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Interviews With Steve Hadley, Sen. Levin

Hannity & Colmes

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I'm Brit Hume, in for Chris Wallace, and this is "Fox News Sunday."

An Iraq report card with some passing grades and a strong presidential resolve to keep up the fight.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I believe we can succeed in Iraq and I know we must.


HUME: What does the administration do next? We'll ask Stephen Hadley, the president's national security advisor.

Then the Democrats strike back.


SEN. HARRY REID, D-NEV.: The war in Iraq is headed in a dangerous direction.


HUME: Can they force the White House to change course? We'll find out from Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

Plus, now that the Iraq troop surge is up and running, how is it working? We'll talk with Frederick Kagan, the man who inspired the plan.

Then from Iraq to the campaign trail, analysis of the week from our power panel, Charles Krauthammer, Mara Liasson, Bill Kristol and Juan Williams, all right now on "Fox News Sunday."

And good morning again from Fox News in Washington. Let's get a quick check of the latest headlines. A tape showing Osama bin Laden surfaced on Saturday. The footage is undated, but experts believe it is five or six years old. Bin Laden is seen praising those who die in the name of jihad.

Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki said Saturday that his country could, if necessary, take full responsibility for its security now. He also dismissed the critical interim progress report, saying reforms were difficult to enact given all the turmoil.

And North Korea confirms it has shut down the nation's only nuclear reactor after receiving an oil shipment from the South Koreans.

A government spokesman also said North Korea is willing to dismantle the facility if the U.S. drops all sanctions.

Joining us now to discuss the interim report on Iraq and much else is the White House's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley.

Welcome back to you, sir.


HUME: First of all, your take on what North Korea said about the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. Is it indeed shut down?

HADLEY: It appears that it's shut down. The inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are on the scene with their equipment. They will go to the facility and they will be able to confirm that in the next few days.

But it appears that the facility is shut down and we are finally starting to implement the February 13th agreement of this year.

HUME: All right. Let's assume that this is so and that the Yongbyon facility is shut down. It is believed that North Korea already has several nuclear devices, probably several bombs. What effect does this shutdown of this reactor have on their nuclear ambitions?

HADLEY: It's a first step in implementing an agreement that was reached last February, which is part of an overall framework of a year ago September.

HUME: Right.

HADLEY: And under that framework, they need to give up their entire nuclear program.

HUME: Understood. But what effect -- what practical effect does the shutdown at Yongbyon have on their ability to continue to produce nuclear devices?

HADLEY: It means they will no longer be able to process to produce the plutonium from which they -- of those nuclear weapons that are made out of plutonium.

We have concerns they may have a covert enrichment program. That will be the next subject of discussions...

HUME: And that's a uranium deal, right?

HADLEY: This is basically enriching uranium to the point where it can be used for nuclear weapons.

HUME: Harder to do than with plutonium, correct?

HADLEY: Harder to do. We've had concerns they have a covert program. They at one point admitted that program.

But the route that they have used to date is the reprocessing route. That will be shut down. That route will be cut off, assuming these facilities are shut down.

We will then pursue to work through toward disabling, ultimately dismantling that program, getting a full accounting of what they've been doing with any covert enrichment program, and finally getting them to turn over any nuclear materials from which nuclear weapons have or could be made.

HUME: All right. Let's move on to Iraq now and this week's interim progress report on the extent to which the Iraqi government has been holding up its end of the deal.

There was progress noted in something like eight areas but unsatisfactory progress noted in a number of others, to include -- I think we may have a graphic we can illustrate with -- the de- Baathification law, which, I guess, is a re-Baathification law, to some extent; what's usually called an oil sharing law, which is for the sharing of the revenues from the oil and gas; and provisions related to equal treatment under the law, for the preventing of political interference in military operations, which has clearly been a problem over the years; and finally, increasing the Iraqi forces capable of fighting independent of U.S. assistance.

That's a fairly long list there of shortcomings. Why would you be confident that this will change?

HADLEY: Well, partly we're confident because some things are positive that were on those benchmarks.

HUME: Right.

HADLEY: On the security side, Iraqis did send three additional brigades to Baghdad to participate in the security program.

They have established joint security centers in Baghdad, which -- they provide, with our forces, security to the Iraqi people.

So there are things on the security side that have happened. There are things on the political side.

They do have an election commission they've stood up. They have begun a process for amending the constitution. There's obviously more to be done.

Why do you think we will see some progress? Remember, the whole premise of this surge strategy was that we need to get greater control of the security situation first, get the level of violence down, buy time for political accommodation and training Iraqi security forces.

So the sequence you think you're going to see over the next 60 days is continuing progress on the security side in operations against Al Qaida and against the Shia militia. Secondly, as that process happens, in Baghdad and beyond, places like Anbar and Diyala, we are seeing Sunni tribes rallying to the government and to U.S. forces, coalition forces, and attacking Al Qaida.

And behind that, we are seeing local government institutions beginning to come and function, provide security and the like.

And as that process continues, we think that it will begin to have an impact in the center, in Baghdad, where Shia, Sunni and Kurds need to come together on a way they are going to work out the rules by which they're going to work together in a democratic framework.

