Charles Krauthammer, whose “Things That Matter” — now in paperback with a new afterwards– continues to sell and sell and sell, joined me on today’s program to review the various assessments of where ISIS sprang from, especially Senator Rand Paul’s position articulated on Morning Joe this week:
HH: Joined now by Dr. Charles Krauthammer of the Fox News All-Stars, the author of the astonishing, still bestseller, Things That Matter, out in paperback now, the perfect Father’s Day gift. Charles, you know, Christopher Hitchens once said on this show that he was surprised by the fact that God Is Not Great had become such a massive bestseller. Are you still surprised by how Things That Matter sells and sells and sells?
CK: Well, I mean, humility compels me to say that I am, but after the initial shock at the way it took off, I sort of think that because it spans 30 years of writing, it doesn’t have the kind of short shelf life that many political books do. This is stuff that is not tied to what’s happening today. So that may explain why it’s got longevity. But you know, it’s like a hitter on a hitting streak. The minute you ask him what he’s doing at the plate and he tells you, you know, he’s going into a slump. So here’s what I’m going to say. I’m just looking for a good pitch to hit and get the wood on it.
HH: I wouldn’t know that since I’m an Indians fan. We’ve never actually had to worry about a streak like that.
HH: Charles, I do think, though, there’s a second explanation. I had David Brooks on this week talking about The Road To Character. And yours was the first of the books, and there are many. Arthur Brooks has got one coming out, The Conservative Heart, as well, which attempts to plumb by public men what makes people good. And I think there’s, from your Things That Matter, that’s a promise, right? You’re going to explain to people what makes life worth living. And I think there’s a great interest in that, don’t you?
CK: But I do it from a slightly different angle, because I don’t think that I’m, I have the kind of authority, you know, Augustinian or Biblical authority to tell people that. So what I’ve done is the first half of the book is basically the things that make my life worth living, the things, the non-political things that I find, you know, human excellence, to put it in a broad way, but you know, everything from Halley’s Comet to the space program to sports to achievements in all avenues of life.
HH: To chess.
CK: But…to chess. You know, I write in the book that I not once, but twice drove from Washington to New York to watch a chess match, which many of my friends think is grounds for psychiatric commitment.
HH: And your friends are right.
CK: Yeah, except that I would have to commit myself, so I do have leeway there. But what I point out, I think I’m more interested in the question of what makes for a good society and good governance, because the point I try to make in the introduction is that all the wonderful things in life, all the things that make individual lives worth living, the things that matter, all are dependent on getting the politics right. If your society is on the wrong track, if the politics are denying the essence of human nature, like communism or fascism, everything that you would otherwise be able to achieve is unachievable. And to me, that’s why politics, even though it’s not the most elevated of all professions, is so important. You’ve got to get that right, or everything else falls apart.
HH: And I have a new book coming out that quotes you as saying politics is sovereign. And I believe that’s what I took away from the book, and that’s true. I’m wondering your reaction to the Denny Hastert, I’m extraordinarily saddened by this, because I met the Speaker a couple of times. I remember him in the aftermath of 9/11 on the steps of the Capitol. And I suspect I know what’s going on in the New York Times, and CNN is reporting it’s a sex abuse scandal from his days as a high school teacher, and he’s being blackmailed. But it’s just sad, Charles. What’s your response to this?
CK: No, there’s a terrible sadness in that. And I don’t know, obviously, there’s something lurking, and you know, they say past behavior. You assume sexual, you don’t know. You assume there’s blackmail, you don’t know. And it is terribly sad. What can you say? If what people suspect is true, then it’s a terrible thing he did. On the other hand, people do terrible things. They spend 50 years of their life going, doing the right thing. But you know, like Raskolnikov, in the end, there’s no escaping the evil that you may or may not have done. And if you have had to fend it off with blackmail and lies, that makes it all the sadder and more complicated, so in a way, all you can have is sympathy for all the victims here. And you know, you have to believe in the end, that justice has to be done, however…
HH: I have extreme sympathy for victims of sexual abuse, but I don’t for blackmailers. That’s what makes this sad and different from the priest abuse scandals.
CK: I understand. I mean, but it’s hard to separate all the different elements…
CK: …because at the core, if the rumors are right, and we don’t know, but if the rumors are right, at the core is an evil act.
HH: Very, yeah.
CK: You know, that’s the notion of original sin. That poisons your life, and the reverberations are felt 50 years later.
HH: Have you, well, I’ll come back after the break to this.
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HH: Three things were said this week about who caused ISIS, Charles, which I want to play for you in the order in which they were said. The first by Rand Paul on Morning Joe:
JS: Lindsey Graham would say ISIS exists because of people like Rand Paul, who said let’s not go into Syria. What do you say to Lindsey?
RP: I would say it’s exactly the opposite. ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS. These hawks also wanted to bomb Assad, which would have made ISIS’ job even easier. They created these people. ISIS is all over Libya, because these same hawks in my party loved, they loved Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya. They just wanted more of it, but Libya is a failed state, and it’s a disaster. Iraq really is a failed state or a vassal state now of Iran. So everything that they have talked about in foreign policy, they’ve been wrong about for 20 years, and yet they have somehow the gall to keep saying and pointing fingers otherwise.
