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John Podhoretz at the 2 week point in the Israeli-Hezbollah War.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

HH: That music means John Podhoretz, author of the book, Can She Be Stopped, columnist for the New York Post, keen observer of everything having to do with America and especially Israel these days. John Podhoretz, welcome back.

JP: Thanks, Hugh.

HH: How are you reacting to this, the almost end of the second week of the war? Has it surprised you? Are you disappointed? Are you alarmed?

JP: Well, I mean, I’m somewhat alarmed by what I take to be the technological sophistication and seriousness of purpose of Hezbollah, which I think is surprising. The kind of information that we’re gleaning about the complicated bunkers that they’ve built, and the fleet way that they’ve been able to move their missiles around, and of course, the ability that they have to hit Haifa, which is a very serious new kind of threat to Israel, which cannot…if Haifa ends up, which is the third largest city in Israel and its major port, ends up basically shut down because of Hezbollah missiles, then that’s a very serious economic consequence, not only for Israel, but for the Middle East as a whole.

HH: Long story in the Wall Street Journal today on the early, but already significant economic impact of this war, and of the concern of the oil refineries, chemical productions, all located now within rays of katyushas, and concern that you know, if they ever get the bigger one going, one of which was fired today into Haifa bay, that Israel’s under sort of a strategic threat, John Podhoretz. Well appreciated or not?

JP: Well, I mean, not yet, because I think…well, look. I think certainly, the U.S. government appreciates the strategic threat, and that is why I think not only friends of Israel in particular, but anybody who takes seriously the war on terror has to be sort of awestruck at the utter determination of the Bush White House not to become the voice of international pressure on Israel to instantly go to a cease fire, which of course, would fix the situation in place forever, and Hezbollah would never get disarmed, and the situation would simply remain a terrible threat. But I don’t think…the world clearly doesn’t see it that way.

HH: What do you think of the Israeli government in the conduct of the war thus far?

JP: Well, I mean, the real question that we don’t yet know…I mean, there are people like Ralph Peters and others who are claiming that this is actually an ineffective campaign, that the only real way to do this is to use…is to have boots on the ground that go after Hezbollah on the ground. I’m not enough of a military expert to understand the ins and outs of this, but I would have thought that Israel’s decisive advantage in air power would have had a larger impact than it seems to have had thus far.

HH: Do you expect that they’re going to have to go at least as far north as the river, and at least to clear out Tyre, John Podhoretz? And if so, doesn’t that seem awfully slow unfolding to you?

JP: Well, yes. And I mean, I have a column in the New York Post tomorrow that raises all manner of questions, existential questions, that I think are raised by Israel’s conduct of this conflict, and our conduct of the conflict in Iraq, which is…have we reached a kind of tipping point where these liberal democracies, which you know, I think are in the highest expression of civilization thus far, that really do focus on the value of the individual. Have we reached such a point that we are finding it increasingly difficult to make the kind of almost seemingly barbaric decisions that it takes to win a war, like in 1945, Harry Truman dropped two atomic bombs on cities in Japan to end the war. You know, hundreds of thousands of people killed. The British firebombed Dresden. A hundred thousand people killed. These are the kinds of decisions that this country, other countries made at an earlier time when they knew very much that they valued their own citizens more than the citizens of other countries, that they cared more about their own people. Now, you know, if all individuals are created equal, which is the glorious idea of this country and of Western civilization, of course that makes it very hard for any liberal democracy to then wage a war that might kill large numbers of civilians.

HH: John Podhoretz, we’re so far removed from Dresden or a Tokyo fireboming, or nuclear weapons, that it boggles the mind that the amount of media blowback at Israel that has been generated by the tragic, but nevertheless relatively small loss of life…

JP: Right. Well, let’s do the math. You know, 300 Lebanese have been killed in a week, right?

HH: Yes.

JP: 300 Lebanese have been killed in a week. Hafez al Assad, the dictator of Syria, killed 25,000 people in two days in the city of Hama in 1982, to put down a Shiite uprising. Now let’s just go through the math there. How many weeks would it take for that 300 death toll to reach the death toll imposed in two days by Syria 24 years ago?

HH: A year and a half.

JP: And where was the international outcry at Hama? Where was the international outcry about Saddam Hussein’s butchery of the Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the north at the end of the Persian Gulf War? I mean, of course, what we have here is the classic double standard that is being applied to Israel, to the United States, to humane countries that are judged by unbelievably exacting standards, judged themselves by, unbelievably exacting standards. But of course, this means that dictators and monsters can act at will, without anybody complaining about it.

HH: But the good news is I do sense, and I just concluded an interview with Dore Gold, where it came through again that the world is awakening to the fact that this is all Iran, that this is the world war with Iran, regardless of how many letters he sends off, that Ahmadinejead and Khamenei are not to be trusted. And even the Arab states get it. A minute, John, for your reaction to that.

JP: Well, I think that’s very true, and the problem is, of course, that the world has two ways to go with something like that, which is either they address it, and they attempt to disarm it, and to get those guys, and to do something about it, or they appease it. And you know, these are two different strategies that have been followed over the course of time. I see absolutely no reason to believe that the Arab states will not seek to appease, rather than to address the problem. And then, that, once again, will leave the United States, and a country like Israel, and five or six other countries in the world that are willing to stand up, to say this is unacceptable, because of course, the clock is ticking here.

HH: It is ticking, and we’ll read that column with interest tomorrow, John Podhoretz. No doubt it will be linked at Realclearpolitics, and at

End of interview.

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