Washington Post columnist George Will opened the program with me today, talking about the president’s astonishing remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning.
HH: But I want to begin, pitchers and catchers report in ten days, thank God. And George Will, the author of A Nice Little Place On The North Side, joins me, Fox News contributor and columnist for the Washington Post. Hello, George Will, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
GW: Glad to be with you.
HH: Do you have any hope for the Cub this year? Just want to make my mental note that the answer is no.
GW: Look, I became a Cubs fan in 1948. So I’m almost immune to Cub optimism. But if you lose enough games in the modern baseball system, you get a lot of draft picks. The Cubs have lost a lot, and got a lot of good draft picks. And so yes, I’m beginning to feel faint stirrings of illusion.
HH: That’s, I’m so glad to hear it. And I have the same thing about the Indians, and it’s the only time of year we can have this. But I wanted a little good news, because the week has been so awful. And it got worse today. I have to play you a little bit of President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast. Were you by chance there, George Will?
GW: Good heavens, no. Go ahead.
HH: All right. Here it is.
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.
HH: Now George Will, what is the President doing here?
GW: (laughing) His default position is that we did it, too. His point, and this goes to one of the reasons why he doesn’t want to speak the words Islamic extremism, that he wants to say that there’s, we’re all sort of somehow morally equivalent. And therefore, judge not lest ye be judged to be judgmental. Beyond that, I don’t know. I mean, this is, it’s almost at this point if he weren’t the President and if it weren’t, there weren’t real stakes in the real world, this would be laughable.
HH: Well, that, but the real stakes are a Jordanian fighter pilot being burned alive, and even worse. I talked about this with Michael Doran yesterday, and with Lee Smith and a bunch of other smart people. Iran is very close to a nuclear weapon, and the President seems to be an accomplice in that ambition, George Will.
GW: Well, the President has said that he will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. He has said his policy is not containment of a nuclear Iran. Now intelligent people of good will can differ as to what the proper response to this is, but there’s no reason to believe, it seems to me, that anything we have put in place in the way of sanctions is sufficient to deter Iran from bringing to completion or near completion something they’ve been working on for decades. I stress near completion because it’s quite possible that Iran wants to be where we suspect Japan now is, that is Japan can probably become a nuclear power with, so to speak, the turn of a screwdriver. And it might be that Iran wants to get to that point and stop so they can say technically, they haven’t passed the threshold. But it seems to me, there seems to be no reason to doubt the Iranians mean what they say, because they’ve made such enormous sacrifices, political, economic, to get where they are.
HH: What Doran argues is that those of us, including me, who have said the President is simply feckless and ill-informed are themselves ill-informed. The President has a strategy, and he believes in a regional balance of power that includes the near-nuclear Iran. Do you believe that, George Will?
GW: Well, he might, but again, when they get that close, the Saudi Arabians will know they’re that close. And the Saudi Arabians, who financed a good bit of the Pakistani nuclear plan, will not have to go off and start buying centrifuges and building enrichment facilities in the desert. They can probably turn to the Pakistanis and purchase a nuclear weapon off the shelf, as it were. So I don’t know what the President thinks. I mean, I can understand people. I may be in this camp as well, saying that it’s better to count on deterring Iran than going to war with a country three times the size of Iraq. I mean, I understand all these arguments. What I do not understand is the blithe confidence that what we are doing is somehow working.
HH: Well, no one shares his confidence. That is the problem. You look around Washington, D.C., and you find Leslie Gelb, no radical there, alarmed by the President’s sort of lassitudinous approach to Iran. Everywhere, there is alarm, George Will. So I’m curios if in your experience in the nation’s capital there has been this sort of bipartisan worry about a president’s grasp of the realities of the world?
GW: I think the worry is intense, and the worry is, as you rightly say, bipartisan. Corker, the new Senator Corker of Tennessee, the new Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is, I think, just as worried as Senator Menendez of New Jersey, the Democrat who used to be chairman of the committee, and now is the ranking member. There is a very strong bipartisan belief in several things – A) that we need to have on the table, or in our holster, if you will, ready to be drawn, additional and deeper sanctions, B) that any agreement the President comes to with Iran must be promptly submitted to the Senate for approval. That is not used as yet another Obama end run around the legislative branch and the separation of powers as something other than a treaty, a mere executive agreement that doesn’t need to pass the scrutiny of the Senate.
