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Friday, June 30

The blingless Larry Kudlow

HH: Larry Kudlow's my guest. Larry, we're talking about GM. I spent a couple of times with my host today, Paul Rubin, is the chairman of the dealer's council with GM, and he's a big wheel within GM dealers. How's GM doing in your opinion, Larry Kudlow?

LK: Not well.

HH: Why not?

LK: Not well, and I was very interested in this whole Kirk Kerkorian letter that talked about throwing in with Renault. I think it's very interesting, because you probably need some consolidation in the auto industry, and I'm just not very optimistic about General Motors, particularly, Hugh, under current management. I just think the management is not executing, and they have to go.

HH: Now I've got Paul Rubin sitting here with me, Larry.

PR: Oh yeah?

HH: And he just said oh, yeah. And so my question to you is, how come their stock price is as high as it's been in five years?

LK: Well, that thing's been bouncing around from the lows to the highs, and they have made some cost cutting moves. I'll grant them that. But I just think they have a lot more to do to stay competitive with Toyota and with Honda right here in the U.S., and also with South Korean companies, and with China, ultimately. I think that's what...there's a lot of market skepticism about it.

HH: What's the most important thing that GM can do in your eyes, Larry Kudlow, and I'm going to let Paul comment on that. Go ahead.

LK: Well, I think they have to keep paring costs everywhere possible. I think they're still top heavy. Even though they have made moves, I don't think they're sufficient. I also think they're still putting out too many automobiles. I think the cars themselves could be improved. Some models are better than others, and I also think the management structure, the bureaucracy in Detroit is still way too top heavy. Way too top heavy. And frankly, I'd like to see more creativity at the top of General Motors.

HH: Paul Rubin, what do you say to Larry? Larry Kudlow's a very influential economist.

PR: Yeah, and I have a lot of respect for him. I watch him on TV all the time.

HH: And so, does it make sense to you what he's saying?

PR: Some of it. I mean, certainly they have their problems. They're not as top heavy as they were. The fact that I can even get to talk to Rick Wagner is something that never existed before.

LK: (laughing)

PR: The communication's better. The cars are much better. They are the leading car in Japan. They are the number one car in Japan. Buick's the number one name plate...I shouldn't say Japan. In China, Buick's the number one name plate in China. They have the biggest market share in China.

HH: Larry, what do you make of that? That's pretty impressive.

LK: Yeah, I think that's a good think indeed. Look, there are positives to the GM story. Let me say, Paul, I drive an Escalade, and I love it.

PR: God bless you.

LK: I absolutely love it. I've had it now for about a year, and it's a terrific, terrific truck. If they could all do...if they could put them all out as well as they put out the Escalade, they'd be in great shape.

PR: I agree with you.

HH: Larry, are you wearing bling?

LK: No, I'm not into bling.

HH: Just checking, because I normally associate Escalade with bling.

LK: Well, I have the smaller one. There's a real long one, which is...

HH: Okay.

PR: Yeah, he has the tasteful smaller one.

HH: All right. Just checking.

LK: Yeah, the long one's mostly for drug dealers and bling wearers. So I go with the small one.

HH: (laughing)

LK: And let me also say, kind of a good story, I praised Cadillac on the air one night, and I talked about how attractive the Escalade was. And the next day, I got an e-mail from one of the big shots at GM headquarters, who said we can make it happen. And so they found this dealer in Westport, Connecticut, where we have a weekend house up in Redding, and they did make it happen. And so, in this particular operation, I have no complaints. But I still think they have a long ways to go, and I'm very, very interested in this idea of putting in with Renault and one of the other car companies. That's a very interesting plan, because I think there's going to be more consolidation. There are still too many car makers around.

HH: All right.

PR: And I really...we don't disagree. I don't think General Motors would disagree with you. As for who they pick as their partner, if they pick another one, remember they gave away to Fiat, just a couple of billion dollars to do nothing.

LK: Right.

PR: So we don't really want somebody else's problems. So it'll be interesting to see.

HH: All right. We'll come back, Paul, after the break. I've got to cover two other stories with Larry Kudlow. Larry, the New York Times stock is hurting. What do you hear about the reaction to their perfidy of last Friday? Has it hurt them with their subscriber base, their advertisers, or are they just sitting on a monopoly niche that they're going to keep.

LK: Killed 'em. Killed 'em. You cannot believe the intensity of anti-New York Times feeling. Killed 'em. You know, we sent a guy, Cody Willard, who's a contributor to our program, and we do this little cam thing. He goes out and interviews people on the street, and I had him ask the question about the Times. People are furious. We did a poll, investor class poll on it, and people were just...80/20 against the New York Times. I mean, I'm...

(applause from crowd)

The New York Times and the Supremes, The Supreme Court. Our poll tonight, I asked are the Supremes right that George Bush overstepped in the Gitmo tribunal. And it was about 60/40, or 65/35 no. People are supporting Bush on this. And right now, I sort of earmarked the Supreme Court and Ben Bernanke. I think they both made mistakes this week.

HH: Well, Ben Bernanke raising interest rates, new Chairman of the Fed, for the benefit of the audience who are from Pittsburgh. And why did the market cheer him, then?

LK: The market had a terrific relief rally, and I love it when the market goes up. And by the way, because of low tax rates on capital, and very high corporate profits, the American economy is in great shape. However, the Fed should have been tougher. They needed much more testosterone in this last move. They should have gone 50 basis points. So, ever since 2:15 yesterday, guess what? Gold prices have soared, and the dollar is plunging. And that is not sustainable. That is not a good situation, and I fear there's excess liquidity out there, too much money in circulation. The Fed's got to signal, execute, and be straight with the American public, which, by the way, polls show are getting very cross at the Fed.

HH: Are you predicting the gold rally has legs? You predicted its collapse five weeks ago. Is this just a risky thing?

LK: You know, if I were a short term trader, which I am not, but if I were, I would be long gold, and I would be short the dollar. We had one of the traders from the Chicago pits on the program tonight, who talked about how hedge funds are selling the dollars. All the dealing firms are selling the dollar, because there's just...the Fed is not getting the job done. That's the bottom line. They're still printing too much money, Hugh. And here's the thing. The economy can deal with this. What people do not want is an outbreak of inflation in the next three to six or twelve months. And that's the big concern. But I don't like it. Reagan taught me this twenty years ago plus. A great nation has a strong currency, and I don't like this story.

HH: Now I want to come back to the New York Times briefly, Larry Kudlow. The average American who does not subscribe to it, and does not read it, and will not patronize its advertisers, how do they punish the New York Times?

LK: Well, I think they don't buy it, and I think they don't read it. It's real simple. And I can't believe how the Times misreported this whole Gitmo story on the front page.

HH: Oh, it was a travesty.

LK: I can't believe the lousy editorial.

HH: Yup.

LK: You know, I was reading your blog site on this, as I always do, and you know what's incredible? I said this on our program tonight. Congress last year passed a bill which was virtually air tight, in telling the Supremes and other judges to stay away from this national security operation at Gitmo. Stay away from this military tribunal, and they still went ahead and did it.

HH: And the only answer to that is elect more Republican Senators in the Fall. Thank you so much, Larry Kudlow. Have a great 4th. Talk to you next week.

End of interview.

NRO's Andy McCarthy laughs at Richard Clarke's op-ed defending the NY Times' exposure of classified counter-terrorism programs.

HH: I flew out of California today, and I picked up a copy of the New York Times, which I rarely do, and I don't think I'll be doing again for other reasons, for a very long time, a story I'm not going to talk about in the Times today. But there is one that just stunned me, took away my breath. It's by Richard Clarke and Roger Cressey. It's called A Secret The Terrorists Already Knew, and it makes an argument on the op-ed page by the former deputy national security advisor, Richard Clarke and Mr. Cressey, that the New York Times blowing of our national security classified and very important use of the SWIFT network had no harmful impact. To discuss that, Andy McCarthy joins me. Andy is a former federal prosecutor, one of the lead lawyers on the first World Trade Center bombing prosecution. He is now with the Foundation For the Defense of Democracies. You can read his magnificent essays at Andrew, welcome back. Good to have you.

AM: Hugh, great to talk to you.

HH: What do you make of the theory of Richard Clarke and Roger Cressey, that no harm, no foul?

AM: Yeah, well, I have to say, when I picked up the New York Times, and see Richard Clarke talking about bloviating, it's sort of like picking up Rolling Stone and reading Mick Jagger talking or complaining about strutting, you know?

HH: Yup.

AM: But the argument that he makes is just preposterous. Obviously, there's a big difference between saying we're trying to track down terrorist financing, which admittedly, everybody knows, and telling them precisely how we're doing it, and that we have a central communications hub, and that we have a sort of seamless relationship with friendly countries, that tells terrorists that to the extent that they've been trying to break down transactions in the hope that by doing them in piecemeal fashion, maybe they can conceal the fact that money is going from a point of origin to a point of destination, that that doesn't work anymore. To tell them that much more important than seizing money, which they may have thought up until now was our priority, we've actually been focusing our attention mainly on tracking and mapping terrorist organization, so that to the extent...if people had been moving money, say, through a shell entity for two years, and had assumed that it was a safe entity, because they figure we're stupid, and if we actually had terrorist money, we would have seized it and people would have been arrested. Now they know that what we've actually been trying to do is map the tentacles of the terrorist organization, which is how you do an investigation. So I just don't get where he's coming from.

HH: Now Andrew McCarthy, I was in the government a long time ago. I left more than fifteen years ago. But during that time, I did do some counter-intelligence stuff, and I do recall how very different it was from what it's imagined to be on the outside, especially with regards to how sloppy bad guys can get. Bad guys get very sloppy.

AM: Yeah, you know, look, Hugh, I couldn't agree with that more. And it's not just the low-level bad guys. This program, according to Richard Clarke, is not a mystery to anyone, but somehow it managed to capture Hambali. I read news yesterday out of Belgium, that suddenly, the Belgian government is conducting a major investigation to see if European and Belgian laws have been violated, and a Belgian privacy organization is marching into court, in a European court, to press to see if any European privacy laws have been violated. Awfully strange to me, if this is old news that everybody's known for four years, that all of a sudden, now, everybody is hopping to and taking action. Remarkable.

HH: When you were investigating and prosecuting the first bombing of the World Trade Center, were you impressed or underwhelmed by the sophistication of the enemy?

AM: You know, they're like any group of people. You shake your head at the stupidity of some things, and then you marvel at the cleverness of other things. What I did find was that you didn't have to be a rocket scientist to commit a terrorist act. So people used to poke fun, particularly, at Mohammad Salameh, the guy who famously went back to get his deposit on the van that housed the bomb that took care of the World Trade Center attack in 1993. You know, they may have laughed at him, and they may have thought he was a moron, but the week before, he did manage to pull off the bombing. So I think sometimes, we have this misperception of how much sophistication is necessary to really put a real hurt on people.

HH: Now let's turn back to Richard Clarke, Andrew McCarthy. I don't know Mr. Cressey. I have watched Richard Clarke for a long time, and the more I see, the more I become unsettled that he had anything to do with running the anti-terrorism program in the United States.

AM: Yeah, well, I actually...I know Roger Cressey. I think highly of him. He did work for Richard Clarke. I'm not a big Richard Clarke fan. I'm a little surprised at Cressey, who's a smart guy, letting some of the stuff go that went in this article. For example, they flatly say any domestic electronic surveillance without a court order, no matter how useful, is clearly illegal. And that's just flatly wrong.

HH: That is flatly wrong. I skimmed over that in moving through this quickly.

AM: Right. I mean, you could pick out errors here and there, but that one sort of leapt off the page. And you just wonder. And the other thing I thought was quite interesting, is that the New York Times identifies Clarke as a former Bush administration official. They also mention that he's a Clinton administration official. But nowhere does it say that he's a regular columnist for the New York Times. I mean, how shocking should we find it that the guy who has a very cherished or sought after spot regularly in the New York Times Magazine, has somehow found it within himself to come to the defense of the New York Times in the blowing of a major classified information, national defense information program.

HH: Well, you know, yesterday I taped a show with Eric Lichtblau, one of the reporters who broke the story a week ago today. And I made the assertion, and I believe it's still to be true, that no reputable senior official having dealt with intelligence would ever argue that his story did other than damage our national security, and assist terrorists in eluding capture. Now he's going to hold up these two. Do you think that it's going to be effective in turning the anger that has built and continues to build against the Times, Andrew McCarthy?

AM: You mean, the fact that these two guys come to their defense?

HH: Yeah.

AM: I really doubt it will have much impact on anything. You know, Richard Clarke most famously turned the 9/11 Commission hearings, which were a circus to begin with, into a total spectacle, made wild allegations about the President and Iraq, and then it turned out that he had been one of the persons urging that there was a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda when he had been a Clinton administration official. You know, I think this is like a big so what.

HH: Andrew McCarthy, great to talk to you. Have a great 4th of July weekend. Thanks for making time for us on the cusp of that weekend.

End of interview.

Return to top

Thursday, June 29

Mark Steyn on what the nuts in the caves must think about Bill Keller, and Congress' reaction to him.


HH: I've always thought we were going to win this war, and I've always thought we'd summon the political will to do it. But today's Supreme Court decision, coupled with the House of Representatives' refusal to name names in their resolution condemning the action of the New York Times, and the similar reasoning coming out of the United States Senate leaves me wondering. To discuss that and other things, Mark Steyn joins me, columnist to the world. You can read his stuff at Mark, let's start with the United States Supreme Court. Your reaction to the Hamdan decision?

MS: Well, I agree with you. I think it's a bad decision, and I think it's part of the same story as the New York Times story, that on the battlefield, the military is only one of the weapons you deploy when you're at war. And on all the other fields, like the media, the courts, the broader culture, we are not performing well. And this is a very good decision for every jihadist who now knows that he has...basically, he will be treated like a U.S. citizen if he falls into the hands of the U.S. military. Meanwhile, if the U.S. military fall into their hands, they get their heads cut off and left by the roadside.

HH: Mark Steyn, it seems to me, and I was trying to describe this earlier today. We have a 9/11 President, and a 9/11 military, and a 9/11 cabinet, and there are some members of Congress who are 9/11 Congressmen and Senators. But we've got a 9/10 Court majority, and we've got a 9/10 Senate and House leadership, it appears, and certainly a 9/10 Democratic Party. What's it going to take?

MS: Well, you know, you said you thought that we would in the end win this war. I think it is entirely possible that we could lose, simply because at the heart of all these things is the idea that somehow, you demonstrate your moral virture by bending over backwards to be as accommodating as you can at people who want to kill you. And that is generally not a good idea. I don't like Vladimir Putin, but when he reacted to this business with the four Russian hostages by saying that he was dispatching Special Forces on a mission to hunt down and kill the guys who did it, I did...I was very heartened at a guy who just actually sees it that clearly. I mean, we complain a lot of the time about the unassimilated Muslim population. But in fact, when it comes to things like this, our enemy are incredibly assimilated. They understand the legalisms very well. They understand how to play the court systems, how to play the media extremely well.

HH: Mark Steyn, let's turn to the New York Times/Los Angeles Times story of a week ago tomorrow. We haven't talked since that came out. What was your reaction to it?

MS: Well, I think it's disgusting. I personally stopped buying...I stopped writing for the Times, I think about eight or nine years ago, and they edited a piece I wrote into the biggest mush ever to appear under my name. So I stopped writing for it. And a couple of years later, I realized that actually, quite a lot of the paper reads like mush, so I stopped buying it. So I'm not in a position, personally, to boycott the paper. But if I could do, I would, because I think it crossed the line into Al Jazeera territory with what it did for no good reason. And it could have done the same with any of the secret codes that were used, in which the Allies relied on in the Second World War. And if you think of...this is the difference in the media across 60 years. In the Second World War, the BBC cooperated with the British government in broadcasting coded messages to members of the French resistence on the Continent. Now, not only couldn't you get any of these guys to do anything like that, but if they found out that somebody else was doing it, they'd expose the program.

HH: Now Mark Steyn, after the outrage began to mount, the New York Times has adopted a line that says no harm, no foul. That which we published did not in fact assist the terrorists. I've been arguing that of course it assists terrorists in eluding capture. What's your sense of it?

MS: Yes, I think there's absolutely no doubt that it does. I mean, there were no issues here that impacted in any legal or Constitutional sense. If a guy wires money from a bank account in the United Arab Emirates to a bank account in Paris via a clearing house in Belgium, that's got nothing to do with the U.S. Constitution, or any legal issues. They did this, basically, just to expose the program, and to damage it. And the idea that somehow they're exercising their freedom as the founders foresaw it...I mean, I'm sure you get this everywhere you go, Hugh. The American people do not think the press are a privileged class. They think we've all got freedom of expression, whether you're a newspaperman, or you're a plumber, or you've got a small software company, or you're a clerk at the feed store. But they don't think that the New York Times has privileges above and beyond what any of the rest of us have.

HH: And they also believe, and I think intuitively, but backed up by sound reasoning, that if you print a story that says Hambali was obtained...his capture was obtained by the SWIFT program, that everyone who knew Hambali is going to go back and reverse engineer that, and figure out what he did, and then not do it again. And they also assume that a lot of terrorists are just plain stupid, and didn't know about financial tracking, much less brilliant, and knowing about SWIFT. I find it astonishing that they think that this argument will work, Mark Steyn, that no one has been advantaged by this.

MS: Yeah, no. And the problem is, a lot of the big banks use this SWIFT program in Belgium. My bank in Montreal uses it. But the people will now be actively thinking, particularly some Saudi banks, wealthy banks in the Gulf and others, will be thinking of setting up systems that will bypass this, specifically in order to attract jihad business, which can be quite lucrative. And I think it's very foolish to actually advertise that you're willing to be played for suckers, which is what it looks like we do a lot of the time.

HH: Which is why Belgium and Canada have already made noises of withdrawing cooperation with us, vis-à-vis the SWIFT program.

MS: Absolutely, because this is not...this is simply not just something that damages you with some crazy guy in the caves in Pakistan, or in Afghanistan. It's something that tells other advanced Western nations that America is not serious. This is the most damaging thing of all these things. It's not a question of America's enemies. It's not only a question of what the Saudis or the Egyptians or the Russians or the Chinese think. When you talk to high up government officials in friendly countries to America, countries like India, Singapore, Denmark, countries that essentially share the same view of the Islamist threat, they worry about whether America is the strong horse you want to bet on in this game.

HH: Mark Steyn, I discussed this at length with Howard Kurtz and Eric Lichtblau, and Eugene Robinson, and Geneva, the former ombudsman of the Post this Sunday on Reliable Sources. That's their idea of a fair fight. Four MSM'ers and me.

MS: (laughing) You can take them all, Hugh.

HH: It's already over. Yeah, it's done, and I did. But the point is, I was looking for help from the United States Congress. I was hoping the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States would pass resolutions condemning the actions of these two newspapers. Others followed that had not been requested not to publish like the Wall Street Journal. But the Times and the Times are the two Times that did it. And the House won't name names, and I received a call this morning from a Senator staffer, who said the Senate at that point was also not going to name a name, and not comdemn it. It seems to me like they are afraid of the big dogs, so they're going to kick the puppies. What do you think?

MS: Yeah, and I think that speaks very poorly for them. You know, I love those fellows in Washington. They get a bit upset because they think they won't be invited to this or that dinner party when they're next in New York, or the Washington Post crowd will be annoyed with them. But you've got to face down these things. This arrogant man who's basically appointed himself essentially the national security general, this man at the New York Times, he hasn't gone through any confirmation hearings. He basically says I've got a special clause in the U.S. Constitution, just for me and my institution. And the Senate should be calling him on that, and so should the House of Representatives.

HH: You're referring to Bill Keller. Now I get to something I talked about with a lot of people this week. I want your opinion on this. You've been in journalism for how many years, Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, actually, pretty much since I was 17 or 18. I was always hoping something else would turn up, but it never did. It's a long time.

HH: Well, I've only been doing it for 17 years. But before that, I spent 6 years in the government, and I've handled a lot of classified information, and I am confident when I say that 95% of America's journalists don't have a clue about intelligence, and how it works. And they are not in a position to judge the impact of these stories, because they don't get out much. They live in little bubbles, and they're not that well educated to begin with, and they're not very good thinkers. Correct me if I'm wrong.

MS: Well, I would agree with you. I think America has one of the most parochial journalist classes in the world, because those of us who come from smaller, less important countries, one consequence of that is if you go to London, there's lots of Australians working in the newsroom. If you go to India, you'll find a lot of British journalists working there. American journalists seem to have this completely parochial idea...I mean, if you look at Bill Keller's choice of words, that it's the administration...he regards this as a program of the administration. It's not. It's a program of the United States government. But he thinks that Bush and Cheney are at war. Not that America is at war, but that Bush and Cheney are. And this is this parochial, almost totally self-absorbed way of looking at what is actually one of the great global conflicts of the age.

HH: 30 seconds, Mark Steyn. What's a terrorist watching this past week conclude about America?

MS: Well, I think when we listen to terrorists talking about the new caliphate, and there are a bunch of guys sitting in the cave, we think they're nuts. When a guy is sitting in the cave listening to Bill Keller explain proudly why he betrayed America's national security interests, that guy in the cave would rightly conclude that we're the ones that are nuts. And it's hard to disagree with him.

HH: Mark Steyn, thank you., America.

End of interview.

Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol on the Congress' reaction to the NY Times story, one week later.


HH: I think we've got a 9/10 Court and a 9/10 Congress, and a 9/10 Democratic Party and a 9/10 Republican leadership. What do you think?

BK: It's not a good day. I certainly agree with that. And you know, I've been worried about various aspects of this for a while, but I know you're upset about the resolution. And I'm just sitting here reading it, I think in the final version of the House resolution, and it's kind of ludicrous to read. Interrupt me if you've gone through this already in detail. Whereas beginning on June 23rd, 2006, certain media organizations knowingly published details about a classified program?

HH: Right.

BK: I mean, doesn't Congress have some responsibility to actually name the ones that did, as opposed to all the others that simply reprinted it? We had an article criticizing the New York Times, which I supposed reproduced, in some sense, some of what the Times had produced. I don't think we're as guilty as the Times. And incidentally, whereas the administration, members of Congress, and the bipartisan chairmen of the 9/11 Commission requested that media organizations not disclose details? They didn't request that you or the Weekly Standard not disclose details. They requested specifically of the New York Times, and I guess the Los Angeles Times that they not do so.

HH: That's why, by the way, the Wall Street...

BK: That's why they're culpable. I mean, they were told by the administration what the implications of this were. They weren' the effect, the attempt by Congress to sort of I guess make this more palatable somehow by not mentioning the particular news organizations in fact makes the whole thing look silly, I think.

HH: I agree with you. I think A) they're afraid. I think they're afraid of the big dogs, so they're kicking the puppies. That's what I'm describing it as. But also, it's unfair to the media that did not do this, and it does confuse the issue, because this is unprecedented, including the December story. As far as I can tell, and this includes the Chicago Tribune in the Battle of Midway anecdote, no major news media has ever, in the history of the United States, published information that could assist our enemies in eluding capture, after receiving a request from the administration or the government not to do so. And I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why the House did this, except that Mike Oxley doesn't want to name the New York Times, and the leadership went along with it. Do you think the Senate will make the same mistake?

BK: Yeah, probably. Their draft also does make the same mistake, I think. And also, incidentally, they're just not serious about it. I mean, you and I, I think, kind of may be responsible...I'm sure many people had the same idea, but I know we discussed this what, six days ago on your show, and you blogged about it, and I assume some people heard that...

HH: And you brought it up on Fox News Sunday.

BK: Right. But look, think about it. If they were serious about this, wouldn't they have gone ahead and had hearings this week, where they would have people, some of them obviously secret hearings, maybe, to ascertain some of the damage that was done, have the...let the Times, the media organizations defend themselves, bring in some experts on both sides, to discuss the question, and then move to a serious resolution, as well as think about legislations, if necessary, that would go with this. I mean, they're doing it in such a silly grandstanding way, right?

HH: Right.

BK: I mean, in a way, if you took it seriously, if you really believe that this did damage to the national security of the United States, one would want to go find out, at least in secret, how much damage, and also see what happened. You know, you need to have a hearing to have're the lawyer, not me, but to you have a sort of evidenciary record of what exactly happened.

HH: That's what I would have done, but I also would have had a two paragraph resolution.

BK: I agree with that, too, yeah.

HH: You know, all those whereases?

BK: Right.

HH: Honest to goodness, they live in a bubble, and people are blistered. Oh, are they mad about this. But let's put it aside for a moment, and I want to get to the defense that's being mounted. I taped a show with Eric Lichtblau earlier today. He won't come on the program with me, but we were debating this. And he's now adopted the defense, and I'm hearing it echoed, that it doesn't matter, no harm, no foul. There wasn't anything in the New York Times story that terrorists didn't know. I have a number of answers to that which I'm publishing later today, but I want to know what you think, Bill Kristol.

BK: How does he know?

HH: Exactly!

BK: I mean, it's ludicrous. Has he interviewed the al Qaeda leadership? And also, we don't even...I mean, it's ridiculous on its face.

HH: And at ten thousand terrorists...

BK: And incidentally, if that's true, why would the Bush administration have wanted to keep it secret? I mean, think about this for a minute. What is the partisan interest in the Bush administration not having...the American public know that they're pursuing...using a very effective tool to pursue terrorists' funds transfers? Bush has no intrinsic interest in keeping it secret. It's not like dubious interrogation techniques, where maybe the President, the administration would think they'll be a public backlash. There's no public backlash against this, obviously. And they knew there wouldn't be. So you have to assume that when the U.S. government says please keep this secret, the U.S. government honestly believes that it will do damage to the War On Terror. There's no other explanation for their desire to keep it secret. They're not embarrassed to not tout their own successes after all, right? Don't these media spend half the time criticizing the Justice Department for talking about different successes we've had in the War On Terror?

HH: Yeah.

BK: So I mean, that's what's so crazy about the New York Times' defense.

HH: It's also contradicted by their own story, in which they quote people saying nobody knew about SWIFT except the New York business community, which had to tip the federal government to go get it. And the idea that the all-knowing, all powerful 10,000 terrorists, who include the Canadian misfits, and the Miami illiterates, is just, I think, one of the indication that they know how badly they have erred in judging the public. Now you put out in the Weekly Standard this week a couple of articles. Have they been widely read? What do you sense is sort of the American middle on this controversy?

BK: No, they've been widely read. I just talked to Gabe Schoenfeld, who wrote one of the articles, and he's getting lots of radio requests, and lots of opportunities to debate. He's finding it hard to find people to debate on the other side of this issue, frankly, because this is not actually a close call. There are lots of very interesting, complicated issues, as you know better than I, about some issues of prosecution of journalists, and how appropriately to do it, and how not, and official secrets acts, and all that. This one is actually hard to find people, I think, honest, unbiased people who will defend the New York Times. I mean, you read the New York Times story today, obviously.

HH: Yup.

BK: They didn't exactly come up with a lot of really big names from the national security establishment, including from the Clinton administration, let's say. I didn't see...who were willing to say you know what? The New York Times made the right call here. Right? I didn't see any Clinton secretary of defense, or Clinton CIA director, or senior Democrats on Armed Services Committees, or Intelligence Committees, saying you know what? No problem. No harm, no foul. Go ahead, New York Times.

HH: Well, let's switch off. I think they've lost this, and I do believe it will continue to get worse for them, and perhaps someday, they'll be penitent, and I wish the Congress would expedite it. But let's talk about the United States Supreme Court for a moment. Peter Kaisler was nominated for the D.C. Circuit today. That's great. But so long as you've got five members, including Justice Kennedy, who don't think we're in a war, or unwilling to treat it as such, the war effort, Bill Kristol, is going to be hampered.

BK: Yeah, I saw you on your blog. You posted an eloquent letter from a soldier saying God, he's been fighting pretty hard in this war, and now the Supreme Court is just sort of cavalierly undercutting it based on all, it seems to me, awfully dubious and sketchy legal reasoning. Insofar as do you believe that Congress can rectify this? I couldn't quite tell from the opinion.

HH: Yes, I do.

BK: So shouldn't they be called in immediately to do so?

HH: Yes. And in fact...

BK: Well, maybe we can give Congress another chance to redeem themselves from this wimply resolution. Shouldn't Frist and Hastert call them in, God forbid, maybe even cut short their July 4th vacation? But if not, make it the absolute top of the agenda the week they get back on July 12th, to pass appropriate legislation to authorize what the President needs?

HH: Yes, especially since the Supreme Court cast aside their habeas law of earlier this year, and treated it as though it did not exist, defined it away. They ought to come back and tell the 3rd branch that this is a 1st and 2nd branch issue, and that they're with the 1st branch here.

BK: Right.

HH: But again, this goes to Congressional leadership, and whether or not the Republicans are out of gas. And I'll tell you, would you vote...would you advise John McCain to vote for this silly resolution, Bill Kristol?

BK: Well, I don't konw. They're all going to vote for it, I think, Hugh, because obviously to vote against it seems like you're being pro-New York Times. But it is...I guess on the Senate floor, I'm just thinking out loud here. I really haven't followed what's happening today in detail. The Senate usually has the right to amend resolutions. So shouldn't some Senator get up and amend it along the lines of mentioning specifically the news organizations that explicitly denied, or explicitly chose to disobey the most serious request by the highest levels of the U.S. government? I mean, that's what we're talking about here.

HH: Yup. That's it.

BK: If some poor guy who's putting out a paper somewhere inadvertently reveals something that turned out to be secret, it would be unfortunate. We might say he's careless, but we wouldn't want a Congressional resolution denouncing him, you know?

HH: No, that's the Chicago Tribune Battle of Midway incident.

BK: Right.

HH: Absolutely not. Moreover, and I want to get your reaction to this. We have heard from Keller, we have heard from Keller's defenders, we have heard from everyone about the Bay of Pigs. And you know, Bill, the Bay of Pigs happened, and it went badly, but the fact that the New York Times sat on a story at the request of President Kennedy is an admirable thing, not a bad thing, and it's a myth to say that they ought to have acted the way their mythologizers...

BK: Well, you make an extremely important point, and I haven't seen this anywhere in print on the Bay of Pigs thing. Everyone takes it for granted that of course, they should have revealed it. Are we serious? If we had a military operation, leave aside whether it was well-advised or ill-advised against, I don't know, Syria to destroy their terrorist infrastructure which is harming American soldiers in Iraq. And the New York Times thought it was ill-advised. Should they reveal that this military operation was about to be launched in a day or two?

HH: Exactly. Exactly.

BK: And the answer is, no.

HH: The answer is absolutely not.

BK: And the Bay of Pigs cuts the other way.

HH: So long and the short of it. I haven't talked to the politics of this until last hour with John McIntyre. What are the politics of this series of issues, as we crescendo towards November?

BK: Well, look. I've always though, as you have, that if one party seems to be serious about fighting the War On Terror, even if it's making some mistakes along the way, and the other party isn't serious, the American people won't entrust our national security to the non-serious party. What's damaging here is that one gets the impression from the Republicans, some of the Republicans in Congress, and also, incidentally, from some of the...unfortunately, what the administration's been doing with regard, or not doing with regard to Syria, with regard to Iran, that you don't have a clear contrast. Do we have one party, at least, that is really serious about fighting the War On Terror? And that's...unfortunately, as you said, a little more of a question than it was a month or two ago.

HH: And it's the most important issue in November. Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, thank you.

End of interview.

James Lileks discusses the Congressional leadership that have done the thing to the pooch.


HH: And I am proud to say, though we may have a 9/10 Supreme Court, and a 9/10 Congressional leadership, there's at least one 9/11 columnist working up in the Gopher State, and it's you. James, how are you?

JL: I'm as well as can be expected on such a day of lovely, glorious, heart-warming news.

HH: Now, let's just step back here. When I played Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing...

JL: Chris Isaak, incidentally.

HH: What?

JL: Chris Isaak, incidentally.

HH: I didn't know that.

JL: Yeah.

HH: Did you think I was introing the Supreme Court, the Republican leadership, or the New York Times?

JL: No, Hugh, I listen to your show, so I know exactly what you're doing. You always play that for the members of Congress who really done the thing to the pooch.

HH: Am I wrong about this? Tell me I'm overstating what they've done, if I'm wrong.

JL: Well, a little overstatement is necessary to get the ball rolling, sometimes, and to get the right people riled up. But I don't think you're wrong, because if not now, when, exactly. What do they have to do? And it's not exactly necessary to win the war, but it is a helpful sign to know that A) you've got a Congress that is willing to put its resolutions where its head is. I mean, apparently, I'm supposed to look at this, and intuit what they're talking about. I'm supposed to be a Jedi mind reader here, and look at the resolution, and say well, I know what they mean, so they don't really have to say it. But why don't they say it? That's the question. And it's because they're afraid of angering the secretarial pool, I think. If you irritate the New York Times, which looms much larger in their imagination than I think it does in the rest of the country, then you're not going to get the calls returned as quickly as possible, you're not going to get the fawning, little pieces, and you're going to get a couple of hard looks at a cocktail party now and then. And if that's the price...if they're not willing to pay that price, well, then we can judge them accordingly.

HH: Did you read the Lt. Col.'s e-mail to Powerline?

JL: Yeah. That's hard.

HH: That's a shot to the chest.

JL: Yes, and that's sort of...

HH: And it's true.

JL: But it's true, but it's real world stuff, and you've spent enough time in Washington to know that it has its own oxygen, and such things don't occur to them. And when they do, it's like a bolt from another part of the world, which it is, literally.

HH: Now what do you predict, as I already know what happens, because I taped it. But what do you predict happens in a roundtable with Howard Kurtz, Eric Lichtblau, Gene Robinson of the Washington Post, and Geneva Overholser, former ombudsman for the Post, Des Moines Register editor, and me on Reliable Sources?

JL: At best, you're regarded as somebody who's exploiting this for political benefit, and at its absolute worst, you're a fascist who wants to crush the ability of the press to say anything they want, and you want the entire world to be nothing more than an anodyne version of a Garfield cartoon.

HH: And what...who do you think...that was awfully good, actually. What do you think is going to appear to the audience?

JL: Well, again, it depends on who's watching. Who watches these shows? I gave up watching the chattering shows a long time ago, because I never learned anything from them. But if you took the average person whose been watching this from a distance and plopped them down, they would see people, probably, who exist, again, in that media bubble of preening self-regard, and I don't mean to say that about them individually. I mean, Howard Kurtz is a smart guy, and he's...

HH: Oh, Howard's fair. He's very fair.

JL: Yeah, he's smart and a fair guy. And Genny, she's a smart woman. And all these people are good people, but they will see people who live in a certain bubble of self-regard that is...they think it's made of iron, and the rest of us just see it as a soap bubble easily pricked.

HH: You know what? It's the Truman Show. It dawned on me...I got the last word in, and I was almost laughing. It's the Truman Show. They talk to each other in a cliche set of codes about what they do, and they avoid talking about what they did, but the rest of the world knows. I think they just don't get it.

JL: Well, it's the most important job in the most important place, don't you know?

HH: (laughing)

JL: Politicians, presidents, ambassadors come and go, but the media abides. And when I left D.C., I made no secret of the fact that I didn't like it, just didn't like it on a variety of levels. But people regarded me as slightly insane for having stepped away from what they regarded as the greatest, richest banquet in the history of civilization. And I'd never been in any place more parochial in my life. Fargo was a cosmopolitan Bombay bazaar compared to Washington, D.C. The group think is extraordinary.

HH: Let's get to the specific issue. I believe, I am convicted, I believe I've persuaded myself, and hopefully thousands, and tens of thousands of readers, that the Lichtblau/Risen story assisted terrorists in eluding capture. If you've been following on the web, their defense now is no harm, no foul. Everybody knew it was going on. How do you respond to Eric Lichtblau?

JL: Well, if that's the case, who died and made him king of the intelligence forest, I'd like to know. What exactly...what basis do we have for taking his assumptions that there's no foul? I was reading something yesterday Jake Tapper put up on ABC's The Note, in which I think he went to Thomas Keane of the 9/11 Commission, and asked him, and said nobody knew about this thing. Nobody knew...this was an absolute baffler when it came to international finance. And the idea nobody knew about it, and that nobody will adjust accordingly is preposterous.

HH: The other thing is, it's like make a statement that absurd about any other group of...I don't know how many terrorists there are, tens of thousands. Make a sweeping statement about columnists in the United States, that they all watch '24'.

JL: Right.

HH: And we know that most of us do.

JL: Right.

HH: But probably, 70% don't, and so...most of the smart ones do.

JL: And even if there is no harm, there is a certain amount of foul in letting the world know that, willy-nilly, the newspapers will just spew whatever secrets they have decided is going to be in the public interest. And international cooperation be damned.

HH: What about this argument, which I've just put a new argument up, which is that people get sloppy. They might know about SWIFT, but pretty soon, they'll tell themselves nobody's really watching, and the terrorist's enforcer will be gone for a week, and they'll just be inconvenienced. So they're going to run over to the bank one time, and it won't hurt. That happened until Friday.

JL: Well, that's a lot of if's and presumptions, Hugh. And I'm here to tell you, that if they went by that, there'd be nothing to put on the front page of the paper. No, they had to fill the space somehow, so the if's and presumptions...

HH: You know, one argument that gets me is what you're saying is if it could conceivably help terrorists, we can't print it. Of course, I'm not saying that, and I do you respond to journalists who won't close, James Lileks?

JL: Who won't close what, exactly?

HH: Won't close on the argument. Will dance away. Won't talk about this story at this time with this effect.

JL: Well, you don't. And part of it is defensiveness, because I think there is a realization that they may have gone a little too far with this, although I don't think in their heart of hearts, they really think they did. I think they're more worried about the trouble they got themselves into. No, you can't do it, because you're not working with the same intellectual framework here. You see a war, they see a thing, a messy, calamitous, on the margins thing that has not, and will not cohere into this existential crisis that is first and foremost in your mind. That's the difference, and you can't get around it. And you certainly can't embed it in the course of a show.

HH: Did you hear Yoni earlier?

JL: Yeah, yeah.

HH: What did you make of that?

JL: Well, what I always make of what I hear from Yoni. I mean, it's a rather stark, grim appraisal of somebody who knows exactly what we're up against. And I say we in the sense that Israel's enemy to a large extent, is also that of America. The enemy of the West, the enemy of pluralism, liberalism, and everything that the left professes to love, the antithesis of it is embodied in these people we are fighting. And why they don't see that, sometimes just mystifies me.

HH: Lileks, see you tomorrow in Minne-so-cold.

End of interview.

Real Clear Politics' John McIntyre trying to understand the rationale of not naming the Times Two in either House's resolution.

