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Krauthammer On Iran, Israel, Christie and The Seahawks-Broncos

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

HH: Special treat this hour. Coming back for an encore of our conversations from last year is Charles Krauthammer, who is not only the sage of the Special Report panel, he has also for twelve weeks on the New York Times bestselling list, author of Things That Matter, number one last week on the January 26th listing. And I like the book a lot, but I didn’t anticipate a twelve week run at the top, Charles. You must be, I know all authors are proud of their books, but this is a little astonishing.

CK: Well, yeah, I have to say, because you know, it’s a collection, and these usually don’t sell very well. But then again, I waited thirty years to put mine out. So maybe that’s why.

HH: Well, there’s got to be something else as well. Obviously assisted by your presence on Fox…

CK: Yeah.

HH: but a book doesn’t sell like this unless it hits a sweet spot in a moment of time.

CK: Yeah.

HH: And what is that sweet spot?

CK: Well, shall I sing my own praises?

HH: Yeah.

CK: All right, I’ll leave humility at the door. I think it’s just well-written. I mean, it’s, there’s, the beginning, you know, about half the book is on politics as you know. The other half is on stuff that I just find elegant and interesting and funny, and that turned out to be the best, the most fun pieces to write and pieces to read. So I guess it has two sides to it, because it does have some pretty serious argument about small government and defense of conservative ideas. It’s a critique of sort of modern liberalism. But then again, it’s not all work. There’s some play.

HH: Now in the course of the four segments, I want to talk about Iran and Israel this segment, then I want to talk about Secretary Gates and the military COLA issue…

CK: Yeah.

HH: Then about Chris Christie, and then about journalism. But I found myself over the weekend with three good friends, all of whom are pretty committed Evangelicals, all of whom know Israel very, very well. One of them is about to go there. And I told them about your essay, which was written some time ago about Israel’s precariousness, and how the seven million had decided to go there rather than disburse, and about the fact that the headline in the New York Times, I didn’t know it yesterday when I was talking about the book, but today is Iran says it suspends enrichment under deal with powers. And we’re turning a corner here, and I think it’s a very dark corner. And that’s where I want to start. What do you think of the moment we find ourselves in vis-à-vis Iran?

CK: I think the deal is a catastrophe. I think it is the worst deal since Munich, and I think it might even be more cynical than Munich, because I think those signing it, to give them credit, I think they actually know that it is the keys to the kingdom for the Iranians. I mean, the foreign minister already said that this is a victory, that the West has surrendered to the will of Iran. And they have spelled out exactly in what ways it’s a complete victory. They do not have to suspend enrichment. They’re given the right to enrich, which of course the fundamental idea of non-proliferation is you do not enrich uranium. There are five Security Council resolutions demanding an end and a reversal of their enrichment. Well, this gives them until eternity the right to enrich. The only thing it does is it prevents the enrichment to 20%, but that’s meaningless. They’re continuing to enrich to 3-5%, and from there, to 20%, and from there to weapons grade is a matter of weeks. So they’re doing that. They’re producing new centrifuges. There is no restriction whatsoever in the end on their working on the weaponization of a bomb. There isn’t even inspection of the Parchin facility, which is where they’re working on nuclear triggers. And lastly, what they’ve boasted about is well, the 20% enriched uranium has to be, in fact, John Kerry said it has to be destroyed. That’s simply not true. 20% enriched uranium is turned into uranium oxide. Here’s the bad news. That is a reversible chemical process. The foreign minister boasted that everything they do that pushes the pause button can be reversed in a single day.

HH: In the Erdbrink, and Cowell piece in the New York Times today, and advisor to the foreign minister, whose name is Mohammad Sadr, says through these talks in Geneva, we are heading in a direction which not only the sanctions are being lifted, but also Iran’s political isolation is coming to an end. And it goes on to details. He counts the ways, you know, Australian Airlines is resuming flights, people are trading again, they’re selling oil. So if you’re in Israel today, A) you’ve got to be feeling despair at utter betrayal by your American allies, but B) are you preparing to do what you have to do if you’re Netanyahu not to be the guy for whom hindsight is perfect, but unfortunately, fruitless?

