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Charles Krauthammer On President Obama’s Fox News’ “Tic,” And The “Terrible Decision” Israel Must Make

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Dr. Charles Krauthammer, whose Things That Matter has just come out in paperback with a new afterward, joined me to begin today’s show:




HH: I begin today’s show, though, with one of our favorite guests, Dr. Charles Krauthammer of the Fox News All-Stars, of course, the author of Things That Matter, now out in paperback, the astonishing bestseller from last year which sold over a million copies, is now available in paperback. I hope, Charles, you wrote a new forward to this.

CK: Actually, I wrote a kind of epilogue, which is I, there’s a new section in the book on the age of Obama, sort of a look back over the six and a half years I pick the columns I’d written about Obama since the hardback came out. And you know, in the hardback, the book as it came out in 2013, there was a column or two about Obama, but he wasn’t a central focus, because it was about the last 30 years. So I thought I’d add a section on our beloved current president and how we’re going to remember him.

HH: Well, I’m going to be talking about him throughout the program. CNN’s Gloria Borger is coming along later, Lanhee Chen from Stanford, Mike Pompeo, Robert O’Brien, who signed in with the Walker campaign. But let’s start with President Obama. He was at Georgetown yesterday being interviewed, and he had this, it’s a lengthy quote, but you’ve got to hear it, Charles, or at least the audience does in order to react appropriately.

BO: There’s always been a strain in American politics where you’ve got the middle class, and the question has been who are you mad at if you’re struggling, if you’re working, but you don’t seem to be getting ahead. And over the last 40 years, sadly, I think there’s been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top, or to make be mad at folks at the bottom. And I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leeches, or don’t want to work, are lazy, you know, or undeserving, got traction. And look, it’s still being propagated. I mean, I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu. They will find, like folks who make me mad, and I don’t know where they find them, right? They’re all like, like I don’t want to work. I just want a free Obama phone or whatever. And that becomes an entire narrative, right, that gets worked up. And very rarely do you hear an interview of a waitress, which is much more typical who’s raising a couple of kids, and is doing everything right, but still can’t pay the bills. And so if we’re going to change how John Boehner and Mitch McConnell think, we’re going to have to change how our body politick thinks, which means we’re going to have to change how the media reports on these issues, and how people’s impressions of what it’s like to struggle in this economy looks like, and how budgets connect to that. And that’s a hard process, because that requires a much broader conversation than typically we have.

HH: Charles, tomorrow, I’m talking to your colleague, Kirsten Powers, about her new book, The Silencing. There’s an entire chapter on the President’s obsession with Fox News. But what does, it kind of reached a crescendo yesterday. What did you make of that?

CK: I remember we talked about it last night on Special Report, and I suggested that Fox buy a full-page ad touting the fact that Barack Obama is apparently now a constant viewer of Fox News, he’s such an expert on it. He said if you watch it all the time, so I’m glad to know that he’s joined this vast audience that Fox commands. Look, this is sort of a pathological Obama where you know, he picks up these memes. He doesn’t know a damn thing about what’s on Fox. The idea that Fox is constantly showing, you know, sponges and leeches, and never shows the waitress trying to make it, it’s just sort of the mythological world that he lives in. Or he may be cynical. I mean, he may know it’s all nonsense. I mean, I can’t tell. I mean, after all, you probably need a psychiatrist to figure that out. But it’s either cynical or just hopelessly deluded on this. I would prefer to think he’s cynical, because I’d like somebody in the White House who’s not delusional. And this is the usual Obama cynicism. It’s the media, it’s the press, they’re underreporting liberal successes. I mean, look, the fact is a war on poverty, the billions poured into helping the poor, which in my 20s I rather supported until in my 30s, the empirical social science evidence began to come out that not only was money poured down the drain, but it was undermining the traditional structures of even the poorest neighborhoods and leading to real terrible pathologies, including helping to accelerate the breakdown of the family. So these are, there’s just the empirical social science refuting the liberal nostrums about how to help the poor. But he never engages in an argument. It’s all ad hominin.

HH: That’s what makes me, I spent 15 years on the Children and Families Commission out here in California, and Robert Putnam, the Harvard sociologist, who is a man of the left, just wrote this book, Our Kids, which documents in great detail everything you just said. The Times of London calls him the most influential academic in the world. He’s a lefty, right, but he recognizes the devastation brought about by all the wrong policy choices of the 60s on the family in America. It’s got nothing to do with Fox News. And by the way, I watch Fox News pretty much every night on Special Report. I’ve never seen one thing slamming, in fact, two-thirds of the people on my church porch every Sunday are actively involved in taking care of the poor. Nobody believes this that is center-right in the country.

