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Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol On The Iran Deal, Obamacare And The Republican Strategy in 2014 Regarding Obama Court Picks

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

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HH: This segment, Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard joins me to focus on the very first topic as I did last hour with Ambassador Bolton, the deal with Iran. Bill Kristol, welcome back, good to talk to you, and a happy Thanksgiving in advance.

BK: Happy Thanksgiving to you, Hugh, and good to be with you.

HH: It is going to be something of a grim Thanksgiving, because I think this is, this is really a bad deal. This is a horrible time for the world. What do you make, I’ve read your piece, No Deal, but that was written actually before we knew just how bad a deal it is.

BK: Yeah, it’s a little worse than even I expected. But just on your introductory point about the three different issues, you know, it’s interesting, I’ve been saying for a while in speeches that I think it’s awfully important that Republicans win the presidency in 2016, which they need to deserve to win the presidency, which means they really need to think through the conservative agenda in a lot of ways. But the three reasons are we can’t afford another four years of this foreign policy, we can’t afford to let Obamacare become entrenched as the law of the land, and we can’t afford to let a liberal president make the next wave of Supreme Court and other federal court appointments, especially Supreme Court, as they’re really tipping it. And in a way, the three issues you’ve raised are exactly those three issues, right?

HH: Yup.

BK: The Iran deal, Obamacare and the Hobby Lobby case. And really, when you think, I honestly, I’m not one of those who gets hysterical every four years and think oh, my God, if we lose this election, the country’s over. But I’ve got to say, if you think about four more years of this kind of, these kinds of policies abroad and at home, and with respect to the courts, I really do worry about that.

HH: You know, Bill, there’s an obscure issue that I have hesitated to bring forward, because it’s so obscure. But the Chinese have asserted air rights over disputed islands, and we flew some B-52s through there today. And I didn’t want to get into it, because it’s just so freaking obscure, but that’s what we are inviting everywhere in the world.

BK: You know, I was in Japan of all places last week, don’t even ask, but I was at a think tank, met with very senior people including the prime minister. I was struck how many of them raised Syria. And I thought Syria? We’ve all sort of forgotten about that here. And the truth is, whatever one thinks of what Obama should have done there, and whether the intervention was wise in the first place, once the president of the United States said red line, and then he said we’re intervening, this cannot stand, use of chemical weapons can’t be tolerated, and then said oh, actually, we’ll go to Congress. And then he goes to Congress, and actually, I don’t really have the ability to get this through Congress. Actually, you know what? Putin’s worked something out, and Assad will stay in power, and he won’t pay any price for the chemical weapons, and maybe we’ll get some of them out of the country. That has such a big effect over there, and the Japanese were worried. I thought, honestly, when I was meeting with them, this was last week before the Chinese announced this very aggressive new policy, I thought some of my Japanese interlocutors who are very sober, senior officials and bureaucrats were being a little too worried, you know, come on, really? What’s going to happen out here in East Asia? It seems pretty stable. But you know, it does show that people in China can go online and find out what’s, they understand what’s happening elsewhere in the world, and they know the general signals this administration is sending. And weakness is dangerous. I mean, that is the bottom line, and it has always been.

HH: Yup.

BK: And now we are unfortunately facing a very dangerous situation and not just in the Middle East.

HH: You know, one of the byproducts of the nuclear option in the Senate is that some senators are saying we shouldn’t move any legislation, which includes Defense approps and Defense reauthorization. I think that’s a horrible mistake. But I do think we need to have some policy. What do you make of simply announcing that if and when we get to 51 senators, we will move no judicial nominees for the following two years? They can use the recess appointment. He certainly can. But we won’t confirm a Supreme Court nominee, we will not appoint, we will not confirm an appellate court nominee. That’s our response. You broke the rules, you broke the deal, and therefore for the last two years of Obama, we’re not going to move anyone, Bill. And that avoids getting caught in the tit for tat on legislation.

BK: You know, I like that idea. I hadn’t really thought of that particular version of that. I had, I was just talking on the phone last night with a former Republican senator who said he was very worried that you know, everyone would scream, and they had been complaining for the last week about what Harry Reid did, but at the end of the day, the Republicans would back off and do nothing, and that that would really be terrible in terms of both substance and also of the kind of signal it sends. And I like the idea of the courts, and that was what Reid changed the rules on, well, executive branch nominations, too, but I think those, that I’ve always felt was the less necessary to preserve the filibuster on that, though I think still wise. But on the judicial appointments, I like the idea of saying you know what? Fine, you changed the rules, you’re jamming people through now, but guess what? When we get 51, so when Republicans get 51 senators, that’s it. And I think it would be an attractive thing to go to the public on.

HH: Yup.

