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Special Report Roundtable - Sep. 10

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ COMMANDER: I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level of brigade combat teams by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains that we have fought so hard to achieve.

REP. TOM LANTOS, (D) HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHAIRMAN: The administration has sent you here today to convince the members of these two committees and the Congress that victory is at hand. With all due respect to you, I must say, I don't buy it.

RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Our current course is hard. The alternatives are far worse.


ANGLE: And there you have a sample of the hearing today, with Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus and a host of lawmakers there. Now some analytical observations from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, National Public Radio National Correspondent, and Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of Roll Call, FOX News contributors all.

So this was a critical moment in the debate on Iraq, a long awaited report from General Petraeus. This was supposed to be the watershed for Congress to figure out where it stands on all this. What was the result of today's testimony Mort?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: Well, I think that Petraeus said that there are going to be troop withdrawals. I think that's the most important thing politically that he could say, that there are going to be troop withdrawals beginning soon, some this year, and that we will be down, he said, to 130,000, the pre-surge level sometime next summer.

Now, what I am told is--and in addition to that, there will be a change of mission--more importantly, probably, that American troops will be less in combat, more in support roles, more in partnership, and then in over watch, as he calls it, which means that American casualties will be down.

And so that should give Republicans some hope to keep supporting the president and not go along with Democrats who want to bug out.

ANGLE: And a lot of the resistance to the war is over casualties. You hear that argument every day. In fact, someone noted today we've been in Bosnia for low these many years and no one cares because there aren't any casualties.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I agree with Mort. The big headline from today is that he is suggesting some troop withdrawals.

Now, it certainly isn't as fast or as many as the Democrats would like, but I think the debate is now shifting to the question of exactly what kind of withdrawal do you want, on what timeline, and how fast and how many troops.

I guess the big question for Democrats now is do they stick to their guns that they were advocating before the summer and say we need a hard and fast deadline, that troops have to start coming out at a certain time, or they all have to be our by a certain date, or do they try to force some kind of bipartisan consensus with Republicans that agrees on some kind of withdrawal.

And it seems like the administration is willing to at least show that some troops are coming out of Iraq. And we also hear that some other leaders in the administration want the troops to come out faster than Petraeus does.

ANGLE: Now, there was some argument about that today, Fred, although the argument was that Admiral Fallon wants it. But what I had seen of Admiral Fallon and General Petraeus, they got into an argument with someone today. Admiral Fallon was talking about taking out two-thirds to three- quarters of all troops by the end of 2010.

Of course, that would clearly put it into the next administration, one the Democrats hope that they will actually have.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, General Petraeus said that Admiral Fallon and General Casey, who now the Chief of Staff of the Army, are both supporting the recommendations he made today. And I guess they are.

I don't think either one favored a surge of this nature. I'm sure Admiral Fallon didn't. But in any case, they are supporting him now.

I didn't think the announcement of troop withdrawals was the most important thing at all--except politically, it was. But in terms of what is going on on the ground, we might have expected General Petraeus to be somewhat optimistic, and he was, in so many different areas.

ANGLE: Let's look at some of what he talked about. He had a number of things today. We have charts looking at the drop, first, in civilian deaths, I think you will see. So you see the chart going down there.

BARNES: Congressman Adam Smith of Washington said he hadn't shone civilian deaths. And then General Petraeus, while Adam Smith was filibustering, General Petraeus intervened--

ANGLE: So there you see civilian deaths. Then there is IED attacks, which shows a similar trend line, dropping off here in recent weeks and months. And then, finally, high profile attacks, which gives you the same sense of, at least, a downward trajectory.

The problem, obviously, is trying to demonstrate that the kind of progress they have had in Anbar and other places can be spread to the rest of Iraq. And that is a harder argument to have.

BARNES: He did say it had been spread some, but it hasn't--Anbar is success. That is not victory. That is victory, and they haven't achieved that quite elsewhere.

LIASSON: Another argument they are making also is that the consequences of withdrawing too fast, however you define that, are going to be much worse. And that is something that everyone has to decide, what do they think the consequences of a rapid withdrawal would be.

The problem with some of these statistics is it depends on what slice of time you are going to be looking at. Yes, the deaths are coming down, but they had gone went up. They had been at a peak, and now they are coming down. They are not necessarily lower than they were a year ago, but they certainly are lower than a month or two ago.