CK: I know. But he’s got a tick. I said last night, he’s got a tick, and it’s curable. I was going to offer to cure it myself, but I’m otherwise occupied. And even though licensed, I don’t practice anymore.

HH: All right, let’s turn to the second person who might replace him, but he’s also a young, dynamic, energetic, charismatic Senator who many people will say doesn’t have any executive experience. Marco Rubio gave a speech today at the Council on Foreign Relations, which included this, Charles Krauthammer.

MR: When America has the mightiest Army and Navy and Air Force and Marine Corps and Coast Guard and the intelligence community in the world, the result is more peace, not more conflict. To ensure our strength never falters, we must always plan ahead. It takes forethought to design, and many years to build the capabilities we may need at a moment’s notice. So to restore American strength, my first priority will be to adequately fund our military. This would be a priority even in times of peace and stability.

HH: Now Charles, there’s substance there, but there’s also a contrast in the rhetorical styles of the President, which is discursive and passive voice. Rubio is very fast-paced, very robustly delivered. Nevertheless, they’re both going to be first-term senators, if Rubio wins. Is that going to anchor Rubio to the bottom of the pack, or does it matter?

CK: I think it’s something that will hurt him. I don’t think it will be a major demerit, but it will hurt him and Cruz and Rand Paul. You’ve got three freshmen Senators. I think Barack Obama is the one who made it popular. Before him, freshmen Senators didn’t run for the presidency. I’m not sure it’s a great recommendation given how the current freshman Senator has conducted himself in six and a half years. Nonetheless, I don’t think it’s going to be a major demerit, and that is because they both, I would say all three of them, are rather knowledgeable, energetic and dynamic, each in their own ways. And I think even though generally speaking, if you’re running for president, you have a better shot if you’re governor than you are as Senator, even a second or third-term Senator, since historically speaking, that’s been true in the post-World War II era, even though that is true, I think these guys are, in the end, that’s going to wash out, and it will depend on their policies, their performance, their demeanor, how they do in the debates, the absence of gaffes, I mean, all the things that, the game is won on the playing field. It’s not won on statistics going into the game.

HH: Walker is in Israel today. Ted Cruz announced a slate of very impressive endorsements in New Hampshire. Those three are ascending, in my view. Jeb Bush has had a rough week because of Fox News. Interestingly enough, Megyn Kelly bled him a little bit on TV.

CK: Yeah.

HH: Where do you see this race going? We have a minute to the break.

CK: I think it’s very clear, this is analysis, not advocacy. The top tier clearly is Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio. They’ve had all pretty good launches. Bush has declines, which makes him, so he’s not the runaway frontrunner. I don’t even know that he is the frontrunner. But there are three in the top tier. I am sure that either one or two will emerge from the second tier to join them, but that will take time, probably happen at the debates, the way Huckabee joined the top tier in ’08 when he came out of nowhere. And I think Cruz would be a candidate for that. I don’t think Rand Paul will ultimately be, because as a libertarian, he’s got a ceiling that’s rather low – high floor, low ceiling. And he’s somewhat hurt by the rise of foreign policy as an issue, where I think he’s rather weak.

— – – – –

HH: I was in D.C. last week, Charles, with one of the great old men of D.C., and I won’t name him, talking about the issues that are battering the world. And we were chuckling that the President, President Obama, has done something no other president has done. He has brought together Saudi Arabia and Israel. And in fact, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan are in a de facto alliance. Do you think it would be easier, and do you suspect that it is in the offing following yesterday’s New York Times article, where Israel provided the Times all their targeting data on Hezbollah for Israel and Saudi Arabia and Jordan to take on Iran now before they are nuclear and make the United States choose side?

CK: Well, I don’t know that Saudi Arabia and Jordan have the capacity to do it, but they certainly have the capacity to help Israel do it. I don’t know whether Israel has the capacity. For example, it doesn’t have the refueling capacity that it needs, but that’s where the Arabs come in. That’s where the Saudis come in. If there were a strike, an Israeli strike on Iran, I would not at all be surprised if the Saudis provided landing facilities for the Israelis, and perhaps even refueling. Remember, in the Entebbe raid, where the Israelis went all the way down to Uganda, they refueled in Kenya on the way down, Kenya being a kind of quasi or at least a covert ally of Israel. On this particular issue, you’re right. There is a de facto alliance between the Sunni Arabs and Israel. And if there were to be a strike, I have no doubt that the Gulf Arabs would be helping in one way or another.

