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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol on the ISG report today.

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HH: Joined now by Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. I guess we have you partially to blame for this, Bill.

BK: Why is that?

HH: Well, you are listed as one of the expert consultations in the back of the report.

BK: Is that right? I didn’t even know that.

HH: Yes, yes.

BK: I was there for 50 minutes with Fred Kagan. We vehemently tried as strong as we could to make the case for victory, for winning the war, for sending more troops, which I do think is necessary to do that. I guess we were treated politely, but they certainly didn’t take the argument seriously. And gee, I feel sort of bad that I’m going to going go down in history as a little footnote there in that stupid report. Luckily, the report’s not going to go down in history, because it’s pointless. I mean, it’s not a serious document.

HH: I’m going to get to the broader issues in a moment, but given that they went out of their way to list all of their foreign experts, and they list you, I’m wondering about the specifics of the sit down. When did it occur? And who did the questioning? And just sort of, give us a little bit of a look inside how the sausage is made.

BK: It was mid-September. Fred Kagan and I were asked to go over, since we’d been making the argument so much in the magazine that we had to win, and that more troops could make a difference, and we’re available as well. It was most of the commissioners. Baker took the lead in the questioning. It was a small group, though, only a few staff. I will give Jim Baker credit. He was serious, or seemed to be serious in the sense that he engaged, he asked intelligent questions. Bob Gates was there. It was a good discussion, actually, I thought. I won’t kid myself that I thought we persuaded him, but I guess I did get the sense that they heard real arguments. And what’s so annoying about the report, and I think you and I are both very down on it, but it’s just not serious.

HH: No, it’s not.

BK: It’s a deeply frivolous document, actually. We’re fighting a war, there are some alternate strategies about how to fight the war, or maybe to judge that the war is unwinnable. In that case, we’ve got to make the best we can of a bad situation. But none of that is addressed in this report, and it’s just in a kind of fantasy land that we’re going to stop fighting, and put a few advisers in with Iraqi units, though of course the security situation will get worse with the idea that we’ll send advisers in while we’re withdrawing our combat troops is a little ludicrous. And then, meanwhile, Iran and Syria are going to be nice to us. We’ll pressure the Iraqis, and they’ll be nice to each other, and it’ll all turn out okay. It’s just ridiculous.

HH: In their list of foreign officials consulted, Bill Kristol, there are a grand total of two Israelis, and zero members of the democratically elected government of Lebanon. Isn’t that shocking?

BK: It is shocking, and I wonder how many members of the democratically elected government of Iraq were consulted, actually.

HH: They did…they got a long list of those, but…

BK: Yeah, well, they spent their two days in the Green Zone.

HH: Yeah, that was it. Exactly. Then it goes through…

BK: But you know, it was never a real…I would say this. Jim Baker is a very able man, and you know, I worked with him, you worked with him a little bit in the past. You know, he’s good at putting on a show. But it was never a serious…they never were serious about trying to think through this problem. And there were many, as I say, we’ve had debates among ourselves, God knows, among the hawks about how best to fight the war. But those were serious debates. Victor Hanson, and Fred Kagan, and the people you’ve had on your show, the people in the magazine, about what is the right mix of political and military pressure, and incentives and force. Or is it winnable at all. The report was not…it turns out it was a pure exercise of Washington establishment consensus among themselves, patting themselves on the back, pseudo-phony, kind of bipartisanship. I’m really…the more I actually thought about it while I sat there on Fox watching them preen before the cameras, and praise each other for producing this document, whose merit was that they all agreed on it, not that it addressed reality or solved any problems facing the United States of America.

HH: Would that it were only an embarrassment, though. But I think it’s a dangerous issue here, because the appearance of an alternative that does not exist has a profoundly bad impact on the public. We can’t expect Iran, can we, Bill Kristol, in any serious way, to be other than what they are, an aggressive and expansionist, and potentially berserk government with nukes?

BK: I wouldn’t expect anything other than that, and you know, they have been…Bush made a generous offer to them six months ago. They’ve done nothing to stop their nuclear program. We unfortunately have done nothing to sanction them in the intervening six months, so that’s another problem. No, I don’t think…it could be damaging. I think it’s important that the President in the next 48 hours…obviously, he’s got to be respectful of the group, I guess, but he’s got to make clear again that he’s making up his own mind, and he’s committed to victory. And this ultimately, ultimately, the game was given away in this morning’s Washington Post. Chas Freeman, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said look, we decided…he’s an adviser to the group, we decided early on we couldn’t win. Victory was impossible. So it’s a question of mitigating defeat, mitigating defeat. That’s what this is all about. And this is all a fancy, complicated way of trying to get us out of that place without too much humiliation. And if that’s what they think, they should say it. They should say it. It’s not winnable, sometimes you lose, let’s get out of there and live to fight again another day. But that’s not what they say. It’s really a dishonest document. I really believe it’s dishonest. Their strategy could not achieve success. If we did all 79 recommendations, it would not produce a decent outcome. So it’s a phony document, I think.

HH: And it’s dishonest in it does not confront the reality of what follows from a defeat, and that is a perilous situation for the United States.


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