HH: John McIntyre of Real Clear Politics joins me now to discuss the fallout from Hamdan, the case wrongly decided, in my opinion, by the Supreme Court today, and the New York Times/Los Angeles Times assistance to terrorists eluding capture, and the Republican Party's reaction in that order. John McIntyre, welcome.

JM: How are you doing today, Hugh?

HH: Good. What's the politics of Hamdan?

JM: Well, I think it helps the President. I mean, it puts the attention back on the Supreme Court, which on changing, getting more conservative justices on the Court, which helps the President, helps Republicans, focuses on the War On Terror. I don't see how this helps Democrats, politically.

HH: I think it identifies the Court as a 9/10 court. Is that fair?

JM: Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, the Democrats' reaction, Nancy Pelosi's reaction, it puts the Democrats back in the position that they're bending over backwards to defend Osama bin Laden's driver, terrorists.

HH: I know. Now we come to the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. It's been a week since this story broke tomorrow. What's the political impact of this? Forget the national security damage. That's what I've been talking about exclusively. I haven't talked to anyone about the politics, yet. What's your take?

JM: Well, I think politically, this helps President Bush and Republicans, but I think having said that, and this is a point that you're making, I think the Congress, which is in Republican control, has an obligation to go on record condemning this, and calling out the New York Times and Los Angeles Times by name. And I think even more importantly than that, the White House, and President Bush, at some point, have got to take responsibility to aggressively prosecute these, because if they don't...I mean, this happened back in December with the NSA wiretapping issue. If they don't, what secret program is going to be the next program that the New York Times reveals to the terrorists.

HH: Well, let me explain to you what I think the bind is there, and then I want to come back to the Congress. the executive cannot direct prosecution. I mean, that politicize prosecution is a very bad thing in this country.

JM: Oh, hold on. I'm not necessarily saying they should go after the New York Times. But I don't see why the Justice Department can't make a point to find out the people who leaked this to the Times.

HH: I agree, and I hope they empanel a grand jury, and I hope they call Eric Lichtblau and Doyle McManus, and everyone else from both newspapers, and ask them who are these people?

JM: That's right, and if they don't give them up, put them in jail.

HH: That's civil contempt. You bet. Because I don't know is 18USC798's been violated by the papers, but I'm saying the President can't order that. All he can ask is for his Department of Justice to investigate whether or not a law was broken. And at that point, it's out of their hands, because you cannot demand a President demand a prosecution or an investigation.

JM: Okay. That's fair enough, Hugh, but I mean, a President can go on record, all right, more publicly, in making the point that this has got to stop.

HH: Agreed. And I think he and Cheney did that this week, and I hope they do it again. Now let's get to the Congress, though. What are they thinking in the House of Representatives, about bringing in a resolution that doesn't name names.

JM: It's a little bizarre. I mean, you'd think by now that trying to curry favor...for Republicans to try to curry favor with the New York Times or the L.A. Times is a lost cause. And so I don't know why they're sort of walking on tinder leaves, afraid to offend either Times. It doesn't make sense.

HH: I think they're afraid, and it's sort of like we're afraid of the big dogs, so we're going to kick the puppies.

JM: It doesn't make any sense. I mean, this is a perfect example where the policy and the politics line up. The right policy is to condemn them, and politically, this is a huge win for Republicans. I mean, it's terrible for our national security, but politically, this is a huge win for the President and Republicans.

HH: Are they snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by appearing to be spineless at just a moment when their base is watching very closely, is outraged, and in fact, not just the base. I think the vast majority of Americans are outraged.

JM: This isn't even a base issue. The average American is outraged by this. I wouldn't go as far to say that they're turning this into a negative, but I don't think they're maximizing an opportunity that's been presented to them.

HH: Oh, I have to disagree with you, because last night, I sat here, and my reaction to Dreier brought out a lot of reactions from around the country, which were in e-mail and phone calls, that they're just disgusted. It's sort of like the border issue. It took the Republican majority two years to figure out the border issue. By then, it was too late.

JM: Right.

HH: So now, earlier this morning, I got a call from an aid to a Senator, saying hey, we're going to have a resolution, too. Does it mentions the Times or the Post? He said no. And I just blew up at him, and I told him, how can you people ignore the poster at Powerline, for example, who says they're willing to send us off to die in Afghanistan, but they won't condemn the New York Times for helping us die. That's powerful stuff, John.

JM: Well, what did the person say?

HH: Oh, he was stunned. Stunned that I was as angry as I was.

JM: I mean, I don't understand the rationale behind not wanting to point out the papers that did this. It doesn't make any sense.

HH: Given that it's...there are presidential wannabes in the United States Senate...

JM: Right.

HH: If they're afraid to stand up to the New York Times, how in the world can they get the presidential nomination?

JM: Well, yeah, this is a perfect opportunity for people like Senator Allen and Senator Frist and...

HH: Senator McCain.

JM: Senator McCain, yeah. I mean, exactly. What better chance here to get on the soapbox and start banging the table on this?

HH: Now given that, if they vote for a resolution that's a dodge, a watered-down, weak-kneed attempt...

JM: Well, that suddenly becomes a real political story, I think if they do that. If there's two distinct resolutions out there, and they vote for the one that's on the weak end, and shying away from taking an aggressive approach, that is not going to help the potential candidate who does that.

HH: Well, I think I see in this a replay of the December resolution when Levin asked for a timetable. And instead, the Republicans came up with this soap water, oh, no timetable, but a year of decision coming up...that instead of that, if there's a resolution that doesn't name the Times, I wouldn't vote for it. I don't care how strong it was.

JM: None of this makes any sense, because from the public standpoint, the public doesn't like the politicians, but they hate the press more, and they hate the left-wing press the most.

HH: But they don't hate the idea of the 1st Amendment, and I'll tell you, these resolutions offend me as a journalist, should offend you as a journalist. I'm not part of this problem. It isn't me. It's not the media.

JM: Well, that's fair, Hugh, but the average person lumps all...they have this view of the big mainstream media, and they lump them all together in their mind. But I think to make your point, the point here is it's not all the media that did this. It is two specific newspapers.

HH: How are they conducting themselves in the aftermath of this? They're dodging me. Eric Lichtblau has refused to come on this program. Bill Keller won't return phone calls.

JM: Bill Keller's attitude is disgusting. And his arrogant response...what's clear to me is their hatred, just absolute hatred for the Bush administration has just blinded them to good judgment.

HH: But I also think they know they've screwed up, and they're afraid to go anywhere where they have to answer for it.

JM: Absolutely.

HH: John McIntyre, good to catch up with you. Follow it at, every day. Comprehensive coverage right there.

End of interview.

Return to top

Wednesday, June 28

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney doesn't mince words on the NY Times damaging national security last week.


HH: It's not just the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Pat Roberts, that we need to talk to about the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, but throughout the United States, lots of executive branch officials have to react to that. One of them, Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, joins me now. Governor, good to have you back on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

MR: Thank you, Hugh. Good to be with you.

HH: Did you have a reaction, Governor, having just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan recently, on the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times publishing the classified stories that they did Friday last?

MR: You know, I find it inexplicable and inexcusable. You recognize that we are at war, and that publishing the intelligence capabilities and processes and procedures of our intelligence community is something which puts us in a jeopardized position, it puts us in peril, and it's inexcusable. And I just find it just extraordinary, and I can't imagine what kind of outcry there would be, had the same thing occurred during the Second World War.

HH: Governor, you've got a financial background. You helped found Bain Capital. You brought a lot of people through these markets. You know financial transactions. I assume you've got some idea of what this SWIFT thing is doing. It's incredibly complicated finance. Do you think ordinary reporters, even those at elite institutions, with plenty of years behind them, really understand what's going on in these transactions, and what we can learn from them?

MR: No, I think it's very hard to surmise exactly how the system works, but I think they have to recognize that if something is classified, that is something that is done to track the illegal payments of terrorists to one another, that it's something that's designed to help protect our country. And if they hear that from the President, and they hear that from our leaders, and they go ahead and publish it anyway, you have to wonder where their common sense is, and how they could possibly do something that would potentially put in jeopardy the security of our country and our citizens' lives.

HH: Governor Romney, last question on this. I know you chair the Republican Governors Conference. Do you think that either the Republican conference or the national conference would consider a resolution asking newspapers to act more responsibly in this regard?

MR: Well, that's probably going to come forward from a number of places, and I certainly hope that you see that kind of outcry from a wide range of folks. I'm not sure what impact it's going to have on the New York Times, or the L.A. Times. I really hope that the people who are subscribers let their voice be heard loud and clear. And that's...I mean, when I find something I don't like, I make sure and call the paper, and tell them that. And sometimes, I actually decide to cancel a subscription. These are the things that individual citizens are going to have to take into their own hands, because ultimately, these papers publish these things to gain circulation. And what's sad to me is that people would trade off their positive reputation for being able to get a scoop, to be able to expand their circulation, and trade that off against the interests of our country.

HH: Now let's switch over, Governor, and talk about listening to the people. Today, you appeared with Cardinal Sean O'Malley from the Archdiocese of Boston, Bishop George Coleman from Fall River, a bunch of leaders, including the folks who run, to appeal to the Boston legislators meeting in convention in a few days. What's this all about? What do they have to decide to do?

MR: Well, actually, the people in our state have collected 170,000 signatures to get a ballot initiative put in front of the citizens to allow marriage to be defined as a relationship between a man and a women. And all they have to have for that to go forward is 25% of the legislature's vote, an approval of 25%. That's what our constitution says. But there are some legislators who are saying hey, we don't care what the constitution says. We're not going to show up for a vote, so there won't be a quorum, so you can never get your 25% vote. And that's the...I think of course, which would frustrate the constitution, would frustrate democracy, and we're arguing long and hard. Whether you agree with us on marriage or not, you certainly ought to give the respect of the people to allow the democratic process to proceed.

HH: So let me understand this as the perspective of someone who's been gone from Massachusetts for a long time. Between the Senate and the House, you've got what? 200 legislators?

MR: You got it.

HH: And of those 200, if they gather in a quorum, 50 or more will put it before the people to vote on for a majority, up or down?

MR: That's exactly right.

HH: And how many are threatening not to show up to deny the quorum?

MR: Well, that's uncertain. One of the leaders, the majority leader, the Democratic leader in the House said, one of the plans being considered is having people stay away, so that the vote could never legally occur. Well, we'll look at our legal recourse, depending on what action they take. But fundamentally, what these religious leaders were saying is, let democracy work. Don't frustrate the will of the people, because the voice of the people is the basis upon which this whole nation was established, and our Commonwealth was established. And it's interesting to me that my liberal friends are very anxious to protect democracy, unless they think it might go against them. And in a case where they think they might get a vote of the people that would go against them, they want to make sure that people can't vote.

HH: Governor Romney, how many are required for a quorum?

MR: Well, over 50%. So 101 people.

HH: You need 101 people to show up, and I can't really believe that the Commonwealth, which is the bedrock of democracy in this continent, would not turn out 50% plus one of its members to allow the people a vote?

MR: Well, that's what you'd think, wouldn't you? And I'm hoping that'll be the case, and that the legislature will recognize that their duty of office, having sworn to uphold the constitution, and take such a vote, will outweigh their interest in becoming popular to a particular interest group that's very loud and very boistrous in our state.

HH: The Protection of Marriage Amendment that is pending, and will be on the ballot in two years, if you have the necessary quorum, and then 50 people vote, is it one that excludes civil unions? Or is it one that simply excludes same sex marriage?

MR: It specifically says that marriage shall be defined as a relationship between one man and one woman. And it leaves open whatever in the future the legislature might decide to do. It doesn't restrict the legislature in other ways down the road.

HH: And you are in this position of having to seek this through the cumbersome process, because of the highest court in Massachusetts, correct? Just remind people.

MR: Yes, just about two years ago, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that gay couples could marry in our state. And so we're working very hard to see if we can't get an amendment to our constitution that allows us to define marriage as it's always been defined. And it's an enormous challenge, but it has extraordinary implications. And it's not just implications for adults who marry. It's primarily focused on children. We believe that children have a right to have a mom and a dad, and that the right setting to raise a child is where there's a mother and a father, and where the development of a child can be enhanced by the presence of both genders. And we know a lot of single parents make wonderful sacrifices to raise kids. Don't have any problem with that. And certainly, people could live the way they want to live. If gay folks want to live together, that's certainly their right. But we want to reserve the name of marriage, and the principle of marriage, to a setting where there's a mother and a father.

HH: Governor Romney, thanks for joining us. Good luck in getting your quorum and your fifty votes. It's, for more details.

End of interview.

Hugh mixes it up with Kansas Senator Pat Roberts over the reaction to the N.Y. Times' story leaking classified counter-terrorist programs.


HH: We begin with Senator Pat Roberts from the great state of Kansas. He's chairman of the Special Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Senator Roberts, welcome to the program. Good to have you here, Mr. Chairman.

PR: Well, Hugh, thank you very much for the opportunity.

HH: A number of questions on the SWIFT program, Senator. Were you briefed on this program's existence prior to the New York Times' and Los Angeles Times' story of last Friday?

PR: Yes.

HH: How often had you been briefed?

PR: Well, I'm not going to get into how often, but just let me say that staff and members both were briefed, and certainly prior to that story.

HH: Do you consider yourself to have been adequately briefed?

PR: No question.

HH: Was Senator Rockefeller, the ranking minority member briefed?

PR: Yes, I think so, although I'm going to have to hedge on that one, because he's been laid up with a back operation for a considerable amount of time. But his staff was briefed, and I think I can say with some certainty at least that Senator Rockefeller was briefed. This has been over a period of time.

HH: Were any other members of the committee, to your knowledge, Chairman Roberts, briefed?

PR: We have just reached the situation where we went from two to five to seven of the full committee, primarily on the NSA surveillance program. On this particular program, however, several other Senators expressed an interest in that, and were briefed personally, more especially, Senator Bond of Missouri.

HH: The reason I'm asking this is because in an interview conducted with me on Monday, Doyle McManus, the Washington bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, cited inadequacy of the Congressional briefing as one of the reasons the Los Angeles Times felt justified in running this story. What's your reaction to that?

PR: Well, I think he's dead wrong. I don't know how else to put it. I think this is an amazing story. It really flabbergasts me. I'm sitting here looking at an, pardon me, a September 24 editorial by the New York Times, calling for a program very similar to this. There's a line here, the Treasury Department also needs new domestic, legal weapons to crack down on money laundering terrorists. The new laws should mandate the ID of all account owners, and prohibit transactions with banks that have no physical premise, and require closer monitoring of accounts from countries, etc., etc. They should be able to freeze this, freeze that. There's about five paragraphs here on September 24, that pretty well lay out the premise of the program...

HH: But that was September 24, 2001, when they...

PR: Yeah, in 2001. Now they've changed around, and said that this program, as far as they were concerned, did not represent any problem for publication. I very strongly disagree, and I think basically this isn't a matter of basically the 1st Amendment, or freedom of the press. I think that's a red herring. We really need to protect the methods by which we detect and we deter terrorists. This program has been working very well. I think as a result of this, we are rapidly losing our ability to do so, and I think America is less safe because of this story.

HH: Based on your extensive experience with this program and others in counter-terrorism, Chairman Roberts, do you believe the stories of this past Friday have helped terrorists elude capture?

PR: I'm not going to go that far at this particular time. General Hayden said something very interesting to me the other day. He said now we're only catching the stupid terrorists. Basically, I think the public has a right to know, but if you tell the public, you tell our adversaries. And there know, we pay great deference to the fourth estate, to the press, because of 1st Amendment, and also freedom of the press. And so, there's a lot that's classified that ends up in stories. We don't comment on it. As a matter of fact, that's a big source of frustration with me. I can't comment on stories, because I can't either confirm or deny. The person who wrote this story, and deliberately uses classified information, they have no accountability. And in this particular case, these are the highest classified programs we have. And if you have the co-chairmen of the 9/11 Commission, you have members of Congress urging people not to do it, the administration urging them not to do it, the people who run the program urging them not to do it, and then they go ahead and make that decision to go ahead and run it anyway, with no accountability, and they aid and abet the enemy, I just think that's just flabbergasting to me.

HH: But that's what...Chairman Roberts, excuse me for interrupting, but why pull the punch? If Mike Hayden, the CIA director, is saying it's helping terrorists elude...some terrorists, why not simply declare it, because Eric Lichtblau, one of the reporters, told editor and publisher he was persuaded that they're not giving any new information that is tangibly helping terrorists, that they don't know already. He said that. Is he wrong?

PR: I think he is wrong, and one of the things that is very frustrating to those of us who have been read into the program, and I'm probably the person that has had more briefings than anybody else, simply because of my duration of membership on the committee, and now being chairman, is that not only did the Times run the story, but about 80% of it was wrong. They had everybody in America believing that Aunt Mildred was being spied on, or that her calls were being monitored, and that's not correct. And so, if you get that public impression out there, that's also a dual problem for you. I'm not going to get into a quarrel with that particular reporter, but you had a whole cascade of information after they broke this story that was wrong. And then our problem is, our challenge is, we can't set the record straight, except very generically. I've tried to do that as best I can.

HH: But on the SWIFT program...I don't want to mix programs up.

PR: Right. Well, it's the same thing, really. I mean, it's the same principle, and the thing that worries me a great deal is we hear a lot about the 1st Amendment and freedom of the press. All right, but it's a free and responsible press. And in this particular case...

HH: But Chairman Roberts...

PR: has not been responsible.

HH: Chairman Roberts, what worries me is that Senators are pulling their punches. There's no resolution...

PR: Oh, I see what you're talking about.

HH: Yeah, there's no resolution in the Senate condemning what they did...

PR: Well, as of yet. We're talking about it. I don't want to simply have a resolution that simply goes down party lines, and that gets you into a situation that I don't think is accurate. I think quite a few Democrats are just as upset about this. They may not say so publicly, but most of the news stories indicate that Republicans are doing this because of the Bush administration.

HH: But Chairman Roberts, we don't care about...I care about what you guys think about this, and I think you're letting your colleagues off the hook if you don't put this on the floor and demand that they vote yea or nay.

PR: Oh, we may do that, and that's a leadership decision. I have had input on that. My main concern is to...and I've talked to John Negroponte, who welcomed this, and I said I want to know, I want a damage assessment. Now it could very well be that we will have hearings on that. My choice would be public. But if this damage assessment comes back, we're certainly not going to make that public to al Qaeda. And so consequently, we need to know how badly our intelligence community, what assets...what our efforts to make America more safe, these tools that we have, these highly technological tools, has been badly damaged. How diminished is, or are, both of these programs, which are absolutely essential.

HH: And Chairman Roberts, I want to go back, then, to the question. In your opinion, knowing what you know now, did the release of Monday's story, just the SWIFT program, assist terrorists in eluding capture?

PR: Oh, I don't think there's any question.

HH: All right. Now I want to quote to you McManus saying...on your oversight. We went to Congress to figure out what it was, he said, and it turned out that, "a few members had been briefed, and that the Intelligence Committee as a whole hadn't been briefed until after Treasury began to believe the story was likely to come out. So if the question of briefing Congress goes to imortant issues of oversight, the oversight, I think any fair-minded person would say, that there was a minimal form of oversight. It wasn't complete oversight." Was he wrong?

PR: Well, I would say he's wrong. I've been briefed, and I know other members of the Intelligence Committee have been briefed, staff has been briefed, leadership has been briefed. We did that during the nomination of General Hayden, when I read down a list of who had been briefed on, through the years of the NSA program, and again, I don't want to mix programs, but it's very similar. It would be a very similar thing with a Treasury situation. We had heard a lot of rumors about the Times going to run with this story again, another story that could be very harmful. That's when they brought out everybody they could think of to urge the Times to change their mind. And I mean, it's one thing to write a story where we pay deference to the press, and maybe there's something classified in that. There's a lot of things that are overclassified. I understand that. But it's another thing when you say look, here is one of the highest classified programs we have, it's one of our most effective tools to stop terrorism, it is effective. Please do not write this story.

HH: Quick question, Chairman. Do you think they have the experience and the knowledge base to judge the damage that they're going by these stories?

PR: Oh, now you're putting your finger on it. Basically, here we have people in the government, operators of the program, people on the Intelligence Committee who do conduct oversight, who are briefed, who do scrutinize the program, who do our job, and I can say without equivocation that that has been the case on both of these program. And then we have somebody who has not been read into the program, that makes a decision to go ahead and print this material, or make it public, and in so doing, make it public to al Qaeda, and our enemies, our adversaries, who are plotting as we speak. I mean, I think there's a complacency here, where they really underestimate our adversaries. And there's no accountability for it.

HH: Chairman Roberts, the accountability's, I hope, in a Senate resolution soon. Thanks for joining us. Come back again, Mr. Chairman. Thanks for your service.

End of interview.

Christopher Hitchens walks a fine line between balancing the betrayal of national security and mistrust of the federal government.


HH: This just in from CCN, that's the Consolidated Cave Network, a new Osama bin Laden tape expected to be played shortly, praising Abu Musab al Zarqawi. To discuss that and other developments, I'm joined by Vanity Fair's Christopher Hitchens. Christopher Hitchens, Osama...we'll put him aside for a second. I want to give you a chance to what? Make nice with the Daily Kos crowd?

CH: Yeah, why not? Just to show how furry I am. No, seriously, Hugh, if I can call you that, last week, when you asked me about Hillary Clinton's allegations and accusations of unpatriotism and so on, and I said well, if she'd been in Las Vegas, she could have heard all these people talking about how Bush did 9/11, and all of that. And in my mind, I was partly thinking of this other convention that had recently taken place, or is about to take place in Chicago, of all the people who say the administration pre-arranged the whole thing. And though there are some people who overlap in these camps, it isn't fair, wasn't fair of me to say that the Daily Kos promulgates that kind of stuff. So I thought...a couple of people wrote to me quite decently about it, and I thought I just ought to take the opportunity.

HH: I saw that. Micah Sifry is one of them, and he's a very fine guy, actually. He's wrong...

CH: Yeah, he's very good, yeah.

HH: He's wrong about most things, but he's a very fine guy. On the other hand, I don't want you to apologize too broadly. It was, after all, Kos who accused Marty Peretz of being the Joe Lieberman-loving, neocon owner. That's a little code there for you. And...

CH: Well, right. You know what? I mean, there's nothing factually wrong with that.

HH: Nothing factually, but what do you think he intended?

CH: Not only that, but Al Gore-loving.

HH: But what did you think he intended to intimate there?

CH: Even worse. No, look. Some of the ways the Daily Kos expressed itself are quite repellent to me, and I don't take any of that back. But there was a specific innuendo that I didn't mean, and that isn't fair.

HH: Let's get to important stuff.

CH: And you know, one doesn't need to be too...

HH: No, specificity in criticism is always preferable.

CH: There we are.

HH: Now the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times on Friday, over the objections of the combined forces of the federal executive branch, and Tom Keane and Lee Hamilton, and even Jack Murtha, went ahead and published this program. Your reaction?

CH: I don't think it's the same as the National Security Agency wiretapping, which directly affects the law, and whether or not it was being observed. It's a bit more to me like another thing that worried me, which was the printing photographs of this cut-out airline the CIA uses sometimes, which the tail numbers on the planes actually visible. This is an article about the rendition program, and its possible implications. And I have to say, I'm queasy about this, because this is printing material about operations actually in progress. I haven't had it pointed out to me how much damage this banking surveillance business could do, if revealed. I mean, one objection made by the administration was well, the relevant SWIFT code types might cease to cooperate. But I understand that they were subpoenaed in order to do so. It's not a question if they're voluntary cooperation, and I know that, because I worked a bit with those who uncovered the secret bank accounts, paid for by Saddam Hussein into the...sorry, paid into by Saddam Hussein by people like George Galloway and others. That was subpoena power, too, that discovered that. And as far as I know, that's not a state secret.

HH: The principal objection of the government to publication, and confirmed to me on this program by Stuart Levey, and in a letter from John Snow to Bill Keller, denied by the New York Times' Eric Lichtblau, but admitted as conceivable by the Los Angeles Times' Doyle McManus, is that publication of that data helped terrorists elude capture. Given that it's allowed as conceivable by the Los Angeles Times, how could it be smart to publish a legal, and in no way not unknown to Congress program, Christopher Hitchens?

CH: I have to say, you impress me if Doyle McManus said that.

HH: Yes, he did. I can play it for you if you have time.

CH: No, no. I take your word for it, and I would take his, too. He's an extremely serious and experienced and tough guy, and not one at all inclined to take the government's word for something, either. So I hate splitting differences, you know? I really do. I always want to make divisions sharper if I can. But I have to say I think this is fuzzy. And when it's fuzzy, if I was an editor, I wouldn't want ever to think later on that I had made the life of these characters easier. But I have to say, just to show I've got two sides to my head, that the excuse that that can be...or, let's not say the excuse. The argument that anything one does by the way of disclosure is helping the other side is one that always puts me on alert. If I operate on a presumption of guilt at all, and I do a lot, it's when governments make excuses for enlarging their power.

HH: Again, I want to make sure the audience hears it, although you believe me. I asked him is it possible, in your view, Doyle McManus, that the story will in fact help terrorists elude capture? Doyle, it is conceivable, yeah. And then he goes on to talk about it at length. But once that admission is in, how can you balance, Christopher Hitchens, what you cannot weigh, because you cannot know?

CH; I can only give you a panoptic answer to this, I think, which is that in the long run, I'm perfectly certain of victory over these people. And I think in some ways, it's impossible for them to win. They're too backward, they're too stupid, their ideology is self-destructive, as well as destructive. It's literally suicidal. Because I'm sure of that, I'm very anxious that we don't take any panic measures, that we don't act as if it's in the short-term, that at any minute, they might, as it were, win. I think it's very important that we be patient, and determined, and say we are quite confident of ultimate victory, and there's no need for any shortcuts or corner-cutting on things like torture, rendition, surveillance, infringements of the rights of the citizen, and so forth. What I read, however, of this program, didn't make me think that it was much of an infringement on anybody's privacy. It did seem that for once, the term safeguards was relatively kosher.

HH: And what I'm getting at is that the Bill Kellers, and the Dean Baquets, fine gentlemen, I'm sure, with 70 years of newsroom experience, but very little else going for them, and especially younger reporters of less than two decades experience, simply do not have the wherewithall to judge these programs, and the damage that they are doing. Will you concede me that much?

CH: Well, I don't know Bill Keller, but I know that he wrote some very good stuff in the run-up to the war, and that what he wrote was very thoughtful about regime change. And he also wrote an extremely impressive piece, I can still remember it, in the New York Times Magazine, actually, in two pieces. One, a profile of Wolfowitz that wasn't a demonizing profile, that made it clear that he was a serious person, and second, a very extraordinary article about the likelihood, if not the certainty, that someone will explode a weapon of mass destruction on American soil.

HH: That was in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, a very fine piece.

CH: Yeah, both of those pieces...I mean, I think he's not at all a person who's looking for a Pulitzer at any price.

HH: I didn't say that. But do you think they have the wherewithall for sensitive compartmented information dependent stories, about which they just don't have the clearances or the experience to judge these things?

CH: Well, okay, then you'd have to let me return the question to you. I mean, given the record of incompetence and failure and lack of foresight of all sorts on the part of the administration in this matter, why should we believe that they have the relevant wherewithall, as you put it? Why do we...

HH: Because Hambali is behind bars.

CH: On what basis are we supposed to trust them, given what we know and what we've been finding out?

HH: Because Hambali is behind bars as a result of the SWIFT program, and no one disputes that. And Stuart Levey, for example, a very sharp guy, who's been fighting this war at Justice and Treasury for five years, adds to that, as did Pat Roberts just now add to it, his adamant, adamant insistence that this was a very vital weapon.


HH: Christopher Hitchens, let me put this in perhaps a loaded, but I think descriptive terms. If Pinch Sulzberger and Howell Raines, and their assorted editors could not figure out that Jayson Blair was a fraud for years, and if the Los Angeles Times' Baquet and his whole technology staff couldn't figure out that their Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Michael Hiltzik was sock puppeting their own blog, why would we ever trust these people to figure out the balancing of the national security on a perfectly legal program?

CH: Well, first, in order...I was just going to tell you at the last break, I was in Indonesia when Hambali was lifted, and a lot of people were extremely glad to see him gone, not least myself. And any program that does that works for me. I haven't had it pointed out to me yet, I'll interpose this, how disclosing the program messes it up. I mean, I haven't had that proved, or even strongly argued to me, either, in the case of the NSA matter, where as you know, I'm a plaintiff with the ACLU against warrantless wiretapping. In answer to your question about Jayson Blair, it wasn't that they couldn't figure it out. That's not the scandal at all. The scandal is that they had figured it out. They did know, and they didn't do anything about it, because they thought it would be embarrassing, that there was protection, of a kind, for this character. That's what's outrageous.

HH: And so, as a result...

CH: But then again, I'd have to return it to you, as I did before the break. What is there about we know about our national security state that shrieks to us, just trust these guys? Absolutely nothing.

HH: I wouldn't argue this. I'm arguing a specific case, because obviously, that's a harder case to go with. I'm arguing the easiest case, because it's the most recent case. But I think Hambali is one, and Mike Hayden told Pat Roberts, now we're only going to catch the stupid terrorists. And how does it help them? The analogy I used with Doyle McManus was, it's the difference between knowing that a city wants to pick up speeders, and knowing where the speed traps and the cameras are? There are details, as you are aware. Lawrence Wright's piece in the New Yorker from, well, two years ago, The Terror Network, these are incredibly sophisticated people, even though they're barbarians. They're incredibly sophisticated when it comes to some things.

CH: Oh, I very much agree with that. I mean, in Bernard-Henri Levi's book on the murder of Daniel Perle, which is a very interesting book. I don't agree with all of it, but it's a very worthwhile piece of investigation. And what you learn, among other things, is that al Qaeda, far from being an insurgent group representing the poor of the world and the wretched of the Earth and all of this, is in fact little more than...well, it's a crime family, of course, but it's also a very, very refined, extremely corrupt, multi-national corporation of the sort that if it was of any other kind, the left would protest against. Money moving and shakedown donations and dummy accounts, and all of this, are absolutely a part of their stock and trade, and always have been.

HH: So I would guess the easiest illustration would be anyone who knew Hambali, and knew how he moved money, would simply go back, reverse engineer what he had done, and never do it again.

CH: I must say, you'll be able to correct me if I'm wrong, and I'm sure you're ready to do it, but my recollection of it, which is intense, because I was in Jakarta when he'd been caught by making a cell phone mistake.

HH: That is not the account in the New York Times, and/or the account of the government. He was caught because of SWIFT. Does that change your assessment of the damage it did?

CH: It would have to make me rethink it, yes, because I the time, the story was hey, look how clever we are about cell phones. But look, if there have been two stories, I have to tell you. I'm so skeptical now about the capacity and capability of the CIA particularly, that I wonder now why would they bother to tell a false story the first time?

HH: Misdirection. Oh, you read thrillers, don't you, Christopher Hitchens? You actually practice misdirection.

CH: Well, no, because I thought it was quite clever of them to say what they said at the time, because he had to wonder who tipped him off. I mean, it with Zarqawi, the very important thing was they announced we knew where he was, and we learned it from one of his people, from knowing their tradecraft. And that makes them worry, because with a paranoid pressure cooker little organization like this, if they don't trust everyone who's in it, they're in real trouble. That's very destabilizing.

HH: Well, don't they need to go Angleton, and poison every disclosure with misinformation, and protect every real source, and that when the real sources come out, we get hurt?

CH: Bodyguard of Lies?

HH: Yes.

CH: I can't think of a good pragmatic argument against that.

HH: Last question. Are these...I'm going back to the same thing. I just don't think American journalists are very smart, especially in elite institutions, because they live their lives in little vacuums, that they never leave, except to change one address for another. Tell me I'm wrong.

CH: Well, if I could just mention one name from the New York Times alone, John Burns.

HH: Oh, of course. The world's preeminent foreign and war correspondent. But generally speaking...

CH: I think he's done...he and a couple of others have done a great deal more to expose al Qaeda and its machinations than many elements of the USG.

HH: But generally speaking, am I wrong?

CH: I mean, do I think my profession can be complacent? Yes.

HH: No, no.

CH: Of course...well, no, I don't have's not opinion, by the way, on my part. It's a piece of hard, earned knowledge.

HH: And that leaves us where with your estimate of American journalism?

CH: Roughly where it was before.

HH: (laughing) Christopher Hitchens, always a pleasure. Read him in Vanity Fair.

End of interview.

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Tuesday, June 27

Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey explains just how far along the Iraqi Security Forces are.

HH: Hi, it's Hugh Hewitt. Welcome to the program, General. Good to have you on.

MD: Thank you.

HH: General Dempsey, can you give us a quick rundown on where the Iraqi Army stands today, in terms of numbers and by specialty. I know you're aiming, for example, ten divisions. How far along is the Iraqi Army?

MD: Yeah, it's about 85% complete, and let me put a little sharper edge on that. There are ten divisions, and they're geographically disbursed. They've got on average ten battalions in each, but a few of them, the Baghdad division, notably, has seventeen battalions. The support structure that provides them their necessary logistics is developing, but I'd fairly characterize it as immature at this point. Communications, architecture's good. The training base that provides the soldiers that come in off the street, recruting and get pushed into the army is complete, and largely transitions are Iraqi control. So in other words, Iraq has its own capability now to recruit, vet, as they call it, induct, basic train, and then distribute soldiers throughout the force.

HH: So if I've got my numbers right, you've still got about another 25,000 to recruit and train and deploy to the divisions. Is that about right?

MD: That's about right.

HH: All right. In the December briefing you gave, which I'm working off of, you also went to the special police, and you said look, we need 25,000 of those. We had 27 battalions in December. Where are you now with the special police?

MD: We're at about 22,000. And again, both the army and the national...well, actually, our goal is to complete army, national police and local police by the end of the calendar year.

HH: You had a goal of 135,000 regular police. You were 60,000 short in December of '05. Where are you now?

MD: We're...I don't have the number right in front of me, but we are...actually, I can get it for you here. On local police, we're at 104,700, and we've got another 2,300 in training right now that are ready to graduate.

HH: I was fascinated in the February briefing, and the December briefing as well. You need 6,000 highway patrolmen. I hadn't thought about Iraqi Chippies. You had 3,000 at the time. Where are you now?

MD: Well, that's...actually, we had some problems with the highway patrol. most things occur, you adapt. And one of the things we had problems with is that the highway patrol, because it was less supervised than it needed to be, had some problems with corruption, and actually criminal activity. We had some highway patrolmen in Baghdad that were kidnapping for ransom. And so, we actually encouraged the Ministry of Interior, this is probably four or five months ago now, to disband the highway patrol, and simply distribute the capability, the patrol cars and the patrolmen, to the provincial governors. And so now, each province has its own highway patrol, and it's largely finished.

HH: Oh, that's very interesting. I'm talking, by the way, America, with Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, in charge of the national security transition command in Iraq. And finally, the border police...again, I hadn't thought about this until I read your December briefing. You need 18,000 of them guarding hundreds of border ports, and dozens of ports. You had 27,000 as a goal. Are you there yet?

MD: No, we're not there yet. We're at right about 21,500. We've got 254 of the 258 border forts complete. The other four will be completed by August. We'll have the border police completely built out by September. The other matter related to borders is, of course, ports of entry. There's 14 ground ports of entry throughout or around Iraq. And we've got 6,000 customs police covering down on them, with some of our own Department of Homeland Security folks helping them how to figure out how to control their legal border crossings. That's a work in progress, though, frankly. In that region of the world, border crossings are more like a speed bump than anything that actually screens things coming across the border. So we're working on that with them, and that'll take some time.

HH: Now General Dempsey, it sounds like, quantitatively, you're pretty close to topping off the tank in all categories.

MD: We will have topped off the tank, as you describe it, by the end of the calendar year.

HH: Okay. Now let's go to the qualitative assessment. I'm going to use the old G's classification, because that's what I know. You have G-1 through G-5 kind of functions. Are their personnel functions adequate? Do they know how to recruit and retain and pay and promote?

MD: Well, let me start by saying that all of the necessary processes and systems are in place today. But they are all immature at some level or another. But let's take pay. You bring up pay. If we were having this conversation 18 months ago, if the coalition didn't transport the pay and oversee the paying, they wouldn't be paid, and you might have in a given month, 18 months ago, you might have 10 or 12 thousand soldiers who didn't receive their pay. In May, first of all, that's entirely transitioned to Iraqi control. We don't have any role in paying their soldiers or policemen now. And in the army's case, in May, the number of soldiers that didn't receive pay was about 1,050, which is a little less than 1% of the total force. So this is a little bit like weightlifting, you know? You let them perform some reps, and they get a little stronger. And over time, they take complete ownership of these processes. They are eager to take control of the processes.

HH: Let me skip over the intelligence and security function. We'll come back to that, but go to operations and combat tactics, the traditional G-3. Are they planning their own missions now?

MD: They are planning their own missions in those battalions that have taken ownership of their own battle space. And there's 69 battalions right now that own their own battle space. And so they're responsible for everything that happens, or fails to happen inside of their battle space. But let me mention that this is an army that, like our army pre-1991, was really kind of a Cold War, doctrinal relic, in the sense that they had a very high-end, high intensity, kinetic energy solution to everything. Just as we've adapted, or learned to adapt over time to the counter-insurgency environment, they're beginning to learn what it means to perform military operations in a counter-insurgency. And that's going to take them some time. I mean, we've run some exercises with them, where we present them some tactical situations, you know, a particular city, you've got three or four or five save havens, terrorists...the insurgents are denying movement through the city, what are you going to do? And often, the answer is well, we'll go in and crush the city, and no so much how do we use other elements of national power? How do you get ready for the reconstruction effort following it? How do you engage with local leaders? But they're coming, they're coming around to it. And I think it's another one of the things that we are being very successful in helping them understand, is the difference in fighting in different kinds of environments.

HH: How about logistics capability, General Dempsey, in terms of moving the mountain of supplies to feed 160,000 soldiers, and 125,000 special police, etc., etc. Does the stuff they need come in and get to where it needs to go in an efficient fashion?

MD: Well, again, if we were having this conversation in January, the coalition was probably providing about 40% of their life support, and I'll define life support as food, fuel, sanitation, emptying port-o-potties...I don't mean that our soldiers were doing it, but we were providing the contracting capability to do that. We embarked with them on a transition strategy to get them to take responsibility for life support, and our goal was by the end of June. And actually, they achieved it in May. And you know, it's a bit uneven across the country. There are parts of Iraq, and al Anbar Province is probably the most familiar to you, where providing life support is just flat difficult, because you've got a very active enemy there, and you've got the tyranny of distance. It's a fairly open desert, even if there wasn't an enemy presence there. So we've been working on adaptations to the template in the most contested areas, and I think that it's fair to say that by the end of the year, they'll be fairly efficiently providing their own life support.

