x close

The Hugh Hewitt Show

Listen 24/7 Live: Mon - Fri   6 - 9 PM Eastern
Call the Show 800-520-1234

Meet The Young Journalists Series: The Huffington Post’s Zach Carter

Monday, June 30, 2014  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Email to a Friend

X

(required)

(valid email required)

(required)

(valid email required)

Send

Zach Carter is the Huffington Post’s “senior political economy reporter,” and he blasted Vice President Cheney for the former vice president’s interview with me last week.  Zach Carter joins me in hour two today:

Audio:

06-30hhs-carter

Transcript:

HH: Hour two of the Hugh Hewitt Show, as I said last hour, would be a terrific day given the two decisions that came down from the Supreme Court, except for the fact that the three Israeli teenagers, one of whom was also an American citizen, were found murdered and their bodies discovered today. And I’ll cover that a little bit later in the show. It’s breaking across the news, so you can go read about that. But I wanted to pause in between talking about that and the Supreme Court decision to talk with Zach Carter of the Huffington Post. He joins me now. Zach, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

ZC: Hugh, thanks for having me.

HH: Now you are the senior political economy reporter for the Huffington Post, right?

ZC: That’s right. Best job title in the world.

HH: How long you been doing, I know, it’s a long title. How long you been doing that for?

ZC: Well, I think I’ve only had the title for about three years, but I’ve been at HuffPost for four.

HH: And before that, where were you?

ZC: I was a banking reporter at SNL Financial, which is a little data and financial journalism spot in Charlottesville, Virginia.

HH: And are you a journalism school graduate?

ZC: Oh, no, no. I don’t really believe in journalism school.

HH: All right.

ZC: I think it’s a bit of a waste of time and money for most people.

HH: Where did you do your undergrad?

ZC: The University of Virginia in Charlottesville. That’s how I ended up at SNL after school.

HH: Okay, so what year did you get out of UVA?

ZC: 2005.

HH: And so how old are you?

ZC: 31 years old.

HH: 31, okay. Last week, I have a little ritual for first time guests on this show, by the way. It’s a three question ritual. Are you ready for it?

ZC: Sure, let’s go.

HH: Do you know who Alger Hiss is?

ZC: No.

HH: You don’t?

ZC: Nope.

HH: Then it’s only a two-part, then you automatically don’t get past the second one, because the second part of the ritual is to ask whether or not you thought he was a Soviet spy.

ZC: Well, I’ll go ahead and say that if I had known who he was, yeah, yeah, sure, I would think he was a Soviet spy.

HH: But you don’t think it’s important, well, I’ll leave that aside. Number two, number three, have you read The Looming Tower?

ZC: No, I’ve not read The Looming Tower.

HH: All right, now these questions are more germane to why I’m calling you.

ZC: Okay.

HH: Have you read Dick Cheney’s memoir?

ZC: I have not read Dick Cheney’s memoir. I generally, as a matter of principle, I try to avoid books written by politicians and focus more on books about politicians.

HH: So have you read Peter Baker’s Days Of Fire?

ZC: Nope.

HH: Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s The Emerald City?

ZC: Oh, yeah.

HH: Okay, that’s good. That’s one. Dexter Filkin’s The Never Ending War?

ZC: No, but I’ve read a lot of the stuff that he’s written for The New Yorker.

HH: And I assume you didn’t read George W. Bush’s memoir, either?

ZC: No, no, no, or Bill Clinton’s, or the recent Hillary Clinton book, either.

HH: Okay, because this now comes to, the reason I called you, last week, Dick Cheney was on the show, and we spent an hour like I’m spending with you, and you did a report on that with one of your colleagues from Huffington Post. I want to play for the audience what you said after the Vice President appeared on this show. Here is what Zach Carter said last week.

ZC: I think what’s going on is the inevitable focus on the policies of the Bush and Cheney administration in Iraq with everything going crazy in Iraq right now. It’s very hard to separate the troubles in Iraq today from the troubles that existed almost immediately after the U.S. invasion took place in 2003. And then you have to wonder why the heck the U.S. invaded in 2003, and neither Cheney nor Bush have really given a credible answer for why the U.S. in fact went to war in 2003 in Iraq. So Cheney’s trying to come up with other stuff to defend his legacy. And when you want to scare people and say you know, I was always right, and you just say that we are engaged in this terrible, frightening, horrible war, and everything we had to do was justified because there was going to be a nuclear attack on the United States and it was going to kill everybody. Later on in that interview, he says you know, we were dealing with all sorts of succession plans for what would happen in the event of a nuclear collapse. This Iraq war thing was just sort of one of several things we were doing to keep Americans safe. You know, a nuclear holocaust in the nation’s capital would be awful. I mean, I live here. I do not want to see that happen. But I think Cheney is just flagrantly fearmongering there to justify actions that in hindsight, and really at the time, seemed pretty foolish.

