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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Cliff May on benchmarks and support for the war in Iraq among the GOP

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HH: Joined in studio now, great pleasure, Cliff May is here. He’s the founder and president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. His website is He’s accompanied by Larry from the Republican Jewish Coalition. Larry’s sort of like the booker extraordinaire for Southern California. Larry, welcome back, good to have you here.

LG: Great to be with you, Hugh.

HH: Cliff May, it’s great to see you in person.

CM: It’s great to be here with you.

HH: I feel like I know you because of that little picture on

CM: (laughing) Right, right.

HH: I mean, you look the same.

CM: And I feel like I know you.

HH: Oh, no, my hair is brown in every picture I put out there, so I don’t want anyone to know it’s really silver fox hair. Cliff May, the Beltway’s insane. You live there. What’s happened to the Republicans?

CM: Well, they’re shell shocked by the last election, I think is what you’re seeing going on here. It was a very, very bad election, and it was about Iraq, although I think a little bit differently than people believe. Yeah, I don’t know anybody who is not depressed and upset about how things have gone in Iraq. We should be winning any war that we fight. There’s no question about it. I don’t think that the vote in November expresses a desire on the part of most Americans for the U.S. to be defeated and humiliated in Iraq, chased out. I don’t think they want to see the U.S. embassy burned on CNN and Al Jazeera, and I don’t think they want to see the kinds of defeats that would very likely follow that kind of surrender in Iraq.

HH: Now Cliff May, you study this very, very closely. I read a speech, I have not yet confirmed, I read a speech by Marine Corps Commandant James Conway, in which he says 3,000 dead is an enormous and terrible sacrifice, 43,000 men and women of enlistment age have died on the nation’s highways in the same period of time, and that this country has got to get real about the cost of fighting this war. Now again, I have not been able to truth that out, yet, but it sounds roughly like what I would expect General Conway to say. Has American lost the capacity to suffer any inconvenience?

CM: Well, possibly. Look, part of it, I think, Hugh, is that people have not understood is this really a war. If this is really a war, while it’s absolutely tragic to lose 3,000 lives, my goodness, by any historical standard, to lose 3,000 lives in three years of fighting a war is quite a…

HH: Oh, see, I was starting at inconvenience. I was starting at high gas prices…

CM: High gas prices…

HH: Because if you can’t handle high gas prices, how are you going to handle the loss of 3,000 of your best and brightest?

CM: What we haven’t understood yet is that we are fighting right now, as serious an enemy as any we have ever fought.

HH: Right.

CM: As serious as were the communists, as serious as were the Nazis. Now a lot of people don’t know that, don’t get that. Nancy Pelosi, when she says it’s not a war, it’s a situation to be solved, well, if that’s the case, we don’t need David Petraeus, we need Oprah Winfrey. She can get the situation resolved, I’m sure, if we all just sit down and share with one another.

HH: And so, it’s about understanding the enemy.

CM: It’s about understanding the enemy, that the enemy is serious, that the enemy is relentless, that the enemy has a capability we did not expect, and I think that is true. I think if you had been in a meeting with President Bush and Don Rumsfeld a couple of years ago, and you’d said wow, we’re facing a really difficult enemy, they would have laughed at you. We have the highest tech military, best trained in the world. They’re going to defeat us with what? Cell phones and garage door openers? You’ve got to be kidding. I think when Bush said, “Bring it on,” I understand what he meant. He thought we are up to any challenge. I’m afraid we are not up to any challenge, and the question now is not are we safer, not even are we winning, but are we learning, are we learning to fight an enemy that seeks to destroy us over any timeline it can, and seems to have our number right now.

HH: Now a lot of people understand that. How many of them are in the United States Senate and Congress?

