The Washington Post columnist is my guest for the first (and perhaps the third) hour today. One question for E.J., who started voting for president in 1976: “Have you ever voted for a Republican for president?”
A very interesting conversation,the transcript of which is here.
UPDATE: The listeners appreciated Dionne’s willingness to appear and kick around a number of subjects, but found this exchange troubling:
HH: I want to pursue just a couple of questions here. Have you read The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright?
EJD: I have not.
HH: How about America Alone by Mark Steyn?
EJD: I’m sorry?
HH: America Alone by Mark Steyn?
EJD: No, that I have had on my list, but I have not read it.
HH: Well, what is your sense of the enemy? I mean, that’s what…those are books about the enemy, and I’m wondering what do you think, who do you think our enemy is in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, and globally right now when it comes to Islamist jihadism?
EJD: I think some of this goes back to how you view the meaning of 9/11. Was the attack on us on 9/11 by Osama bin Laden the attack of a group that was on the rise with a long term possibility of becoming a very powerful, and building that caliphate that Osama bin Laden talks about? Or on the other hand, was it the desperate, evil, and I never had a problem with the word evil in this respect, was it a desperate, evil attack by a group that really did not have a long term future? And I think we will win this war against terrorist forces over the long run, because I don’t think they carry the war with them. I don’t think they’re going to carry the Islamic world with them, I think just as winning the Cold War took a lot of patience, containment took a lot of patience. I think with patience and diligence, we can win this. I don’t think the war in Iraq had a whole lot to do with winning this long term battle against this dangerous, but in the end, marginal group.
HH: Now numerous, do you think, are the hard core jihadis, who would, if they could, strike at Americans or Westerners generally, with the intent to kill as many as they could? How many of them do you think there are?
EJD: I don’t…I guess I’d try to make a preface of not answering questions where I honestly cannot put a number on them.
HH: How about a scale, though? Is it more than 10,000? Is it more than 100,000?
EJD: I honestly don’t…I don’t know how you count this. I also don’t know how you count people, how many sympathizers are there, how many people would actively be willing to engage in suicide attacks. I don’t know the answer to the question.
HH: Because I think this is really what divides left and right, is the understanding of the nature of the enemy, and the breadth of the threat. And what do you make of Ahmadinejad? Do you think he, if he had a nuke, he’d use it against Israel, E.J. Dionne?
EJD: I worry that he might, but I also am not sure what the internal politics of Iran is going to be in ten years. In other words, my sense of Iran is that there is a struggle going on within Iran, and it’s not like you’re talking about Iranian moderates, or something like that, but you are talking about, if you will, people who might be closer to realists versus Ahmadinejad, who obviously has an enormous interest in whipping up Iranian religious nationalism, if I can use that term, for his own purposes. So I don’t know that we know where Iran is going to be in five or ten years, and whether he will continue to hold the upper hand. There was a lot of sign of struggle inside that regime, and I certainly hope I’m right about that, and I think I’m right about that.
HH: But you do worry that if he did have a nuke, he’d use it against Israel?
EJD: Well, I would worry, I do worry about his getting a nuke. And the question is, how do we prevent that? What do we do about it? And I think, you know, the sanctions road is a road to pursue. I’m not prepared yet to say that the threat is upon us, so that as you might believe, or certainly some of my conservative friends believe that we want to sort of go after him now. I don’t think we’re at that point.
HH: So if the President came out and he said they’re there, or they’re going to be there in three months, and so tonight, I have ordered the necessary strikes on the necessary facilities, what would your reaction be the next day, E.J. Dionne?
EJD: I’d worry a lot. I’d want to know exactly what we knew, why we did this. I would worry that we are, you know, we are taking a step that again, could be dangerous to our security, because I don’t entirely agree with you that it’s a disagreement on the nature of the threat. I think it’s a disagreement on how do you go about meeting the threat. The example I keep in my head is when Harry Truman decided not to cross the Yalu River in Korea, during the Korean War, when General MacArthur wanted him to. It wasn’t because Harry Truman was pro-communist. Lord knows he helped build the alliances that led to containement, that led to victory in the Cold War. It’s that he did not think it was prudent for the United States to cross the Yalu River at that moment, and risk war with China and perhaps the Soviet Union. I think history has born out the notion that you could be tough without being reckless, and I think that’s what Harry Truman was, and I think that is the kind of policy, in a very different context, we’re looking for now.
HH: Well, I agree with that. I want to go back to that presidential announcement, though. Assuming that he satisfied you, and that you believed that the Iranians were on the brink of that kind of weaponry, would you then support a strike on that?
EJD: I don’t want to go down your hypothetical road, if you don’t mind. I want to…because it’s hard enough to figure out what’s going on in reality without going down a hypothetical road, so I’d just assume pass on the hypotheticals.