Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol
HH: Let’s welcome Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and controversial new columnist for the New York Times. Bill, I’d have never thought that anyone could stir the pot like you. But evidently, the netroots are just up in arms about you starting a weekly column. You must be a threat to the peace and order of the New York Times.
BK: It’ll be flattering to think that I were, Hugh, but if they think, you know, if they think I am, I’m happy to have the honor, really.
HH: What do you put that down to, in all seriousness? You’re a neocon, I realize that, and the Weekly Standard is much reviled, then, because of the good content. But I mean, you’re just a columnist.
BK: No, I know. It’s utterly ludicrous. I mean, I suppose…well, doesn’t it show some concern that perhaps some of their readers, if exposed to some other views, might start second-guessing the views that they are being mostly shown on that page? The truth is, I want to say this, though, the reporters at the Times, the other op-ed columnists have been very, anything from just silent to cordial and welcoming, really, and perfectly civil. And I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails from readers at the Times, some of whom I know, some of whom I don’t know saying you know, I’m a liberal, but it’s good to have another voice. I mean, I think I’ve been treated…so the only, some of the left wing blogs went crazy. They generated e-mails to the New York Times, which is fine. You know, conservative blogs and radio shows occasionally generate e-mails to the New York Times complaining about things we don’t like. That’s totally fine. What’s sort of amazing is that the public editor or the Ombudsman at the Times is so credulous that he sort of takes these e-mails as if they represent the views of the readers of the Times. So I guess they are a little worried to have someone actually say that the surge has worked, or that maybe the war in Iraq was just and necessary, or maybe tax hikes are bad for the country, or maybe we do need to be eavesdropping a little bit on phone calls from Pakistan, just to prevent another terror attack. I don’t know why these are such wacky views, but anyway, I’ll try them out on the readers of the New York Times and see what happens.
HH: A couple of comments. Generally speaking, I’ve always tried to read the informed people on the left, and that used to mean the New Republic, occasionally it even means The Nation, but it’s just sort of common in intellectual circles that you try and stay abreast of what responsible commentators on the other side are doing. But I was very disturbed by the public Ombudsman for the New York Times saying that somehow, it was out of bounds for you to suggest that a newspaper ought to be prosecuted for dealing in state secrets, or at least examined for prosecution. I guess they took that as being a betrayal of the 1st Amendment, when in fact it’s an understanding of the limits of the 1st Amendment.
BK: Yeah, I mean, I said on Fox News Sunday after they revealed the secrets of the program, I guess the way in which we were following money transactions, that I thought the Attorney General had a responsibility to consider prosecution, you know, if it turns out to be the case, obviously, that they had knowingly broken the law, and had no good reason for having done so. Their own Ombudsman, incidentally, a different person last year, ended up concluding they probably shouldn’t have published the piece. Maybe they shouldn’t be prosecuted, either, but he did conclude the editor made a mistake in publishing the piece, and putting his judgment above that of the Secretary of the Treasury, the President, both the co-chairmen of the 9/11 Commission, you realize that, came to the New York Times editor, and said look, this is one of the most valuable programs we have against the terrorists. This is not worth publishing. You’re not exposing any mis, any malfeasance, anything being done wrong by the U.S. government. You’re just making a program likely to be less successful that has been successful in helping in the fight against terror. That was Lee Hamilton and Tom Keane, not right wingers, not enemies of the press, not enemies of the New York Times. So for me to say on television, look, I think this might have been pretty irresponsible, and the Attorney General has to look at it, I think is a pretty straightforward and kind of anodyne, frankly, thing to say. I mean, it’s just common sense.
HH: It’s mainstream.
BK: Yeah, I think so.
HH: That’s what I’m getting to. It’s mainstream.
BK: But that shows, I mean, that is a dogma, it turns out, I guess, that for some in the liberal media, you know, you’re just not allowed to suggest that they are subjects to the law, just like anyone else, just like as if you and I did something that violated the law, if a business does something that violates the law, if a labor union does something that violates the law. The media is in the category by itself, I suppose is what the public editor thinks. He didn’t really explain why this was beyond the bounds. He just asserted it in his column. Anyway, I’m happy to have a little publicity. Maybe it’ll get a few more readers to the Weekly Standard, and then generally, I think you’re right. Look, you and I have always tried to read and deal with, and have discourse with, intelligent people with whom we disagree. You have them on your show.
HH: Yup, try to.
BK: And I don’t think your listeners complain, do they?
BK: If you have someone from the New Republic or the Times, or…
HH: Or Erwin Chemerinsky once a week, later in this program. That’s right.
BK: Exactly, as you have an intelligent liberal law professor on. Our people, and if I can say this, the people who read the Weekly Standard, the people who listen to your show and read your blog, et cetera, I think welcomes some intelligent debate and discourse. Sometimes, we even change our mind. And I think that’s true, actually, of most of the New York Times readers. But unfortunately, the public editor may not be one such.