So the leading indicator is the security situation. Next, I think you're going to see this bottom-up reconciliation that we've seen in Anbar and Diyala, and then we think we will -- we hope to see more progress out of the center.

HUME: Let's talk about Nouri al-Maliki, a man in whom the president has continued to express confidence, but about whom you rather famously expressed some doubts in -- I guess it was last November.

And you said of him, and I quote, "The reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."

Do you have any reason now to revise that view of him?

HADLEY: Yes. And the president has spoken publicly. The president talks to Prime Minister Maliki. We have the secure video services so that they can talk and see each other, and he is meeting with him either by phone or video probably every other week.

And what the president's seen is an emerging leader that increasingly articulates a non-sectarian agenda for the future of Iraq, an Iraq in which all groups can participate.

But remember, it's not just an issue of Prime Minister Maliki. As I said, the real issue is that Shia, Sunni and Kurds have not yet worked out the rules under which they're going to operate together under a unified Iraq, under a democratic constitution.

That kind of power sharing needs to come first. There is some progress on it. We have been encouraging it. We're pushing it. And the expression of that will be in these legislations that you're talking about.

So Maliki is emerging as a positive force, but the basic underlying bargain still needs to be cut.

HUME: What effect do you think it has when a man like Maliki, who is obviously a central figure in all of that -- and I realize, as you point, out he's not all there is to the picture. But he comes out, as he did yesterday, and says that the Iraqis could take charge of the military situation in Iraq all by themselves. That wildly overestimates their current capability, doesn't it?

HADLEY: Well, that's also not all he said. I mean, he said Iraqis need to take responsibility.

HUME: Right.

HADLEY: That's what Iraqis want. That's what we want. That's what the American people -- so we all share the objective.

HUME: Yes, but they can't do it now, can they?

HADLEY: And he also said yesterday but they do not -- they need additional equipment and they need additional training. And that's, of course, the...

HUME: But right now they need additional troops, our troops, don't they?

HADLEY: That's the assessment we made last January. The president and Maliki both agreed that the key to progress was getting control of Baghdad. That's what Maliki asked.

We made an assessment that he did not have the capability to do that himself. That's why we did the reinforcement, to buy time for further training and equipping of Iraqi security forces so over time they can take a more prominent role and we can take a more supporting role.

HUME: Now, these arguments that you advance have, obviously, considerable weight, I suppose, but you have what seems to be a growing group, in the Senate in particular, of worried Republicans who are beginning to fall away.

There won't be very many more before there will be the inability to sustain a filibuster against Democratic-offered measures to restrict the way the president can conduct this war.

How confident are you that you'll be able to hold the line in the Senate on this issue?

HADLEY: Well, we've had a pretty good week in that respect. And one of the things that's been interesting -- there's been a lot of attention on the comments that Senator Lugar and Senator Warner have made and the legislation they have introduced.

It's interesting, too, if you look at that, they are not calling for an arbitrary withdrawal deadline or a withdrawal schedule. They are also talking and recognizing that what happens in Iraq deeply affects American security at home.

And if you listen to them, they're also talking about we're going to have to be engaged as a country in Iraq in some form for a considerable period of time. All they're simply saying is we need to think about now how we can transition to a new phase in Iraq when U.S. forces may have a different role.

HUME: So you could live with a resolution to that effect.

HADLEY: No. No, because what we've already got through legislation adopted last May was a very orderly process, adopted by the Congress, signed by the president, which says it begins in September, it begins with a report from our commander on the ground, General Petraeus, and our ambassador on the ground, Ryan Crocker.

They will come back. There will be in September, supplemented by a series of reports from the administration, from outside the administration -- and that will be the time to consider the kinds of questions and issues these gentlemen have raised.

HUME: Okay.

HADLEY: We need to get their assessment, their recommendations, as the president said.

HUME: How confident are you you can hold the line in the Senate until then?

HADLEY: I think there's a recognition that what the Senate enacted in May was the right process and that hearing from our commanders on the ground in September is the first step.

HUME: Now, let me just turn to another issue, and that is the terror threat that was spoken of by Michael Chertoff this week, the homeland security secretary, in terms of a gut feeling he had.

If there's anything behind that, it would appear to be the training facilities and other haven that Al Qaida seems to have found in Waziristan in Western Pakistan.

Now, there's a report out of there this morning that says that the militants there are calling off the truce they had with the government in the region. What is going on?

HADLEY: There has been a concern for some time in that region. President Musharraf had a policy for a long period of time of major operations there. They killed or captured over 600.

HUME: Right. I understand that.

HADLEY: About a year-plus ago, they reached an agreement with the tribals where the tribals were supposed to manage Taliban and Al Qaida, and that agreement hasn't worked.

HUME: Right.

HADLEY: President Musharraf understands it. We understand it. President Musharraf is now taking steps to move troops back into that region. That probably accounts for the statements that he heard from the Taliban. We're supporting that effort.

It is concerning. There is pooling of Taliban there. There is training and there are operations.