HH: Well, this is the most serious question there is, and I’ve only been thinking about it because of last week and then yesterday’s story in the Times, which was truly, Israel telegraphing a punch against Hezbollah, which they believe is inevitable. Do you personally think it’s better to have it out with the Iranians now, or to try this bargain with the not-great-Satan, the people who call us the great Satan, because it’s one of two choices. It’s either, I think, prolonged military conflict, not a short strike like Operation Desert Fox, and not an invasion like Desert Storm, but nevertheless, something in between, or passive acceptance of their nuclear status.

CK: You’re talking about Israel or the United States?

HH: The United States.

CK: We are so far down the road of acquiescence that it would be nearly impossible for the U.S. to reverse course unless the Ayatollah puts his foot down and decides that he’s not going to do anything with the great Satan, and breaks off negotiations. I think they are not stupid enough to do that. They’ve been handed the kingdom on a plate, not just a paved road to nuclear weapons either by simply waiting and they’ll have it in ten years, or by cheating, which there are no real mechanisms for us to stop or to do anything about if we discover it. So they’re going to get there one way or another under this agreement. So why would they want to risk anything by walking out? So unless there’s a very improbable walkout, I think they are assured of nuclear capacity. And I think we are assured of a truly catastrophic arms race in the Middle East, where the Saudis are going to go nuclear, the UAE, probably, Egypt, probably Turkey, and if we thought that two-sided deterrence, we and the Soviets for 50 years was difficult, risky and we came within an inch of nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis, imagine what five-sided deterrence is like in a region that’s the most unstable in the world. That’s what Obama has bequeathed us. But I don’t see any other path at the current rate. And I don’t know what an American president of either party will be able to do when they’re sworn in.

HH: So that leaves the alternative of Israel not waiting for that to happen in concert…

CK: I think Israel, if there’s going to be a military strike, I think there is zero chance Obama would do it. He’s completely committed to this appeasement strategy with Iran. If there’s going to be a strike, it will come from Israel. And it will be assisted, covertly, by the Arab states.

HH: And what, in your gut, do you think is the probability of that, Charles Krauthammer?

CK: I really don’t know. I mean, it depends, there are two factors. One, does Israel feel it has the capacity to set Iran back three or four years? I don’t know. If it doesn’t, it won’t do it. If it does do it, is it willing to risk the wrath of the Obama administration? And it’s not just the dressing down it’ll get. America has protected Israel at the U.N. from the kind of animus it feels. And you know, it could be possible that if Israel were to do this, the Europeans could decide to exercise an embargo over the Israeli economy. Israel is hugely dependent on Europe. Now normally, the U.S. would veto anything of that sort and act as a defender of Israel. I don’t think anybody could say with confidence Obama would defend Israel.

HH: I agree with that, but I also think if you war gamed this most serious of subjects out, Israel would only do this with the assistance of the Kingdom and the Jordanians, that that would be a message clearly received in every capital in NATO, and that they might drag the West with them.

CK: Not with Obama as president. I can’t see that happening. I think the most likely response is a war of attrition, where Hezbollah launches thousands of, it’s got about 10,000 rockets at least, probably much more, against Israel, maybe Hamas, Islamic Jihad, maybe Iran itself, where you get, I mean, really intense conventional warfare as a result. The Israelis have to calculate that as well.

HH: That’s what, did you read that New York Times piece yesterday? That’s what I thought that was all about.

CK: I didn’t see the Times yesterday.

HH: Oh, I would encourage you to go to see it. So if that happens, it’s still non-nuclear. It’s terrible, it will be horrific in its consequences, but it’s non-nuclear. Is that to be preferred to that five-way deterrence, Charles, because at the end of that five-way deterrence is oops, we miscalculated, and a mushroom cloud.

CK: Look, the Israelis are the only country on Earth whose extinction is state policy for several of its neighbors, including one about to go nuclear, the only country on Earth. Milan Kundera, the Czech novelist, once wrote a small country is a country that can disappear and knows it. The only such small country on Earth is Israel. And it is looking at the actual physical prospect of that becoming a possibility if Iran goes nuclear. So it’s going to have to make this terrible decision. I don’t know which way it will go. I mean, it’s really a terrible risk either way. But in part, it’ll depend on what they think will be the Obama reaction if they undertake such a mission.

HH: Now Dr. Charles Krauthammer, author of Things That Matter, I want to switch over to the European election of last week in the United Kingdom where David Cameron’s Tories won an unexpected…I was driving from D.C. to Charlottesville, and back and forth on Sunday, so I listened to six hours of the BBC World Service. And you would have thought Cameron lost, actually, so terrible are the problems he faces with the Scottish National Party. And they were so wringing their hands. I had Liam Fox on yesterday, the leading Atlanticist who is not in the cabinet. What do you make of three elections in a row – the United States in November, Likud in March, and now the Tories in May winning unexpected, unanticipated by the polls, in shockingly big wins?

