The Beltways Boys, Friday, June 30, 2006
HH: Joined now as I am most Fridays by Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard, also half of the Beltway Boys on the Fox News Channel tomorrow night at 6PM. Sitting in for Morton tonight we have Charles Krauthammer, of course of the Washington Post, columnist, and always on the Fox News all-stars in Special Report. Gentlemen, welcome to you both. I want to begin with Richard Clarke and Roger Cressey’s piece in today’s New York Times, arguing, as has Eric Lichtblau been arguing, that the New York Times piece of a week ago did no damage to the terrorism effort. Charles Krauthammer, what do you make of that claim?
CK: Well, you know, it’s interesting how they want to have it both ways. On the one hand, it’s a great story about an abuse of power by the administration. On the other hand, it’s old news. Well, which is it? I think it is an important story. I think it was a breach of our secrecy, and I think it did damage on what we’re trying to do around the world. And to pretend otherwise, I think, is simply a way to escape responsibility for an egregious act.
HH: Fred Barnes, do you agree with that assessment?
FB: I do agree with it, and I don’t understand how they can claim that when the President, the Vice President, Democratic members of Congress, including John Murtha, where the Democratic and Republican heads of the 9/11 Commission, all of whom are tapped into intelligence, American intelligence, say otherwise. I mean, how does some reporter for the New York Times know. He doesn’t have access at least to a lot of this intelligence, so I think that’s a pretty poor excuse for running a story that there was no reason to run. I mean, they said it was in the public’s interest, but it was clearly a legal program, and there were no abuses. So I don’t think the Times has a leg to stand on.
HH: Eric Lichtblau makes this argument repeatedly, both in print, and he has done so with me in taped programs. And he does not seem to care, Charles Krauthammer, that in his own story, they declare that it was hidden, that it was a deeply held and closely held secret, and that not even Bush administration officials, and a lot of the government knew about it, when financial executives from New York clued them into the existence of SWIFT. Is it persuasive with the American people, though? Are they able to turn the tide that is, I think, running quite strongly against them? I’d be interested in your opinion on that, as well.
CK: Look, I think the American people are eminently sensible. They understand that if you have a situation of possible abuse, or possible illegality, well, then it’s a tough call. I mean, it isn’t really the responsibility of the press to make those decisions. We do elect governments who decide on what ought to be secret and not, and it is a democracy. But in those cases, you can understand how you might want to publish. But in a case as Fred indicated, where there’s no allegation of illegality or abuse, this is purely, wanton, sort of betrayal of secrets. I mean, it borders on the treasonous, in the middle of a war, to essentially to give an enemy a copy of your battle plan, which is what the equivalent is in a war like this, of shadowy, undeclared combatants.
HH: Fred Barnes, the House of Representatives, and I believe when they return next week, the Senate are both voting resolutions condemning media leaks. It’s weak beer. Bill Kristol, your colleague and I, were talking about this yesterday. Kind of silly not to name the New York Times.
FB: Yeah, of course.
HH: Are those resolutions worth anything, given that they’re afraid of the big dogs, so they’re kicking the puppies? Does it matter?
FB: Zilch, zip, nothing. They’re completely worthless. And then there have been other trivial proposals like withdrawing the press credentials at the White House for the New York Times and the L.A. Times and so on. I mean, that trivializes the whole issue. I mean, there are things they can do, Congress can do immediately. It can hold hearings on this to see what damage was done, and to find out whether there are reforms that need to be done to legislation regarding the release of classified information. Look, we know perfectly well that if this had been released directly to Osama bin Laden, the person who leaked it would be guilty of treason. Instead, he gave it to the New York Times, and that’s the way Osama bin Laden and his people could learn about the details of this program. So if the Espionage Act from World War I days doesn’t apply, and the Communications Act in 1950 I don’t think applies, maybe we need new legislation. And that’s what Congress needs to do.
CK: What I would do is give liberals a taste of their own medicine. In the CIA leak case, the Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson case, liberal editorialists, including the New York Times, were saying well, you’ve got to prosecute the person in the government who leaked this, and you have to call the reporters who know about this, and who received the imforation, you have to compel them to reveal their sources, or you stick them in jail, as happened, of course, with Judith Miller. So I would apply the liberal CIA leak case standards to this case, and apply it exactly the same way.