ANGLE: And Ambassador Crocker said the current course is hard, but the alternatives are far worse.

KONDRACKE: What Petraeus said is that we should not rush to defeat. And that is what, presumably, he was referring to what the Democrats want to do, is to pull out precipitously.

I think that both of them did accentuate the positive. They acknowledged that the Iraqi government is not meeting benchmarks, but they said, well, they are doing de facto reconciliation.

But what every other report has said is that what that country needs is real national reconciliation, full-blown national reconciliation, or the otherwise the Shiites and the Sunnis will continue to be at each other's throats. That's the major problem.

ANGLE: OK. Next up with our panel, we will look at the politics surrounding today's testimony on the situation in Iraq. After lots of partisan finger pointing, where is Congress on the war? That's next.



PETRAEUS: I wrote this testimony myself. It has not been cleared by nor shared with anyone in the Pentagon, the White House, or the Congress until it was just handed out.

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, (R) FLORIDA: The personal attacks launched today by against General Petraeus, calling this man of honor and courage, "General Betray-us" in a full-page ad in the New York Times is outrageous, and it is deplorable.


ANGLE: Now, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen was talking about an ad, as she said, that appeared in the New York Times today. And here you see it-- General Petraeus, or "General Betray-us." Obviously an attempt to impugn his integrity, and a pretty harsh attack on him, one that Democrats flirted with on Friday, but they weren't nearly this pointed--Mort?

KONDRACKE: Using the word betrayal, that's Benedict Arnold stuff, that's treason, as though you are siding with the enemy. That's what that word is freighted with. is rapidly becoming an extremist organization. It and the rest of the left, the far left of the Democratic Party, is out to destroy people. If somebody disagrees with them, they run a primary candidate against them, they threaten them, they menace them, and all that kind of stuff. And this is another example.

What the Democratic Party really has to worry about is the extent of moveon's influence on them. The Washington Post had a history today of Democratic attempts to stop the war. And every time they leaned toward the center, Harry Reid or somebody like that, has gone after them, have blasted them. And, sure enough, they go back into lying.

And what the problem for the Democratic Party is that they are always siding with their left wing on nuclear freezes, nuclear disarmament, and all that kind of stuff. And that's why nobody trusts them on foreign policy.

ANGLE: Mara, does this kind of attack on General Petraeus, does that help or hurt Democrats?

LIASSON: Well, he was unanimously or almost unanimously approved for this position. And Democrats have never questioned his integrity that I can think of--Democrats in Congress, or any Democrat running for president.

ANGLE: Until last week.

LIASSON: Until last week.

But I do think that using the word "betray" certainly sounds a lot like the kinds of ads the Democrats have always complained about in the past--if you have a picture of Max Cleland next to Osama bin-Laden, or suggesting that somebody is less than patriotic or doesn't have the interest of the country at heart. That is crossing the kind of line that I thought Democrats always thought was too far.

But otherwise, what the content of the ad was saying was that he sees progress when and others don't see any. Now that is a legitimate difference of opinion and assessment about what is happening there. I think saying that somebody who has a different opinion betrays their country is--

ANGLE: Their argument is if you don't agree with us you're a traitor.

BARNES: What they tried to say in that ad was he changed his story. And he dealt with it very easily when he was asked about it by one of the members of Congress.

He also dealt very easily, or barely had to, with this charge by Bob Wexler made both in an interview on FOX and in his questioning of Petraeus that somehow Petraeus said sectarian violence has decreased, and yet the National Intelligence Estimate and the GAO reports said just the opposite.

They didn't say that at all. The GAO report said we can't count sectarian violence. We don't know what was in the minds of the people committing the violence. And all the NIE said was that sectarian violence was high. Well, General Petraeus agreed with that, that is was high. It said it is high, but it's less.

The thing, I think--you asked a good question about whether does the thing like the help Democrats or hurt them. You know what it does? It divides them.

And I think Republicans are going to be united, and Democrats are going to be divided, because they are going to differ on how strongly they want to oppose the war.

KONDRACKE: There was an article in yesterday's New York Time's Magazine about how the anti-war left spent $12 million to try to peal away Republicans from Bush on this, and they have gotten so far as anybody can see no progress all summer long.

ANGLE: OK, that's it or the panel.

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