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Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol on Obama’s KSM decision, health care prospects in the Senate, and their conversation with Sarah Palin today

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

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HH: Talking now with Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard about a number of things. Bill, welcome, always a pleasure to talk to you.

BK: I’m here, Hugh.

HH: Good. I just noticed over at the Weeklystandard.com, Matthew Continetti had a chance to talk with Sarah Palin this afternoon. She is unapologetic in her denunciation of bringing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the United States. Do you agree with her?

BK: I sure do. Yeah, Matt Continetti just spoke with her about an hour, hour and a half ago, and she’s absolutely right about the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed decision by Eric Holder, I guess really by Barack Obama, since he’s the president, not Eric Holder. It’s really inexplicable. I mean, I’m really struck by it, and if they had just decided okay, no military commissions, it offends their ACLU-like sensibilities, okay, we could debate that. We would be right and they would be wrong. But to put five people in military commissions, and then five in the federal courts, then say if we lose the federal trial, if it’s a hung jury or things are thrown out in technicalities, well then, we’ll just put them back in the brig anyway, I mean, it’s so farcical, honestly, I can’t even, there’s no rationale. And I think this hearing with Eric Holder testifying tomorrow before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I’ve talked with staff of Senate Republicans. I think they’re ready to really ask the tough questions, as they should. And I then hope that they go back to the floor of the Senate, and force another vote on the Lieberman-Graham amendment to prevent these guys being brought into the U.S. and given federal civil trial. And I really think that you could get Democrats to flip their vote when they now…it’s one thing to vote a couple of weeks ago. But now that people are really focusing on how difficult and crazy and offensive these trials are going to be, and dangerous, I think it’s really a chance to reverse this decision by the Obama administration.

HH: I just asked Mike Allen from Beijing, Bill Kristol, if the President and his entourage were aware of the tsunami of criticism. And the Rasmussen shows 51-29% against this, and that’s just beginning. He indicated that no, they’re standing by it. But I don’t think they will when they realize the revulsion. It’s not just disagreement. I think it’s a deep-seated revulsion at what has happened here.

BK: I think revulsion and bewilderment. I have two good friends of mine who happened to be in New York for some event last night, went to dinner afterwards, a lot of liberals, upscale people, you know, just couldn’t understand it. I mean, these people who voted for Obama said what is he doing? There’s no reason for this. Other stuff, you know, we hate the health care bill, these liberals like the health care bill. Okay, that’s just the standard kind of political disagreement. This, they just think is so reckless and so crazy, the risks they’re putting New Yorkers at, the risk of letting these monsters get off on technicalities, the exposing of American secrets, the embarrassing of the U.S. government, weakening our stance in the war on terror, I mean, it just seems…for what? For what? What’s the reason this has to be done? Holder himself thinks the military commissions are fine for trying the other people.

HH: You know what’s interesting, Bill…

BK: And the message of this is you kill civilians, you get treated better, you get a civil trial in gold plated American criminal justice system. If you kill military, you go to a military commission. So al Qaeda, go ahead and take your chances with civilians. I mean, it’s so creepy, almost, that I do think there’s real revulsion. And maybe Obama will overrule Eric Holder. He did before, as you know, on the photos, on the release of the photos.

HH: I’m going to ask Andrew McCarthy a little bit later in the program, the question as a lawyer that occurs to me is that if you’ve been sent to the military tribunal, it’ll take about five seconds for those defense council to now bring a motion demanding then you change to the civil courts, because there’s no ground for distinguishing here. There’s no rule of decision. It’s incoherent, to some extent, and I think goes to the essential political nature of the decision. But I’ll ask you, Bill Kristol, put on your Holder-Obama hat. What’s the best argument you can come up with for doing this?

BK: You know, honestly, I’m just almost speechless. Chris Wallace asked me Sunday on Fox News Sunday what’s in their mind, and I sort of, I didn’t quite expect him to ask the question, and I sort of paused for a minute, and I think as someone told me later, I said I don’t know. I don’t understand it. I guess the argument, they would say, is you know, civil trials, criminal trials in federal court show the majesty of the American system at work, we’ve convicted other terrorists, and it’s better to you know, foreigners will appreciate this, that we’re not doing it through some military tribunal. But you are absolutely right. This casts a pall on all the military commissions. The Canadian…it’s already in Canada, one of the five guys is going through a military commission as a Canadian citizen, one of the terrorists who attacked the U.S.S. Cole. Already in Canada, there are demands that the Canadian prime minister say to President Obama, how come the Canadian gets the second class judicial sort of system? So it’s really a disaster all around. I think they don’t appreciate the anger. The Justice Department, I always felt was going to be a huge weakness in this administration. It’s staffed with ACLU ideologues. This is part of their agenda. There are people in the Justice Department who volunteered to be defense counsel for some of these terrorists, virtually, certainly their colleagues did. And they think this is sort of fair, maybe it makes up for all the terrible things the Bush administration or something.

