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Special Report Roundtable - Sep 3

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: But I want to tell you this about the decision--about my decision about troop levels. Those decisions will be based on a calm assessment by our military commander's on the conditions on the ground, not a nervous reaction by Washington politicians to poll results in the media.


ANGLE: There is President Bush today during what was initially a secret trip to Iraq, skipping Baghdad and going to Anbar province.

Now some analytical observations from Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of Roll Call, Nina Easton, Washington Bureau Chief of "Fortune Magazine," and Jeff Birnbaum, columnist for the Washington Post, FOX News contributors all.

So the president goes to Anbar, where there have been some successes, and points to those. And also, we'll get to in a moment, seems to drag Maliki along with him.

It seems the president, Jeff, is trying to get out in front of the debate that's about to be reignited here in congress.

JEFF BIRNBAUM, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. I think this was part of a concerted campaign for him to keep up the momentum that began earlier this summer when lawmakers of both parties went to Iraq and returned reporting progress on the military side of things, while decrying the political mess that the Maliki government was in.

That advancement, because of the surge, is probably enough to put the president over the top to prevent the Democratic leaders from legislating a timeline for withdrawal of our soldiers from Iraq.

But the president, by bringing Maliki along, as you pointed out, in addition to pointing up the military successes, also, I think, was saying, "Look, there is some progress. Shias and Sunnis are talking." He was, basically, in a Sunni part of the country--we'll get to that in a minute.

ANGLE: We'll get to that in a minute.

So, basically, Nina, Jeff is saying the president has enough to hang his hat on, and he was clearing saying "Look, we're going to make the decision based on things here, which are going a little bit better on the military stance, not on the panic in congress over what to do next."

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREUA CHIEF OF FORTUNE MAGAZINE: Right. It's a chess game going on here. The Democrats are saying you have to do something different. And he's getting out today suggesting that we are doing something different, possibly with reduced troops--which, by the way, is stating the obvious. It was assumed you would have to reduce the troops by April. The military needs these troops anyway. We'll talk about this later.

But he still is up against the problem of the lack of reforms coming out of the central government. Yes, there is progress on the ground. Yes, Democrats, as Jeffrey said, Democrats have gone there and seen these effects of these local sheiks working with the American military. That's great progress on the ground.

But as the National Intelligence showed, as the GAO, the nonpartisan research agency that Congress showed, there has been failure of reforms in the central government, and that's still a problem.

ANGLE: Well, Mort, before I come to you, let's listen to something else Bush said today, because he was talking about the progress in Anbar. And he sat down with local leaders and, of course, had the leaders from Baghdad, who came in. And he seemed to be saying, "Hey, Maliki and gang, take a look at this."

Let's hear what he said.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: At the table with the leaders of the central government as well. They told me that the kind of bottom-up progress that your efforts are bringing to Anbar is vital to the success and stability of a free Iraq.


ANGLE: Now, bottom-up success--by that the president means things that local leaders did that the national government was unable or unwilling to do.

KONDRAKE: What there has been is a turn on the part of the Sunni Sheikhs in Anbar and Diyalah province against Al Qaeda. Now that does not constitute inter-sectarian peace. Whether the Sunnis will stop fighting the Shiites along with--beginning to fight Al Qaeda, is another question, even at the local level.

And at the national level there is no progress on the basic benchmarks that were supposed to be.

Now I do think, as Jeff and Nina said, that the promise of change, of some draw down in troop levels over time, which is a necessity in any event, and this progress on the military front in Anbar and Diyalah, will be enough to hold Republicans in line, and that's who we are, basically, talking about. There's not going to be a break away from Bush toward the Democrats, and so he is going to be able to keep control of the policy.

ANGLE: Is there anything in the experience in the west, and--just a few seconds left--in Anbar, for instance, that is a lesson for Maliki? Is there anything he can draw on?

BIRNBAUM: That the leaders in Anbar seem to get along with each other, which they don't seem to get along with each other in Baghdad. I guess that's something important.

I think what this is all about, really, is the president showing, symbolically by being there, not just himself, but with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, that it is a place safe enough for all of them to be there, and maybe there's enough room for the people to talk among themselves and put their government together.

I think this is a big PR victory for the president going into the big legislative battles that are starting this month.

