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Special Report Roundtable - February 21

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Over time, and depending naturally on progress in the capability of the Iraqi security forces, we will be able to draw down further, possibly to below 5,000 once the Basra site has been transferred to the Iraqis in late summer.

RICE: The coalition remains intact and effective British still have thousands of soldiers deployed in Iraq, in the South and any decision that they make are going to be on the basis of conditions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: So, the coalition is intact and all is well says Secretary of State Rice, but to Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, wasn't buying that and he said, "By announcing its decision to redeploy troops from Iraq, the British government has acknowledged a reality that President Bush still stubbornly refuses to accept. There can be no purely military solution in Iraq."

Nancy Pelosi chimed in, "The president's escalation plan to send more U.S. troops to Iraq is out of step with the American people and our allies. Why are thousands of additional American troops being sent to Iraq at the same time that British troops are planning to leave?"

OK, so who's right here, if anybody, about this? Is this a blow to the coalition? Some thoughts on this from Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard; Bill Sammon, senior correspondent Washington Examiner; and Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio -- all are FOX NEWS contributors.

This is either -- it's a sign of progress, says Dick Cheney, conditions based moving out of troops showing that things can work, or this is a sign that we're going one direction and our allies are going in another. Which is it?

BILL SAMMON, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, Basra is not Baghdad. I mean, there is different parts of the country and different security threats in different parts of the country. And Basra is relatively stable compared to Baghdad and Democrats have been complaining about they want to transfer authority -- security, increasingly, to the Iraqis and what happens, the British say, OK, we've got this area sort of under control, we're going to reduce our forces a little bit and start transfer authority to see Iraqis and Democrats scream, "the coalition is crumbling. You're going in the opposite direction of -- we're surging troops and the British are taking out troops."

Well, in Baghdad, there's still a major problem and we need to surge troops into there because we have to deal with the problem. The American troops happen to be staged in Baghdad because we didn't want to put British troops in Baghdad and bring up all the old, sort of, colonial memories. But, the British troops are in Basra and Basra is starting to get under control.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Look, I think you know, you could say this was an unfortunate bit of timing just because it allowed Democrats to say ah-ha, they are leaving and we're putting troops back in. But, the fact is that the British are doing what the Democrats would like to see the U.S. do, it's just that they got to the position in the South where they could it a little bit earlier.

HUME: Well since they're doing it, what the president would like to do, too...

LIASSON: Yeah, the president would like to turn this over to the Iraqis and he certainly had hoped to be able to do it earlier. Look, I think that this is a sign, not that the British are pulling out lock, stock, and barrel, as a matter of fact, they're only drawing down, something like 1,700 to start with. But I do think it gives the timing of it, just as we're sending troops in there gives the Democrats a chance to say, ah-ha, you know, we should be doing what our allies are doing, which is packing up and going.

HUME: Do you think that Democrats generally this or they know better?

LIASSON: I think they actually probably know better, and that there is a difference in -- between Basra and Baghdad. Now, they are against the policy of putting more troops in, the think that that's the wrong thing to do, but to make the point that the British are doing what we should be doing, because they understand something that George Bush doesn't, I think, is not correct.

FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD: You know, if the British are breaking up the coalition, they've been doing it for a long time. You know, at one point, I guess in 2003, they had about 40,000 troops there, now they have 7,000 and they're going to take, what, 1,700 -- 1,900 of those out over the next few months. And I think they're doing it exactly the way President Bush would to do it, when you win, when you're successful. And obviously, Basra is not a big a problem as Baghdad is and it's nowhere near that, but they had been successful there.

It's an area that where the Iraqi troops have been effectively integrated into the system there where they can deal with the local conditions there a lot better than they can in Baghdad were the more American troops are needed.

Tony Blair supports the surge. He has characterized this as a -- we can draw these troops out because we've been successful, not because we're losing the war.

HUME: And I guess he also says that further reductions in forces will be based on condition.

BARNES: Sure.

SAMMON: You have to keep something in context, 1,700 troops; it basically amounts to roughly one percent of allied forces in Iraq. We're talking about leaving 99 percent of the allied forces there. So, to get too worked up of this about this as some sort of a symbolic, you know, sea change here, is...

HUME: Well, as Mara suggests that this is politics. The question is, is it, obviously this issue of Iraq is fair game -- is this sort of stuff, these kinds of reactions -- and you heard it from the Democrats on the campaign trail today, as well, the same thing -- is there a danger that this backfires? Is this good politics? Is this unpatriotic? What?

LIASSON: Well, it certainly isn't unpatriotic and I think for now it is fine politics for the Democrats. You know, the point is the country is against the war and anytime you can call attention to the unpopular war, you know, it probably doesn't hurt them. In the long run, what if the surge works, I guess is the question, will they look -- you know, will they suffer because they were demanding that we pull out immediately? I think theirs a very low-risk strategy for Democrats.

BARNES: Well, yeah, complaining about this, this is a low-risk strategy. What they're doing, either defunding the troops by setting certain conditions that you can't have reinforcements, as John Murtha would do, I think that is very, very risky. I know how they're going to handle the surge if it's victorious, they'll just deny that there's been victory there. If there's a single firecracker going off, they'll say look, see, there's still violence there. So they'll never admit it.

SAMMON: The dirty little secret is that actually, and you almost hate to say this, but it'll change, things are starting to settle down a little bit in Iraq. We've had relatively stable period compared to some of the hell we went through last year.