HH: All right, now Zach, had you read or listened to the interview that I did with the Vice President?

ZC: Yeah, I just relistened to it again this afternoon. It was a very interesting interview.

HH: But at the time that you made that comment, had you read or listened to it?

ZC: Yeah.

HH: Okay. Had you been drinking?

ZC: No, I had not.

HH: You weren’t on any medication?

ZC: No, no, no. So I take it that you take issue with my comments?

HH: Well, we’re going to parse it a little bit, all right? We’re just going to parse it a little bit. Let’s start with the very first thing you say. It takes 15 seconds, cut number two:

ZC: I think what’s going on is the inevitable focus on the policies of the Bush and Cheney administration in Iraq with everything going crazy in Iraq right now. It’s very hard to separate the troubles in Iraq today from the troubles that existed almost immediately after the U.S. invasion took place in 2003.

HH: Now Zach, in fact, the surge happened, peace came to Iraq, elections were held, and President Obama declared it a peaceful, democratic state in 2011. So how exactly are you connecting the troubles today with the troubles in 2003?

ZC: Well, I think if you want to talk about the surge, right, I mean, the traditional argument here is that an increase of 20-30,000 U.S. troops in 2006 basically put down the insurgency and saved the day in Iraq. And then the conservative argument then moves to the idea that Obama sort of abandoned all of that progress, right, in the last few years. I think it’s very difficult to make the case that the number of troops that went in, in the surge, was responsible for the progress that you saw in Iraq at that point in time. I think the Sunni awakening, in particular the change that that had in internal Iraqi politics, is much, I think deserves much more credit for the change in circumstances on the ground. And then if you look at the governing of the Maliki government after that Sunni awakening, a lot of Sunnis who believe that they had, felt that they contributed a lot to the liberation of their country from a violent and oppressive outside force, this al Qaeda in Iraq group, which is now, you know, well, it was going by the name ISIS. Now it’s declared itself to be a caliphate and wants to be called an Islamic state. But by alienating Sunnis, you alienated the political support you could have for a legitimate state in Iraq.

HH: Zach, I want to try and keep you focused here a little bit.

ZC: Go ahead. Sure. So the problem there then…

HH: The surge happened, they had, we had an election, they had an election, there was peace in Iraq for a period of at least three years, minor sectarian violence, some loss of life, but generally speaking, stability and a subsequent election only a few months ago. And the President, President Obama, declared in 2011 that in fact it was a stable country and we could withdraw our troops. And so I think the argument that you’re making, whether or not the troops mattered in the surge, you have a distinctly minority point of view on whether or not the American troops mattered in the surge, and I’ll let you argue that out with the historians. But clearly, you’re not arguing that what is happening today has anything to do with George W. Bush, because the country reached stasis. It reached a period of stability. And it has nothing to do with Cheney and Bush.

ZC: But clearly, it was a fragile stasis, right? I mean, the basic problem in Iraq is a problem of a power vacuum, and the fact that the Shiite government under Maliki alienated so many Sunnis meant that the peace we’ve had over the last, relative peace that you’ve seen in Iraq for the past threeish years, I mean, it’s been kind of shaky for several months now, has been the result of a stasis that’s effectively functioning.

HH: Well that, we agree on. The fact is that when the President did not negotiate a status of forces agreement in 2011, when he and Secretary Clinton failed to do that, they did introduce an unnecessary amount of instability in a country that had achieved stability, fragile or not. It was real. And so when you made that jump in your argument on TV, I thought to myself, well, that’s incredibly illogical and not rational. But let’s proceed. Let’s go to your next statement.

ZC: Well, but that is the crux of the argument, though, right?

HH: No.

ZC: I mean, the idea that an additional ten or twenty thousand U.S. troops would have made a significant difference in the power structure in Iraq.

