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Charles Krauthammer On Our National Security After Benghazi And Boston, And Immigration Reform

Saturday, April 27, 2013

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HH: I begin with Dr. Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, where he is of course the columnist that everyone goes to especially on Friday. Dr. Krauthammer, today you wrote about George W. Bush, and you said, or you quoted someone saying that short statements, one line statements sum up presidencies, and he did keep us safe. But do you think we are as safe today as we were under, at the end of the Bush presidency?

CK: No, I don’t. I think we’ve deteriorated to some extent both there, and I also pointed out in the column on Iraq, we’re certainly worse off on Iraq than when the day Bush left the presidency. And I think these are really unfortunate. I think, I see this, the Bush presidency, is much like the Truman. He left very unpopular, both of them, because of inconclusive wars, Iraq, of course, and Korea. And Truman has become appreciated because he set up the structures – NATO, CIA, the Truman Doctrine, which were the pillars of the Cold War, finally led half a century later to victory. And I think the great thing Bush did, he didn’t just keep us safe, but he left the instruments and the infrastructure, and the principles that were to guide us through 9/11, and thus kept us safe. But I do think that Obama, even though to a large extent he’s paid homage to Bush by continuing the very policies he denounced time and again when running for the presidency.

HH: The first two paragraphs of your column this morning read, “Clare Booth Luce liked to say that a great man is one sentence, presidents in particular. The most common one sentence for George W. Bush is he kept us safe. Not quite right,” you add, “With Bush’s legacy being reassessed as his presidential library opens in Dallas, it’s important to note that he did not just keep us safe. He created the entire anti-terror infrastructure that continues to keep us safe.” But I worry, Dr. K., that what we’ve got is a Maginot line of TSA screeners and watch lists that aren’t watched, because if you don’t have the right attitude towards that infrastructure, it becomes defenses in place around which terrorists can work.

CK: Well, I think that’s something of an exaggeration. The fact is we’ve broken up many, many plots. The fact is that there has been, there was no successful bombing on U.S. soil. There were attempts and we were lucky in some cases, but we are nowhere near where we were before 9/11, which is essentially without any of the defenses, any of the structures. I don’t think it’s a Maginot line. I think TSA is a colossal waste of money, and I think as long as they keep looking for shampoo in diaper bags rather than looking for terrorists, that will continue. But whenever you have a vast system looking for needles in a haystack, which is what you’re doing when you’re looking for a terrorist who hasn’t struck, you’re going to have screw-ups, and I think that’s rather human. I do think it comes from the top in the sense that Obama simply will not articulate who the war is against, what it’s about, and why it’s being fought. He won’t use the word Islamist, won’t use the word jihadist. And that does create complacency and confusion. But I wouldn’t lay it all at his feet. I think that does weaken our defenses and there are the inevitable human screw-ups like the non-communication between CIA, FBI and DHS. But I do think we do have the structures in place that will survive Obama, that will be there, and that history will remember as the main contribution of the George Bush presidency.

HH: Let me probe your defenses on that just a bit. There are, Tom Cotton reminded me that there was an attack in Arkansas that took lives by a jihadist, Major Hasan, I have been reminded of, the two that penetrated our defenses but didn’t blow – the underwear bomber and the New York Times Square bomber, we were lucky as you correctly point out. That’s five major jihadist incidents in five years under President Obama. So I don’t think of the Maginot line of not being successful. It was successful. It just sent the Panzers, and perhaps I’m being influenced by the new Manchester-Reid book. Have you had a chance to read that, yet, by the way?

CK: No.

HH: It’s wonderful. But it went around him. It did, it went to the Ardennes, where it wasn’t built. So…

CK: Now look, Hugh, though there’s a matter of scale here. We have hardened our defenses because of what George Bush did.

HH: Yes.

CK: To the point where they don’t send people from the outside who have been trained to fly airplanes and kill three thousand people in a day. There’s a difference between three thousand people and three. And there’s a difference between somebody who grabs a gun, like the Fort Hood shooter, and the guy who shot in Arkansas, and kills a number of people, and a terror attack, which is a bombing, which is a mass casualty event. And it’s very hard to find the gunmen. Now I do think the two cases, the gunman in Arkansas and Fort Hood, are examples of this failure, because of the laxity and the political correctness around Islamism. I mean, in Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, should have been recognized for exactly what he is before, but everybody was so afraid that they would be accused of Islamophobia, that no one said a word and they passed him up the line. So there, you can trace the failure, not just of a bureaucratic screw-up, but to sort of an ethos coming from an administration that closes its eyes to the source of the conflict. But I’ll try to draw a distinction between the structures that you make and the screw-ups that come along the way on the laxity. You can do that with the Cold War. I mean, the CIA screwed up a lot of things. Truman sets up the CIA, and it’d screw up a lot of things along the way. And nonetheless, it was instrumental in winning the Cold War. So just because you find that NATO and CIA and other elements of the infrastructure that Truman set up, obviously and occasionally failed, that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t something important established that carried us on to victory.

