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Bill Kristol on Iran, and the growing lack of resolve in the UK and U.S. in dealing with them appropriately.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007
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HH: Joined now by Bill Kristol, who is the editor in chief of the Weekly Standard, a Fox News contributor, just watched him, in fact, on the Brit Hume program. Bill, I want to talk primarily about Iran, but let’s begin with the vote in the Senate today. You and Fred Kagan wrote the cover key piece in the Weekly Standard this week on Democrats not understanding what’s going on, on the ground, in Iraq. Does their date certain on defeat resolution today add to our woes there, or simply irrelevant?

BK: I’m afraid it will add a little. I mean, if you’re an Iraqi terrorist, you’re a little bit emboldened, and if you’re someone who’s a little bit intimidated by the terrorists, but was thinking gee, Petraeus and the U.S. troops are doing a heck of a job, and I think I can come out of my foxhole and sort of sign up with them, and help inform on someone, maybe you hesitate now. I don’t think we should minimize the fact that this vote is going damage to our war effort in Iraq. Having said that, it will be transient, and that damage will be outweighed by the good that General Petraeus and the U.S. soldiers are doing.

HH: I saw Senator McCain rebuke in a very firm, though polite way, Wolf Blitzer today, telling him he didn’t know what the hell was going on in Iraq, because you can, in fact, walk around some neighborhoods in Baghdad, that General Petraeus goes out without armed escort to some parts of Baghdad. And Blitzer didn’t seem to believe him, Bill Kristol. I think the point of your piece with Fred Kagan is that in fact, conditions in Baghdad have gotten much better in a relatively recent period of time.

BK: They have, much faster than people expected. And people like Fred Kagan, who were involved in helping to draft the plan which with some changes became the Petraeus plan, the administration plan, predicted improvement, but they thought it would take longer. And in a way, with less than half of the new U.S. troops there, with Petraeus on the job for one month, one month, there’s been an appreciable improvement. Now there’ll be ups and downs, but it’s real. The Democratic Congress is reflecting a view of Baghdad as it was around December, actually, even worse than it was in December, it looks…the worst time of Baghdad, compounded by how bad the reporting from there has been. And then they’re projecting ahead and saying well, we’re going to lose anyway, so let’s just ensure that we lose by gradually getting out. It’s so irresponsible on so may levels. I mean, if they believe we’re just doomed to lose, why would we stay there for 12-18 more months in some vain fight, losing soldiers. I mean, it’s so irresponsible. I really, I must say, I’m depressed by it. I think…now I don’t want to overdo it, but I really do think we will win, the situation there will improve. That will outweigh…Bush will be solid here, and resolute here, and that will outweigh…McCain showed real leadership on the Senate floor today, as did others, Mitch McConnell, Joe Lieberman, and I think that will outweigh the damage done by this one vote. But it’s a dark day. It’s really depressing for one of our two major parties, the majority party now in Congress, to just almost universally, now, accept that…and pass a totally irresponsible resolution like this.

HH: Now Bill Kristol, you did mention Joe Lieberman, but he is the last remnant of the Jack Kennedy Democrats. Chuck Hagel is really reverting to the La Follette isolationism that is actually not without precedent in the Republican Party. But does this define the race for 2008 in a way that…I think actually it’s a template that will not be departed from, no matter who the nominees of the various parties are.

BK: You know, that’s a good point, Hugh, and all the leading candidates in the Republican side are supportive of the surge, or are staunchly against this setting a date certain for surrender, as McCain said, McCain, Giuliani, Romney, Fred Thompson, Newt Gingrich, to take, you know, a couple of possible of possible entries into the race. So I very much agree with you. This is the division between the two parties, you know, and there are a lot of other important divisions on taxes and on the life issue, and I don’t want to minimize any of those. But this fundamental decision, not looking backwards, what you might have thought four years ago, not how critical you were of Rumsfeld in 2005, or 2006. Going forward, are we going to surrender in the central front in the war on terror? We are fighting, we are being killed by an insurgent group named al Qaeda in Iraq. Are people seriously going to say this isn’t part of the war against al Qaeda? Are we going to say this isn’t part of the war against jihadist Islam? It’s really, for me, the choice of surrender, frankly, or fighting to win is going to be, is central, now, to our politics into 2008.

HH: I also saw a very cogent comment that while 2004 was about Iraq, 2008 might very well be about Iran. And earlier today, I talked with Brooks Newmark, a relatively young member of Parliament from the Conservative Party, and he did not sound at all like Thatcher. He sounded like Jimmy Carter, that we should not in any way antagonize the reformist elements in Iran, that Ahmadinejad is losing power, we don’t want to get forceful with him, because that could increase his stature in the country. How serious is this situation? And how, well, how not Thatcher has Britain become?