HUME: If it's as effective as it is, isn't there something that we could do militarily, air strikes or whatever, or not? Or we're going to rely on Musharraf?

HADLEY: Well, it's difficult, because Pakistan is a sovereign country, and President Musharraf has been a very stand-up actor on the war on terror.

His challenge, of course, is that these extremists, these Taliban, are a threat to him and to us, and he has taken action against them, but the action has at this point not been adequate, not effective.

He's doing more. We are urging him to do more, and we're providing our full support to what he's contemplating.

HUME: Stephen Hadley, thank you very much for being with us.

HADLEY: Nice to see you.

HUME: House Democrats this week passed a bill to start troop withdrawals within the next four months. Senate Democrats are pushing similar measures of their own.

And for more on all of that, we're joined now by the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, Carl Levin, who comes to us from near Traverse City, Michigan.

Senator, welcome back.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D) MICHIGAN: Thank you. Good to be with you, Brit.

HUME: You just heard Steve Hadley outline the progress that he says has been and is being made in Iraq. Do you have any quarrel with that?

LEVIN: A lot of quarrel with it. They try to make it out in their own self-assessment that this is a glass which is half full rather than it being half empty. As a matter of fact, this is a cup or a glass with a big hole in the bottom.

This is not a half full, half empty issue. They have made no progress in the one key area that everyone agrees must have progress or the violence will not end, and that's on the political side of things.

There has been no progress in terms of resolving the differences over oil royalties, over elections in the provinces, over de- Baathification.

Everyone agrees -- and by the way, even the prime minister that Stephen Hadley touts as being a positive force and someone who is able to put together this situation -- even that prime minister, Mr. Maliki, has said recently that the reason that the violence continues in Iraq is the failure of the Iraqi politicians. It's not that there's military chaos. It's that the politicians in Iraq have refused to make the compromises which are essential if there's going to be an end of violence in Iraq.

That's the issue. There's been no progress in that area. That's why it makes no sense to wait till September.

HUME: Well, hold on a second, Senator. Just let me ask you about that, because as you heard Stephen Hadley say, there are a number of areas in which some progress has been made.

Now, they're not the areas that you just cited there, but there are some areas. Now, just let me ask you about how the Democrats in Washington, for example, have done in terms of the agenda that they outlined to the public in the last election.

HUME: My understanding is that you got the minimum wage increase, but nothing else has passed. Does that make you a failure?

LEVIN: Well, no, because it's not true. There's a lot of things that have passed. We're the first -- for the first time in years, we've adopted a budget.

For the first time we've adopted a big increase now in education funding, health care funding. We're making progress on child health care.

We're making progress in a lot of areas, but you can judge the Democrats here at home and that's fine. We are more than happy to be judged.

But what we're involved in now is a brutal civil war in Iraq where there is no political progress being made and where everybody -- hey, Brit, this is not something where there's a division.

This is something where everybody agrees that there needs to be a political settlement in Iraq, and where their own leader -- this is the prime minister that Stephen Hadley touts -- says that the reason that the violence continues is not the security situation.

He says it's the failure of the political leaders of Iraq to reach a settlement.

HUME: Well, Senator...

LEVIN: That's the problem. And there's no progress in that area.

HUME: Senator, do you really seriously believe that Al Qaida, which has unmistakably been responsible for particularly this recent rash of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks, gives a fig one way or another about whether there's a political settlement among the -- involving these issues among the Iraqis?

That's not why they're fighting, is it?

LEVIN: No, I think Al Qaida has a great propaganda advantage by the western occupation of a Muslim country, and that's what's gone on here for over four years.

HUME: Well, do you believe... LEVIN: Al Qaida has grown in Iraq. Excuse me. Al Qaida, according to our own intelligence, has grown stronger in Iraq because of the American presence and the American policies that we would occupy a Muslim country.

Al Qaida is stronger now in Iraq than it has ever been. It is growing in strength because of our presence.

HUME: So you believe...

LEVIN: You can't just simply say...

HUME: Do you believe, though...

LEVIN: You can't just simply say, Brit...

HUME: I was just going to say, Senator, do you seriously believe, though, that if you had the de-Baathification program passed, that the oil sharing law was passed into law, that the other areas of political progress which you have said are necessary -- and I think everybody agrees with that -- if all that were to come to pass, that Al Qaida would go away in Iraq?

LEVIN: No, I think the best chance of defeating Al Qaida in Iraq is through two things. One, if you have a political settlement in Iraq, number one, because then the parties there will go after the real enemy, which is Al Qaida.

Secondly, under all of our plans -- under the so-called Levin- Reid amendment, which is going to hopefully be allowed to be voted on, we do provide that there be a force remaining to help an Iraqi hopefully unified government go after Al Qaida.

Of course there's a problem in Iraq with terrorism through Al Qaida, but it's a growing problem because of our presence, because of the failure of the Iraqi political leaders to come together to go after Al Qaida.

And yes, there will be a need to go after Al Qaida after most of our forces leave.

HUME: I want to ask you about that particular resolution, Senator, because I know a lot of anti-war Democrats who came out in such numbers to support the party in this past election would be interested in it.

