Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol joined me on the program today:
HH: This hour, I begin with Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. You can follow him on Twitter, @BillKristol. Hello, Bill, and great to talk to you.
BK: Hi, Hugh, how are you?
HH: I’m good, except for this Iran deal. I want to play for you, get right to it, President Obama to Steve Inskeep today at NPR, cut number one for our audience and Bill Kristol:
BO: Keep in mind, Steve, that there is long precedent for a whole host of international agreements in which there’s not a formal treaty ratified by Congress, and by the Senate. In fact, the majority of agreements that we enter into around the world are of that nature, including those in which we make sure that our men and women in uniform when they’re overseas aren’t subject to the criminal jurisdiction of those countries. And I am confident that any president who gets elected will be knowledgeable enough about foreign policy and knowledgeable enough about the traditions and precedents of presidential power that they won’t start calling to question the capacity of the executive branch of the United States to enter into agreements with other countries. If that starts being questioned, that’s going to be a problem for our friends, and that’s going to embolden our enemies. And it would be a foolish approach to take, and you know, perhaps Mr. Walker, after he’s taken some time to bone up on foreign policy, will feel the same way.
HH: So Bill Kristol, that’s like the march, that’s the parade of the straw men, and he’s responding to Scott Walker telling me ten days ago that he’s repudiate the Iran deal on day one. What do you make of the President’s defensiveness and his aversion to dealing with the real criticisms of the deal?
BK: Yeah, the defensiveness is what’s most striking, I think, Hugh. The examples are ridiculous. I mean, the commander-in-chief makes a deal to make sure American servicemen aren’t prosecuted in countries where we’re fighting or where we’re stationed. I don’t think that’s a terrible…that’s him doing his job. Congress obviously could, I think, try to call into question or try to get a stronger deal in some cases, but there’s no reason to have that necessarily ratified by Congress. It’s kind of different to make a nuclear deal with an enemy. And that has traditionally gone to Congress, either as a treaty or as an agreement that Congress would at least have an effective veto on. So the President’s being utterly disingenuous in that comparison. And then later on, he says our enemies will, how can we deal with our friends or enemies of Congress, if people think Congress is going to second-guess the president? What friend of ours will object to Congress reviewing this agreement with Iran?
BK: What enemy, what enemy will be emboldened if Congress reviews this deal with Iran?
BK: Let’s just ask that simple question. Every friend of ours will be happy if Congress reviews it. Most of our friends would like Congress, I believe, to overturn it or prevent it from going into effect. But if Congress takes a serious look and decides a little better than we think, I think that might reassure a few of our friends. And what enemy is going to be emboldened if Congress turns out to be more wary about granting an enemy, Iran, a road to a nuclear weapon than the president? So it’s utterly disingenuous talk by the President, and I think it shows the criticism is getting to him and to the White House. I think he made a big mistake when he mentioned yesterday, I guess it was, that they’re, after 13 years or so, there really is no stop, no check on Iran going full bore to nuclear weapons under this deal. And a State Department spokeswoman today had to ridiculously, utterly misinterpret, or not misinterpret, not tell the truth about what the President had said, and said well, he was talking about a scenario when there wasn’t a deal. It’s perfectly obvious that that’s not what he was doing.
HH: No, they’re caught, the same thing happened yesterday when Jake Tapper was talking to Ben Rhodes and asked him what about instant, on anywhere, anytime inspections of military bases, and Ben Rhodes went careening off into fantasy land. But let’s, back to the NPR interview. And by the way, have you, Bill Kristol, he’s sitting down with Thomas Friedman and NPR. He is not engaging any serious critics of this deal.
BK: Yeah, well, no kidding. And he’s not engaging the arguments of serious critics of this deal. And I give Scott Walker a lot of credit for in a way getting under the President’s skin, and I think Governor Walker had a pretty good response, at least the press release today I saw, I think, this morning, reacting to what the President had said. I hope the Republican candidates really engage directly at the level of the president. They will show they are presidential if they take on the President on this deal, and don’t confine themselves to one part of one speech, or one press release, or even an occasional interview with you or anyone else, but really make a sustained and serious critique of this deal both in its details, where there’s plenty to pull apart, and its overall conception.
HH: Yeah, and I’m asking every presidential candidate, beginning with Marco Rubio, who repudiated it, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina today. They’re all going to repudiate it. I haven’t asked Senator Paul, yet. We’ll find out. But here’s the President talking about, he just casually says this, Bill, and it’s so aggravating to me to hear him get away with this with an interviewer. Cut number two, he’s talking about the Security Council.
SI: The nuclear experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency would make this judgment. It would not be the U.N. Security Council have to vote with Russia have a veto?
BO: Well, the, right, we’re not going to make this subject to the typical Security Council where one country can hold out and you can’t get this done. Bu these are details that still have to be worked out, Steve. So I don’t want to give the false impression that we have all this resolved.