HH: Agreed. Timothy Weiner, in his book Legacy Of Ashes, about the CIA, pointed out you never hear about the ones they got right.

CK: And that’s what’s so important. I mean, we know what they screwed up. We know about the Bay Of Pigs. We know about the agents, the double agents that they missed. They know about the ones we inadvertently betrayed. We know about all that stuff, because it goes public. But we don’t know about the great successes, and obviously they were pretty successful against a pretty ruthless KGB.

HH: But what I keep coming back to, though, and I’m trying to be balanced about this, is I spend, I try and spend time talking to the Andrew C. McCarthy’s, and the Frank Gaffney’s…

CK: Yeah, right.

HH: And when I do that, they tell me that our government is so allergic to identifying…you referenced it a bit, the Islamist threat, that there’s a great fear of being pegged as being anti-Islamic, that therefore we’ve crippled our ability to truly dig and dig. And so we may end up having blinded ourselves to some obvious threats in the Boston case, which leads me to this question. Do you think we need either a select committee of the Congress, both Houses, or a special commission like 9/11 to look into this, because I see leaks coming now from various national security agencies in an attempt to, and one in your newspaper today, in an attempt to position themselves as innocent of the Boston bombers, of having let them slip through.

CK: Well, I think that’s actually working to the public’s advantage. Everybody’s trying to coer his ass so much that he’s leaking about the other guy’s.

HH: Yup.

CK: And that’s how we’re getting real information. That’s better than having a committee. What you want is an agency trying to protect itself and you get all the leaks you need to expose everybody else. So you know, let’s have at it. That’s why I don’t think that we need a commission. I think that inflates this one event. And look, I think our argument is a matter of degree. I mean, we both agree that there was a very strong structure put in place by Bush. We both agree that Obama has weakened it by making it politically incorrect, and perhaps politically dangerous for anybody who wants to work in this administration to finger somebody as an Islamist or jihadist, because you know, if you get it wrong, you could lose your job. So I understand that. But I do think that these structures are not going to collapse under the weight of Obamaism. Number one, there’s only so much that you can do to avoid the jihadist element, even if you don’t use the words. Secondly, he’ll be gone, and the structures will go, will succeed him. So I do think we have to sort of look at the big picture, which is basically having it in place. But I would say, for example, one thing. Another thing that we should do that wasn’t done in the Bush years is for God’s sake, establish a consensual rule, approved by the two houses of Congress, on when and how you Mirandize. It is a scandal, forget about this stuff that was before the bombing. A lot of that’s out of our control and contingent. It is a scandal that after the bombing, when this guy’s in our hands, and we make the decisions on what happens, that the interrogation was interrupted, when we know that some of the stuff he told us in the first 16 hours is actually useful, why are the agents, the feds, looking through the landfills somewhere out there in Boston? Because they learned from Dzhokhar there’s a computer in there. How did they learn about the New York so-called attempt, or at least the idea of going to New York? From Dzhokhar. What did he know that we didn’t hear about because of this absurd Mirandizing of him? So I think that’s an area where we have more structures to build, and I think there’d be a big national consensus to expand the public safety exception here and do it, and not have Obama and his judges ruin this thing.

HH: I very much agree with that. I’d also like to know where Misha is. I’d like to know who Misha is, and I’d like to have some focus of the country placed upon…

— – –

HH: What I want to move to next is we’ve got three Congressional committees in the House. We’ve got Darrell Issa’s Oversight committee looking into Benghazi, we’ve got Chairman Mike Rogers in the House Intelligence Committee, and we’ve got Chairman Mike McCaul on Homeland Security. None of them reach critical mass, Charles Krauthammer, in attaching importance or focus in a sustained way, in the way that a select committee of the House, even of the House, just one committee overlooking Benghazi and Boston. Do you worry that the public gets confused because we get, we get a thousand stories a day on this stuff because everyone’s competing.

CK: Yeah, I understand. Let me go halfway with you on this. I would say let a thousand flowers bloom right now. Let the leaks come from all the agencies on the CYA’s. Let the three committees look into this, and discover what they can. In about a week or two or three, we’ll have a pretty good idea of where this fits, how much was screwed up, where the screw ups were, what needs to be known. And then, it might be a good time to say all right, let’s have one committee to put this in a larger context, Benghazi, this idea of Mirandizing. And you could do it in the spirit of bipartisanship of saying look, as a country, we want to defend ourselves. We know we need new rules. We have to revise the Authorization For the Use Of Force, which was passed three days after 9/11 under which all of this stuff is being done. So let’s make that more up to date, let’s make it clear, the drone policy, and let’s make it clear, the Mirandizing. Let’s work together to get a more intact, open, overt, agreed upon set of rules. Rules are the road for the future. I think that’s one thing that would be quite constructive. And you know, part of that is always going to be critical of what Obama has done. Well, let the chips fall where they may.

