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Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol now worried about Obama foreign policy

Thursday, October 1, 2009

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HH: I’m now joined by Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol. Bill Kristol, I want to begin by passing along my condolences, the condolences of my audience on the loss of your father. He was a great, great American, and your tribute to him in the Weekly Standard was really quite amazing.

BK: Well, thanks, Hugh, I really appreciate it. It’s kind of you, and he had a good and complete, full life, I would say. And as he said to me a few months ago, that he had a great run. And obviously, we are very sorry to lose him, and it’s a sad moment, but I’m really proud of what he accomplished, and it’s really nice of you to say what you said.

HH: Well, I would urge everyone to go and read Bill’s tribute to Irving Kristol. I’ve linked it at Hughhewitt.com. It’s in the Weekly Standard, and it’s really as…every father can’t have a son as eloquent as Bill, but you all hope you have the same emotions. Bill, let’s turn to the world crisis, because your dad was instrumental in the 1970s in drawing attention to the world crisis then. We have one now. Would you weigh, or would you assess the Iranian challenge that we face now in terms of significance and seriousness?

BK: Yeah, I mean, having a regime like that get nuclear weapons, a sponsor of terror, a hotbed of Islamic extremism and jihadism, the hotbed, I suppose, really, and the instigator of so much of it around the world, in the middle of the Middle East, getting nukes, with us just pathetically, now, kind of courting their favor and not even really pretending to do much to try to stop them, is extremely dangerous, and especially if you put in the context of what has become, and I really say this with regret, because I had hoped that on foreign policy, at least, some of us would find something to hang onto here in the Obama administration, what’s become in general an incredibly weak foreign policy. I mean, I now really believe for the first time that he will not accept General McChrystal’s recommendation in Afghanistan. I think he’s going to look for ways to get out of that. And I just think across the board, it’s one thing, it’s dangerous enough for a regime like Iran to get nuclear weapons, but the idea of them getting nuclear weapons in a context of American retreat is truly scary. I’ve got to say, you know, I’ve been in the Jewish period of mourning for my father, so that took a week, and I have sort of really re-emerged just to read stuff for the last 48 hours, and I really worry now about the next few years to a degree and in a way that I really hadn’t before. And I think I’ve noticed what you’ve been saying. I think we’re on the same page here. But it’s really worrisome.

HH: Yeah, it is a four front policy of appeasement, and I used that word advisedly, not just Iran and Iraq, but the Pole and Czech decision, and then this decision that you reference, the Afghanistan pullback. And I want to go there now. I sense, especially in this Washington Post article today, the preparation of the political battlefield for basically a retreat from Afghanistan. Do you share that assessment?

BK: Yes, I think that was a very significant piece in the Post where the forces who want to go to a so-called counterterrorism strategy, which is really a way of just staying offshore and killing a few terrorists, I suppose, and hoping it all doesn’t blow up in our face, that…I had assumed that Obama would reject those counsels. But I don’t see how you can explain his behavior over the last month except to say that he is trying in various ways to lay the groundwork for not accepting General McChrystal’s recommendation, the commander he put in there six or seven months ago. They’re going to pretend that the election changed everything, the Afghan election, was a mess and that changed everything, and somehow now we’re going to go to, I don’t think he’ll go to any kind of immediate withdrawal, but I really think we’re now…he is, I believe now, he had thought things through in this way. He thinks that he wants to go to the country in 2012, to this country for reelection as president, and say I have gotten our troops out of these messy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are having diplomacy all around the world, and he will hope that these places don’t blow up in his face. And they may not immediately. I mean, even if we have 30-40,000 troops in Afghanistan, they can probably do a lot of, prevent some bad things from happening for quite a while, cross his fingers, and hope Pakistan doesn’t just blow up, cross his fingers and hope that the Middle East doesn’t blow up, I guess. But you know, I really, as I say in the past, I’ve kind of assumed that look, he’s president of the United States, he’s going to…although there’ll be a lot of things I’ll disagree with, and things we’ll pay a price for, but that on some big decisions, he’ll be responsible. But I now really fear that on these really decisive decisions, he’s not going to make the right decision.