HH: Let's drop back then to the G-2, the intelligence and the security function. Are they handling 10% of the intelligence gathering? 50%?

MD: I don't know that I'm in a position, because I don't deal with that on a daily basis, to actually speculate about their percentage. But I will tell you that the intelligence system is probably the most immature of all. And it tends to be a bit stovepiped, and a lot less transparent than we would be comfortable with, if it were our intelligence system. And that's going to take some time to overcome, and they're coming out of, as you know, 35 years of complete mistrust, even within similar parties. And so it's going to take some time for them to be willing to knock down those barriers. The intelligence system is probably our, after logistics, our next biggest challenge.

HH: Let's switch over to the professionalism of your non-commissioned officers and your officer corps in the Iraqi Army that you're training, General Dempsey. How is that?

MD: Well, first of all, we have a very...when I say we, I mean, this is all about our Iraqi counterparts, and us collaboratively putting in place institutions to develop leaders, because we've both come to the conclusion that these young men that were generating out of these basic training centers and police academies, if they're not well led, then they're not going to accomplish what we hope to accomplish. And so, we've got about 30 training centers, institutes, academies, colleges. Of that number, probably in both the army and the police, 25% of them are dedicated to the development of leaders. I'm also the NATO commander in Iraq, and we've got a small NATO contingent that oversees the officer development, both in the basic 2nd Lieutenant military academy, and in what they call the joint staff college, which is kind of an intermediate grade education system. And then eventually, here, in September or so, we're going to run our first pilot course of a war college, which is for senior leaders, and senior civilians as well. But frankly, leader development is probably both the most important thing that we do, meaning the command that I'm part of, and it's also the one that will take the longest to see any positive outcomes, because you know, let's face it. In the former regime, leadership was an entitlement. And now, we're trying to convince them that leadership is a responsibility, and it's going to take us some time to do that.

HH: General Dempsey, how do you develop, and how successful have you been, in developing that hardest to quantify thing, which is an institutional committment to civil authority? The Arab world has had a lot of generals walk into a lot of offices with a lot of pistols drawn. How do you stop that from happening?

MD: Well, I think that first of all, principally, our presence here, or there, is what is fundamentally, the greatest single hedge to that happening. And it is something we reinforce all the time. But you're exactly right. I mean, I've had conversations with the previous minister of defense, and with my counterpart Iraqi generals. And they actually reject the term civilian control of the military, which is...we refer to civilian control of the military, they won't buy civilian control of the military. They're content to accept civilian oversight of the military. And so, we're walking them toward a more complete understanding of the role of the ministry of defense, and its civilian civil servants, and the role of the joing headquarters, and its military leaders. But without question, there is both some blurred lines of responsibility, there's some parochialisms, there's some mistrust. And all that has to be overcome, but just talking about it is not going to cause it to be overcome. What's going to lead it to being overcome is a series of issues that they have to deal with collaboratively over time. And they're into it. They're a nation at war, and trying to build a military and an institution to support it simultaneously. And I think, and I have reason to believe, that that challenge will actually do more to help them understand the interplay of civilian and military than anything else.

HH: General Dempsey, last question. Thanks for the time today. It's a comprehensive overview, and I appreciate it. The big story this week in the United States is of course how newspapers released confidential data on financial tracking. As you follow that story, did you hear from people on the ground how the impact that is on our operations against the insurgency? Did that hurt our operations against the insurgency, to tell them stuff like that?

MD: You know, I'm not saying this to dodge the question, but I've been on leave, and was invited in here today to take part in this. And I made a committment to my wife that while on leave, I would avoid all stories about Iraq, under all circumstances. So I really haven't followed the story, and therefore won't comment on it.

HH: All right. General Dempsey, thanks for your service, and thanks for spending time with us, especially since you're on leave. I appreciate your being on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

MD: My pleasure.

End of interview.

Return to top

Monday, June 26

Los Angeles Times' Doyle McManus defending the decision to expose a classified. national security, counter-terrorism program.


HH: On Friday, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times published the story detailing the SWIFT program to track the money of terrorists. The Los Angeles Times was represented in some of those conversations, and the decision to go forward with the story by Doyle McManus, their long-serving and widely-respected Washington bureau chief of the Times. Mr. McManus joins us now from D.C. Thank you for joining us. I appreciate it very much, Mr. McManus.

DM: Thank you for having me on.

HH: When you were being approached by the federal government not to run with this story, which officials did you meet with?

DM: We met with officials from several different agencies, and talked with a White House official, not at a face to face meeting, and we met with Stuart Levey of the Treasury Department, the undersecretary who was running the program.

HH: How about with Treasury Secretary Snow?

DM: We did not meet with Treasury Secretary Snow.

HH: Did Dean Baquet get involved in this, the editor of the Los Angeles Times?

DM: He did. A decision of this magnitude would naturally go all the way up to the editor.

HH: Did he come to the Washington meetings that you were holding with the Treasury Department officials?

DM: No, he didn't.

HH: In those meetings that you held, Doyle McManus, did the officials, including Mr. Levey, argue that publishing this information would help terrorists?

DM: They did, although it may be worth noting that by the time we were having our principal meeting with Mr. Levey and his aides, which was a meeting that lasted about 90 minutes, at which we asked them to give us the fullest and best case for not printing the story, they had already concluded that the New York Times was going ahead. And the tenor of the meeting was one in which they took as the context, that the New York Times was going to publish the story. And as a matter of fact, in the middle of the meeting we were having, one of the lawyers looked at his blackberry, and kind of rolled his eyes, and got a message to Mr. Levey, and it turned out the New York Times had posted the story at that point. So at that point, the discussion shifted from their making a case against publishing the story to their making a case...their assumption that at this point, everybody was going to publish a story, and they in fact were quite helpful in filling in some of the details of the program, to make sure we had an accurate story, as you saw later in the news conference that Mr. Levey and Secretary Snow had on Friday, I think.

HH: Now Mr. McManus, when they argued to you that publishing the story would help terrorists, did you not believe them?

DM: I did...I neither believed it nor disbelieved it. I would believe I took that seriously. It's impossible for me to evaluate independently to what degree...whether the potential assistance to terrorists...I think they actually didn't argue that it would help terrorists. They argued that it would disadvantage, or make more difficult, counter-terrorist programs. But that's probably a distinction without a difference. What...would that be momentous? Would it be marginal? I don't know.

HH: Is it possible, in your view, Doyle McManus, that the story will in fact help terrorists elude capture?

DM: It is conceivable, yeah, although it might be worth noting that in our reporting, officials told us that this would, this disclosure would probably not affect al Qaeda, which figured out long ago that the normal banking system was not how it ought to move its money, and so turned to other unofficial and informal channels.

HH: The terrorist Hambali came up. He was captured in August of '03, mastermind/financier of the Bali bombing. Are you familiar with Hambali?

DM: I am.

HH: And did they alert you to the fact that they believe that Hambali was captured as a result of this SWIFT program?

DM: They did not. The first I knew of that was when I read it in the New York Times.

HH: Is it possible now that whoever was familiar with what Hambali did, those terrorists in Southeast Asia, could just simply reverse engineer his financing, and figure out what they shouldn't do now?

DM: Well, I suppose it's possible, except in effect, what we're talking about here is the simple question of whether international banking transmissions are monitored. And one of the perplexing parts of this story is that the Treasury Department has said you know, everybody knew that. We said that we were aggressively looking for the transactions, looking for the financial flows, doing everything we could to monitor where the money was going. And so that's only one part of the Treasury's concern, and it may, oddly enough, be a lesser part, the larger part of their concern...I shouldn't speak for them. I shouldn't attempt to say which was the larger and which was the smaller, but another large part of their concern was the fear that these disclosures might prompt the banks that are the constituents of the SWIFT system, to be less cooperative than they have been in the past.

HH: Well, Mr. Levey has said, and John Snow wrote to Bill Keller today, and said no, our major concern was not helping terrorists. So I'll put that aside. Is there a difference between knowing, Doyle McManus, that, say, a city that's looking for speeders, and knowing that they've installed a camera at a particular intersection?

DM: Sure.

HH: And is that analogy not applicable in this situation, that yeah, the terrorists might have known they were looking for following financial flows, but they weren't aware of the SWIFT program? Is that possible?

DM: It's possible, except that neither you nor I know where the SWIFT program is, or what it covers.

HH: Did they declare to you that Congress had been briefed?

DM: They did.

HH: And did they give you specifics about it?

DM: No, we went to Congress to figure that out, and it turned out that a few members had been briefed, and that the intelligence committees as a whole hadn't been briefed until after Treasury began to believe that the story was likely to come out.

HH: Prior to that.

DM: So if the question of briefing Congress goes to the important issue of oversight, the oversight, I think any fair-minded person would say, that there was a minimal form of oversight, but it wasn't complete oversight.

HH: How do you ascertain for sure that the minimal amount of oversight wasn't sufficient?

DM: Well, I don't. Well, that is a...let me put it this way. For other intelligence operations that the United States undertakes, it submits them to the oversight of the intelligence committees. They made, the executive branch made a decision in this case not to do that. The executive branch says, Treasury says, that it thinks the oversight was sufficient. The heart of this issue is that the department that designed this program, and that ran this program, is saying that the program is legal, that the safeguards were strict, and that the oversight was sufficient. Maybe that's all true. But they haven't submitted any of those assertions to any outside review.

HH: Has any member of Congress complained on the record, other than Ed Markey, that the briefing was insufficient?

DM: Yes, as a matter of fact. I believe Barney Frank has, another Democrat. I believe Jane Harman has, another Democrat, Senator Specter, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee has said he's not sure the program was legal, and he wants to hear more from all sides before he makes a judgment about that. So it's not the case that this program is...

HH: Had you heard that from them prior to publication?

DM: No. We couldn't, because in fact, prior to publication...well, no, we had not, because among other things, the government asked us to limit our reporting, which we did.

HH: Do you agree, Doyle McManus...

DM: That is to say, the government asked us to limit the questions we asked, and to limit the places we went to ask them, so that if we chose not to publish the story, we would not have spread the story as a byproduct of our reporting. And we, in fact, honored that request.

HH: Sure. Do you agree, Doyle McManus, that the press has no exemption from the national security statutes?

DM: I do agree with that.

HH: And if called before a grand jury, would you reveal the sources in the government that leaked you this information?

DM: That would be a judgment that we would have to make at that time.

HH: So it's possible that you would?

DM: That would depend on the nature of the pledges we made to those sources.

HH: So it's possible that that, in fact, would reveal who it is that's leaking this?

DM: It's hypothetically possible, yeah.


HH: Talking now with Doyle McManus off-air. We'll replay this during the program. Mr. McManus, earlier today, Stuart Levey said to me that, "the effectiveness of this program has been damaged." Do you believe him?

DM: I don't know. I would...look, reporters like to check things out. Reporters take assertions by government officials seriously, but then they go check them out in practice.

HH: He also said it will, "make it difficult to do counter-terrorism." Do you believe that?

DM: Again, I'd have to check it out. The Treasury Department said it was monitoring financial transactions. This is...these stories filled in some detail, some important details, about how they're doing that. I'm not sure how the Treasury Department can, in effect, have it both says, say that, proclaim that they were doing this, but say that this level of detail, which is not, in fact, great, in some senses, damages those efforts, but I'm not dismissing the question, either. I think that there's a whole lot of further serious study.

HH: Given that you're okay with the possibility that this might have helped the terrorists, and might have hurt our counter-terrorism, and damaged the program, are you losing any sleep over the possibility, Doyle McManus, that some terrorists will get away and kill as a result of these stories?

DM: I'm not okay with the possibility, Mr. Hewitt. I think that possibility has to be measured against the possibility that the federal government has expanded its intrusive powers of surveillance and investigation without sufficient oversight and safeguards. If we want to ignore the balancing question here, well, then, we could grant the federal government license in the war against terrorists to do anything at all. I know you're not suggesting that. No one serious has suggested that. But I think it's also unfair to suggest that those of us involved in these stories decided that we were simply okay with letting the terrorists know any secrets it wants.

HH: I didn't mean to say...I meant to say given that you will accept that it may have caused that. That's what I mean, okay with the premise.

DM: Okay.

HH: Now what I'm wondering, though, is, how did you balance? What probability did you assign to the terrorist tack that doesn't get stopped because of this story?

DM: Well, I can't give you a mathematical formula on that. And as a matter of fact, when we made our decision to publish our story, the New York Times had already published its. So as a matter of fact, we had not had the set of discussions that we had scheduled on precisely how to balance that. So in a sense, I can't tell you how we balanced it, because we ended up not coming to a final decision. Now I don't mean to be disingenuous. We were certainly leaning in the direction of publishing, but we hadn't finally decided to.


HH: Time for just a couple more questions. I hope you'll come back, Mr. McManus. Are you and the folks at the Los Angeles Times qualified to evaluate the terrorist networks, their sophistication in how they respond to information, from classified information?

DM: Well, we are journalists, we're qualified to go ask the smartest people we can find those questions, and that's about the best we can do.

HH: Did anyone who would go on the record tell you this would have no significant damage to the counter-terrorism effort?

DM: I don't believe anyone made that unqualified statement, no.

HH: Given that you couldn't find anyone to tell you that it wouldn't be damaging, wouldn't the necessary conclusion be that it would be?

DM: That's a reasonable inference. But we did...there were people who told us that they believed that the damage, if any, would be minimal.

HH: Sgt. T.F. Boggs, who's serving in Iraq on his second tour, sent a letter to Mr. Keller after the story published at the New York Times, in which he included the line, "Thank you for continually contributing to the deaths of my fellow soldiers." He, and many other mil-bloggers, are as angry as they can be, and they believe that these stories, yours among them, have contributed to the death of Americans and the empowerment of terrorists. I want you to have a chance to respond before you've got to leave, Mr. McManus.

DM: Well, I respect Sgt. Boggs, and I respect what he's doing for our country. I think accusing newspapers of causing the deaths of soldiers over the last several years because of a story that was printed last week probably adds more heat than light to this discussion.

HH: I appreciate your coming on, Doyle Mcmanus. I hope you will come back, and when you have a lot more time, because a lot of people would love to talk to you. But I do appreciate your making the time today.

DM: Thank you, sir.

HH: Thank you, Doyle McManus, of the Los Angeles Times' Washington, D.C. office.

End of interview.

Treasury undersecretary Stuart Levey on the program he works on that the New York Times and L.A. Times just screwed up.


HH: Pleased to welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show now Stuart Levey, who is the Department of Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. Prior to that, he spent many years at the Department of Justice in a variety of positions, including principal associate deputy attorney general, and on many of the task forces dedicated to combating terrorism. Mr. Levey, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

SL: Thanks for having me, Hugh.

HH: I would like to begin with the SWIFT program as described in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times on Friday. Has that program been effective in bringing some terrorists to justice?

SL: Absolutely. It's been an incredibly valuable program for an obvious reason. When you're tracking financial transactions, you're getting exactly the kind of concrete intelligence that we need to establish links between people, and map out a terrorist network. These money trails don't lie. People don't wire money to each other for no reason at all. And when you get a transaction like that, you have real names, real addresses, real phone numbers, real account numbers, just the kind of thing we need to follow up on. And even the New York Times article itself didn't dispute that it had yielded real value.

HH: Two cases in particular were mentioned, an Indonesian and an American who were both arrested as a result of this. Can you tell us the details of those two individuals?

SL: Well, actually, I'd rather not go into operational details, other than to say that certainly, the one Indonesian that they mentioned, Hambali, is certainly well known to those of us who do counter-terrorism for a living, and a contribution in an investigation like that one is incredibly important. And someone like that, I just want to make one point clear. You know, someone like Hambali, who was ultimately arrested in Thailand, having that guy out and free is not just a threat to people in Southeast Asia. Someone like that is a threat to us all. And we have to recognize that we've got a global threat out there, and we've got people who are very, very deadly, and very resourceful, and very good at evading what it is that we're trying to do. And that's why having a program like this exposed is disappointing to me, and damaging to our overall efforts.

HH: I'm talking to Stuart Levey, who is the Departent of Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. Mr. Levey, about half hour ago, I pretaped a segment with Wolf Blitzer, and a former Washington Post ombudsman. And Wolf made the argument to me now look, how do we know that this is going to help terrorists? And I replied that certainly in the case of Hambali, anyone who knows Hambali in the terrorist world will simply reverse engineer what he did with regards to money, and not do it again. Is that overstatement? Is that one of the ways...

SL: Well, I think you're essentially on the right track, Hugh. I mean, what people will now know is exactly what information it is that we're obtaining, and it's not too hard to evade it. I have to say, I hope very much that it remains valuable, but I'm certainly concerned that the effectiveness of this program has been damaged.

HH: New York Times editor Bill Keller published a letter on his website yesterday, and this paragraph stuck out at me. It was the second to last, or actually, the third from the last paragraph. "A secondary argument against publishing the banking story was that publication would lead terrorists to change tactics. But that argument was made in a half-hearted way. It has been widely reported, indeed trumpeted by the Treasury Department, that the U.S. makes every effort to track international financing of terror. Terror financiers know this, which is why they have already moved as much as they can to cruder methods. But they also continue to use the international banking system, because it is immeasurably more efficient than toting suitcases of cash. Your response, Stuart Levey?

SL: Well, I have a couple of responses to that. One, it's offensive to me that he says it's half-hearted. I met with his editors several times, his reporters several times. I made a very impassioned pitch to them, and it was very, very heartfelt. I pleaded with them not to publish this story. Secondly, I would say it's quite arrogant of the New York Times to be suggesting that they know what terrorists are doing. I'm telling you that the terrorists are still using this system. At least they were up until last week, and it was continuing to be valuable. Yes, a number of terrorist organizations are moving money through case and other informal means, but this system was still being valuable, and exposing it was quite damaging.

HH: Did you meet with Mr. Keller?

SL: Secretary Snow did.

HH: And when did that happen?

SL: I don't have an exact date, and I'm not sure I would do that. But we were engaged with them over a period of several weeks, trying to persuade them not to publish this story.

HH: Stuart Levey, did you go to New York?

SL: No, I met with them here, and all the meetings were in Washington.

HH: Do you want the Department of Justice to try and ascertain who it is that leaked this information to the New York Times?

SL: Well, I think that we need to find out how some of these leaks are occurring. This series of leaks that we've had, and the publications that we've had, make it very difficult to do counter-terrorism. We certainly are pursuing a very deadly enemy. These people take a lot of precautions, and we can't expect to continue disrupting them if our programs are all exposed on the front pages of our newspapers. So yes, I'd love to see whatever can be done to stop it.

HH: Have you read Mr. Keller's letter?

SL: I have, yes.

HH: And what was your general response, not just to that paragraph, but to his tone and his attitude?

SL: I don't think that I want to get into a dispute with Mr. Keller. I think it's...I'll just leave it by saying we tried very, very hard to persuade them not to publish it. We believe, and I think the overall reaction to the story bears this out, that this is on very, very sound legal footing, we have controls in place, and it was quite valuable. Those three things taken together, in our view, tipped the balance so that it shouldn't have been published. Mr. Keller made a different decision, and that's his to make. And I'm just disappointed.

HH: Did you meet with Doyle McManus or the Los Angeles Times' writers and reporters?

SL: Yes, sir.

HH: And did they also turn a deaf ear, or did they ask for a meeting with Secretary Snow as well?

SL: Well, again, I think what I'd say is we made the same arguments to them. I think having both publications pursuing it made it very difficult, but me made similar arguments to the Los Angeles Times, and they, as you know, made their decision.

HH: Now I want to turn to the reaction to this story. A couple of mil-bloggers, Sgt. T.F. Boggs from Iraq, a lieutenant who's written to, Cotton. They've really slammed the New York Times. T.F. Boggs, in essence, coming out and saying, "thank you for continually contributing to the deaths of my fellow soldiers." This is tough stuff. Do you think it's justified to be this angry?

SL: Well, you know, people are going to get angry about this kind of thing. I try not to get into the anger. I'll let people be as angry as they think they should be. I've got a job to do, which is to stay on this terrorist financing thing, and I'm going to do that. You know, I'm disappointed that this is made public. It makes my job more difficult. But I don't have time to be angry.

HH: Are there other classified programs, the announcement of which on the front page of the New York Times, or Los Angeles Times, would harm our national security interests?

SL: Well, I'm certainly not going to tell you what they are.

HH: No, I just want to know if they're out there.

SL: But I'm sure there probably are.

HH: You see, that's what the real problem going forward is. Now this is all water over the dam, they've screwed us. But the question is, what do we do about the next one, because it seems to me, and I'd ask your judgment, do you think there's anything they wouldn't print?

SL: You know, I really don't know. They say that they took our arguments very seriously. They certainly thought about them for some time. But I'm certainly not going to get into the business of trying to predict what they'll do in the future.

HH: All right. I'm not going to...I know you won't slag them, and I don't want you to, Mr. Undersecretary. But this is a very serious question. Do they have the base of knowledge necessary to judge this stuff? I've made the assertion in print. I only spent six years in the government, but I know what SCI is. I know what some of this stuff works like, and I had the clearances. I don't think these journalists really know what they're dealing with here. Do you think they have a good grasp of how sophisticated the terrorists are, and how easy it is to defense our systems once they're revealed?

SL: Well, I'm not sure of that, actually, and that's one of the points I was trying to make, the point that the New York Times made about what terrorists have actually done since 9/11 is an example of a question that is legitmately raised about whether they do have the base of knowledge. It's a difficult situation. I mean, to be honest with you, we do have a free press, and these kinds of decisions are going to continue to be made. What we tried to do in this circumstance is educate them as best they could, so we hope that they would make the decision that we thought the facts definitely, inexorably led to. But unfortunately, and to my disappointment, they decided to publish.

HH: A couple more specifics about the Keller reponse to the criticisms. "While some experts familiar with the program have doubts about its legality," he wrote, "which has never been tested in the courts, and while some bank officials worry that a temporary program has taken on the air of permanence, we cited considerable evidence that the program has helped catch and prosecute financiers of terror, and have not identified any serious abuses of privacy so far. A reasonable person informed about this program might well decide to applaud it. That said, we hesitate to preempt the role of legislators and courts, and ultimately the electorate, which cannot consider a program if they don't know about it. Your reaction, Mr. Levey?

SL: Well, again, I hesitate to get into the kind of point by point debate with Mr. Keller on the radio, but I guess I just have to say that logic is very difficult to figure out what they wouldn't publish then. If you read that paragraph again, even if people would applaud it, people have to debate these things in public, I guess that would apply to almost any classified program. And I just don't know how we can live under that regime. Frankly, the best way is for the government, frankly, to do a better job of keeping its secrets.

HH: Right.

SL: And that's something that we need to work on as well.

HH: Just a last bit of response to Keller, because he makes specific claims here. Let me read this paragraph. "We weighed most heavily the admininstration's concern that describing this program would enganger it. The central argument we heard from officials at senior levels was that international bankers would stop cooperating, would resist, if this program saw the light of day." Was that in fact the central argument, Stuart Levey?

SL: It wasn't the central argument I made. The central argument I made was that the reaction of terrorists to knowing the information, not bankers to knowing the information. I think that's the central argument that we made, which is that identifying our source and method to the people we're trying to catch was the most damaging thing.

HH: And do you think Mr. Snow made the same argument to Mr. Keller?

SL: I'm sure he did.

HH: He goes on to write, "We don't know what the banking consortium will do, but we found this argument puzzling. First, the bankers provide this information under authority of a subpoena, which imposes legal obligation. Second, if as the administration says, the program is a legal, highly-effective, and well-protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little trouble defending it. The Bush administration and America may be unpopular in Europe these days, but policing the byways of international terror seem to have strong support everywhere. And while it is too early to tell, the initial signs are that our article is not generating a banker banklash against the program." This was written on Saturday and Sunday. I really find it astonishing that he would predict a non-banker banklash, if, in fact, that's an argument you guys made at all.

SL: Well, I don' know, I think as I've already said, our main argument was more about the impact on terrorists, and the information we're providing to them. But you've made the point.

HH: So he has not accurately characterized your arguments, at least?

SL: Well, others made have made other points to him. We certainly weren't the only ones who were trying to persuade him not to publish. So again, I don't want to question his good faith. I'm sure he's...

HH: Oh, leave that to me.

SL: ...putting it in good faith.

HH: Leave that to me. I'll get to that later. Okay, let me finish off, Mr. Levey, with a couple of specific questions. How many times did you meet or talk with New York Times or Los Angeles Times reporters?

SL: Oh, a number of times. I can't even remember, but...and not just me. Others in the department as well, several times. I don't have an exact number, but it was going on, with respect to the New York Times, it was going on for a quite a long period of time.

HH: Did they have the story first?

SL: Yes.

HH: And do you think that they were rushed into it, because the L.A. Times nosed around and got something?

SL: I'll leave that to somebody else.

HH: But I mean, that would be my guess, is that you were talking to them, they were weighing it, then they hear a competitor has it, and so they rush with it.

SL: I really don't know, and I'm not a journalist, and I'll leave that to the journalists.

HH: All right. But the reality is, you talked to them a number talked to both reporters?

SL: Yes.

HH: And you talked to some of their editors, at least?

SL: Yes.

HH: And at the end of the day, did you sense at any time that they were hearing you, and were considering not publishing this?

SL: Actually, I felt like the discussions we had, that I had with them, were excellent. And I felt like they were very substantive, and we were having a good discussion about the pros and cons of publication. So I have no complaints about the meetings I was in. I think people were certainly discussing all the right issues.

HH: Key question. Did any of them acknowledge that publication of this might help terrorists evade capture?

SL: I'll leave it to them to speak for them, you know, if you can...

HH: Oh, they won't talk to me, and I think this is really vital, Mr. Levey. They did talk to you, and they reported what you said. But did they acknowledge that this could, in fact, assist terrorists in evading capture?

SL: Again, I'm going to stick with what I argued to them, which was that this is a program that was successful, that was legal, and that it was well-controlled, and that exposing it would be harmful to the overall counter-terrorism efforts, and make my job more difficult. I'll leave it to them to speak for them. And they certainly have the ability to do so.

HH: Yeah, they don't want to, though, because they know they can't answer that. Do you know of any serious counter-terrorism expert who believes that terrorists will not benefit from this story being published?

SL: I really don't know. That's not a view I've seen expressed by anybody.

HH: Well, I want to thank you for your service, and for coming on to explain this today. It was certainly illuminating. Any other thought that we need to get out there?

SL: No, I think you've covered it very well. Thank you for having me.

HH: Thank you very much, Undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Stuart Levey. Thank you very much.

End of interview.

John Eastman's view of the possible prosecution of the New York Times for violating the Espionage Act.

You can read his May, 2006 Congressional testimony here.

You can hear Hugh and John discuss this on tonight's show here.

PressThink's Jay Rosen on the Times' decision to weaken our national security.


HH: Joined now by Jay Rosen, professor at NYU, where he teaches journalism. He runs the wonderful blog, He's a man of the left, but I always enjoy chatting with him. Jay, welcome back. Good to have you.

JR: Thanks, Hugh.

HH: What's your reaction to the New York Times and Los Angeles Times story of Friday?

JR: Well, I was a little surprised by the whole thing, and I certainly felt that the explanations that both papers have given for the judgment call that they made haven't been all that good. I think people like Michael Barone go way too far when they ask why does the Times hate America, and I do think it's too far to talk about prosecuting the paper. But there are some things about what they did that also trouble me.

HH: I just completed an interview this hour with Doyle McManus, Jay Rosen, the Washington bureau chief of the L.A. Times...

JR: Yes.

HH: which he admitted a couple of things. One, that the story could possibly have assisted terrorists in eluding capture and damaged our counter-terrorism. And that two, the press enjoys no exemption from the national security laws. Do you disagree with either of those concessions by Mr. McManus?

JR: Well, is there some chance that the story could have aided terrorists? I suppose I would say that there probably is some chance of that, yeah. And the Times is not exempt from the laws of the country, no.

HH: And so, why not prosecute them if they did violate those laws?

JR: Well, the ability to prosecute the press has been on the books for some time. I think we've talked about this before, and it is a policy decision that successive governments have made that even though it is possible, it would be a bad precedent to set, and I think that's basically the right call, although it's never for sure. I mean, there's a certain amount of risk in having a free press, but there's always a risk if you are the press in publishing classified information. There's a risk that you're going to get in trouble.

HH: I'm more concerned about the next disclosure than the last one, Jay Rosen. As I asked the undersecretary of Treasury today, there are many programs which are highly classified in the War On Terror, the revelation of which would injure it just as this did. Isn't it necessary to be vigorous in the response here in order to deter an apparently limitless desire of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times to publish these things?

JR: Well, I don't know that this damaged the anti-terrorism effort. In fact, I think it's much more likely that the people we're trying to catch know all about this, and have shifted their tactics for that reason. And Roger L. Simon had the same argument earlier, as I would have about that. But what was the second half of your question?

HH: Well, let me stay on that part for a second. I'm curious by that reaction, because the difference between a general knowledge of surveillance of finances, and a specific knowledge of the SWIFT, is the difference, as I articulated to Mr. McManus, between a city that announces they're cracking down on speeders, and knowing where they've established the cameras for seeing people go through intersections.

JR: Yeah, but you have said, Hugh, and I agree that al Qaeda and allies are sophisticated users of the internet.

HH: That's correct.

JR: And I agree with that. I think they are, and that the Counter-Terrorism Blog basically reported in 2002 that the U.S. was using SWIFT to look at international banking transactions. I would be very surprised if the people running al Qaeda didn't know about that, and there were other ways they could know as well. So what has changed is the broad, public distribution of this knowledge.

HH: Well, one thing that changed is the specificity with which Hambali is identified as someone brought low by the SWIFT program, which means you can reverse engineer everything that he did, and decide, if you're in Indonesia or Thailand, not to do it again. And another person was named as well, the American who was named for this. Moreover, they're not all the best terrorists. Some of them are like the Canadian goofballs, and the Miami people who are suspects, none of them yet convicted. There are different levels of sophistication, different levels of the ability to second-guess, and even at the highest level, it seems to me that they're sophisticated enough to adapt. It's sort of like, Jay, when you drive around Manhattan, if indeed you drive around Manhattan. Doesn't every bit of information assist you in getting where you want to go on time?

JR: Yeah, I suppose I would agree that particularly with the reverse engineering part, you could say that this is new information. It helps them somewhat. But I don't understand why weren't people saying let's prosecute the Counter-Terrorism Blog in 2002, which revealed the basic facts of this program.

HH: I literally didn't know it was there, and if in fact that was the case...

JR: I'll send you the link.

HH: Well, that's fine, but what I'm saying is, the New York Times is different from a blog...

JR: Yeah.

HH: And I think what's happening there is, as Doyle McManus told us, once they knew the story was coming out, they tried to stop the damage. It would have made a very smart decision on the part of the government not to call attention to something that had very little attention paid to it.

JR: Well, I think the government's in a tough position, just like the press is in a tough position trying to decide what to do. But yeah, I mean, if you assume they're sophisticated users of the internet, you have to assume that they basically knew the U.S. was trying this, and we know that they were shifting the way they transfer money to other methods. So I don't know if we can automatically assume that there is huge damage. But that doesn't necessarily end the discussion, and it doesn't end the problems of whose judgment is this, and where does it come from, which I think are legitimate questions to ask of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

HH: Is it possible, Jay Rosen, that you could be persuaded that prosecution would be a good thing here?

JR: Prosecution? No. But I could be persuaded that the Times made a mistake on this particular story.

HH: How about being called before a grand jury to reveal the identity of leakers?

JR: I am not in favor of that practice, but on the other hand, I am not in favor of the way the Times has been using unnamed sources in stories like this, either.

HH: Bill Keller received a letter from John Snow this afternoon, which in effect, says you are a liar. And it goes to this argument that Keller made yesterday, that a half-hearted argument was made that this would help the terrorists. Both the undersecretary on this program, and Snow in his letter, said it wasn't half-hearted, it was our central argument, and we made it vigorously. Bill Keller appears to have been lying in his letter to the people.

JR: Well, that is why I believe Keller should do a lot more than he has done. I don't think it's sufficient to just say we thought it was in the public interest in the initial story. I don't think his letter to readers is sufficient. I think when something like this happens, and you know it's going to be a source of public controversy, that he ought to be out and doing interviews, and explaining himself more than once to more than one interrogator. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, and I think because so much does ride on the judgment of editors in a situation like this, he has an obligation to explain way more than he has.

HH: He went on CNN for six minutes. Should he come on this program, Jay Rosen?

JR: Well, I think he should do a tour. I wouldn't want to tell him where exactly he should go, but he should certainly face questioning from a variety of different perspectives.

HH: Ah, gee. I wanted your endorsement, Jay.

JR: (laughing) I don't tell Keller exactly what to do, but I...if I were him, I would go on your program.

HH: Thank you very much, Jay Rosen.

End of interview.

Return to top

Sunday, June 25

Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, in depth.


HH: I am pleased now to welcome to the program to discuss this, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, if Duane will let him sit down. Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, how are you?

JK: Great to be with you in studio. Thank you, just fine.

HH: Welcome to California.

JK: Appreciate it. It's good to be here.

HH: It's good to have you here, good to spend some time with you. I've got lots to talk with you about, but first, I've been talking about the New York Times story. Your reaction as a Senator to the United States to the Times' decision to publish this?

JK: Well, I don't like the media publishing any of those stories. It goes to this whole question of whether or not there should be a reporter shield law, whether there should be prosecution of media that report secrets of our country. We're in the middle of a war, and this war requires intelligence to get after the enemy. And when you disclose to the enemy all the different ways that you're collecting intelligence on them, it degrades our opportunities, and therefore, as far as I'm concerned, it is a despicable act on the part of the media.

HH: I'd like you to hear, because I know you were in transit, what the Vice President said a couple of hours ago. Here is the Vice President:

DC: What I find most disturbing about these stories is the fact that some in the news media take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people. That offends me.

HH: And I don't think anyone can contest. If you give away a road map to how we're trailing people, they're going to change their tactics.

JK: Exactly so, and they're very flexible, they're very shrewd, and they do change their tactics. Everybody's familiar with the story the President talked about regarding the communications that Osama bin Laden was engaging in, and when he found out, because of a news story, what kind of capability we had to intercept that communication, he stopped using it. And our ability to track him, and know what he was talking about, ended.

HH: That moment.


HH: You're out on the West Coast, raising a little bit of funds for your campaign. We'll come back to the New York Times in just a second. How goes the campaign? You're up against a deep pocket, liberal Democrat.

JK: Yeah, he's...if you know the Senate, Jon Corzine from New Jersey was...who's now the governor, had tons of money, and won the seat there by buying it. My opponent's a big developer with all the money he needs. He's already spent about $4 million of his own money on the race, and he's just barely started. So I've got a tough race, but I'm confident that with the ideas that we have, and the experience that I've had, my leadership, that we'll be fine. We just need...

HH: I'm going to embarrass you a little bit. I had Bill Bennett on yesterday, friend of yours, friend of mine...

JK: You bet, yeah.

HH: And we were talking about his new book, and I've got it back here, and I was reading to him know, here we have this section on Webster, Calhoun and Clay, the three great titans of the Senate in that period. I said, what happened to the Senate? Where did all these people go? And he said, well, you know, it's the times, but we've got some of those. Do you know Jon Kyl? So you've got a great booster...

JK: (laughing) Bill's great, yeah.

HH: But it's true. They want to take you out, I think because you're very effective for conservative causes, and you know what you're talking about. Is the national Democratic Party helping out Mr. Pockets?

JK: Oh, yeah. My colleague, Chuck Schumer, of course, watches the race very closely, and they're helping him. And that's fine. To have a contest is not a problem. And our ideas can beat their ideas, to the extent they have ideas. But big money matters. When I was on the House Armed Services Committee, back in my House days, we had a saying about the Soviet military, which was that quantity has a quality all its own. And if you've got enough money that you can throw at something, it can make a difference.

HH: A little inside baseball. Arizona media, though, it's really Phoenix, Tucson, and some smaller markets. So you can go up on few's not like California, where...$20 million dollars in Arizona is pretty much saturation, isn't it?

JK: Yeah, yeah. At this stage of the race, about another $15 million would saturate to the end of the campaign, but that's what we're going to have to spend.

HH: Wow. And so that means every day on the phone, making events, and I'm looking forward to being over there with you tonight.

JK: Thanks very much.

HH: And I think other people should...

JK: And I appreciate your help very much.

HH: Well, it's vital. It's vital not just to keep the majority, but to keep conservatives there, especially on the Judiciary Committee. And now let's turn to that, because the New York Times story today coincides with the rise in the Judiciary of something called a shield law for reporters. I am adamant against this, but let's...explain it to people, what it is, and what you position is.

JK: Well, the idea, like lawyers and priests and doctors all have a privilege when they talk to their client or their penitente, or the case of a doctor, their patient, what that person tells the professional is confidential, and except in very rare circumstances, can't be required to be disclosed. What media wants is something similar for reporters. So when, for example, some very unpatriotic guy in the CIA decides to spill the beans about an important, classified program that we have, and gives a tip to the newsman, when the Justice Department then tries to figure out how this leak occurred to try to prosecute somebody for violating our law, the newsperson can say sorry, can't tell you, I'm protected by law. Now they've tried to write some exceptions into this, including one that deals with national security. But the bottom line is that it makes it very, very difficult for law enforcement to try to weave its way through a statute like this, to try to find out who did the dirty deed. And that's one reason that I'm hopeful that before this thing actually gets voted on, it gets a much, much closer look.

HH: I've been a journalist for almost 20 years now, and I do not believe I have rights superior to those of any other American citizen, and that if I go before a grand jury, like any other American citizen...and thank goodness, I've never been before a grand jury, I should be obliged to answer. What's the argument from the New York Times and others as to why they should be special?

JK: Because they say they are the entity that must be on the front line of protecting the 1st Amendment. Now the 1st Amendment has a right to free press and free speech in it. And they say if they're not there to protect that, then nobody else will. Well, there's certainly an argument that they are the entity that engages most in free speech, and it's one of the great things that distinguishes our country from others. But there are situations in which their ability to spill the beans is directly counter to our ability to conduct a war, or engage in a criminal investigation, or engage in some other serious appropriate governmental activity. And when those two things coincide, the Court has never said that there's an absolute 1st Amendment right. Everybody, even if you haven't been to law school, is familiar with the fact that you're not supposed to cry fire when you're in a crowded theater. It's free speech, but it'll get everybody panicked, somebody will get killed trampling on their way out, and so on. So there are limits, and one of the limits ought to be that you shouldn't be able to publicize state secrets that inhibit our ability to defeat an enemy with which we're at war.