This requires a reduction in troops in 120 days and a limited troop presence by April 30th of '08. Now, that's pretty vague. I mean, couldn't the president accept something like that, bring a few troops home in 120 days and maybe a few more by April 30, 2008?

I mean, counterterrorism training and force protection -- that covers -- those are the three missions you say would remain. That about covers the waterfront, doesn't it?

LEVIN: No, it doesn't, because most of the troops that are there now are right in the middle of a civil war and we want to get our troops out of a civil war.

And the only people that can end that civil war are the Iraqis themselves. We've got to take responsibility for their own country.

HUME: How many troops do you think would be necessary to fight Al Qaida there, Senator?

LEVIN: We have not made an estimate because we want to focus on new limited missions without trying to get into a debate as to how many troops would be needed for each of those new limited missions. That would change the subject.

And we're not going to change the subject, because the issue is how do we change course in Iraq and whether or not this president is willing to change course in Iraq or whether or not we're going to continue to delay and delay and delay.

You know, every single year, at least two or three times each year that we've been in Iraq, the president has talked about steady progress. I have a list of quotes here talking about steady progress since 2003, each year at least twice, astounding progress, amazing progress, inspiring progress.

I mean, I think the public has seen through it. This is just a veneer and the veneer has worn away. The only folks who can solve the problem in Iraq are the Iraqi leaders, and they have to solve it politically, and we can't do it for them.

HUME: Let me ask you a question about something you said this week about the surge. I want to listen to it first and then ask you to comment on it.

LEVIN: Sure.

HUME: Let's hear that.


LEVIN: The purpose of the surge was to give the Iraqi political leaders the space to work out a political agreement.

And as he has pointed out and as our leaders agree, although the surge is now complete, there is no evidence of political progress on the part of Iraqi leaders. None whatsoever.


HUME: Senator, you say the surge is now complete, but the full troop strength for..

LEVIN: Now complete.

HUME: ... the surge has been in place less than a month or just about a month right now.

Is it really fair to say that the surge is complete and that the Iraqis should have had all this political progress by now?

LEVIN: No, there should be some political progress by now. There's no evidence of it.

As a matter of fact, the administration has given us their own report card claiming progress in certain areas.

But the Iraqis' benchmarks, and there are 16 of them which they have adopted, are all political benchmarks. They haven't achieved any of their own political benchmarks, which is supposed to be the purpose of the surge.

So the surge is completed. We don't see any political progress. We see a prime minister who is unable, apparently, to pull off the political settlements which are so essential.

HUME: So your view would be we begin to withdraw, we leave this to the Iraqis, we're out of there by -- when, Senator, in your judgment, should we be out of there?

LEVIN: Most of our troops would be out of there by April 30th under our amendment.


LEVIN: We hope we're going to be able to get to a vote on our amendment. There's going to be apparently a filibuster against it, and we're going to try to see if we can't overcome that filibuster, because it's essential that we do that first.

HUME: And what is your view, then, Senator, of what will happen in Iraq? Do you think we'll be in the land of milk and honey because the Iraqis will compose their differences? Or what do you think will happen?

LEVIN: I think the only chance we have of success in Iraq is if we force the Iraqi leaders to take responsibility for their own nation.

I don't think our continuing presence in the middle of a civil war is showing any progress in terms of the kind of success which is, I think, in everybody's interest.

All of us want to succeed in Iraq, but the Iraqis have got to make the decision do they want a civil war or do they want a nation, and they can decide that politically. It's the only hope.

HUME: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much, as always, for being with us.

LEVIN: Good being with you, Brit.

HUME: Up next, we'll go inside the troop surge strategy with one of its architects. We'll be right back.


HUME: Our next guest, Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, was an early and strong advocate of a troop surge in Iraq, the plan, of course, to use additional forces to quell sectarian violence. He joins us here now.

Good morning. Welcome.


HUME: You just heard Senator Levin make an argument that I think many in Congress and many in the country would agree with, which is that the Iraqis -- yes, they've made some progress in some areas, but these key, very sensitive areas, the oil and gas wealth sharing law and so on, have not been enacted and show no particular signs that they're going to be.

What's wrong with that argument, if any?

KAGAN: Well, I never expected that the Iraqis would have passed all of these laws by July 15th. Frankly, the legislation doesn't specify that they pass all these laws by July 15th.

HUME: Which legislation is that?

KAGAN: The supplemental legislation that put these benchmarks in place. It also looks for a report on progress. It doesn't look for the laws to be passed now.

And that's why there's supposed to be another review in September, and I don't know how many of them will be passed by then.

I think that we focused excessively on centralized legislation, which is one of the hardest things to do given the makeup of the Iraqi government, and we have a problem that we've got a huge political progress taking place at the grassroots in Iraq, especially in Anbar, but not just Anbar, that isn't accounted for in these benchmarks.

And so the question is at the same time as you have people demanding that we change our military strategy from month to month, they're insisting that we continue to pursue the same political strategy all through without any changes and any accounting for variations in the situation in Iraq. It doesn't make sense.