HUME: Next on SPECIAL REPORT, Hollywood mogul, David Geffen, once a friend of Bill Clinton, appears to have changed his mind and his recent comments ignited a firestorm on the campaign trail. More with the all- stars on that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I want to run a very positive campaign and I sure don't want Democrats or his supporters of Democrats to be engaging in the politics of personal destruction. I think we should stay focused on what we are going to do for America. And, you know, I believe that Bill Clinton was a good president and I'm very proud of the record of his two terms.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: So, what was Senator Clinton reacting to? She was reacting to a quoted comment from the Hollywood big-shot David Geffen in Maureen Dowd's column in the New York Times in which Geffen, among other things, said, "Everybody in politics lies, but [the Clintons] do it with such ease, it's troubling."

That's not al he said, but it provoked the reaction, first, from Clinton's spokesperson, Howard Wolfson:

"By refusing to disavow the personal attacks from his biggest fundraiser against Senator Clinton and President Clinton, Senator Obama has called into serious question whether he really believes his won rhetoric. How can Senator Obama denounce the politics of slash and burn yesterday while his own campaign is espousing the politics of trash toddy?"

That drew this from Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs:

"We aren't going to get in the middle of a disagreement between the Clintons and someone who was once one of their biggest supporters. It is time ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when he was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln bedroom."

And that in turn invoked this from Mr. Geffen himself:

"I am not the campaign finance chair and have no formal role in the Obama campaign, nor will I...my comments, which were quoted accurately by Maureen Dowd, reflect solely my personal beliefs regarding the Clintons."

So, that's been going in on all day to the delight and some extent, the astonishment of political journalists covering his respective campaign. This sounds like primary eve stuff and we're not even in the same year with the primaries yet. So, question, first of all, if David Geffen's quote had appeared in the New York Times this morning as it did under Maureen Dowd's -- in Maureen Dowd's column, and there had been no reaction from the Clinton camp, would we have enough to talk about here tonight?

LIASSON: Well, we wouldn't be talking about this at all. I mean, I guess, one of the biggest questions is why did the Clinton campaign do this? Why did they react this way?

HUME: You mean why did they react so strongly?

LIASSON: Yes, now, you can imagine that clearly...

HUME: It was a pretty sharp thing that David Geffen, a one-time Clinton backer to say.

(CROSSTALK)

LIASSON: Yeah, oh clearly, I can see how the Geffen comments would have kind of struck them like a bowling ball, you know, rolling though their campaign offices. But why pick a fight with Obama over this? You know...

HUME: Well, he's a big Obama supporter, and this is all in the context of Obama raising money out there.

LIASSON: Yes, I understand that, but these comments would have had to have been on the level of something really personally offensive that everyone would see as such for them to hold him accountable, for what David Geffen says. This is basically a problem, I think, between the Clintons and David Geffen. And they clearly failed to draw Barack Obama into this. And I guess what they were hoping was that there would be some kind of groundswell of people saying it's horrible that David Geffen said that Bill Clinton was reckless guy, that was one of the quotes or that one you played, "that everyone in politics lies, but they do with such ease." I don't know if those are the kind of comments that are going to get people worked up and demanding an apology from Obama.

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: (INAUDIBLE) Clinton is such a divisive figure that no matter how smart or ambitious, and then he said, "and is there anyone more ambitious than Hillary Clinton could bring the county together?"

LIASSON: And I'm sure Barack Obama would say, I don't feel that way about either of the Clintons.

SAMMON: It was a pretty tough statement by Geffen and the reason Hillary came out after it was because, they've been itching for some time to go after this guy. They look at Barack Obama as the biggest single obstacle to her securing the Democratic nomination. They've been tired of the free ride he's been getting from the press and they've been looking for a pretext to launch on him.

Now whether they did that, you know, executed correctly on their launch today, remains to be seen, because I think when the dust settles, I think, Obama probably looks a little better in this because he is simply responding to Clinton's attack. He's not the one who threw the first punch; Geffen threw the first punch and started this.

Clinton sort of went nuclear and then Obama responded and he didn't back down. You notice that Clinton said, "we call on Obama to renounce David Geffen and give back the money."

HUME: Give his money back.

SAMMON: Sever all ties and he didn't back down and said, hey, I'm not going to get in the middle of fight between Clinton and one of her former supporters and they throws in the Lincoln bedroom thing, which is brilliant because it evokes all of the scandals of the Clinton years. So, I think he ends up as a net gain on this one.

HUME: Really?

SAMMON: Oh, yeah.

BARNES: Well, Hillary clearly doesn't gain. I mean there are a number of things here, one is, if Hillary's camp hadn't responded, of course, there wouldn't be much of a story here because you have to have two people to have a fight. And this thing will continue to go on, but why did they have to respond to David Geffen?

I mean, he may be big-wig in Hollywood, but he's no big figure in American politics or anything they didn't have to respond to him. It shows how much off balance Hillary Clinton and her whole campaign are because Obama's in the race. This isn't the way that she envisioned tat it would go. This was going to be easy winning the nomination and she could stay toward the center and wouldn't have to worry about this guy. The key word that Geffen used was "inspiring" and Democrats find Obama inspiring. Hillary's many things, inspiring isn't one of them.

For more visit the FOX News Special Report web page.

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