HH: Now I want to switch to foreign affairs, another extraordinary weakness. Gordon Brown, it’s reported by John Burns at the New York Times tonight, has doubled down on Afghanistan, as has David Milibrand, his foreign secretary, while we waffle. It’s also the week in which the president bows to the emperor of Japan. And Mike Allen confirms, they’ve got no second thoughts about this, about meeting with the dictators of Burma. Everything is copasetic, and I think I’m going to start patenting and selling the Bowbama doll, because it’s just like those cranes that used to dip into water, because it’s become not a serious issue, but an emblematic one, Bill Kristol.

BK: It is emblematic. It’s a kind of, you know, he thinks it’s good that the American president humbles himself abroad, and I think he thinks it’s good that America humbles itself or herself abroad. And I don’t mean to over-interpret this, but it was so bizarre what he did that then of course, the earlier bow to the Saudi king, that you do sort of wonder what’s going on. And you put it together with the KSM decision, with the political correctness that has pervaded, unfortunately that allowed Hasan to kill, to get away with what he got away with, you know, not to be exposed before, and then immediately after the killings, the next week, the kind of political correctness that pervaded the Obama administration’s response to the killings, and you really do worry that it’s one thing to kind of complain about the symbolism and his attitude. But there are real world consequences to these decisions, and to this point of view. Sarah Palin in her conversation with Continetti a couple of hours ago was, Matt asked her about Nidal Hasan, and she was of course very…it’s a terrible thing, and very tough on the people who might have missed the obvious warning signs. And she says, she blamed the culture of political correctness, and she said I’m going to say it. Profiling of someone with Hasan’s extremist ideology is needed. I say profile away, and said…and by the way, I don’t think she means profiling religiously, but profiling someone who shows the kind of extremist tendencies, and violent tendencies, including if they’re based on an interpretation of a religion, that Hasan showed. And I think that issue also has people outraged.

HH: Yes, it does.

BK: I mean…so…

HH: Let me ask you about the idea that President Obama is now suffering from what was alleged to be the problem in the Bush second administration, which is insularity, that no one could get through, that the president was surrounded first by Rove, and then by the second team that were not letting him understand how badly adrift he was, Katrina, etc. That’s a second term disease. It’s supposed to affect people in their second term. It seems, Bill Kristol, like this president does not have any connection to public opinion.

BK: Well, who does he spend all his time with? I mean, his buddies from Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel and Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod, someone like Eric Holder, you know, another Ivy League lawyer. I mean, it’s law professors and Chicago pols in the inner circles of the administration. And you see this on the Afghanistan thing, which I know you’ve been as upset about as I have. I mean, all the serious people understand that you send McChrystal over, General McChrystal over, you send 20,000 troops. You’re committed. And you ask General McChrystal to do an evaluation, and he says we need 40,000 more, it’s not a close call. Of course you do due diligence, and you take a look at his recommendation, and you call some other people in to look at it. But you don’t spend four months second guessing him, and having Rahm Emmanuel go out and leak things about how they don’t really agree with McChrystal. I mean, it’s really unbelievable to me that they are proceeding in this way. And the entire White House staff, I think, is…so you have the actual professionals, the military professionals, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, saying we have to do this. And a huge fight against them by all the pols in the White House. And I assume President Obama will eventually side with the military and his cabinet secretaries, but we’ve paid a big price there, too, in delay and in signs of irresolution. I really, you know, it’s not fun, frankly, criticizing the president for the last two weeks, because I really do shudder for the future of the country in certain ways at the consequences of these decisions.

HH: We’ve got a minute, Bill Kristol. I’m always hesitant to make political predictions, but we live in a new era that we’ve never been to before, the new media era, the era of massive and sudden shifts in public opinion. I think we underestimate what can happen at the polls when the American people look at a president who is so profoundly out of step with the sort of moderate mainstream policies that George Bush, by the way, was not out of step with. What do you think?

BK: Oh, I think it could be a big election a year from now, and I think one immediate consequence of the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed decision and the political correctness surrounding Nidal Hasan, I think the health care bill, which is another sign of being out of touch, and trying to impose a massive ideological agenda on the American public, I think it will fail in the Senate in the next month.

HH: I hope you are right. Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, great get by Matt over at Weeklystandard.com, good conversation with Sarah Palin.

End of interview.

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