HH: I also think there's considerable confusion spreading out from the New York Times', the Pentagon Papers case, which upheld the right to publish anything, but not to be exempt from the penalties for publishing such things.

JK: And that's a distinction, too. Sometimes, you can conduct civil disobedience if you're willing to take the punishment that's involved.

HH: Is the New York Times among those urging the shield law?

JK: All of the newspapers that I know of are urging the shield law.

HH: And have you had testimony on this? Have you had hearings?

JK: There was one hearing a few weeks ago in the Judiciary Committee on the bill, yes.

HH: I would love to see, just a suggestion, a hearing on this with a lot of notice, at which you are inviting the New York Times editor, the Washington Post editor, the Los Angeles Times editor, Marty Baron, from the Boston Globe, and then talk about this issue under oath, and ask them in this context, because one of the things that's very maddening, Senator Jon Kyl, is that they won't answer questions about what they're doing.

JK: Well, that's right, because they have the right to protect the 1st Amendment, they say. So even though they're for transparency and full disclosure with everybody else...they love whistle-blowers who tattle on governmental agencies and so on, and they love sources that tell them things that they're not supposed to know, sometimes they're a little more protective of what they know.

HH: All right, let me ask you, and we'll close this out, and I'll come back on this later in the program. Do you believe that today's story helped terrorists? Not intentionally, but by necessity?

JK: Absolutely. I don't think there can be any question about it. The Vice President comment that you quoted earlier is absolutely true. And every one of these disclosures, the disclosure about the national surveillance program, the disclosure about the support that we get from certain kinds of companies like phone companies in tracking telephone numbers to put together a matrix to figure out who's calling who in the terrorist world, all of those things are techniques that we have employed, and the more the enemy knows about them, the easier it is for the enemy to get around them.

HH: Is there any intellectual distinction between, say, if we had a covert operative that had penetrated al Qaeda, and the New York Times revealing that identity, and what they did today?

JK: It's the same basic principle.

HH: You know, I agree with it. I think it's obvious. I do not understand what's going on there. Let me ask...are you aware of any Department of Justice investigation into the leaks that empower the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times to publish these things?

JK: Well, there is an investigation into the leaks regarding the first story, the national surveillance program.

HH: And have you had a status update? Do you think it's moving along?

JK: I don't konw. I have not, and I don't know.

HH: Okay. I think that will be a very interesting thing. Let me quickly turn over to one call before we go to the break. In North Hollywood, James, you're on with Hugh Hewitt and Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona. Go ahead, James, quick.

James: Trideca-Dimaggiati, Hugh.

HH: Oh, good to talk to you, sir.

James: Imagine if in 1944, the New York Times had published that the United States had found, and gotten ahold of the Enigma machine.

HH: I think you're absolutely right.

James: That is exactly what this is.

HH: Jon Kyl, that would have been treason.

JK: Exactly, and I'm just reading a review of Bill Bennett's book, by the way, which I can't wait to read, and the reviewer talked about the fact that sometimes, you don't talk about history, even if you're writing it. Churchill, in one of his memoirs, did not discuss Enigma, because it was still too close to the war, and he felt that even disclosing it after the fact, after the war, might reveal some things about the British intelligence that enemies at that time should not know.

HH: Jon Kyl, how much is this that the New York Times people just don't know intelligence, they just don't know how this works?

JK: Oh, I think they know very well how it works.

HH: So you're not going to let them off the hook?

JK: It's selling newspapers.


HH: He's a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, right below Chairman Specter, and I believe in line to be chairman, if you so wish, in four years?

JK: Well, the way it works out, Chuck Grassley is senior to me, but he chairs the Finance Committee. So if something would happen to Arlen Specter, I would be next in line in that respect. But because we have term limits, which is a good thing in the committee chairmanships, there will be a point in time when Chuck Grassley has to leave the Finance Committee, and then he could take the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee when Specter leaves there. So I'm not quite there yet.

HH: All right. But there's also going to be a vacancy in the whip position, because Senator Frist is retiring, Senator McConnell expected by many to become the leader. Is that a good estimate of what's going to happen?

JK: Yes.

HH: Do you want to be the whip, if in fact, the people of Arizona send you back for term 3?

JK: Well, again, things in the Senate are a tad more complicated than may seem on the surface. Rick Santorum, a very good friend of mine...

HH: Right.

JK: ...and running for re-election in Pennsylvania, has declared that he would like to run for whip. And I told him that I would support him in that endeavor. Now Rick's not...I think he will win his Senate seat, but he's not ahead right now.

HH: Yeah, double digits. He's looking up at a big, tough race.

JK: So that's what stimulated all this discussion. And there's already a candidate in Lamar Alexander that would like to run. Nobody knows for sure what Trent Lott might want to do in making a comeback, but I would also be interested.

HH: Why has the NRSC fallen on hard times this year, Jon Kyl. You know, we used to have on George Allen, Bill Frist, the last two cycles, every week. And I think it's Lincoln Chafee dragging the party down, but what's your assessment?

JK: Well, actually, Elizabeth Dole, who heads up the Senatorial Campaign Committee, I think has done an incredibly good job. And we just had the Presidential dinner last week in Washington. We raised $12 million dollars. Our goal was $10 million. So actually, we're doing fine. The problem is that they Democrat Senate Committee is doing even better. And there's some speculation that's because the Democrat National Committee, under Howard Dean, is not raising very much money, and that Democrats are putting their money into the House and Senate Campaign Committees, rather than the national Democratic campaign committee. And there are some other reasons as well. The very wealthy Democrats in the Senate have contributed huge amounts to their committee, people like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Biden, and the rest of them. And our Senators don't have that kind of money to just dump back into the Senate Campaign Committee. But we're going all right.

HH: Pretty remarkable debate this week, you remind me of this.

JK: Incredible.

HH: And I saw you, a number of clips, standing there in the Senate floor and firing back at them. But rarely have I seen so many Americans vote against victory.

JK: (laughing) Exactly. In a week that follows the al Zarqawi death, that follows the constitution of the Iraqi government, and briefings by the President talking about the progress that's being made there, and just three days after we receive news of the death of the two soldiers who were kidnapped and mutilated, as well as murdered, you would think that Americans would want to finish the unfinished business there of bringing to justice the people that did that, and preventing these evildoers from continuing to do it. And yet, there are some who don't seem...they must have a tin ear to all of that, and they're only focused on one thing, and that is just getting out as fast as they can.

HH: Is your opponent a defeat and retreat type?

JK: He's made several statements that seem to support that. He's not real clear about exactly what he would do, but then what Democrat has been, except for Joe Lieberman?

HH: And you're right. Only Joe...

JK: And he's taking heat for it...

HH: (laughing) And they're trying to drive him out of the party.

JK: ...within his party, exactly so. I mean, it's great that they're having a fight within their party amongst themselves about what to do, but it's basically a fight between the cut and run, and the cut and jog.

HH: Yeah.

JK: And there's not a lot of difference.

HH: Last week, you and other colleagues on the Judiciary Committee sent the President a letter, June 16th. I read it, and it's great, and you say, where are the nominees? 9 vacancies on the circuits, more on the district courts. Did you get a response yet?

JK: I have not seen a response yet, and time is wasting. There is a long lead time in getting nominees named, checked out, get the FBI check and all of that, set for hearing, the hearing has to occur, then it has to get through the Judiciary Committee, then you get it to the floor. The Democrats love to delay things on the floor of the Senate. So there's a long process, and there's kind of a rule of thumb, that once the August recess comes, you've only got one basic month of activity left in the Senate in an election year, and that's the month of September. And then, you're into October, which is the month before the election, and most Senators like to be home campaigning. So if you don't have it done by the end of July, the first of August, it's going to be very, very difficult to get it done. And with that lead time, that means pretty much, people need to be named now. And we still have these vacancies, and that's why we wrote the letter.

HH: And two of them on the D.C. Circuit, which is my pet peeve over that. Do you expect you'll get a nominee for that very soon?

JK: I don't know.


HH: You can go to his website. I want to spell it for you, because it's one of those funny Jons. It's Jon. That's easy, though.

JK: Yeah, the last name you'd have to spell, too.


JK: That's it.

HH: Why are you a Jon, as opposed to a John, do you know?

JK: Well, my grandparents were Dutch, and my grandfather was a Jan. My father was a John. They didn't want a junior, so I was Jon. And when my grandparents came over, their name was Kijl. And they hit Ellis Island, and whoever the inspector was, said we don't have ij here. It's a Y, next. And so, that's how the name got to be that way.

HH: Now you spent four terms in the House. This're finishing your second term in the United States Senate.

JK: Right.

HH: What did you do before that, Jon Kyl?

JK: Practiced law for 20 years in Phoenix, Arizona.

HH: And what kind of practice?

JK: I had a great practice. Being a lawyer, and knowing a little bit of the Washington scene at the time, you probably knew, or knew about Rex Lee, who was the solicitor general.

HH: Yes.

JK: Rex was one of my law partners, and when Rex left to his first job in the Justice Department, I pretty much took over his Constitutional law practice. So I had a great law practice in Phoenix.

HH: I didn't know you were Rex Lee's law partner.

JK: Yeah.

HH: That's very...I once mediated the dispute between William French Smith and Rex Lee over whether or not it was okay to split and infinitive, having been a speech writer...

JK: (laughing)

HH: And Rex and I persuaded the Attorney General that it was, in fact, persuasive, is what mattered.

JK: Yeah.

HH: Let's back to Judiciary Committee stuff. Debra Livingston's a name being touted out there. Have you heard that name in connection with the D.C. Circuit?

JK: I have not. I have not, I'm sorry.

HH: All right. I also had Senator Sessions, your colleague, on, and also I believe Senator Brownback. I'm not quite sure, maybe Duane can remember (He can. It was John Cornyn of Texas.-RB), talking about the 11th and 12th seat controversy. And Senator Sessions said he'll go for an 11th judge on the D.C. Circuit, but he's just not going to go for a 12th judge, because they don't have enough work. And then Alberto Gonzales came on the show, and said I think we can persuade them that the case load's gone up, because of the War On Terror. What's your view on that whole thing?

JK: Well, actually, Jeff is right, in the sense that earlier, say a decade ago, they really didn't need another justice on that court. But it's also true that circumstances have changed. And right now, there may well be a justification for an additional two justices. There are two vacancies. And I'll have to look at that at the time, but my position had been that they didn't need that 12th judge.

HH: And that's what the Attorney General said. He understood it, but that he wanted to make that argument. So you'd be open to the argument?

JK: Oh sure, yeah.

HH: Okay. Now let's talk about two of the most controversial nominees, Haynes and Boyle. The Department of Defense general counsel is being held up, according to some, by your colleague, Lindsey Graham. Boyle's being held up, according to some, by concerns over non-recusal. What's your assessment of both of those nominees?

JK: Boy, I wish I had come better prepared to answer those questions, specifically. There are...first of all, there's a lot of politics in this. The Democrats would like to hold all of them, all of them that they can. And I never quite know what kind of deals might have been made between the chairman and the ranking member to try to get other nominees out. But both of these have been languishing, and others have skipped over them, which leads me to believe that there have been some accommodations, shall we say, to at least move them to the back of the line. And even though at least one of them is ready for floor action, I doubt that you'll see that quickly.

HH: Now the Gang of 14 last year, we were on the air when it was broken, because I was back in D.C. I still remember that so clearly. It was supposed to have cleared the decks and gotten everyone an up or down vote. It did not work out that way.

JK: Well, there was a clearing of the decks of the ones that they cleared. And then, there were a couple of that were clearly not cleared, although appropriately, names weren't mentioned, but everybody knew who they were. And then, there were a few that were in limbo, and those are the ones that are hard to discuss right now, because I think they agreed to work on them later, and make decisions later. And I'm just not clear how the Gang of 14 has come down on that.

HH: Is Senator Graham aware...have you talked to him about the growing conservative anger over the perception that he is blocking Haynes?

JK: I suspect he's aware of it, yes, but I haven't talked to him specifically about it.

HH: The last...let's go back and look at Brett Kavanaugh. You guys took the lead on that. A lot of people did. You got him through...

JK: Well, and you harrassed us enough to get it done, by golly, and thank you.

HH: But that's what happens, I think. It seems to me that whenever you folks decide to get it done, it happens.

JK: Yeah.

HH: Senator Specter was also talking with the American Spectator, of all people, two weeks ago about standing up and delivering votes like that. Who is it...who doesn't like the debate? I don't mind if these guys lose, actually. I won't be happy, but if they get votes...Who doesn't want votes?

JK: Well, here's the touchy thing. You want to fight the ultimate battle with the very best circumstances possible. You want to set the battlefield so you can win. And the concern is, the Gang of 14, 7 Dems, 7 Repubs, who agreed that they would not support their leaderships...the Republicans wouldn't support the Constitutional Option to go to a 51 vote, the Dems wouldn't support the filibuster that their leadership was threatening. What they have created is a situation in which were they to get together on a nominee, you don't want a fight on that nominee, if you're the Republican leadership. And so the question is, with a John Roberts or a Sam Alito, dare them to create the fight. We could have fought them, we could have beat them, we could have had the Constitutional Option in place, 51 votes. All the Republicans would have supported it. But with a couple of these other judges, and I don't want to mention names...

HH: Sure.

JK: ...but with some other judges, the question is, can we win that fight? Do we have the ability to make that the cause celeb, and win? And in certain cases, there's some doubt about it. And so that's why it's a little more nuanced than necessarily you'd like it to be.

HH: Your colleauge, and a friend of this program, we've had him on a lot, Mike DeWine, from my home state, was a member of the Gang of 14. I think he regrets that to this day, because he got hammered on it so much. But he is also in a very delicate position right now, having repaired relations, largely, with the conservatives in the Buckeye State. Is part of this tied in with the Gang of 14 goes away? Does that deal live beyond this session of the Congress, Senator Kyl?

JK: I think that the Gang of 14 will tell you that it was only intended to be for this Congress, but that they saw value in continuing some kind of relationship like that. But clearly, you don't know who's going to be back, and who might want to continue to participate in it, and so on. But I think they saw a value in fact, they even talked about using the same group to branch out into other areas, although I don't think they've really done that.

HH: The Constitutional Option would be dead if we lost how many Senators from the Republican side?

JK: Well, it depends. You need 51 to make it work, and there was a little bit of doubt about a couple of the Senators on the Republican side before. That's why you've got to make sure that when you have the fight, you have it over the right issue, or the this case, the right judge.

HH: Head anything about retirements from SCOTUS?

JK: No.

HH: No rumors? Nothing? Zero?

JK: Nope.

HH: Okay. He's being cagey here.


HH:, and there's a convenient link over at Senator Kyl, win the war, confirm the judges, cut the taxes, control the spending, secure the border. Those are my fifteen words.

JK: You got it.

HH: But it's going to be a tight-run thing between now and November.

JK: It is. What people have to realize is that even though you may be unhappy about wasteful Washington spending, about anxiety about the war, about the failure to totally solve the immigration problem, and other issues, this election coming up is a choice. It's a choice between two sides and two candidates. And always consider the other side when you're deciding what you're going to do, and in fact, whether you're going to do it. It is just appalling to me that some Republicans say ah, we're mad at folks, we're going to sit it out this year. Think about the alternative. Think about who'd be chairing some of these committees if the other guys win.

HH: And if we get another Supreme Court nomination, what will happen.

JK: Oh, it could be...well, look at this latest decision on wetlands. It could make...obviously, it could be huge.

HH: Now let me ask you. I want to speak directly to this. You talk well about Rick Santorum, friend of our show.

JK: You bet.

HH: We've got good people in Ricketts and McGavick, we've got Mark Kennedy running, we've got Tom Keane, Jr. But then there are guys like Mike DeWine, who's a 70 ACU rating, as opposed to you being a 95 or 100%. And a lot of people want to grind on him and say no, I'm not going to vote for Mike DeWine. You're a conservative's conservative. What do you say to those people who just don't think he's conservative enough?

JK: You know, I disagree with some of my colleauges. I disagree with some people in my family. And the bottom line is, you add it all up, and you make a comparison. Now you know who his opponent is?

HH: Right.

JK: This guy is one of the most liberal members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

HH: Sherrod Brown, yeah.

JK: There can be no choice. Mike and I don't agree on everything, but we're sure going to support each other on most things, and compared to the alternative, there is no question.

HH: We've got about a minute and a half left. Has the President got the energy that you expected him to have at this point? The war's a hard thing to run.

JK: You should have seen him at the President's dinner last week. Talk about energy, I thought he just had about 8 cups of coffee. He was on fire. People couldn't get over how energized he was. And when he came back from Iraq, even though he was dead tired, you could see that he was energized about that as well. He came back much more confident than before he had gone.

HH: People say, especially in the media, that the American public is waning in its support for the war. Do you see that in Arizona?

JK: Yes, I would say that I do. It's not so much in support for the war as it is an anxiety mixed with a tiredness about it. And of course, what we've got to do is remind people. Sure it's tough. A lot of things are tough. But think of what happened to those two soldiers the other day. Are we going to let that go, let that business be unfinished? No way.

HH: Jon Kyl, great to have you in studio.

JK: Thanks, Hugh.

HH: Looking forward to being with you tonight. I want to remind everyone, Help him out, get him re-elected, get him back there into the leadership.

End of interview.

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Saturday, June 24

The Beltway Boys

HH: Joined now by the Beltway Boys from the Fox News Channel, Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke. You can watch them tomorrow night, 6PM in the East, 3PM in the West. I repeats later, and most nights on Special Report, where they just both quit the set. Let me begin with you, Morton Kondracke. The New York Times has assisted terrorists today. Are you appalled? Or is it just business as usual?

MK: It's business as usual, and I'm appalled. These know, as I've compared this many times to the United States breaks the German or the Japanese code, and the New York Times gets wind of it, but to print? Of course, not? And what's the difference? Because in those days, newspapers believed that they were part of the rest of the country, and now they think that they're adversarial, and I think they're especially adversarial toward George Bush, or they have some idea he's George III, or something.

HH: Fred Barnes, would you agree, and I'm going to be talking with Bill Kristol after this as well, the Weekly Standard round-up. Would you agree that the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times today assisted terrorists?

FB: Oh, no question about that. Clearly, it tells terrorists about something that they have to be wary of, and not do, and find another way to get funds sent around the world that they use. We have a piece coming out in the Weekly Standard next week about this whole New York Times story, and the program that they disclosed,'s by Heather McDonald of the Manhattan Institution. She winds up...I'm going to read you the last paragraph. "Al Qaeda has long worked to manipulate the media in its favor. It can disband that operation now, knowing that unbidden, the United States' most powerful newspaper is looking out for its interests." And in fact...I mean, obviously, they're not doing that purposely to help al Qaeda, but the fact is it seems there is no national security information, no matter how critical it is to the War On Terror, and no matter how much it might wind up helping the terrorists, that the New York Times won't reveal, because of its hatred of the Bush administration. I think that's its main motive. If this were a Democratic administration doing these things, I don't think the Times would be revealing these national security programs.

HH: Neither do I. The Vice President spoke to this point earlier this afternoon. I want to play it for both of you, and for the audience just joining it:

DC: What I find most disturbing about these stories is the fact that some in the news media take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people. That offends me.

HH: Morton Kondracke, again, I'm trying to nail down so that it cannot be denied the idea that they must have known this would help terrorists. They were told that by the administration. Do they have any deniability on that matter?

MK: You know, if you read the story...look, before I ever read this story, I had a vague understanding that we were able to tap into the...almost any international financial transaction that we wanted to. I didn't know exactly that it was the SWIFT program, or something like that. I don't think that this is a terribly revelatory, of high secrets, so far as I can tell. But I don't know, and I don't think they know, either. This is an absence of trust. If you get the President's highest-ranking officials, John Negroponte, assisted by Tom Keane and Lee Hamilton, who are trustworthy people...and Charles Krauthammer said tonight on the show that even John Murtha intervened with the New York Times to dissuade them. I mean, there is a question of who do you believe. If the Bush administration or the U.S. government is saying please don't do this in the name of national security, it is the New York Times arrogating unto itself superior knowledge about what's a security threat and what's not. And the only conclusion I can make is that one, it's arrogance, and two, it's total distrust for the people in charge.

HH: Fred Barnes, Bill Keller, in today's New York Times piece, he's the paper's executive editor, said, "we have listened closely to the administration's arguments for withholding this information, and given them the most serious and respectful consideration. We remain convinced that the administration's extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data, however carefully targeted use of it may be, is a matter of public interest." What do you think...

FB: He could say that about anything.

HH: Exactly.

FB: It's a matter of public interest, or public curiosity, but there are many things that are not supposed to be revealed publicly. I mean, newspapers usually don't reveal the names of rape victims, for instance, which would be of som public interest, as many things are. The Times...when you learn about this program, and you realize the steps which have to be taken before any transaction can be traced by some investigator, I mean, there is almost no chance of any misuse of it. And the fact is, there are no abuses that the New York Times could cite. There just aren't any. And somehow, Ed Markey, the Congressman from Massachusetts, seemed to think there was a Constitutional issue, but so far as I know, bank records are not Constitutionally protected information.

HH: I would like you both to listen to your former colleague from Fox News, Tony Snow, engaging with the press today on this. Cut number four, if you will:

Reporter: So this organization is no secret.

TS: Are you kidding? You're talking about SWIFT?

Reporter: I'm talking about...

TS: When did you know about SWIFT before?

Reporter: Well, while I don't, I can, in fact, assure you that people in the financial community...

TS: I guarantee you, you go and talk to your local banker, you talk to a lot of is legal, Helen.

Helen Thomas: What is the law that allows you to conduct this...

TS: I'll tell you what. We will attach...we'll get our lawyers to attach all this, and it'll just glaze your eyes.

HT: Give me the law.

TS: I am going to give you the law. Go ahead.

HT: You don't even know.

TS: You're absolutely right. I do not know the specific statute, which is why I will present it to you.

Reporter: But again, why go to the extraordinary effort of trying to get news media to inform people what their government is doing?

TS: Well, I'll tell you what. Does CNN disclose what it does with the financial information, or personal information, of the people who log on to its website? Does the New York Times? Does the L.A. Times? Your organizations all collect personal date on people who use your services. But there's a second point.

Reporter: But there's a difference between...

TS: I understand...I do understand, but what I am saying here is, what the public...I'll tell you what. You ask the American public, do you you think you have a right to know the specific means and methods by which...

HT: (unintelligle)

TS: Helen, will you stop heckling, and let me conduct a press conference?

HT: (unintelligle)

TS: Well, no, I'm making an argument, and you're pestering the teacher.

HH: (laughing) Pestering the teacher was going on for hours there, Morton Kondracke. Does the mainstream media inside the Beltway understand the contempt with which they are held?

MK: No, look. I used to cover the White House, and I came in right after Watergate, and I concluded that the reporters in the White House press briefing room think that they can uncover the Watergate scandal by harrassing the press secretary, whoever it is. Now I think Tony and...there were some Democratic...they do it in Democratic administrations, as well. They...I think there's a special verve with this administration, because the press is really more inbued with Bush hatred than it was with Clinton hatred, but nevertheless, that's what they do. They beat up on press secretaries.

HH: Fred Barnes, though, they do not seem to understand, at least they don't give any clue to understanding, the fact that they are held in great and deep contempt.

FB: No, they're in total denial. They're oblivious. And to the extent they do recognize that they raise the hackles of the public sometimes, they take that as a point of pride. You know, well, gee, we really must be doing our job, and we're protecting the weak, and we're angering the powers that be, and this is what we're supposed to do. Look, Mort was entirely wrong about the press room, and the way the White House reporters act. They don't heckle all press secretaries the way they do now. There is not...there is Bush hatred, they are ideologically liberal. They hate the Bush administration, because it's mainly conservative. They didn't act this way in the Clinton administration. Come on.

HH: Proposition for both of you. The combined progress in Iraq, the death of Zarqawi, the torture and killing of two American soldiers, the cut and run debate lost in both the House last week, the Senate this week, and now the New York Times and Los Angeles Times betrayal of American secrets. I think this has been a disastrous week for the left in the United States, and for the Democratic Party, and that people remember. Morton, am I right?

MK: Look, I think yes, temporarily, but look, everything depends on how Iraq turns out on the ground. And the Republicans can cite successes, and there were successes. They can cite Democratic weaknesses, and there certainly were Democratic weaknesses. But Bush's place in history, and I think the Republicans' fortune in November ride on the ability of the Iraqi security forces to resist the insurgency, and the ability of the government there to prevent civil war and govern effectively. And that's what it's all about, and the jury is still out on how it's going to happen.

FB: Well, I disagree. I mean, I think a lot depends on what goes on in Iraq, but not everything. I mean, back here, we've had a debate between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats have taken the position that we want to get out of Iraq as soon as possible. Republicans have taken the position no, we want to stay and win a victory. It's pretty easy to see which side the public is on, because stay the course trumps cut and run. It simply does, and it's been a horrible week for Democrats.

HH: I think that memory will endure. Fred Barnes, Morton Kondracke, the Fox News Channel Beltway Boys, we'll be watching tomorrow night, 6PM in the East, 3PM in the West, and again, it repeats later in the evening.

End of interview.

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Friday, June 23

Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol wants Congressional action on the NY Times' Bill Keller.


HH: Sometimes, a serious issue really requires that you talk to serious people about it. And the New York Times today, and the Los Angeles Times, have done a very bad thing, as Jon Kyl, John Campbell, all these bloggers have said. But now I'm joined by Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. And Bill, what was your reaction today to the New York Times' publication of yet another national security secret?

BK: Hi, Hugh, first of all.

HH: Good to talk to you.

BK: And good to talk to you. Well, actually, I was down in Orlando giving a speech, and you know, went down and got the papers at 7:00. And there have been so many of these in the front page of the New York Times that I guess I'm desensitized to it. So I actually wasn't as outraged as I got a little later on when I started to think about it. Part of it was when you really read the story, it's one thing, it's bad enough, I think, what they've done in the past for other programs. But at least there, there was a colorable claim that the Bush administration was stretching the law, there were people internally who were claiming perhaps that there have been things that have been done wrong, there was...I mean, there was at least semi-plausible to say that the press was playing a kind of whistle-blower or watchdog role. Here, there seems to be no such allegation even. No such...nothing even on the margins of this. This was a totally straight-forward secret program. No one thinks it's illegal, no one in Congress is complaining that they weren't briefed. There are no whistle-blowers coming out and saying oh, my God, you should see what they're doing in there, all the things that might lead you to say okay, well, the Times...we don't like the Times, maybe we don't think you should have printed it, but maybe it's a close call. This one seems to be not to be...I can't see why it's a close call. I mean, you tell me. You're a lawyer, I'm not.

HH: No, it's not.

BK: I just don't see what' now I am actually furious about it. We have a terrific piece that I think you've mentioned already by Heather McDonald in the next issue which is up on the website, making a lot of the same points you've been making for the last hour or so. But I mean, it's really just outrageous. Bill Keller's now going to decide what's in the national security interest of the United States?

HH: I'd like you to listen to what the Vice President had to say a little bit earlier today, because he hits that point exactly. Here's Dick Cheney:

DC: What I find most disturbing about these stories is the fact that some in the news media take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people. That offends me.

HH: Now Bill Kristol, I've asked Jon Kyl, I've asked Congressman John Campbell, I've talked to Glenn Reynolds, I've talked to Ed Morrissey. I've talked to a lot of people, asked them all, do you think the story assisted terrorists? All of them have said, unequivocally, yes, including Fred Barnes, your colleague. And I ask you, do you think this story assists terrorists?

BK: Yeah, well, as Heather McDonald notes, we know that other...that terrorists have been captured through this program, and terrorist operations have been prevented, or at least disrupted through this program. Let's hope they're stupid enough to keep doing things the way they were doing. Presumably, they'll be more careful in their financial transfers, so yeah, it's hard to see how it couldn't. And in any case, it's not Bill Keller's place to make that judgment. Again, that's what...we elect a president, we elect a Congress. The president and Congress together select judges. There are plenty of checks and balances in the system, and this program was moving along smoothly and legally. Again, it's not as if there was some brouhaha that was being suppressed, and the Bush administration was firing seven people, and the New York Times was coming to the rescue. Do you know what I mean?

HH: Right, right.

BK: It's just...what's so infuriating about this is the smugness of Bill Keller in overriding the judgment of all of our elected officials, really, and just single-handedly providing this information to terrorists, and to everyone else.

HH: And it seems to me, to make sure the audience understands how it works, all al Qaeda has to do when they wake up like you did, and I did, and read the papers, go find out who's been snagged, and see how they did their banking, and then don't do that again. That''s just so easy to reverse engineer once you've figured out what it was that led to their capture. Bill Kristol, here's what Bill Keller said. His only quote in the entire paper. "We have listened closely to the administration's arguments for withholding this information, and given them the most serious and respectful consideration. We remain convinced that the administration's extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data, however carefully targeted use of it may be, is a matter of public interest." That's not an answer.

BK: It's no answer at all. There's no argument. It's just an assertion. What do we do about this? That's really my question. I mean, is this...obviously, there are interesting questions of whether they should be prosecuted or not. And I myself have been a little bit of a skeptic on the prosecution issue. We have a piece by Gabe Schoenfeld in our next issue also, and as you know, he wrote a couple, two, three months ago arguing for prosecution of the Times for the NSA, the eavesdropping...when that program was blown.

HH: Right.

BK: And I've been a little skeptical on this. You know, I so dislike the criminalization of politics in all kinds of ways that I get a little nervous about this, too. But I'm now...on this one, I don't even see that it's a close call? How can the Justice Department, in all responsibility, not seriously consider a prosecution on this? So maybe there's not a good statutory basis or not...

HH: I believe Eastman, John Eastman, has gone through it, along with Schoenfeld, and have concluded that in fact, the statutes are crystal clear, despite some media tubas saying you have to be in an official act of war, and all that stuff. But I think there is a weigh station to that, Bill Kristol.

BK: Yeah, tell me. I want to hear what you've been talking about.

HH: I think Congressional oversight...

BK: Well, I was thinking about that, too. You know, I think you're right.

HH: Yeah.

BK: Yes, what about that? I mean, shouldn't there be hearings on this?

HH: Well, right now, Jon Kyl, who is out in California, spent the first hour with me, told me that before the Judiciary Committee, as we speak, is a press shield law. And it seems to me that if the press wants a shield law, the editors of the major newspapers of the United States, assembled or in sequence, ought to come before that committee, and answer the questions as to why they need it, and then open themselves up to questions as to why they deserve it.

BK: Yeah, I agree with that. I also would like to hear what New York Senators have to say about this, actually. Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer. The New York Times is located there, and especially Hillary Clinton, and I mean this partly politically. But really, I'm honestly interested. I mean, she was...obviously, she has some knowledge of how the executive branch works. You'd think she might be sensitive to this. On the other hand, she totally depends on the New York Times, obviously, as her major home state's organ. It would be interesting to try and get members of Congress on record on this. Do they approve or do they not. I think...maybe we should do this, except we're dark this week. But you could do this, would be just to ask every single member of Congress, do you approve of what the New York Times did or not, or at least members of the New York delegation.

HH: And a resolution in the Senate or the House, as were the resolutions of the last two weeks quite edifying, could also bring that discussion to the fore.

BK: You know, it really could, because let's say there isn't maybe going to be a prosecution. How do you exercise moral suasion on Bill Keller? Well, one thing Bill Keller says in the statement is we listened to the Bush administration, and with all due respect, we ignored them, right?

HH: Yeah.

BK: What about the Congress of the United States? Would he ignore as easily a resolution with 90 Senators and 375 House members, bipartisan?

HH: No.

BK: Would he think he has the right to just override their judgments? So I think you're right. I think we should encourage, actually, Senators and Congressmen in the very near future, and why not next week? They're still in next week before July 4th, to go with a sense of the Senate, sense of the House resolution, that this is unwise and dangerous, and members of the media should not take it upon themselves to judge the national security matters like this. Incidentally, I mean, that's another thing. Did Keller go to anyone, apart from the two or three Bush administration people he talked to?

HH: I don't know. That's the last thing...

BK: Did he consult with the former Clinton administration? CIA or Defense Department? Or counter-terrorism officials? Did he call up Bill Perry or serious people who did serve, and not in Republican administrations?

HH: We don't know. That's the last thing I'd like done, is I'd like milbloggers, because of their standing...he won't answer my questions. He won't return my calls. I doubt he'll return yours. But I would love milbloggers to e-mail him, and then disseminate their questions for Bill Keller, because they're on the front lines, and they're going to take the brunt of this first, and they have questions that I think Bill Keller has to answer, Bill Kristol. I mean, can he be brought to at least answer questions, do you think?

BK: Yes, I think the milbloggers can do a lot. I think the Senate and the House, though, I think if Congress goes on record saying this is deeply questionable, and we would like an explanation for this, that makes it not Bill Keller versus the Bush administration, but Bill Keller versus the elected officials of the United States government.

HH: Excellent idea. We'll start working on that. I hope the Weekly Standard does as well. Bill Kristol, editor to the Weekly Standard, thanks for making time for us this afternoon.

End of interview.

Powerline's John Hinderaker and Scott Johnson on the New York Times' story blowing another weapon in the War On Terror.


HH: The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times did a very bad thing. They endangered American lives, they assisted terrorists. And to discuss the consequences of that, what they should be, can they be, the two preeminent of three preeminent Powerline bloggers you can read at, the work of John Hinderaker and Scott Johnson. John and Scott, welcome back. Good to talk to you gentlemen.

JH: Hi, Hugh.

SJ: Thanks for having us, Hugh.

HH: Let's start just with your reaction to today's stories in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. You've both written about it. Scott, I think you posted first, we'll go to you first. What was your reaction?

SJ: Who needs spies when you have the New York Times? What they have done violates the Espionage Act, the federal laws that are on the books to prevent the Times' sources from doing what they have done. And the Times says they have 20 of them that support this story this morning, whom they granted anonymity, because the information was classified, and therefore, its disclosure was illegal, as was its publication. So my reaction is, I would like the law to be enforced. We have an epidemic of lawlessness. But this is part two of a saga that began...or part three that began last December with respect to the Times, when they broke the National Security Agency electronic monitoring program regarding al Qaeda. I called for their prosecution back then, Hugh, looking at relevant statutes, and seeing that they had been violated both by the...then, it was nearly a dozen sources, the Times claimed, one of whom has since come out and identified himself. I've been mystified why a grand jury hasn't been convened, and Risen, Lichtblau, and Bill Keller haven't been the first three witnesses before it, and asked to identify at the least, the lawbreakers who are their sources for these stories.

HH: John Hinderaker, your response?

JH: You know, a lot of people don't realize that it's not that rare to prosecute people for violations of these statutes. Just yesterday, a former defense intelligence agency analyst named Ronald Montaperto, pled guilty to passing secrets to the Communist Chinese. He's going to go to jail. Now we are not at war with China, but we are at war with al Qaeda. The secrets that the New York Times has disclosed are far more significant, far more vital than anything that this guy passed on to China. So I find it hard to understand why Ronald Montaperto is going to jail, and Bill Keller apparently isn't.

HH: Now let me ask you both. Bill Kristol and I were just discussing what is to be done, and obviously, you're both Constitutional lawyers, you know that no law could or should be passed constricting press freedom. But the House and the Senate could certainly lay a resolution, debate it and vote on it next week, condemning these actions. Do you think that would be...have any effect, Scott Johnson? And should it be pursued?

SJ: Well, I think it would be a useful, political act for all the reasons that you and Bill both cited. But as I say, I think there is an epidemic of lawlessness. And in a sense, the Bush administration has not fought back. They haven't fought back with respect to the December story, in which they broke the NSA program, monitoring program. And it's a little bit like being hit at Kobar Towers, and so on, that the continuing attacks on the United States to which the Clinton administration refused to respond. This is a second or third attack on the most valuable national security programs of the United States, with respect to which the executive branch of the goverment, the law enforcement agency of the United States government, has refused to fight back.

HH: John Hinderaker, wouldn't it be better, though, politically...I'm going to disagree with Scott a little bit to sequence this, because right now, it's a New York Times/Bush administration story in the eyes of many, and Bill Kristol pointed that out. Once you get Congress on record, it's a Constitutional and representative branches against an extra-Constitutional fourth branch, and I think that positions it much, much better.

JH: Well, you may be right about that, Hugh. I am not a big fan of Congressional investigations. They tend to be carried out so ineptly. And if Bill Keller and so forth are up there, they'll be pontificating and grandstanding, and they'll have the active cooperation of a lot of Democratic Senators or Congressmen. I don't know whether that's a good political idea or not.

HH: Rather than investigation, it was Kristol's idea that it simply be a resolution, such as was introduced in the House two weeks ago, and make it very blunt, and then have the debate for 48 hours, and let the American people hear what their elected representatives think about this, because they're all ducking it. And I, for one, would like to see every member of Congress on the record about national security-endangering leaks, John.

JH: Yeah, well, that's a good point. I mean, that is definitely a good idea. I mean, the Republicans have been doing that in a number of areas, make the Democrats go on record. I would say there are probably very few Democrats in that context who would really want to vote in favor of revealing country's secrets. I just want to make one quick point, though, Hugh, from a legal standpoint. A lot of people don't understand the difference between prior restraint and criminal prosecution.

HH: Yup. Very important distinction.

JH: It is true that the 1st Amendment would prevent the administration from trying to stop the New York Times from printing the story that they printed this morning. But a majority of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Pentagon Papers case made it very clear that after the story has been printed, criminal prosecution is an option.

HH: I know. They intentionally obscure that distinction, Scott Johnson. In the time since you first made the argument for prosecution, Scott, has any legal scholar stepped up...You know, Tim Rutten in the L.A. Times said oh, that's not applicable, because we're not at war. Has anyone persuaded you that there's any hole in that argument, any way that the Times or the Times can block via statutory argument?

SJ: Well, that's a good question, and I think the answer is no. The most careful legal analysis, the most extensive legal analysis that I've seen is the one that you've referred to. It's John Eastman's. It's posted at the bottom of the Claremont Institute's website right now. It's his testimony to Congress on this precise issue. And when I began, I was the first person to address the illegality of what the Times was doing with respect to the NSA story. I did my own legal research, and I interviewed some Constitutional law professors to make sure I wasn't going wrong and missing anything. I think my analysis stands up, and that the additional analysis that has been done by serious scholars like Professor Eastman, supports my initial conclusion.