CK: Well, they’re in a very difficult position, because this deal was designed as much by John Kerry and Barack Obama to prevent Israel from defending itself by attacking these facilities as it was supposedly to prevent Iran from going nuclear. It ratifies Iran as a threshold nuclear power, meaning Iran will perpetually be three or four, five weeks away from becoming nuclear. And that is from now until the end of time, meaning that they become nuclear overnight. The Israelis know the only thing they can possibly do is to attack these facilities. But how can they do it during this supposed six month window beginning today when these negotiations to abolish the Iranian nuclear program, the permanent abolition of them, are supposedly underway, and that everyone knows negotiations that are not going to succeed. And as you say at the same time, the end of the sanctions is within sight. Obama pretends they can be reversed. As you indicated, there are now floods of European businesses in Tehran thinking about working on undoing sanctions, creating new deals. And they can see already improvement in their economy. It’s already been reported. Inflation is down, the rial is a lot stronger. And the whole mood in the country has changed. This is a giveaway, a major giveaway, and the Israelis have only one recourse – to attack. If they do, they’ll be blamed by the world A) for scuttling negotiations, and B) perhaps for starting a new war. And they have nobody supporting them, except, of course, the Gulf Arabs. That’s the irony. Saudi Arabia is going to light the way. I’m sure they will invite the Israelis to fly over their territory to attack the Iranian facilities. But the question is does Israel have the required weaponry to penetrate that airspace in Iran, and then to penetrate deep underground where all these facilities are built? The United States does, but it’s questionable whether Israel does.

HH: I can’t imagine any other leader in the position that Netanyahu is in. He must believe that the Supreme Leader means Israel’s destruction. He said it often enough. He must believe the Iranian National Guard means that. He’s hamstrung by his so-called ally, President Obama, and Europe is rushing him with Europeans that will make the operation more difficult. What choice does he have, though, other than to act or be the guy who didn’t?

CK: I think he has to act. If they do not act, it will be for one reason only. They do not have the physical military capacity to do what they have to do. That is the only possible reason. Remember, when they went after the Iraqi nuclear reactor, it was a single site. It was essentially undefended. And it was not deeply underground. The Iranian facilities are disbursed. Some of them may not even be known. We know the one near Qum in Fordo, that’s the name of the location, is deep inside of a mountain. Only the United States has the necessary munitions to go and to drill deep inside before they explode. And the question is have we shared those weapons with Israel under this administration? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows. But that’s, it seems to me there’s only one possible reason why Netanyahu, given his history, given his pedigree, would not order the attack, and that is because they can’t do it.

HH: One minute to the break, Charles. If he does act with everything at his disposal, will it be a moral action on his part?

CK: Of course it will be. It will save the world. In Iraq, remember, we voted in the Security Council to denounce Israel when it attacked the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. Jeane Kirkpatrick of all people cast the vote attacking Israel. Of course, she later said it was a mistake. The Reagan administration itself admitted it made a, it was a mistake. Israel acted on behalf of the world. Imagine if Iraq had invaded Kuwait in possession of nuclear weapons. That would have been it. It would never have been reversed. And Iraq under Saddam Hussein would have been in control of the world’s oil resources. That was Israel that stopped that.

— – – –

HH: Charles, last week, two things happened, over the last weeks. The Gates memoir was published, and Republicans, Republicans got their act together to accomplish one thing in the budget deal, which was to cut the retirement COLA of active duty careerists, meaning that they were going to go 20 years, breaking faith with a core constituency to the Republican Party, and with people who have done six and seven deployments over twelve years of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibouti and around the world, which leads me to the question, is there a national security party left in the United States?

CK: Well, there better be, because our children will be speaking Chinese otherwise, or perhaps Arabic, or perhaps, I mean, who knows? Here’s the great dilemma. There is this kind of weariness among conservatives. I mean, if you go very far back, Hugh, you know, isolationism is not an alien tendency within the United States. It’s always been there. It waxes and wanes. You know, it was discredited by Pearl Harbor, but it came back. It came back after the Second World War, discredited a little bit by the fact that conservatives embraced Truman in the Truman Doctrine in resisting communism. But actually, it’s quite interesting. I would have expected that the conservative consensus on foreign policy would dissolve with the disillusion of the Soviet Union because, again, isolationism is more naturally conservative than liberal. Some isolationism of course draws on liberals and socialism. But generally speaking, it has a more, a hard core conservative constituency. So that split did not occur in the early 1990s as you would have expected. And it did not occur after 9/11. I think what has happened is that this natural schism among conservatives, the national security types and the more isolationist types, has occurred somewhat belatedly, but it was inevitable. And now with Rand Paul and others, a very articulate, far more articulate and serious than his father, of presenting the more isolationist of view, or as they would prefer to say, more non-interventionist, you’ve got a serious argument among conservatives. I think that’s relatively healthy. I think every generation, you need to have that argument. I think the argument really is overwhelming in favor of those who say if not us, who? And there is no one. I mean, you know, it’s very easy to be a non-interventionist if you’re French or German or Greek, because in the end, you know, you can eat and drink and be merry, for the United States will protect you. The problem with the United States doing that is there’s no one behind us. And that seems to me to be irrefutable.