HH: And that’s up to the Senate and the House to do. I want to go back to the President’s remarks at the prayer breakfast. “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.” That is a long time ago, George Will. This is not the 1850s, and the Crusades are even further back in time. ISIS is alive, and unfortunately, doing very well, thank you, and murdering people. I don’t understand how the President intellectually gets there, do you?
GW: Well, I think this is in some circles considered a kind of sophistication, to be above judgment. That is to say all these things that happened long ago mean that we today should not, as he puts it, get on our high horse and object to people burning other people alive. When you put it that way, I think you see the grotesque nature of this.
HH: There is a second line he said. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that in the name of religion carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism, claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions. Now this is the obligatory. And George W. Bush did it, as do most responsible people. ISIS is not Islam. That’s an obligatory moment. But are we carrying this too far? If you’re read The Looming Tower, or if anyone knows anything about radical Islam, it’s not exactly a .001% of the faith set.
GW: You’re exactly right. Now look at what the President has said. He said we should not use the phrase radical Islam, because this suggests that this excess arises from Islam itself. Then in the process, he says but look what has arisen from Christianity – the Crusades, slavery, etc. So he seems to be not just suggesting a moral equivalence, but he seems much more squeamish about saying that this is a manifestation of Islam than he is about saying there have been deplorable manifestations of Christianity.
HH: Now you think about this a lot. Where is the intellectual tree in which this is rooted? Where does this come from, because it’s not really Alinkyism. I don’t know what it is. It’s a denial of history, almost, what he’s doing today.
GW: I think we’re probably giving him a bit too much credit if we look for a really intellectual pedigree for his thought. I think this is a pose. I think it’s a stance. I think it’s almost a kind of manner that is considered required if you’re going to be a proper cosmopolitan, that you have no preference for your own past, your own nation, your own traditions.
HH: Doesn’t that end up ultimately collapsing on itself? I mean, that’s not tenable, is it?
GW: Well, it’s nihilism at the end of the day. Of course, it’s untenable.
HH: So does the Democratic Party, specifically Hillary Clinton, have to distance herself from this? I think he’s crossed some lines, and ISIS crossed lines this week, and I think it’s sort of one of those moments in American history where the public looks up and says what in the world is going on.
GW: I think that’s right. I think people look up and say if we can’t come to clear judgments about this, what are we going to do? Let me suggest a parallel. A lot of people when Ronald Reagan decided to use the presidential rhetoric to re-moralize, re hyphen moralize the Cold War, he was doing so because he thought that during détente in the 1970s, when the president of the United States, Gerald Ford, would not meet with Alexander Solzhenitsyn for fear of offending Brezhnev, Ronald Reagan said we have to re-moralize this conflict. We can’t, we have to push back against the idea that there’s no great differences here. And so he said the Soviet Union is the focus of evil in the modern world. So he said the Soviet Union is an evil empire. And people said well, this is careless talk. It wasn’t careless at all. It was part of a plan to recall Americans to the fact that they had been somehow desensitized by détente.
HH: Hold that thought, George Will, if I can take a break. I’d like to come back and have you finish the analogy as to what ought to happen next in the 2015-16 cycle as happened in ’79-’80.
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HH: I want to let George Will go, but I wanted him to finish the thought he was, I think it’s so important. Ronald Reagan re-moralized the Cold War in 1978-79, and then from ’80-’89, and we won it. Can the same thing happen in the war on terror, George Will, even after the President goes to such lengths today to delegitimize any critique of the war on terror based in ideology?
GW: It can. What the President tried to do today, and it’s part of a pattern, is to blur the edges, to blur the sharp delineations that have to be made. And that, of course, Ronald Reagan was a great believer in sharp delineations. You asked at the beginning of this how might this affect 2015 and 2016. I think it’s possible, too soon to say, but possible that 2016 will be the first presidential election since 1980, since the Carter-Reagan election, in which foreign policy moves to the front of the American consciousness.
HH: If that happens, last question, who’s best positioned in the Republican side to pick up that standard?
GW: Again, too soon to say. We’ve got a lot of governors who do not have a lot of foreign policy experience. We have some young senators who do not have a lot of foreign policy experience. So it’s too soon to say who will surround themselves with the best foreign policy advisors and tutors, and make this an issue. Right now, I suppose, the one most inclined to do this is Marco Rubio.
HH: On that note, George Will, thank you for your time. A Nice Little Place On The North Side will get you between now and the reporting of pitchers and catchers if you are a Cubs fan, and even if you’re an Indians fan. Thank you, George Will.
End of interview.