CM: (laughing) They’re in your audience, I suspect, and I suspect too few of them are in the United States Senate and Congress. I think too few people in the United States Senate and Congress really understand the enemy we’re facing, an example of this is very clear. When Nancy Pelosi, I don’t mean to beat up on her, but I’m here in California, when she decided that Jane Harman, a wonderful and very smart woman, very knowledgeable, should not head the Intelligence Committee, instead it should be Sylvester Reyes, as you well know, he was then asked in an interview, so al Qaeda? Sunni or Shia? He had no idea. Hezbollah, Sunni or Shia? If you don’t know who this enemy is, what’s going on, the difference between the two, what they want, if you haven’t listened to the statements they’ve made about what they intend to do to us, the infidels, the dar al hab, the world of war, then you don’t know what’s going on, and too many of them, I’m afraid, in Congress really don’t have a clue. They thought this is…

HH: You know, the level of the complexity, Cliff May, the ashura, is underway, and it’s a Shia holiday. But the massacre was planned by fanatic Shias against Shia, in Najaf. Now that doesn’t mean the three other sites of terror today…so there’s a complexity, there’s an enigma wrapped inside of a riddle here, and frankly, we don’t have to care, except to understand. We have to understand that we can’t walk away from it, nor, and I know this I what the left will come back, and they’ll say, ‘see, you opened Pandora’s box. If you had left Saddam in place, we’d be all better.’ That’s what Hillary’s saying now. What’s your response to that argument?

CM: Well, you had…in a way, there’s some truth to that. You had Saddam Hussein sitting on top of this simmering box, and killing anybody who popped his head up. There’s no question about that. And so you have mass graves that we haven’t seen much about in the media all over the place, you had an attempt at a genocide with the Kurds that could have succeeded, it would have without us, you have the Shia being slaughtered. Yeah, you know, you can say what we need, and it’s not something Democrats used to say, what we need are sons of bitches who are either our sons of bitches, or we don’t care about them. And we don’t care what happens to these people. If that’s your view, fine. This was going on under the surface, and by the way, letting this kind of thing go on under the surface for the past generation or so is what led to what we have today, militant Islamism in all of its expressions deciding that what they really have to do is destroy the great Satan, and bring in paradise.

HH: That’s right. That’s what Faruq brought us, the Brotherhood. It was an Egyptian dictator that brought us the Brotherhood, and the Brotherhood metastasized into al Qaeda. And so leaving Saddam in place would not have changed that. But I go back to the Congress. You know, we can rail about Nancy Pelosi. We can do that all day long. It’s good fun, actually. It’s sort of like the piñata around here, is Nancy Pelosi, and she’s going to be wonderful for talk radio for years to come. But we influence Republicans. We influence the minority leader of the Senate and the House, we influence their Congressional committees. Is the Republican base and the serious people, are they being tough enough on the Republicans? Are we afraid to be tough on them, because tough love hurts, and they just got smacked around?

CM: Well, we probably need to be tough. I think you can also do it, as you say, with love. You can say to Republicans, I think, as you have essentially been, look, if during World War II, Congress had come to FDR and said um, we’ve got some benchmarks here, and if the troops have not hit Rome by such and such a date, they’re going back to North Africa.

HH: Guadalcanal, four months, or no, we’re out of there.

CM: Dunkirk, you know, that’s it, we obviously can’t win a war in Germany. Actually, that’s exactly what Churchill’s aides told him. You know, if that is the way you’re going to fight a war, you’re not going to win a war, and there’s the question. Can we, with the media the way it is, with the human rights organizations the way they are, can we win a war in the 21st Century? Can we win a 21st Century war? It’s wonderful if we’re prepared to face the Soviet Union on the field of Poland, but we’re not going to get that opportunity.

– – – – – –

HH: Got to read this at the beginning, Gentlemen. “I’m extremely surprised at your ability to lie on the air,” writes Ronald. “You mentioned that all your e-mail yesterday was anti-benchmark. I know better, since I e-mailed you yesterday. How many listeners really disagree with your point of view? I’d love to hear a little honesty. I know after all, you said you received no e-mail that supported benchmarks, you’ve covered yourself with a comment you could fall back on if you were caught. Just to be honest, Hugh, your show is too good and smart to leave listeners wondering if you’re telling the truth.” Sorry, Ronald, I didn’t see it yesterday. Number one pro-benchmarker came in. Cliff May, are you pro-benchmark?

CM: I don’t think it’s a good idea.

HH: Why not?

CM: The Congress’ job is not to micromanage the war. When has a war been won that way? If those in Congress really feel we’ve been defeated, we have no chance, we’re not up to this struggle, we’ve met our match, defund the war, or don’t confirm…

HH: That’s what Russ Feingold wants to do.

