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Wall Street Journal Deputy Editorial Page Editor Bret Stephens On Hillary’s Foreign Policy Record

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HH: I am now joined by Bret Stephens. Bret is of course the deputy editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal. He is also the global view columnist at the Journal and the author of a brand new book, America In Retreat, which we spoke about extensively last week. Bret, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show. It’s great to have you.

BS: Good to be on the show, Hugh.

HH: I called you because of your column on Hillary, and I want to talk about Hillary, and I want people to hear first and foremost what it is we’re talking about. This is Hillary Clinton earlier this week at Georgetown University making a comment heard ‘round the blogosphere, cut number five:

HRC: This is what we call smart power, using every possible tool and partner to advance peace and security, leaving no one on the sidelines, showing respect even for one’s enemies, trying to understand and insofar as psychologically possible, empathize with their perspective and point of view, helping to define the problems, determine the solutions. That is what we believe in the 21st Century will change, change the prospects for peace.

HH: Now Bret Stephens, your column is titled Hillary Clinton’s Empathy Deficit. What did you make of those remarks?

BS: Well, the first thing is you know, just listening to her voice, I’m thinking is that the voice I want ringing in my ears for four or maybe eight years? I’m not so sure. But leaving aside just the sound of her voice, what was very striking to me about the comment, I guess two main things, Hugh. Number one, the choice of the word empathy was just so politically misjudged. I mean, any one of her speechwriters must have known, or should have known that to say, to talk about empathizing with our enemies was going to be a political soundbyte for her opponents from now all the way up until November, 2016, assuming that she runs for president. The second thing is well, yes, in a sense, it’s correct. You want to try to understand your enemy from his own point of view in order to know him better. That’s a dictum of war going back all the way to Sun Tzu, the great Chinese military theorist of the 5th Century BC. But when you actually think of Hillary’s record when it comes to getting in the headspace of someone like Vladimir Putin, or the ayatollahs of Iran, she did a pretty bad job of it.

HH: You said in your column that she is as tin-eared as she is ambitious. And I have to agree with that. I wrote a book this year called The Happiest Life, in which I devoted an entire chapter to the glories of empathy, which is actually a harder to develop emotional response than sympathy, because you to actually to have walked in the shoes of the person you’re empathizing with. Only someone who’s lost a child can empathize with someone who’s lost a child. You can sympathize for them if you haven’t, but you can only empathize if in fact you’ve had a shared emotional experience. It makes, what Mrs. Clinton said makes no sense, Bret.

BS: Yeah, I mean, look, but let’s assume, you can, there’s a kind of a meta-level of empathy where you can at least assume that your adversary is not simply stupid and ill-informed, and is operating from a deeply-held sense of certain political convictions. And let’s just think about that. Let’s take a case like, say, the Iranian ayatollahs. We keep negotiating with them with this idea that what they want at the deepest level is to be reintegrated into the global economy, they want better educational opportunities for their kids, better roads for their drivers, and so forth and so on. And that’s just a complete failure to accept that the Iranian regime has sincerely-held goals and beliefs that are just at complete variance with our own. And so it’s a failure to sort of understand that your adversary is coming from a place of profound philosophical conviction. Now it happens to be convictions I think are odious convictions, but it’s coming from a place of profound philosophical conviction. And he’s not about to be bought off in the lingo of what Westerners or all human beings are supposed to want. The Iranian regime wants nuclear weapons because it wants prestige, it wants power, and it wants to defy the great Satan, which is the United States. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Show them that, the other word she used in that interview, Hugh, was respect. Respect them enough not to think they’re stupid.

HH: I want to go back and use a different context to illumine her remarks, because we just passed Pearl Harbor day. Can you imagine FDR talking about respecting the Nazis or empathizing with the Japanese, Bret Stephens?