HH: Yes, that is. That’s not what you said, though.

ZC: And I think that’s a tough empirical case to make. I think the facts on the ground are…

HH: It’s actually, Zach, it’s an impossible empirical case to make, because it didn’t happen. And so you can’t make an empirical case about a speculative consequence. It’s impossible to make that.

ZC: Sure, sure. I think it’s a difficult case to make.

HH: All right, now let’s go to your next comment, cut number three:

ZC: And then you have to wonder why the heck the U.S. invaded in 2003, and neither Cheney nor Bush have really given a credible answer for why the U.S. in fact went to war in 2003 in Iraq.

HH: Now Zach, you might not like the answers they’ve given, but if you have neglected to read their memoirs, an admission against interest, that tells me you actually don’t care whether they’ve given an answer. You don’t want to know what their answer is.

ZC: Well, I mean, Dick Cheney was on Megyn Kelly’s show just a week or so ago, and she laid out the traditional sort of liberal critique of the Bush and Cheney administration, and his response was I fundamentally disagree, and we kept Americans safe. The war in Iraq has been a success. I mean, I think if you look at the intelligence that Cheney cited, there were serious qualms with that intelligence at the time. The response from people like Hillary Clinton, which you know, I think is certainly for many people who were critics of the Iraq war early on has been insufficient, you know, she just said in her book, I know this because I listened to the Terry Gross interview on NPR, she said that her decision to vote for the invasion was a mistake.

HH: Zach, but I’m not talking about Hillary. I’m not talking about, actually, Dick Cheney.

ZC: Sure, but that’s…

HH: I’m talking about Zach Carter.

ZC: Okay.

HH: And when Zach Carter says, let’s replay it again for you to listen to, this is cut number three:

ZC: And then you have to wonder why the heck the U.S. invaded in 2003, and neither Cheney nor Bush have really given a credible answer for why the U.S. in fact went to war in 2003 in Iraq.

HH: But Zach, you’ve already said you haven’t read either of their memoirs. So how do you know, what you’re saying is you, Zach Carter, have not bothered to find out whether or not they’ve given a credible answer.

ZC: I mean, I’ve listened to them in the media pretty extensively. I would think that an important argument they’ve made in their book they’d want to air publicly in other forums. But sure, I mean, if you think there’s a credible case that I haven’t seen, I would be happy to hear it.

HH: No, I’m just pointing out that if you had been in a position, if you had read those books and you had dismissed what they had to say, or even, for example, do you know who Nick Lehmann is?

ZC: No.

HH: Nick Lehmann was the dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, the chief Washington reporter for the New Yorker, and the author of the most, I think, influential piece running up to the war explaining the six different reasons that the Bush-Cheney administration had for invading, only one of which was weapons of mass destruction, that you might have a better case to make on the Huffington Post television show that they had no credible answer. But I’m curious about this. Why…

ZC: OH, but their case for the war, right, was I mean, that Saddam Hussein had been cooperating or collaborating with al Qaeda…

HH: No, no, no.

ZC: That he had access to chemical weapons, that he had…

HH: No, no, no,

ZC: …weapons of mass destruction…

HH: No.

ZC: …and that he was looking to build a nuclear weapon.

HH: Actually, no.

ZC: I mean, Dick Cheney said all of those things.

HH: They never said al Qaeda.

ZC: And none of those turned out to be true.

HH: Zach, he never said that about al Qaeda. He said he was cooperating with terrorists, Abu Nidal among others, as well as perhaps Zarqawi, though we’re not sure about Zarqawi. But what I want to go back to is why do you think…

ZC: No, but he said that one of the 9/11 hijackers went to Prague to meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service. I mean, that’s…

HH: Again, Zach, you’ve got to stay focused on what Zach said as opposed to the arguments…this is an interview. It’s not an argument. I didn’t call you up to debate. I just want to know what was going on in your head, because I think you represent…

ZC: Well, I’ll tell you right now what was going on in my head. I mean, I’m laying out for you my perception of the arguments for going to war at the time.

HH: And so let me ask you this. Why do you think…

ZC: And those seem like pretty specious claims that have not been held out by history. And so from my point of view, it becomes very difficult to understand why we went to war. People like Hillary Clinton say well, we just got it wrong. We misgauged the intelligence.

