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Special Report Roundtable - July 17

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In my judgment, looking at all the data, they are capable, they are planning, but they are not as resilient, or as robust, or as capable as they were in 2001.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Al-Qaeda's stronger, so says the report. The president disagrees, but that's what the report says. You can't have it both ways.


HUME: Well, is that what the report says? Some thoughts on this now from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent for National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of "Roll Call" Fox News, and distinguished ones, contributors all.

All right. Well, it seems like there's a factual question that needs to be resolved. Does the report say what Reid said it says, or does it say what McConnell, the director of the National Intelligence, says it says?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: Well, it says that al- Qaeda is weaker than it was in 2001, but it's getting stronger.

Look, I basically agree with Bush critics, like Lawrence Wright, who wrote "the looming tower," which won the Pulitzer Prize, on the history of the development of al-Qaeda, that we had al-Qaeda on the run, the al-Qaeda central on the run in 2002 and 2003, failed to finish them off at Tora Bora.

Then along comes Iraq, and you've got the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is a recruiting ground, a rallying cry, a training ground for all kinds of jihadist terrorists. And, meanwhile, we did take resources away from Afghanistan and put them into Iraq--Arab speakers, and Special Forces operators, and so on--and al-Qaeda is resurgent in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

So what does this mean? I mean, we can't just leave Iraq now when we've got a formidable enemy there. The NIT says that they're the most visible and, I think, effective, capable of all the al-Qaedas. So we've got to beat them in Iraq, and we've got to beat them in Pakistan.

It's a much more complicated job. We may be better off than we--

HUME: So al-Qaeda has been strengthened by the Iraq war, in your view?

KONDRACKE: I believe so, yes.

HUME: Mara?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it has, but that doesn't mean it would wouldn't have gotten stronger without it. It's complicated.

When Reid says al-Qaeda is stronger, they are stronger. But than what? What's your benchmark?

The other question is, what's the central front on the war in terror? That's certainly got a lot of attention in the White House. Where should we be putting our effort? In Waziristan or in Iraq?

HUME: What should we do in Waziristan?

LIASSON: Well, they are talking about--well, we might be able to do something to help Musharraf go after them--it's unclear exactly what--

HUME: Is it clear that our efforts in Iraq are making that not possible?

LIASSON: No, I don't see why we couldn't do both at the same time.

Although, Tony Snow was asked today--Wendell Goler, actually, asked him this question--are you saying it was impossible to have gotten rid of al-Qaeda, as Lawrence Wright and others argued they could have, before we went into Iraq?

And Snow said "Yes." In other words, it was impossible to take care of them. And there, there is a big argument.

HUME: Well, I assume what the idea is, is that once they ran across the border into Waziristan, the remnants of al-Qaeda, that there wasn't a whole lot we could do without--.

LIASSON: There's some people who think we should have followed them more fiercely than we did.

HUME: Yes there are.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, WEEKLY STANDARD: There are, but those, I mean, look, it's an impossible place there. We do have, I assume, commando teams and so on that have gone there--in fact, I know we have-- that have gone there trying to search for Usama bin Laden.

But you're not going to drop the 101st airborne in there. That's not where they can operate effectively. It's a pretty remote place, and you'd rather have Usama bin Laden there than in Kabul or some other place. He's better off there.

`They have set up training there. That's a problem. And it's a haven, and something needs to be done about it.

Look, what this report--almost everybody read something different into this report. We all know why al-Qaeda is a threat. I think Mara's probably right, we don't know whether Iraq has really played a role in it or not, or whether al-Qaeda would have been this big or not.

But the truth is, Mort and Lawrence Wright are totally wrong. We would not have wiped out--you might have wiped out Usama bin Laden, and some of al-Qaeda headquarters, and the number two comes out, and that would have helped.

But what is the problem? The problem is Islamic radicalism, which is a political ideology that's part of a religion that is sprouting up all over the world. It wouldn't have gone away. There would be a huge terrorist threat whether it's al-Qaeda or not.

We know all these groups that are affiliated with al-Qaeda. Well, they might not have had somebody to affiliate with, but they still would have been out there in England, and France, and Germany, and Morocco, and Algeria, and so many other places.

So to say, well, we could have wiped out al-Qaeda, which I don't think we could have, anyway, that's not really solving the problem. It would have helped some, but the problem is much, much bigger than that.

KONDRACKE: But we've exacerbated the problem by giving them the kind of rallying cry that they used to have against the Russians in Afghanistan. They rallied, they trained, they recruited in Afghanistan against the Russians, and they're doing the same thing in Iraq right now.

HUME: All of those other people in there fighting and dying for al- Qaeda in Iraq would be have been doing, what?