BS: Well, as a political matter, it would have been completely stupid for them to do. That being said, certainly with the Japanese, it was very important, I think, for the Americans to really to try to think carefully about Japan’s mentality. And by the way, this went especially when you think about the end stages of the war where we seemed to think that, or some people seemed to think in retrospect that we could have defeated Japan without the shock of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And that required really thinking seriously about the Japanese warrior mentality and what would be required in order to break it. But again, this is a matter of politics, too. I can’t imagine FDR or Harry Truman speaking about it, because Americans aren’t rallied in the language of empathy and respect. And if that’s what her notion of smart power is, it equals dumb politics.

HH: So tell me what you think she was attempting to accomplish, because I have been probing for a year and a half people about Hillary, because I’m writing a book about her. And I keep asking the same question – does she have a glass jaw? Are her political flaws so manifest in this speech overcomeable?

BS: You know, Hugh, a year ago if you had asked me who’s going to be the next president, I would have said it’s going to be Hillary. And now, I really, I just, I am being reminded on a regular basis with the publication of her book, with comments about her being dead broke when they left the White House, one comment after another, I’m reminded that she is not as smart, at least not as politically smart, as is advertised. And sometimes, you know, I am a dear student of William of Ockham. And Occam’s Razor tells us, in effect, that the simpler explanation is the likelier explanation when you’re faced with two alternatives. I think the simpler explanation here is a women who’s slightly out of her depth trying to find a higher purpose for a political candidacy that is driven solely by personal ambition. So what higher purpose is that? Well, there’s smart power, the justification for her time in office. And yet the application of smart power turned out to be a four year foreign policy disaster.

HH: After the break, I want to review an earlier speech that she made at Georgetown from five years ago. But the short question, which I probably posed before to you, Bret Stephens, is what exactly did she accomplish at State?

BS: Nothing. That’s the short answer.

HH: That’s, I think, the answer.

BS: That’s the short answer.

HH: I think that is…how do you run for president except on the assumption that the American people won’t care, because it’s really Bill Clinton running for his third term?

BS: Because this is the Jonathan Gruber view of America – we’re stupid.

HH: Yeah, that is, she really does come down to that, because when you look at this paragraph, I don’t know what she was attempting to accomplish. And 30 seconds to the break, Bret, what could she have been attempting to accomplish at Georgetown this week?

BS: Well, whatever she was attempting to accomplish, she accomplished the reverse. If it was to polish her brand as a smart diplomat, it didn’t work.

HH: I’ll be right back with Bret Stephens. He is the deputy editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal.

— – – — –

HH: Bret, when I read the excerpt of Secretary Clinton’s speech at Georgetown this week, I was reminded of a speech she gave at Georgetown five years ago. And I’ve gone back and grabbed four audio clips. This is at the beginning, only shortly after President Obama had received the Nobel Prize. I thought I’d get you to comment on some of her comments from five years ago, Cut number one:

HRC: Today, I want to speak to you about the Obama Administration’s human rights agenda for the 21st century. It is a subject on the minds of many people who are eager to hear our approach, and understandably so, because it is a critical issue that warrants our energy and our attention. My comments today will provide an overview of our thinking on human rights and democracy and how they fit into our broader foreign policy, as well as the principles and policies that guide our approach.

HH: I play that excerpt, Bret Stephens, because there is quite a lot of effort in Hillaryworld to distance herself now from President Obama. Is that going to be possible, because she’s speaking in the collective we here in Georgetown.

BS: Well, right, and I think whoever runs against her is going to constantly try to remind Americans of the, of just how closely they worked, or at least pretended or claimed to work. You know, I’m just shocked by the human rights case for the Obama administration. You know, we were talking a little bit about Iran just in the first segment, and remember when Iranians rose up in revolt against the stolen election, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s so-called reelection in 2009. And you remember the images of Neda, Neda Agha-Soltan, the young, brave woman who was killed by Iranian thugs, regime thugs in the streets. And this is a regime that sat on its hands and did nothing. No, excuse me, this isn’t an administration that sat on its hands and did nothing. This is an administration that has sat on its hands for two and a half, three years and watched 200,000 people get slaughtered, including a thousand people in one day in Damascus from Sarin gas get slaughtered, and has done nothing. The Sarin gas, it’s true, took place after she left the administration. But when it comes to human rights, it’s hard, I’m hard-pressed to think of an administration that has a worse record than this one in standing up for basic human rights around the world.