HH: And the problem with last week is not that it was the Rand Paul wing of the limited interventionist or even isolationist, but I got into a fairly heated exchange on the program with Paul Ryan, a great friend of the program, and a great friend of national defense, in which he defended cutting the active duty military’s COLA. They were the only group that was singled out. He said he didn’t want to do it, it wouldn’t have happened if he and Mitt had won, but the Republicans led the way. And Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, said it was their idea to do that. And my email box is full of never again will I support the Republicans from veterans and lieutenant colonels and people, you know, master sergeants and senior chiefs who served their 20 years and feel absolutely sold out. I don’t understand where the Republicans are that will, I actually can’t name the Republican who is the leader of the national security caucus. I discount John McCain because he’s worn out, and his welcome is actually worn out among most Republicans. But there is no one behind him.

CK: Well, there’s Lindsey Graham, there’s Kelly Ayotte. I think there is a generation of young conservatives who basically recognize that we have to do what we have to do. Look, the United States, look, we’re a reluctant hegemon. We are the only imperial power in world history who didn’t seek it, who don’t want it, and who don’t like it. You know, the most amazing thing about the United States is the minute we set foot on foreign territory, the first question we ask this within the first half hour, is what’s the exit strategy? I can assure you when the British arrived in India, or the Portuguese arrived in America, South America, they did not look for exit strategies. They were looking for entry strategies, and they stayed two, there hundred years. We want to get out in three weeks. So I mean, this is our fate, though, Hugh. We did not seek to be one of the two superpowers after the Second World War. Europe, which dominated the world for five hundred years, committed suicide in the two world wars, disappeared as a world power. And we were left holding the bag against the Soviets. The Soviets disappear, and we’re left as the only superpower there is. And here’s the problem. The people, and again, I’m not talking about this notion of the pensions and the promises that we made to our soldiers. I’m as disturbed as you are about that. But the larger issue really is are we going to defend the free world or not? I mean, did we need to evacuate Iraq and leave it to the tender mercies of Shiite jihadists on one side, and Sunni jihadists on the other? The answer is no, and the problem is did we want to stay? Of course, not. But the problem is you cannot imagine, as Obama does, that the United States can leave some place, can evacuate it, can create a vacuum and nothing happen. We are the most important actor on the planet. When we do not act, that in and of itself is action, and something happens as a result. We don’t support the rebels in Syria? Look what’s happened. It’s a disaster. Iran is winning, Assad is winning, and at the same time, Sunni jihadists are controlling more territory than al Qaeda ever did in Afghanistan. So the point is that we do not have the luxury of abandonment of history, because if we do, history will abandon us.

HH: Well, you do mention as a new name Kelly Ayotte, and there are in fact, there’s a small caucus in the House made up of veterans – Mike Pompeo, Ron DeSantis and Tom Cotton, who are also Harvard Law grads, who are all also national security hawks. But I don’t know that the party itself is looking in 2016 to anyone identified with that standard. Is it, you know, something that could be raised, in your estimate, to good effect?

CK: I think it should be, but the point is that American elections, particularly presidential ones, are almost never run on foreign policy, particularly since the end of the Cold War. I mean, we could never have elected a Clinton during the Cold War, but we never, I mean, foreign policy plays a very, smaller role in American roles than any European elections, that’s for sure. The fact is that we almost run them exclusively on domestic policy. So I don’t think there’s anything unusual about that. I think what is unusual is there is a growing uninterest, disinterest, if you like, disgust, with foreign policy And Hugh, what I would point to is the debate over the NSA. And that’s where you see real splits. There are debates that you can have on one side or the other, but if one party, if there are no parties in America who will defend the idea of intrusive intelligence so we are not disarmed before our enemies, then we really will be disarmed.

— – – – – –

HH: This is only a six minute segment, Charles, so it’s unfair to ask you to react to all of the impacts of the Christie scandal, but the man who was the presumptive nominee on our side, to the extent that there ever could be one, has found himself under a dump truck of subpoenas and fighting for his life. Does he remain a viable presidential candidate from what you’ve seen thus far?

CK: Well, I have to tell you, Hugh, that I’m deeply disappointed by the state of revenge in New Jersey. You know, in the old days when men were men and wise guys walked the streets of Camden, when you wanted to send a message to the mayor of Fort Lee, you didn’t close two lanes on a bridge. You know, he’d find a horse’s head in his bed. He’d find a dead fish in the mail. Rahm Emanuel actually did that in real life. And he’d hear a knock on the door and go to the front door, and there would be Tanya Harding. That’s when revenge was revenge in New Jersey. So I must say this is kind of like another index of American decline. Is this the best they can do?

