Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol laments the weakening of knees in the administration and Senate, especially amongst the GOP, on the war in Iraq.
HH: Let’s set the stage. Major General Rick Lynch, one of the senior commanders in Iraq, had this to say about our efforts there.
RL: I believe the strategy we’re pursuing right now is exactly right. We’re not commuting the work, we’re living with the Iraqis. I’ve got 29 patrol bases, where I’m out there in the local population. Those, we’re there to stay. So they’re giving us information, and that’s very, very good. And we’ve got the forces now to take the fight to the enemy, and we’ll work with the Iraqis to find and sustain a security presence. So I believe the strategy is on target, but it’s going to take time.
HH: Despite what Major General Lynch had to say, here’s Pete Domenici of New Mexico talking today.
PD: We need a new strategy for Iraq that forces the Iraqi government to do more, or else. I’m not calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, or a reduction in funding for our troops. But I am calling for a new strategy that will move out troops out of combat operations, and on the path to continuing home.
HH: Like a legislative vulture, Harry Reid swoops in on Domenici’s statement, ignores General Lynch’s statement, has this to say.
HR: A growing number of Republicans are now speaking against the failed strategy in Iraq, and that’s good. And these Republican defections are apparently leading the White House to consider changing its mission. That’s good. We have an opportunity in the next couple of weeks to truly change our Iraq strategy, to make America more secure, more safe. The question is whether President Bush and the Senate Republicans will join in that effort.
HH: Harry Reid reacting to a New York Times story today, “In White House, Debate Is Rising On Iraq Pullback.” Tony Snow denied it. But to discuss that story and what they’re picking up, the editor of the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol. He’s got an editorial up on the web today, “Moment Of Truth For The President.” Bill, welcome back, always a pleasure to talk with you.
BK: Thanks, Hugh, good talking to you.
HH: What do you hear is going on? You said in your editorial today that the Weekly Standard has indeed confirmed there are real discussions going on in the White House. I find that stunning.
BK: Well, unfortunately, there are some people in the administration who have talked themselves into the notion that to carry this policy, this global war on terror forward to the future, we need to have bipartisanship. And to have bipartisanship, we need to get some Democrats on board. And to get some Democrats on board, we need to find some way of cooperating with them, and giving them a sense that we are going to draw down. And of course, everyone expects to draw down at some point. And therefore, maybe we can just kind of cut a deal, and start to gradually draw down a little in October and November, and maybe some Democrats will accept that. And I think it’s a fantasy. The only way Democrats are going to be responsible is if they are forced to face the real choices before us, which is either to sustain the surge and give Petraeus a chance, and then rethink, then obviously figure out what to do in the next stage, when we’ve had a chance to have the surge have its effect, which incidentally, it’s having a pretty good effect. So unfortunately, some people in the administration are, I think, in a foolish, not out of bad motives, but foolishly sending signals of weakness, which then, of course, encourages more Republican Senators to get nervous because their polls are bad for 2008. And you can get a snowball effect. The reason I wrote such a, I guess, harsh piece today on the web was to try to remind the President, who I think is in the right place on this, that he needs to step up, personally and forcefully, and I think he will tomorrow in Cleveland, and say this is nonsense. We voted. I mean, the President sent young men, young Americans over there to fight. He sent Petraeus over there to conduct the surge. The Congress appropriated the funds for it, and it is a total disgrace. When I hear Harry Reid, I mean, it makes me feel sick. It is a disgrace to be pulling the plug on this at the moment…well, before we know whether it’s successful, and in fact, when a lot of the indications are that it’s successful. Does Harry Reid think that General Lynch is lying? Does he think that General Lynch doesn’t care if young Americans go out and go on the offensive, and take a higher risk of casualties? Does he think Petraeus and Odierno and Lynch are in some right wing neocon conspiracy to sacrifice young American lives? I mean, I really think the President needs to counterattack against these Democrats, and call them out on what’s a disgraceful position.
HH: And that’s the key word. It’s disgraceful. I thought Tom Daschle may have set a new low for legislative leadership in the United States, but I think Harry Reid has now established the bottom. You know, Bill, last night I was honored to share a stage with Natan Sharansky, and he talked bluntly about how you confront evil in the world. You don’t do it by half measures, and you don’t do it by this sort of self-conning rhetoric that Harry Reid…they’re asking for us to be defeated. And I wonder when will John McCain come back from Iraq? I guess he was going to time it until Friday, but I don’t think he has that much time, does he?
BK: No, no, I think he’s back, and I think he’s speaking on the Senate floor tomorrow, and I hope he steps up. I don’t think he’s going to be the Republican nominee, but he could really do the country a service by assuming leadership of the people in the Senate, in the Congress, and to some degree, even in the country, who understand that we’re at war with al Qaeda, we’re in a proxy war with Iran. It’s a winnable war. We’re a great and rich and strong country. We can beat these guys. But we need to support our troops, and put our mind to it, and pay the necessary price. And you’re right. This notion that we can sort of carefully calibrate, and if something isn’t perfect two months in, one month in, less than one month in to a major military operation. It really is as if three weeks after D-Day, people were standing up on the floor of the Senate and saying hey, some of those landings didn’t go well, and hey, a bomb went off somewhere, and hey, a glider crashed and people were killed, and I guess we just have to rethink everything.