HH: Now on a number of levels, Bill, you cannot amend the U.N. Charter. You can’t dump the Russian veto at the Security Council. And I have not seen Vladimir Putin follow the President’s lead in the last few years here. This is truly absurd.
BK: Yeah, I mean, there are such vulnerabilities there. The inspections regime is not a go anywhere at any time regime, and that’s going to become clear over the next two months as we debate. And if Secretary Kerry decides to placate critics here at home, he has to insist on that kind of arrangement, I suspect the Iranians won’t take it. So I think it’s very important to clarify that over the next few days and weeks, very important to clarify when and how the sanctions would come off, and which ones would “snap back”, because the truth is once the U.N. Security Council relieves the sanctions, it would take, of course, a vote of the U.N. Security Council, and a non-exercise of the veto by Russia or China, to put them back on. So I think on inspections and sanctions, there’s a huge problem, and leave aside everything else about the deal, which is a huge problem – there’s no, Iran doesn’t change its behavior, they get rewarded for lying and cheating in the past, it’s a road to nuclear weapons, all that, even leaving that aside, on both inspections and verification on the one hand, and sanctions on the other, I think they’re in real trouble, the more people look at this. It is not a verifiable deal. It is not, it’s a deal in which we give up all our leverage the moment it begins to go into effect, because the sanctions go off and can’t be easily put back on. And so it’s really, the more people look at it, and the more we get beyond the President doing softball interviews with friendly interviewers, I think this deal will be in real deep trouble.
HH: There was a moment yesterday, or two days ago in the Friedman interview, where the President said this, Bill Kristol, cut number three:
BO: Well, I think that it’s important to recognize that Iran’s a complicated country, just like we’re a complicated country.
HH: So Bill Kristol, Iran is complicated, we’re complicated, we’re all the same, no one’s exceptional, we’re like Greece.
HH: This is a fundamental problem with this president.
BK: Yeah, it is. I mean, one country is a sponsor of terror and a dictatorship and an aggressive jihadist state, and we’re not. And you know, we can have all the complexity we want, but at the end of the day, some of these things are pretty simple, and this is a victory, this deal would be a victory for the current Iranian regime, one of the many, in fact, two of the facts that he hasn’t addressed at all is they will solidify this regime’s hold on power when in fact the sanctions were, could have been undermining it. And when we saw in 2009, its hold was somewhat precarious. If they have a victory of this kind, who’s going to be able to challenge them domestically for quite a while? And secondly, it will trigger a Middle East nuclear arms race, something he seems to never discuss, even though there are people quite open about it in the region. What’s most striking about all the interviews, Hugh, and I’m sure you’ve found this, too, and it’s so annoying when you listen to these clips, is he’s in such a fantasy world, but not really a fantasy world, but a self, a bubble. He’s created a vision of the Middle East, of nuclear arms, of Iran, which is internally, I guess, somewhat consistent in his head, but has no relation to actual reality in the real Middle East.
HH: Oh, and he also casually cast off in Sunday’s interview that there’s a rule, there’s room for appropriate Congressional oversight, but he doesn’t have to engage, and he was obviously referring to Tom Cotton and other critics of the deal. The President doesn’t get to define what is appropriate Congressional oversight, Bill Kristol. That is truly self-regarding and also delusional as to his authority.
BK: Well, Hugh, you don’t understand. If he’s said it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, I obsessed about that phrase. We all have our least favorite phrases, I suppose, that he uses. But that one, I thought, was very revealing, too. You’re right. He doesn’t get to determine what Congress thinks. And why is there a once in a lifetime deal when the only reason there would be is if he’s the only president who can pull it off, which I think is his own self-understanding? It really goes back to the Cairo speech, with Barack Obama as president, Barack Obama thinks the whole Middle East can get transformed. He only has two years left, therefore the race to the deal, therefore, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. But that’s an argument against the deal, not for the deal. If it isn’t a deal that could be made two years or six years from now, or could have been made ten years ago, then almost by definition it’s a bad deal, you know?
BK: It’s a deal that we’re careering and rushing to make. And that’s not a good opportunity for us.
HH: 30 seconds, I asked Carly Fiorina this, I want to ask you this today, Bill Kristol, as well. Does Hillary Clinton have to come out on the record right now and make a statement about this deal or lose credibility as a would-be president?
BK: I think she’s going to end up supporting the deal, pretending to have a tougher version of it. I hope she loses credibility for supporting it. A lot will depend on the Republican presidential candidate being not just consistent, but serious and detailed in their criticism of the deal that they’re making, and then putting the lie to the claim that if you’re not for this deal, you’re for an immediate ground war in the Middle East.
HH: Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, always a pleasure, Bill. Follow him, @BillKristol, very important to in the next two to three months especially.
End of interview.