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Special Report Roundtable - Sep. 12

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What the president is going to do is he is going to outline what he thinks is a sensible way to proceed in Iraq based on the facts on the ground and based on developments. Obviously, when you are in a time of war, you try to game out everything, and you try to think of every potential circumstance.


HUME: That was Tony Snow today at the White House in what will be his last official briefing. His last day on the jobs in Friday, outlining, a little bit, anyway, what the president is expected to say tomorrow night in a speech on Iraq.

Some thoughts on all this not from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of Roll Call, and the syndicated columnists Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

The first question is, does the president need to give this speech?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, WEEKLY STANDARD: I asked that quest, I asked whether there has been any discussion of perhaps not giving it, just leaving the week to General Petraeus. And the answer was, "Look, the president knows who the most important person was this week--or two people, General Petraeus and Ryan Crocker. But it would have been odd for him not to give a speech."

So the truth is they never had a discussion about the president not giving a primetime speech on this subject--but, without trying to upstage general Petraeus, which he could not do anyway.

HUME: Apart from the question of whether the White House would have considered it odd or thinks others would have considered it odd, do you think it is a good idea for the president to give this speech?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: I think that the president could have made the speech next week. He could have let the Crocker-Petraeus testimony sink in. I think they were a big winner for him. They bought him a lot of time--six months anyway. It kept Republicans in line, and so on, and he could have just let it go.

He didn't have to deliver this speech, and I think it stomps on the message.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think it is a mistake. I think he should not deliver the speech. Of course, nobody asked me.

HUME: I did.

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, the White House didn't, and now it is too late--he cannot retract.

This was Petraeus' week, and he succeeded. And it is quite obvious that he carries a message with more authority than the president. It is not just that he has the medals on his chest--he has a track record of success in what he has done for the last six months ago.

And the president has lots of failures on Iraq, and many announcements of plans in the future which have not planned out. The president could have waited a week or two, because we are going to have a debate in the next couple of weeks in which the Democrats are going to try to stop the surge.

They are weaker now politically than they were last year when they won the election. And they did not succeed in the last year, and they will probably not succeed now.

However, you want to have the Democrats arguing against Petraeus' words and assertions, and what he said this week rather than argue against the president.

A week ago, Harry Reid and Pelosi spoke about the Bush-Petraeus report with a hyphen as a way to--

HUME: Some just called "the Bush report."

KRAUTHAMMER: But they wanted to hyphenate it in order to retroactively discredit Petraeus' honesty and credibility. Petraeus begins his testimony by saying "I'm speaking, the words I am about to say are not cleared or read or prepared or edited by anybody in the White House or the Congress or the Pentagon." So he establishes independence immediately.

You want to have the Democrats arguing against Petraeus and not against the president. Having a speech is not going to be a disaster, but it is going to stomp on Petraeus' message.

BARNES: I want to try to evade answering that question. I think it is a mistake. I think the president needed to do something. But think of the other things he could have done, Charles.

I don't think he could have waited two weeks. But press availability- -the reporters come in and ask a couple of questions. He could have had a press conference. He could have done lots of things and avoid the political problem that Charles correctly identified, that the Democrats will now go back to calling this the Bush plan.

And they will have more grounds for doing it than they did before.

KONDRACKE: Petraeus has more credibility than Bush, that's the short way of putting it. And now that he is decided what he is going to do, what should he do besides, obviously, he is going to announce that he supports the troop reductions that if a Petraeus called for?

I think that there are three things that he should do. One is that he should answer the question that Petraeus thought was above his pay grade, namely, how is this going to make America safer? Secondly, I think he should argue, as Petraeus did, and that National Intelligence Estimate did, why is a deadline a bad idea?

A deadline is a bad idea because it encourages the Sunnis and the Shia, instead of thinking about reconciliation, as the Democrats claim they will, they start planning for U.S. withdrawal, and they start locking and loading their weapons for the civil war that will ensue.

And, finally, I think he should try to paint a scenario for victory. How do things proceed so that we win this thing? And it has got to be that the Iraqi security forces pick up the slack after we withdraw.

