Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer joined me on today’s show to discuss yesterday’s National Prayer Breakfast ramble by President Obama and the controversy surrounding NBC’s Brian Williams:
HH: To discuss this, the President’s Prayer Breakfast, Brian Williams and many other things, I am joined by Washington Post columnist, Charles Krauthammer, whose amazing book, Things That Matter, continues to sell and sell and sell. It’s a great Valentine’s Day gift, in fact. Charles, it would be really depressing to me since I have a book coming out in 2015 if you sold more books in 2015 than I do.
CK: Well, if you are going to use it as a Valentine’s gift, make sure it gets watered at least once a day.
HH: Well, I want to begin by something you wrote today in the Washington Post about the President and his approach. It really is not serious with regards to what is going on in the world and what he intends to try and elicit from ISIS. He’s just not, for Obama, this is his ticket to Mt. Rushmore, you write, but it really isn’t, because it’s not serious.
CK: Well, it’s serious in the sense that there is an underlying logic. They won’t say it, but it’s become very clear that the overall strategy in the Middle East from day one has been Obama seeking some grand bargain, some rapprochement, some Nixon to China agreement where Iran, as he said to NPR, gets legitimized as a major regional power, begins, accommodates itself with us, is given by us, who have been the dominant power, since Henry Kissinger kicked the Soviets out in the early 1970s, makes them sort of the co-hegemon for the region, which has completely driven our allies, the Gulf Arabs, Jordanians and the Israelis, and the Egyptians, around the bend. This is a total reversal, and it’s sort of sacrificing them. Once you see that, then everything else makes sense. You see Obama rushing for any kind of agreement for nuclear power. And then when you look on the ground, apart from the nuclear agreement is Iran, Iran is now the dominant element in four Arab capitals, which you know, Baghdad, Damascus, in of course Lebanon in Beirut, and now just a few hours ago, the Houthi rebels announced that they were going to ignore a nine power agreement to share power in Yemen, and they’re going to take over. And then there is Hezbollah.
HH: Yeah, it is a, from the perspective of Tehran, it’s a plan coming together. I said that on Meet The Press ten days ago. I, however, didn’t realize, I read Michael Doran’s piece, a very important piece on Iran this week from the Hudson Institute. And it is only in the context of this Iranian policy that the President’s comments at the Prayer Breakfast yesterday make any sense. And I’ll test my theory off after I play for the audience who may have missed him, this the President yesterday morning.
BO: Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. Michelle and I returned from India, an incredible and beautiful country full of this magnificent diversity, but a place where in past years, religious faiths of all types have on occasion been targeted by other peoples of faiths, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs, acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhi-gee, the person who helped to liberate that nation.
HH: So Charles, the only way I can make sense of this is the President is preparing to argue to the American people that they should forgive and forget Iranian terrorism since 1979, and that those remarks are just part of a rollout of a plan to put into context normalization with a barbaric regime. Can you otherwise come up with an explanation for that flight of fancy yesterday?
CK: Well, the reason I would slightly dissent from that is because it gives him too much credit.
CK: I actually think he was doing it, he’ll trot it out when he does the Iran deal, but the more immediate thing was simply to dismiss the barbarism that we saw with the immolation of the Jordanian pilot, and to make everybody believe that this is really nothing out of the ordinary. I mean, here, and the bad, this is a combination of the banal and the repulsive. The banal is the adolescent who discovers that well, man is fallen, and many religions have abused their faith and used it as a weapon. This is what you discover when you’re 12, or 17, and what you discuss in the Columbia dorm room. He’s now bringing it to the world as a kind of a revelation, and he does it two days after the world is still in shock by the video of the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot as a way of saying hey, what about Joan of Arc? I mean, this is so distasteful. And you know, there’s one thing I didn’t even think about until now. What the hell is he doing bringing India into this? I mean, it’s the first time I’ve heard India drawn into this discussion. Here he is essentially insulting, and it’s because it’s a Hindu country. It’s not Muslim. I mean, he’ll say in the name of Christ. He won’t say in the name of Muhammad and in the name of Allah. He won’t use those words. And then he goes after India, which is probably our strongest, most stable, most remarkable, democratic ally on the planet, considering all the languages and religions that it harbors. It has the second-largest Muslim population on Earth. And yet he goes after it as a way of saying hey, everybody here is at fault. They are not at fault. The Crusades ended 800 years ago. There’s not a big inquisition going on today. Joan of Arc was not yesterday. The Jordanian pilot was two days ago.
HH: This is the big, the $64,000 dollar question, to date ourselves. So why won’t he use, “in the name of Allah,” or “in the name of Muhammad,” but he will say in the name of Christ, or he will say in India, a Hindu country? Why?
CK: What do you think I am, a psychiatrist?
HH: (laughing) Yeah, exactly.
