HH: We continue to get mixed reports on what in fact the Obama administration is doing on the border of Kurdistan and ISIS-controlled Iraq. Joining me now is Bill Kristol, founder, editor of the Weekly Standard. Bill, what should the President be doing in Kurdistan and ISIS-controlled Iraq right now?
BK: He should be attacking ISIS, I think, and helping the Kurds save themselves. They may just need arms and material, but U.S. air power could certainly be used both for them, and also to save the people who are being slaughtered by ISIS, or at risk of being slaughtered by ISIS. The Yazidis, who seem to be starving to death on a mountain which they’ve fled to, because they know if they descend, they’ll be killed by ISIS forces.
HH: There is a Washington Post article by Loveday Morris that suggests very, it doesn’t suggest, it states very specifically that as ISIS advance, it gives people a choice – be killed or convert to Islam. Or if you’re a Christian, you can pay a tax. They truly are radical Islamist extremists of the most virulent variety. But the President, when he was talking with David Remnick of The New Yorker in January said, and I’m quoting directly, Remnick quoting the President. “’The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think it is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on the Lakers uniforms. That doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,’ Obama said, resorting to an uncharacteristically flip analogy,” wrote Remnick. “’I think there is the distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.”” So Bill Kristol, I think for him to act, he has to kind of repudiate the world that he’s constructed for himself in his own head.
BK: He does, and he has to repudiate the notion that getting us out of Iraq, totally out of Iraq, every last troop out of Iraq as a good thing. He has to repudiate the notion that his own national security advisor expressed, what, just three or four weeks ago that we don’t need, he didn’t want, even, any authorization to use force in Iraq. He wanted Congress to remove that, end that authorization from 2002, because there’s just no chance we would ever use force in Iraq. Now, they’re talking about possibly doing some things. I suppose he’s relieved that Congress didn’t take his advice. Maybe he would have just ignored whether he had an authorization or not, and acted anyway. But I mean, it’s so irresponsible what he’s done, and to watch the sequence of events in Iraq, I mean, first, there’s the black flag over Fallujah. Then ISIS seizes Mosul, a city of two million people. I mean, that’s serious, you know, and they have hundreds of miles. Now they’re going, they’re making real gains against the Kurds. They’re killing people, as you say. They’re telling them to convert, or not even giving them the choice sometimes and just killing them. They’re taking over Christian cities. I mean, the degree, in my editorial for the next issue, which I wrote today, I updated it a little bit. It’s an hour or two before we go to press here, but you know, it reminds me of these horrifying scenes from the 70s in Vietnam and Cambodia, not on that scale, at least not yet, but we are looking at a totalitarian entity making progress, and it just isn’t in Vietnam, in a place where we have fought, and unlike Vietnam, where we had really won the war, where we sacrificed not in vain. And then to have it go in this way, and gosh, maybe it’s not even just the humanitarian disaster and a strategic disaster, that this is happening in Iraq, of all places, and that this president doesn’t think gee, I really need to rally the country and intervene and explain why I’m intervening, is really appalling, I think.
HH: Bill Kristol, on Monday of this week, I was in the National Portrait Gallery in London, and they have on display, because it’s 100 years ago this week that World War I began, these three epic paintings, one by John Singer Sargent, of the Generals, the Admirals and the “Statesmen”, who were standing around watching the world go to hell in the summer of 1914. And this is not then, but this is certainly a spiraling set of events about which I don’t think there is recognition, much less capacity, in the White House. I think we’re like down to the D string. We’ve got Hagel and Valerie Jarrett, who has never shown me one lick of comprehension of the world of which she is helping advise the President on, and Chuck Hagel, who seems clueless. It’s as though there’s no leadership.
BK: There’s no leadership. We’re continuing to cut our Defense budget. We’re trashing our intelligence agencies. The President is cheerfully telling people that we tortured folks, as he puts it, and has allowed, is not doing anything to restrain his allies in the Senate from gutting, humiliating, well, that’s not even the right word, because they can’t humiliate them, but just taking unbelievably cheap shots at our intelligence agencies and intelligence officers who are doing their duty. I mean, the degree to which they’re…so we have a world spiraling out of control, and a President who’s not only being slow to respond, but who is weakening us, I believe, and making it harder and harder to respond effectively.
HH: Now I have been waiting to see if any of the four following individuals say anything – David Petraeus, John Allen, Stanley McChrystal or James Mattis. Not one of them has yet been approached by MSM that I have been able to see. Do you expect one or some of them to step forward, Bill Kristol? They fought alongside the Kurds. These are, this is different. This is not quite Israel, but the Kurds are our allies on a very long lasting basis.
