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Michael Ledeen

Tuesday, December 5, 2006
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HH: Joining me to discuss the confirmation process for Robert Gates, Michael Ledeen, senior scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Ledeen, always a pleasure. Thanks for coming back.

ML: Thank you, Hugh.

HH: Today, Robert Gates declared in response to a question that we are not winning in Iraq. Do you agree with him?

ML: Well, he said we’re not winning or losing.

HH: That’s right.

ML: It’s something in between, whatever that may be.

HH: Do you agree with him?

ML: Yes.

HH: And to change that, what has to happen, Michael Ledeen?

ML: We have to recognize the war for what it is, which is a regional war. It was never going to be possible to win in Iraq alone, because we’re at war with not only terrorists inside Iraq, but by the countries that are arming a lot of them, and preparing them, and funding them, and training them, and that’s Iran and Syria, and to a certain extent, Saudi Arabia.

HH: Do you believe that Mr. Gates believes that?

ML: I don’t know what he believes, because I haven’t talked to him for many years. But he’s certainly smart enough to understand that.

HH: All right. Today, there comes word that in Iran, there is convening sixty researchers from thirty countries to discuss whether or not the Holocause existed without any preconceived ideas. Are we supposed to engage them on that issue, Michael Ledeen?

ML: No. Iran declared war against us 27 years ago, and they have been waging war against us for all that period, and we have yet to respond.

HH: Now the Iraqi prime minister today called for a regional conference on stabilizing his country. Do you think that makes any sense, given that Iran is pumping weapons, and possibly Revolutionary Guards into his country?

ML: No, I don’t. But that’s the U.S. government plan. That’s not him alone. He didn’t come up with that all by himself.

HH: Do you expect the Iraq Study Group, led by Secretary Baker and Congressman Hamilton to have anything novel to say about this?

ML: I’m not a prophet, Hugh. I have no idea what they’re going to say. I’ll wait and see.

HH: Okay. Do you see signs, Michael Ledeen, that the President is buckling on the necessity of winning this war?

ML: The President has always been a mystery on this, because there’s always been a radical disconnect between what the President says in his speeches, and what the American government then does, or doesn’t do. I mean, he’s been talking for years about the importance of supporting the Iranian people in their legitimate desire to be free, but we haven’t done anything. We haven’t supported them at all.

HH: We already have under way a 2008 presidential campaign, Michael Ledeen. Have people been approaching you from these candidates for briefings?

ML: No.

HH: And if they do, what will you tell them it’s important for their candidates to understand?

ML: They have to understand that by the time they come to office, they will find themselves in the situation that’s likely to be much worse than the one we face today, because Iran will by then have almost for sure nuclear weapons, they will be viewed as a hegemon in the Middle East. Everybody’s going to be scrambling around, trying to figure out what to do. If the United States has not reacted, responded forecfully and effectively by then, they will come to terms with Iran. They will become part of the problem.

HH: Now if I understand the Ledeen view, Iraq is one front in a big, regional conflict, which includes the Hezbollah offensive against Israel, and now their offensive against their own government, as well as the Syrian-Iranian axis, though those governments couldn’t be more different. Is that correct?

ML: Right. Plus Palestine, plus Somalia, and it’s getting worse all the time.

HH: And Somalia today, the legitimate prime minister declared that there would be no recourse but for war with the Islamic courts. Do you agree with that?

ML: Well, that’s…yes.

HH: 2,000 foreign fighters in Somalia. Who do you suspect those are, Michael Ledeen?

ML: A lot of them are trained by the Iranians, a lot of them are supported by the usual suspects.

HH: Now how do you analyze, or analogize, this period of time that we’re in. I used to think that we can’t use the 30’s, because the 30’s came before the war, and the war has already begun. But I’m beginning to think that 2001-2003 was sort of an accelerated World War I, and we are in fact in the 30’s now.

