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Dr. Larry Arnn on the Syrian Airbase Strike and the Reid Rule Employed in the Senate

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HH: Usually, the Hillsdale Dialogue which I do each week with either Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College or one of his colleagues is limited to the last radio hour of the week. But Senator Mitch McConnell, the leader of the United States Senate, asked for the last half hour of the show today. And of course, Dr. Arnn gave way, because he’s a great citizen servant like Ed Feulner, who was just on. But it did mean his having to get up early. I hope they’ve poured coffee down your gullet this morning, Dr. Arnn. It’s a little bit sleepy for you to be at 7:30

LA: Strong coffee. Strong coffee.

HH: Strong coffee. And it’s a big day at Hillsdale. You are dedicating your chapel today, or groundbreaking.

LA: We groundbroke. We broke ground yesterday.

HH: Oh, I was wrong. It was yesterday.

LA: Yes.

HH: Congratulations.

LA: The very great Michael Ward gave a tremendous talk at our convocation. It was a hoot of a day. And his point was there are two things. One is groundbreaking, that breaks up the ground, and that’s like the word analyze, something that goes on in a college, loosing things up. But religion, that means binding things together. And so we’re going to break up the ground, and then we’re going to bind something new together. And that, he says, is the work of colleges.

HH: I have not told you this, yet, but after our conversation a few weeks back about the chapel, I received a beautiful handwritten note from Duncan Stroik.

LA: Yeah.

HH: And I tell people it’s handwritten, because it indicates a measure of commitment to communication that’s rare. And here is one of the country’s great architects writing me about the beauty of our conversation, actually about you. And I don’t want your head to get bigger, but on how you explain this process. Was Duncan Stroik there yesterday?

LA: Oh, yeah. Talked yesterday. Yeah, he’s really great. And you know, my daughter is graduating from Notre Dame architectural school this year, it turns out. And I think she’s going to be a great talent. I even said out loud that I think Duncan Stroik is going to be the second greatest architect ever affiliated with Notre Dame.

HH: (laughing) We are enjoined to be very proud of our children as they do good work.

LA: You know, but he is, you know, I’ve been privileged to be involved in building, I think this is 12 buildings now, and when you get a guy like him, it’s really something, you know, because he’s very smart, and he’s very comprehensive, and he’s got a definite idea about how things need to be beautiful. And churches in particular need to be beautiful, because, he explains, they have to be transcendent. That means high and light coming in from high places. And they have to be directional. They have to point somewhere toward the altar. And so we have all those, and we spent, I bet we spent six hours, about nine of us at the college, looking at slides of great churches. And when you liked one, you say it, and he says, and then he says why. And then he writes down what you say. So it’s a very interesting process, and I think it’s going to be a very beautiful chapel.

HH: Well, I would appeal to any philanthropist out there who wishes to have an enduring impact both on mind and soul of young people to help get this thing built, whether it’s the choir loft or the organ you donate. Whatever it is that you put in place, endow this chapel. It’s going to do great things. Now Dr. Arnn, you and I have been in the starting position for a series on the Declaration and the Constitution, which we think will be of service to everyone. But we keep being tossed off by news. And today is no different. There are two enormous stories. The first is President Trump’s unilateral decision, without the consent of Congress, to strike with 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase, destroying it completely, according to news reports this morning, drawing the ire of Russia, the applause of all of our allies, including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and of course, the usual suspects – Great Britain and France and Germany. In doing so, however, raising questions of his ability to do so. My friend, Ron Fournier, said he should have asked Congress. I don’t agree with that. Your assessment as a Constitutional scholar of the President’s authority to act as he did yesterday?