HH: But Zach, you…time out. Zach…

ZC: And I think the argument I’ve heard from Cheney is that basically, things have been, have gone as Cheney had hoped, and there have been some, and maybe it should have worked out slightly better, we wouldn’t have been there as long, but that basically the reasons that he cited have been vindicated.

HH: Well, Zach, again, when you read his memoir, come back and we’ll talk about that. But what I’m curious to ask you is why do you think Bill Clinton bombed Iraq in 1998?

ZC: I’m not really familiar with Bill Clinton bombing Iraq in 1998.

HH: Did you know that he did that?

ZC: No.

HH: Okay. Let me move on to cut number four, cut number four from Zach last week.

ZC: So Cheney’s trying to come up with other stuff to defend his legacy. And when you want to scare people and say you know, I was always right…

HH: Now I happen to have reread my entire interview. He never said he was always right. Have you ever heard him say he was always right?

ZC: I mean, have you ever heard him apologize or say that he was wrong about the war?

HH: That wasn’t, it’s not an argument. It’s an interview. I was just asking…

ZC: When he was on…

HH: …if I missed it…

ZC: Right, right. When he was on Megyn Kelly…

HH: If I missed it, I want to know if I missed it. If he said I was always right, I’d like, because otherwise, it’s a straw man, which is bad journalism.

ZC: I don’t think that’s fair. I mean, I think if you listen to that Megyn Kelly interview in particular, where she lays out, I mean, a lot of the stuff that I’ve just been talking about, there were no weapons of mass destruction, there were no chemical weapons, the insurgency was not on its last throes in 2004, I mean, all of those things, I mean, they just all turned out not to be true.

HH: That was a fair and tough interview by Megyn Kelly, but you just accused me of not being fair when in fact I’m playing for you your words, but you made up words that the Vice President…if someone had not heard my interview or read my interview, and they relied upon Zach Carter’s report of my interview with the Vice President, they would have concluded, well, let’s play it again, cut number four:

ZC: So Cheney’s trying to come up with other stuff to defend his legacy. And when you want to scare people and say you know, I was always right…

HH: Okay, so if they had heard you say that, they could have assumed that Cheney had said on my show he was always right. And of course, on my show, he said nothing of the sort, did he?

ZC: I think he defended the basic tenets of the, I mean, it was a long interview, but yeah, I think he defended the basic tenets of the invasion, and then the activities that led to…

HH: If anyone read my interview, would they find the Vice President, let’s play it again, because it’s your words, not mine, cut number four:

ZC: Well, we’ve got to play your interview. I mean, if…

HH: No, no, I want to play your comment of my interview, cut number four:

ZC: So Cheney’s trying to come up with other stuff to defend his legacy. And when you want to scare people and say you know, I was always right…

HH: Now I can’t talk about whether he wants to scare people, but I can say he did not say he was always right on my show. Unequivocally, he did not say that.

ZC: I think it’s reasonable to say that Dick Cheney’s legacy, particularly on Iraq, is one where has not been apologetic, and where he wants people to believe that he was right about the Iraq war from start to finish.

HH: Oh, that’s absolutely fair to say. That’s not what you said, though.

ZC: And I think that, I think that categorization, that classification of his defense is accurate. If you don’t feel like he said that in his interview, I mean, you’re happy to believe that. I felt that it was perfectly in keeping with what he had been saying for several years.

HH: Actually, it’s not a question of believing. It’s a question of reading it. Now let me play for you the next thing you said, cut number six:

ZC: Later on in that interview, he says you know, we were dealing with all sorts of succession plans for what would happen in the event of a nuclear collapse. This Iraq war thing was just sort of one of several things we were doing to keep Americans safe.

HH: Now Zach, he actually said nothing remotely like that. I’ve gone over it. I was talking to him about the industrial base of the United States. I asked the question sua sponte if he thought there would be another attack. He said he thought there would be. I asked him if that happened, do you see the government reconstituting, because it would have to be military rule for at least some period. I asked that, to which he responded well, and basically saying no, I don’t think it would be military government, well, some years ago, we had a program called the Continuity of Government program. In other words, you completely mischaracterized what the Vice President said.

ZC: I don’t think so.

HH: Now was that because…

ZC: I don’t think so. I mean, I’ve listened to the interview again this afternoon. I mean, he’s the former Vice President. I mean, you don’t talk about that stuff unless you know that it’s a frightening thing for people to contemplate, and know that it’s important to your legacy, particularly in an interview about the context of Iraq.