HUME: All right. Now, what about the notion that you heard Senator Levin articulate that the surge is now complete? What about the surge? How is it going? Steve Hadley says it's going well. What do you say?

KAGAN: The surge is going very well. Major operations began on June 15th. The period prior to that was a period of preparation, deployment of forces.

We've now begun the largest coherent counterinsurgency operation we've conducted in Iraq. It has no precedent in the way we fought the war to date. We're hitting all of the major Al Qaida sanctuaries in the country simultaneously, something that we haven't done before. We're also going after Jaish al Mahdi fighters and other Shia groups -- the JAM, the Shia militia groups.

HUME: Right.

KAGAN: And you know, it's a very large-scale coordinated offensive. The notion that you can stand here less than a month into that operation and say, "The whole thing's a failure, forget about it," is nonsensical.

That's an operation that's going to take several more weeks, possibly months, to play out, before you can really evaluate whether it's going to achieve security.

And even when you've done that, there will be more time needed before you can really hope, I think, for substantive political progress.

HUME: A clear distinction is made by war critics between the operations against Al Qaida, targeted at Al Qaida, and what they describe as getting in the middle of a civil war, and that presumably means our efforts to shut down the Shiite death squads and the other elements of sectarian, purely sectarian, violence.

What is your view of that distinction? And what percentage of the trouble that's now being noticed in Iraq is being caused by the one or the other?

KAGAN: Well, I can't -- I don't think you can talk about percentages, because people are trying to make a false dichotomy here.

The reason why we have a civil war in Iraq, the reason why we have sectarian violence, is because Al Qaida deliberately set out to create and foment sectarian violence.

It was the bombing of the Samarra mosque in 2006 which set off this round of intense sectarian violence, which only began to drop again in January as the surge began, and Al Qaida's still at it. That's why they went after the minarets of the Samarra mosque not very long ago.

And so Al Qaida -- their whole strategy revolves around generating sectarian violence, because that's how they embed themselves in local communities in Iraq.

So the notion that we could somehow fight Al Qaida without concerning ourselves with the sectarian violence completely misunderstands the realities to the ground.

This isn't Afghanistan. These guys aren't living in big training camps in the middle of the desert like they did in Afghanistan. They're mingling with the population and they're using sectarian violence to force the population to support them.

If you don't stop that dynamic, then talking about fighting Al Qaida is just nonsensical.

HUME: But if we assume that our operations against Al Qaida succeed, as you suggest they are beginning to, do you believe that will naturally result, therefore, in the diminution or even perhaps the end of the sectarian violence that's been carried out by militia groups and death squads and so on?

KAGAN: Well, the interesting thing is that as we began the surge, the Shia militias stood down to a very considerable extent and dramatically reduced the degree of sectarian violence they were engaged in, and they have continued to be stood down to a very large extent, even despite a large Al Qaida surge, I think largely because they believe that we are going to go after Al Qaida and take care of this problem for them, and for other reasons.

We will still have to worry about the Shia militias. We are worrying about them. We've taken out thousands of their leaders and facilitators, because if you're talking about a stable Iraq, now we have to be concerned also about Iranian influence, and Iranian influence with Shia militias is very heavy, and it's something that we have to deal with.

And after all, we don't want Iraq to be a militia state, and death squad activities that the Shia carry out could recreate support for Al Qaida or other terrorist groups in the Sunni community if we don't bring it under control.

So we have to worry about all of these things. But the priority right now from the standpoint of American national security and also from the standpoint of progress in Iraq is going after Al Qaida.

We're doing that in a new way. It's being very effective so far, and it's something we need to continue.

HUME: So is it fair to say, based on what you've seen, that we are winning or not?

KAGAN: It's too early to tell. We've definitely reversed a slide. By the end of 2006, I would have been prepared to say unequivocally that we were losing.

All of the trend lines were bad. Sectarian killings were going up month to month. The violence was increasing. Things were looking very bad. We've absolutely reversed that trend.

And so it's no longer the question, as people keep talking about pulling the plug on a disastrous strategy that is spiraling into the abyss. That is not at all what's going on.

We've reversed those trends, and now we see a lot of positive trends, including positive political trends, particularly at the grassroots. That's something that I think that we can build on. We're in the middle of a war. You rarely know in the middle of a war what the outcome will be. If you'd asked Lincoln early in 1864 who was going to win the Civil War, he would have said the South. So it's too soon to tell.

But I think right now we've reversed negative trends and we're moving in the right direction. If we keep pursuing the right strategy, there's reason to hope that success is still possible.

HUME: Fred Kagan, good to see you, sir. Thanks for coming in.

KAGAN: Thank you.

HUME: Up next, our Sunday panel on the political battle here in Washington over the war in Iraq and much else.



SEN. RICHARD J. DURBIN (D) ILLINOIS: Sad to say, President Bush is out of touch. He's out of touch with the reality of the war in Iraq.



BUSH: I don't think Congress ought to be running the war. I think they ought to be funding our troops.


HUME: Well, there you go. That's about where it stands here in Washington. The Democrats believe the president is out of touch and the president believes the Democrats are out of line.