LA: Well, of course he has the authority. It, war occurs in the Constitution twice by my count, and one of them, it says Congress has the power to make, to declare war and grant letters of mark and stuff like that. And the other one is states can’t keep ships of war except in, under imminent attack or something like that. So the president is the commander-in-chief, and we have military forces. And so we, the president can order them to go attack. Now that doesn’t mean Congress doesn’t have a lot of authority. It has massive authority, and it can, and it always has used it. And its authority comes through the ordinary process of legislation by which the president gets money. There’s also a war powers resolution that requires him to notify them if some conflict goes on for more than 60 days, and presidents do, and have many times under that War Powers Resolution.

HH: Let it be noted I believe that’s an unconstitutional War Powers Resolution, but presidents without conceding that it is unconstitutional nevertheless comply with it in the delicate dance that is our Constitution.

LA: Yeah, I think 150 times or something like that now.

HH: Yeah.

LA: But the heart of the power of the Congress is that it is in control of the money. And if it would use its power more properly, it could be in more detailed control. But it’s never been true that you know, and I mean the Barbary Pirates, right? From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, you know, we went down there and crushed some Barbary pirates, because they were messing up with stuff. And the president can give that order. And so we, what we want to do, this is like the filibuster, which we might talk about this morning. If it were really true that only a, you could only attack somebody when they, if they directly attacked your, or if they, the Congress passed a declaration of war on them, well, that’s a blunt instrument, right, because you might, you know, I don’t much want us to declare war on Syria. And I get up this morning, I don’t, I agree with Rand Paul, who’s been tweeting about this, by the way, that we have got too much war going on in the Middle East for what we get back for it. And we have not had a strategy to win and bring things to a conclusion that’s happy for us. But it’s possible that that strategy is going to be strike and go home, and strike and go home. And that is a possible option that we might have chosen in Iraq from our bases in Kuwait where our troops are welcome, and, or Qatar, too, and we might do that. And then that might become a thing that’s very fearsome to them, because you know…

HH: And I have been arguing, Dr. Arnn, to a number of people that we are signatories, the United States of America are signatories to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, which does not list chlorine gas, which has been used in Syria, but does as a Schedule 1 gas list Sarin, because it has no known property other than to kill and to kill in a horrible way. And if the message we send today is every time you use sarin gas, we will destroy the place from which you sent it, that’s a limited message with a powerful impact that goes beyond Syria to every dictator in the world. I think it’s a profoundly important message. We don’t have to go to war with Syria. We don’t have to plunge troops in. It’s a limited strike for a very specific purpose.

LA: Yeah, and you know, it, see, and another thing is we are, in fact, at war, and we want to find a way to war. I will tell you that I am sympathetic to the spirit of a lot that Rand Paul says about this, and sympathetic to him. And so, but what I think the way it works out is we’re going to have to find a way to fight wars where we’re not spending a trillion dollars every time, and where we’re not, you know, troops on the ground building democracy every place we get into a conflict with. And that’s a caricature. We haven’t done that, but we have done it in some places where it’s very difficult to do. And it’s not really sure that it makes us stronger when we’ve done it, whereas if every time they use one of these gases, they lose a whole military base? Well, you know, that’s not a good day for them when they woke up this morning.

HH: It was not. I want to play for you President Trump’s speech. It’s a significant historical moment when a president, I think it’s a Grenada moment. I’ve been calling it that not because Grenada and Syria are anywhere similar, but it represents a change in disposition in the American presidency towards the use of force in America and the world. Here’s what President Trump said.

DT: My fellow Americans, on Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians. Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror. Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons. There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council. Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically. As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen, and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies. Tonight, I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types. We ask for God’s wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world. We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who have passed. And we hope that as long as America stands for justice, then peace and harmony will in the end prevail. Good night, and God bless America and the entire world. Thank you.

HH: Dr. Arnn, a minute to the break. What did you think of that?

LA: Lovely. I like the prayers at the end. And you know, that was, the point is that’s a really bad thing, and we’ve hit them back. And there’s no commitment from us to do anything more, or not to do anything more. But just one of the principles of the Art of the Deal, I think. So I like it, and you know, we, to judge this, by the way, what happens from here?