HH: Zach, here’s what you said. Listen to what you said, cut number six:

ZC: Later on in that interview, he says you know, we were dealing with all sorts of succession plans for what would happen in the event of a nuclear collapse. This Iraq war thing was just sort of one of several things we were doing to keep Americans safe.

HH: That’s got nothing, he said nothing remotely like that. I just read to you what he said. It was in response to my question about a nuclear attack, or an attack, a weapon of mass destruction attack, and then I said would continuity of government return, and then he responded well, we had this thing in the old days, basically saying yes, it would. It had nothing to do with scaring people. He was responding to a question fairly asked and fairly answered.

ZC: And an easy way to respond to that question if you don’t want to scare people is well, I don’t want to go into that. I mean, politicians do that all the time. Dick Cheney made a decision to respond to that question, and in that way.

HH: Oh, he could have, but…

ZC: I think that’s a fair reading of the intent behind those comments.

HH: You could have also said Dick Cheney had plans, you could also have said Dick Cheney had plans to remove us to the Moon, and it would have had as much to do with what he actually said as what you said.

ZC: I don’t think that’s accurate.

HH: You don’t, it’s absolutely accurate. You completely mischaracterized the Vice…one more, one more cut, cut number seven:

ZC: You know, a nuclear holocaust in the nation’s capital would be awful. I mean, I live here. I do not want to see that happen. But I think Cheney is just flagrantly fearmongering there to justify actions that in hindsight, and really at the time, seemed pretty foolish.

HH: Now the question is whether or not you think they seem foolish, they were at the time voted on unanimously, or near unanimously by a bipartisan vote, correct?

ZC: Oh, the vote to go into Iraq was almost unanimous, yes, and bipartisan.

HH: Yeah, so at the time, they did not appear foolish, correct?

ZC: Oh, I disagree. I thought they appeared foolish at the time, and I attended protests against them at the time, and I think most of the critiques from war critics at the time have been borne out by history.

HH: That may be, but your hindsight, and the fact that you went to anti-war protests at the time, doesn’t actually change the historical record of what generally was thought about the decision at the time.

ZC: Well, that’s different. What was generally thought about the decisions in the intelligence community is different from what members of Congress were willing to vote on at the time. And the intelligence community was clearly divided on a lot of the key assertions that the Bush administration put forward to justify the war, which as it has happened, were not actually correct.

HH: Again, I’ll play for you what you said last week, and give close attention to what you said, Zach, cut number seven:

ZC: You know, a nuclear holocaust in the nation’s capital would be awful. I mean, I live here. I do not want to see that happen. But I think Cheney is just flagrantly fearmongering there to justify actions that in hindsight, and really at the time, seemed pretty foolish.

HH: Okay, at the time seemed pretty foolish to you, but not to the United States Congress, correct?

ZC: Sure.

HH: So isn’t it more accurate to have said in 2003, most of America thought it was a good idea. Most of America now doesn’t think it was a good idea. Dick Cheney continues to argue it is a good idea, and I, Zach Carter, disagreed with him them and I disagree with him now. I, Zach Carter, was right and the rest of America was wrong. But at least that wouldn’t be mischaracterizing what the Vice President did, because he wasn’t flagrantly fearmongering. He responded to a question I asked him. What was he supposed to do when I asked him if he thought there was going to be another attack? Lie? Are you suggesting he should lie?

ZC: Talking about a nuclear attack? Well, look, if he sincerely believes in his heart of hearts that there is an imminent, well, not imminent, because he said it would be in the next ten years.

HH: He said by the end of the decade, actually.

ZC: But a nuclear attack on the nation’s capital, you know, the man’s got to do what his conscious compels him to do, but I will say that looking at that interview, to me, it looked like he was fearmongering. And you know, bad things happen all the time throughout history, and you don’t want to see them happen. But the fact that very bad things can happen in the future doesn’t necessarily justify bad things that had happened in the past.

HH: No, but when you do want to have an accurate, objective understanding of the threats that you face, one reads widely. Did you know the name of the scientist he was referring to?

ZC: In what?

HH: In my interview? Can you recall the name of the scientist who was the Pakistani…

ZC: No, go ahead. Go ahead.

HH: You don’t remember his name?

ZC: No, it was a 30 minute interview.