Some thoughts on this now from our panel, Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent, National Public Radio; the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer; and Juan Williams, national correspondent, National Public Radio.

Correct title?


HUME: All right.

Before we start on Iraq, let's talk just briefly about the development with North Korea. You heard Stephen Hadley say earlier it does appear that North Korea has, in fact, shut down at nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.

Bill, how significant?

BILL KRISTOL, WEEKLY STANDARD: We don't know yet. It's better than their not shutting it down or even not saying they're shutting it down. What struck me about Hadley was his caution and his responsibility in not over hyping this and saying there might be a secret uranium program going on, we're going to be very careful.

It was quite a contrast to Madeleine Albright, you know, flying to North Korea and celebrating great Clinton administration breakthroughs. So I give Hadley a lot of credit for not over hyping this.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Yes. I think they learned from the Clinton administration's premature celebration about this. But of course, it's a good step. And you know, a year ago, we certainly looked like we were heading in the opposite direction. There was talk about even military action.

And here's an example of how diplomacy has actually, you know, caused some progress. We don't know what's going to happen. We don't know if they have another program. But this is a step in the right direction for sure.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, COLUMNIST: It's a partial vindication of the conciliatory approach that the administration started to take about a year ago in giving concessions. Many of us were skeptical. We have to admit something has happened.

But the real question is going to be after this is done, will they admit having that second uranium program which they had admitted in the past and now deny. That's going to be a test.

WILLIAMS: For all our troubles with China, you have to also give some credit to the Chinese who have taken the lead in these six-nation talks. And apparently China and Japan have had some success in exercising influence over North Korea.

And the final point is that, as Charles was saying, we've delivered oil and, you know, allowed some of the money that we thought was being laundered and illegally treated to go back into Kim Jong Il's hands.

Now, I don't know about that, because I think ultimately our best interest is to get him out of there, not to support him in any way.

HUME: Well, would you not agree, though, that this does show that the idea of dealing with North Korea through six parties to include China and Japan is better than China doing it with unilateral diplomacy?

WILLIAMS: Yes. Well, it seems to me they wanted us to go one on one. I think it's in our best interest, the United States' best interest, to have China and Japan deal with that region, and so that was the right move.

HUME: All right.

Let's move on now to Iraq. You heard the debate pretty starkly outlined today, two quite positive views of it, especially from Fred Kagan, on the military progress the surge is making.

You heard Senator Levin raising the skeptical questions that many in Congress, including now more Republicans than the White House would like, questioning the policy.

Bill, where does this now stand?

KRISTOL: I think, Brit, this was a very big week. The Democrats and the media really thought they might stampede Republicans on the Hill. They thought they might stampede the Bush administration this week.

There has been a concerted effort over the last few weeks to get a snowball going that would destroy political support for the war and really destroy the Bush administration and, in fact, force President Bush to stand up and say, "I was wrong. I'm withdrawing from Iraq," and that would be the end of the Bush administration and, I think, catastrophic in Iraq.

Bush fought back very strongly. The president fought back very strongly this week. They held Republicans in the House. They had four defections on the key House vote. The Democrats had 10 defections.

In the Senate, there have been a couple of weak sisters who've gone south, but actually the Senate Republicans are holding strong. They denied cloture on some of the key amendments.

So I think this might have been a momentum-turning week combined with progress on the ground. I think the Democrats have overreached, and I think Bush is in a pretty good place to counterattack them.

LIASSON: Yes. I think there was some thinking that all of a sudden July was going to be the new September. I think by the end of the week, we can now say September is still September.

In other words, the deadline remains what it always was, when Petraeus comes back in the fall.

Now, I do think that if there hasn't been significant progress by then, you already see these efforts being made to come to some kind of bipartisan consensus, whether it's with Warner-Lugar, merely a plan for withdrawal, or enshrining the Iraq Study Group in law, which is the Salazar-Alexander plan, some kind of a bipartisan vehicle that could maintain support for some kind of mission that includes a draw down of troops.

I'm saying if we don't show progress in September, you're going to see movement toward that. But I think right now there's a stalemate. The administration can continue this war without any fear that the Congress is going to force them to change course.

KRAUTHAMMER: What was interesting in the Levin interview was that he kept arguing that without progress from the central government in Iraq, the Maliki government -- the benchmarks, the political reconciliation -- nothing is possible, everything that we attempt will fail.

And a lot of people had said this -- I did about a year ago -- unless you had the government acting for reconciliation, the war is not going to succeed.

But something has happened in the last year that Levin ignores, Democrats ignore, and that shows that progress can be had in the absence of an oil law, in the absence of regional elections.

And that is the progress that we saw in Anbar and we're seeing now in Diyala, which is a result of American military action in November, an offensive began by us in Anbar, a province that we had written off as Al Qaida a year ago, which is no longer Al Qaida.

As a result of our offensive and also stationing Americans in the cities after the offensive, the Sunnis have switched sides.

There is a way to neutralize this insurgency acting on the ground, and that's what the surge is all about, doing it in Baghdad and elsewhere.

If that succeeds and we have evidence of that, of other areas acting like Anbar and Diyala, which also had been written off -- if that progress is reported in September, I think it's going to lead to a change in the Congress and in public opinion.