HH: Oh, but it is prolonged paper water torture.

CK: Yeah, I know.

HH: A thousand subpoenas, oh my gosh.

CK: Well, the Democrats really have, I think you’re exactly right. I think the substance of it is, look, it was clumsy, it was stupid, it was staff. There’s not an iota of evidence that shows he was involved in this. However, and this I said on Special Report on the first night it happened, the vulnerability that this exposed Christie to is every two-bit Democrat or even maybe a Republican or two in New Jersey is now going to claim that he got strong-armed, you know, three years and a day and a half ago, over this, he was threatened with this if he didn’t do this. We all know that politics is carrots and sticks. This is how it runs, how it works. If we were using the Christie standard, or the New Jersey Democratic Senate and House standard on this, LBJ would have been in jail a hundred times for the way he wheeled and dealed in Congress. So I’m not impressed with any of this, except for the fact when the guy is tied up with subpoenas, when the guy has to produce mountain of evidence, this takes up his time, and that’s why they’re doing this. It’s like frivolous lawsuits. They’re going to do this to him to tie him down with a thousand little strings like Gulliver so that he can’t get out there and run, either run the state the way he wants to, or run for president.

HH: And so who benefits from that? There are, there’s a host of wonderful people from Marco Rubio to Bobby Jindal to Scott Walker, John Kasich, Mike Pence. You know, you’re sitting there in D.C. and you’re watching all of them in essence auditioning to audition between now and November of 2014 when they all have to get in the saddle and ride if they’re going to ride. Who is benefitted from the entrapment of Christie and the paper chains?

CK: Well, clearly, I’d say all the others, but the ones that are in the best position to run are the governors. Historically, we elect governors. But second, in the distaste with which Washington is now held by the rest of the country means that you’re more likely to do well if you come from outside. So as you said, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, maybe John Kasich of Ohio. You’re going to get, I think, Jeb Bush, ex-governor of Florida. I think you’re going to get governors who are going to come to the forefront, and I do think, Hugh, we’ve got a strong field for 2016. I’m not as all a pessimist like my pals who are congenitally conservative, but who are congenitally pessimistic because they are conservative. I think we have a good, young field, articulate. And in a center-right country, if you can make the conservative argument, you can win.

HH: And of those governors, do any of them spring to the front of your mind as being equipped for the Beltway media about which we’ll talk in the last segment in a minute, and their desire always to be bleeding, always to apply the leeches of American journalism to people? Is there anyone that you think has got the least amount of green kryptonite near them?

CK: That’s a good question. I don’t know, because we are so early in the process. Remember, at this point in 2008, we would have said Giuliani versus Hillary. That turned out not to be close to the case. I think it’s a little bit hard to predict. I think we can see the field of seven or eight, and I must tell you, Hugh, one of the reasons we had a tough time in 2012 is I found that the opening round, the 22 debates that we had among Republicans all televised, and embarrassment. And I think they helped to hurt the Republican brand. I think these debates, whoever is up there, and we can see the seven, eight, nine, ten people who’ll be involved, are going to elevate the debate, and it’s going to help the brand. But I can’t really choose among them now who’s going to be helped the most.

— – – – –

HH: A list of names, Dr. Krauthammer, Ben Smith of BuzzFeed, Lachlan Markay at the other end, very young, Michael Shear at the New York Times, Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post, Katie Pavlich and Guy Benson at Townhall, Dylan Byers at Politico, Betsy Rothstein over at the Daily Caller, Patrick Howley there as well, Noah Rothman at Mediaite, Mary Katharine Ham everywhere, all of these journalists, Ben Smith is, I think, 35. The rest of them are under 30. They all have recognizable brands. They all have influence. Many of them are friends of mine. This was unthinkable in the Washington, D.C. that you moved to as a young Walter Mondale, there, your secret is out, speechwriter in 1980. And is it good that the young are empowered to have bylines and influence in this number and to this degree?

CK: Well, I’m not sure. I mean, youth cuts both ways, you know. When I was young, I got it wrong, interestingly wrong, I would say, and it’s sort of, that’s what shapes you for later. I don’t sort of regret my own political evolution, which I should say I actually talk about in the introduction in the book.

HH: Right.