HH: Yeah, but you don’t know about it generally?

ZC: You can, who was the scientist, Hugh?

HH: You don’t know?

ZC: I don’t remember what he mentioned in the interview.

HH: But do you know of any Pakistani scientist and his nuclear network?

ZC: Not of the top of my head.

HH: The name AQ Khan ring a bell?

ZC: Khan, okay.

HH: Do you know what AQ Khan did?

ZC: What did AQ Khan do, Hugh?

HH: No, it’s just a yes or no question. It’s not an argument. I actually want to know how you are opining on this, and Zach, you seem like a nice kid. You don’t sound like you know anything.

ZC: Well, you are free to make whatever judgments you want about my qualifications, Hugh. That’s your right. But I think in particular, when someone is wrong about basic facts of the war over and over again, and was in a position of power and a position of influence over how to manage those facts, and has refused to apologize for, or even acknowledge mistakes that other politicians at the time have acknowledged, and I don’t necessarily think…

HH: Do you…Zach, again, you missed the point of my interview.

ZC: …that the acknowledgements of other politicians like Hillary Clinton are…

HH: The point of this interview isn’t to argue about the Iraq war. It’s to argue about the Huffington Post and Zach Carter. And I want to give you a chance to make a point here. Have you read The Crisis Of Islam by Bernard Lewis?

ZC: I’m sorry, what was that?

HH: The Crisis Of Islam by Bernard Lewis.

ZC: Nope.

HH: Do you know who Robin Wright is?

ZC: I know a couple of Robin Wrights, but I think one is an economist.

HH: Okay, this one isn’t. She wrote Dreams And Shadows. Do you know who Timothy Weiner is, Legacy Of Ashes?

ZC: Nope.

HH: New York Times, Pulitzer Prize winning bestselling author? Have you heard of George Weigel?

ZC: I’ve heard of Dave Weigel.

HH: So do I. I know Dave Weigel. How about Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, the Pentagon’s New Map? Have you read that?

ZC: Nope.

HH: Soul Of Battle by Victor Davis Hanson?

ZC: There are a lot of books I haven’t read, Hugh. I mean…

HH: Apparently. What did you study at the University of Virginia?

ZC: Philosophy and political science.

HH: And so how in the world do you presume to know the threats the United States face, as opposed to, say the Secretary of Defense? Now I’m not going to defend Dick Cheney. He doesn’t need me to.

ZC: Well look, look, here’s the basic, here’s the basic, I mean, the core of my response here is that the essential narrative of the Iraq war, I think, has been pretty clear for a long time, I think since the surge, really, the involvement of al Qaeda in Iraq, which has morphed into ISIS, and has morphed into now what they’re trying to say is a caliphate. This is essentially the same group. And the fact that this group has been able to take power is clearly the result of a power vacuum. And if you think that analysis is terrible, and if you don’t think that I’m a credible analyst, or you don’t like my qualifications, you don’t have to pay me or listen to me.

HH: No, I’m not.

ZC: But I mean…

HH: I’m curious, I am making, you are…

ZC: I think…the Iraq was has been…

HH: You can come back a lot.

ZC: …for a long time. And there a lot of people…

HH: You are a terrific guest.

ZC: There are a lot of people who backed the Iraq war who just simply, and I think it’s a genuine question, why we went in, given how much of the intelligence that was cited was not accurate. And some people have said that they just made a mistake and they made a bad judgment. And if that’s the case from top officials in the Bush and Cheney administration, then that would be interesting development, because we still haven’t heard any, at least I haven’t heard any plausible explanation for why that error.

HH: Zach, I don’t know how you intend to hear anything if you never go in harm’s way of information. If you don’t actually seek out and read…tell me what books you’ve read about the Iraq war. You mentioned the Emerald City. That’s a good one. By the way, did you read Chandrasekaran’s book on the Afghanistan war?

ZC: The one in Afghanistan? Yeah.

HH: Little America?

ZC: Yeah, it was great. It’s a great book. He’s such a great writer.

HH: Okay, did you read Jake Tapper’s The Outpost?

ZC: No, I haven’t read Jake Tapper’s book. Look…

HH: Okay, so I’ve got two books. What else?