ANGLE: OK. Next up with our panel, the presidential candidates are off and running faster than ever toward next year's primaries and caucuses. This weekend Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are having a spat over who can really change things.

One Republican says either way, it would be the wrong direction. We'll take a look, next.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) ILLINOIS: Too many in Washington see politics as a game. And that's why I believe this election cannot be about who can play this game better. It has to be about who can put an end to the game playing.

SEN HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: "Change" is just a word without the strength and experience to make it happen.

ANGLE: Well, it sounds like Labor Day is the official start of taking the gloves off. What do you think, Nina?

EASTON: Well, it's Labor Day. It's also the fact that Hillary Clinton is 20 points up in Florida, 22 up in California, 17 up across the board. She is clearly the front-runner, although I would add to that the one place that she is not is Iowa, and we can talk about that. So this is the time to go negative.

I think in the case of Obama, though, it's a little bit dangerous, because he has had this message of "We need to unite," and it could backfire if he says progress comes not by dividing. Is this being divisive?

And, second of all, you also have to be careful when you are talking about Iowa. Keep in mind that Gephardt and Dean went negative, and that left John Kerry standing.

So I think it is something that had to happen, it was going to happen. They have been both teasing the waters on this, but there are some dangers.

KONDRAKE: This isn't all out negative. This is implicit negative. And it's "some people say," kind of negative. But it's clear what they mean.

ANGLE: Well, I don't know Mort. He said today time served doesn't guarantee good judgment.

KONDRAKE: Well, he specifically referred to Cheney and Rumsfeld, as "You want experience, here what you get with Washington experience."

There was a CBS poll that indicated that by 59 percent to 29 percent people say that Hillary Clinton as opposed to Barack Obama has the experience to be president of the United States. She is taking advantage of that. And she has got Bill as her prop there on the stage saying-- appealing to Clinton nostalgia.

"You remember how good things were? Well, you'll have this team together. And we know how to do it. We did it in the 1990's, it was a wonderful decade. Everything got better in the 1990's," that is what she was saying, "and you can have it all again. And why risk it on this newcomer?"

ANGLE: He stands up and warms up and a couple of things today, Jeff, he stood up, he warms up the crowd, he gets them all fired up, talks about how Hillary knows more about healthcare that anything else.

I'm beginning to wonder what he would do if she won? Maybe she would put him in charge of healthcare.

BIRNBAUM: That's a good line.

I don't know, but she is going to put him on the road. And she is putting together a bunch of surrogates now, and Bill Clinton would be one of the main surrogates for her.

I love the fight between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama because Obama is trying to make a virtue of his liability, which is his lack of experience, by saying he is the change agent, by trying to make a liability of her virtue, which is that she has experience.

What the surprise in that, to me, is that Senator Clinton is shooting back as hard as she is. If she is really as far ahead as the polls nationally indicate, then she should keep her mouth shut. But I think she actually is worried about Obama nipping at her heels.

ANGLE: All right, we're going to run out of time here. Quickly on union endorsements, Edwards has the most, Hillary has some, Obama has none.

EASTON: Yes, and Edwards has always been the strongest with unions, and so that comes as now surprise. And, again, that's going to be important in Iowa.

Iowa--there is a good chance that Edwards could take Iowa. And it has always been largely based on his union ties, which he has cultivated hands on for about a year-and-a half.

ANGLE: All right, I want to listen to something Mitt Romney said today. He sort of inserted himself into this whole question of who has better judgment here. Let's see what he said.


MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She would do her best to change America, but she would not take us in the direction that would lead to a stronger America, and said she would raise taxes on the American people.

That's not the change we want.

She would also give amnesty to the illegal aliens. That's not the change we want.

She would also have the government take over our healthcare system. That's not the change we want.


ANGLE: So there are plenty of things that the Republicans can say about Hillary, and in fact she does have very high negatives. That's one of the things they are counting on to run against her.

BIRNBAUM: Yes, and, for a change they are shooting at the Democrat rather than each other. I expect that the Republicans will start taking off their gloves as well. It is Labor Day.

KONDRAKE: Both Obama and Hillary Clinton talked about bipartisanship today, and foreign policy. You never hear talk about bipartisanship from any Republican.

For more visit the FOX News Special Report web page.

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