HH: You know, the surge into Guadalcanal…
BK: I mean, Reid and Domenici have not had briefings from serious generals.
BK: Up here at AEI, here in Washington where I’m sitting, in the same building I’m in, where the Weekly Standard is, General Keane, General Jack Keane, the former Army vice chief of staff, gave an hour and a half serious briefing today of what is happening on the ground, the successes we’re having, the limits, the problems we’re having, too. I don’t have the impression that Pete Domenici or Harry Reid or any of these people have sat down with a serious military expert and gone through the situation on the ground in Iraq.
HH: Of course they haven’t. I don’t even know if they’ve read John Burns in the New York Times yesterday reporting on Ramadi, or Michael Yon reporting on the web of these extraordinary successes throughout there. My question, though, is how do you stop this in the Senate? I got an e-mail last week from a senior sort of center-right pundit to a bunch of us saying what do we do? And my answer was quite candid. I think Domenici has to have the rug pulled out on his reelection. I think people have to stand up and say no, I’m not going to support you, I hope you lose, if this is what you’re going to give to us. I don’t know if you’re prepared to go that far, Bill, but this is much more important than an individual Republican’s reelection.
BK: Absolutely. At the minimum, anyone who’s a constituent or a donor to any of these wavering Republicans, needs to tell them they won’t be a donor next time. You’ve been doing some of this, I know, already with the Senatorial Committee, but it needs to happen with the individual Senators. Vets For Freedom, this organization that Pete Hegseth, a wonderful young man, Princeton graduate, went to fight in Iraq, is now back out and has just quit his job to devote himself full time trying to rally his fellow Iraq vets to…to supporting the mission and the effort and the troops. And incidentally, most of them do support it. They’re the ones who’ve seen things up close over there, and know the evil we’re fighting, and they want to fight and win. He’s urging his members to call these different Senators and Congressmen and say we’re your constituents. Stand by General Petraeus. At least give him a chance to report on September 15th. I mean, it’s really unbelievable for people to panic here in the second week of July based on no objective reasoning for panicking, incidentally.
HH: Now who in the White House…do we have an understanding of who it is that has got the round heels?
BK: I think Secretary Gates has not been helpful in his comments, the Secretary of Defense. He’s not in the White House. Steve Hadley has to broker an inter-agency, National Security Advisor, has to broker an inter-agency process, and I wouldn’t say that Condi Rice, though I personally like her, has exactly been out there beating the drums to support General Petraeus. So I think, actually, some of the President’s people like Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, I think, have more of a sense of what’s at stake here. But I think some of these foreign policy guys talk themselves into an overly sophisticated view of well, we have to kind of give Lugar something to bring him back on board. And they don’t understand the importance of a clear, solid message to the country about what the President stands for, and really what the Republican Party stands for. I mean, it’s a disgrace in the first place to think of abandoning a key military mission because your own polls in 2008, 18 months before the election, are a little wavering, which is the case with Norm Coleman in Minnesota, or Domenici in New Mexico. That’s a disgrace.
HH: Now I haven’t heard about Norm Coleman.
BK: It’s also very stupid, it’s also very stupid, because if in fact we pull the plug on this, and everything descends into chaos in Iraq in 2008, what do these people think the Republican platform’s going to be?
BK: We went to war, we supported the President, we voted for funding of the war, then we pulled the plug and everything’s falling apart. Reelect Republicans? It’s going to be a debacle.
HH: Now I have not heard about Norm Coleman, though. I’m watching Lamar Alexander saw off a leg on the chair here, and I like Senator Alexander a lot. But I have not heard Norm Coleman as part of the round heeled brigade. Have you?
BK: I’ve heard he’s nervous. Look, these guys are very simple-minded, these politicians, even an intelligent one like Coleman. They look at a snapshot poll, people aren’t crazy about the war, obviously, they’re critical of Bush. And they think ooh, I have to distance myself. And they might get an advantage for a month or two, politically, I suppose, by distancing themselves. But they haven’t thought through A) that it’s just the wrong thing to do when people are over there fighting. We sent them over, we sent Petraeus over, we said send these troops into more harm’s way, take the offensive, take some higher casualties, it’s worth it for the country. The idea that you had pulled the rug out just as the offensive is beginning and showing some impressive results, it just makes me, as I say, feel sick. But even in addition to the moral question, politically, they’re not thinking ahead. They’re not thinking what the world will look like a year from now.
BK: If we’re pulling out in disarray, will the Republican talking points going to be well, the Democrats told us this was hopeless three years ago, we finally came around to that view a few months ago, and now we’ve pulled the plug. You’re going to elect me? It’s ludicrous.
End of interview.