilsack, Senator Obama, have really very limited experience in that sort of field and it'll be interesting to see how important that will be to Democratic primary voters.

WALLACE: Mort, I think we all agree that if, repeat if, both get in that this race would, at least, start out as kind of a two-person race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. If that were to happen, not to discount the others, but if that started out that way, how do you see the dynamics of that race?

KONDRACKE: Well, I think, as Michael says, that what you've got here is you've got a phenom, Obama, who is inexperienced. He's only been in the Senate for two years and he has no foreign policy experience, but he's deemed authentic and he's got -- and he's a wonderful -- he's got -- connects with people, he's got charisma, he's got a great smile, I think he's got a great message, a unifying message for the country, he's not a polarizing figure, but unifying figure, he works well across lines -- party lines.

And then you've got Hillary Clinton who is a kind of a grind, who is, you know, doesn't excite the same enthusiasm as regarded as a little bit made up, although very intelligent, also capable of working across party lines, a little bit Machiavellian and all that stuff, and tough, and experienced. So that's the choice.

Frankly, in a world of terrorism, I cannot believe that even the Democratic Party would not opt for experience over charisma.

WALLACE: But, let me ask you about that, Mara, because on the one hand Obama may not have experience on the other hand he can say "I was against the Iraq war and all these experienced people voted to go in."

LIASSON: Right, he could say that, he wasn't there at the time, but he would have voted against it.

WALLACE: He was on record against it.

LIASSON: Yeah, he was on record against it. Look, I think that up until the moment on Meet the Press when he opened the door to a possible run and everybody expects that he will do that, it was Hillary verses everybody else. Now I think, as Mort just said, it will be Hillary and Barack Obama, they will be the two major rivals and then everybody else trailing behind them.

I think, it's interesting, Mort said Hillary also works across party lines, she does that in the Senate and one on one that might be her image, but her wholesale image is of someone who is quite polarizing. The American people don't view her as that kind of moderate bipartisan figure. Barack Obama is. And I think, to some extent, one of the reasons the Democrats are so (INAUDIBLE) about him and are thrilled is because he seems to...

WALLACE: I take it that means excited?

LIASSON: Really feeling good, yeah.

That he seems to embody the message of the 2006 elections. Voters want someone who can bridge divides of all sorts and who better to do that than Barack Obama who has a personal story that actually...

WALLACE: And I think -- we're about out of time. And one thing I think we all know, because we've all covered politic a long time, you can talk about credentials, you can talk about organization, but momentum an just plain excitement from the people...

LIASSON: And he's got that. In spades.

WALLACE: He's got that.

LIASSON: Yeah, unbelievable.

WALLACE: At this point.


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