HH: Okay, 45 seconds. I want a reaction from both of you. How would you characterize the reaction among the blogosphere and public opinion today to these two stories by the New York Times and L.A. Times, John Hinderaker?

JH: Well, in the blogosphere, it's been very, very negative. I don't know whether it's been different from the prior stories, but I think maybe one distinction is that here, there's not even the shadow of a claim that there was something wrong with the program. Bill Keller just says well, we think it's of public interest. Well, it's of intense interest to al Qaeda, that's for sure.

HH: Scott Johnson?

SJ: I've been very struck by the level of anger expressed among those of us who think what the Times has done is really wrong here.

HH: By those of us who think that the war matters, and we shouldn't be assisting terrorists, you mean?

SJ: Exactly. By those of us who are tired of the only war these folks believe in, which is the war against the Bush administration.

HH: Scott Johnson and John Hinderaker, we'll be checking all weekend long, and the Powerline news service as well. Thank you both.

End of interview.

The Instapundit, Captain Ed, and Congressman John Campbell weigh in on the New York Times further attempt to erode our national security.


HH: Joined in studio by Congressman John Campbell, and on the phone by the Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds, on vacation, I think, somewhere, and Ed Morrissey from Captain's Quarters Blog, two great bloggers. I want to start with you, Glenn Reynolds. Your reaction to the New York Times' and Los Angeles Times' decision to assist the terrorists today?

GR: The press is very hard on other industries that enrich themselves at the public expense. But this is just the equivalent of dumping toxic waste into a river in order to make more money. Other people suffer, they get rich.

HH: Ed Morrissey, do you agree?

EM: Absolutely. You know, the whole point of doing these kinds of stories is to sell their newspaper. And the fact is, if you read this report, there's no there there, except for the fact that they're exposing the specific methods used to get this financial data. There's nothing in there that suggests that anything is illegal about this project. There's nothing in there to suggest that there's been any abuses of this project. And it's something we all knew. They are going to go through the financial systems of the world to trap the terrorists. We've been told that for the last five years. We didn't need to know the specifics of how they're going to do that.

HH: Now earlier in the program, Senator Jon Kyl, and last segment, Congressman Campbell agreed that the New York Times' and Los Angeles Times' story today assisted the terrorists. The Vice President made the same argument. Glenn Reynolds, do you believe that to be the case.

GR: Yes, and I want to make another very important point that I think a lot of the coverage has missed. This was done through SWIFT, the Society for Worlwide Interbank Financial Transfers. That's actually something I know about. These are organizational and institutional money transfers. These are not individuals. These are companies, these are governments, these are NGO's. There is no individual privacy angle to this at all.

HH: But you do believe the story did assist the terrorists?

GR: I suspect it tipped them off to something, and yeah, I imagine so.

HH: Ed Morrissey, do you believe it assisted the terrorists?

EM: I believe it assisted the terrorists in two ways. First off, it discussed the specific ways in which we are tracking financial transactions. And now they can try to develop strategies to get around that. But the second reason I think it assisted the terrorists is because it demonstrates that a segment of America still is not serious about fighting the War On Terror, and understanding it as a War On Terror, and not just some law enforcement effort on steroids. This is a tremendously bad public relations blow for the United States, I think, internationally.

HH: Congressman John Campbell, you were listening to Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit compare this to toxic dumping, and you were nodding your head. But of course, if that happens, they pay fines and they go to jail. The New York Times is invulnerable.

JC: Well, they're not invulnerable, but I was nodding because I think that's a great analogy, and I think it's an analogy that the'll make them cringe, ooh, because I mean, they really, really, really hate that. I mean, that's as great a crime on humanity as anybody anywhere can do is for a corporation to do that. And so, that's why I liked the analogy, because it'll just make them twinge. But they don' I said before the break, no, they're not going to have to pay a fine, they're not going to have to go to jail. The only way this behavior changes, like we've seen with a few significant things with the press in the past, the Dan Rather situation, when Dateline NBC put exploding tanks on a General Motors truck, various things like that, is when they have to pay a price for their credibility, and when they lose readers. Then it might hit home.

HH: Glenn Reynolds, you've been watching the blogosphere today. How would you assess the reaction, generally, across the 'sphere, and among Americans of ordinary station?

GR: I think it's being pretty badly received. And I think that the press really needs to watch, because 90% of what the press refers to as 1st Amendment protection really doesn't come from the Constitution at all. It really comes from a sort of unwritten code from customs and culture, and those things are subject to change when people don't live up to their end of the unwritten bargain, and the press has not.

HH: Ed Morrissey over at Captain's Quarters Blog, you have been commenting on this today. Truth Laid Bear, by the way, has a special page set up for New York Times reacts. What's your assessment of the reaction, Ed Morrissey?

EM: I'd say it's overwhelmingly negative. There's been a few people who've been trying to defend the New York Times, but I'd point out to those people that Bill Keller won't even get on line to defend the New York Times. I mean, I read your post today, Hugh...

HH: Yes.

EM: And I find it very interesting that on the day when he was going to break a story which exposed a national security operation, that he went on vacation. And as I commented, it's a really great example of profiles of courage in journalism.

HH: John Campbell?

JC: I just want to ask a question if I can. When you say that the response has been overwhelmingly negative, is that kind of across the political spectrum? Because my concern on this is that the privacy angle on all this stuff has political legs. It works on this, and a lot of things. And my concern is that the New York Times won't pay a price for this, the reaction won't be negative throughout society, because of how much that privacy angle sticks with people.

HH: Ed Morrissey?

EM: Well, I think you're going to find that the Times is going to have their supporters on the left. I mean, I think that when you go to the really hard left sites, they're going to be people there who are defending the New York Times on the basis of 1st Amendment, and also on the basis of a mistaken notion that this somehow delves into the private individual information of the individual banking customers. But I think for the center and for the right, it is going to be a disaster for the New York Times.

HH: Glenn Reynolds, Bill Keller would not, of course, respond to me. I didn't expect he would. But he hasn't responded to anyone. And I'm wondering...I have now suggested that milbloggers e-mail him their questions about this, especially those in the field and on active duty, and in harm's way. Do you think he can be shamed into answering questions from those who are on the front line of defending his life and his city, and thus, be accountable at least to them?

GR: You know, my biggest disappointment in looking at the role of the blogosphere in disciplining the mainstream media is that I drastically overestimated the extent to which the mainstream media was capable of shame.

HH: (laughing) So I guess you're saying no, that they will stay in their tower.

GR: You know, it's worth a try, but honestly, no. I think that it's going to take something that hits them where it hurts, and not in the conscience, because that's a case of hitting them where they ain't.

HH: Well, if you order the New York Times, America, you can cancel it at 1-800-NY-TIMES. You can cancel the L.A. Times at 800-252-9141. John Campbell, we need hearings. You've got to get these people up and put them under oath, and ask them questions.

JC: That's probably a good point. We probably should.

HH: Financial Services has got to have some jurisdiction over these people. They're corporations.

JC: Yes, but I would think, actually, probably Homeland Security might have more.

HH: But I'd just use any excuse. I want them up against smart people, because that way, they're not going to stand a chance Glenn Reynolds of the Instapundit, and Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters Glog, thank you both. I really appreciate your taking some time, and I'm glad we're all on the same page here. New York Times is living in a bubble.

End of interview.

Larry Kudlow hints that there might be some relief in sight at the gas pump.


HH: It's time for our Friday check in with Larry Kudlow, economist extraordinaire, host see him on CNBC every time, Kudlow & Co. Larry, welcome back. Good to have you.

LK: Hello, Hugh.

HH: I hear you think oil prices are going to go down.

LK: Yeah, I thought I'd put a little something in the bag for you. I know you've been trashing the New York Times, properly so.

HH: Yeah. We'll get back to that, but I always like to get news, too.

LK: It's very interesting. Prince Turki Al-Faisal, who's trying to scare everybody last week, he gave a speech in Washington, when he said any U.S. conflict with Iran would threaten the Straits of Hormuz, and would triple the price of oil. Well, guess what? Contrary to Prince Turki, here's some factoids. Energy inventories are as high as they've been since 1998. They've been growing and growing, as high as they've been since 1998, when oil was $15 a barrel. That's point number one. 347 million, by the by. Second point, I interviewed a bunch of oil tanker executives this week, guys who supply 85% of the oil to the United States. And they have more inventory on the high seas than they've had in many years. And third, the CEO of Chevron, David O'Reilly, told me in an interview that their numbers show that the demand for energy and gasoline at higher prices has at the least flattened out, and may be declining. So when you put this together, big inventories at home, lots of oil floating on the high seas, because they don't know what to do with it, and the fact that the demands are slipping a bit, because know, prices work, markets work. You may be in for a big crack in energy prices, that one shipping executive said to me, could drop them into the $40-50 dollar range.

HH: What would that do to the price at the pump for gas, Larry Kudlow?

LK: Oh, that would just drop the pump price...let's see. Let's call it $3 dollars a gallon, more or less nationwide. It would certainly drop it a full dollar.

HH: Okay, because I'm paying $3.41 in wonderful Southern California, where we make people do things crazy. So you think it could go down a buck. That would of course be a Democrat's worst mightmare, Larry Kudlow.

LK: You know, that thought occurred to me. I didn't want to put a partisan spin on this, because I'm an objective economic analyst. But that thought did occur to me.

HH: Yeah, that's the last thing they've got going. We're winning the war, we've got the Senate trying to cut and run on the Democratic side, we've got good tax relief, some control on spending, John Boehner talking a good game, at least, border security is the centerpoint of the debate. No one's going to leave the party over that, because it's not decided.

LK: And one other. The House is going to be getting a bill out that will permit offshore drilling. That is huge, because we have a gagillion barrels of oil and gas offshore. And that would really move us towards a much more independent position, and of course, would put a lot more fuel on the marketplace, which would depress prices.

HH: But of course, that's all contingent upon Iran not going to the mat with us, and with North Korea not shooting missiles at Japan, or anything like that.

LK: Well, this is true. There's a lot of political risk in the oil price, and I grant you that. But sometimes, the fundamentals have a way of reasserting themselves. So I'm just putting that out. One never knows, but while everyone is talking about sky high oil prices to doom the economy...and the economy, by the way, is so fact, the economy is picking up steam. Unemployment claims are dropping, chain store sales are rising, durable goods, capital goods investment is booming. So the economy is really strong. We might get a boost here in the form of a lower tax, because of a drop in energy prices. That is one of those variables out there that could turn out to be much more pleasant than the pessimists would have us believe.

HH: All right, Larry Kudlow. You just mentioned sometimes, fundamentals win out. Let's turn to the news business, where the fundamentals are serve the public, don't lose subscribers, don't make everybody mad at you, and don't betray the national interest by helping terrorists. What's wrong with the New York Times?

LK: Yeah, well, this is an interesting story. This is...we called them the queen of saboteurs on our blogsite, Kudlow's Money Politics. You know, it's interesting here. There's two sides...I mean, whoever leaked this stuff in the government should be brought up on huge charges.

HH: Agreed.

LK: And secondly, the New York Times they did this on the electronic surveillance of the telephone numbers. Now they're going this on the electronic surveillance of these financial flows. You know, if we had known, if we had seen the bank accounts at the Sun Trust Bank in Florida, $130, or $150 thousand dollars, who knows, before 9/11, we might have been able to stop that. That's how important this stuff is.

HH: Yeah, now Larry Kudlow, don't shareholders have a right to ask the I don't know about the Times. I don't know how they're structured. But I know the Los Angeles Times is part of the Tribune Company, and the Los Angeles times is hemorrhaging money, hemorrhaging readers. I've already been getting copies on cancelled subscriptions today. People are livid over this betrayal of the national interest. Don't they owe their shareholders an explanation?

LK: Well, I'm sure they do. I mean, a couple of points. The New York Times' bottom line has been deteriorating for years. Their advertising is weak. Their subscription and readership has been in decline. Now the Sulzberger family has a very clever thing. They have two classes of stock, so they have insider control over the company fortunes, because they have the greatest voting weight as a result of these A & B shares. So they give shareholders a short shrift, just the way they give the country a short shrift. However, there have been a lot of stories in the papers here in New York and elsewhere on the bad, sagging fortunes of the New York Times. And I've got to believe some of this has to do with their front page editorial policy. Not the editorial page, which we know is not good, but their front page editorial policy.

HH: Now would you also agree that media stocks, at least those heavily into the old mare paper driven newspapers, are a bad place to park your money these days?

LK: Yes, no question. The companies that have a shot at surviving are those that have moved online in an aggressive way, and have a good advertising revenue program online. Now there aren't many of those, by the way. The Wall Street Journal probably has one of the more successful ones. But the New York Times is not one of them. The New York Times decided to charge online subscribers a special fee for the privilege of reading, for example, Maureen Dowd, not one of my favorites. And that apparently has not worked out very well. I guess another one of my favorites is Mr. Frank Rich. That apparently has not worked out very well. So another mistake. And Pinch Sulzberger, young Sulzberger, you know, people have been criticizing him left and right. Left and right.

HH: Now Larry Kudlow, we've got about a minute left. Let's look back at the markets this week. It was a pretty good week to be in the stock market again. Have we hit bottom and bounced on our way back up?

LK: Well, you know, that's my take, is we're building a bottom. Everybody's waiting for the Fed on Thursday to see if Ben Bernanke is going to maintain his monetary manhood. I'd like to see him be tough, raise rates fifty basis points, get it all over with. Get it all over with. He's already got the gold market on the run. The bond market is behaving well. The stock market is definitely looking for a bottom. You should see the profits estimates. They are huge. Double digits. I had a couple of kids on from the research houses. Profits are soaring. So I think people are waiting for the Fed, but my answer is yes, we are getting to a bottom here where we can start making some money, and building some new wealth.

HH: Ten seconds, Larry. Put the money in?

LK: Yes, I would definitely be a buyer. I would absolutely be a stock market buyer. Buy the broad based index funds, as usual.

HH: Larry Kudlow, always a pleasure, from Kudlow & Co. And get to Larry's blog. Don't miss it. You get what you need, and what you can afford from Larry Kudlow.

End of interview.

Return to top

Thursday, June 22

Mark Steyn on the Democrats straining to tug defeat from the jaws of victory.


HH: And to sort through it all, a special extended appearance by columnist to the world, Mark Steyn. You can read all of his work at Mark, welcome, and thanks for spending extra time with us today, because there's so much to go through.

MS: It's a pleasure. Well, I'm not sure pleasure's the word, but you're right that there's a lot to get through.

HH: Let's start with North Korea, Mark Steyn. Today in the Washington Post, former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, and an assistant secretary of defense from the Clinton era, urged that George Bush do what they did not do, which is to take out a North Korean missile on its launch pad immediately. What do you think of the suggestion? What do you think of the authors of it? And what do you think we ought to do?

MS: Well, I wish they'd felt that way a decade ago when all this was starting up, because I think the lesson of the Clinton strategy in North Korea is that if you defer foreign policy crisis, if in a sense, you just boot them down the road, they always get worse. And North Korea is the classic example of that. As to whether we should take it out on the launch pad, I've got very mixed feelings on that. That is an explicit act of war, and I think we should understand the logic of that, that if we take action, an explicit act of war against North Korea, North Korea is a country that enjoys the support of China, which is one reason why this is a bigger problem than it appears to be. But at the same time, they're not going to conduct a test of this missile. It's like if I buy a new gun for hunting season, and say I'd like to get in a bit of target practice, but I come and practice in your back yard. If my target practice is taking out your kitchen window, or your garage door or whatever, that is not a test. And North Korea firing missiles into other countries airspace is not in any sense of the word a test. And I think we're looking at a situation here now where almost all the options are bad, they're far worse than they would have been ten years ago, and that's the lesson not just for North Korea, but for Iran, too.

HH: Now if we have the ability to let them launch, I think it is different if it is actually launched, and we try and take it down, hopefully successfully with missile defense. Do you view that as a different action than striking their...then we're just testing our missile defense system, they're testing their rockets. What do you make of that?

MS: Yes, I think that is a different thing. If they fire a missile, and we take it out, that's fine. That's a relatively uncomplicated situation, and in the greater scheme of things, obviously, it's a humiliation for the North Koreans. It would be interesting (laughing) given Canada's objections under the last government to the missile defense scheme, I always think it would be interesting if the North Koreans were to aim it at say, Vancouver, and for U.S. missile defense to infringe Canadian airspace in taking it out.

HH: Part of the problem is we don't quite know if they know where they're aiming. It's sort of like the scuds that Saddam used in the first Gulf War.

MS: Yes, it is. All we have to go on is they did fire a missile over Japan a couple of years ago. I mean, that is...and they got away with it. And this of the terrible things about the world we're moving into is that it's not as if there are rival powers to America. There are no serious rivals to America. Almost all the threats that America faces are by weak powers. In the case of North Korea, this is a country where everyone's starving in it. They can't even feed their own people. But yet they've somehow managed to come up with a system where they've got enough missiles just to be able to fire them randomly at places, and see where they come down. And that's the world we're moving into, where weak powers are nevertheless able to kind of lob a missile at civilization from time to time. I mean, this is a terrible situation to have let develop.

HH: I also believe that if we were able to knock it down, that would have an amazing effect on Iran and others who think about nuclear blackmail in the future, or actually blackmail of any country in the future of any sort.

MS: Well, I think it would do good in this sense, that it would demonstrate that the American technological advantage compensates for all the countries' other disadvantages. That's to say that America's technology is so good, that it can overcome even its defeatist media, and its defeatist Congress, and this idea of a hyperpower with feet of clay. That in the end, for all those disadvantages, the American technological advantage is just so great, that it can basically watch American Idol and be absorbed in that, and then press the button, and take out the incoming missile as well. In other words, it would demonstrate that even for all its flaws, the American technological advantage is still in a sense, compenstates for all those.

HH: All right. Let's switch, then, to the low tech weapons of terror that we have discovered buried in the Iraqi desert, or at least that's what I think. Have you followed the Rick Santorum/Pete Hoekstra announcement? And what do you make of it?

MS: Well, I think it's interesting. I tend to agree with them. Obviously, they've seen the whole thing, and they wish that more was declassified. And I think one of the lessons of this is that actually, the American people and the administration would benefit from a lot more being declassified. In other words, that there's very little to lose, and a lot to gain from letting a lot more people see what's at stake. Now obviously, what's happening here is that as far as the left is concerned, as far as the Democrats are concerned, as far as the media is concerned, there's no story here. Whatever kind of WMD you find, they're always the wrong kind of WMD. You know, these ones, oh, it's old mustard gas. It doesn't matter, it's degraded, it's useless, it doesn't mean anything. 15 of these things were enough for him, Saddam Hussein, to kill large numbers of his own people a few years ago. They're now saying they've found, I think it's upwards of 500.

HH: Right.

MS: That would kill, in the...used in the right way, that would be enormously devastating to large numbers of people. Now what is at issue here is at what point does the risk become too great to tolerate? I mean, basically, the media and the Democrats are saying no matter how much he's got, no matter how much potential he had, and how much capability he had, it still doesn't justify the war. And in that case, the only 100% proof you have of his WMD program is when you switch on the TV at 8:00AM, and there's a big, smoking hole where some famous city used to be. I mean, this is simply not...that's not a level of proof that you can live with in the age we're in today.

HH: Before I go to a couple specific questions about that, you've driven around this area of the world, and I'm wondering if you've got a truck and enough gas, and you've got a couple of these binary mustard shells, or sarin gas, and we've seen Zarqawi when he was alive send bombers to Jordan. We've seen his allies in Egypt blow up the Red Sea resorts, etc. How long does it take to strap a couple of these things in a truck and start heading somewhere, at least to our allies, of Jordan or Israel, and possibly just to innocent Muslims in Egypt. And they could, I think, wreak enormous havoc.

MS: Well, yes. I think that's the issue, that if you say did just stick a couple of these in the back of the truck, and you drove through Iraq's western desert, and you get to the Jordanian border, they're not going to have...they don't have anything at that Jordanian border that could tell you had something like that on you. If they were concealed in the truck well enough, they're given a very peremptory look by Jordanian officials. So you get into Jordan. You could do enormous damage to U.S. interests in Amman with that. You could drive on a couple of hours past Amman, you can be across the Allenby Bridge, and on the edge of Jerusalem, and doing damage to Israeli targets there. So we're not talking about something that requires huge, great technical difficulty to move around. And to be honest, this whole issue has become preposterous, because basically, what we're arguing over here is at what point does Saddam, is he deemed to have got something so bad we have to go to war for it. Well, the issue here has always been the same one, that Saddam acted as if he had this stuff, and now it turns out he did have a lot of this stuff. And that should be good enough. We shouldn't even be discussing this, Hugh. It's ridiculous.

HH: I know. What upsets me, or at least aggrieves me about the Washington Post coverage today is they quote unnamed intelligence sources as saying oh, this isn't what we were looking for, and it was near the Iranian desert, and was buried. And they never even bothered to ask did Saddam, or any of his inner circle know that these WMD had been hidden? And how did we find them? Because we have to figure out are they lying around all over like in the MIG's that were buried in the desert. And I suspect that our intelligence community really doesn't want to know, Mark Steyn.

MS: No, I think this is the thing, that in fact, if you look at the performance of the intelligence agencies, with respect to Iraq, and also with respect, in fact, to this thing they've got in North Korea, they've underperformed in every case. And what's worse than that is that they've subordinated what they've found to their particular political bias on these issues. Now I think it's clear that if you drive around Iraq, it's clear that there's a million places to bury this stuff. Saddam has these vast, old, empty bases, just as sort of...they're called H-1, H-2, H-3. They're just sort of off the highway. They go on for miles. You think...there's not reason for them to be there, for anything that a country that is not got some maligned purpose....


HH: We've covered North Korea and the WMD. Let's go to the Senate debate today, where on the John Kerry, get out of there by a year resolution, only 13 Democrats voted for that. On the Carl Levin, Jack Reed of Rhode Island resolution, 39 voted for it. One Republican, Lincoln Chafee, Republican in name only, truly. Let's get some clips of the debate, and have Mark Steyn react to them. Cut number 1, Russ Feingold, earlier today, in the United States Senate:

RF: I've been a legislator for almost 25 years now, and I must say that this is one of the toughest moments of my career, to see the United States Senate not recognize that we were falsely led into a war, that we falsely led the American people into believing this had something to do with 9/11, and that many of the things that have happened simply didn't have to happen. That's water over the dam. What has happened after the mistake was made is that mistake after mistake has been compounded.

HH: Mark Steyn, this charge of falsely led is evidently going to be Russ Feingold's campaign platform.

MS: Yes, and I think that is totally unworthy of any serious country. Even...I don't believe it's true, by the way. In fact, I think when you look at what has been going on in the last three years, in fact, the left has been responsible for far more lies about Iraq than the Republican and the administration ever were, in terms of the quagmire, and all of the other ridiculous predictions, and the fact that they've insisted for three years that there's a civil war in Iraq, which there isn't. I mean, that's a far bigger lie than anything anyone ever said in March of 2003. But at the same point, let's forget about all that. Let's say he's right, and we were misled into war, and we went into war on a false pretext. What then is the best thing to do? Say oops, sorry, we shouldn't be here, wrong booking, we're meant to be here Thursday morning, and this is Tuesday. Goodbye, sorry to trouble you. You can't do that. It's ludicrous. The issue here now is American credibility. American credibility. Iraq, from an Iraqi point of view, is about Iraq. But Iraq, from an American point of view, is about the United States, and about the credibility of the United States. And to have this situation where effectively, the Democrats are straining, straining, straining to tug defeat from the jaws of victory, will be even more damaging if they succeed, even more damaging than Vietnam was.

HH: Let's take a couple of John Kerry quotes. Number two, please.

JK: The fact is, sure you can muddle along with this course. None of us have come to the floor and said the cause is lost. None of us have suggested that you just have to walk away and leave chaos. That's not what this plan does. This plan honors the investment of our troops. And in fact, what it does is provide a better way of not only empowering the Iraqis, but of empowering the United States of America to fight a more effective war on terror. Let me say it plainly. Redeploying United States troops is necessary for success in Iraq.

MS: (laughing)

HH: Mark Steyn, that's Orwellian.

MS: Yes, I love this new word. They've obviously poll tested it, and I'm glad to hear it's focus grouped well for them. Redeploy, redeploy. There's a wonderful English satirist called Craig Brown, and he does these kind of satirical conjugations. You know, I'm colorful, you're weird, he's nuts. I'm witty, you're a laugh, he makes embarrassing bottom noises with his armpit. Well, that's what the Democrats are doing. I redeploy, you withdraw, he cuts and runs. John Kerry can say he's in favor of redeploying, but you know, whether you go for the Jack Murtha plan of redeploying to Okinawa, or the John Kerry plan of redeploying to his ski lodge in Idaho, or wherever he wants to bring people home to, in the end, it's cutting and running. It's going to be presented...they're not going to be using the word redeploy on Al Jazeera. They're not going to be using the word redeploy on the BBC, or on the front page of Le Monde. They're going to see it for what it is, an American defeat.

HH: Yup.

MS: And this poll tested word is not going to survive the first report on Al Jazeera.

HH: Let's skip down to Harry Reid, now. By the way, there's an order that we're following here. We began with Russ Feingold, we'll go to John Kerry. Now it's Harry Reid, and we'll try and figure out the pattern in the next segment. Harry Reid, cut number 4:

HR: The Iraq War will soon become the longest conflict in this nation's history. Longer than World War II, a war in which we fought across Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific. My own state of Nevada, a small, sparsely populated state, has paid an enormous price in this war. We've lost 39 soldiers in Iraq, and Afghanistan, of course. Most of them in Iraq. That's 39 fathers, brothers, uncles, sons, daughters, aunts, who will never come home.

HH: Now a couple points about this, Mark Steyn. The exploitation of the dead soldiers is bad enough, but I also wonder about his dating of the longest conflict. Obviously, he does not consider the early years of World War II to have been America's war, even though it was underway. I think he's dating this war wrong, too. I think it began with the bombing of the World Trade Center, maybe with the seizure of the Iranian Embassy.

MS: Yes, I think that's true. I think clearly, he's false, just to put it in those terms, because certainly compared to the time that there was major American involvement in Vietnam, it doesn't compare. And also, I think you have to look at it in terms of what it is. It's not a war like the Second World War. That would be a much easier war to fight, if you're up against clear, major world powers, having big tank battles in fields, in particular places. This is something that's much tougher for a nation like America, because it's not my phrase, but Nile Ferguson, the British professor, history professor at Harvard, thinks that America suffers from attention deficit disorder. And you certainly get that when you listen to Harry Reid and the Democrats talk about foreign policy.

HH: Here's cut number 7, quickly. Let's sneak in Harry Reid.

HR: We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.

HH: Now Mark Steyn, that's just silly.

MS: Yes. Dissent is only as good as the particular dissent you make. If you're arguing about how to fight a war more effectively, that's one thing. What we're having here is a dispute about whether there is a war. And that's really the issue for the Democrats. You know, James Lileks wrote a marvelous column this week about the so-called Democrat platform. When you look at it, it's basically an ostrich platform. It's an entire political party sticking its head in the sand and saying there is no war, and we just want to talk about prescription drug plans for seniors until the bomb goes off.


HH: Let's proceed, Mark, to Joe Biden. Slow Joe on Hardball last night, cut number 8:

Norah O'Donnell: Do you think that that...having that debate on that is in some ways distracting from the real issue, and in fact, setting the Democrats up for the Republicans to make this argument that you guys are divided?

JB: Well, yeah it does. It does, but you can't blame John. I mean, John is frustrated as can be. A lot of people are. And John's, I guess, reached the conclusion that they're never going to get it right, so we might as well set a timetable to get out. I'm not there, but it does give the Republicans an opportunity not to speak to where they are.

HH: And then cut number nine of Biden as well:

JB: I ask the following rhetorical question. No matter what's said here today, no matter what Karl Rove does in his gameplan, no matter how many times the president tries to make this political by talking about white flags, the bottom line will be, the election is on November the 7th. On November the 6th, if the conditions on the ground are like they are now, the American public will speak with their ballot.

HH: Mark Steyn, your reaction?

MS: I don't think that's true, because essentially, there are two options in front of the American people this November. There's the Republican option, which can make criticisms of the President, and you can make criticisms of the administration. But it's basically a grown-up policy. It's saying this is the existential struggle of our times, and this is one front in it. And because it's one front in the existential struggle, we cannot afford to lose it. And then you have the Democrats, who are divided, and they're basically divided over which defeatist loser option to have, loser options that aren't in the least bit credible, like redeploying to Okinawa, which is just absurd and laughable. And in fact, I would be embarrassed and ashamed if my party's spokesman was going on TV and saying things like that. And so I think that's the thing. The Democrats are divided. They're divided between six or seven embarrassing, pathetic, infantile, grade school joke policies.

HH: And we're going to get to the bottom of the barrel now. We've been going from Feingold to Kerry to Reid to Biden. Now we hit bottom, Barbara Boxer on Fox News, cut number 11:

Bill Hemmer: Well, what kind of a message are you sending them, if you're suggesting leave before that mission's complete?

BB: Well, we're sending them the message that we stand behind them. We're sending them a message very clearly, we Democrats, that we want to give them what they need to do the job, that we want to be with them when they come home, and that we want to give them a mission that is doable and that is winnable. And you know, 99% of the Republicans said stay the course. And if you go back to a Republican president, Teddy Roosevelt, who said essentially that blind adherence to an executive by the Congress is unpatriotic. I think that's a fascinating thing. We need to stand up for our troops. We have to stand against the status quo which is not working.

HH: Now what do you think (snickering), Mark Steyn. Did that make any sense at all?

MS: That made absolutely no sense...

HH: (laughing)

MS: ...absolutely no sense at all. You know, there's 300 million people in this country, and there's only 100 Senators. And I cannot understand how Barbara Boxer, from one of the biggest population states, wound up as one of the Senators. That is simply embarrassing. It's completely incoherent. Basically, what she's saying, that the way to support the troops is to bring them home and psychologically traumatize them for the rest of their adult life by doing to them what was done to American soldiers a generation ago, and not letting them win the war.

HH: Right. And they are winning the war. It's inflicting defeat upon them. I'm just beside myself. Now look, Mark, before we move to another subject in the last segment, I want to ask you. This debate has been ongoing in the House last week, and the Senate this week. It's over, it's been repudiated. Only loopy Lincoln Chafee signed up with the Democrats today. They lost a few of the more normal ones. What's the impact on the country of these debates? Good that they occurred? And what's the impact?

MS: Well, I think on balance, it's actually good for the Republicans, because I think this is so frivolous and unworthy, that in a sense, the Democrats are getting pushed back to their hard-core, kook base. Now I don't dispute that that's actually not an insignificant number. But in the end, I think most people, enough people understand that it's not actually about Iraq. You know, I go back to when the Argentines took the Falklands, and there were people in Mrs. Thatcher's cabinet who said oh, well, they're a couple of unimiportant islands. What's the big deal? And Mrs. Thatcher understood that if you let that stand, then nobody, anywhere on the planet, would have any need to pay attention to Britain again. And that's the thing. If you lose in Iraq, nobody needs to pay attention to America ever again.

HH: Now Mark Steyn, yesterday, the president of Austria...I think it was the president of Austria, rushed to the podium after some nitwit journalist was throwing idiot questions at the President, and attempted to remind the world of what the United States does. Do debates like this help or hinder us on the world stage, with nitwit reporters and with heads of states?

MS: Well, I think they do hinder. I think the whole Democrat strategy since September 11th has been very damaging to America's reputation around the world, because basically, ever other serious alternative to America understands that this is the way you weaken America.


HH: I wanted to finish up my conversation extended with Mark Steyn, and thank you, Mark, for doing this, by talking about why the Democrats may have lost their way. And it goes back to the convention in Las Vegas, the Yearly Kos convention, to the rise of the lefty blogosphere. And today, Kos himself, or Kosputin, as I'm calling him, made war, declared war on the New Republic, of all things, mentioning the Lieberman-loving neocon owners. Can you hear them saying 'the Joooos' in the background? And what is going on with that part of the Democratic Party, and its effect on the leadership?

MS: (laughing) Well, I think if the Daily Kos guys were the insurgency in Iraq, they've now advanced as the insurgents advanced from blowing up American troops to blowing up Muslims in shopping markets and schools and so forth. And in effect, that's what Daily Kos has done. From a few strategic successes against the Republicans, and against the right wing, it's now turned on its own, and it's basically blowing up the New Republic. And I think they are, in a way, exactly like a lot of the enemies America faces on the international stage. They can be very good at just being sort of oppositional and destructive. But it's a lot harder to know what it is these people stand for. You know, I read a lot of things on the internet. When you read someone like Austin Bay, for example, this is someone who has a lot of informed commentary, and original ideas on foreign policy and military matters. There's very few equivalence to that on the Daily Kos side of things. It's pure partisan attack dog behavior, and now they've turned on their own side.

HH: Now I don't think they are in any sense unamerican. I don't think they want America to lose, or to be forced out. But their hatred of Bush, I think, has destabilized them. And going after Lieberman, and now the New Republic, suggests to me that kind of splitter, splitter, splitter mentality we saw in the Life Of Brian, where it just becomes...well, I guess sort of like the left wing movements of the anarchist era, where everyone was against everyone. Now that's a good thing for us, but I think...don't you think Democratic leaders, Mark Steyn, have to be alarmed?

MS: Oh, absolutely. And I don't actually think it is a good thing for us, because every two party system depends on two sane parties, that in the end, you do want to be able to go into the ballot box, and know that if you may check box A, but if box B happens to win, that it's not going to be the end of the world. In a lot of countries, that is what happens. The party you don't like wins the election, and you think to yourself, well, am I going to have to leave the country? Is it going to be...and the reality is, the Daily Kos and co. have done a great job of actually unhinging mainstream sections of the Democratic Party. And I think even the people who are the relatively sane members of that party fear this base in a way that no equivalent person on the Republican side is feared by anybody in Congress or the White House.

HH: Oh, I absolutely agree with that. Now I also wonder about this weird kind of strain, which reminds me of a lot of the Islamic rhetoric about Israel, where they start talking about the neocon, Lieberman-loving owners...and they were talking about Martin Peretz, obviously.

MS: Yeah.

HH: Or they're referring to...they've got, actually, very gross, anti-semitic cartoons posted at the Daily Kos, not by Kos, but they haven't been taken down, either. And do you think that that strain is virulent? Or just that he's not really smart enough to know what he's saying?

MS: Well, I think it is that very unattractive side of civilized, urbane, people, that you see routinely on European television shows, and European newspapers. You know, if you pick up a newspaper in Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, where they don't realize that the code has become so subtle, that in effect, they're taken in by it. They don't realize what it means. And to have that kind of remark about the Jewish owner, with reference to a Jewish Senator...I mean, it's pretty clear what's going on. And I don't think...the one marvelous thing, I think, about the United States is that that ugliness at the heart of political debate has generally been absent from this country in modern times, and that is very disturbingly like French politics, and German and Dutch politics, where you know, where in Dutch politics, where you have the European central banker, his wife doing oven jokes in public. I mean, I don't...I think it gets distressingly near to that kind of ugliness.

HH: Now I want to end our conversation today by ending in Europe, and your obituary from the new Atlantic Monthly, on the Swede's swingingest swinger, except I can't say his name.

MS: (laughing) Well, this is one of those things where he's a name that to anybody of a certain age...

HH: Oh, I know the movie. I just can't say...

MS: Yeah, he made a movie called I Am Curious Yellow. And it was like a landmark sex movie in the late 1960's, and he became for a while the most famous Swede on the planet, at least until ABBA came along a couple of years later. And this was really his kind of grand moment, Vilgot Sjöman. And it's very strange to me, because the idea of the Swedes, who actually are rather gloomy people, and it's a rather gloomy country, but he almost single-handedly gave them this image as the kind of great, swinging country, where it's the place to go to meet hot dolly birds, and you'd all be sitting around naked in the hot tub all day long. In fact, Sweden isn't like that at all.

HH: I made my first trip to Sweden last year, and it sure wasn't like that. But Marlon Brando, in this famous film, did it have any significance outside of the teenage boy set, Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, I think it did, because I think what he created was the idea that if you showed nudity on the screen before that, nudity was basically something you saw in these sort of health movies that they made in the 1950's. And he was the one who introduced this idea of nudity as a political act, that somehow you could make nudity into a political statement. And in fact, in San Francisco, just about ten days ago, you had all these people having their nude bicycle ride...

HH: Oh, your column was priceless.

MS: ...with anti-Bush slogans...

HH: ...on their buttocks.

MS: And no war for oil slogans. In a sense, they're the descendants of this Swedish movie.

HH: I've got to close...the last couple of lines. "By the 90's, there was no sure way to laughing stock status in Hollywood than some ill-considered erotica. Joe Eszterhas' reputation never recovered from Showgirls, and poor Sharon Stone was reduced to blaming the failure of Basic Instinct II on cowardly movie-goers, unwilling to go against the new puritanism of the Bush tyranny.

MS: Yeah, I think that's...I mean, I like Sharon Stone. I find her rather charming and sweet in some ways. But the idea that somehow Bush/Cheney killer her movie, her pathetic...what's it called? Basic...

HH: Basic Instinct II...

MS: Basic Instinct II, that the Bush administration killed it, I wish that they were that good.

HH: Mark Steyn, thank you. Great to have you., America. for the obit.

End of interview.

James Lileks on the Kos meltdown, the Senate Democrat meltdown, and his wish the Senate would redeploy to Okinawa.


HH: It's great to be with you, as it is to have James Lileks as my guest. Lileks of fame. You can also read his work at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where he's been a columnist for a couple of decades, and Newhouse News Service carries his column. James, how are you?

JL: I'm just dandy, Hugh, thanks. Yourself?

HH: Now I've got to ask you, how long you been blogging?

JL: Since 1997, actually. The website went up in '96, and I've been doing the daily thing since '97, which puts me about three generations of the internet back.

HH: And I know in dog years, you're like 100.

JL: Yes.

HH: I wanted to bring that up, because you've watched it without really axe to grind. You welcome talent, left, right and center. I believe that's a fair statement.

JL: Yeah.

HH: All right. Now in the last couple of days, Daily Kos has been involved in one of the more magnificent meltdowns I have ever seen on the web, and it culminated today in Kos announcing basically a shunning of the New Republic.

JL: He's going to sue those Jew-controlled maniacs.

HH: (laughing) That's what it...what did you make of that post today, and what do you make of Kos?