HH: Hold on to the judging until after the break. I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn to talk about the judging of the Trump speech and the action coming right back with Dr. Larry Arnn.

— – – —

RT: Well, obviously, the events that have occurred in Syria with the chemical weapons attack here in the past day have just, I think, horrified all of us and brought to the front pages and to our television screens as well the tragedy that is part of the Syrian conflict. There is no doubt in our minds, and the information we have supports, that Syria, the Syrian regime under the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad are responsible for this attack. And I think further, it is very important that the Russian government consider carefully their continued support for the Assad regime.

HH: Hugh Hewitt here joined by Dr. Larry Arnn, where all of the Hillsdale Dialogues are collected. Everything Hillsdale is at Dr. Arnn, I played Secretary of State Tillerson for two reasons. One, he named Russia, which I hopes give the lie to the idea that Team Trump is somehow in bed with Russia, but also the idea that is abroad that Donald Trump reacted emotionally to pictures. And I just talked to Tom Ricks yesterday about his brand new book, Churchill and Orwell, and you know Churchill better than anyone, I think, alive, because Martin Gilbert is dead. Churchill reacted to pictures and emotions as well. It’s not a bad thing in a statesman to sense and to react according to what information your senses provide. It’s not a sterile, book-driven process of being a statesman, is it?

LA: Well, you, so our friend, Aristotle, teaches us that we understand the moral distinctions through the sense perception. You see the thing. And that’s how you know what it is. And he even says that the beautiful, that is to say the ultimate good, is a matter for the sense perception. You see a thing and see that it’s great, or you see a thing and you see it’s horrible, so of course not. That’s silly. But what another criticism that’s better than that one would be, what strategy is there here, because we’re going to need one, because Syria’s going to be a mess all day today, all day long today, and all over the weekend. So what are we going to do about this? And what does this indicate? And that’s how we’re going to have to judge it, finally. Does Trump find, do we Americans find a strategy to deal with the Middle East that keeps the lid on and doesn’t deprive us of our chance to be a free and liberal society, and doesn’t drain our coffers to the place where we’ve got nothing left? And that is what we have wanted. That is what we don’t have. And you mentioned Churchill. So the last chapter of Churchill’s first book, because Churchill fought in Afghanistan, the first war he fought in. And Afghanistan has a way of becoming a mess for anybody who fights there. And he, the last chapter is called The Riddle of the Frontier. And the problem of the norther, northwest frontier of Italy, of Italy, of India, is that the British have this position in India, and it doesn’t take very many troops to defend it. But these Afghans who live in those rocky valleys to the northwest, they keep coming over from time to time and raiding and stealing a bunch of stuff and killing a bunch of people. And the rest of the time, they’re happy back in their place living their lives, and farming and doing whatever they do. And so how do you defend against that? And you can’t really string out a long line of troops along the whole border, because whenever they come, they will defeat the few troops at any given place. So concentrate, but that’ll leave a lot of places exposed. So there’s this, it’s a riddle, see? The book ends with a riddle, the riddle of the frontier. And Churchill says in that that there isn’t any great solution. But one of the solutions, the solution which he was a part when he went into Afghanistan to fight from India, was what he called butcher and bolt.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing) And that means go over the border and whack the daylights out of them and then come back.

HH: In the new Tom Ricks book, you and I have covered this before, I think you will enjoy it, by the way…

LA: Yeah.

HH: A meditation, really, on Churchill and Orwell. He points out that Churchill was fond of saying there are only two things a wartime leader has to do, the second one of which is to keep a strategic reserve, and because you’ve got to be able to butcher and bolt, right?

LA: That’s right.

HH: You’ve got to use your strategic reserve.