BK: Absolutely, and then of course, they led troops in Iraq in all those cases. You know, it would be great if one of them did. I think it would be galvanizing. I think they’re so, our current military, you know, for better or worse, is so inculcated with the doctrine of civilian control that they overdo it. They think it’s still, it’s, they still defer to civilians when they’re out of the military. And they feel bad, I guess some of them didn’t feel bad by criticizing Bush and Rumsfeld back in 2005-2006, but I’ve got to say the Obama administration’s done a pretty good job of keeping them quiet. You have a private conversation with them, they’re pretty appalled. But none of the ones of that stature has come forward, yet. I think it would be great if they did so, and I think they really owe it to the country to tell us what they think. They know more about this situation there. They know more about what’s doable than we do. They should give us some counsel, some advice.
HH: Now President Bush has been the most restrained of former presidents. I believe that his father set an example that he is following that Bill Clinton departed from, which he regards as being disastrous to do so, which is to politicize the ex-presidency like Jimmy Carter. Nevertheless, should W. step forward at this point, because Cheney and Rumsfeld have done what they can. Gates may also have to step forward. Bill Clinton might have to step forward. These people have all stood by the Kurds at one time or another, and as the Washington Post discusses, there is a broad advance against Kurdistan right now. I’m surprised we haven’t heard people arguing for the deployment of boot on the ground in Kurdistan, because it is an, it’s like Israel being threatened in 1973.
BK: It is, you know, and on this anniversary of Nixon leaving office, I’ve thought about that many times. And Nixon steps up in ’73, and whatever else one can say about him, he did the right thing then, and I know everyone in Israel still has a warm spot in their hearts for Richard Nixon, and it was a courageous thing that he did, and he did it against the counsel of some of his advisors. I do not expect Barack Obama to do that. It would be good if some Democrat said look, this is fine that President Obama, you don’t like Bush, fine. You’ve got a different view of the world. But to stand by at this point, as you say, undercuts not Bush, it undercuts 70 years of U.S. foreign policy. It undercuts 40 years of U.S. policy in the Middle East. It betrays true friends of the U.S. It’s a humanitarian disaster when administrations of both countries, both parties, have tried to commit themselves to not letting that king of thing happen again. Will Bill Clinton step forward? What about another famous Clinton – Hillary Clinton? What does she think about what’s going on there?
HH: Well, there is one question. I saw David Ignatius on earlier for a long time with Wolf Blitzer, and the question that isn’t being asked of all the so-called experts is can you please articulate the difference between ISIS and Hamas? Can you, Bill Kristol? Do you think there’s any significant difference in the ideology of those two allied forces?
BK: You know, I think Hamas would love to be ISIS, and they don’t have the ability to be so, which is a great thing. There was a tweet, I think Iowahawk tweeted this afternoon that the Azeris are the Israelis if the Israelis had no arms.
HH: Oh, my gosh.
BK: And I think there’s a lot of truth to that. This is what the Middle East is about now. And Christians, you know, sects like the Azeris Muslims who don’t want to go along with ISIS, with al Qaeda, with the most extreme form of Sharia law and dictatorial rule, totalitarian rule over them, anyone else is at risk. And it is worrisome to say the least, that the President doesn’t seem to think anything big is happening there. But I do think this is the moment. Obviously, news is breaking in the last day or two, so we can give them maybe a little time. But this is the moment for people who want to be president of the United States to step forward, and they don’t have to…
HH: I agree. What about, last question, Bill Kristol, Erdogan, who has been, being as anti-Semitic as any national leader has been in the last 50 years, who is not already well-known by the American people, does Erdogan have to rethink this, because ISIS isn’t going to stop at the border of Kurdistan and Turkey.
BK: He might, and of course, sometimes the enemy of enemies becomes friends and all that. And the good news is these groups, that a lot of people are split in the Middle East, so they can fight each other and stop each other to some degree. But at the end of the day, and you and I have discussed this several times, there is no substitute for U.S. leadership, and there is no substitute for a willingness to use force. Otherwise, it’s all just talk. And some of that force has to involve at least the possibility of boots on the ground. No one wants American kids to go back in and fight in Iraq, but a few thousand troops maybe in Kurdistan, just to help them stabilize the situation, some air power to bash ISIS, whether killing Christians or killing other sects, and just to stop their advance, at least, to stabilize the situation, I think the President would have huge bipartisan support if he ordered such things.
HH: I agree, and I hope he does, and you’re right. It’s late-breaking news, but we hope by the time the weekend rolls around, the President wakes up to the fact that ISIS is not the jayvee team as he said to the New Yorker’s David Remnick in January. Bill Kristol, thanks for joining us on short notice. Your editorial, Action Is Elusive, up already at the www.weeklystandard.com.
End of interview.