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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Andrew McCarthy On The Syrian Question

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HH: Time to hear from the opposition to the AUMF, and all week long, people have been saying talk to Andrew McCarthy, why won’t you bring on Andrew McCarthy, you’re a coward. And I’ve been looking for Andrew McCarthy, and he’s here now, former assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District in New York, the man who put the Blind Sheik behind bars, the author of Willful Blindness, and other incredibly important books on Islamism. Andrew, welcome back. I think you’re supposed to crucify me, because I support the AUMF.

AM: No, I’m not, look, people, there are very smart people who are arguing both sides of this, people who I have a great deal of respect for. But I can’t, well, what can I say other than here we are, but that’s a bizarre way to…you’re a coward?

HH: Well, you know, I got you on. Don’t worry about them. They’re the people on the internet. I now call them the social media amplified extremists of right and left, SMAERLs. But most of the people have honest disagreement here.

AM: Yup.

HH: Let’s talk about General Keane, who was on yesterday. He says there’s an opposition that we can arm that can bring down Assad, control the jihadists, and oppose Iran. How do you respond to that?

AM: I must say, Hugh, I read your interview with General Keane, and I’m really stunned. I’m stunned by Keane, I’m stunned by a number of the other people who are so lowballing the opposition here. You know, if you look at Secretary Kerry, who had as much motive as anyone to lowball the numbers yesterday, he said that there were somewhere between 70-100,000 combatants for the opposition. And he put the number of al Qaeda affiliated at somewhere between, if I’m remembering the numbers right, 15-25%.

HH: 25%, yeah.

AM: Some have said 25%.

HH: Yeah.

AM: If he’s right about that, that’s just al Qaeda numbers, would be multiples higher than what General Keane is talking about. And what I find really disheartening, especially as somebody who’s tried to sort of shine a light on this region, it seems that in Washington that we’re still in this mindset that there’s basically a handful of knuckleheads from al Qaeda, and everybody else is a moderate. And in point of fact, you not only have a high concentration of al Qaeda in Syria, but you also have the Muslim Brotherhood, which they not only leave out of the calculus, they put them in the moderate category. Now the Muslim Brotherhood may be moderate in comparison to al Qaeda, and only in terms of their methodology, but ideologically, they’re on exactly the same page. And I cannot for the life of me understand how people can look at what has happened in Egypt, and think that the Muslim Brotherhood was moderate. And yet they’re counting the Muslim Brotherhood among the moderates in Syria that we could rely on as the good guys, the third way.

HH: You know, I absolutely do not believe that the Muslim Brotherhood are moderates, or the third way. But I read the Foreign Affairs piece, Andrew McCarthy, Who Is Khamenei: The Mind Of Iran’s Supreme Leader, and learned for the first time that a young Khamenei translated the works of Sayyid Qutb into Farsi, into Persian, so that he could spread Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood’s chief ideologue’s theory of caliphate through the Shia population. And I keep coming back to, this is the real issue here, is what do we do to stop Iran? And it seems to me that if there’s any chance of a third force, we’ve got to arm it. Tell me where I’m wrong.

AM: Well, you’re absolutely right, but you also qualified it with if there’s any chance.

HH: Yeah.

AM: And I think that you don’t want to roll the dice until you know there’s a chance. You know, look, what we’re dealing with in Syria, look at just what happened in the last few days. Remember General Idriss, that Senator McCain says we need to get behind, right?

HH: Right.

AM: His deputy came out, it was two or three days ago, and said that basically four of the five top commanders of the Free Syrian Army are ready to walk, because they don’t want to comply with the demand that they not work with al Qaeda. They want to be able to do that. And they don’t want to comply with the demand that they refrain from trying to capture Assad’s chemical weapons stocks. Now those are the moderates that McCain says that we need to get behind. And they are telling us they want to work with al Qaeda. And I must say, you know, look, I think using chemical weapons is a terrible thing. I think using al Qaeda is a worse thing. I don’t know is, let’s assume for argument’s sake that Assad has used chemical weapons more than once. The opposition we’re talking about systematically incorporates al Qaeda in its operation.