LA: And I have, and you know, butcher and bolt is just like all of the other policies that Churchill proposed, unsatisfactory. It would be better if Syria were not a mess, and if we didn’t suffer any threats there. And we should minimize the threats. We shouldn’t overreact. We shouldn’t send the whole United States Military there. We should be very reluctant to do that, let’s say. And so what do you do? And what I have favored in the Middle East mostly, myself, is we’ve got some bases there that are not very controversial with the people where they are. We’ve earned, in the case of Kuwait, the right to have them there. And so why don’t we use them? And if people do the worst things, whack them for it, and then go on about your lives.

HH: What we did yesterday, what we did yesterday. Against the metric, which I attribute to Nixon, you can tell if we’re doing good if in the world, there is the ongoing incremental expansion of liberty and literacy and a growing number of stable regimes in or aligned with the West. That’s not nation building. That’s a metric. Dr. Larry Arnn and I will be back to talk about the filibuster and the approach by about two and a half hours from now, three hours of Justice Neil Gorsuch. What it means, I think, Mitch McConnell has saved the Constitution. Stay tuned.

— – —

HH: But I want to begin, Dr. Arnn, not with matters of war or matters of Constitution, but the latest story to break at the New York Times, because I think it’s appropriate of both of them. It is by Zach Schonbrun. “Alarmed by a number of fans injured by foul balls at Yankee Stadium and the Mets’ Citifield, a member of the New York City Council is preparing to propose legislation that would require those stadiums to construct protective netting to reach the ends of both dugouts. It might be the first time a legislative body has jumped into the debate about safety at major league baseball stadiums and what should be done to protect fans closer to the action and more readily distracted by mobile devices than ever before.” What’s your reaction to this, Larry Arnn?

LA: (laughing) Well, it could be an interference with interstate commerce.

HH: (laughing) Yes.

LA: Because anybody who knows anything knows that baseball is the national pastime, and an extremely important thing.

HH: Yes.

LA: And local bodies are not to disrupt its operation.

HH: There you go, number one.

LA: As a matter of national security, so…

HH: But number two, it goes to me to the growth of the administrative state.

LA: Oh, yeah. It, so, yeah, sure, of course the government is supposed to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public, and local governments have actually a wider power to do that than the federal government. And so, but, but having said that, baseball has an enormous interest…

HH: Exactly.

LA: …in the safety of the people who go to the games.

HH: Exactly.

LA: So why, you know, they need New York to remind them that it would be better if the people were not killed when they went to the ballgames?

HH: And can you imagine city bureaucrats designing baseball stadiums?

LA: Yeah, there you go. They’d be…

HH: Oh, my gosh.

LA: Yeah.

HH: Let’s talk about what’s happening today. I said, and I do not believe I am overly dramatic that Mitch McConnell’s leadership on this issue has saved the Constitution. I believe had he not taken the stand that he took last year to leave it to the people to decide the future of the Court in the absence of, in the aftermath of the untimely death of Justice Scalia, we would have lost every redistricting case for the next 25 years. Justice Breyer told me that was his greatest regret. He told it to me myself, to my face in my studio. I can’t overstate what Leader McConnell did in leading that effort, and the abuse he has taken as a result. It’s a genuine act of courage.

LA: Oh, yeah, and you know, Senator McConnell has always been thoughtful about the Constitution of the United States. It’s, you know, in the whirl and the ebb and flow of politics, there are often many criticisms of Mitch McConnell, as there would be of anybody in his position. But there’s a touchstone with him. If you just look at his understanding of freedom of speech, and his remarkable efforts to protect it in the face of campaign finance and other kinds of campaign regulations, this guy’s a thoughtful guy. And think how the Senate has been transformed. If you go back to the days of Borking, right? That’s all pretty polite compared to what we got now.

HH: Yeah.

LA: And it used to be that a nomination from the president was overwhelmingly likely to pass, and if passed, overwhelmingly approved by a massive vote, right? Almost all of them have been that way, even in very partisan times. But now, Gorsuch comes in, he’s highly-qualified. The only knock I know on him is he’s witty. Judges are not supposed to be witty.