ZC: We can do this all day, Hugh. I think the basic facts of the war, and the intelligence going into the war pretty clear, and I think Dick Cheney’s perspective on that intelligence was pretty clear. And it seems…

HH: Actually, it’s got nothing to do with that. I’m trying to figure out how in the world you come to opine on it. So I want to know what you work from. What’s your information database, because you’re going to be around for a long time. You’re 31 years old.

ZC: Yeah, I’ve giving you the information. I’m giving you the information that I’ve worked from. I mean, there were no weapons of mass destruction. There were no chemical weapons. There were no links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime. The insurgency in Iraq that Dick Cheney said was on its last throes in 2004 was in fact a Sunni-Shiite civil war, the main agent of which is still in Iraq today. If you don’t like my biography, that’s fine.

HH: No, that’s not it at all.

ZC: But those facts are incontrovertible, and Dick Cheney’s the guy who went to war, not me.

HH: I want to know if you think, for example, do you think, for example, there’s any connection between Qaddafi’s behavior post-2003, the invasion of Iraq, and his fall vis-à-vis his WMD?

ZC: I don’t know about Qaddafi 2003 on. I think if you want, on Libya, I think the phenomenon of the power vacuum is much more, I think you have post-American action in Libya, what’s been going on there has been very similar to what we’ve seen in Iraq in a lot of ways, where there are extremist groups acting in ways that are not in line with, let’s say, traditional human rights considerations.

HH: No, but I was wondering, are you familiar with the fact that Qaddafi generally disarmed post-2003 of his arsenal of WMD?

ZC: No, I haven’t studied the Qaddafi regime closely.

HH: Okay, because it is widely believed, though there are some who dispute it, that it was in fact the invasion of Iraq that caused Qaddafi to give up his massive arsenal of chemical and other agents which otherwise would have fallen into the hands of the very people now calling themselves ISIS and similarly allied groups throughout North Africa and the Middle East, and that therefore, one of the good benefits of the invasion of Iraq, and one of the reasons people like me defend it, is that it had a corollary, but very useful benefit of keeping WMD out of the hands of the people of ISIS who are, in many respects, the same people that the surge, which you discounted, killed or drove out of Iraq in alliance with the Sunnis traditional tribesmen of al Anbar Province. But you wouldn’t be aware of that.

ZC: Look, to be clear, I didn’t say, I don’t discount the surge…

HH: You did earlier.

ZC: …but I don’t think that the surge is single-handedly responsible…

HH: Actually…

ZC: …for peace in Iraq after 2007.

HH: Well, earlier, you did discount the surge. That’s why, forgive me if I’m holding 30 minutes ago against you.

ZC: Well no, I said the Sunni, I think the Sunni awakening played a stronger role. I don’t think 20,000 U.S. troops at that time would have been enough to create the kind of change that actually, that we actually sought.

HH: Okay, help me out. Name me one book that makes that argument other than the, you know, like…

ZC: There’s scholars from the Cato Institute who have made this argument, that there are liberal scholars who have made this argument.

HH: Can you give me a name, because I actually, I read a lot of this. I know what Mike O’Hanlon reads, I know what Max Boot thinks, I know what pretty much everyone thinks on this subject, and I don’t know anyone…

ZC: Stanley Kober at the Cato Institute?

HH: I don’t know anybody who believes that the, absent the surge, Iraq would have stabilized. I don’t know anyone who believes that. So tell me one person who believes that.

ZC: Well, I mean, I do. I mean, I’m citing Stanley Kober at the Cato Institute.

HH: What’s his name? I honestly don’t know who that is. I’ll be happy to talk to him, because that will be unique.

ZC: Stanley Kober, sure, Stanley at the Cato Institute, Stanley Kober.

HH: How do you spell his last name?

ZC: K-o-b-e-r.

HH: All right, I’ll find him. Next question, are you aware that the ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi, has said see you in New York?

ZC: Yes, and also that he was, before it was called ISIS, he was the successor to Zarqawi in al Qaeda in Iraq.

HH: Right.

ZC: And that they’re so awful and terrible that al Qaeda in Iraq was kicked out of the al Qaeda coalition.

HH: Again, beside the point. Here’s the point I’m building to. Were you aware of the Hezbollah plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C. via an intrusion from Mexico?

ZC: No.

HH: Okay. Were you aware that North Korea counterfeits and massively distributes huge quantities of American currency?

ZC: Yes.

