The Weekly Standard’s editor Bill Kristol joined me today to discuss the deal with Iran, the outlines of which are beginning to emerge:
HH: I’m joined by Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, to discuss this. Bill, how are you?
BK: Fine, Hugh, welcome back. How are you?
HH: I’m great. I’m rested, I’m tanned, and unfortunately, I’m now in a world with a nuclear Iran or a nearly-nuclear Iran. What do you make of what is leaking out in dribs and drabs from Geneva?
BK: Yeah, we need Richard Nixon back to do the negotiations instead of Barack Obama, that’s for sure, speaking of tanned, rested and ready…
BK: …and people we both admire. I make that we’re heading towards a very bad deal. Iran has been shameless in squeezing further concessions, it looks like, out of the U.S. Now, perhaps, some relaxations of the arms embargo, so with the $140 billion dollars they get, they can buy arms they were previously prevented from getting just to make it even more crystal clear that they can sponsor terrorism and destabilize the region, kill Syrian, help Assad kill Syrians, help Hezbollah kill Israelis, help kill Americans when they have a chance to do that, too. I really, it’s really an appalling deal. It’s one of those rare things the more you learn about it, the worse it gets, even. I think there’s, it’s so bad, there’s a chance that it could be beat in Congress.
HH: That’s what I want to talk about, but I want to underscore $140 billion dollars and not anywhere, anytime inspections. These are the two things that I think really drive home to people what’s going on here. $140 billion dollars could bail out Greece twice. Where’s that money coming from? And why are we giving it to them? It’s not like they’ve been acting like good kids on a binge. They’ve been sponsoring terrorism.
BK: Right, they haven’t even promised to stop sponsoring terrorism. None of that’s even in the deal. We’re giving it to them because the sanctions relief is the price they demanded and they’re getting, and the unfreezing of the money that’s been frozen in accounts, that’s the price they demanded for doing this nuclear deal, which may or may not in some tiny ways slow down the nuclear program. I do think the $140 billion is really fundamental, because you know, the nuclear program, I’m not, I think there are many, many things to object to in the deal even on that front. But at the end of the day, you know, maybe the nuclear program will speed up a little, slow down a little, be six months from breakout, a year from breakout. The inspections won’t be as good as they should be, maybe they’ll find a few things. That can all be debated. The one actual, concrete result of the deal is $140 billion dollars for Iran in about six months, sort of the only concrete result. The rest of it’s all kind of hypothetical, about how fast their nuclear program moves ahead, how much of it is left there, if there were no deal would they move faster, would they move slower. The one concrete thing is they get all this money. And they have no obligation, no promise, no pretense, even, of changing their behavior. And I do think that is a tough thing for Senators and Congressmen to explain why they’re voting for that. What are we getting for that?
HH: Now that’s two and a half, three billion dollars per state. If they want to go out and give California $3 billion dollars, we could be building desal programs. It’s sort of like their stimulus package. But are we paying the $140 billion, Bill?
BK: Well, that’s money I take that is frozen in accounts that they have, sort of their money in some level, but it is frozen. One of the good things the sanctions regime has done is deprive them of money, tighten the screws on them. They’re having trouble funding Hezbollah. They’re having trouble doing as much damage as they could be doing in the Middle East. Just when the screws were really getting tight, we decided to go negotiate with them and begin to relieve the pressure that the temporary, interim agreement relieves that pressure a little bit. But nothing to this extent, so I think that’s going to be a key argument that has to be made. It is, as I say, it’s the most concrete consequence of the deal.
HH: It’s so much money. Again, it’s twice what it’s going to cost to bail out Greece. It’s an enormous cash infusion into a regime that’s on its rockiest moment. Secondly, anytime, anywhere inspections became tight monitoring became I don’t know what. We get to go in every three months for a half a day somewhere and look around at an approved site. This doesn’t really stop anything, Bill Kristol.
BK: That’s right. I mean, there’s a question of whether even the inspectors would have known about the secret programs. It’s a huge country. You know, if you show up at the airport, you’re an inspector, how do you know you’re seeing what you’re seeing and whether you’re seeing everything? Having said that, at least in principle, that’s always been the gold standard, anytime, anywhere inspections, and a completely coming clean about their previous military activities so people have a baseline to go with. That’s what any serious nuclear deal has always had those two things. This one doesn’t have it. So we have no confidence what’s going on there. The inspectors are monitored and managed, and not anywhere, anytime. President Obama himself, his energy secretary, have always said, have said in the past until about two or three months ago, that this deal would have anywhere, anytime inspections. So I think it’s an easy thing for a Congressman or Senator to say gee, I wish the President well, a Democratic Senator or Congressman. It sounded like he might have some good ideas here, but he did say there would be these anywhere, anytime inspections, and they’re not there, so I can’t vote for it. So I don’t have great confidence that the Democrats will break with President Obama. They certainly haven’t on other issues much in the past. But I’ve got to think if you’re at all a serious Democrat who cares about the Middle East, who cares about Israel, who cares about American credibility in the world, maybe you draw the line at this deal.
HH: Now you bring it up first in the Senate, I hope. I hope that our brilliant Republicans don’t bring it up in the House where it’s easier to hide, but they bring it up in the Senate where there will be 52 or 53 certain Republican votes to reject the deal. Are there15 Democrats, Bill Kristol, who will reject the deal?