HH: (laughing)

LA: So this guy gave a bravura performance, and they didn’t lay a glove on him, right? And so now they’re going to filibuster him. And that means what? If you can’t get that guy through, then it’s simply a partisan process. And that is what it means when they are going to filibuster him. And I don’t even believe in the filibuster itself as we apply it today. I’d get rid of it for all purposes, certainly for this one.

HH: I want to go back and talk a little bit about the historical record as well. The last justice to the United States Supreme Court to be nominated in an election year was Benjamin Cardozo in January of 1932. Judge Garland was confirmed, was nominated in March of 2016. Those two months, of course, taking us into the primary season, into the depth of the primary season when American politics has evolved to where we are in essence dealing with a lame duck president. What do you make about the threat that now Democrats are making that they will filibuster, if they get the Senate back in 2018, they’ll filibuster for two years a vacancy on the Court.

LA: Yeah, well, that’s, the Constitution has remedies for that. As I just told you, I don’t believe in the filibuster anyway, and like I say, I believe in it, I just believe it’s supposed to operate in a different way than it does today. But, so that’s, remember about that, that in this thing that the Republicans did, where they delayed Garland, there’s a vote of the people coming soon, and they explicitly say we’re going to rely on that vote. If you don’t like it, don’t elect us, right? And that’s, the remedy is there, of course. And you know, the prospects for the Republicans holding the Senate were not good.

HH: Not good at all.

LA: …at the time that they did that, right?

HH: They were terrible, yeah.

LA: So…

HH: And they thought, and the Democrats thought, and Harry Reid gave an interview in October saying we’re going to blow up the filibuster for the Supreme Court, because we’re not going to be able to get to 60 Senators, but we’re going to have the majority, and Hillary’s going to nominate someone, and we’re going to blow up the filibuster. They are so transparently hypocritical, it’s amusing, actually.

LA: Yeah, well, they’re politicians. I mean, it’s true of the other side, too, but if they, and the thing is, just think how gutsy these two steps by Mitch McConnell have been. He’s placed his majority at risk twice. And that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? You’re supposed to not do the milquetoast thing. You’re supposed to give people a choice. And if that means giving something, given them something a lot of them will be angry about, well, then they do get to decide, and that’s quite soon. And I don’t think the Democrats think they’re going to take the Senate back in 2018. And I don’t think that they can, you know, I don’t think they’re going to do that, just because of the lay of the land is rough for them in that election. But if they want to gamble for that, then they should do that, of course.

HH: Now I have it on good authority that at least some members of our highest court listen to this program at about this hour every day. And so if you are an older member of the Court, do you think you ought to be retiring at this time if you are an originalist?

LA: Well, sure. I mean, let’s put it this way. On that level alone, let’s just say, on that calculation alone, yes, sure you should. You should think about it, right? But on the other hand, you know, it’s a Constitutional office. And you swear an oath. And you know, you’re supposed to do the dang job. You know, I know a member of the Court. Let’s say I know one of them. And I don’t divine that he finds his service always agreeable. It’s a duty, right? You do it for a long time. You’re supposed to. And you know, life would be easier without the duty.

HH: Oh, and life would be much more lucrative without the duty.

LA: Yeah, that’s right.

HH: One of the great, one of the great things about Antonin Scalia is the man with eight children or nine children served and gave up an opportunity cost of tens of millions of dollars by doing so.

LA: That’s right. And so just remember, you know, fortune and providence has picked them. And so they’re not, you know, and the specific nature of the job is that the rest of us can’t shuffle them around like chess pieces. You know, they’ve taken the oath. It’s their job. They’re doing the job. They’re required to do it not for them, but for the public interest. And so they’re going to get to make a decision when they retire. And I think we ought to respect that. But to go back to your narrow question, if you are an originalist, is this a good time to retire and be replaced by another one if you’re older? Then yeah, sure it is.