HH: Well, let’s turn to other subjects. Norman Podhoretz has a new piece out in the current issue of Commentary. I’ve linked it at Hughhewitt.com. It won’t be available on newsstands for a while, titled Stopping Iran: Why the Case For Military Action Still Stands. Now he persuades me it is urgent to stop the Iranian nuclear program. I just finished reading Nuclear Jihad by Doug Frantz and Catherine Collins, and no one can walk away and feel like this is an issue that hasn’t been decided in terms of whether or not Iran is moving that way. My question is, Bill Kristol, do you think it is possible, not even likely, but just possible that the Bush administration will take military action against Iran in their last year?
BK: I think it’s possible. I think people were a little too quick after that National Intelligence Estimate came out, which was, I think, an attempt by the intelligence agencies to prevent the Bush administration from sort of seriously considering taking action. And I think people were too quick to say ooh, that rules it out, you know, they’re just paralyzed for the next year. I think this president, you know, he’s not perfect or anything, but if he thinks that there’s, that if Iran is on the verge of getting nuclear weapons, that in turn endangers fundamentally any hopes for peace and stability and progress in the Middle East, and maybe beyond, endangers the U.S., endangers our allies, would lead to a nuclear arms race in that part of the world, I don’t know that the President would say oh, this is unpopular, or oh, I’ve been told I can’t do this. He might try to do something. Now I’m worried that, you know, he’s allowed, he hasn’t made the case. And I think Norman Podhoretz would agree with this, that by being so, the President probably hasn’t laid the groundwork, politically here at home, within his own administration, to be perhaps ready to act if he should have to act. And I suppose we can all hope that they don’t make as much technological progress as they might, and that there’s more time than we think.
HH: I hope you have a chance to read Nuclear Jihad. That’s why I don’t think we possibly can bank on there being enough time. Bill, you mentioned earlier about being not open to compromise, not open to argument. And talking about Iran, if Iran and the U.S. came into conflict, oil would go, you know, $150-200 dollars a barrel, who knows? Today, asked about ANWR, John McCain said as far as ANWR is concerned, “I don’t want to drill in the Grand Canyon, and I don’t want to drill in the Everglades. This is one of the most pristine and beautiful parts of the world.” And that’s not just I don’t want to do it now, it’s not now, not ever, never, and people who support it are despoilers of the environment. Prudent on the part of John McCain?
BK: No, you know, I’m better disposed to John McCain than you are, I think, and than probably most conservatives are. But there are times when he, he doesn’t make it easy for conservatives to support him. And you know, on something like ANWR, it’s probably at this point an academic discussion. You know, we had a Republican president and a Republican Congress, and ANWR wasn’t drilled, we didn’t open up ANWR for drilling. We’re not going to have a Republican Congress probably, unfortunately, in the next couple of years. We’re certainly not going to have the majorities Republicans had in 2005-2006. And so in some respects, one’s position on drilling in ANWR is not a central part of the presidential campaign. Why John McCain thinks that it’s a good idea, therefore, to sort of indulge in a certain kind of high-flown rhetoric that appeals to lots of liberals, and lots in the media, but just annoys conservatives, it’s gratuitous, you know? I mean, the truth is the amount of oil drilling that the United States would have five years from now if John McCain were president, or Mitt Romney were president, or Mike Huckabee were president, is not that different. It just isn’t practically going to be, you know, more than one percentage point different. So it’s not a decisive issue in this presidential election. But you’re right to sort of seize on this sentence as an example of why McCain is having trouble getting conservatives to vote for him. And I think that is one of the big stories, I mean, of the last, of the three elections, the two primaries and the caucus that we’ve had so far. McCain is having real trouble getting Republicans, and getting conservatives. And I don’t think, I don’t think he’ll win the nomination unless he makes a case to more conservatives, and more Republican conservatives, as to why they should support him.
HH: I agree. It is gratuitous, and it’s one of those things that just enrages people who believe it’s important, even if practically speaking, it’s years off. Last question with a minute, Mitt Romney beat Mike Huckabee with Evangelicals in Michigan yesterday, probably the most important of the exit polling data. Why do you think that is?
BK: You know, I think Huckabee has that special advantage with his fellow Southern Baptists that he doesn’t have with reform Evangelicals in Western Michigan. And I imagine Huckabee will beat Romney with Evangelicals in South Carolina. And I think we’ll go forward. I think, I think, well, who knows what’s going to happen in this race. I’ve given up predicting. We put McCain on the cover of the Weekly Standard this week, and he promptly lost an election. If I wanted to make you have sleepless nights over the next few nights, I could tell you right now that we’re putting Mitt Romney on the cover. And then you’d be…
HH: You’re the Sports Illustrated of…
BK: Then you’d correctly conclude that we’re dooming his chances. So we’re not going to do that, Hugh, just out of friendship.
HH: Well, thank you, Bill Kristol, always a pleasure. The Sports Illustrated of political commentary is now the Weekly Standard. Take care, and in the New York Times every week, and of course, at Weeklystandard.com.
End of interview.