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Historian Andrew Roberts On America’s Syrian Question

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HH: On in important day vis-à-vis Syria, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today authorized the use of force against Syria by a 10-7 bipartisan vote supporting the strike, although some surprises there, including Marco Rubio voting against it. Andrew Roberts, noted historian and journalist, joins me now. Andrew, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, always a pleasure to speak with you.

AR: Thanks, it’s a great honor to be on the show.

HH: I was taken by your op-ed in the Journal a few weeks ago about Syria and chemical weapons. And what did you make, A) of the President’s decision to go to Congress, and B) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote today?

AR: Well, it struck me that the President didn’t need to go to Congress under the War Powers Act. I mean, I know that the War Powers Act is of doubtful Constitutionality anyhow, but nonetheless, it seemed to be a strange decision to take, because he now has completely and utterly lost the element of surprise, which is so important in military strikes. The fact is that the Syrians will now have been given nearly two weeks by the end of it to disburse their weaponry, and thereby make this attack far less impressive than it would have been if he had just acted under his own powers.

HH: Now Andrew Roberts, I wrote a piece for the Washington Examiner on Monday, and it ran Tuesday, and your piece was on August 26th, called Syria’s Gas Attack On Civilization. And a week later, I’m just stunned. I think Assad may end up toppling Cameron and wounding Obama, and not the other way around. Do you see it going that way?

AR: Well, I think actually the Labour Party in London are now seeing it pretty guilty, and the threat and danger to the special relationship about, that comes as the result of Parliament’s votes, is such that actually, they didn’t want to make anything more of it, and obviously now that the government’s been defeated. So I’m not sure that this is going to damage Cameron in the long term. As far as President Obama is concerned, his actions, to me, just don’t make any kind of sense. To call Congress back, and then to go off to the G-20 to talk to Putin, and he played a couple of rounds of golf in the meantime, is an astonishing way for a leader of the Western world to behave in a moment of such crisis, when as I say, the element of surprise, so important in military affairs, has just been thrown away completely.

HH: Now Andrew Roberts, you wrote A Storm Of War about World War II, so you know it intimately. You wrote The History Of The English-Speaking People about the 20th Century, sort of a concluding volume to Churchill. So put this in context for us. You just touched on it. The President in Sweden today saying that the international community drew a red line, and Congress drew a red line. It’s like I don’t want any…is he Stanley Baldwin in an American accent?

AR: That’s a very good analogy. It really is, because we hear so much about red lines, and there’s so much coming out from the White House, both sort of above and below the line where he is letting it be known that it’s actually going to a devastating response. It seems there’s sort of one thing to Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham, and a completely different thing to those supporters on the left of the Democratic Party. We’re going to wind up seeing what finally does happen, and I have no doubt that there’s going to be quite a lot of explosions on CNN, and we’re going to see lots of ordinance going off. However, to what extent this generally does undermine and weaken and destabilize Assad’s regime, I think is a very different point. Another point to make, I think is important, also, is the fact that this is going to be pretty much, whatever it is, it’s going to be too little, too late. Had this been done a year or so ago, then the Free Syrian Army wouldn’t have been so Islamicized as it seems to be at the moment. And America would have been in a far stronger position, morally and every other way, to have imposed its will here.

HH: After next hour, I’m going to talk with Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff, who believes that we can still find a Syrian opposition worth supporting. And I’ll plumb that with him. But yesterday, I had Victor Davis Hanson on. Today, I have Andrew Roberts on. You’re two of the favorite historians of people who would broadly call themselves Reaganite. And so the question is, what’s your advice to members of Congress about this authorization of use of military force resolution, Andrew Roberts? Ought they to vote for it? Will they be scorned if they don’t, by future readers and historians?

AR: I think they should vote for it, yes. I mean, it’s the best of anything Obama has to offer here. I think that Speaker Boehner and Eric Cantor and these other serious and substantial people have thought about it, like John McCain, I mentioned earlier. But I think it’s very important in this also to retain the right to criticize a lot of what the President has done over this. Not just his timing, but his whole approach to this, and not just to this, but to, in the larger sphere, to leading from behind in Libya as well, perhaps, and his speech to Cairo, that cringe-making speech that he made in Cairo shortly after becoming president. He doesn’t seem, he always seems to be either on the wrong side or on the back foot. And he allowed the Arab Spring to sort of catch him from behind, and he has given up this vitally important, is seems to me, vitally important stance that the American president should stand for liberty and freedom and human rights. And he’s been dragged to these positions rather than actually leading in the same way that past presidents of yours have always led.

HH: Andrew Roberts, having written about good guys and bad guys, as well as good guys, I’m staring at Foreign Affairs, the new “Who Is Khamenei: The Mind Of Iran’s Supreme Leader,” a very disturbing article by Akbar Ganji, who spent six years in Iranian prisons, about the sort of calculating fanaticism of Khamenei. How do you think he sees what the President is doing, or more accurately, not doing?

AR: Well, not just him, but most certainly Kim Jong Un, you know, every leader of Hezbollah and Hamas, everybody’s looking at America at the moment, and the Chinese and the Russians as well. And they’re wondering whether this is the real America, I think. And I’m afraid I don’t believe that the way the British behaved a week ago that we were the real Britain, in that vote in the House of Commons the other day. But these are friends of America. And the enemy of America is going to be absolutely rubbing their hands with glee over all of this.

HH: Now, so people don’t believe that. They really, there is an audience, an increasingly isolationist audience, that doesn’t believe that, Andrew Roberts. What do you say to them?

AR: Well, I’d say the same thing I said to Iraq isolationists, that ever since Pearl Harbor, they’ve been wrong. They’ve managed to get absolutely everything wrong about the United States. The United States is and must be a world power. It must cry out for decency in the world. And the way in which the Assad regime has used these disgusting weapons where 400 children die, another thousand adults, this is something that if America doesn’t say no, it cannot be allowed to stand, then no one will. You’re never going to get the Russians and the Chinese to do that, so the entire sort of moral basis of how nations can treat their own people will shift if we give in on this.

HH: Andrew Roberts, historian extraordinaire, thank you, and a great piece in the Wall Street Journal. I just wish it was more widely read and followed. Andrew Roberts, the author most recently of A Storm Of War, A New History Of The Second World War, his piece in the Wall Street Journal ran on August the 26th entitled Syria’s Gas Attack On Civilization.

End of interview.

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