HH: Now Andrew McCarthy, put aside the Constitutional issue, because we can go round an round for years on this.

AM: Right.

HH: And there are two sides, and never the twain shall meet. Let’s talk real politick here. Tom Cotton has made the argument on this show and other places, as have other great conservatives, that we will expose ourselves as absolutely pushovers and feckless. We already are with this President. But Khamenei and Putin, if the Congress undercuts him in the way that the Parliament undercut Cameron, they’ll just go crazy.

AM: Hugh, in 1996, Iran killed 19 of our Air Force in a terrorist attack.

HH: Yeah, Khobar Tower.

AM: Right?

HH: Yeah, the Towers.

AM: After the Khobar Towers, after that, after 9/11, they harbored al Qaeda, and when we were in Iraq and Afghanistan, they were the chief abettors of the terrorist insurgency that killed thousands of American troops. And we did nothing about it in response. Are people seriously telling me that how Iran is going to judge us, what hangs in the balance about that is what we do about Syria?

HH: No, well, I can dispute that. I mean, the first rule of holes is stop digging. And there are, you can always fall off the floor with this President. He can always get weaker. He can always shrink. And he’s shrinking right now in front of our eyes as I’m looking at the CNN screen as we talk, Andrew McCarthy.

AM: Right.

HH: He’s shaking hands with Putin. I mean, he agreed to meet him at the airport. It’s unbelievable to me.

AM: Yeah, but what makes you think that he won’t be shaking hands with Assad next week?

HH: Oh, that’s, this is…now this is where I want to come to you. You get three minutes with the President. What do you tell him to do?

AM: Stop hitting me with that thing?

HH: (laughing) Come on, Andrew McCarthy. You really get three minutes, and he says okay, I’ve been reading you, and I see you disagree with your editors at National Review, that took some guts, and you know this movement better than anybody, you’ve written a book about the Arab Spring, and you saw it coming, and you called it. And you did, Andrew. You got great credibility here. You’re like, Jack Keane and Andrew McCarthy is like the blue robot and the red robot in Rock’em Sock’em Robots. So what do you tell him?

AM: Well, I tell him first of all, I think that we need to make American policy around American national security interests instead of any other agenda, and that the most important national security interest in terms of trying to reconcile that very difficult part of the world, which is going to be difficult no matter who is in charge, is that we have to understand that our enemies are not our friends, that Islamist supremacism is the problem in the region, and it’s a difficult problem, because upwards of two-thirds of the population across the region is adhering to it. And it’s not just a small faction of al Qaeda. It’s the dominant ideology of the region. And if we want to effectively promote democracy and try to help them, and sort out the good guys from the bad guys, and try to empower the good guys, what we have to do is use Sharia as basically our divider between who is a pro-American cultural Muslim, but not someone who wants to impose Islam’s societal code and law, versus who is everyone else, and try to both ferret that out and empower those people. And I think the way that you do that is you try to force them to repeal the most obnoxious elements of Sharia that are difficult to, that would be difficult to defend if anyone forced them to defend them. So for example, I’d be pushing equal rights for women. I’d be pushing equal or full protection for religious liberty in the sense of Sharia has a death penalty punishment for Muslims who renounce Islam. I would be pushing the Saudis on the fact that Mecca and Medina are closed cities, that only Muslims are deemed fit to enter them. I would be pushing them to adopt actual attainments of Western liberty, and try to sort out our friends from our enemies, and empower our friends, and do everything I could to squeeze our enemies.

HH: And Andrew McCarthy, 30 seconds, if the Israelis came to you and said Andrew, there is a third way, we can get rid of Assad and we have to stop him before Iran goes nuclear and begins shipping chemicals to Hezbollah to use, what do you do then?

AM: They’d have to convince me that Hezbollah was not already getting chemicals. But I’d want to know why I should think they’re not going to get them from Iran if Syria’s not a problem. But the other thing is, Hugh, frankly, is if Iran’s the problem, let’s go after Iran. What do we have to fight a proxy war in Syria that empowers al Qaeda?

HH: Well, okay, an excellent point as I expected, Andrew McCarthy. Read everything he’s writing over at

End of interview.


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