HH: Okay. And so do you believe, how do you assess the risk to the United States of an attack, a weapon of mass destruction using the same avenues of access to the United States, and the same weapons of mass destruction that North Korea has made available to other of its client states? How do you classify fearmongering is what I’m trying to get to, Zach?

ZC: Okay.

HH: What isn’t fearmongering?

ZC: Well, I mean, quantifying risk in this territory is always very difficult, but I think in particular, when you talk about the ability for the United States to affect change abroad, I don’t think there’s anything that any foreign policy maneuver that has more hamstrung the United States’ ability to improve on the human rights situation, or to intervene abroad in its own interest, than the Iraq debacle. It really seems like…

HH: I’m glad you feel that. It’s got nothing to do with my question. My question has to do with how do you assess what is fearmongering, because you accuse the Vice President on my program of fearmongering. I didn’t think he was remotely fearmongering. I asked him a question, he responded to it. and it’s based upon four years as Secretary of Defense, eight years of vice presidency, former chief of staff to the White House, lots of people in the intelligence community. In other words, he has lots of reading, lots of experience on which to assess risk. You apparently read very little, but presume very much, take conventional wisdom for granted, and don’t know why Bill Clinton bombed Iraq in 1998. You really don’t know why Bill Clinton bombed…

ZC: Well, I mean, I read pretty widely, I do read pretty widely on this subject.

HH: That’s not, that’s clearly not the case.

ZC: But not at book length, clearly. Look, I think when you start talking about nuking American cities, you’re raising the specter of something really, really terrible, and I think that’s pretty much fearmongering under any circumstances.

HH: So you can never talk about the threat to the homeland of either dirty bombs or nukes or WMD or, for example, anthrax came up. And anthrax was actually…

ZC: Look, Hugh, Hugh, if you think, if you don’t think that it’s fearmongering to talk about the potential for, a very speculative potential for a nuclear attack on Washington, D.C, then you’re welcome to feel that way.

HH: Last question, how in the world can you judge what is speculative when you don’t know about Qaddafi…

ZC: Because Dick Cheney was saying himself…

HH: Okay, wait, Zach, just let me finish.

ZC: He was saying himself it would be ten years out. No…

HH: Zach, what matters is…

ZC: I mean, because Dick Cheney himself was saying it could be like ten years. I mean, it was a very, it was not a specific claim about a specific attack.

HH: Zach, if you…

ZC: It was a generalized claim about the fact that an attack…

HH: You don’t get it.

ZC: …could maybe someday occur.

HH: Zac, it was before the end of the decade. Go read the, go read it. It was within the next five years. And if you do not know about the Bill Clinton attack in 1998, if you do not know about Qaddafi’s weapons of mass destruction, if you don’t know about the Hezbollah attack of the Saudi Arabian ambassador, their plan to attack the Saudi Embassy, if you’re unaware of other existing threats and the efforts to diffuse them, how can you count yourself qualified to have an assessment on what is or is not fearmongering? Last chance to you, last word to you.

ZC: I think the facts on the ground from the experience of the Iraq war are pretty clear, and I think the analysis of those have been pretty obvious for a long period of time. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There were no chemical weapons. And there was no effort from Saddam Hussein to make contact with al Qaeda. And I think talking about speculative nuclear threats to the United States is reasonable. When you’re the vice president of the United States who was involved in all of those decisions, who backed up all of that, those claims which turned out to be false, is fair to classify as fearmongering.

HH: Zach, I had one more question.

ZC: Okay.

HH: Did you live on the Quad?

ZC: Did I live what?

HH: Did you live on the Quad at the University of Virginia?

ZC: I don’t think they call it the Quad. I think they call it the Lawn.

HH: Okay, did you live on the Lawn?

ZC: But I would be happy to have you on HuffPost Live any time to talk about the University of Virginia.

HH: But did you live on the Lawn?

ZC: And you can be unqualified and talk about the University of Virginia.

HH: I am. I’ve only been there once. I had no idea about that. But did you live on the Lawn?

ZC: Have you ever read any books by Thomas Jefferson?

HH: Yes, actually many. But have you read on the Lawn?

ZC: No, I did not live on the Lawn.

HH: All right, okay, just a question. Thank you much. I didn’t think so. Zach, be well.

ZC: Thanks, Hugh.

End of interview.

Advertisement
Invite Hugh to Speak
Advertisement
Advertisement
Back to Top