BK: I wouldn’t bet on it, but I think we have a shot, and I think it’s got to be made to vote. So I totally agree, our brilliant Congressional leadership needs not to get cute. They need to bring up a resolution of disapproval that’s been talked about. Let’s do a resolution of approval, but then they won’t get a majority or it will look bad for them. That’s all nonsense. This is a serious vote, the most serious vote they’ll cast this Congress. The only way to stop the deal is to disapprove it, which takes away the President’s right to waive the sanctions, which was key to persuading the Iranians to go along with the deal, apparently. So a disapproval resolution needs to be brought up straight, in my opinion. Make them vote.
BK: I don’t believe they can filibuster. I mean, can Chuck Schumer really defend filibustering a deal like this when he, they all voted for legislation to establish this process, the Corker-Cardin legislation that establishes this process? Make them vote. I think we’ll get a majority to disapprove the deal. Maybe it’ll get to 67. But even if it’s only 60 or 54 or 63, fine. Pass it over to the House, let them disapprove it, let the President veto it. Let’s have a debate. I think the key here is for our side not to get, not to sort of pre-compromise with itself, not to be fatalistic, that you know what, you and I have been through this, when you get legislative debates going, when things start to happen, there are hearings. When you learn more, it can change. The vote counts can change.
HH: When the phones ring.
BK: These guys aren’t impervious…
HH: The immigration debate of 2006 and 2005 is the perfect example. When the phones ring, people listen. And Democrats, there aren’t a lot of Democrats up on the ballot right now, but this is not going to go away. This is going to be an issue in two years and four years. And so if it can be an up or down vote, if people are obliged to vote, Bill Kristol, we could get to 67. But again, it’s only, have you had a chance to talk to any of the people who will decide this, because if they get too cute, and Corker-Menendez is way too cute.
HH: It just is. And people get confused. They need to know that you’re for the Iranian deal or you’re against it, one or the other.
BK: And the only way to stop it is to disapprove it. I totally agree with you. One point you made is very important. Even if you’re not on the ballot in two years, other bad votes, you cast a tough vote, you get a week of bad press, maybe you get some ads against you in the next election cycle. Then it’s kind of over. In this vote, with Democrats, and anyone thinking of voting for the deal has to understand that they are now responsible for Iranian action.
BK: …into the future. Iran’s getting $140 billion dollars. If some of that money goes to Hezbollah and it’s used to kill, to attack Israel, if some of that money goes to other terror groups, and it’s used to attack American soldiers in the region as Iranian weapons have been used to attack and kill and wound and maim American soldiers over the last decade, they have funded, they have voted to fund those attacks. And that’s, it’s sort of an open-ended vote in that respect. I think it’s got to make them more nervous once the argument is made. It’s not like a typical vote where you sort of take your hit and move on. They are now implicated in giving money to the Iranian regime, which it otherwise wouldn’t have had. It’s that simple. And I agree. Once you get the dynamic of the debate and the vote getting, and maybe a second going, and maybe a second vote to override a veto, this thing could change. So I’m not fatalistic or pessimistic about the debate.
HH: Yeah, and I like the way you framed it. It’s important. Anytime, anywhere is easy to understand. When they say no, everyone understand they’ll be cheating. But if they understand they’re buying missiles for Hezbollah to lob into Israel and start the Carmel Forest Fire part two while they kill tens of thousands of Israelis, and we paid for it, that’s tough. I mean, I don’t know where AIPAC will be, but I know that the Conference of Christian Jews, and I know that my Evangelical friends will be out there fighting against this deal. And I mean, they will fight in a way they’ve never fought before.
BK: And AIPAC will be fighting it. They’ve at times disappointed me by being awfully, bending awfully far backwards to be bipartisan and to give President Obama a benefit of the doubt. But this is a bridge too far. They will be there. Christians United For Israel will be there. I think there will be a genuine coalition of people who care about Israel, and care about the U.S.
HH: Will Hillary endorse this? Will Hillary dare endorse this deal? I mean, it’s a nightmare. It’s Munich. It’s everything you and I have always said. But will Hillary endorse it, because she can’t stay silent.
BK: I think she will endorse it, but she’s so scared of an attack from the left, and she’s the person who voted for the Iraq war, and now she has to show that she has totally repudiated that point of view. I’m afraid I think that’s what she’ll say.
HH: Does a Republican, can any Republican not repudiate this deal and be the nominee?
HH: I agree.
BK: I think Republicans will be united against this.
HH: Every one of them? Will they be as loud as each of, will the Donald and Christie agree on something?
BK: Yes, the Donald’s been good on this, actually. And the others, I think, will be good. They should be loud. And this is a moment. I think this is, this could be a decisive, I’m against the deal on the merits, not for political reasons, but let’s got to the polls in November, 2016 with one nominee, Hillary Clinton, who thinks this is a good deal for the country, and the other who says wait a second, it’s a horrible deal, I’m going to do my best to unravel it and reverse its effects.
HH: Very well said, Bill Kristol, always a pleasure, www.weeklystandard.com.
End of interview.