JL: I don't make very much of him at all. I have no idea what he stands for, except for undisciplined, omni-directional rage. There doesn't seem to be any platform there. There doesn't seem to be any desire to do anything except to win. And that's fine. You need people like that on your side, if that's your side. But what I've found about the site so unpalatable is the sort of rhetoric he used. Can't write one or two graphs without slipping into gutter language. And look, I like a nice sailor's oath as much as the next guy. And every once in a while, once or twice a year, I'll judiciously sprinkle the blog with a good curse. But the constant level of it, it's infantile, and it just makes you think that they're motivated more by some chronic, institutional dyspepsia than anything else. It's not a pleasant place to be. It's like sticking your head in a popcorn popper. After a while, the noise is just deafening, and that's all it is.

HH: I wouldn't know. Have you ever tried that?

JL: No, but actually, I'm now keen to give it a try to see if my metaphor works out.

HH: Well, I am also a little bit alarmed by...last week at Kos, someone published a post...I don't know who it is, and they included just basically anti-semitic cartoons, which would never...

JL: That was Grand Moff Texan.

HH: Yes, that man. And they never took them down. Kos allowed them to go on. Now there's something to be said for free speech, but there's also a branding that happens. And then when you add to that branding his assault today, saying that the folks at the New Republic are Lieberman-loving...

JL: Yeah.

HH: ...neocons, which is not really, very hard to read code.

JL: No. When it comes to the people who contribute things to a site, I'm willing to give a site a little bit more latitude and some slack when it comes to people other than the actual site administrator, or their little tight stable of writers doing something, because I go to some sites where you drift down into the comment section, and it's just bile and drivel.

HH: Right.

JL: And so sometimes, if something like that is put by somebody who is not necessarily a part of the organization, and it doesn't come down right away, it's indicative that he feels free to post it there, but I'm not going to hang that around his neck, especially when the screw them comment is the big flaming albatross that should be around his neck every time he goes on television. But when it comes to the Lieberman comment, I just thought that was peculiar, because again, to single out Liberman, who's now, apparently, to be shunned and to be driven out into the field and stoned with rocks, simply because he hasn't toed the Gore/Kos line. Look, Peter Beinart, who is the editor of the New Republic, is not exactly somebody I would call as moving right step in the facist Rove regime, would you?

HH: Well, he's trying to rehabilitate himself. He's sort of like...

JL: He now says that he was wrong to have supported the war. So you'd think that would buy him some good graces, but it doesn't. You've got to be ideologically pure, and if you're not, you're going to get shunned, and you're going to get 'tude, and you're going to get all sorts of...well, rhetoric that if it were printed on the comics page, it would have to use the sort of shift numbers characters, if you know what I mean.

HH: But how can they sue anyone? I mean, that's just silly. They're becoming a caricature. That's why I'm calling him Kosputin today, because it's just not, it's not serious dialect. And I think maybe it went to their head.

JL: Well, if you're going to name him after Rasputin, that means when he does go down in flames, eventually, it will take about 17 attempts.

HH: But we're not talking physical attempts. We're talking about...

JL: Oh, Heaven's no. No, no, no.

HH: I don't want that to show up on some nutbag website saying we're threating Kos with Rasputin's end.

JL: That's right. Jim Lycas on the Hugh Hewitt shock jock show advocated stabbing, poisoning, shooting Kos, and then eventually drowning him under the ice of the...

HH: And you know that that's what would have happened.

JL: Yeah.

HH: Yeah. Okay. Now let's switch over to the Senate, which is only slightly less insane today than the Daily Kos people. Did you follow the debate among the Democratic Senators?

JL: Yeah, I've been following some of it, and frankly, at this point, I wish that the Senate would take Murtha's advice, and relocate to Okinawa.

HH: (laughing) Okay.

JL: They could respond to anything that came up from there, they'd be right over the horizon, but frankly, cut and stroll is still cut and leave. And cut and leave is what it's all about. I mean, can you imagine the effect that it would have on the Iraqi people? If instead of debating how soon we're going to get out, please, please, please, please how soon can we get out...if we were debating 51st statehood for Iraq, that would be an indication that perhaps we were in this for a bit of the long haul, as opposed to saying that we'd like to leave as soon as possible, please and thank you.

HH: It's surreal, because the Rumsfeld press conference concluded an hour ago, had like a thousand questions on when are we drawing down the troops, when are we drawing down the troops. It is...they're grinding an axe for the purpose of setting up November. But I happen to think, James Lileks, that they're going to get killed in November now.

JL: I'm starting to think that, too, because they've misplayed this one again. And the people who say that the Republicans are just playing politics with this, well, you know, duh. Yeah. But it is possible, even in the 21st Century, for people to be able to marry politics with what they believe is the right thing to do for the country, and that's exactly what's going on here. You know, as much as they'd love to speak of Vietnam, and drudge up that chapter in American history, there is one part of the whole Vietnam experience they seem to forget, and was brought home to me today when I was picking up my child at a high school where she had a class. There in the stairwell was a painting that had been done by one of the students. And it was a picture of Vietnam. And it was a young girl's face with a tear coming from it, and beneath it was a family standing, and are both waiving.

HH: Oh.

JL: And I wonder how many people actually thunder down those stairs every day and realize that what they're looking at is the consequence of America abandoning Vietnam to the communists who took over.

HH: Zero. I knew the answer to that.

JL: And whether or not it occurs to them perhaps that this is something the country doesn't want to repeat...

HH: No.

JL: ...for the humanitarian reason, or for the what this will do to America on the world stage...

HH: They don't think that. Not a chance.

JL: But you tell me exactly why it is that America would be applauded by the world stage, and get all the diplomats back on their side if we abandoned Iraq.

HH: I know. It doesn't make any sense. But that's unfortunately...listen, 30 seconds left. Mark Steyn last hour referenced some column you wrote on the Democratic platform. Where is that?

JL: That should be at the Screedblog. I sent you a link. You're as bad as me when it comes to reading e-mail.

HH: Oh, doggone it. Okay, I'll go to, click on the Screedblog, the man with the pipe and the couch, and you can read what Steyn was talking about. I will as well. James Lileks, thank you.

End of interview.

Austin Bay on the WMD in Iraq.

HH: I'm joined by Austin Bay. Col. Austin Bay, retired from the United States Army. He's been following the WMD story about which I interviewed Rick Santorum last hour. Col. Bay, welcome back. Good to have you as always.

AB: Thank you, Hugh.

HH: I want to brief you very quickly. I spoke to Rick Santorum at some length in the last hour, and it is clear to me that what he cannot say leads us to believe that many different caches of weapons have been found. They are all pre-'91, and that there is a concern, and perhaps we have had the news managed here, because insurgents in al Qaeda were looking for the same thing. Does that jive with what you think is going on here?

AB: It could jive with it. First of all, Hugh, I would encourage Senator Santorum to put as much of this evidence as he possibly can up on the web for us to see it. His claims need support. And the support means that given the late date here on the findings of weapons of mass destruction, that that evidence needs to be made available to the public. I understand the concern that there could be other small caches like this scattered around Iraq. Of course that would be a terribly potent weapon, even in a degraded state if it were used by the...or if it was found and used by radical Islamists, or Sunni insurgents in Iraq. That said, I suspect that we have seen traces of some of this weaponry being found over the last two years. I recall a post that was on Strategy Page, and of course, I'm not some place where I can get to the web to point it out. But had a post, I want to say, 8 or 9 months ago, about a find of a handful of chemical artillery shells. So this may be part of what Santorum is talking about.

HH: Now what's interesting, Austin Bay, and you'll understand this having worked with classified material, is Senator Santorum said what they had successfully obtained was a classified summary of a more classified, more highly classified report, and that the classified summary was now available in the reading room that is secure in the Congress for any member of the United States Senate to go and read. Given that he probably cannot publish that document, isn't it incumbent upon 99 other United States Senators to get their rear ends up there, look at it, and comment on that document?

AB: Well, Hugh, of course I agree with that, and you have to respect the boxes within boxes. That can be an excuse, but if you understand the way certain types of information can lead an astute intelligence officer to understand sources and...not just sources, or the likelihood of other information, you have to respect the security classifications. That said, he's had a public press conference, the announcement's been made, and at some point, some of this evidence needs to be shown, because of the public impact, media impact, and political impact.

HH: I agree with that, and I hope that the administration takes note of this, and then goes about declassifying at least the summary. But in the meantime, I think we could get a good sense of the reliability of this, if for example, Dick Durbin or Harry Reid or one of the Democrats went up there...or Jay Rockefeller, read what Santorum and Hoekstra have read, and then comment on it, because it seems to me that this is a vitally important piece of information, would you agree?

AB: Well, Hugh, in the political context, you're calling them out. And there's no question that if that material is there, and it's available, it needs to be considered by all leaders in the Senate, and not just Rick Santorum. And I believe that Representative Pete Hoekstra was also involved in the press conference as well.

HH: Yes.

AB: Well, of course that needs to be done. I want to make one other point out of this. I realize we just have a few minutes here. This extraordinary claim, if properly vetted, if proper evidence proves out, puts at risk the categorical statements that Iraq did not have WMD. That said, I still think that Saddam had intent, and it's intent that convicts a dictator like Saddam. He intended to reconstitute programs once the sanctions were lifted, and anybody who doesn't agree with that is off with Michael Moore or George Galloway.

HH: I agree with that, and there's also a couple of questions which Santorum would not get into, and we were doing the delicate dance of the not declassified, which is were the weapons that have been discovered, these 500 weapons and a serial number of caches, did they evidence the secrecy which one would attribute to a desire to hide them from inspectors, or knowledge of an invasion coming. And he really did a dance on that. And obviously, there are ways to tell whether or not this was part of the grand plan, and we really need to know that, Col. Bay. Did this reach your ears when you were on active duty in Iraq?

AB: Well, again, as I think back...but then, Hugh, I'm not in a position to support this. This is just on memory. I recall, I believe it was the Danes who found two or three weapons that had indications of mustard...and I want to say that was in 2004. And then again, I remember the report, again of scattered weapons. Now based on what I have heard so far, by the impression to me, is that these are scattered weapons...again, Hugh, you talked to Santorum and I did not hear that conversation, but scattered weapons that could have been missed by an attempt to destroy weapons of mass destruction pursuant to U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, and the other sanctions and requirements that were laid on Saddam. Again, that said, and again, if it proves out, this is a clear violation of those. But my point has been from the get go, you have to judge Saddam by his intent. And this may move some people if it turns out to be it's a technical violation.

HH: Col., I appreciate the time.

End of interview.

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Wednesday, June 21

Senator Rick Santorum announces WMD HAS been found in Iraq.

Feel free to use audio and transcript, but you must credit


HH: Joined now by United States Senator Rick Santorum from the great state of Pennsylvania. Senator, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

RS: Hugh, it is great to be with you again. Thank you, pal.

HH: Well, you've made some news today, and I'd like to explore with you what exactly was being said, because we can't find the tape. Evidently, you've got some declassified information detailing 500 different shells containing prohibited weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But let me ask you, what did you announce today?

RS: What we announced was that after two and a half months of being aware of this document, we were able to get a copy of the document, and convince the intelligence community to give us a declassified version of the document. It is a very short synopsis, and I would argue incomplete synopsis, but nevertheless, it's vitally important, because what it does say, and I'll quote from it, "since 2003," so since the Iraq War, "coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain mustard or sarin nerve agent."

HH: Who is the document from, Senator Santorum, and to whom was it addressed?

RS: It's from the National Ground Intelligence Center, which is a division of the United States Pentagon. I think it's the Army.

HH: Okay. And to whom was it addressed?

RS: Well, it's a classified report. It's just a report that they published. It's not addressed to anybody. It's a report which is a survey of ongoing recovery of chemical munitions. And what they go on to say is, and I'll quote again from the summary, not the classified report, "despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq's pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist beyond the 500 that they have recovered."

HH: Now of these 500 shells that they have recovered, Senator Santorum, does the document, the unclassified version, tell you in how many batches they were discovered? Was it one? Was it 50 of 100, or one of 500?

RS: You know, I can't talk about what additionally it tells you. All I can tell you is there have been published reports on blog sites about this report...and the published reports say that 75% of these 500 or so weapons were in fact filled and usable, and very dangerous for the...if got to improper hands.

HH: Senator Santorum, can you tell us the name of the blog on which that report was featured?

RS: I will get it to you. How's that? I don't have it in front of me.

HH: That's fine. Again, putting away the classified stuff, focusing on the unclassified and published reports, is it your impression, Senator Santorum, that there have been a number of such discoveries?

RS: It is my impression that there have been a number of such discoveries. It's my impression that this is a very dangerous situation in Iraq, with the number of chemical weapons still believed to exist out there, and the threat that they might in fact get into the wrong hands. So Saddam, it is clear, from this report, had lots of chemical weapons around, and that people got their hands on them. So this is exactly what we were concerned about, that Saddam in fact had large stockpiles of chemical weapons, and would in fact...those chemical weapons could in fact get into the hands of people who would like to do harm to America.

HH: Now Senator, is it your impression that the classified nature of this material is in place in order to protect the information that might assist insurgents from finding additional stockpiles? Is that...

RS: There's certainly...that is clearly an element, and there are certainly parts of this report that were not released that should not be released. And that would certainly be one element of it. But there are other elements that I think can be released that could shed more light as to the volume of the problem that we're confronting, or that we confronted in the sense that how many chemical weapons did Saddam Hussein have prior to the Gulf War, the second Gulf War.

HH: Now you were joined by Congressman Hoekstra, who's the chair of the permanent intelligence committee in the House...

RS: Right.

HH: ...and you're the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. Is there any doubt in your mind that a fair-minded observer of the material you've had a right to see would conclude there is a serious threat of additional WMD as yet unsecured in Iraq?

RS: I think most people would look at this as a serious threat, and most people would look at this as saying that anybody who would claim that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction prior to the second Gulf War would not be taking a fair look at this situation as it is.

HH: Have you approached any of your colleagues from the other side of the aisle, Senator Rockefeller comes to mind, and ask them in the interest of national security to confirm your assessment?

RS: In fact, I just left the floor of the United States Senate, and asked each one of my colleagues to go up and look at it. This is a secret document. This is not a top secret document. This is a document that every member of the United States Senate has access to. And if they want to go upstairs in the Capitol building to look at this document, they can do so tonight.

HH: And did you get any response as you exited the floor? Were there other Senators about?

RS: Well, Senator Boxer was the next speaker, and she didn't comment at all on what I said. She moved on to another subject.

HH: Now the media thus far, I've seen it reported on Fox News, the website has got a number of threads running on it, but there is nothing about your announcement in the Washington Post or the New York Times as of three minutes ago. Are you surprised?

RS: Unfortunately not. When we called the press...I will admit, we had hoped to get this document released to us earlier in the day, but we did not get it released to us until 4:30. There was a brief on it until 5:15. We had a press conference at 5:30, which as you know, is not prime time to have press conferences. But since the document was now available, declassified and available to all members, and was faxed around to several other members' offices, we thought it was important to characterize and put this in context. So we hastily called a press conference, of which...normally, I would think if you're announcing the finding of weapons of mass destruction, you'd get more than four or five reporters, but that's all we could seem to drum up.

HH: When you said you had a brief on it, who conducted the briefing?

RS: The intelligence community did a brief for Congressman Hoekstra in the Intelligence Committee over in the House.

HH: And did any United States Senator, other than yourself, attend that? Or did you...

RS: I'm not on the committee, so I could not attend the briefing.

HH: And so, why did Pete Hoekstra call you? Because of your long-standing interest in this?

RS: Actually, I went to Pete Hoekstra. I found about this from a tip, wrote two letters, one to the head of the Ground Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Center, and one to Director Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence, asking for the report. It got nowhere until I called Pete two weeks ago and said Pete, have you heard of this report? He had not heard of the report. He was not aware of it. And he didn't know of its existence, took him a few days, but he was able to find out it existed, and then got a copy, and the rest is history.


HH: Senator, of those 500 different shells, located in numerous place across Iraq, post-invasion, have any analysis been done as to whether or not any of them were manufactured after the Gulf War?

RS: The ones that are identified in the declassified information, are identified as pre-1991 munitions. Again, a lot of the discussion...there's going to be discussion of well, we haven't found any post-1991 munitions. And again, what I think the Duellfer report was pretty clear about was that he had weapons programs in place, but that the sanctions were in fact effective in stopping him from producing more. But again, you can think about it this way. If you have X number, and let's just use number X for now. But if you have X numbers, and large amounts of weapons, why would you risk violating sanctions in trying to produce these things, when you have a program in place that once sanctions are lifted, you could produce very quickly, as well as you had stockpiles that you wouldn't have to produce if you needed to use them.

HH: There was also in a previous announcement of a small seizure of WMD, they were sarin shells, I believe, not long after the war. But it was about a dozen, maybe two dozen. The explanation was that they had just simply been misplaced, and overlooked in the effort to destroy the pre-existing, pre-Gulf War stockpiles. Is there information in these documents that indicate that there was an intentional effort on the part of Saddam's government to secret these weapons?

RS: I'm not...first of all, I think the answer to that is no, as far as if you're saying was there an effort, do we know from this document whether there was an effor for Saddam to actually proliferate these weapons? No, I can't recall anything in the report that says anything...

HH: No, what I'm looking for is more he knew he had them, and he was trying to hide them as opposed to he'd forgotten where he put them.

RS: Oh, I'm sorry. Secret them. I thought you meant secrete, as in get them out.

HH: No, no, no.

RS: Well, there is additional information that I think the public should be made aware of that could answer that question.

HH: Very interestingly put, but you can't answer that based on what was declassified, and what was not?

RS: That's right.

HH: All right. Let me ask you then about the Christopher Hitchens remark earlier on this show. If nothing else, this demonstrates conclusively that the weapons inspectors would not have found these weapons. Can you concur with that?

RS: I would say that there's certainly a lot of the weapons...from what we...we know the nature of this, which is an ongoing process of trying to track and find these weapons, that this is now reported some three years afterwards, and they're continuing to find these weapons. That to me tells you that...and we control the entire countryside and have free access everywhere. So that'll give you an idea of how difficult this has been.

HH: Is it your impression, Senator Santorum, that we're receiving an increasing amount of assistance from Iraqi nationals in this WMD hunt?

RS: I don't know the answer to that. We are certainly receiving a lot of help, additional help, based on...and this is why these two Senate votes that we're going to be taking tomorrow are so important. We need to show the Iraqi people we are not going anywhere, that we're going to stay there, that they can trust us, that we're not going to be leaving in two or three years, then they're going to have to face all these people that they were able to provide information on, or that they're not going to have to pay consequences of cooperating with their government and with the United States, and with the coalition forces. That is vitally important, and that is now...with the government being established, our track record, and the President's clarity, we are starting to see a lot more cooperation, and I'm hopeful that that will lead to more cooperation with respect to the recovery of other weapons of mass destruction.

HH: Last question, Senator Rick Santorum. From the information that you have seen that you can discuss, as well as other published reports, are you concerned that al Qaeda has in fact obtained any of these pre-'91 weapons?

RS: Well, the report says that it has been reported in open press that I'm quoting, that Iraqi insurgents and Iraqi groups desire to acquire and use chemical weapons. So it is known that they are trying to. We have recovered some 500. We are still looking for, and that's, I think that's a fair analysis of the public statement. And so, this may be overhyping it, who finds them first?

HH: Do you believe...but is there any report that they have already obtained them?

RS: We have...I have no information about that.

HH: Senator Rick Santorum, thanks for spending time with us on a busy afternoon. More details at I appreciate it, Senator.

End of interview.

Christopher Hitchens gives color commentary to the Democratic response to policy in Iraq and North Korea.


HH: There is a debate underway in the United States Senate this day, and joining me to discuss that debate, Christopher Hitchens, contributor columnist to Slate, as well as to Vanity Fair, and many other places that you can read his work. Christopher Hitchens, have you been following the debate in the Senate?

CH: No.

HH: Well, I'm going to make you do it. I hate to inflict this on you, but...

CH: I mean, I do follow the debates, but I haven't today been doing so.

HH: Well, I've got lots of tape of Hillary, and Christopher Dodd, and Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden. And I thought it would be useful to our audience if you could respond in real time to the various assertions made by these Senators. And I'd like to start with Senator Clinton. Cut number 8, please:

HRC: Let's be clear about what this debate is about. My friends on the other side of the aisle believe that the status quo is working in Iraq. They do not believe we need a fundamental change in policy. They choose to continue blindly following the president. We Democrats disagree. We believe we need a new direction in Iraq that will increase the chances for success on the ground. Now I may disagree with those who call for a date certain, for a withdrawal, but I do not doubt their patriotism. I may disagree with those who believe in an unconditional commitment without end, but I do not doubt their patriotism, either. Sadly, however, there are those who do doubt the patriotism of many who raise serious questions about this war.

HH: Christopher Hitchens, are you aware of such people?

CH: Yes, Mrs. Clinton, had she been in Las Vegas for the Kos conference, could have met them for herself. They're a very large force in her own party. These are people who think George Bush blew up the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon, openly say so, and circulate books and videos to that effect, and hold conferences to try and prove it, people who compare the Zarqawi gangsters in Iraq to the American founding fathers and the Minutemen, and who, well, shall I need say more?

HH: No, but she has...

CH: I guess it isn't a question of patriotism. It's the mildest way of putting it. These people are soft on facism. Let's be clear.

HH: Cut number 9.

HRC: They may not have a war strategy, but they do have an election strategy. This is the road they took America down in 2002. It was a dead-end for our country then, and it's a dead-end now.

HH: Christopher Hitchens, she appears to be setting up a political argument over the war for the Summer, and accusing the Republicans of doing the same thing. It seems to me that both of them want to argue, Republicans and Democrats, the war as the central issue in this election. I think that's the way it should be.

CH: I couldn't agree more, but she's warming up, though. I mean, when she said earlier she wants a victory strategy and so on, I remember John Kerry saying that when he ran. I would loved her to take just a moment, just one moment to say what she thinks it ought to be.

HH: Well, we did not get that today, but...

CH: I bet she didn't get that far. But there was a guy at the White House. I've forgotten his name. Was it Card? One of them. I'm sorry. It's elapsed in my memory. But I remember wincing at the time, who did make a speech that strongly suggested that the timing of the war, not of the war itself, but of the actual go order, it was politically determined, and I forget whether he was fired or not, but he certainly should have been.

HH: It was Andrew Card, and it came back in saying you don't roll out a new strategy in August.

CH: Yes, it was unbelievable. It was the worst ward-heeling rubbish. I mean, the fact about the confrontation with Saddam Hussein was not that it was brought on too soon, but that it was postponed for too long. Everybody knows that who studied the subject.

HH: Right.

CH: There was never going to be a perfect time to do it, and it was always going to be an intervention in a very, very badly disordered country. But it would be nice, in other words, if there was nothing to it, but I have to say, and I'm sure there are people in the Republican Party who are capable of thinking like that. They've said they're all got rid of.

HH: Cut number 10 from Hillary.

HRC: The Bush administration misused the authority granted to it, choosing to act without allowing the inspectors to finish the job in order to rush to war, without a plan for securing the country, without an understanding of the insurgency, or the true human, financial and strategic costs of this war, all the while viewing the dangerous and unstable conditions in Iraq through rose-colored glasses, and the prism of electoral politics here at home. It is time to put policy ahead of politics, and success ahead of the status quo. It is time for a new strategy to produce what we need, a stable Iraq government that takes over for its own people so our troops can finish their job.

HH: Christopher Hitchens, does the declaration of a need for a new strategy actually amount to a new strategy?

CH: Well, she must hope that one substitutes for the other, and my God, even though I am on the air live, I almost fell asleep listening to that robotic delivery. The thing about that last one is there's a half-truth in it. No one would deny that we underestimated the possibility of a counter-stroke from the al Qaeda and Baathist forces of an insurgent kind. But where in the world have we not underestimated these people? There's no reason not to fight them once we've met with them. What was the other thing she said? Oh, the inspectors. Look, this...I mean, I don't know. Some staffer probably shoved that in, judging by the way she read it out. I can go on the record and tell you that the head of UNSCOM, the first inspector, the really successful one after 1991 in Iraq, Ambassador Rolf Ekeus of Sweden, a very distinguished Swedish socialist and diplomat, told me that he'd been offered by Tariq Aziz in person, to his face, a bribe of a million and a half dollars to change his inspection report. That was going on throughout the entire process. Rolf wouldn't, of course, agree to take it, but if they were asking him, it means they were asking everybody. I'll say no more. The whole process was completely ridiculous. The inspectors were not being allowed to inspect. It wasn't Bush who was stopping them, it was the ministry of deception run by Saddam and his sons, as we know. I'll tell you why we know it, by the way, if you like.

HH: Please.

CH: Apart from the, I think, quite good inductive evidence of the offer of a bribe to the head of the inspections by the foreign minister of Iraq in his office, well, a very important document was discovered after the war, and it's on a CD-Rom, and you can get ahold of it. It's the record of an Iraqi government meeting with a North Korean delegation in March, 2003, right? It was at the very last minute, meeting Kim Jung Il's people in Damascus to discuss buying long-range missiles from them. Does that remind you of anything you've heard recently?

HH: Right.

CH: Do you think Hans Blix would ever have found that disc?

HH: No.

CH: No. He wasn't even looking for it. Do you think he'd have found the nuclear centrifuge buried in Saddam's chief scientist's garden? No, of course he wouldn't.

HH: The same time he would have found the MIG's in the desert.

CH: No, of course not. Probably, even if he'd been looking, which in my opinion, he was not, he would have had no chance to find any of that stuff, and they knew it. That was a farce, and really, it's a disgrace that a senior Senator from New

HH: She's the junior.

CH: Senior politician, senior political figure, and Democrat of New York could lend herself to such a ridiculous mantra.

HH: Let's move from New York to Connecticut. Christopher Dodd, also a likely candidate for the presidency. Cut number 14.

CD: And I would plead with my colleagues over the remaining hours of this debate to try and stay away from the personal attacks, and this mindless labeling of words that somehow may impassion our constituencies, but do little to contribute to the important subject before us. The Senator from Oregon elegantly described the loss of Thomas Tucker and of Kristian Menchaca from Houston, Texas, the insane and hideous loss of life, and how it occurred. These young men and the 2,500 others who have lost their lives, along with the 18,000 who have been permanently injured, deserve better than some of the rhetoric and some of the discussion I've heard over the last number of days in talking about this issue.

HH: Christopher Hitchens, when I hear this, there are a number of comments that come to mind. But the first is that also deserving better are the four contractors murdered in Fallujah, who Daily Kos denounced as mercenaries, and said screw them, all of whom had served as Rangers or SEALs, none of which has ever been rebuked by a senior Democratic official to Kos, or any of his like-minded. And I think what Dodd was doing today was simply exploiting the death of these two American soldiers this week.

CH: Well, he was also trying to split a difference. I mean, it always sounds good if you say let's keep the rhetoric down, let's avoid personal attacks. Everyone, it would seem to me, thinks well, that sounds all right. But here is a senior Democrat who has the opportunity to rebuke those in his party who repeatedly called the president a Nazi, and portray him wearing a swastika, who, like Representative Murtha, who said yesterday about Karl Rove, has no right to comment on Iraq, because he sits in the White House in an air conditioned office. Well, if Congressman Murtha is so dumb as to think that working in the White House prohibits you from having an opinion about a war in Mesopotamia, I don't know why they want the White House back. They'd have to shut up about it, too, wouldn't they.

HH: Yes.

CH: Of course, he doesn't mean that. He hasn't thought of the implications of what he says, but these are the kinds of statements, and the earlier ones that I mentioned, from major MoveOn and Kos fundraisers that are pro-insurgent, hostile to democracy, fantastically vilifying of members of the administration. If we want to keep the temperature down, and by the way, I don't.

HH: I know, you kind of get one of the gold medals for personal attacks.

CH: I mean, no, I'm all for raising...I think politics is division by definition. When people say it's the politics of division, I say that's what politics is. Let's have it.

HH: Exactly.

CH: But if they mean what they say, then it's very easy for them to prove it, and they don't. They're dishonest.


HH: Christopher Hitchens, there is breaking news this afternoon from a press conference in part held by Rick Santorum on WMD in Iraq. I want to play two clips from that and get your comments. Pete Hoekstra is also with him from the House Intelligence Committee. Clip number one:

RS: Congressman Hoekstra and I are here today to say that we have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Chemical weapons. It's a document that was developed by our intelligence community, which for the last two and a half months, I have been pursuing, and thanks to the help of the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was ultimately, he was able to get it in his hands, and I was able to look at.

PH: This says weapons have been discovered, more weapons exist, and they state that Iraq was not a WMD-free zone, that there are continuing threats from the materials that are, or may still be in Iraq.

HH: Now we obviously, Christopher Hitchens, don't have all the details at this point, but they're making claims that a significant amount of sarin gas was discovered. And do you think the American media will recognize these claims and investigate them fully?

CH: I think there's a chance of it, because people may be...simply because I know my profession very well, and people may just want, like the chance to write a different story after this boring, stupid, repeated claim that there were no WMD, rather than we did not find the ones that the Iraqis used to have, that declared they had got, which is the real story, well, is the real truth of the matter. You may well know, and some of your listeners may know that an enormous trove of captured documents from the Iraqi regime is being housed in Qatar, the same country that hosts Central Command, and taking a long time to translate, and I have to say also being obstructed in its translation and release and declassification by forces in the CIA and others who don't want to admit that they were wrong all along, and that they knew nothing about what was going on in Iraq. There's been a big political battle about this. I've been writing for some time saying that as to connections between Iraq and al Qaeda, and concealment of weaponry, it's absurd to have rushed to judgment in the way we did, when we have an enormous amount of work still to go. And I wouldn't be surprised if this was one of the first fruits. I obviously don't know precisely what they mean, and I haven't seen the document, but it wouldn't surprise me, and I'll be interested to see not whether people cover it, but how many people will be willing to revisit their previous convictions.

HH: Yeah, the details thus far are that 500 shells, chemical munitions, including sarin and one other sort of gas, mustard gas. But we'll come back to that. Now...

CH: Well, that would be an extraordinarly large material breach of all the U.N. resolutions, but what one has to understand is that Iraq was already, under Saddam Hussein, in breach of all those resolutions, and never came into compliance with them, and that's what's overlooked when people happily chant no WMD or Bush lied, or whatever.

HH: Yeah. Now Ted Kennedy, in the dock in the Senate today. Cut number 15:

TK: Both amendments make clear that Democrats are united in our belief that it's time to shift to the Iraqis the responsibility for their own future, and to begin to withdraw our troops from Iraq. It's wrong for the Republican-controlled Congress to be a rubber stamp for the President's failed policy. We cannot ignore our responsibility to our men and women in uniform. America was wrong to go to war in Iraq, in the way we did, when we did, and for the false reasons we were given. There was no immediate threat. There was no persuasive link to al Qaeda. Saddam Hussein was not close to acquiring a nuclear weapon. But as my brother, Robert Kennedy, said in 1968, past error is no excuse for its own perpetuation.

HH: Now Christopher Hitchens, obviously...

CH: (laughing) I love the last bit. No, if that was true, the Kennedy family would be politically, completely out of business.

HH: (laughing)

CH: It's nice of him to say.

HH: I knew that was a softball, but I wanted to know if you would swing and miss.

CH: No, I know. I can't. What are you going to do? I mean, long may they thrive.

HH: (laughing)

CH: Where would we be without that stuff? Well, look. Mr. Zarqawi, who went to all the trouble to name his organization al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, spelling it out so even people like Ted Kennedy could dimly follow it. We know, from Jordanian intelligence who told the Iraqis, because they were looking for him, the Jordanians were, that this man was in Iraq at least a year before we were, and no one got in and out of Iraq without Saddam knowing, not at that level, at any rate, and as I can absolutely assure you. So there's that, then there's...let's leave it to the Iraqis. Doesn't that sound good? Don't I agree? Yes.

HH: But when Robert Kaplan writes, Christopher Hitchens, the author of Imperial Grunts, I think the guy who has spent more time on the front line with American troops, it was a Stalinist regime, actively preparing to reinvigorate any chemical and biological and nuclear program that they could reinvigorate as soon as sanctions were off. They were corrupting the world with U.N. Oil For Food for terrorist dollars, and they were shooting at American planes, and as you noted, in violation of every U.N. resolution that had ever been passed. This is all down the memory hole now, or if there is a memory in Ted Kennedy...

CH: Not while I'm alive, it's not. And if you want to say imminent threat, in other words, Iraq launching an attack on the United States in ten seconds, or whatever it might, I'm sort of sympathetic to saying that was overstatement, and I've often criticized both the president and Prime Minister Blair for trying to scare people when they tried to educate them about Iraq. But to say that Iraq was a permanent threat, to its own people, to its neighbors, to the region, and by its contacts with terrorists and its suppression of the evidence about weapons, or its rather concealment of its possession of weapons of mass destruction, both of which we can now, I think confidently say it was guilty of, I think permanent threat is pretty good, and overdue to be tackled. That's the point one has to keep one's eye on.

HH: Now let's talk about a different permanent threat, Joe Biden...

CH: The same...I think you'll find that Senator Kennedy voted himself in 1998, when...I know you'll find, that when George Bush was Governor of Texas only, Senator Kennedy undoubtedly voted for the Iraq Liberation Act, which stated that it should be the policy of the United States to remove the government of Saddam Hussein, because already by then, it was an insult.

HH: Now Christopher Hitchens, I want to keep you again, if I can impose on you. But I've got it like a British thing to always head fake the host into starting a question by a longer pause? Is that just what you folks do? (laughing)

CH: Tend to, yes.

HH: (laughing) Yes, like every single week.

CH: I was hoping you wouldn't notice.

HH: No, chew on this one into the break. Cut number 20, Joe Biden:

JB: I would use this opportunity to unite Japan, South Korea and China, quite frankly, to get tougher with North Korea with regard to sanctions. And it's had that effect so far. And now we'll...who will know...we'll know shortly whether they're going to launch it or not. And I'm not sure I would try to shoot it down, because you know, big nations can't bluff, and I'm not sure that the military is ready to try a system that is pretty...has a missile defense system that still has some real bugs in it. I'm not sure that I would take a shot on that. And if we were to miss, it would only embolden. So I think the President has some very difficult decisions to make.

HH: Does that make sense to you, Christopher Hitchens? 20 seconds to the break.

CH: The last bit does, yes. But the first bit, saying Japan, China and South Korea should unite, the Chinese have the power to stop the North Koreans doing this, and they don't. And it's irrational of them, because if this goes on, the Japanese are going to go nuclear. Everybody knows it. The Chinese can't want this, but it appears that they care more about inconveniencing the United States than they do about increasing the threat to themselves.


HH: Joe Biden rambled on in the Senate. Cut number 21:

JB: South Korea, Japan, they've urged us all along to talk with North Korea. Three years ago, Senators Lugar, Republican, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee now, myself and some others, have argued that we shouldn't be afraid to talk with the North Koreans. You don't have to negotiate, talk. And we should be able to sit down with them, lay out what the conditions are for them to be brought into the family of nations, and what it is that will be the consequences if they don't. I don't think we should fail to talk to the North Koreans. Now at this very moment, to go ahead and talk with them, and it looks like we're responding directly to the brinksmanship, I'm...that creates another dilemma. But I think we should have been talking to them before. A lot of my Republican friends do as well. The six party talks were...look, the bottom line here, Bill, is that what the North Koreans at a minimum are looking for is committment not to engage in regime change in return for a verifiable agreement that they won't use or develop nuclear weapons. I'm not sure we could get such an agreement, but everybody knows that if you get an agreement, that's sort of the bottom line, and a lot of people in this administration are unwilling to do that.

HH: Christopher Hitchens, I am amazed that Joseph Biden really believes that that's what the North Koreans want. But what's your reaction?

CH: Well, it sounds as if that speech is still going on somewhere.

HH: Yes, it may be.

CH: We have, ever since, certainly since the middle of the Clinton administration, given the opportunity of talks and negotiations to the North Koreans, it can't be said that that hasn't been tried. Can I just shift from the nuclear business for a second?

HH: Yup.

CH: Because I think more or less, everyone knows what's involved. I don't want to dodge it. I'll come back to it, but on this regime change point, very well, Senator Biden, if that's what you think, and if you think that North Korea deserves to be, and I think he called it the community or the family of nations? Well, North Korea's a slave state, okay? It's people are owned completely, and used as slaves from dawn 'til dusk. It's impossible to imagine the misery that they undergo. I've been there once. It's my greatest failure as a writer, to have failed...I tried my best to convey just how appalling it is to be a North Korean owned by a psychopath and his family. When people run away, which they now, finally have been able to do after the huge famine that ruined the country, and has made North Koreans nearly one foot shorter in stature than South Koreans. But if they run away, if I, in desperation did, they're dragged back, the runaway slaves, with wire threaded through their collarbones. It's quite easy to find a collarbone on a refugee North Korean. They're hauled together in coffles, and dragged back over the border. If that leaves the Senator unmoved, and he thinks we should be trying to make nice, very well. But I think that the President was right in saying some months ago that we don't only quarrel with North Korea on weaponry. We quarrel with the fact that it is a slave state. And the United States can't be neutral about slavery.

HH: Here is what Bush said today...

CH: And I think that deserves to be mentioned in this discussion, and for a long time, shamefully, it was not.

HH: Here is what Bush said today on that subject.

CH: The North Koreans have made agreements with us in the past, and we expect them to keep their agreements. For example, agreements on test launches. We think it'd be in the world's interest to know what they're testing, what they intend to do on their test. It should make people nervous when non-transparent regimes that announced that they've got nuclear warheads fire missiles. And so we've been working with our partners, particularly in that part of the world, to say to the North Koreans that this is not the way you conduct business in the world. It's not the way that peaceful nations conduct their affairs. I was pleased to see that the Chinese spoke out to the North Korean government, and suggested they not fire whatever it is on their missile. And we'll see whether or not the North Koreans listen. One of our strategies in North Koreas is to make sure we include other countries as a part of our consortium to deal with this non-transparent regime. And China is an integral part of what we've called the six party talks, and I am pleased that they're taking responsibility in dealing with the leader of North Korea. I think it's a very positive sign. I've talked to President Putin about this subject. I know we've been reaching out to the Japanese, all aimed at saying to the North Koreans this is not order to be an accepted nation, a non-isolated nation, there are certain international norms that you must live by, and we expect them to live by those norms.

HH: Is that stiff enough for you, Christopher Hitchens?

CH: Oh, my God. The guy sounds completely, morally, and politically exhausted, and physically, too, I must say, and perhaps mentally. That's terrible. And by the way, I hope the term non-transparent regime doesn't catch on as a euphemism for what we have to call it, which is by its right name, which is slave state, in which everybody is owned by the government, and all the surplus that is starved out of them is used to build weapons of mass destruction. I mean, this is facism, and deserves to be called so.