WILLIAMS: You know, this conversation reminds me of the husband speaking to his wife when she discovers him in bed with another woman. He says, "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"

Well, how are you guys going to say, "Oh, ignore the benchmarks that we've been building up for all this time as the ultimate measure leading toward September," and now we get the benchmarks and you say, "Well, don't pay attention to the benchmarks. You know, we're making progress in other ways and things are coming along just fine."

But I think that what you see in the vote that took place in the House this week is the Democrats are finally solidified. Even the conservative Democrats are now voting to get out.

I think you're starting to see more -- there were four Republicans who went along. I think in the Senate, you're seeing Senator Lugar, Senator Warner -- these are not, you know, pipsqueaks in terms of foreign policy.

These are people who have been head of Republican ideology and thought, working with the president on the war, saying, "We can no longer support the president here. Things are going badly. It's not a matter of waiting till September. We can see now that things are going badly."

And if you ask the American people...

HUME: Well, Juan, what about...

WILLIAMS: ... almost 70 percent of the American people say, "Get out now."

LIASSON: But the debate is going to turn to how exactly do you want to get out. And I think what the administration accomplished this week -- I don't know if it was a major turning point, but they bought some time. They bought two months.

They're going to get till September to have the Petraeus report, as they always had hoped.

But I agree with Juan. You do see this movement. You know, you see Republicans being restive, being really concerned that something dramatic happen in September or else they're going to look for a place to park themselves.

Now, it might not be the immediate withdrawal that some Democrats want, but it's going to have to be a plan that includes the words "draw down of troops" in it, or else I don't think you can keep a bipartisan consensus on this war.

KRISTOL: But you know, benchmarks are not reality. Reality is reality. And I do believe, despite the media, if reality continues to progress in Iraq itself, in the real war we're fighting in a real country called Iraq, with real provinces like Anbar, with real American troops going after Al Qaida -- if progress continues at the rate it has for the last two months or three months, I think that changes the political dynamics here, first of all.

And secondly, the Democrats have overreached. Mara is absolutely right. It's one thing to say, "Oh, we're tired of it. It's difficult. Let's get out." Really concretely, what are you going to do?

Are you going to let Al Qaida establish safe havens or not? How are we going to get out? Are we going to watch slaughter go on 10 miles away as we pull American troops into bases?

So I think the politics here, as people focus on what's happening on the ground and on the real choices in Iraq, could well change over the next two months.

WILLIAMS: But isn't it the case, Bill, that the reason that there's growing support for the Iraq Study Group report is because it lays out specific ways in which we could withdraw and maintain protection of American facilities, American interests in the Middle East, try to fight Al Qaida -- real Al Qaida, not Al Qaida that sprung up because we're in Iraq, but really fight Al Qaida -- and also provide some support for the borders surrounding Iraq and tamp down on Iranian interference?

LIASSON: That takes a lot of troops.

WILLIAMS: Yes. But it takes us out of the middle of a civil war.

LIASSON: That takes a lot of troops. KRISTOL: That doesn't explain how to do any of those things. It says those would all be nice things to do, thank you, that's our report.

We're not in a civil war. This is just not true. American troops are out there attacking Al Qaida. They're attacking some elements of the Shia militias. They're doing other things, helping with reconciliation.

They are not in the middle of a civil war.

WILLIAMS: Well, I just think when al-Maliki...

KRISTOL: It's just not physically true.

WILLIAMS: When al-Maliki tells us, "You know what, we don't need you, Americans, get out. In fact, you're causing problems by building your walls," I think, "Wait a second, what are we doing there?"

HUME: We need to take a quick break here.

Coming up, John McCain shakes up his presidential staff and house. What happens next to him? Our panel next on the politics '08.


HUME: On this day in 1971, during a live T.V. broadcast, President Richard Nixon stunned the nation, announcing that he would visit Communist China the following year. This marked a dramatic turning point in U.S.- Chinese relations.

Stay tuned for more from our panel.



MCCAIN: My campaign is fine. I'm happy with the way it is. We've had to make adjustments. We've had ups and downs.


HUME: Well, that's one way of looking at it, I suppose, if you're Senator McCain, that the campaign is fine. But a bunch of his aides, top aides, bailed out this week and the campaign is thought to be all but broke. So whither Senator McCain?

Mara, you were with him in New Hampshire yesterday for what was thought to be a major speech. How does he seem? What's going on?

LIASSON: Well, he seems fine. I mean, it was the strangest campaign trip I've ever been on. I mean, the campaign staff are just walking around shell-shocked. A lot of them are not going to be around more than one or two more days.

He is out of money. This has been a spectacular implosion. I don't know of any campaign that's kind of fallen this far this fast from front- runner a year ago, less than a year ago, to underdog today.

But what he's going to do is go back to the beginning, go back to his roots. He's going to campaign in New Hampshire, hold a lot of town meetings, kind of face-to-face encounters with voters, which he is great at.

And he was in Claremont having a town meting yesterday morning where he took questions for an hour and a half and answered them all, you know, with the same kind of candor and honesty people that people come to expect from John McCain.

