.HH: Joining me now from Washington, D.C. is Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. Bill, we had one of the more extraordinary presidential press conferences I can remember today, and I want to play for you, welcome, by the way, it’s good to talk to you.
BK: Good talking to you. It was pretty extraordinary, and I look forward to talking about it.
HH: Let’s play the first clip. This is the president of the United States talking about whether or not Syria has used chemical weapons crossing his so-called red line.
BO: What we now have is evidence that chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria, but we don’t know how they were used, when they were used, who used them. We don’t have a chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened. And when I am making decisions about America’s national security, and the potential for taking additional action in response to chemical weapons use, I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the facts.
HH: We don’t have a chain of custody, Bill Kristol. What do you make of that?
BK: You know, liberals attacked me and you, and all of us when we said the Obama administration is using a law enforcement model in the war on terror, fighting terror attacks here at home. We objected to the Mirandizing of the Boston terrorist and other such matters. It turns out they have a law enforcement model even for fighting, defending American national security abroad, which is a little startling, honestly.
BK: Chain of custody? I mean, you’re the lawyer. I’m not. You’re the law professor, even. You know, isn’t that like, isn’t that something that we…
HH: I said to my associate dean today this is what happens when you make a law professor a president, and they begin to engage in law professor academic distinctions that most Americans shake their head and say what in the world is he talking about. Did he watch CSI: Syria last night?
BK: But let’s be honest, it’s not really that he’s like oh, he just has this little mistake, he’s too legalistic. He doesn’t want to do anything.
BK: He’s a little embarrassed, and it is embarrassing and humiliating, really, for the United States at this point. The American president, I mean, it’s unbelievable, I was talking to a Middle Eastern diplomat a week or two ago from an Arab country, and I said how do people see us over there? And he said I will answer you in one word – Syria. You cannot, when you’re the American president, say the guy must go, it’s unacceptable, do nothing. Then today, President Obama says oh, it’s a blemish on the international community. Then, you say, or then you also say, red line, total red line, moving to chemical weapons, that migrates to the use of chemical weapons, he’s moved them, he’s used them, and then we say well, we’re establishing the chain of custody. I mean, the degree to which A) it’s horrible what’s happening in Syria, B) that’s a real threat to us, and to our allies and to the region, stability in the region to any prospects of better outcomes around the region, but C) what it does throughout the world in terms of signaling the utter unwillingness of this president to be serious about acting on behalf of American national security and American national interest. I mean, it’s really disturbing and scary.
HH: Bill Kristol, there are, I immediately thought May 10th, 1940, Churchill demands chain of custody on the French border, June 25th, 1950, Truman demand chain of custody at the border between North and South Korea. We’ve never said anything remotely like this. Ever.
BK: No, it’s jaw-dropping. I mean, well for me, also, I had not, you know, Obama in his first term had pulled back to the center a little bit after all the early criticism on Guantanamo and other things. He had a mini-surge in Afghanistan, and he undercut it as he did it, but nonetheless, he did that. He pulled back on some of his nuclear zero stuff. He’s now unleashed in his second term. It’s really, you know, he’s going all out with sort of the dream foreign policy of the left. It’s a lot of fancy phrases masking retreat and disengagement from the world, and really defeatism about our ability to do anything around the world. He’s got the cabinet he wants, I guess, with Kerry and Hagel. At least in the old days, there were some serious people in there. I mean, it’s really, I honestly, you know, you watch that press conference, and you think this guy is president for three and a half years. And maybe he will pivot a little bit. He’s still president of the United States. He’s got serious obligations and duties. But the amount, the degree to which even with a fantastic president in 2017, the degree to which things could have spun so far out of control, that the best president in the world, supported by the best Congress in the world, is going to have trouble putting things back together again in 2017, is very worrisome.
HH: It is. It’s very hard.
BK: I really hope Republicans and conservatives step up here on foreign policy and on national security, stop telling themselves and the world, well you know, the American public doesn’t care that much about it and they’re war weary, and we’ve got to focus more on the economy, but we’ll say something about foreign policy down the line. People have to have serious national leaders, and not just senators and congressmen, I would even say governors who have national ambitions, they need to get serious the way Reagan did in ’77-’78, in the way other serious national leaders have in the past about what is an incredible erosion of our standing around the world, I think.
HH: I agree. There is also in this press conference, as an old Nixon guy, I listen for echoes of ’73-’74. Here he is answering a question about Benghazi, cut number two:
EH: There are people in our own State Department saying they’ve been blocked from coming forward, that they survived the terror attack, and they want to tell their story. Will you help them come forward and just say it once and for all?