BK: You know what? You got to the public and say you like Obamacare, you like having a bunch of liberals jammed through on the federal benches, you reelect your Democratic senator. You want some senators who are going to stand up and stop Obamacare and try to repeal it and replace it, and you want senators who can prevent Obama from packing the federal courts, you vote for the Republican.

HH: That’s it. And I would extend it to the Supreme Court vacancy in the event that any were to occur, in order to up the ante and make sure they pay a genuine price, because that would be unprecedented, but so was the maneuver. Back to Iran, though.

BK: Yeah.

HH: The bottom line, what I’m asking everyone, is if you’re in Israel today, do you calculate that you have to wait six months to take action? Or do you calculate you cannot afford to wait six months to take action?

BK: I don’t think you calculate the first. I do not think you can put yourself in the position, if you’re a responsible Israeli prime minister, and Benjamin Netanyahu is, that you are paralyzed for six months because of some paper deal that could easily be evaded via the Iranians could easily cheat and deceive. And the deal itself is so full of loopholes and so weak that you don’t even know where things will be in three, four, five months. You know, I think all things being equal, and it’s a little harder for the Israeli prime minster to act, but it may not be two or three months from now. And anyway, all this talk, oh, it’s hard and it’s politically, I mean, that’s not the way the Israelis are thinking. They’re not thinking about what will look good, what will the New York Times editorial board say, or you know, it would be a little surprise if they act here in the U.S, because everyone thought there was a six month time out. They are facing an existential threat. If they honestly believe that the Iran heavy water reactor that the Iranians are going ahead on that, and that the deal doesn’t shut down the kind of work that was important, or they’re evading the deal, they’ve got to hit it. So I’m very much of the camp that I don’t know that this speeds up the Israeli time frame for a possible attack, but I don’t think they can let it, slow it down.

HH: Now I’m trying to be very honest intellectually about is there anything in this deal that is good, because if there was any sign of progress, real progress, you know, dismantling the plutonium, I mean, dismantling the plutonium site, not merely deenriching but exporting the previously superenriched uranium, anything that was tangible and real, I might believe in the confidence-building measures that have worked in the past. But correct me if I’m wrong. There really is nothing in this deal that is permanent or not immediately reversible from Iran.

BK: Right, it’s a pause in parts of the Iranian nuclear program. And maybe a pause is worth having, and in return, I might have been open to a pause in our increasing of sanctions. But trading off a pause, and it’s a very partial pause, for a lessening of sanctions, I think, is really indefensible. And you’re absolutely right. We know what a serious reduction of a, the beginning of the dismantling of a nuclear program looks like. Look at Libya.

HH: Yes.

BK: Look at, yeah, we even know in the case of Syria, I mean, I don’t approve, God knows, of what’s happened in Syria, and I think they’re cheating and all that. But even so, the fact is some chemical weapons are being sent out of the country. Some production sites for chemical weapons are being destroyed. The key, and you were absolutely, you put your finger on it just a minute ago. The key in this deal is nothing is being dismantled, nothing is being destroyed, nothing irreversible is happening to their nuclear program. So they’ve paused it several times in the past when they were nervous that we were going to strike, or perhaps that Israel was going to strike, or just for political and PR reasons. Now, they’re pausing a little bit, perhaps, for six months here, and in return are getting a pretty big dose of sanctions relief, both in terms of actual money, and very much psychologically in terms of businesses around the world and other nations around the world not believing anymore that the sanctions regime, which was going to get ratcheted up, and that they really should give up on the thought of trading with this regime in Iran.

HH: Bill Kristol, I want to finish, on Thursday, I’m replaying three hours of interviews I did with Charles Krauthammer about his new book, because it’s so wonderful. And, but part of that was, and he refused to reengage in being a psychiatrist. What is going on in the President’s head? But you’ve never been a psychiatrist, so you don’t have to refuse to start over. You just can start for the first time. What in the world is going on inside of the President’s head? This doesn’t make any sense what he’s been doing.

BK: Yeah, I think there’s a real cocoon atmosphere now in the White House, and among his aides. You know, reality, they get mugged by reality, as my father said. Neoconservatives are liberals who have been mugged by reality. They get mugged by reality, and they pretend it hasn’t happened. I mean, and it really is a little shocking and dangerous in a way. It’s one thing to have very naïve and liberal ideas, come in, in 2009, and say we’re going to change the world, that’s the Cairo speech, we’re going to pass Obamacare and improve health care. It’s another thing five years later to watch it crumbling around you, and not to adjust at all, and not to even notice or acknowledge that reality has impinged on your dreams.

HH: Oh, it is hard to imagine the next 38 months. Bill Kristol, have a great Thanksgiving nevertheless. Thanks for joining us.

End of interview.

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