HH: Given what you’ve just said, listen to this clip from her 2009 Georgetown speech, cut number two:

HRC: This Administration, like others before us, will promote, support, and defend democracy. We will relinquish neither the word nor the idea to those who have used it too narrowly, or to justify unwise policies. We stand for democracy not because we want other countries to be like us, but because we want all people to enjoy the consistent protection of the rights that are naturally theirs, whether they were born in Tallahassee or Tehran. Democracy has proven the best political system for making human rights a human reality over the long term.

HH: Whether they were born in Tallahassee or Tehran, Bret Stephens, the irony given what you’ve just said is pretty profound.

BS: Right, and by the way, just take two cases. What is the country that gets the most ire from this administration? It’s the one genuine liberal democracy in the Middle East, and that’s Israel. It’s the one country that actually gets senior administration officials to mouth obscenities to reporters when it comes to talking about their democratically-elected leadership. And we were talking about empathy earlier in the show, Hugh, and it’s, Israelis must be scratching their heads and asking where’s the empathy towards them? But at the same time, take another country in the Middle East, which is Turkey, which is moving very quickly away from a democracy or at least a liberal democracy, into something much more closely resembling a dictatorship. When was the last time you heard a senior official in this administration, or certainly Mrs. Clinton get up and start to speak clearly about what is happening to liberalism and democracy inside of Turkey under the long rule of now-President Erdogan.

HH: If of course has not happened. And when I come back, a couple more clips from Hillary Clinton’s December 14th, 2009 speech at Georgetown. I go out by giving you a repeat of what she said just this week at Georgetown. Here’s Hillary just a few days ago:

HRC: This is what we call smart power, using every possible tool and partner to advance peace and security, leaving no one on the sidelines, showing respect even for one’s enemies, trying to understand and insofar as psychologically possible, empathize with their perspective and point of view, helping to define the problems, determine the solutions. That is what we believe in the 21st Century will change, change the prospects for peace.

HH: I’ll be right back with Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal:

— – – – –

HH: I doubt, Bret, you could have written your book five years ago and imagined as bad a five years as we have experienced. I don’t think it was…

BS: Yeah, even with my distrust of the administration, it would have sounded like science fiction, and here we are.

HH: And here we are. But at the time that it began, it wasn’t that way. Here’s Hillary from December 14th, 2009, cut number three:

HRC: Sometimes, we will have the most impact by publicly denouncing a government action, like the coup in Honduras or violence in Guinea. Other times, we will be more likely to help the oppressed by engaging in tough negotiations behind closed doors, like pressing China and Russia as part of our broader agenda. In every instance, our aim will be to make a difference, not to prove a point.

HH: Now Bret Stephens, I bring this up because it reminds us of the first ill-fated step of the Obama-Clinton years…

BS: Yeah, Honduras.

HH: Honduras.

BS: I mean, dreadful. What…the government of, the people of Honduras stood up against the possibility of a new Hugo Chavez and save themselves from a dictatorship, and the United States was simply in the wrong in not accepting that Honduras, for all of its problems, actually has a rule of law, that its then-Chavezta president was attempting to violate. I mean, it’s just a stunning, it’s just a stunning comment. And again, I get back to this conceit, Hugh, of smart power, you know, this self-belief that they are so smart. And yet on so many levels, not only are they not smart, they’re not even well-informed.

HH: Oh, she says she would press China and Russia behind closed doors to make a different, not to prove a point. She gave the reset button. They tried to get it back, it was revealed, in HRC, by Jon Allen and Amy Parnes. And in fact, it’s a total debacle what’s happened with Russia since there. And that’s smart power on display, where the really smart guy, unfortunately he’s evil, has eaten their lunch.