I think it's going to be really hard. I don't think he even has enough money to get back on the Straight Talk Express bus.

But there was a lot of black humor. I mean, he was asked, "Which is more likely, progress in Iraq or that you'll get the nomination, Senator?" And he said, "Well, that reminds me of my favorite quote from Chairman Mao, it's always darkest before it's completely black."

So you know, he seems like his old self. But of course, the campaign is kind of disappearing from beneath him. And he is now what I would say is officially in the second tier of candidates.

And the definition of being in the second tier is that all you can do is hope that something bad happens to one of the guys in the first tier. He's not in control of his own fate anymore. He needs a lot of lucky breaks to come back.

HUME: Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, you know, the explanation I've seen -- you know, inside baseball and outside. Inside I saw a long article which described his problems and summarized it as his campaign was plagued by indistinct lines of authority and petty rivalries.

Well, that's something that's never happened in a campaign before.


I mean, what really happened was this is about issues. Elections are about issues. He tweaked the Republican base one time too many.

He started with campaign finance reform, which for a lot of conservatives is original sin, which is a way of sort of curtailing political speech.

He opposed tax cuts that the president had proposed. He opposed the president on interrogations. And then he did immigration. Immigration is what killed him. One of his advisors said it cost him $4 million. I think it cost him six times that much.

A lot of people have said it's Iraq. I don't think so. Iraq obviously is a cloud over his candidacy, as it is over this administration, but Iraq has remained essentially the same, and he's been very strong on Iraq.

HUME: And most Republican voters support that.

KRAUTHAMMER: Are supporting him on Iraq. It was immigration. That was the last straw, and a lot of people said, "Enough. I can't support him."

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, the key for John McCain, I think, trying to get back in it is to get back in touch with the swing voters, the people who gave him his upset in New Hampshire back in 2000.

HUME: Can he do that while still supporting this war? WILLIAMS: That's the key. That was what I was going to say, Brit. I don't see how he can do it. So he's in trouble on that.

And of course, the base is still angry with him over immigration, and I don't think they ever exactly believed in his rapprochement with the evangelicals, who he had called bigots before.

So where does this leave him? He doesn't have a base, unless he gets back with those swing voters who saw him as the maverick, the voice in the Republican Party who was willing to say things that were unpopular with the base.

And I don't think there's much of a market for it at this moment. I mean, he's an outstanding politician, someone who's had tremendous influence in this town, but it looks like the party's over.

KRISTOL: He's unlikely to be the nominee. But the only way back, in my view, is to make the case that he is the only one we can trust to be commander in chief.

That's always been his trump card. He went away from it. He fought the president on interrogations. He got wrapped up in the immigration thing.

His claim to be the next president of the United States is, "Trust me in the Oval Office. I will fight and win the wars we need to fight and win."

And the way to do that over the next two or three months, the way to bring that message home, I think, is to forget about a lot of this campaign stuff.

Go sit on the floor of the Senate and fight the Democrats every step of the way as they try to undercut General Petraeus.

Meet with the young Iraq vets who are coming to town next week, the Vets for Freedom, who are going to come and make the case against betraying the troops over there in Iraq.

Be, in effect, the head of the no surrender caucus in the Senate, in the Congress. I think he can win that fight in September.

And then maybe in mid-October, voters look up and say, "You know what? The war is the most important thing. I really admire McCain for standing up, for helping defeat the forces of surrender," and he has an outside chance at that point, I think, of getting -- he'll have a lot of admiration from Republicans and an outside chance of even getting some political momentum back.

KRAUTHAMMER: I agree. I think his politics and his beliefs are now congruent. In other words, he's got to stick with what he believes.

He's been the most consistent, articulate and honorable on the war all the way through. He hasn't trimmed his sails. And I think that's where he stands and falls. He's lashed himself to the mast on the war early on as a matter of honor and belief, and if the war turns as I think it might, if there is progress in September and a change in public opinion, he would benefit.

Any other course I think would be a disaster.

HUME: Can he ever recover, though, from the pogrom that he brought on himself among Republicans with his immigration stance?

KRAUTHAMMER: I don't think so. But I think if the war emerges as the overriding issue, as it is, and immigration fades into the past in some sense, and it's going to be a dead issue now, and it's all about the war, I think he has a chance.

LIASSON: I don't know if he has a chance, but certainly the campaign that at least Bill has outlined for him is a campaign that...

HUME: It's doable.

LIASSON: ... is doable and also something he would enjoy. This is a candidate who always says, you know, he puts principle above politics. In this case, he did that.

And you know what? Voters only reward you for that if you agree with them on a sufficient number of issues.

HUME: Yes, I agree with that.

LIASSON: In this case, they didn't.

HUME: Let me just ask you -- we only have a few seconds left, but do you have a sense from being out there which of the other Republican candidates benefits most from his latest troubles? Real quick.

LIASSON: I guess Giuliani.

HUME: Giuliani, right.

LIASSON: The other moderate Republican.

HUME: You heard it here first. Thanks, panel. We'll see you next week.

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