Krauthammer: “The president is the problem. We have a president who is strategically clueless”
I interviewed Charles Krauthammer today to begin the program:
HH: 40 years ago tonight, Richard Nixon delivered that address. 40 years ago tomorrow, he resigned the presidency. Joining me on this anniversary, Dr. Charles Krauthammer, author, of course, of Things That Matter, 10 months on the New York Times bestseller list. If I recall correctly, Charles, you probably were not unhappy with that decision 40 years ago.
CK: Well, I do agree that I was young once. Yes, I did have my idiosyncrasies. I think I was 24. I think I remember hearing it while driving a car on the West Side Highway. But as I understand it, Hugh, we’re now about to wallow in Watergate? Is that where we’re going now?
HH: No, I was going to point out that Nixon’s resignation led to a very weakened presidency…
HH: …which followed the Vietnam collapse, which led to a genocide. Now, we have an intentionally weakened presidency abroad, not at home, and it looks like we’re staring at yet another genocide. Any parallels here, Charles?
CK: Well, weak presidencies, it is ironic, of course, because Nixon was one tough hombre when it came to facing down enemies. You remember during the Yom Kippur War in 1973…
CK: The Israelis turned it around and went on the march, and the Russians threatened to send troops to the Egyptian side. And what Nixon did is he put the U.S. on Defcon 3, which is the highest nuclear alert. It scared the bejeebies out of the Russians, and he had this huge resupply of the Israeli military, and he threatened to intervene with American troops as well. And of course, what happened is the Russians stood down, because that’s what they understand. If only we had, I mean, we don’t want to go to Defcon 3 anymore, and we certainly wouldn’t do it over Ukraine, and we’re not going to intervene in Ukraine or, I don’t know how serious this intervention is in Iraq. We’re certainly not going to do anything like that. I mean, the first thing out of the President’s mouth announcing this mini-intervention was to say no ground troops, no boots on the ground, as if there was any call for that. Of course we’re not going to do that. Why would you say it in advance? This is what he always does. And it was unbelievable during the press conference a few days ago…
CK: …what he said about Russia, well, you know, they haven’t invaded Ukraine, yet.
CK: And if they do, we’ll have to reconsider. I mean, you’re an ally of the U.S, you’re a weak country, you know we’re going to send boots on the ground, but your biggest ally, the U.S., is refusing to send you weapons with which to fight the rebels who are getting heavy weapons, enough to shoot down civilian aircraft from the Russians, so we’re not even equalizing that balance, and he says well, they haven’t invaded, yet? I mean, he doesn’t understand the elementary principles simply of deterrence. We’re not talking about intervention. We’re talking about deterrence. He doesn’t have a clue.
HH: Now let me ask you about boots on the ground, Charles Krauthammer, because the Kurds have an enormous facility structure that we built for them. I have an associate producer who served in Kurdistan with the Marines not too long ago. We could put boots on the ground there that would effectively deter ISIS if we put even a few Marines in. But the Kurds are not, they are like, in many respects, the Israelis. They are not part of this al Qaeda world. They’ll get slaughtered if ISIS moves on them. Are we obliged morally to come to their aid if this advance on the 650 mile front continues?
CK: I don’t think it’s come to that. I don’t think it has to come to that. I don’t think it should have come to that. I mean, let me count the ways. Forget about the withdrawal in 2011, which I mean, all of us knew was going to eventuate in something like this kind of collapse. I wrote a column, it’s in my book, that’s called Who Lost Iraq. It was written December, 2011. It was clear what was going to happen. But let’s not even talk about it. Let’s just talk about the last month. What in God’s name have we been doing refusing, refusing to send in the weaponry – bullets…
CK: …to the Peshmerga, the Kurdish military, who are strong and brave and battle-hardened and loyal. They don’t throw off their uniforms and run away. But they were outmanned, outgunned by ISIS with, of course, U.S. equipment that they took from Mosul. And they’re running out of bullets. They literally, this what I read in, I think the word was used by the Times, they begged Washington to send them ammunition, and Obama refused on the grounds that it would undermine Iraqi sovereignty. I mean, what in God’s name is he thinking about?