ML: I think that’s right. I wrote a thing along those lines some time ago, and in fact, when you called, I was watching a DVD of that terrific British movie called A Gathering Storm, about Churchill trying to wake up the Brits about the menace that Hitler represents, and they just wouldn’t see it, and they just wouldn’t do anything about it.

HH: Michael Ledeen, Victor Davis Hanson was on the program yesterday, talking about a column he wrote on Friday, in which he declared there are really two camps, a majority opinion and a minority dissent. I think you are with VDH in the minority in saying this is one war. It’s got to be waged like one war. Do you…

ML: That’s one of the best things he ever wrote.

HH: I agree.

ML: I know that column. I thought it was just great.

HH: So…but do you agree with him that the majority opinion is the appeasement opinion now?

ML: Yes, absolutely. The country is just not in a mood to even think about the dimensions of this war. It’s very daunting. When you sit down and look at it, and I mean, Iran is a serious threat. Iran is 70 million people. Iran has been killing us, and killing others around the world, for many years. Right now, you may notice that that angel, President Khatami, the guy widely viewed here by lots of foreign policy experts as some kind of moderate, has been indicted by the governments of Argentina for mass murder.

HH: I did not see that. Were you approving when Mitt Romney refused to give him any of the courtesies normally extended to the head of state?

ML: I thought that was great. I was appalled that we let him in in the first place.

HH: All right, given the opportunity to brief both candidates and the current administration, or if Mr. Gates called up, what do you want him to do? Not to think, but to do?

ML: Well, I want him to start supporting the democratic resistence forces inside Syria and Iran, and they’re considerable. I want him to go after the assembly lines for these weapons that they’re smuggling into Iraq with which they’re killing American soldiers. Those assembly lines are inside Iran. I want him to go after the terrorist training camps inside Iran and inside Syria. And I want him to seal off the pipeline that sends terrorists from Saudi Arabia into Iraq. Those are the immediate things.

HH: When you say go after, do you mean the use of Special Forces, which are not overt but are covert? Or do you mean bombing?

ML: Whatever works would be my response. I mean, it’s legitimate self defense. I mean, there, we’re covered by every principle of international law. They are killing our people. We are entitled to respond.

HH: Do we have to take that first to the United Nations and make a declaration, and make a case like we did with WMD, and like Adlai Stevenson did with Cuba?

ML: No. United Nations just unanimously reupped for one year our occupation of Iraq. So I mean, they’re fine with it.

HH: Who do you want to go to the UN to replace John Bolton, Michael Ledeen?

ML: John Bolton.

HH: I know, but he can’t go. So who’s it going to be?

ML: I don’t know. I mean, the problem is not who’s going to be our ambassador to the U.N. The problem is are we finally going to get a serious policy on this matter, because no matter who you send, if the policy stinks, it’s not going to really have an effect. And I doubt that the U.N. is going to have much of an effect anyway. This is unfortunately, at this stage, something that we’re going to have to do largely by ourselves.

HH: So does the President in that sense have to reject what a lot of people are saying were the results in November? As ill-informed and dangerous?

ML: Well, why doesn’t he try to convince the country? Why doesn’t he lay out the real situation and argue his case?

HH: He did on Fox News last night. Did you see that?

ML: I didn’t.

HH: Okay, I’ll play some clips after that. He does make that attempt. I don’t know if he makes it, obviously, often enough. And Rumsfeld did not make it nearly often enough. That’s the one criticism I had. He did not engage the American people often enough, and he was uniquely able to. Will be miss Rumsfeld sooner or later, Michael Ledeen?

ML: I don’t know. I mean, Rumsfeld…there’s a lot of great people in this country. I mean, Rumsfeld had great strengths and great weaknesses. So what we should do is cash in on his strengths, and hope that his successor will compensate for some of his weaknesses. The Pentagon very badly, right now, needs normal management, business as usual, and tender loving care, and Gates may be able to do that.

HH: Michael Ledeen, always a pleasure from AEI, American Enterprise Institute.

End of interview.

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