HH: There are five Americans, Bill Kristol, who by simple act of resignation could rally a lot of concerned citizens – Secretary Gates, Generals Petraeus, McChrystal, Jones, and Odierno. Of course, Jones, retired and in the White House. Do you agree with me that if any of those five said I cannot be part of this administration as a result of their policy decisions, that that would mobilize public opinion?

BK: I think it would help, and I wonder if General McChrystal will say if something pretty close to his recommendation isn’t accepted, but you know, I think Obama…the country is a little war weary, and I think they’ll try to…maybe Obama thinks he can take that hit now, and if nothing just collapses in the next few months, he’ll say see, we’re doing this prudently, we’re finding a middle ground between just pulling out and escalation. And look, I hope the generals do what they think is the right thing, and these are honorable men, especially McChrystal and Petraeus. I think they’ll really try to do what they think is right. They’ll also feel some obligation not to simply walk away from something. So I don’t know. It’s not so easy to resign if you’re really trying to do the right thing. So I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve just heard this morning from someone who’s been in touch with people in the administration, a foreign gentleman who deals with this government, that people are talking about Secretary Gates leaving at the end of the year, and being replaced by Chuck Hagel…

HH: Ugh.

BK: Yeah, exactly, as Secretary of Defense. I think that’s quite a plausible rumor, and a very worrisome one, because he is an advocate of retreat everywhere, I think.

HH: Yeah, it’s sort of neoisolationism replacing neoconservatism as the driving intellectual force behind the intellectuals on either side. Let me ask you about the possibility, Bill Kristol of sort of Suez 2.0. In 1956, the Israelis, working with Europeans who were concerned about Eisenhower’s policy, affected an ultimately disastrous attempt to turn back Arab radicalism of that day. Can you see our European allies, particularly the French and the Israelis, acting independent of the United States to stop the Iranian threat?

BK: I can see the Israelis. I don’t really think the French will do anything, and I think it’ll be, I think Obama is, in this respect, I don’t think he’s weak. I think he will do a lot to pressure Israel not to do anything, including, I gather that certain aspects of military cooperation have been slowed down, I think there’ll be a huge amount of arm twisting. And I think Israel will do what it feels it has to do for to deal with an existential threat. But I think Obama will try to make it very difficult for Israel to act.

HH: Now I do not know if during the period of mourning for your father if you were able to hear the Netanyahu speech, but it was really quite an invigorating speech, and almost Churchillian in some respects. Do you think that that has had an impact on supporters of Israel in the United States across the political spectrum in the recognition that Obama is the most anti-Israel president we’ve had at least since Eisenhower and perhaps ever?

BK: Yeah, I mean, yes, I think both, that Netanyahu’s speech was really quite wonderful. I read the text, and just the facts on the ground have really begun to awaken people to the degree to which Obama believes the left wing line that Israel is sort of a big obstacle to anything good happening in the Middle East, that everyone would calm down, there would be less anti-American, if only Israel were much, much, much more reasonable. And probably deep down, they may even hope that Israel didn’t exist in the first place. But it does, so they’re going to let it exist, but back to something very close to ’67 borders. I think Obama wants to be the president on whose watch a Palestinian state comes into existence, and I think he wants that regardless of whether Gaza is dominated by Hamas, and regardless of whether that state will be a stable one. President Bush was for a Palestinian state, but he wasn’t willing to let it come into existence if it was going to be a terrorist state. I think Obama regards this as his historic destiny to be the president who sort of shepherds a Palestinian state into existence. I’m very, I’m again much more worried…I was discounting some of my friends’ concerns three or four months ago about how bad Obama would be with respect to Israel. But I now really am worried.

HH: Bill Kristol, again, thank you for joining us, our condolences on the loss of your father, look forward to reading what you have to write about the present crisis at www.weeklystandard.com in the weeks and months ahead.

End of interview.

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