HH: I think that’s very, that, we’ll have to come back and revisit that in a couple of weeks after the bloodletting behind the scenes has yielded.

CK: And we’ll see what the larger picture looks like.

HH: Yeah. Now I do want to cover immigration. Before that, though, I have to ask you if your Nationals are disappointing you, or if you’re happy thus far.

CK: I have several axioms in life. One of them, it’s never too early to panic.

HH: (laughing)

CK: So I’m operating under that one right now.

HH: Okay.

CK: The one I used to operate on when they were a bad team and they weren’t going anywhere was when you have no expectations, you will never be disappointed. But that one expired when they got good. So now I’m in the other one. I’m in full panic mode right now.

HH: Oh, Dr. K., I hope you realize that on the West Coast, all the Mike Trout Angels fans have begun to develop a sort of anti-Nationals outlook because of the great attention paid to your phenom overshadowing Mike Trout. So it’s not, they don’t play each other often. They don’t think about each other often. But they don’t like each other a lot.

CK: Well, I think it’ll be one of the great superstar rivalries – Mickey Mantle/Willie Mays, going back, you know, or is it Larry Bird/Magic, which helps the game. I do think these are once in a lifetime players, well, twice. And I hate to say it, but my guy, he’s 20 years old and having a great year, and your guy’s just getting started. So I’ll let it play out.

HH: All right, now last subject – immigration.

CK: But I would have a special select committee at the end of the year to decide who’s better.

HH: By the way, he’s not my guy. My guy is Nick Swisher at first base for the Cleveland Indians.

CK: Cleveland Indians?

HH: Yeah, I’m a Tribe fan.

CK: Oh, my God.

HH: I’m a neutral party, actually, but we don’t have any young superstars in Cleveland.

CK: That’s true.

HH: Dr. Krauthammer, last subject, immigration reform. Marco Rubio, a great friend of this program, and I like 80% of the bill, but Title 1 on border security upsets me. But he seems to me to be getting a little hot under the collar. How do you read this situation?

CK: Look, I think the country’s sort of reached a consensus on legalization as a decent thing to do. The real problem is enforcement, and what are the triggers. My feeling is that Democrats give lip service to enforcement, because all they care about is legalization. And then they’ll get lax, and they won’t care about it, and we’ll have a replay of ’86. On the other hand, Republicans, I think, have a quite, have a position that is both, serves the national interest and is very humane, which is for God’s sake, of course we’d be willing to legalize these people, but you’ve got to tell us, you’ve got to prove to us, you’ve got to show us, this will be the last cohort. Yes, we’ll do this 11 million, but we don’t want to do another. And I think the country, a vast majority of the country would say fine. So what we’re talking about now are the triggers for legalization, and how serious this administration will be in carrying them out. And I think that’s now a matter of sort of detail in legislation. I think in principle, we’ve gotten some ways on that, not as far as I would like. I do think there’s a basic flaw that you get a kind of instant legalization. The trigger for, that in enforcement allows to happen, is the application for a green card. That’s a much weaker trigger, I’m afraid. The problem is we’re not going to get anything stronger than that. The tide will run against us on this issue over time. So I’d like to strike a deal now where we get the strongest enforcement possible.

HH: Jeff Sessions…

CK: And that’s where, I think, everything hinges now. I don’t know if I’ll support the final bill.

HH: That’s where I am. Jeff Sessions wants biometric entry and exit visa, and I want a big fence on a long part of the Southern border as the outward expression of an inner bureaucratic resolve. And I…so there are obvious changes. Should Rubio, though, put those amendments forward, or continue to sit where he is and say I’m willing to look at everything? Or should he proactively, because I’m afraid he’s going to get marooned on the island of McCain and Graham, and be damaged as a result.

CK: I think he’ll proactively seek real measures – universal e-verify, the tracking system for the visa violations, which as you know, accounts for 40% of illegals in the country, and I’m with you, a fence from left to right, from east to west, except obviously the mountainous areas. We know that fences work. If the President tells you fences don’t work, ask him why he’s got one around the White House.

HH: On that note, Dr. Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, I hope you have the Washington Nationals lined up to enjoy later today after watching the NFL draft. Thank you, Dr. K.

End of interview.

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