CK: No, I mean, everybody asks this question, and the reason they ask it is because it is so absurd at this point. And it shows a kind of stubbornness. He thinks it’s part and parcel of his view that we are overreacting. Susan Rice gave a speech today in which her major theme is hey, this isn’t the Second World War. This is not the existential crisis of the Cold War. This is something different, much smaller. We have to keep our heads and not get carried away. This is a way of saying this is not what you think it is, and it’s not to be blown up and turned into a driver of recklessness on our part. That’s what he’s saying.
HH: But Charles, this is very similar to the arguments made in ’36 and ’37 by Stanley Baldwin and his successor, Neville Chamberlain, about the funny guy in Germany. And it’s not Tehran getting a nuclear weapon. ISIS is bad. Iran is terrible. And I keep bringing people back to that. Yes, ISIS burned the Jordanian pilot alive. But Iran probably assassinated the prosecutor in Argentina, or had something to do with it, and that’s not, that’s just the latest in their long line. They had a Quds general on the Golan Heights with Hezbollah two weeks ago. We’re getting ready to do a deal with the devil.
CK: No, there is no question that when you’re talking about scale, capacity, and sort of evil reach, there’s no comparison to Iran. You know, the Islamic State, ISIS, is not developing ICBM’s. Iran is developing ICBM’s, inter-continental ballistic missiles. Now what possible use can any government have for an ICBM if not to send something inter-continentally? Iran does not need an ICBM to hit Tel Aviv. It’s just a few hundred miles away. ICBM would be useless. And ICBM is specifically addressed to the United States of America. And you don’t put dynamite on the tip of an ICBM.
CK: The only thing you put on the tip of it that is worth the millions and billions of dollars of investment in technology of the delivery system is a nuclear weapon. That’s what we’re looking at.
HH: Now Charles, I want to switch subjects. Later in the program, I’ll have on Chuck Todd. And I’ve been there with a broadcast organization where one of my friends or colleagues in a media meltdown, so I’m not going to ambush Chuck and hammer him about Brian Williams. But you’re not part of NBC, so I can ask you as a seasoned journalist who knows so many people in this business. What do you make of this?
CK: Look, I don’t want to pile on, and the reason is if this is the only incident, it is very weird. It makes no sense. It’s exceedingly dumb. I can imagine you start out by telling a tall tale, then you get trapped, then you’re in it, then you embellish, and then it grows. All of us have done that in our youth, I’m sure, but we’re not anchors, and we don’t do it to an audience of a million people. If this is the only incident, I wouldn’t hang the guy for it. But I am impressed by its irredeemable stupidity. If you’re going to tell a tall tale like that, well, you do it where there are no witnesses. I gave the example last night on Fox that you know, if you’re going to do this, you tell people that you wrestled a lion to the ground, because lions do not have good press people. The story won’t get out. How can he possibly expect well maybe after a few years, you feel you’re somehow invulnerable. And remember that Hillary Clinton made up a similar story, dashing across the tarmac after landing in Bosnia to avoid small arms fire, where the video shows her walking with no danger whatsoever. Now you expect that from a politician. You don’t, you know, you expect them to lie. In fact, you’re shocked the real story is when they tell the truth. With a network anchor, it’s a little bit different.
HH: All right, now let me play, because…
CK: So I’m just going to say it’s dumb, and, but let’s see if there’s more history to this.
HH: And on the specific, though, and I’m in a position of being a conservative critic of the media, and I was hell on wheels on Dan Rather, so I can say this. Is it possible that it conflated, because it was war, it is scary, it is dangerous? All I know is I went through the simulated, and I have never been within a thousand miles of a war zone.
HH: I went through the simulated thing on Camp Pendleton. And I thought it was one of the most dizzying things I have ever been through. Is it possible he just genuinely conflated it?
CK: It’s improbably, possible. Remember, Ronald Reagan was said to, I don’t have this story completely right, but I think there were occasions where he intimated he might have been, he might have liberated some camps where in fact he was the narrator in documentaries on the liberation of the camps. You know, I can understand how people can make mistakes, embellish them and believe their own stories. All of us have our own legends, family legends, that get conflated. On this one, it’s highly improbably, but I get the feeling of a man who might have tried it out once, maybe, I don’t know, either on a lark, or he got expansive where he had a couple of beers or whatever it is, and then once you say it, and maybe it goes over and you’re impressed by the reaction, and then you expand it. This is all just speculation. But again…
HH: You know, you just reminded me, though, I’ve always thought Anita Hill became Anita Hill because she told a tall tale that someone then turned into a report to the Senate Judiciary Committee that she could then not stop from snowballing into a complete fabrication.
CK: Great novels are written on this premise. Somebody makes a mistake, somebody tells a lie, somebody does an embellishment, somebody conflates, and then it grows, and it dominates the story. And at the end, everybody on stage ends up dead. You know, that happens. And I’d rather not see a hanging here. If there’s a pattern, then he can’t be an anchor, because that’s a matter of trust. If it’s once, well, I think he’ll survive.
HH: Charles Krauthammer, always a pleasure talking to you. The piece today on President Obama’s big for Mt. Rushmore, absolutely necessary reading. Thank you, Charles.
End of interview.