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Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol on why the Hagel nomination is so important to oppose

Wednesday, January 9, 2013
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HH: Joining me to discuss the nomination is Weekly Standard editor, Bill Kristol. Happy New Year, Bill. I hope 2013 is better for all of us than 2012.

BK: Well, I do, too, Hugh, and good to be with you, and Happy New Year. My condolences on Notre Dame. Well, they’re still one of the, this may be team still in college football. It’s just that Alabama doesn’t really play college football, if you know what I mean.

HH: I know. They’re the third best, because Ohio State, of course, was undefeated.

BK: Well, that goes without saying.

HH: That goes without saying.

BK: It’s an admirable program that you guys have at Ohio State. They had a few minor infractions of the rules. I was outraged that they were punished so severely.

HH: But for the tattoo police…

BK: But that’s a topic for another show, right, Hugh?

HH: But for the tattoo police, we would have won last night. All right, Bill Kristol, the Hagel nomination, Bret Stephens is going to join me a little bit later. He’s been writing about it, you’ve been writing about it a lot. Summarize for someone who just walked in off of their vacation from the West Indies or something what this means, and what it’s about thus far.

BK: I mean, one of the two or three most important cabinet agencies, obviously, at a time of increasing danger in the world, and the President has nominated to head that department, replacing, incidentally, two people who headed it during his first term, Bob Gates, a holdover from Bush who was a bipartisan career CIA and national security official, and then Leon Panetta, a Democrat, but a responsible custodian of the Department. And both of them are in the mainstream of American foreign policy. He wants to replace them with two-term Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who has no real, frankly, record of legislative achievement, no experience in the Pentagon at all, no reputation as a good manager or anything like that, no reputation as having interesting national security ideas or great knowledge about Defense, and indeed, on those issues where he’s weighed in, has been way out of the mainstream, being one of a handful of Senators in some of these votes against Iran sanctions, against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group, and a real hostility to Israel, and really out of the mainstream, and indeed, he’s been proud of being out of the mainstream. And the famous quote about the Jewish lobby, if you listen to the audio, he says you know, I’m going to say something most Senators don’t say. I’m going to tell you that the Jewish lobby intimidates people up here on the Hill. So he’s sort of proud of not being part of what has been a pretty bipartisan mainstream support of Israel, and a pretty bipartisan effort to curb the Iranian nuclear program without having to use force. And this is the person, of all the people out there, of all the technocrats, Democrats, people who served him in his own first term, this is the person that President Obama wants to make secretary of Defense. I really think it’ll be very bad for the country if he is confirmed.

HH: Bill Kristol refers to a tape that was released on Breitbart last night of Senator Hagel talking with former Mideast diplomat Aaron David Miller. Here is that tape:

CH: The reality is that you intimidate a lot, not you, but the Jewish lobby, intimidates a lot of people up here. And again, I’ve always argued against some of the dumb things they do, because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel. I just don’t think it’s smart for Israel. Now everyone has a right to lobby. That’s as it should be. And come see your Senator and Congressman, and if you can get the guy to sign your letter, great. Wonderful. But as I reminded somebody not too long ago, in fact, it was a group I was speaking to in New York, and we got into kind of an interesting give and take on Iran. And a couple of these guys said well, we should just attack Iran. And I said well, it’s an interesting thought. We’re doing so well in Iraq. And I said would it really help Israel? And so this guy kept pushing and pushing, and he alluded to the fact that well, maybe I wasn’t supporting Israel enough or something, and I don’t know how we got…and I just said well, let me clear something up here if there’s any doubt in your mind. I said I’m a United States Senator, not an Israeli Senator. I’m a United States Senator. I support Israel, but my first interest, because I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States, not to a president, not to a party, not to Israel.

HH: Bill Kristol, that someone says that is itself an assault on our ears, because the idea that anyone would assume you’d take an oath to Israel is almost, it’s an old and jaded, very stereotypical charge of anti-Semitism made against people of divided loyalty. And to throw it back, it really does sound very close to the fringe, actually. Not just out of the mainstream, but close to the fringe.

BK: Yeah, I think very much so. I mean, these charges have been made by people like Pat Buchanan, and Republicans have repudiated Pat Buchanan. And indeed, he ended up being driven out of the party, really, for charging that those who are pro-Israel were somehow, had divided loyalties and Israel firsters. And that’s really what he’s saying there. I’m an America firster, not an Israel firster. And I am not someone to call anti-Semitism every time I see someone who happens to disapprove of Israeli government policies, or even someone who doesn’t particularly like Israel. That’s fine. You can prefer, you know, other countries in the Middle East or whatever. But that is, in my view, somewhat beyond, over the line. And he never, of course, apologized for it, and still actually hasn’t, really. I mean, he now says in an interview yesterday that he is a staunch, what was it he said, unequivocal friend of Israel, just after he’s just told us he’s proud of sort of not being, standing up to Israel. So I think he’ll now say some things at the confirmation hearings to try to say that he’s pro-Israel, but the record is pretty clear. And it’s clear on a bunch of votes and resolutions he refused to support, speeches he’s given. It’s not just one statement or something like that. So I really do think he’s out of the mainstream, and I think, I agree with you. Just listening to that tape, honestly, made me, it makes me uncomfortable.

