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Dexter Filkins on the Kurds and ISIS

Wednesday, September 24, 2014  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins joins me to open Wednesday’s show, talking about his long piece on the Kurds and ISIS from the current New Yorker.

My own column charts how this election has turned into a national security election, causing great panic aong Democrats.

The audio of the Filkins interview:


The transcript:

HH: I’m joined by Dexter Filkins, who’s got a must-read article at the New Yorker called The Fight Of Their Lives, which actually brings you as much detail on ISIS and the battle on the Kurdish border as well as throughout the region. Dexter, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, it’s great to have you.

DF: Thank you so much.

HH: How much time did you spend in Kurdistan prior to filing this, Dexter?

DF: Several weeks. I made two trips. You know, the situation kept changing, so I went there in late June. I stayed through most of July and then I had to go back just because you know, ISIS captured a bunch of territory, and then you know, the U.S. started bombing, and so I just, I had to keep going back to update the thing, because it was all very fluid, you know?

HH: Now two days ago, I had on Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and I asked him about Kurdistan and their ability to wage war against ISIS. Here is what he had to say, Dexter Filkins.

RC: Hugh, it’s a difficult situation. The Peshmerga is, as anyone who served out there knows, are a very light infantry, and organizationally, they fight at the small unit level, you know, basically platoon. So we should not think that you can take a force like this and give them heavy weapons and ask them to organize into brigade-sized formations and it’s going to work. You know, they’re formidable when they fight on their own territory, when they’re up in their own mountains. But we’re asking them to do something different, not asking, I mean, they’re doing it on their own, which is fight ISIS in the flatlands. That’s not how they’re structured.

HH: Now Dexter Filkins, as I read your piece, I had considerably more optimism about the Peshmerga’s ability to push ISIS back, maybe even out of Mosul. Do you agree with Ambassador Crocker? Or is he underestimating the Peshmerga’s abilities?

DF: No, he’s right on the money, I think. You know, the Kurds, I think he was, the main point is the Kurds want Kurdistan, and that means holding on to territory where, that are predominate by Kurdish people. And that means probably not going into Arab villages where ISIS predominates. And so if you look at the map of Iraq where ISIS has moved into, they’ve basically focused on areas where they could count on local support, and that means Arabs. They did push in, you know, they took the Mosul Dam, and they pushed into some Kurdish areas, Sinjar. I went to some of those villages, Makhmour, and they were Kurdish. And they’ve been kicked out of most of those villages, because, you know, like, there’s no local supporters, and frankly, when they moved into the Kurdish villages, the Kurdish people just left. So they literally, ISIS moved into these utterly empty villages. But I think, I don’t think the Kurds have the ability to move beyond, much beyond Kurdistan. But frankly, also, I don’t think they have the desire. They just, they want Kurdistan for the Kurds, and I think that’s their main focus. So you can drive now, you know, when I was there, you can, it’s a really weird thing to see. You can drive along the borders of Kurdistan in Iraq, look across that border, and in some cases, it’s a canal. Some cases, it’s just an open field. And there’s ISIS, you know, with their black flag flying. And it’s weird. It feels like the border of another country. But my sense is that border, you know, until the Iraqi Army, and you know, don’t hold your breath for the Iraqi Army, but until they are ready to move into some of those places, I just don’t see the Peshmerga doing it, at least not very far. Continue Reading

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Why Democrats Are Panicked: It Is A National Security Election

Wednesday, September 24, 2014  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

PPP always has a “(D)” behind it to alert readers that it is a Democratic shop, and its polls could well reflect bias.

So when their latest has Tom Cotton 6 points atop incumbent (and invisible) Mark Pryor, the bell is tolling for Pryor.

As it should, given Pryor’s 97% support of President Obama.  Congressman Cotton is fond of listing the places throughout Arkansas where he has campaigned, looking for an Arkansan who agrees with the president 97% of the time and has been unable to find him –outside of D.C. and Senator Pryor’s office.

There is also good news this morning for Dan Sullivan in Alaska, with Sullivan up 3 in a PPP(D) poll.

Cotton –his campaign website is here– and Sullivan –whose campaign website is here– are both veterans of the war on terror, and it makes sense that as voters watch the meltdown of the president’s foreign policy and the spread of IS across the Middle East that they will value having combat vets in the Senate.  Iowa Army National Guard Lt. Col. Joni Ernst will also benefit from the sudden sobriety in an electorate that has figured out that the president was clueless about the “jayvees” as he was “leading from behind” for his five-plus years in office.

As news spreads today that the president’s vaunted coalition is actually more of a facade than a serious set of allies, recognition will go that the U.S. has been asleep at the switch for many years, led by a president in love with his Nobel Peace Price and dreams of a world that doesn’t exist.  Digging out of this hole will be a long process as it is as deep as the one dug by Bill Clinton’s fecklessness in the ’90s and chronicled by Lawrence Wright in The Looming Tower.

Whether Scott Brown in New Hampshire, Thom Tillis in North Carolina, Terri Lynn Land in Michigan, Ed Gillespie in Virginia, Bill Cassidy in Louisiana, or Cory Gardner in Colorado, voters are getting their absentees and beginning their early voting just as the country as a whole recognizes that the price of an amateur ideologue in the White House and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi in the Senate and House is deep instability and growing danger.

The most recent debate between Gardner and his lockstep-with-Obama opponent Mark Udall turned on national security, and suddenly all across the country Democrats like Udall are having to defend their long time, rote defense of an administration that has defined forever fecklessness on national security and which has sliced Pentagon budgets and the nation’s military far beyond the bone.  As Congressman Rob Wittman –Chairman of the Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus– told me Monday, their is a growing recognition that there needs to be a huge “plus-up” in defense spending immediately, but only a GOP majority in the Senate will guarantee that this most anti-defense of president and reckless of senators Harry Reid will be obliged to get out of the way of the nation’s national security needs.

The backdrop of failures in Obamacare and tremors in the economy -especially housing– add to Democratic woes, but the generic ballot polling represents one thing more than anything else: The president and his Democratic allies have not been taking care of the common defense.  And voters are knowing.


“A Path Appears” By Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Tuesday, September 23, 2014  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Pulitzer winner Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have combined to produce a riveting review of “what works” –at home and in abroad, in rich and poor countries, with start-ups and interventions, in A Path Appears: Transformimg Lives, Creating Opportunity.  The book layers take readers to very far away and grief struck places and to their open back yards and pushes forward the question “What really works” in the millions of efforts to “do justice and love kindness.”

A television series appears in January, and a web site covering both book and show is here.  Kristof and WuDunn can be followed on Twitter at @nickkristof and @wudunn, and there is of course a hashtag: #apathappears.

Kristof joins me on today’s show.

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