HH: I've imposed on his time, and I thank you for it, Christopher. My question, though, I've got two books to ask you about, and one thing to debate you. Joe Biden said we can't shoot at the North Korean missile, because if we miss, people will know the missile defense doesn't work. You agreed with that. Now my analysis is if we shoot it and we hit it, A) we have a deterrence that has never before been understood, and it changes everything. If we miss it, we say oh, well, we're working on it, and it'll be ready in two years. What's the downside to taking the shot?

CH: Well, the downside would be looking foolish. And then, of course, there will be other accusations, like oh, you're so unilateral, and so on. I've read a certain amount about the development of this shield, and I've seen a lot of well-founded complaints that there's been a lot of cost overrun, a lot of supposed demonstrations of how a bullet can hit a bullet, where one bullet actually, more or less, knew when the other one was going to be fired. I think it's extremely dangerous, and I have a feeling that in any case, the North Koreans are only doing this in order to get concessions when they decide not to do the launch.

HH: If we did take it down, if they did launch, and we did fire, and we did take it down, what would the effect be?

CH: Well, in that event, I think one would have done something rather impressive, in two ways. One is to put the North Koreans right back in their place...that's not to say the North Koreans...excuse me, they're the slaves, but their slavemaster back in his place. And second, would have shown that perhaps not all of this about the SDI was a bluff. But I think that's a huge risk, I've got to say. Also, it seems to me that the people principally concerned here are the Japanese. If you remember, when the first military missile test was made, it was without any warning at all...

HH: Right.

CH: And the North Koreans fired it, and fired it across Japan...

HH: Right.

CH: ...onto the other side of the sea.

HH: Yup.

CH: Amazing, the Japanese woke up finding a missile coming over. They didn't have any idea what it was, where it was headed, what it contained. They behaved with tremendous restraint. I don't think they can be counted on to do that for a long time. I think the temptation will be to change their constitution, and adopt nuclear weapons. It would take only one vote in their parliament to do that. And they've got the stuff, we all know. They could become a nuclear power in a short while, which would very much annoy the Chinese. I think we should probably help the Japanese to defend themselves, and say the United States will help the Japanese self defense forces. And if a missile is fired in a hostile manner in their region, they've been on our side on a number of things, and we'll be on their side on this.

HH: Well, I also think if you were able to shoot it down, not only would the North Koreans all of a sudden find themselves with a very weak hand, so would the Iranians. And we did have General McInerney yesterday say that if you get two shots at it, we have more than 100%...

CH: Well, that's...I'm glad to hear this, but you know, I've become a little skeptical about all military advice, I've got to say. Well, I haven't become, I always was. I should just say, though, that you're right in connecting it to Iran, because ever since Col. Qadafi capitulated, which as we know, and as he's more or less told us he did because of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and handed over all his material, we were able to walk back the cat from that, and show that he'd got a lot of it from North Korea, some of it via the A.Q. Khan nuclear wal-mart. We know that Saddam was trying to buy missiles from North Korea as late as March, 2003, and we know the Iranians have been fooling with them, too, in dealing with missiles. So closing down, or standing down the North Korean missile capacity would be a major victory, not just on the Asian front.

HH: Right. Now for something completely different. Because you are British, I'm interested in two books. One very new, Miracles On The Water, which is the story by Tom Nagorski, of the attack and the sinking of the SS City Of Benares, and the heroic actions of all those concerned. And then, Rudyard Kipling by Birkenhead. Have you read either of these?

CH: I've read Birkenhead's Kipling. That's a very old book.

HH: And so...

CH: It's a very good book of Kipling, too. There's a better, more recent one, by David Gilmour.

HH: That's what I was getting...because I've been listening to the Kipling one by Birkenhead and wondering if, in fact, it was a political biography, or if it in fact had the respect of people who knew?

CH: In some ways, it's a bit of a memoir, because I think Birkenhead knew Kipling a little bit, for one thing. It also contains at least some stanzas of a very interesting poem about Jerusalem that Kipling never published, but that Churchill uncovered, and gave as a personal present, bound in gold to, gold leaf, I mean, to President Roosevelt in, I think, 1944. It's called The Burden Of Jerusalem, a wonderful poem. I don't know about the Benares, or can you prod my memory?

HH: Well, this is a liner that was shot, it was torpedoed in September of 1940, 600 miles from the British coast, and it was full of kids leaving for Canada, 90 children.

CH: Oh, yes, of course. I'm so sorry. Yes, of course, I know about that, yes.

HH: Well, this new book has come out, Miracles On The Water, the heroic survivors of a World War II U-boat attack, and it's a wonderful book, and I interviewed Nagorski. But what's striking about it is the sort of matter of fact courage with which the English were facing both the Blitz, and then the prospect of having to send their kids across the Atlantic. To what was that ode? Simply no alternative?

CH: In part. I think myself, it was a big mistake to ship people out. It looked as if it was a capitulation.

HH: That was Churchill's view.

CH: And it was also a mistake to send children out of the city, I think. It was as if you were giving up. If you read Steven Spender's memoirs of being, the great poet, of being a fireman and a fire watcher in London during the Blitz, you'll find actually just as many people cracked up as you would expect, and also looted each other's houses, and blamed the Jews for hoarding food. And it wasn't as pretty as all that. I mean, I'm obviously as stirred as any other English person by the stand taken against Hitler, but there's no need to romanticize it. And if you're on a sinking ship, I think the...I've never been on one, but I imagine the options are extremely few, and courage might be as good as any other one.

HH: All right. One last thing, cut number 25, John McCain on the case for Iraq:

JM: We must stay in Iraq until the government there has fully functioning security forces that can keep the insurgents at bay, and ultimately defeat them. Some argue that it is our very presence in Iraq that has created the insurgency, and that if we end the occupation, we end the insurgency. But in fact, by ending military operations, we are likely to empower the insurgency.

HH: I know you'll agree with that last sentiment, Christopher Hitchens. But is McCain making good political judgments here, as well as good military ones?

CH: You mean from his own point of view?

HH: Yes.

CH: Not my problem.

HH: (laughing) Agreed, but what's your assessment.

CH: But I mean, I think he now can't possibly withdraw from the position he's taken, and I'm glad that someone like him does take it. And I think it makes every kind of sense. I mean, if we had done what the Democrats want, or some of them want, when peace movement says it wants it withdrawn, was it a year ago, Zarqawi would now be claiming victory. We would have empowered the most grotesque psycho on the planet. I'm very glad that didn't happen, aren't you?

HH: Yes. Christopher Hitchens, I'm glad you stuck around for most of the hour, as well. We thank you, and we'll talk to you again soon.

End of interview.

Return to top

Tuesday, June 20

Retired Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney on the ACE Democrats, the Aid and Comfort to the Enemy Democrats.

Once again, Jed Babbin guest hosting for Hugh today.

JB: Joining me now, my very dear friend, Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney, USAF retired, Fox News senior military analyst, known around the Pentagon as an RSG, real smart guy. Tom, thanks for coming aboard.

TM: Thanks very much for having me, Jed.

JB: First off, in your career, when you were a three-star general on active duty, you commanded 3rd Air Force. You were based in Japan. You had cognizance of Okinawa. Seems like that's kind of a long hike to Iraq, or am I wrong?

TM: Well, it's 5,000 miles over China and Iranian territory. It is kind of long. It's inconceivable that anyone with military experience could even suggest that.

JB: Well, what in the world could Murtha be thinking? He wasn't making a joke. I mean, is his proposal to withdraw from the area that absurd? I mean, could we in fact deploy around to other countries? Where could we even go?

TM: Well first of all, who would take us? And once you make the signal, the proposal of going to Okinawa, for instance, we are downloading Okinawa. We're moving our forces from Okinawa down to Guam. It was an absurd proposal. It shows the shallowness and lack of thoughtfulness that he has given to this proposal, which is fundamentally cut and run. So no military man would take this proposal seriously, except maybe Wes Clark.

JB: (laughing) Well, that kind of says it all. At the risk of being serious, Tom, let's parse it back a little bit. When you see what Carl Levin is now proposing, he has an amendment that's going to be considered. I think it's part of the Defense Appropriations or authorization bill he's going to be offering this amendment to. And what he's basically saying is we want a phased withdrawal from Iraq. They want to start it this year. They want to complete it within some period of time. And Levin, as crafty a character as he is, he's saying well, you know what, let's have the President set the schedule, and give it to us. That's the same old nonsense, isn't it? Scheduled withdrawal?

TM: Absolutely. And the President knows what he wants to do. The President doesn't need Carl Levin, and certainly, we're not going to tell the Congress, because then that means we tell our enemies what we're going to do. So this is just another Kobuki dance the ACE Democrats...I call them the A-C-E, the aid and comfort enemy Democrats are trying to pull on it.

JB: Ooh, I like that. May I steal that? Or I'll at least credit it to you. The ACE Democrats.

TM: You may steal that.

JB: Aid and Comfort to the Enemy.

TM: Correct.

JB: Doggone, you're good, sir. Let's talk a little bit about what is going on in Iraq. And we see what happened with the Zarqawi kill a week or two ago, the roll up of his network. What's going on there now, in your estimation?

TM: Well, they talked about getting the number 4 man. I don't have his name on the tip of my tongue, but they got him today. And he was kind of one of their holy men. But what they're not telling us really completely is we are rolling up al Qaeda left and right. And the reason they're not releasing all of the information is that because we still want the enemy to think that they're in responsible positions, and communicate with them. But the fact is, is we have had extraordinary success in rolling up al Qaeda. And unfortunately, they did this horrific act of torture on our two captured Airborne troops out of the 101st. We found their bodies today, hadn't been verified yet. But it was horrific, and I think it reinforces why it is important, Jed, for us to create moderate governments over there in the region, that will fight against these Islamic extremists that are using religion to hide behind, and why it's so important to that whole region, where the birth and where the incubation of this hate and this ideology of Islamic extremism, is being bred. We must defeat it there.

JB: Well, now let's focus on that for just a minute before the break. And after the break, I want to come back to you and talk about what's going on with North Korea. But the issue of Islamic terrorism, and we see even the Washington Post saying Islamic extremists. These guys are terrorists, they're not extremists, and I think you and I'd agree on that.

TM: Correct.

JB: But I think we'd also agree that at the nub, this is an ideological battle. How do we fight this battle? I mean, it seems to me like we're not even fighting the ideological war.

TM: Well, we're not doing a very good job. People think that the al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/ was, but they are Islamic terrorists. They're Islamic extremists, Islamic facists. You can use the words you want, but it is an ideology of hate with a global domination. And the fact is it's al Qaeda, it's Hezbollah, it's Hamas, it's the mullahs running the Iranian government. They are all grouped together, they are allies. And we must defeat them at the roots of where this ideology, this extreme ideology that grew out of the Islamic brotherhood in Egypt, and of course which is reinforced by our Saudi friends, through their Wahabi religion, that extreme religion, that extreme form of Islam. So defeating it at its roots is important, and that's in the Middle East. Defending Okinawa, or projecting power from Okinawa, or defending the Port of New York, or JFK, does not defeat an ideology as we clearly learned in World War II when we defeated Nazism and facism in Germany, Japan and Italy. You must go and defeat it at its roots, and that's what this fight is about.

JB: How do we do that, Tom? I mean, this is an ideology that's being propelled by every Wahabi cleric in Saudi Arabia and around the world by the imams preaching all across Iran. How do we get this and defeat this really awful ideology?

TM: Well, I believe by creating and incubating democratic governments in the Middle East, of moderate governments, that will defeat these extremists from within. The fact is, Islam needs a reformation, is what you're getting at, I believe, Jed.

JB: Yeah.

TM: Islam needs both a reformation and a renaissance, so it can move into the 21st Century. It's a religion that is still stuck in the 7th Century. And just as Christianity had a reformation and a renaissance, Islam needs one today. And so, by working with moderate governments, by democracies being formed over there, where Sharia law is not the law of the country, where you have a constitution, and where you create courts that are run on laws, not on Sharia law, which is a very archaic way of doing things. So this is the change that must come about there.

JB: Well, it seems to me you're on to something, although I'm not sure I agree with you entirely about having to raise up governments there. I'm not sure that it's within our power as non-Muslims to reform Islam. The only way we can do that is, I think, by giving them the power to reform themselves, by literally taking the yoke of Islamic terrorism off their backs.


JB: Let's talk about North Korea. Apparently, and there doesn't seem to be much doubt, that they're fueling up one of these Taepadong missles that may be launched in the next few days, or in the next few weeks. We don't really know. We don't know where it's going to go, who it's going to be aimed at, if it's going to drop in the ocean, or what. What should we be doing right now, in terms of talking to North Korea, talking to China, dealing with the situation, this possible launch?

TM: Let me make it very simple for you, Jed. We should communicate with China and North Korea and Russia, and tell them that we believe that this is a provocative act, which we have already done. And any missile that is fired, we believe that that is an act of an attack against the United States. Now if they go through the international protocols, which we, the Russians, the Chinese always do when we fire missiles, ie. put out a NOTAM, a notice to airmen, and a notice to seamen, that there's going to be a certain missile fired at a certain time in a certain area, so be aware of it. If they give us the profile of that, so we can see where it's going, and have a map there, an overlay, and make sure that it doesn't deviate, so we know that it doesn't come at the United States, then we can work with them. If they do not, and give us the Polish salute, then we should take that missile out before it's launched, because no American president can accept a missile coming at the United States, and we not know if it's got a warhead, we don't know anything about it. In the world of missile testing, everybody knows about it, so you don't have accidents like this. If they don't play by the rules, then we tell the Chines, and we tell the Russians, that's going to go out. That's not going to be on the launch pad. And no ifs, ands or buts about it. So I want to do this diplomatically, but if they do not play by the rules, then take it out with a B-2 and a stealth bomber and a precision weapon.

JB: So that's going to be something you do real fast. I mean, it's not going to be like you're going to give them four days notice, or something like that?

TM: Oh, no, no, no. You give it...we should be doing this right now. We have said it's a provocative act. How do we know that that is not going to have a nuclear weapon? Look, if we do that, the South Koreans may not...we don't even want to talk to the South Koreans about it, because that missile is either aimed at the United States, Japan, or somewhere else. We do not know where it is, and we want to make sure that they clarify exactly, and according to international accords, and international protocols, exactly what that's going to do. If they don't, take it out.

JB: Pardon the interruption. Now what happens...and I agree with you. If we can't get the right information about this, if they're not going to obey by the rules, maybe we ought to take this thing out before it's launched. Now number one, how do we do that? And what is the effect in China, what is the effect in Europe, of our actually doing that?

TM: Well, if we've made the diplomatic moves before, then...and we've told them, and they ignore us, then I'm not concerned with the diplomatic. The way we do it is we send in a B-2 with a precision weapon. They'll not even see the B-2. You don't even have to fly over North Korean airspace. You can drop it...the missile launch is on the coast. And so there's nothing they can do about that. And the fact is, it's very simple to do. If they do not abide by the rules, then we're going to just tell Europe and Russia and China they did not abide by the rules that you all abide by.

JB: Do you think that China would respond militarily to something like that?

TM: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.

JB: Okay, why not?

TM: And North Korea won't respond militarily.

JB: Well, they certainly won't, but it seems to me that all of this wouldn't even be going on without China's acquiescence, or maybe even help. So why shouldn't we simply go do this, and tell China this is a big message for a lot of different reasons?

TM: Well, I think we should. But again remember, I want a diplomatic solution that we warned them. We clearly articulate what our position is, and why we expect them to act in accordance with international norms. If they do that, fine. If they don't, take it out.

JB: Two more things, Tom. If we don't do this quickly enough, or we don't get the response, what do we do if this sucker is fired?

TM: Well, the next option is we've got some Aegis cruisers or frigates out in the Sea of Japan, and on the other side of Japan, that we could try to get the missile with the standard missile in the boost phase. That is probably less than a 50/50 chance, depending on the situation, the warning. The next thing, if it's coming towards Alaska, or towards the United States, we have those nine missiles at Fort Greeley, and two down at Vandenberg, that could play a role. They have a probability of kill, Jed, of around .6. And they've just been made operational. That means you have to fire two of them to get a high probability. I used to have those, the Sparrow missiles, at .6. You fire, fire, rather than fire, look, fire. So that's the process that we'd have to use with those missiles.

JB: Last question, Tom. Let me just parse it out with you. If we hit, if those missiles are fired, they destroy the target, that's a big victory for us. It proves the technology. What happens if we fire and we miss?

TM: That's a big problem. That's why I said we've got to fire two of them. If we fire two and miss, we've got even a bigger problem. But for those that did not want to have a missile defense, like John Kerry and others, because it takes many years to develop, the decision by President Bush at the start of his administration to deploy this system, now appears to be very well warranted.

JB: I think you're precisely right, and I think those people who have stood in the way of a ballistic missile defense for the past thirty years really should be held to account right this minute. And I'm talking about Carl Levin, who's made a career of it, as you mentioned, Kerry, and some of the others. I'll tell you what, we are in a world of hurt, because these guys are not responsible.

End of interview.

What to do about Guantanamo Bay

Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Jed Babbin, filling in for Hugh.

JB: We've got to talk to someone who is responsible for one of the gravest responsibilities we have in the War On Terror. My very good friend, Deputy Assisant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs, Charles Stimson. He's a Navy judge advocate. He's been a defense attorney, a former federal prosecutor. Mr. Stimson, thanks very much for joining us today.

CS: Jed, it's my pleasure. Call me Cully, please.

JB: Well, I'll take you up on that. Cully, thank you much. And let's just start out with that. I mean, you're not exactly a resume builder. Why'd you take this crazy job? It's a tough place to be.

CS: Look, we're at war, and everyone wants to get involved and do what they can do. Public service is an honor, it's a privilege. These are tough issues. This administration was attacked on 9/11. We were attacked in previous administrations. It's just that this administration decided to take it to our enemy. And you know, we were fortunate enough to catch some of our enemy, and we have some of those down in Guantanamo. And that's why I took the job. I like a challenge.

JB: Well, God bless you for it. That's a tough place to be, sir. Anyway, just real briefly, who are these guys? How many of them are there? What kinds of people are there?

CS: Right now, we have approximately 460 terrorists down in Guantanamo, and these are bomb makers, intel listen to the left, and the other quarters that say just cooks and all the rest of it, these people are the engine of al Qaeda and the Taliban. They're the fighters, the warriors, the thinkers. We've got some really smart, crafty guys down there, and they are our enemy, and you can just go down there. I want you to go down, Jed. Come down with me. Take a look at these guys in the eye. They are evil. And that's good that they're down there. They need to be detained.

JB: I'll be glad to take you up on that. I wish I could go on the troop going tomorrow, but I'm going to be substituting for Michael Medved on his show. But I'd love to get down there with you ASAP. Let's talk about what we hear from the left. I mean, every day, it seems like you're being bombarded by the Washington Post...let's put these guys in the criminal justice system. Mr. Stimson, you're a former federal prosecutor, you're a real live lawyer. Why shouldn't we put these guys in the criminal justice system?

CS: Well, I do get bombarded, and I listen to the old media hanker on about...I call them the try 'em or set 'em free crowd. And the fact is, Jed, that they are attempting through repetition to create rights for terrorists that simply do not exist. In fact, they want to create more rights for terrorists than for our own soldiers. Let me give you a perfect example. During war, as you know, and as your excellent article from June 15th pointed out, a nation is entitled, throughout the duration of the conflict, to detain its enemy. Period. You don't get them a quarter to then call their lawyer. You don't have to give them a trial. You know, when we detained the Nazis during World War II, they didn't get a trial. They didn't get lawyers. They didn't get anything. And they certainly didn't know when the conflict was going to end. So why is that any different when we've detained terrorists in this war? Well, it's not. What has happened is because of Court TV, because of the OJ Simpsonization of this country, this defense bar, these rabid defense lawyers, believe that if they repeat it enough times, that everyone's going to believe that well, yeah, that sort of sounds reasonable. People should get a trial. A trial, a criminal trial, is for a person who has committed a criminal act, and they are punished, and are held in jail as a result of violating the law and doing a criminal act. Under the law of war, long established, when you detain your enemy, you detain them for the purpose of keeping them off the battlefield, and killing again, until the end of the conflict. So here's the rub. People say well, we don't know when the conflict is going to end. So what they suggest...

JB: Pardon me, but so what?

CS: Yeah, exactly. I mean, like you said in your article, we have the right to detain them until 2525, if we want to. I mean, that is the law of war. If you want to change the law of war, well then you now have some other spade work to do.

JB: Well, let's talk about that, because the debate seems to be shifting, and when we're talking about Europe, I correspond with a lot of folks over there, especially in Britain, and those guys are always telling me well, you're denying them rights, you're denying them human rights. What does the world community expect us to do when we capture committed terrorists?

CS: You know, I had the privilege of taking both European delegations to Guantanamo. Not only the organization for security cooperation in Europe, but the trans-Atlantic policy network. And you're right. The debate is shifting. The debate now among serious people is what does the world community do with committed terrorists? You can' don't have to try them for criminal law, and often times, countries don't have laws on the books to try them. You can't let them free, because as we know when we do let some of them free, they come back and kill Americans. So what do we do? I have a letter in my hand from James Ellis, and he is a member of the European parliament. And he wrote me a thank you note after the trip he went on, earlier this Spring. And he says, "it seems to me that until the issue of what happens to detainees is resolved, the closing of Guantanamo could make the war on terrorism more difficult, and ultimately more dangerous for our citizens." That's where Europe is going.

JB: Well, I hope you offered him an honorary U.S. citizenship, because he's probably going to get thrown out of Europe for saying something like that.

CS: Well, he's not popular, I'm sure, for making that comment, and nor is the person from the Belgian delegation that went down, that we took, who said, "at the level of detention facilities, it is a model prison where people are better treated than in Belgian prisons." That's what Europeans...that's what serious Europeans know.

JB: Yeah, but Belgians? I mean, they're just French wannabes. They didn't even make the grade. They're actually saying things like that? I mean, in all seriousness, this is astonishing from some of the greatest liberals, the most dedicated liberals in Europe.

CS: Belgium's a great country. I'm sure you're just joshing. Look, this detention facility is the most transparent facility in the world. It had over a and four zeros, media trips down there, media down there. 400 different outlets. I'm talking about Al Jazeera, BBC, China News, Russian news, every major European country. I mean, they have a constant presence down there. You don't hear any bad news stories coming from them. Why is that?

JB: Well, wait a minute. Buy why are you going to just go down there with all of those guys, because a lot of them are just going to say well, you're just showing us what you want us to see, and we don't believe you, because you're hiding stuff.

CS: We...this is a detention facility. We have terrorists locked up. And we balance security interests with transparency. And so, we can point to, every day...almost every day, between 2002 and now, when the media either has a trip there, or is planning a trip there. I mean, virtually every week, media is down there. So I don't see that happening in detention facilities around this country or around in Europe.

JB: Well, absolutely.

CS: This is the most visited, most scrutinized detention facility in the world. Those soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines down there are really fighting hard, and doing the right thing. And you'll see it when you go down there.

JB: I will be glad to go back down with you any time we can break loose and go down there. 30 seconds left, Cully. Tell me what you think the future is for Gitmo in legal terms, in this coming year.

CS: Well, as the President said, he'd like to close it, but we have to wait on a few things. The Hamdan decision, which will most likely come down next week, will decide whether we can gear up military commissions. But you know, as you said in your article, there is no reasonable alternative to Guantanamo. And so, what do you do with committed terrorists? And the answer is, you detain them for the duration of the conflict, and you transfer some back to countries and ask them to take responsibility for their own terrorists.

JB: Charles Stimson, deputy assistant secretary for detainee affairs, thanks very much for joining us.

End of interview.

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Monday, June 19

Former Clinton Press Secretary Mike McCurry on net neutrality.


HH: This hour, we start off with a debate which you'll hear me talk a lot about over the net couple of months. It's the net neutrality debate. You've probably not heard much about it, or what you've heard has confused you. It's very complicated, it's very important to the future of America, and it's very difficult to decide who is right here. On Friday, you heard Larry Kudlow on this program denounce proponents of net neutrality. We'll find some proponents of net neutrality. But today, I'm pleased to welcome Mike McCurry to the program. He's a communications strategist in Washington, D.C. You probably remember him as the very effective face of the Clinton administration. He is now also co-chair of Hands Off The Internet. The link is at Mike McCurry, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

MM: Hey, it's nice to be with you, Hugh.

HH: Let's get the primer down, and I'll ask the same thing...

MM: That's the hardest part of this.

HH: It is. Explain what this debate is about, if you will.

MM: Well, this is a fundamental debate about the future of the internet. There are two ways the internet will build out going into the future. One, significant investment by those who now operate the internet networks. And those are primarily the telephone companies and the cable companies that run what we call the backbone and the connection to the home. They've got to invest a lot of money in order to provide us this amazing future we're about to go into, where you can stream video into the home, you can take voice into the home, you can do telemedicine over the internet, to do the incredible things that we know are coming. In order to make that investment, they've got to make these networks run faster, smarter and more efficiently, which means they have to make those networks smart. And the other side of this debate, the net neutrality side, wants to preserve a network that worked very well in the early stages, but it basically relied on what they even call themselves dumb pipes, you know, a dumb network. And they would prefer that the providers of the networks, like the big telephone companies, the big cable companies, not have anything to do with controlling or regulating the flow of content over their network. They would prefer all of that do be done at what they call the edge of the network. And it's a good, philosophical debate. It does not happen to have the histrionic qualities that often get raised in the know, the internet will die tomorrow if we don't enact a net neutrality. But it's also about a second question, which is are we going to be better off making these critical decisions about the future in an environment which the market makes the decisions based on who's competing, versus trying for the very first time in many ways, introducing a very heavy set of regulations driven by the federal government on what's going to govern traffic, performance, pricing, the basic performance of the internet itself. We back, and I'll take some credit for this, if you don't mind, back in the Clinton years, we opted for a lightly regulated environment in which there would be not any kind of strong federal presence in deciding how the internet would unfold. And I think we made the right choice, because in the 1990's until now, we've seen what's happened as a result. But this would reverse that. This would actually put the federal government and the FCC, for the very first time, in a very heavy regulatory position in deciding how the internet's going to work in the future. And we just think that's wrong. Net neutrality equals net regulation. That's the bottom line.

HH: Now full disclosure for the audience, Hands Off The Internet really is the representative of the big Telco's...

MM: Yup.

HH: ...such as AT&T, Vonage, Verizon, correct?

MM: That's not quite correct. Verizon is not a member of our organization, because we actually take a little more pro-active view of what the FCC should do. So Verizon is not a member, but AT&T is, Bellsouth is, we have representatives of the bit telco companies, so it's accurate to say that they are behind this group. But we've got a pretty good representation of a lot of groups that represent minority users of the internet. We've got a lot of people who make the technical equipment that you need to run the internet, because obviously, they want to make and innovate and create the products that will make the internet run faster and smarter, so they're members of our coalition. We've got about 40 groups, but I'm not trying to pretend that the telephone companies don't have an obvious interest in this, and they are members of it.

HH: Well, over at, which is your major opposition coalition, obviously you've got lots of groups as well. But that money is coming from like Google and, correct?

MM: Well, it is, but then they also have a very strong presence in what's called the net roots. They've got groups like MoveOn and Common Cause and others that really have ginned up quite a grass roots response. But I personally believe it's based on a false picture of what the future will look like if we start regulating the internet. They paint a very dire picture of what's going to happen. I don't think it's going to be that dire. I tell them all the time. I say look, you know who I am. I'm a liberal Democrat. I'm not going to be chair of a coalition that's going to shut off the ability of any group that has a contrary opinion from getting its word out there.

HH: Or do you think conservatives would do that? We're actually the free market people. We're the libertarians.

MM: It's very interesting. I debated a guy the other day who was a staffer at the FCC under a very conservative, pro-market chair of the FCC, and he was representing Amazon, and he was on the other side of the equation. So this is an issue where I think basically one of the reasons why people get very confused about this is they've got strange bedfellows all over the place. On the other side, the people advocating net neutrality, you've got aligned with the Gun Owners of America and the Christian Coalition.

HH: Well, let me ask you this. Here's my major concern, and I'm going to put it to everyone. I know the history of the railroads in this country, and when they got near oligopic power, they used it to price predatorily against small shippers, etc. And they really did impede the economic growth of the United States until the ICC arrived. Why aren't the big telcos of the 21st Century like the railroads of the 19th Century?

MM: Well, first of all, they don't start with...they start from much farther behind. The internet already is what it is today. In your analogy, the big railroad companies would be coming in after the railroad had already been built. And remember, they owned the railroad. In this case, the internet is this expansive, growing, thriving thing that it is, and you just tell me what would happen if a Verizon or a PacBell or...I guess PacBell's not there anymore, but any of the big telco companies went out and said well, gee, we're going to block the content of this site, because they take a position that we disagree with, on a certain issue that we care about in Washington. You can easily imagine what the outrage would be, because we all use the internet every single day.

HH: But it wouldn't be blocking content so much as pricing content to the point that the consumer at the house...I saw your debate with the Amazon guy, and he made the point which I thought was pretty good, that people are asking for content to be delivered to them. They've already paid for that connection. Why should that connection get screwed up by telcos supercharging Amazon, Google, E-Bay, those sorts of people?

MM: Well, here's the answer. Because that's the internet of today. He's describing what we all use today, and that's familiar to us. We're not talking about today. We're talking about three to five years from now, when we are all going to be relying on the internet to bring video into our homes. We're going to have much more expansive data-rich applications that we're going to need to use. And that is a different environment. That's not...they're talking about the internet of today, and frankly, trying to freeze the internet of today in place, with its technology, with the rules that govern it, today. We are about to make a huge leap going into a place where we're going to have 100 to 200 times more data coming into the home every day. Now the question is this. If you use the internet to send e-mails and web browse, and blog, and check out alternative media sources, because you don't trust the mainstream media, you need a certain quantity of bandwidth available to you. But why should you have to pay the same price as the guy three doors down who basically is streaming 16 porno movies into his home every night, because believe me, that is exactly what is going on here. Under the net neutrality proposal that the other side proposes, all the content would get created equally. All the content would be treated equally. There's no differentiation, and you can't price per different interest levels.

HH: But wouldn't the answer be, if we take off the pejorative, the porn guy, let's say the guy three doors down is Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, or Daily Kos, and they're taking in all this information, and acting as editors for the rest of the world. Won't you be screwing up their ability to be editors for the rest of the world?

MM: No, because their use of bandwidth, to blog even with the richest video connections that you can imagine, takes a fraction of the bandwidth of what it takes to stream videos into the home, or to download movies into the home. What we really are talking about are saying if you want high bandwidth applications, the content providers that are out there using this...and look, I don't fault Google and Amazon and E-Bay and these huge companies, because they've got a very sweet deal right now. They're basically paying for a primary internet connection to the backbone, and they don't have to pay any premium to the internet providers in order to make sure that their content gets to the home efficiently.

HH: All right. Mike McCurry, we're out of time. I hope you'll come back and spend longer with us, because this is fascinating.

MM: I will. This is an interesting debate, and it's got strange connections with people. You know, who would imagine that I would painting the map blue for you tonight?

HH: I know, but that's why it's important to keep probing this, because I'm not sure which way it should go, because we're asked to look out 20 years in the future, and wonder about those effects.

End of interview.

And so Superduane begins.

Here's entry number one from Michael B up in Seattle.

That's Markos from Daily Kos with the hammer. Get your entries in. I'm afraid this could get rather amusing.

Countdown to Superman Returns

The good news of the week is that we have been granted a private screening, along with about 200 of our favorite listeners of the Hugh Hewitt Show, to go see Superman Returns the night before it opens nationwide. It looks like it's going to be a great movie, and the screening coming up should have been a lot of fun. Notice I said should have.

In the latest attempt of Mr. Hewitt to humiliate me publicly, I have been told the dress code for the event, just for me, is to wear the Superman outfit. I have found one that will fit, and I will arrive doing my part to do for Superman what Mr. Incredible did for superheroes.

Here's what you have to do to get tickets. First of all, if you win, every member of your party must wear a red cape. No exceptions. To win, you must photoshop one of the following pictures of me onto a picture of Superman in an action shot, either from one of the earlier movies or animated, if you have the ability. Here's what you have to work with.

Believe me, I know the daunting challenge ahead of you. But you have to decide how much fun you want to have on a Tuesday night. Think about it...200 people, mostly conservative, all wearing red capes and me crammed into blue tights? How bad of an evening could it be? Send your photoshop entries in small jpg or gif format only, to If you want to participate in the contest just for the fun of it, but live out of state and can't make it to the screening, that's fine. We'll put up a gallery and your effort will reside there permanently. But if you want the 4-pak of tickets, make sure you give you name, address, and most important, a daytime phone number to get ahold of you.

If you want to include a villain in your photoshop entry, might I suggest the following?

Good'll need it.

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Sunday, June 18

Bill Clinton returns with a message for the fever swamp.

Former President Bill Clinton was back home in Little Rock Saturday, giving a speech to a group of alternative newsweekly journalists. Here's the link to USA Today's story on it. Let's take a trip through the story, and what Bubba had to say, shall we?

Former President Bill Clinton said Saturday that, if he returns to the White House in 2008 because his wife becomes president, his role would be to "do whatever she wants" because that's what a good citizen would do.

Does anybody seriously believe him? The man spent eight years being the most powerful man on the planet, and if he gets into the White House again, he's going to be completely submissive? But besides all that, let's look at that last sentence a little closer, shall we? If Hillary becomes president, he would do whatever she wants, because that's what a good citizen would do.

First of all, just because a president wants you to do something, you're not supposed to do it out of blind good citizen obedience. Was Monica Lewinsky being a good citizen? Were all of Nixon's plumbers just being good citizens? If Clinton's axion were true, wouldn't the left owe Karl Rove an apology? He certainly is doing what Bush wants him to do.

But let's take Clinton at his word for a moment. He certainly has not shown any hesitation of publicly criticizing the policies of his successor on Iraq, the handling of Katrina and the economy. Just last year, he accused Bush of invading Iraq where there was no real urgency, a claim that isn't supported by his own words during his own presidency in 1998. Bush felt it necessary to go into Iraq for national security reasons, and yet good citizen Bill didn't feel compelled to go along with it out of civic duty.

Clinton also said last year that the federal deficit would soon be untenable due to the Katrina disaster and the tax cuts for the rich, again failing his own good citizenship clause by not going along with Bush's wishes. As it happens to have turned out, the deficit is actually falling faster this year than anyone could have predicted, primarily due to increased tax receipts from a soaring economy, jump started by those same tax cuts Clinton was bemoaning. Next paragraph.

Clinton said he didn't know if U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democrat from New York seeking re-election this year, would run for president in two years as some have speculated, but he predicted a woman could win the most powerful office in the world.

Lie number two. If he really doesn't know his wife is running for president, he's the only one. Either he is flat out lying, or he's involved in the poorest quality marriage imaginable. Thousands of you come to this site every day, and I would bet that most of you are married. If your spouse, male or female, had an inkling to run for president, you think you might be in the decision-making process? Who does Bubba think he's fooling?

"The idea of her being polarizing is a lot of baloney," he said, referring to a popular image that also was tagged onto his presidency.

She's not polarizing? I would venture to say that when she officially throws her hat and/or matching pantsuit into the ring, she goes into the race with 40% of the electorate loathing her with a passion, but that's just my guess. This country may be ready to accept a woman president, but it's going to have to be somebody that doesn't trigger a gag reflex with a good chunk of the electorate.

He told his left-leaning audience of about 500 journalists to consider opposing views and appreciate the value of working with people who differ with them. He urged them not to turn public figures into "two-dimensional cartoons."

This left-leaning crowd was from alternative newsweeklies. In other words, Bill was talking to the fever swamp. Obviously, the Hillary campaign is worried about the base becoming a little to Kosian for her liking, so she's sending out the big guns to quiet them down. I'm also glad he sees the value of working with people of differing views. I just wish some in his administration, the ones that removed the W's from the computers in the Old Executive Office Building as a little welcome gift for the next group of people with differing views, would have gotten his memo on this position.

While he doesn't agree with much of the Bush administration policies, Clinton said, he has come to understand President Bush better. Clinton said Bush has "an intuitive intelligence," provoking laughter from the audience. But Clinton said he meant that seriously.

Classy, Bubba. Real classy. Translation - 'I can't see any evidence or proof that he's got a brain, but I'm sure he's got one. And I mean that as a compliment.'

What concerns him more, he said, is a particular strain of the Republican Party that he said has gotten control in Washington. Reminding his audience that he grew up in the South as a native of Arkansas, Clinton said right-wing ideologues and "ultra-conservative, white Southerners" have "demonized" those who think differently from them.

Remember again who he is talking to. While he has just admonished the tin foil hat wearers to consider and appreciate those intuitively intelligent people with differing views, the red meat now must be given so that the fever swamp knows that Hillary, while having to sound moderate to get elected, will still speak their language when she ascends to power.

"You have to make a world with more partners and fewer terrorists," he said. "And we know how to do that."

Always save the best lie for last. There's no evidence that Bill Clinton knew how to make fewer terrorists, because terrorists just increased and multiplied, virtually unabated, during his entire presidency. Remember that the Embassies in Africa, the Kobar Towers, the first World Trade Center attack, the USS Cole, all happened under Bill Clinton's watch, and with no measurable or effective response.

France has made more partners and fewer terrorists, because they their partners ended up being terrorists. They just changed their definitions. Oil For Food was all about making more partners, and allowing the corrupt money flow to cause them to recognize fewer people as terrorists.

When all is said and done, even when you look past the rock star status of the Democratic Party's last great hope, there still is a fundamental denial or misunderstanding about how the world works, post-9/11. Bill Clinton may still be a serious player due to charisma alone, but there's still no there there. There's nothing substantive to offer as a solution to the present course of action in the international struggle for the free world. The Democratic Party simply cannot be trusted with the levers of power, because they have an almost genetic defect when it comes to grasping the issue of national security.

"I'm not some left-wing nut or liberal crazy. I am an American of common sense who can recognize failure and pigheadedness."

Who said this, you ask? Former Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker at a Ned Lamont rally. Lamont is the hard left candidate the fever swamp is trying to defeat Joe Lieberman in Connecticut's upcoming primary. Weicker is self-described as an anti-war activist, as is too much of the Democratic Party. So much so that it seems there is no room for anyone, especially in the United States Senate, who has anything less of a radical, anti-war stance.

