Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, joined me Thursday for a wide-ranging discussion of the president’s speech and the “strategy” behind it. Some key takeaways:
HH: I begin with Arthur Brooks today, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, and all around wonderful guy, and generally admired by most people in Washington, D.C., to get his assessment not only of what was said and not said last night, but the path forward abroad and at home. Arthur Brooks, welcome back, it’s always a pleasure to have you on.
AB: How are you doing, Hugh? It’s great to be with you.
HH: I’m good, although as Bill Kristol said last night, I’m depressed. I’m depressed by the President’s speech, because I don’t think there is a strategy behind it, and there’s almost a willful failure to grasp the immensity of the problem. What did you react? How did you think of it?
AB: Well, you’re correct, Hugh, that there’s not a strategy behind it. And that’s actually on purpose. One of the sign of the times is that we have a conversation right now between people who have foreign policy strategy and those who think that foreign policy strategy is stupid. I mean, Obama, he tipped his hand. He said a few weeks ago that ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ was his strategy, which of course is not a strategy. I mean, it was so bad that he was repudiated by Hillary Clinton. And when it gets to the point that all of the things that you have been saying on your show for years have come to pass, when we pull out prematurely, when we have a completely chaotic non-strategy in the Middle East that results in this insurgency, what is he going to do? Suddenly get a strategy? No, he doesn’t believe in foreign policy strategy. He doesn’t have any pattern recognition. He believes that everything is a one-off effort which, with the objective of trying to tamp down the need for any foreign policy at all, so he can get back to domestic policy. This is of a piece with everything that we have seen for five years.
HH: Oh, this is why I always have Arthur on. You just said something that brought it all together for me. He lacks pattern recognition. And that’s what I’ve been struggling to articulate, is that we’ve seen this before, IS. We’ve seen it in Somalia, we’ve seen it in Algeria, we’ve seen it in Afghanistan, we saw it in Iraq seven years ago. It is a virulent strain of Islamist ideology that cannot be contained. It really has to be defeated, Arthur. And he doesn’t recognize that pattern.
AB: No, he does not recognize it. He didn’t say anything about al Qaeda. Oh, well, because ISIS, or ISIL, or Islamic State, or whatever we’re calling them today, because they’re hostile to al Qaeda, you don’t have to talk about al Qaeda. That’s wrong. They may be hostile to each other, but they’re Islamofascists, and they want to kill us. That’s what they have in common, and that’s all you need to know. But if you don’t understand that they’re cut from the same cloth, that this is a pattern that we have to recognize, you’re not going to be able to deal with the problem systemically. Leaders deal with systems. Leaders don’t go out there and say all right, I’m going to do this, and then something’s, the wind’s going to blow me the other direction and I’m going to do that. That’s actually, incidentally, that’s how poor leaders drive companies out of business…
AB: …is because they can’t recognize patterns.
HH: Right, right. And in fact, there are some great leaders. I think Tim Cook is a great leader of Apple, for example, who do recognize patterns, and they get ahead of them. They recognize things, and they change their business models to respond to it. I think you’re absolutely right. He’s passive, and he doesn’t recognize a pattern. Here’s something he said, probably the most controversial thing he said last night, and I’ll be talking about it later with Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post and Max Boot, and all sorts of people, but get your reaction to this, Arthur Brooks.
BO: Now let’s make two things clear. ISIL is not Islamic.
HH: Now that phrase, I know George W. Bush used to go to great pains, rightfully, to say we are not at war with Islam. Islamist jihadists represent 10-15% of Islam, if that much, but we have to deal with them. That statement last night was almost willfully confusing of the situation, Arthur.
AB: Sure. I mean, look, Obama has no right to tell anybody what Islam is and is not. I mean, that’s not even the point. This is not what we’re talking about. When somebody says, I mean, that’s the ‘no true Scotsman’ argument.
AB: I mean, this is the whole idea. It’s nuts. No good Christian would do that. I mean, what is he talking about at this point? These are murderers. These are fanatics. It doesn’t matter if they’re motivated by true Islam or false Islam. We are at war. If you want to talk about the fact that they’re not being true to their faith, write an article and submit it to some academic journal. If you want to be president of the United States, get your game on.
HH: Get your game on. And yesterday, after the President spoke, the Kagans, one of whom is a senior fellow at your institution, and one of the architects of the successful surge, said this isn’t going to work. And then Jim Mattis is quoted by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, and he is, along with Petraeus and Allen and McChrystal one of the great warriors of the war, said this isn’t going to work. I just get this sinking feeling that he doesn’t care that it’s not going to work. Everyone knows it’s not going to work, but he’s blind to that.
AB: Buying time. It’s buying time. See, their basic view of things is that it can’t, I mean, they agree with Fred and Kim Kagan. It can’t work. I mean, they know that, too. But it’s, their philosophy is look busy. You’ve got to look like you’re doing something, because the American people are going to take it out of your hide if you’re not. So look busy. They honestly believe that they can’t succeed in foreign policy. They can’t succeed in the Middle East. They can’t succeed in China. They can’t succeed in Russia. So the best thing to do is to disengage. And incidentally, Hugh, there are a ton of Republicans that agree.
End of segment.