BO: Ed, I’m not familiar with this notion that anybody’s been blocked from testifying, so what I’ll do is I will find out what exactly you’re referring to.
HH: Bill Kristol, you think he’s the only guy in Washington, D.C. who’s unfamiliar with this saying, what is this blocking you refer to?
BK: Yeah, I guess. I guess, and wouldn’t it have been easier for him just to say look, I want the truth to come out? Anyone who knows anything should just step forward. You know, this is a terrible thing that happened there. He could have said, if he were a different kind of person, I may well have, we made, or my administration well have made mistakes, and I’ve said over and over I don’t want it to happen again. Anyone who knows anything should be coming forward. He doesn’t even have the grace or really the courage, I would almost say, to say that. I mean, Benghazi is something, I don’t know how it is out there. People in Washington, liberals, but even mainstream media types who aren’t that liberal, they just roll their eyes when Steve Hayes or Tom Joscelyn or I or six other people start talking about Benghazi, it’s like oh, I can’t believe you’re still talking about that, how childish. I have a contrarian view, though, that this is going to end up being a genuinely important marker of what, how the Obama White House works, and what they do and don’t do in a serious national security moment. And I guess I still remain slightly obsessed by what happened that night, and the failure to prepare for what happened that night. And above all, I suppose, the incredible dissembling that went on after that night, pretty shamelessly by the President, and by Hillary Clinton, the secretary of State. And as we know from the report by the House Republican chairs a week or two ago by, throughout, you know, they forced others in the administration in effect to fail to tell the truth.
HH: There are amazing straws in the wind that are blowing and blowing and blowing that will soon settle, and I think we’re going to see a lot about Benghazi. But at the same time, we have the Boston Massacre. And a reporter brought up Lindsey Graham’s very legitimate criticisms today that they seem, these bombings seem to indicate we’re going backwards on national security. And here, the President did his typical it’s not enough to just disagree with someone, I’ve got to slander them, cut number three:
Reporter: Now Lindsey Graham, who’s a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, has said that Benghazi and Boston are both examples of the U.S. going backwards on national security. Is he right? And did our intelligence miss something?
BO: No, Mr. Graham is not right on this issue, although I’m sure it generated some headlines.
HH: There you have it, Bill, just throw in that extra little ‘he’s not right, I’m sure it…’, he couldn’t possibly have made these in good faith.
BK: Yeah, and of course, I mean, I guess the President’s view is everything worked well. The system worked. I mean, one Democrat said that to me in a green room about two weeks ago at Fox. Oh, come on, Bill, the system worked, it’s really wonderful, you know. I mean, the fact that the President, after showing appropriate concern for the victims and all that, seems utterly uninterested in saying were there lessons of what happened there in terms of immigration policy, in terms of what’s happening within his administration, in terms of coordination between FBI, CIA, Homeland Security and the like. I mean, the FBI, I mean, leaving aside what happened beforehand, there’s a bombing at 3PM Monday. The FBI isn’t organized enough to, in the next 48 hours, go through the people they have spoken with in the preceding two years.
BK: …in Boston, who were terror threats, and say gee, there’s this guy whom the Russians called to our attention who we interrogated. We met with him. It’s not just some name. And can we go back and see that guy? It seems that as late as Thursday evening when the photos were released, they didn’t know who it was. Now I’m not criticizing, you know, I don’t want to be second-guessing, and I have high regard. I know people in the FBI. They’re awfully hard workers down in the trenches there. But something is wrong if that’s the system that we have to protect us against terror attacks. And then the Mirandizing of the terrorist just seems indefensible to me. And now we’re finding out interesting and intriguing leads, but guess what? He’s all lawyered up.
BK: So we can’t go back and ask him about them.
HH: And a last question, I have been arguing that we need a select committee in the House, that John Boehner needs to name, we’ve got three committees, they’re falling over each other in terms of competing for a very, very scarce media space. They need to organize and they need to staff up, and they need to pursue a storyline on both Benghazi and Boston, that because they’re both national security. What do you think, Bill Kristol?
BK: Yeah, I’ve come around to that view. I was always a little skeptical. I think you were, too, a little bit, at some of these select committee calls earlier on. But it’s gotten serious. Look, Boston is a serious matter, and the flaws are serious. And Benghazi is. And those two things happening within, what, six, eight months of each other? Surely, this is a moment to take a serious look at it and have the best people in the House and elsewhere engaged in a genuine investigation to see what we’re doing right, but, and really unfortunately, what we aren’t doing right.
HH: Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, thank you for joining me. It’s always a pleasure, Bill.
End of interview.