And then he has to say that we are going to keep leaning on the Maliki government to try to reconcile.

BARNES: I'm skipping the speech tomorrow night. I got it off Mort already. Why watch?

KRAUTHAMMER: What he will do, also, is he will slightly soften the withdrawal announcement that Petraeus essentially had made, in which he said we are going to end the surge in the summer. The president will say end it if conditions on the ground allow.

Petraeus had said after that, it will be whatever conditions on the ground allow. But he seemed to saying that you could bank on a liquidation of the extra troops in the surge and having them withdrawn. The president will probably say "If conditions are right."

HUME: Next up with the panel we will discuss today's surprise events in Russia, a big new bomb, and, as we said earlier, a political bombshell. We'll be right back.



VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT You might be right that we must all think about how to structure the government so that it better suits the pre-election period and prepares the country for what will happen after the parliamentary and presidential elections in March, 2008.


HUME: You got that folks? That is Vladimir Putin explaining why he disbanded his cabinet today. Dana Lewis did a very good job earlier of trying to sort out what it all means. Of course, this comes on a day when the Russians also exploded this massive bomb, a non-nuclear weapon.

So everyone wants to know what is going on with Russia. What is going on with Russia--Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: That was a typically soviet inscrutable speak.

This is all about elections next year. Putin is not allowed to run again. So what does he do? He picks his prime minister, a complete nobody--he was a crony in St. Petersburg, and he is a loyalist--to become the prime minister. And he might be a candidate next year.

The way that Putin entered office was that Yeltsin at the end of his second term appointed Putin, also obscure at the time, as the prime minister, and then in about a year he became the president.

The most important event in Russia in the last few weeks was the release of the Putin vacation pictures, the ones we saw a few weeks ago, which all of a sudden exploded on soviet Russian TV, which Putin controls, showing him shirtless on vacation in Siberia like the Marlboro man.

This is essentially saying to the Russians here is a young, vigorous president with good abs. Why would you not want to have him returned? Even though the constitution says he can't, unlike Yeltsin, who was old and dying and decrepit at the end of his second term.

This is all about how Putin holds on to power. And, presumably, he might have a factotum like, this new guy, this unknown guy in office for a couple of years. He resigned and Putin is allowed to come back and run again, and almost indefinitely.

KONDRACKE: Putin is not going to give up power. He is creating a cult of personality, and these pictures were the example. It sort of reminds you of Mao swimming in the Yangtze River. There he is with his shirt off.

And there were all kinds of other pictures--Putin with airmen, Putin inspecting naval ships, and stuff like that.

HUME: What about Putin setting off big bombs?

KONDRACKE: The big bomb, that is meant to overdo our bomb. We have a bomb that has a technical name that is MOAB, but it is called the "Mother of all Bombs." So this one is the father of all bombs, is the designation of it now, and it is bigger. And so what the United States can do, we can also do.

And he is also done things that revive cold war tensions. They are now flying the old fashioned bear bombers. They are obsolete, but nonetheless they are flying against our air defenses in Alaska and against Japanese air defenses in Japan, testing them out. Checking out to see--it is all the old stuff again.

HUME: What is the point, Fred?

BARNES: This Tarzan stuff, beating his breast and showing how strong he is. It scares the Europeans, no question about that, particularly they are so dependent on Russia for gas and for oil as well.

And, look, I personally do not think that he is going to stay as president, so what he does is what Charles says. He picked some guy who used to work for him who has no independent political base whatsoever. He is entirely his puppet. And everyone will know that he is still in charge.

HUME: I understand that, but what are the implications for American policy in dealing with this?

BARNES: Here is a little Napoleonic guy with a big chip on his shoulder. And that can mean big trouble.

KONDRACKE: And what is worse is that he is selling surface to air missiles to Iran, their most advanced surface to air missiles, which the Iranians will put around Natanz, their nuclear installation, as at least a deterrent, and possibly for use against an Israeli or U.S. attack.

KRAUTHAMMER: A Russian nationalist who wants to challenge our power. He is not an ideological enemy, but a rival who will be around a long time.

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