BS: Well, and you know that that smart button literally had the word reset mistranslated in Russian. They used the wrong word. So from the get-go, the State Department didn’t even have the linguistic prowess to get the language right. And it was just a kind of a symbol of everything that came after it. This idea that you could charm a KGB agent like Vladimir Putin into being a cooperative member of an international community where as in fact he’s hell bent on restoring the glories of the Soviet Union.

HH: One more quote from, in the way back machine, 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is laying out the agenda ahead at the end of the first year of the Obama administration. And here’s what she says about what we’ll hear a lot about in the next two years as she runs for president – women. Cut number four:

HRC: On my visits to China, I have made a point of meeting with women activists. The UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 inspired a generation of women civil society leaders who have become rights defenders for today’s China. In 1998, I met with a small group of lawyers in a crowded apartment on the fifth floor of a walk-up building. They described for me their efforts to win rights for women to own property, have a say in marriage and divorce, and be treated as equal citizens. When I visited China again earlier this year, I met with some of the same women, but this group had grown and expanded its scope. Now there were women working not just for legal rights, but for environmental, health, and economic rights as well.

HH: Bret Stephens, I imagine we’ll hear a lot of this stuff, and we’ll hear a lot about the one Chinese dissident that she did indeed get sprung from China in the course of her four years as Secretary of State. But I don’t think we’ll be hearing much about what’s going on in Hong Kong, and I doubt really, I really doubt that these women that she met with in that dramatic moment in the 5th floor walk-up in the crowded room that was no doubt full of infiltrators and listened to every word by listening devices are actually making much of a difference at all in China.

BS: It reminds me a little bit about her description in one of, during the 2008 campaign, of walking into a hail of gunfire when she landed in the Balkans, I think in Sarajevo back in the mid-1990s. That should be checked. I would, my instinct as a journalist tells me I want to go back and check on that. Notice, by the way, what she omitted, the greatest human rights violations, or women’s rights violations in China, the one-child policy, the forced abortions that go into enforcing it.

HH: And the inability to religious, to worship religious…

BS: Oh, the list is long, but I’m sticking to the women’s, you know, specifically the women’s agenda, and unbelievably cruel treatment of women who cannot afford to bribe their way out of the one-child policy.

HH: And you mentioned Turkey in the last segment. Women are being pushed back into the veil in Turkey at an alarming rate. They’ve never gotten rid of it in some places. And her great foreign policy push for Libya has left that country in utter chaos, Bret Stephens.

BS: No, look, I mean, this is one of the hypocrisies that drives especially those of us who are concerned about Israel’s well-being and its security, the constant harping on alleged Israeli human rights violations, and the complete failure to take note of what is happening to women, to minorities, to gay people in Muslim societies, to Christians, to people with different religious beliefs all over the Muslim Middle East where this administration walks on egg shells.

HH: Yeah, ISIS threw a gay man from…

BS: I mean, it’s a disturbing double standard.

HH: Yeah, ISIS threw a gay man from a bridge yesterday and then stoned his broken body. That’s who we’re dealing with here, and I’m just curious, we have a minute left, Bret. Does the mainstream media indulge her in these fantasies of competence? Or do they attack the narrative as she’s attempting to construct it? Not you and me, but the mainstream media.

BS: You know what? I don’t know if you saw that Times story based on her time in as first lady. It was a remarkably harsh story. I was struck that on the front page of the Times, there was this really pretty dim view of her political savvy or lack thereof during her time as first lady. I think there are a lot of people on the left who just as in 2008, so, too, going into 2016, are really sick of the Clinton brand of politics, which is about personal ambition above everything else, and all of the policies, all of the ideas, opportunistically constructed to suit that vehicle of their ego and their interest. And I think a lot of, don’t be surprised, Hugh, don’t be surprised if one of the other candidates who throws his or her hat in the ring, maybe the governor of Maryland or even Joe Biden, might do surprisingly well.

HH: Indeed, I did read that. Peter Baker was my guest earlier. That transcript is posted at Hughhewitt.com. Bret Stephens, author of America In Retreat, thank you very, very much.

End of interview.

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