LIASSON: I think they might not have been there at all.

KONDRACKE: Yes, exactly.

LIASSON: But the other thing that is happening in Iraq--The White House did make a point today that the al-Qaeda in Iraq is focused on Iraq. They're not, you know, they're not capable right now of launching attacks on us.

However, everything that they do there, every time that they make a better IEDs, or are more effective at some kind of murder and mayhem, that's something that they could export, not necessarily to New York city, but certainly Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt.

HUME: So the idea is if you fight them, they learn things, so you shouldn't fight them?

LIASSON: No, I'm not saying that.

KONDRACKE: Now we have absolutely got to beat them. And that is emerging as a center piece in our strategy in Iraq.

HUME: When we come back, the Senate's all-nighter on this issue, it's purpose, what it can and cannot achieve. We'll be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The irony is that we are ready to vote on the Levin Amendment at almost any time, but we are going to have big political theater here tonight. I guess we will have a lot of fun staying up late, having a Senate slumber party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will be a real filibuster. And if they believe in their heart of hearts that this is the right policy, let us see if they still feel that way at 4:00 this morning. That's what this is all about. It is not a slumber party.


HUME: I think he meant 4:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.

But, nevertheless, Senator Durbin is among those who are leading the way here. They are going to insist that if the Republicans wan there to be a 60 vote threshold for the vote on this Levin Amendment that Republicans oppose and the White House doesn't like, they are going to have to sit there on the Senate floor and protect their right to keep the debate going and not shut it off.

Well, OK. So, what about this? Does this move the ball in any particular direction, or is this just another futile gesture? Or do the Democrats, by dramatizing this this way, gain some ground?

BARNES: The one thing this is not is a real filibuster. You have a real filibuster--remember the ones during the Civil Rights era--you wanted to block a vote on civil rights legislation.

Republicans are offering a vote. Here is a filibuster where there is a scheduled vote tomorrow morning. And Democrats are filibustering. I mean, it is not even a filibuster. It is not trying to prevent a vote, they want to schedule a vote.

It's a stunt, and some Democrats have said so. I do not think it is going to help them because there is one fundamental idea that I think has taken over the Iraq debate, and that is the idea of let us wait for General Petraeus to report in September.

A majority of Americans feel that way, and I think many more are going to. And it just makes sense. Congress confirmed the guy, he had his strategy, he is over there, he said he would come back in September. Why have all these votes, other than the fact that the left of the Democratic Party is pushing the Senate to do it?

KONDRACKE: The Democrats are trying to overreach here. They want to get a 51 vote decision on the Levin Amendment which is a withdrawal amendment.

HUME: But is the Levin amendment really a withdrawal amendment? All it says is, that you have to start withdrawing. It does not say how many troops, and it doesn't say when they all have to be out there.

Isn't the Levin Amendment, in some sense, much milder and weaker than the Democrats are willing to admit?

KONDRACKE: Well, if it were, then why are Republicans so resisting it? The administration is treating it as a big deal because it is a forced withdrawal amendment.

HUME: What does it say? Does it say when the troops will be out of there?

BARNES: It says to begin withdrawal in 120 days, and have the goal of full withdrawal by next March.

HUME: But it doesn't require all the troops to be out by next March.

KONDRACKE: It does not require all the troops to be out by next March.

HUME: To be out by next March or any other time.

KONDRACKE: No, it doesn't. But the administration does not like the idea--Reid could get 60 votes for an anti-Bush resolution, either with the Alexander Salazar amendment on the Iraq study group, or the Warner-Lugar amendment, which demands a new strategy. Those could get 60 votes.

But the Democrats will not vote for them because they are too weak.

BARNES: So, in other words, they cannot get 60 votes.

KONDRACKE: They cannot get 60 votes because it will not vote for it.

BARNES: That is what I said.

LIASSON: There are definitely legislative proposals, and Mort just mentioned several of them, that could, with some tweaking, get a bipartisan super majority.

HUME: But would they in the troop commitment in Iraq?

LIASSON: Well, no. But I don't think that anything that the Democrats are proposing, short of Feingold, would end the commitment of the troops in Iraq.

HUME: So, for the moment, the Democrats understand that the war in Iraq is stymied.

LIASSON: Yes, but, I think, just on pure politics, they feel, and there is some evidence for this, that satisfies the anti-war base. This also puts the Republicans' feet to the fire, forces vulnerable Republicans who are facing tough races to vote again and again for the war.

But, basically, we are in a stalemate, and we are going to be there until September 15.

BARNES: I think it is shifting away from Democrats. I agree with Mort, they are overstepping.

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