HH: Then on this program, Senator Tom Cotton offered up this explanation for the Islamic State.
TC: I think that ISIS exists because Barack Obama made a bad decision to withdraw all of our troops from Iraq in 2011. Those troops, as I said, are there to defend us and defend our freedoms around the world. And our military commanders on the ground requested a small stay behind force to prevent exactly this kind of return of what was then called al Qaeda in Iraq and what became the Islamic State. So the responsibility for the rise of the Islamic State, in my opinion, rests largely at the doorstep of Barack Obama and his ill-advised decision in 2011 to squander the gains that our troops had fought so hard for the previous eight years.
HH: And then finally, Congressman Mike Pompeo on the House Intelligence Committee, West Point graduate, and member of the Benghazi Select Committee, said this:
MP: My judgment is different than both of them. I think ISIS was created because it’s a follow on from al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, the teachings of Sayyid Qutb, not because of, frankly, anything that either of them described there.
HH: Amen. Oh, my gosh, you may have read a book.
MP: Well, I’m not sure exactly which book you’re referring to, but in any event…
HH: The Looming Tower, which…
MP: I have actually read that. I have actually read The Looming Tower. I read it twice in my life.
HH: And so Charles Krauthammer, who’s right in this spectrum of explanations for ISIS?
CK: You know, sometimes, Ron Paul’s ignorance really astonishes me.
HH: You mean Rand Paul?
CK: Excuse me, yes. That’s a Freudian slip right therer.
CK :Yeah, Rand Paul’s, actually, both of them, but Ron’s innocent on this one. He says, you know, these guys, Lindsey Graham wanted to bomb Assad, which somehow contributes to the growth of ISIS. Is he aware of the fact that until this week, or it was last week when ISIS took over Palmyra, ISIS had not once taken a city or a town from the Assad government. Every place it has taken over was swallowing up territory from anti-Assad insurgents, some religious, some jihadist, some secular, some sort of pro-Western, you would say. That’s where their growth has been. He doesn’t even understand that ISIS and the Assad government, until last week when ISIS grew so strong that it could be bold and invade, essentially, Assad territory, Assad and ISIS has had this cozy, tacit, non-aggression agreement, where they essentially split the country in two, and Assad relied on ISIS to swallow up all the anti-Assad opposition. So that’s number one. This is just, if he thinks that we’d be helping ISIS by attacking Assad, we didn’t do it. But that’s not why ISIS rose. It took over in the areas of Syria where there was no government presence. Number two, the idea that these weapons that we had given, well, that mostly occurred in Mosul. That was the outer region, that’s after ISIS had taken over Syria. That’s after ISIS had already swept into parts of Iraq. And yes, it got a lot of weapons at the end. And I think our policy is misguided to arm the Iraqi Security Forces, which are unreliable, as our own Secretary of Defense has said. They don’t have the will to fight. But that’s not our mistake. The big mistake is saying that it’s not, we should not be refraining from sending weapons. We should be sending them to the right people, to the Kurds who want to fight and who are pro-American, and to the Sunni Anbar tribes, the few remaining right now, because it’s so late in the game, who are pro-American and desperate for weaponry to fight off ISIS. One of the leaders of the tribe said last week after Ramadi that they have to go out and to purchase their own bullets. What are we doing? Pouring money into a government in Iraq that has an army that doesn’t want to fight, and a government that is heavily influenced by Iran.
HH: So as between Tom Cotton and Mike Pompeo, I don’t think they necessarily contradict each other. But I was with Mike Morell last night, for whom I have a lot of respect. I know he gets a lot of slings and arrows from conservatives, but he served 33 years in the Agency and he did the best that he could, and I think he was an extraordinary servant. But he said last night this is not going to go away. This Islamist fanaticism has been with us since Qutb in ’46, and it’s not going anywhere. So I think Pompeo made that point. But Cotton made the same sort of point by saying you can’t take the boot off, right?
CK: Well, that’s exactly what happened in 2011. Yes, al Qaeda in Iraq sprung up as a result of after the invasion in 2003. But the absolutely undeniable is that al Qaeda in Iraq was beaten, decimated, humiliated and essentially expelled from Iraq by the surge headed by David Petraeus. The bloody war was won, and it was very costly. We can argue over whether it was worth the cost of those four or five years at the beginning. But there is no arguing that whatever the cost, perhaps too high a cost, the war was won when Obama came into office, and that he squandered the win by summarily withdrawing all of our forces and creating a vacuum. There is simply no question about the success of the campaign against al Qaeda. And where did it regrow? In Syria, not in Iraq, and then when it was strong enough, it reinvaded a government in Iraq that had been weakened by its own sectarianism and corruption after we left. Barack Obama himself said December the 14th, two weeks, actually, a few days before the final withdrawal of troops under his command from Iraq, that we are leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq governed by a government, a representative government elected by its own people. That’s not me saying it. That’s not neocons saying it. That’s Obama. And the wreckage that came is from the vacuum that he left.
HH: Any doubt in your mind, Charles, that that will be history’s verdict, not just today’s verdict? We have just 10 seconds.
CK: Absolutely no question that will be the verdict.
HH: Always a pleasure, Dr. Charles Krauthammer, author of Things That Matter, available at bookstores everywhere.
End of interview.