CK: Because as you say, I did start out on the left and moved to the right. You know the old adage if you’re not a socialist when you’re 20, you don’t have a heart. If you’re still a socialist when you’re 50, you don’t have a head. But I think it’s good. I think, you know, people talk about the demise of journalism. I think they, we don’t quite know how to make the business model work with paper and trees and ink and all that, and people are going to have to rethink that, and the problem of the fact that the young are used to getting their stuff on the internet for free. So in the end, there has to be some way to pay for it. But apart from the economic side of it, I think journalism is flourishing, and I think this is pretty healthy.

HH: Now of the platforms, I mentioned bylines, but of the platforms, Townhall and Mediaite and Daily Caller…

CK: Right.

HH: …and Daily Beast, Washington Free Beacon, Politico, do you read them? Do you spend your time on these sites?

CK: I don’t spend much time on them. I’m a traditional New York Times/Washington Post/Wall Street Journal. That’s where I get the bulk. That’s my fiber. And then I’ll occasionally go for dessert somewhere else, but that’s not my regular reading. If it is your regular reading, you’ve got no time to read.

HH: Are you a Twitter user?

CK: I’m a mini-Tweeter, maybe once or twice a week.

HH: And what do you get from that? Humor or leads?

CK: Oh, I don’t read. I Tweet out. I don’t, I follow one entity, and it happens to be a charity that I run. So I’m, which is pretty narcissistic, I must say. It’s called @musicahebraica. It has to do with classical Jewish music. It’s just a way to give it a bit of prominence. No, I don’t live on Twitter, and I have a Facebook page, but it’s run by others. I have to confess right here. So I’m not even sure I know how to access it. I just read the old stuff, and try to acquire knowledge. I know it sounds quaint.

HH: And are you still reading, the Gates memoir is an obvious answer. You do still read books. But do you read as many as you did prior to the rise of the web?

CK: Probably not, again, because it’s so easy…I mean, I’ve often, you know, I have the sort of magazine writer’s view that if you can say it in an article, you don’t really have to do a book. And if you can say it in a column, you don’t have to do it in an article. There was something to be said for concision, and I do find that I can get most arguments in a pretty short presentation. A Gates book is a book of history. That’s different, so that, you need the full length to get the full breadth of it. But I find most of the political writing, meaning trying to make an argument for something, is a little bit fluffy, a little bit padded, and it can be done pretty concisely, which if I might make the segue, is why I published the book I did, because I cover, you know, about 60 or 80 subjects, and I do think that for most of them, everything from affirmative action to capital punishment, they can be done in a fairly short, fairly short order, so that the case, one way or the other, can be made. I’m not enamored of books that take 500 pages to make a case that you can generally make in an article.

HH: All right, now two subjects left. Nobody resigns anymore. Gates didn’t resign, even though the Secretary of Defense quite obviously was disgusted both with the Commander-in-chief, and the Secretary of State. Is that a lost willingness on the part of America’s political elite to resign in principle over matters of deep ideological difference?

CK: I can’t say it’s lost, because I can’t say it was ever an American tradition. It’s a British tradition. Remember when the Falklands were invaded by Argentina, the minister of defense in Britain resigned immediately, even though he didn’t have anything, he was not at fault in any way. But he should have known, and he resigned. And the last person I can remember who resigned on principle was Cyrus Vance. And he resigned in the late 1970s, because he objected to the raid that Jimmy Carter ordered, the rescue that ended with that disaster in the desert. And his resignation was prepared before it was a disaster, because he thought in principle it was a mistake. I can’t remember anybody since him. I don’t know if you can, Hugh.

HH: No.

CK: …who has resigned on principle. It’s just not done.

HH: It’s not done, and I wonder if that’s an unfortunate thing.

CK: It should be done. It absolutely should be done. Sebelius should have submitted her resignation when Obamacare opened with such a disaster. But that’s not our tradition. It should be a tradition.

HH: And a last question, the most divisive in the land, though not the serious.

CK: Washington Nationals.

HH: No, Seahawks or Broncos, Charles Krauthammer?

CK: Well, let’s just say that Peyton Manning deserves to be remembered historically as the greatest quarterback ever, and he needs the Super Bowl, I think, to make that unmistakable and clear, so I’m for history, I’m with Peyton.

HH: I told Michael Medved and Arthur Brooks this very morning, they’re both Seattleites, and they’re both rooting for the Seahawks, that they were on the wrong side of history, a phrase I had always desired to use. And I think you…

CK: No, they’re absolutely, they are the Sandinistas in the Super Bowl.

HH: (laughing) Charles Krauthammer, thank you. The book is Things That Matter. It’s in bookstores everywhere. If no one gave it to you for Christmas because they were dummies, go get it for yourself. It’s linked at


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