HH: Well, let me play for you about an hour ago, Jake Tapper was talking with the deputy national security advisor, and Jake brought up what will become one of the most infamous articles of the Obama era, in which there are many infamous articles, when the President tells David Remnick of the New Yorker that the ISIS is like the jayvees putting on a Kobe jersey.
CK: Yeah, right.
HH: Here’s what Jake asked, and here’s how it was answered.
JT: Tony, you say you’ve been warning about it, but in January, President Obama told the New Yorker Magazine’s David Remnick that ISIS, which was then still considered a part of al Qaeda fighting in Syria, was like a jayvee basketball team. He said, “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” Just how badly did President Obama underestimate the threat of ISIS?
TB: No, there are two different things going on here, Jake. One is the question of the threat that ISIS poses to us here in the homeland. And unlike core al Qaeda, right now, their focus is not on attacking the U.S. homeland or attacking our interests here in the United States or abroad. It’s focused intently on trying to create a caliphate now in Iraq, and a base from which over time to operate. And that’s what we’re focused on. We’re focused on making sure that we can help empower the Iraqis and others to prevent them from doing just that. The President was exactly right. They did not pose a threat like al Qaeda central to us in the homeland. We want to make sure that they don’t get to the point where they can pose that threat.
HH: Charles Krauthammer, the President was exactly right, unlike core al Qaeda, the focus not on attacking the U.S? Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said I’ll see you in New York. I don’t know how he can escape the consequences of being this badly off of his assessment of ISIS?
CK: I think today or yesterday, that same barbarian said that we will raise the flag of Islam over the White House. First of all, they don’t have to organize planes and pilots. They are now headquarters, world headquarters, training headquarters, for hundreds of Westerners who will flow in and out, go back to their countries, including the United States, and they’re going to blow themselves up in some terrible place and kill a lot of people. So the idea that for terrorism you have to plan a full aircraft attack is, you know, as usual with this White House, not even near to a correct analysis. So A) they can seed us with terrorists anytime they want in vast numbers, or they are developing that as we speak. This is the worst training area, in other words, the most threatening, a lot worse than Afghanistan. It’s right in the heart of the Middle East, and it’s got tons of Westerners. So that’s number one. It is a current threat, even as it is right now as a training area. And second, this idea that somehow all they’re doing is taking over the bloody Middle East, and that’s not a real threat to us, is insane. It’s got the world’s oil, It would threaten and intimidate all our allies in the region. And it will become the base even from where they are now if they don’t expand for, I mean, a terribly strong military machine with unlimited funds in the heart of the Middle East, geographically located near everything. And that’s a huge threat to the Western economy, to Western Europe…
HH: Sure it is.
CK: …and all of the Middle East to the United States. What are these guys thinking?
HH: I don’t know. I’ve got one minute left. I’m going to talk to a leftist after the break, Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies. I’ll ask her. But my question to you. There are a half dozen guys who could change public opinion in America. Four of them are named Petraeus, Mattis, John Allen, and Stanley McChrystal. Literally, 45 seconds, do you expect any of them to stand up and say what needs to be done right now, which is to stop ISIS?
CK: No. I think there’s a sense that the military does not involve itself in politics, even though these guys are officially out of the military. I think there is that kind of respect for the political system, which in some ways is a glory of the U.S. But right now, we could use it. No, I think the problem is that the President is the problem. It’s not advice, not public opinion. It is that we have a president who is strategically clueless, and who has deliberately or by accident, or by incompetence, weakened the United States. I don’t know. You pick which of those is true. And we are in a very weak position.
HH: We are indeed. 40 years after Nixon resigned, we’re back to a low point in American power projection around the world. Charles Krauthammer, we’ll be watching you on Special Report tonight. Thank you.
End of interview.