CK: I would add probably the next French election is going to see the socialists kicked out, so that there’ll be, there’s a trend there. I mean, it’s what Margaret Thatcher says. The reason socialism doesn’t work is in the end, socialists run out of other people’s money to spend. You know, the alternative policies, what Labour was offering, what the Democrats are offering, which is this dream of sort of equality, redistributionism, people know that in the end, that’s not going to work, and they know that they’ve got to have a growing economy. And you know, I think that Cameron has done a reasonable job of stabilizing the economy, and the Labourites were promising, you know, to reverse all that and start spending huge amount of debt and all that. And people have a sense instinctively. This can’t be right. It’s not going to work. I think that’s, you know, the basic thing at work, and as a result, you’re getting this kind of reaction. But I assure you, Hugh, it’s going to swing back three, four, five years from now. It’s going to swing the other way. Memories are short in democracies. And the rotation of power is constant.

HH: The last subject, then, becomes the surveillance state, because a massacre was nearly averted in Garland, Texas, last week. There’s that odd story about the other Philadelphia train today. We know the jihadi problem. Theresa May in England was warning everyone, the home secretary there, before the election about the jihadi problem there. And yet the 2nd Circuit struck down the collection of metadata, which is actually kind of a passive thing. That used to be something I did at the Department of Justice. What do you think is the result ahead as lone wolves, or actually known wolves as some people like to call them, act on their intentions? There’s a reason that a number of military facilities in the United States went to the second level of alert this week. It’s because they’re being threatened by Islamic State wannabes.

CK: I think if this goes to the Supreme Court, as I suspect it will, this decision will be overturned. The Supreme Court, I think, is far more in a mood to allow these limits to remain where they are rather than constraining them. Look, we have a constant dilemma. We have to constantly adjust the trade-off. Obama at the beginning of his presidency said you know, it’s a false choice between security and liberty. Of course, not. It’s a constant choice. It has been ever since Hobbes. You’ve got to make your decision how much you want to sacrifice. I mean, how much indignity do we go through at the TSA, which actually is a farce and a charade. I don’t even think it’s effective. But assuming it was effective, we make, you know, indignities, taking off our shoes, our belts, whatever, so that we can be physically assaulted in a way, I guess, well, in some cases, or as the man said, don’t touch my junk, said if this were no tin this setting, it would be assault. So we’re willing to undergo all of this in the name of security. I think it makes sense. The point I want to make is we’re going to have to keep adjusting the boundaries every few years in response to the threat level, and in response to what, to how much of our autonomy and liberty we’re willing to give up. So I don’t think you pass the Patriot Act and you leave it in place for 20 years. You adjust it. I think it’s a good thing. You debate it. I suspect we will keep the boundaries as they are now, because of the rising ISIS threat. If in half a decade, ISIS is diminished or gone, I think we’ll then, we’ll shore them up again, and the NSA will have less power.

HH: Do you, last question, do you expect, though, another mass casualty attack before you and I retire from this business, because I saw the Avengers movie recently, and they actually mimicked the 9/11 attack. It’s been 14 years, and I was surprised that they would do so. But that tells me that the rawness of that attack has left the American frontal lobe. What do you think?

CK: I remember thinking, as everybody who lives in Washington and probably New York thought after 9/11, that there was going to be another attack within six months. We were all waiting for the shoe to drop. Six months, 12 months, and I’ve been surprised that hasn’t happened. I think it’s in large part because of our vigilance. It is in large part because we made the rational decision of constricting our liberties somewhat to increase our protection. We were unprotected and defenseless. And having done now 15 years, I don’t necessarily think that such a second attack is inevitable. I just think we have to maintain our vigilance. And the real threat, there will be lone wolves. There will be sort of Boston Marathon type events. Those are almost impossible to prevent. But the real threat is a rising Iran on the move, on the march, and going nuclear. And imagine if it decides to proliferate its nukes to the worst people on Earth, the insurgents who work for them, their clients, and their proxies. That’s what I worry about. It’s going to be, we haven’t escaped the time of state terror. We think we have, and it’s all sub-state. It is not. And we have to keep that in mind.

HH: Those are the things that truly do matter, and that’s the name of Charles’ new book, out in paperback, Things That Matter, the perfect Father’s Day present for everyone who hasn’t gotten it already. And for those of us who have, you can give it again, and this time say there’s a new afterwards there. Charles Krauthammer, thank you so much.

CK: It’s my pleasure, Hugh.

End of interview.


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