HH: Sure, it does, and it’s the kind of tape that if a caller called up and began to say those things…

BK: Right.

HH: …I’d throw them of the air. It’s sort of like when people start talking about the Liberty. My antennae start to quiver, and I know that I’m dealing with someone from the extreme. Bill Kristol, I don’t think he’ll get any Republican votes. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m looking at a list of Democrats – Hagan of North Carolina, Pryor of Arkansas, Warner of Virginia, Landrieu of Louisiana, Udall of Colorado up this election, Baucus of Montana, Jean Shaheen of New Hampshire, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, to a lesser extent, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, because I think he’s quitting, and Manchin of West Virginia. Do you think they are in a hurry to vote for someone who is going to be perceived as both certainly not pro-Israel, and isolationist, and really anti-Defense?

BK: I think they’re not in a hurry, and you can see from their statements that they’re in no hurry. He’s gotten very little flat-out support, given that he’s the nominee of a reelected president of the majority party in the Senate. They all say we want to wait for the hearings, we hope he can clear up these problems that have been created by his statements. I think the key now is for people listening to the show, people out in the country in the relevant states to make it clear that they care about this vote. This is an important vote, and that if Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Pryor in Arkansas, and Hagan in North Carolina, this really, they will hold this, this is a serious vote where it really does affect the country, and they do not have to…fine, they can be loyal to the President, obviously, if it’s sort of a routine nominee. Everyone expects Democrats to go along with the President, and a lot of Republicans are going to go along. You and I aren’t complaining about John Kerry’s nomination to secretary of State. I’m not a big fan of John Kerry. But if I were a Senator, I’d probably vote for it unless something bizarre came up, you know? This is really unusual, and I think people around the country need to rally at the state level and tell their Senators that this is an important vote to them. Ben Cardin of Maryland, who’s a real liberal but a decent man, has been very troubled by these statements, and has made a couple of strong statements. He hasn’t said he’s against him at all, but has said he really is troubled by these statements, wants to hear, of course, Hagel’s explanations at the hearings. I think Cardin should be encouraged to go further. You know, it’s a tough thing to get these Senators to break from obviously the nominee of their own president. But I think a lot of them would like to. It’s sort of one of these cases where one of them has to go first. I think almost all of the Republicans will be against Hagel. A lot of them are reserving, as they should. You know, maybe they’re going to say they want to hear him at the hearings. But I think it’s pretty clear they’re pretty dubious about Hagel. Again, the other thing is there’s no great personal loyalty or affection for him, I gather, from talking to Senators. He didn’t accomplish much in the Senate, there’s not Hagel legislation. You know, there’s not bipartisan efforts to do this or that. So it’s not as if he’s appointing someone for whom there’s a great reservoir of goodwill. I think this is winnable. It’s winnable if people at the grassroots rally and just say look, you and I, and most of your listeners are not going to like the Obama second term much. But there’s a difference between having foreign policies we disapprove of. Foreign policies, we’ll debate, and try to argue that they should be corrected. We’ll argue that Congress should modify them. That’s different from having someone as secretary of Defense that we really fundamentally doubt, don’t believe is the right person to have that job. And I worry about him.

HH: Oh, it’s an enormously complicated department to begin with. He does not have the managerial background to run the most difficult, other than being the chief executive, job in the world. But I look at someone like Mark Udall in Colorado, Bill Kristol, and especially Pryor in Arkansas, when you’ve got Tom Cotton writing in the Wall Street Journal why Hagel can’t be the nominee, and Pryor looking over his shoulder. But out in Colorado, Udall’s got Fort Carson. And if people listening now in Colorado Springs or Denver, and a lot of other military people, retirees and industrial complex there, they start picking up the phone and start calling Mark Udall and saying look, this is not good for the country. I don’t know why Udall goes down fighting for this vote before a tough reelect campaign.

BK: Or Hagan in North Carolina. Obama’s campaign spokesman, Bill Burton, said today we want Hagel in there, because he will really cut Defense. He’ll cut it radically. So it’s they want a pseudo Republican in there to give them cover for really damaging cuts to our military.

HH: Not a great idea. A good way to start the year with a good fight. Bill Kristol, Happy New Year to you, we’ll have you back often on the Hagel controversy.

End of interview.

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