HH: The answer is year, and that means the preservation of the jurisprudence for which you have worked under all these years at such great sacrifice. One more segment with Dr. Larry Arnn. Don’t go anywhere, America.

— — – – –

HH: Larry Arnn, it’s a short segment, but I read to you from Axios this morning. President Trump is considering a broad shakeup of his White House staff that includes the replacement of Reince Priebus, the departure of Steve Bannon, a top aide to Trump said everything is fluid. They mention among the insiders for a new chief of staff our friend, Kevin McCarthy, maybe Wayne Berman of the Blackstone Group, maybe David Urban of American Continental Group, maybe Gary Cohn. It’s a West Wing Game of Thrones. I am reminded of Churchill and your knowledge of him, and the intrigues that went on around being in the inner cabinet and the outer cabinet. What do you make of such reports and whether or not we ought to credit them, or what they say about Donald Trump?

LA: Well, it’s like the Syria thing. We will be able to judge it better later. I think that Trump is a good executive. I mean, look what he’s built. And also, he seems to have the respect of a lot of people around him, wide group. There are counter instances, of course, but he should have the people who will help him get done what he wants done. And I do, you know, there’s a story that’s plausible to me, you can’t really know, there was a time when he was about to go to Florida, and they were, the helicopter was waiting, and Senator Sessions, who I admire very much and know well, had recused himself from some things, and Trump didn’t like it, I think, and thought we were backing up too much. And photographers saw him waving his arms at Priebus and Bannon in the Oval Office. Well, I don’t know, we don’t know the truth of all that, but what we do know is he’s a pretty forceful guy when he wants to be. And so he should have people around him who are good calculators and who work well together. And he’s got not much political experience, but he’s got business experience to find people like that. And I think he ought to.

HH: How often did Churchill and Lincoln run through senior staff and the people that they exhausted? Of course, Lincoln ran through generals like I run through pens, but what about Churchill?

LA: Well, general, yes. He, in the Second World War, he more or less had the same four guys in his private office, and they had all worked for Neville Chamberlain before him. And they were very resentful of him when he showed up. But after about two weeks, they were all writing to each other, I see, this is how you fight war.

HH: Ah.

LA: So he, there was, and Churchill, Churchill, you have to remember, Churchill spent many years learning how to do it, right? He, by the time of the Second World War, he had been in Parliament for 40 years, and high office most of that time. And he learned in the Dardanelles some things not so much about staff, although one thing about staff, he had a man betray him that was to his great cost in the Dardanelles, and the cost of Britain, too. But he learned a lot about things like that. And he learned about how better than he knew early how to line up authority and responsibility.

HH: You know, in the new Ricks book, something we haven’t talk about before, I’m sure you knew about it, but I don’t.

LA: Yeah.

HH: He had to order Admiral Cunningham to bombard Tripoli, because the Admiral didn’t want to do it. And he knew it should be done and could be done, and then Cunningham found out it could be done and was done to great effect. He really did know when to intervene and order.

LA: Well, Churchill was a, you know, there’s a lot of controversy about whether it was Churchill was too much of an armchair general. Lots of, there’s a big historical literature that says that he was too much one. And it has a source, and Alan Brooke, or later Lord Alanbrooke, who was the chief of staff of the British Military and a very capable guy, and he kept diaries. And the diaries alternate between we could never go on for a week without this guy and he meddles too much, right?

HH: Yeah,

LA: But Churchill was a very distinguished military figure, right? He was a brave man on a battlefield, and effective on a battlefield. He never commanded, you know, a big thing like an army corps or anything, so now, commanding a whole war. But what I believe of him was that he achieved this thing. He, Victor Hanson has a book coming out on the Second World War, and it’s going to be great, and everybody should read it. But he described how effective the British war effort was given their resources, and that was because of harmony between Churchill and the generals.

HH: Larry Arnn, it is always a great pleasure. Thank you, my friend. Everything Hillsdale available at for all the Hillsdale Dialogues. Stayn tuned.

End of interview.


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