BK: Well, I’m worried they’ve become pretty not Thatcher, and I’m worried we’ve become a little bit not Thatcher ourselves. I mean, it’s a very serious situation. It’s hard to know whether Ahmadinejad is doing this out of strength, and sort of boldness, or weakness, or actually, probably a combination of the two. Ahmadinejad’s government is probably in some trouble, the regime is in some trouble. But regimes, when they’re trouble, often lash out. And if they succeed in intimidating neighbors, and getting away with foreign policy adventures, it strengthens them. I hate to use the comparison with the 1930’s, because it may be somewhat overdone, Hitler’s regime was in a lot of trouble in ’34, ’36, even ’38. And it helped strengthen its hold on power by showing up and standing down the Allies. And if this, if Britain has a really weak response to this flat-out act of war, seizure of their sailors on the high seas, in Iraqi waters, I guess, it really would be terrible, I think. It would precisely strengthen Ahmadinejad. The thing that would cause those elements in the Iranian regime, and in the Iranian body politick to turn against him, and there are such elements, would be if they see Iran paying a great price for this kind of recklessness. This is the moment, if you want the Iranian nuclear problem resolved without a military strike, without war, if you want the possibility of peaceful change in Iran, this is precisely the moment to stand up and be tough. And I’m very worried that the British Tory Party isn’t up to it, and I’m a little bit worried that parts of our own administration may not be up to it.

HH: Speaking with Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. You can read his most recent piece at www.weeklystandard.com. MP Newmark suggested that the danger here was going Olmert on Iran, and look what that brought about. I was not smart enough or quick enough to point out that there have not been any successful, there have not been any hostage taking by Hezbollah since the summer when Israel reacted with overwhelming force, even though not to a strategic decision. Do you think it would be a good idea, Bill Kristol, for a schedule to be established, whether public or not, after which time bombs or accidents would happen at gasoline refineries, and other sensitive situations in Iran, which would actually greatly complicate the life of the public in Iran?

BK: Yeah, I’d say two things. I mean, on the public level, it’s ridiculous at some point for the Iranian ambassador to be traipsing around London, and Iran being accorded all the privileges of a sovereign state, when they’ve committed, in effect, acts of law against Great Britain. And I’d say the same, incidentally, about the United Nations. Are they now to be treated as a respectable member of the United Nations? But secondly, I also agree that it would be a very good thing if after maybe privately conveying a deadline of three days or a week, if some funny things started happening. And I wouldn’t mind if they started happening at some of the military installations, the Revolutionary Guard installations, nuclear plants, you know? No one has to announce anything, but could a bomb go off at Natanz? I really think people are just not…don’t have a sense of urgency about Iran in general, and the nuclear program, and the sending of explosive devices into Iraq to kill our soldiers, and now, it turns out, directly firing on our soldiers at times, according to U.S. News. I think you discussed that at some point in the last few days. But there’s not the kind of sense of urgency in general, but this is really an important moment, or an important crisis, because if the signal they get out of this is weakness, that emboldens the worst elements or the most reckless elements in the Iranian regime, across the board in terms of intervening in Iraq, in terms of their nuclear program, in terms of bullying others in the Middle East.

HH: Now we’ve been watching Tony Blair for a decade. Does he have with three months left in his prime ministership the political will, in your estimate, Bill Kristol, to do what ought to be done in this situation if they are not quickly released?

BK: I don’t know. I mean, Blair…we say Bush is weak here, but Blair is a lot weaker, he doesn’t have his own party with him, the opposition party, the Tory Party, which should be the hawkish party here, is not, to my, so far as I can tell, really stepping up the plate. Look, I think he could, yes. He could do it, and I think people would rally to him if he did it. But he might be taking, making the more conventional political calculus, and low-keying it, and then we will be in a 1979-1980 situation, which would be very dangerous. Now that was solved by the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency, and maybe this gets back to the point you made earlier, Hugh, and maybe the real solution here is for Bush to be resolute in the U.S., and then to elect someone who is really willing to prosecute this war on all fronts.

HH: Have you heard even one elected American official, Bill Kristol, say anything remotely as hawkish as the conversation we’re having, because I haven’t, and I think it telegraphs how tepid is American foreign policy resolve right now.

BK: I’m worried about that. I mean, people were a little bit preoccupied, obviously, with the vote in Congress. I actually happened to have a meeting at the White House, and I don’t say that often, but today, I did have a meeting with someone there. And the person who went in with me, the two of us were invited in, said why isn’t, why hasn’t the President said anything about this? And we were told well, he’s had private conversations with Blair, and the implication was that Blair’s asked him to sort of back off, and not be too belligerent, so to speak. But at some point, that’s got to stop. And I mean, we’ve got a lot of soldiers…I mean, this gets back to the thing you and I have talked about before. We have for 18 months, 24 months, told, said the Iranians are behaving badly in Iraq, they’re responsible for the deaths and the wounding and maiming of U.S. soldiers. This has got to stop, and it hasn’t stopped, and we haven’t made them pay a price. And nothing is more dangerous in international relations than making some big threats and not following through against a regime like the Iranian regime.

HH: Agreed. Bill Kristol, always a pleasure, www.weeklystandard.com to read the Kristol-Kagan essay.

End of interview.

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