CM: Absolutely. At least that’s an honest approach. Or you know what? Don’t confirm General Petraeus. That is a confirmable position. Say you know what? He’s going there to stabilize Baghdad, America said we’re going to do that, haven’t done that, I don’t think we should do it, let’s tell them we gave it a good college try, and we can’t do it. Don’t confirm Petraeus. Force Bush to put somebody in that position who will want to figure out a way to get out with as little damage as possible to Americans and our allies.

HH: Now the community of serious people about the war, I think I’ve spoken to most of them. You’re in it, Claudia Rosett’s in it, Andy McCarthy’s in it. They’re all from the Foundation For the Defense of Democracies. Frank Gaffney, my friend, is in it. You’ve got Victor Davis Hanson who’s in it. You’ve got Mark Steyn in it. There’s a serious group of people. Do any of them, any of them, favor benchmarks?

CM: I think no is the answer to that.

HH: So informed opinion, Bill Kristol, Kagan, Reuel Marc Gerecht, anyone who really sits down and wonders how we win this war, they’re not sitting around thinking let’s come up with a better benchmark.

CM: It’s not just those folks who should be against it. Others should be as well, because you do not want to set the precedent that the way we fight wars is by committee, by a committee of Congress, by a committee of Congress that has its finger in the wind of the polls. We have never fought a war successfully that way, why would we think we could fight a war successfully that way? That’s not how you do it, Hugh. Either let the President and the Defense Department fight this war, and the generals, or you tell them they can’t, come home, it’s over, it’s done, we lost.

HH: Now Cliff May, you’ve been around, as I said, with Larry Greenfield to various groups. Tell us who you’ve been seeing, tell us what they’ve been talking about, and what are you taking back to the Beltway earmuffed gang?

CM: Understand. I’m talking…I’m giving little speeches here, and the people who come out to see me probably have read me on National Review Online, and, and places like that, so they know who they’re coming to see.

HH: Yeah.

CM: So most of them are sort of on our wavelength. And I think most of them are pretty concerned, and want to know more about the global conflict that is now underway, and how serious it is, and they’re looking for more optimism, probably, than I’m able to give them. I think those who are more to the left probably aren’t showing up at these venues. We went, Larry was nice enough to take me last night, the University of Judaism, had a panel with Jose Maria Aznar, former president of Spain…

HH: Wow.

CM: And Ehud Barak, former prime minister of Israel, and John Major, former prime minister of Britain. It was very interesting.

HH: Nice panel.

CM: Aznar was the most conservative, then came Ehud Barak, who is Labour, after all, and then came John Major, and then a substantial part of the audience which was left even of…

HH: But what a panel.

CM: It was a very interesting panel.

HH: Larry, why didn’t you call me? I’ll take the John Major person anyday. I also want to talk to Barak. Dore Gold is on tomorrow, former Israel ambassador to the United Nations, blasts Ehud Barak in his new book. I mean, just rips him.

CM: Yeah, last night, Barak was defending the Lebanon withdrawal, and withdrawal is about what Israel has been up to for the last six years.

HH: Let me ask you, Larry Greenfield, why do you do this?

LG: I’m part of the Republican grass roots activist world, which is passionate about two things right now, what’s going on in college campuses, and the ridiculous miseducation of America’s youth, and we want to fight back and the FDD does that. Cliff has a whole project on that. And the second is, and you said it, Hugh, Americans by the tens of thousands every year, tragically die due to murder and on our highways. A few hundred every year die at war serving freedom. The least we can do is stand up for our troops.

HH: And we’ve got about a minute left, Cliff May. What’s the most important thing for the audience to do? Obviously, go to, sign up, support you. I know that part. But what else?

CM: Big contributions, write checks. What else? Look, I think they become political activists. I think that’s important. Let their Congressmen know. Part of the problem is that when the Congressmen only hear from one side, every letter, every phone call, they figure represents a hundred or a thousand people who feel the same way. So if they get a very intense reaction from the left, and the left does have tremendous intensity, they think that’s the way the wind is blowing. It’s important to tell them you know what? We did want a change in Iraq, we got a change in Iraq, I hope the second strategy works better than what we had in the past, but we want to go out of there not defeated, we want to go out of there with our heads held high.

HH: Yeah, I put that as push back to the people who are leaning on you. Cliff May, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies,, Larry, always a pleasure.

End of interview.


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