HH: As would I. Now I would like to switch over to Hamdan, and get your reactions to this, and how it’s playing, politically, Fred Barnes. A lot of people are analyzing Hamdan, unusually, as a big win for the Bush administration, politically, even though it’s a blow to presidential power. Your assessment?
FB: Well, yeah, I think it will be. Politically, it’ll play well, because during the month of July, they’ll be, Congress will be working on a way to authorize the trials that the President had ordered on his own through these military panels. Look, do Democrats want to have the War On Terror be a top subject of debate a few months before a mid-term election? Do they want to talk about these hard-core killers who are in jail in Guantanamo? I don’t think they want that to be the issue, so it’ll help the President, politically. On the other hand, while it wasn’t, the decision wasn’t that bad, it’s unfortunate that the Court intervened at all. I mean, this is something handling, deciding on wartime tactics and strategies, or something that should be left to the President.
HH: Charles Krauthammer, as I read the reaction today, practically cheering from the left in the media, and I thought to myself, they don’t really understand that the American people are going to be more upset with the Court overruling that says we’re not protecting terrorist rights more than they’re going to be upset with Bush for moving to not protect terrorist rights. Have I got that analysis wrong?
CK: Well, I think in some ways, it’s a lot like the NSA leak reaction, I think, in December and January, when the left was just crowing over this exposure of the President abusing his powers, and listening in to al Qaeda calls from overseas. And then of course, the public opinion polls appear, and the left is shocked to discover the American people think it’s a splendid idea to actually listen in on the enemy in time of war. And Democrats in Congress, who started out by denouncing the whole idea, all of a sudden stop in their tracks, and say oh, no, no. I don’t want to abolish it, I just don’t want to regularize it and establish procedures. But no Democrat stood up and said that we’ve got to end this, who had any political sense. So I think you’re going to have that same kind of reaction. Democrats, if they oppose this program, this idea of having a tribunal with less lenient procedures that you would have for a citizen and a criminal in the U.S., if Democrats oppose this and want to be soft on terror, and terrorist defendents, they’re going to be hurt as much politically as they were in the 60’s and 70’s, when they were correctly charged with being soft on crime. They haven’t learned that lesson.
HH: Fred Barnes, the Real Clear Politics poll average of the presidential approval rating is back above 40 for the first time in a long time. Why is that? And do you think it’s a trend that will continue through the Fall?
FB: Well, I’m not sure about the trend. You know quite possibly, if the President doesn’t have…remember, one of the reasons he doesn’t have…bad luck. Remember, one of the reasons his polls dropped so much were things that came along like Katrina and the insurgency got a little worse last year in Iraq, and some of it was self-inflicted as well. But if the President doesn’t have that bad luck, it’ll improve. And really, I mean, there are several things that have happened. One, the Democrats have hurt themselves on Iraq by having John Murtha be their spokesman, this guy who says we should redeploy the American troops nearby in Okinawa, 5,000 miles away. I mean, it’s become…I think that’s become a real embarrassment for them. And the President has looked strong, there’s been progress in Iraq, but I think he has one big problem that’s still holding him back, and that’s Iran. He hasn’t looked tough on that.
HH: Okay. And now I want to talk very briefly about Israel, Charles Krauthammer. It seems to me that over the last week, the obvious headlines have drawn our attention back there, and that the problem there is almost beyond resolution. Your reaction to what the events of this week have told us?
CK: Well, it’s that the Palestinians are not interested in having an independent state. The Israelis left Gaza a year ago. It was independent. There are no settlers, no Jews, no Israeli army, no occupation. So you’d expect for them they want their own state, to begin building it. Instead, they launch rockets from the first day into innocent Israeli towns. And now, they tunnel underneath and kill Israeli soldiers and kidnap one. And the Israelis, who were rather weak after the withdrawal, and did not express in any strong way that it would not stand the rocket attacks, have now acted, finally, and I think forcefully, which will probably have an affect on deterring future attacks.
HH: Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard, and to the Beltway Boys, tomorrow night, 6PM, thanks for joining us, gentlemen.
End of interview.