So common sense is now defined as recognizing failure and pigheadedness. Okay. Removing Saddam? Failure. First freely held elections in Iraq's history? Failure. Drafting and adoption of Iraq's first constitution? Failure. Iraq's first freely elected government, featuring major minister position held by all religious factions in Iraq? Failure. Elimination of one of the world's deadliest living terrorists? Failure. Capture or killing of literally thousands of terrorists and other radical ideologues? Failure. Iraqi women in the political and social structure of Iraq for the first time? Failure. Real, substantive education of the entire next generation of Iraqis occurring for the first time in the country's history? Failure.

Funny, I never realized how much "common sense" it took to recognize all that as being a failure. I never realized that liberating a country was pigheaded. If liberation is now redefined as pigheadedness, I wonder what that makes Abraham Lincoln? FDR?

For a political party that views tolerance as one of their cornerstones, they don't appear to be very tolerant if you don't publicly spout Bush hatred, especially toward the War On Terror, whenever possible.

You have to wonder what Joe Lieberman thinks now. Just six years ago, he was a strong contender for the vice presidency, and viewed as a real threat by conservatives, because he had actually shown a lot of common sense his political life, and would potentially attract vast numbers of voters from the political center of the electorate. But in the course of the 2000 campaign, Sen. Lieberman caught a bit of fever swampitis, mainly because he had to align his loyalties with Al Gore. Since then, he returned to the Senate, and on serious matters, remained a serious voice of reason, whether he came down on the right side of the issue or not. But the Democratic Party has left him. He really hasn't changed much, politically, since the days before his run for veep. The Democratic Party, however, has moved way left, and shows no signs of stopping. He has gone from a standing ovation at the Democratic National Convention in 2000 to being attacked by his own base in a re-election primary.

I guess he didn't get the memo about the new definition, the Weicker definition, of common sense.

Democrats once again snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

One of our beloved United States Senators, California's Dianne Feinstein, appeared on Wolf Blitzer's Late Edition this morning on CNN, and said that she and Democratic minority leader Harry Reid were going to bring up another resolution in the Senate on Tuesday for a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and a specific timetable mentioned. Can the Republicans possibly be that lucky to get handed the Democrats' collective credibility twice in two weeks? It looks like it. John Kerry's similar effort last week failed 93-6, with only hard-liners from the political left suppporting the pullout. Now Feinstein wants to have another go at it this week? I wonder if it's something we can bring up as a regular weekly feature?

There's about 19 weeks left until election day, 2006. Counting last week, could you just imagine 20 attempts to declare failure by one of the country's two political parties?

I know the country is divided almost in half on a number of different issues, but I've got to believe that in the weeks and months ahead, a majority of the population is going to get very tired of politicians practically begging us to lose this war, and reward their defeatist rhetoric this Fall at the ballot box.

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Saturday, June 17

The Beltway Boys

HH: Joined by the Fox News Channel Beltway Boys. Executive editor to the Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes, executive editor of Roll Call, Morton Kondracke. Together, you can see them tomorrow night at 6PM in the East, 3PM in the West, and it repeats later on the Fox News Channel, and most nights on Special Report. Gentlemen, what I'm calling the most important vote of 2006 occurred earlier today. And Morton Kondracke, 149 Democrats voted against victory. What is wrong with that party?

MK: Well, you could say that some of them did this out of party solidarity, because they didn't want the Republicans to roll them. I mean, there were some people there who don't believe that there ought to be a deadline set for withdrawal from Iraq. That would include Steny Hoyer, the number two leader, and Jane Harman for sure, and Rahm Emanuel, probably. But in the main, look. The Democratic Party has had a force aversion problem ever since Vietnam. I mean, once upon a time, there was a Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson wing of the Democratic Party which is now a feather, practically non-existent, and the Democrats are trying to drive Joe Lieberman out, and they may succeed in a primary, actually, in Connecticut this year. And it's...they just were so badly burned by Vietnam. There was always a very dovish element in the Democratic Party, but it wasn't dominant until Vietnam, and they've never gotten over Vietnam, you know? That's just who they are.

HH: Fred Barnes, I went looking for Rebel In Chief, your fine portrait of George W. Bush today, because I think it's in there that the Bush derangement syndrome has done profound damage to Democrats. I think today was sort of its climax.

FB: Well, it really was, except for Democrats who, in the House, are in tight races. Those in competitive races, and particularly those...I look for the three who I know Republicans are going to mount a great challenge effort. They all voted with the Republicans. Those were Leonard Boswell of Iowa, John Spratt of South Carolina, and Chet Edwards of Texas. So look, anybody in a competitive race didn't want to vote that way, and look. I mean, I think it's nice that Steny Hoyer and Jane Harman and maybe Rahm Emanuel wanted to vote with the Republicans, but couldn't out of reasons of party solidarity. But I judge their actions by how they voted, not by what they might have thought. And they voted to basically surrender in Iraq. And here's what I want to hear from the Democrats. Okay, after you do that, after we go along with John Kerry and John Murtha and Russ Feingold, and get all of the soldiers from America out by the end of this year, then what? Then what do we do? Obviously, there will be a terrorist enclave, mainly in the Sunni areas of Iraq, that will be exporting terrorism. I mean, what do we do? I mean, do we go back in? What do we do? And of course, they don't have an answer.

HH: Fred Barnes, though, the rhetoric that they deployed was not just we don't want to get rolled. It wasn't what Morton suggested, a political thing. I'm looking for Lloyd Doggett's commentary yesterday, senior member of the Ways and Means Committee. He'll be the chair of a couple of subcommittees if the Pelosi things come back. And he was...and he was a former Texas Supreme Court. He was ranting yesterday, Fred Barnes. Let's listen to it. Here it is.

FB: Okay.

HH: Lloyd Doggett:

LD: Mr. Speaker, this was was launched without an imminent threat to our families. It endangers them more every day, creating new generations of terrorists. Radical, know-it-all ideologues here bent facts, destroyed intelligence, distorted intelligence, and perpetrated lies designed to mislead the American people into believing that a third-rate thug had a hand in 9/11, and was soon to unleash a mushroom cloud. From the start, House Democrats overwhelmingly voted against this war, but radical ideologues rushed headlong anyway, ignoring professional military advice about the number of troops and equipment needed. One general after another has indicted this administration for its misjudgment and mismanagement. But almost 3,000 Americans lie dead. Another 20,000 seriously injured. Every day, every single day, American taxpayers are forced to spend $229 million dollars in Iraq, and they pay again every time they go to the gas pump. All that's in sight is a civil war quagmire. Today's resolution pins administration failures on the coattails of our courageous service men and women. Administration ineptness is falsely attached to a resolution honoring our troops. Well you know, Americans are increasingly realizing there's a better way to honor our troops than sending more of them off to be killed. Would that there were more a little of our troops' courage right here in Washington, from those who refuse to challenge this administration's myth-based policies, and who choose to cut and run from their responsibilities.

HH: All right, that's enough. Fred Barnes...

FB: (laughing)

MK: (laughing)

HH: That's...

FB: That was amazing.

HH: That's Lloyd Doggett.

FB: That was absolutely amazing. You know, I was trying...I was waiting for him to say something that was actually true.

HH: Exactly.

FB: But I don't think I...I'd have to hear it again, because in my first hearing of it, everything he said was false, and most of the things were palpably false, things he had to know were wrong. I mean, why would he get up and say all those things. My impression is, he'd like us to get out of Iraq, but gee, I mean, do you want people like that to be running your government?

HH: I don't think...Morton...

MK: Look, that is, encapsulated, the fundamental Democratic position on this. It's filled partly with Bush hatred. It stems from Bush hatred. And it also stems from force aversion. Everything, every military endeavor that the United States is involved in, has got to be wrong, you know? And everybody in the world is better off without American troops there. I'm not going to accuse him of being a Henry Wallace type, because Henry Wallace was footsying around with the communists back in the late 1940's. But it's George McGovernism. It's come home...the world is better off without America there. I mean, it's just flatly false, and if it were the dominant position of America, we'd be in a terrible world. But fortunately, it's not.

HH: Now the question is, though, do they pay a price in the 2006 elections for having gone off the left Daily Kos cliff, Fred Barnes?

FB: Well, Lloyd Doggett obviously doesn't, because he's in a safe Democratic district in Texas. And I think what this does, and this was part of the Republicans' motive in pushing this resolution in the House, and then bringing up the Kerry resolution in the Senate for a pullout by the end of the year, of all troops. And of course there, it lost 93-6, making Kerry mad, because he wasn't ready to bring it up yet. But what it does is, I think it's leveling the playing field. It's very quickly getting leveled. I mean, a few weeks ago, it was pretty much assumed, and I thought so myself, that Democrats were going to win the House of Representatives. I think that's rapidly changing as Bush recovers, as positive things are happening in Iraq, as the culture of corruption argument is failing Democrats, certainly didn't work in the one place it should have worked, Duke Cunningham's old district near you in San Diego. And you can see, you can feel the political balance leading into the November 7th election, you can feel it changing right now.

HH: In fact, I want to play for you, I talked to Arnold a little bit earlier in this program, just talking about what's working out here, and here's Arnold on John McCain.

HH: You're getting help from John McCain. He's been over here a lot. Is he your guy in '08, Governor?

AS: I'm not at all thinking about '08, or who to endorse, or anything like that. Senator McCain has been a terrific friend, and he's been very helpful in my campaign, and he has been really terrific coming out here and going to fundraisers with me, and introducing me in different places. So he's a friend of mine.

HH: But you're not endorsing him?

AS: No one ever asked me to endorse him.

HH: Anybody working harder than John McCain, Morton Kondracke?

MK: Well, John McCain is certainly working hard. I'm not exactly tracking how all the prospective 2008 candidates are working in this campaign, but my guess is that they'll all be out there, knocking themselves out. George Allen and Mitt Romney, and whoever...

HH: For Arnold?

MK: Who?

HH: For Arnold.

MK: Well, I don't know. You're there, I'm not, so I don't know who all has been out to California.

FB: No, but you're on to something, Hugh. I mean, McCain is out there way ahead of everybody else. And what McCain is doing now is, he is really making a huge effort to win over Bush people, leaders of the Bush campaign, people who supported Bush around in the states. Jeb Bush went down to visit him. And I talked to Jeb afterwards. He spoke very highly of McCain, so I think McCain made a mistake going to the Jerry Falwell event. He should have forgotten that and voted for the marriage protection amendment. But he's, McCain is, in fact, as you suggested, working harder than anybody else for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

HH: And he's being welcomed into states, even though he is very aggressively pro-war. That's my point, is that he's one can doubt what John McCain thinks about this. And so does the war become the central issue, Morton Kondracke?

MK: Well, the war will be the central issue. If it's a success, then everybody who has been for it will be vindicated. If it's a failure, then Bush and McCain and all the rest will be totally discredited, or you'll probably get...if it happens this year, then a Democratic Congress...not probably the Senate, but a Democratic House. And whoever was in favor of the war probably might...would be defeated in 2008. But look, McCain, to his credit, is on the right side of the immigration bill, even though the party base is against him.

HH: All right. We're out of time, and we want to send people to the Weekly Standard piece on Zarqawi as well. Thanks, Fred Barnes, Morton Kondracke, the Fox News Channel Beltway Boys.

End of interview.

Larry Kudlow explains it all.

HH: First, the economy continues to confuse, amaze, and otherwise confound. Larry Kudlow is the man with the answers. If you're not watching Kudlow & Company every single day on CNBC after the markets close, then you're asking to invest in the dark. Larry, welcome back. Good to talk to you.

LK: Hello, Hugh.

HH: I very much appreciate your doing this every Friday. I can't think of anyone else in the country I'd rather know things from. By the way, if people sold gold when you told them to three weeks ago, I think they owe you a vacation.

LK: (laughing) Let's just say I got it right one time in a row.

HH: Man, did you hit the top. You really did. That was amazing. So Larry, this week, down, down, down, up, up, up. What's going on?

LK: Well, a couple of important things. Number one, the market stabilized. We had tremendous days Wednesday and Thursday, and we held the high ground today. That is so important. It suggests strongly that this nasty correction is coming to an end, and I think that's really great news, and long awaited. Profits are very, very strong. One of the leading research firms said heck, profits are so strong that the price earnings multiple for next year is going to be about 13 times, which is really historically very cheap. We also got some very good news. When you look at the trends for retail sales and industrial production, okay? Production from businesses, and sales from consumers, everything looked just fine. Inflation ticked up a little bit. Not much, less than 2 1/2%. But the Fed's going to jump all over it, and expected inflation as per the gold collapse, is coming way down. So the Fed's going to make another adjustment or two, and that's all it's going to take. So I think this is good news. By the by, in Washington, besides the war vote, where the Democrats once again showed us why we can't trust them on national security, there's a lot of telecom deregulation going on. Internets, telephone companies, this is very bullish for a sector, I might add, the telecom sector, that has been very strong, one of the leaders even during this correction.

HH: You know, Larry Kudlow, you bring up net neutrality. I am an undecided fence sitter. I'm going to have a lot of people on this, because I think it's a huge issue. Does Larry Kudlow have a position?

LK: Yeah we talked briefly about this a while back, and I am totally opposed to net neutrality. Utterly and totally opposed to net neutrality, for the simple reason that those who build the internet pipes, the Verizons of the world, the AT&Ts of the world, the Comcasts of the world, they have a responsibility to their shareholders for a good investment return. They must attract capital in order to build out the most efficient, high-speed pipes. And when users of these pipes, such as Google and Microsoft and Yahoo and E-bay...

HH: And and Kudlow's Money Politics...

LK: That is true. But we're not the problems here. It's the big guys who want the very fastest speeds with the highest definition both for movies and television as well as for sound. You've got to pay extra for that, and that is all the phone companies are saying. There's a lot of competition out there, and these price increases are not going to be much, but you've got to pay for it. After all, the shareholders have a right to rate of return. And I'm delighted to see...incidentally, I interviewed Senator Frist last night. We talked about this subject. He said it is not likely that net neutrality could possibly get through. The House is already neutrality is one of these goofy, Beltway, liberal media phrases which means this: regulate and tax. And I am glad to see that the Republican Congress is doing the right thing here. And by the way, for your investors out there, buying these telephone stocks is not a bad play. They led the parade again this week. They lead the parade year to date, and they are having an excellent run. AT&T, Bellsouth, Verizon, Sprint, Nextel, all good buys.

HH: Let me ask you about two specific companies. We'll come back and do a special show on net neutrality. KB Homes and the Tribune Company. First of all, KB cut their profit forecast, stocks a little soft. They see costs rising and land getting soft, etc. What about the home building sector, Larry Kudlow?

LK: This is not the moment to be in the home building sector, though those stocks in general have fallen probably 35-40%. So at some point, they're going to get nice and cheap, and you'll want to scoop them back up again. We're getting a housing slowdown in this country. We are not getting a housing disaster. So I noticed Toll Brothers, which is a high-end builder, actually showed some life signs this week. Maybe you want to take a look at that. So home builders, okay.

HH: Now let's turn to the Tribune Company, the great Chicago media corporation. Of course, they bought the Los Angeles Times from the Chandlers. The Chandlers are unhappy. They've got a boardroom right. We hate the Los Angeles Times out here, because it's just an agenda journalism rag sheet for the Democratic Party. Nevertheless, it's just hemorrhaging readership and ad revenue. And saving the Tribune Company? Or is it time to say to Colonel McCormick's heirs, break it up and sell it off?

LK: Well, I think that's where it's going. I think that the family shareholders want to do that, and they should break it up. Look, I think the editorial policies are awful. Not so much the Chicago Trib, but the L.A. Times, you're quite right. Out here, Newsday, it's a ridiculous liberal rag. But having said that, the challenge for these guys is can they move their business, their ad sales, over to the internet? Can they get a good online internet operation, which will attract ads? That is the saving grace. And by the way, I wouldn't write them all off. They're going to sell some of the TV stations, which also are losing ads to the internet, and then some of then own ball clubs. The Tribune owns the Chicago Cubs. They should have never been in that business anyway. It goes back, I don't know, a hundred years. I wouldn't write off all these media companies, but break ups and downsizing and internet movement is where they're all going.

HH: Now let's turn to the deficit, because I saw a story mid-week that Bush's plan to cut the deficit in half in four years might actually be happening in what? One year?

LK: This year.

HH: Yeah.

LK: This year.

HH: Isn't that amazing? And what is going on here?

LK: Yeah, well, you know, first of all, the economy is strong. Naysayers, beware. The economy is strong. Let me repeat, by the way, the releases this week on industrial production and retail sales showed that the economy remains nice and sturdy. Secondly, at lower tax rates which ignited this economy, we are getting cascading revenues. Tax collections are flowing into the government, because of the expanding economy and expanding incomes. So although Congress has said ah, some signs...they did pare back, Hugh, the emergency spending bill. They did cut it back to where Bush wants it, at $92 billion and change. Even though they're spending at about an 8% rate, revenues are coming in at about a 13% rate. So if you're taking in more than you pay out, even Uncle Sam's going to have a lower deficit, and that's what's happening. It's taking away an election year issue, by the way, not that anybody should worry about such things. But it is taking away that issue.

HH: Thirty seconds, Larry. When we had revenue growth in the late 90's, it was a lot of capital gains, and a lot of stock market this a different revenue surge?

LK: Well, a lot of this revenue surge is coming from business profits. Companies are very, very profitable. Profits are the mother's milk of the economy and the stock market. So that's a very healthy sign. But having said that, we're also getting some good numbers in on capital gains and dividends. Again, at lower tax rates, there is more asset appreciation going on, and that's showing up in the revenue collections. This stuff, by the way, more than pays for itself. It's a pure Laffer curve, despite what these static scorekeepers say in Washington.

HH: Right. Larry Kudlow, you do more for economic education in ten minutes each week than all of the professors. Thank you, friend.

End of interview.

Return to top

Friday, June 16

The Governator returns.


HH: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, you've been getting a lot of help in your reelection bid, and a lot of people think it's sort of signed, sealed and delivered with Phil Angelides in the race, from…you're getting help from John McCain. He's been over here a lot. Is he your guy in '08, Governor?

AS: I'm not at all thinking about '08, or who to endorse, or anything like that. Senator McCain has been a terrific friend, and he has been very helpful in my campaign, and he has been really terrific coming out here and going to fundraisers with me, and introducing me in different places. So he's a friend of mine.

HH: But you're not endorsing him?

AS: No one every asked me to endorse him.

HH: Okay...Let's switch over then to the California race. Lots of conservatives supported you in the recall, including me. But after November of last year, they kind of got the message to get out of sight. Why should they now care whether or not you win or lose?

AS: Well, look. When it comes to elections, it all depends on what agenda do you want to support. Do you want to support an agenda where it takes the state back where we were when I took over, to billions of dollars of debt, more spending, more taxing, and making companies again leave the state, roll back our credit rating, and doing all the kind of things that they have done a few years ago? Or do you want to move the state forward in the direction we have gone? I mean, since I have come into office, I have created $20 billion dollars more in revenues. We have created almost 600,000 new jobs, we've improved our credit rating six times. We are now paying off our debt. We are funding education fully. So there's all kinds of great things that are happening...that we reformed worker's compensation, that is now lower than 40%. There's all kinds of great things that are happening. It's a very positive kind of a message. We are building California, and we are getting out or our crisis. And the other side is trying to take California back where we were. So it's a choice that people have to make. Do you want to go forward? Or do you want to go back?

HH: And you get repealed the car tax, you got rid of the driver's licenses for illegals, you did veto same sex marriage, you vetoed the rewrite of the textbooks. There are a lot of things out there. But after November, it seems like you just said to the conservatives, I don't need you, but you need me, and you've got to vote for me. Is that true?

AS: Well, it's your interpretation, and I think it's a terrible interpretation, because I always make it clear that I need everybody. I always said that the conservatives are as much on the table as anyone else, and it is very important that we move forward in that way. I mean, you cannot say that I've said...that I'm not any more conservative when I have supported, for instance, right afterwards, after the special election, the death penalty. And remember, Tookie Williams, and there was the big battle there, when everyone said no, spare his life, and I went ahead with the death penalty anyway? Because I believe that people that are criminals, that create this kind of incredible agony for people and kill people, they should be punished. And so I set the same philosophy I've had ten years ago, and it's the same that I have today. Not raising taxes, the same philosophy I have today than I had ten years ago. You know, being tough on Border Patrol and securing our borders. I was tough there ten years ago, and I'm tough on it today. So the list goes on and on and on. Nothing has changed. What I did say was that it was a mistake not to be as inclusive last year as I should have been in order to be successful. I think it's more important to bring everyone on board, because you're dealing in a capitol where you have 120 legislators, Democrats and Republicans, and you have to be more inclusive to bring everyone on board, so that you can get the votes, and get initiatives passed.

HH: Governor, are there any high-profile conservatives in your administration who really have authority and sort of represent the Herschensohn wing of the party?

AS: Well, I run the state, and then everything trickles down from there. And everyone that works in my office, are people that represent me and people that are adopting my philosophy, even though maybe their original philosophy has been different. But they're all implementing the things that I want to do in this state.

HH: But are there any high-profile conservatives that people say yeah, you know, there's the conservative voice being heard by the governor as he comes to grips with a bunch of different problems?

AS: We have in the Capitol legislators, and also in my office, people that are very conservative, and people that are very liberal. And I always listen to both voices, because I'm the governor of both Democrats and Republicans. But remember that I always have been fiscally conservative, and moderate on social issues.

HH: Yeah, but Governor, I'm just asking. I really don't know of any conservatives in your inner circle, or in your cabinet.

AS: Well, then you have to come up to the Capitol, and then just meet all the people.

HH: (laughing)

AS: Then you will see that maybe you haven't been hanging around enough.

HH: I've been in Republican politics in California since 1989, Governor. I mean, where's Rogan? Where's Herschensohn? Where's Kachigian? Where are all these people? How come they're on the out?

AS: Well, no one is on the out. I mean, if you think that Dan Dunmoyer is not a conservative, then I don't know who is. Or a Fred Aguire is not a conservative, I don't know then what you are talking about. But we have a good mixture of conservative people and a good mixture of also moderate people in my office, because I like to hear both point of views.

HH: All right. Let me get to one key issue. I think California is fundamentally unprepared for the Bird Flu if it gets here. I do a lot of work on that down in Orange County on our Prop. 10 Commission. I know you've held a couple of forums with Mike Leavitt, and you've got Mark Horton up there. He's doing a good job. But I mean Governor, if it gets here, we're not ready.

AS: Well, what are you doing about it?

HH: We are stockpiling Tamaflu in Orange County. We've appropriated money, run some drills. But I mean, the state's not ready. I mean, L.A., Sacramento, no one else is doing anything.

AS: Well, we are working on it. As a matter of fact, we have been working with the federal government very effectively, and we are working with local governments very effectively. I think there's a very good communication. As a matter of fact, I also put in my budget $400 million dollars to make sure that we have enough of the vaccine, and that we also have enough beds available, enough ventilators available, enough nurses, and so on. So we have really taken this seriously. As a matter of fact, there's no one that takes it more seriously than me. When I was back at the National Governor's Conference, it was actually me that brought it up, and we had a debate over it to see and find ways where all the states could work together to make sure that we are protecting the people, because it's our number one priority. And it is my top priority, also, and our responsibility to protect the people of California, and to do everything we can, if there is a problem like that with the Bird Flu, that we have enough of the medication and enough beds, and all of those things.

HH: So you think the Tamiflu and the ventilators would be here before any outbreak occurred?

AS: Oh, yeah. We have put in the money into the budget that we can buy all of those things, and be ready for it.

HH: All right. Governor, last question. I know you're pressed for time. What's the biggest difference between you and Phil Angelides?

AS: The simplest and the biggest difference is that I want to take the state forward. I want to create more jobs. I want to make sure that no one is raising taxes. I want to make sure that we go and pay down the debt, that we don't use the money that we are making for ongoing programs, but for one-time use, which is paying down the debt. I want to make sure that we are rebuilding California, and expand our university system, and our public schools and everything, and that we are rebuilding the roads to move people and goods around, because that's economic power. So for me, it's all positive message about building, building and building, and about creating and making people's lives better, without the government interfering with the people's lives. And Angelides wants to take us back, again, where we were.

HH: All right, Governor, always welcome here. Call me the next time you want to do some more.

AS: Thank you very much.

End of interview.

Posted at 4:30PM PDT

Return to top

Thursday, June 15

Mark Steyn and Hugh Hewitt holding onto the American moment.


HH: It's an extraordinary week, and it keeps getting, well, more complex. The debate in the House and the Senate today of great significance, the documents being released from the treasure trove captured from Zarqawi important, more roll up underway in Iraq. And to sort it out for us all, Mark Steyn, columnist to the world. You can read Mark in pretty much every newspaper on the globe, and it's all collected at Mark Steyn, welcome back. Good to have you.

MS: Great to be with you, Hugh.

HH: Mark, since Zarqawi's capture, a number was like that lighting the gun powder in an old Looney Tune. And first, it blew up al Qaeda, and then it blew up the left. And let's start with the news out of Iraq. How good is it in your estimate?

MS: Well, I think it's clear that they caught him in such a fashion as they were able to get to his rolodex, and his computers, and various little things he had left around lying on envelopes here and there, so that they have got an immense amount of useful information from it. And I think it's also clear that al Qaeda does have a problem in Iraq, that there isn't really a constituency for it, except for a very, very small number of disaffected Sunnis. This guy they've replaced Zarqawi with, I forget his actual name, but it's something's the Arabic word for immigrant, which suggests that he is not exactly a local man on the ground, who's now going to be leading al Qaeda.

HH: Right.

MS: It's something like Ahmad al-immigrant. It's the equivalent here as if the Democrats were putting up a guy called Fred Undocumented for president. I mean, it's not...(laughing) it accurately conveys, very literally, that they are having trouble maintaining a popular basis for this insurgency. You know, all the talk, basically, the Democrat media view on Iraq, that this is a civil war, is completely and utterly deranged. I mean, it has none of the elements of a civil war. For a civil war, you need two sides that are willing to fight. And there simply are not large numbers of Iraqi people who are interested in joining this. So you've just got a dwindling, isolated band of terrorists who can blow up Muslims in bus stations, and Muslims in shopping markets. And the more they do that, the more they're going to be in the situation Zarqawi, where there's more and more people willing to rat him out.

HH: And even as that unfolds, however, like runaway trucks, the left in the United States cannot seem to cope with news, especially news for which they're not programmed. And so Yearly Kos unfolds into a long, anti-Bush rant, and today in the Senate and the House, the resolution to cut and run out of Iraq lost by a vote of 93-6 in the Senate, with only Boxer and Feingold and Kerry and Kennedy and a couple of know, Bryd and one other person. But the net roots, as they call them, can't seem to cope with this, Mark Steyn.

MS: Well, no. I mean, you say only six, but we're talking about the great lion of the Democratic Party, Ted Kennedy. We're talking about their last presidential candidate...

HH: Yup.

MS: John Kerry. We're talking about the so-called father of the Senate, Robert C. Byrd. I mean, we are talking about very eminent figures here. And what I think people should understand is that whatever the argument for going into Iraq, once you're in it, you've got to have even better arguments for getting out of a was without victory. And I think for America to actually announce an exit strategy, to say you're right, this is a disaster, we're getting out of here, we're going home, it would end the American moment. If America cannot even withstand in fact what is a relatively successful operation in Iraq, if even that is too traumatizing for a society of 300 million, then that's the end of the American moment. There's no reason for Russia and China to pay any attention to America ever again. Not only that, there's no reason for Belgium or Luxembourg to take America seriously ever again. It's over. You go the John Kerry route, it's over. And if Americans really want to be the kind of defeatist loser nation that Kerry-Kennedy & Co. paint them as, so be it. I don't think they are, and in fact, I would say you know, despite the best efforts of the Republican Party to shoot themselves in the foot and in the hand and in the kneecap and everywhere else, that the Democrats will not do well this November, and the Republican Party will hold Congress.

HH: I'm growing more optimistic because of the inability of Democrats to check their worst instincts. Here is Jane Harman on the floor of the House today. She's chairman...or she's not chairman, she's the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and widely regarded as a moderate and a responsible individual. Here's Jane Harman today:

JH: We were all wrong. Overriding the advice of intelligence professionals, administration officials put stock in bogus sources like Curveball, and self-promoters like Ahmad Chalabi. But simply calling Iraq an intelligence failure ignores the larger policy failures that created the false momentum toward war. The administration cherrypicked intelligence, and hyped the threat. They talked in ominous tones about mushroom clouds, even though many questioned evidence suggesting Saddam had nuclear weapons capability. They made a mantra of the claim that 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta met with Iraqi agents in Prague, a claim that has been thoroughly discredited.

HH: Mark Steyn, this is really an irresponsible rewriting of history, by an allegedly responsible Democrat.

MS: Yes, and you know, the sad truth is that Jane Harman is one of the saner members of the Democratic Party. I mean, all intelligence involves cherrypicking. When President Bush said that Saddam Hussein had been trying to acquire yellowcake in Africa, he was choosing to favor what he had heard from British and French and Italian intelligence over what the CIA were telling him. And in that case, the British and the French and the Italians were right, and the CIA was wrong. Every president has the right to make that judgment. Similarly with Mohammad Atta. When she says that his meeting in Prague has been thoroughly debunked, no it hasn't.

HH: No, it hasn't!

MS: All that they can tell you is that someone used Mohammad Atta's cell phone, American cell phone, at the time he was meant to be in Prague. That's all that anyone knows about him. U.S. Immigration actually has no record, cannot authoritatively state whether he was in the United States or not at that time. And so Jane Harman is being irresponsible. But I sympathize, because the thing is, if you are a sane member of the Democratic Party, with a responsible attitude to national security, what happens to you? Like Joe Lieberman, they run some kook up against you in the primary, and you get railroaded out of that party. I mean, one of the things we hear about this sort of Daily Kos type crowd is that they're just motivated by Bush hatred. But in fact, it's more serious than that, because even when it's a Democrat who is articulating a responsible attitude to national security and foreign policy, they can't stand that, either, and they're railroading Joe Lieberman out of the party.

HH: You know, Peter Beinart is my guest in the last hour. He's trying valiantly to recapture the Democratic Party from the fever swamp, but I note that when Ann Coulter goes on the Today Show, Matt Lauer appropriately calls her on her challenge to the genuineness of the grief of the widows, but that when Daily Kos shows up on NBC's Tim Russert program, they don't bring up his attack on the American veterans serving as private security in Fallujah, who were so brutally murdered. They're afraid of Kos. They're afraid of him in the media, and they're afraid of him in the Democratic Party.

MS: Yes, and I think that's the big difference, that in fact when you look at the number of people starting with the Democrats' own leader in the Senate, who went to pay court with the Daily Kos crowd in the last week, that's very different. No equivalent members of the Republican Party, if they happen to run into Ann Coulter at a private function somewhere, they might share a joke with her, but they don't share platforms with her. And in fact, what Kos said about those contractors in Iraq was actually a lot worse than anything Ann Coulter said about the Jersey girls. There is a double standard there, and unfortunately, Peter Beinart, I think is really in the same situation as Joe Lieberman is. He's trying to articulate a sane policy for a party that is not in the mood for one. And there are no takers for it.

HH: Yeah, I want to emphasize what you said. The Kos attack on the American servicemen veterans who'd become private security as mercenaries, was much more despicable than Ann Coulter's, and goes unnoticed and unrebuked, and he doubled down and defended it this week. I want you to hear a DeFazio quote. Peter DeFazio, a Congressman from Oregon, just so you hear the latest meme, Mark Steyn.

PD: When they mentioned al-Zarqawi, the Pentagon wanted to take out al-Zarqawi. They had him in their sights, before the war in Iraq, and the Bush White House and Dick Cheney wouldn't let them, because it would hurt recruitment for the coalition of the willing to invade Iraq.

HH: Okay, Mark, you know what we're talking about. More paranoia in the Democratic Caucus on the House floor, suggesting that you know, if we'd only thrown some cruise missiles at him, that would have ended everything.

MS: Well, I think this're damned if you do, and damned if you don't, as John Howard said. If you don't get Zarqawi, then you'll say oh, we can't stop this insurgency, you can't even catch Zarqawi, you're doomed in Iraq. If you kill Zarqawi, then they run around saying oh, well, now you've just made him a martyr, the insurgency will be unstoppable, they're going to recruit hundreds of thousands to his cause. And now they're saying oh, well, in fact, you knew about Zarqawi, even though we said there were no al Qaeda guys in Iraq. That was our position last week.

HH: Oh, he was up at the Kurd camp that Saddam didn't control. That's part of their meme.

MS: Yeah. Now we're saying he was there, and we should have got him years ago. Well, yeah, maybe that's true. Maybe we should have got him before he fiddled all the chads down in the Florida recount in 2000. You know, that's the thing. When he was hanging out in Palm Beach County in the ballot clerk's office. Maybe we should have got him then. I mean, this is just absurd loser talk. And loser talk does not pay off on election day.

HH: I think you're right, Mark Steyn, as usual. Thanks for dropping in., America.

End of interview.

Peter Beinart with an RX for the Democratic Party, but unwilling to do anything about the Daily Kos gangrene that is spreading.


HH: Joined now by our old friend, Peter Beinart, long time editor of the New Republic, now, I don't know, editor-at-large of the New Republic, author of The Good Fight: Why Liberals And Only Liberals Can Win The War On Error And Make America Great Again. Peter Beinart, welcome back. Congratulations, good book, and doing well I see.

PB: It is doing pretty well, thank you. And after this interview, I think it's just going to go through the roof, because so many conservatives are going to buy it.

HH: Well, I think they should, actually. I think it is one of the more coherent primers to responsible thinking on the left. Wrong, though, that it might be, at least it is responsible. Peter, I want to spend a lot of time talking about The Good Fight. I want to lead into it with this question. It's a hypothetical, but bear with me.

PB: Sure.

HH: Assume that diplomacy fails, and assume that sanctions are tried and fail, and assume as well that the president, whether it's this president or his successor, believe on the absolute assurance of intelligence here and abroad that Iran is about to acquire nuclear weapons. Ought military force be used to interfere with and impede that acquisition?

PB: I don't know. I have not come to a conclusion yet about it. I'm being honest about it. I'm trying to read and think and write about it, without having to kind of come down on one side or the other in a little bit of ways that I tried to do on the wake of Iraq, before I actually...and again, it comes down to me, to fundamentally this question. There's a theory about deference. And deference worked pretty well during the Cold War. I mean, we deterred Mao when he was a lunatic, we deterred Stalin when he was a monster. So it seems to me, I go into this with a view that deterrence...that there's some good evidence that deterrence worked, even against the worst regime, unless you show me a good case that it can't work in this case. And what I have not seen, but I could be convinced, is someone really going chapter and verse, carefully looking...Ken Pollack tried to do this with Saddam...carefully look at what we know about the Iranian regime, its past behavior, to explain why, even though deterrence has worked against some of the worst regimes in the world, deterrence cannot work against Ahmadinejead in Iran. That's my test.

HH: But you understand that my scenario just doesn't go to the question whether he's going to use them. It just goes to the question of whether he's going to get them.

PB: Yes, but for me, it's ultimately the question. I'm not...if I believe that he can be deterred, I'm not going to be willing to use military force just to keep him from getting them. I mean, North Korea has them right now. I mean, my goodness. That regime is probably worse than the Iranian regime, and they have them. And you and I are still going to sleep at night. So it seems to me I'm not going to go to war to stop him from getting nuclear weapons unless I don't believe he can be deterred from using them. I'm not going to support military action just to stop him from getting them, because I think the consequences of military action would be really, really bad. First of all, I think we could probably kiss goodbye our chances in Iraq, which would be really frightening. And I think that we would get into...we would be in a long term proxy war with Iran. It would have very, very damaging consequences for the United States.

HH: And I think your answer, Peter, in all candor, undermines your argument from the beginning unto the end that in fact if liberals cannot answer that question, with the set up that I gave you, in the rapid affirmative no, Ahmadinejead and the 12th imamists may not have nukes, then in fact, liberals cannot be trusted to wage, much less win, the War On Terror, because they don't understand it.

PB: But why...look, liberals were not willing to support a preemptive military strike against either the Soviet Union or China when both of those countries were rushing towards nuclear capacity, first in the late 40's, and second, early in the 1950's. That did not make Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy wimps. It made them believers in a theory of containment and deterrence that stood America pretty well.

HH: And I will now come to your theory of why containment ought to have been tried more in Iraq. But what the failure to recognize is that Ahmadinejead's theology is very different from the ideology of either the Soviet Union or Mao's China, or indeed North Korea under the family dictatorship. He is not committed to staying alive, he's committed to end times millennialism. And I think that is...would alarm most people, that what you call the Salafists, which I call the Islamists, are not to be trifled with when they say what they say.

PB: What you're...the distinction you're effacing, which I think is an important distinction that the Bush administration always keeps on blurring, is this distinction between state and non-state actors. I completely agree with you. When you're dealing with non-state actors, groups of jihadists, the theory of deterrence does not work. But deterrence theories always, as you know, it's always based on the idea that even the worst leaders have something to protect, and that is their life and their regime and power, which is very important to even the Stalins and Maos and Ahmadinejeads of the world. And that's what the theory of deterrence works based on. You're going to have to go further to me than just mentioning the 12th imam, and saying Ahmadinejead wants to die. To Saddam, at least, you could say look, this guy has done extremely reckless things abroad. His invasion of Iran, his invasion of Kuwait, which showed at least a tendency to miscalculate wildly. But someone's got to show me chapter and verse on Iran, to show me that they have a history of doing that.

HH: Have you read Ahmadinejead's letter to the President?

PB: Well, that' know, Ahmadinejead's letter to the President is...imagine if Kim Jung Il were to write a letter, goodness knows, to the President of the United States. It would probably be just as loony. You have to make...I want to see some evidence based on behavior.

HH: But my question was, had you read that letter?

PB: Have I read that letter?

HH: Yes.

PB: No, I just read exerpts of it. I haven't read the whole thing.

HH: When you read that letter, we'll continue the conversation. But now let's go to your book, because there's a lot in here I want to get to. Especially, I want to begin towards the end, page 187. As liberals have grown cynical about the struggle against jihad, growing numbers have accepted the implicit message of the anti-imperialist left. The United States can best protect itself by retreating from the world. Now there's a lot in that statement I want to unpack. First of all, can you give me the representatives of the anti-imperialist left to whom you are referring, Peter? Are we talking about the Daily Kos crowd?

PB: know, you can't make such...there are so many people who blog on Daily Kos, that one can't make such an assumption about that. The people who I cite in the book as talk about Michael Moore, I quote a couple of statements from George Lakoff, I quote a couple of things by, and a few things from The Nation in the wake of 9/11. So those are...that's the kind of constellation of people that I call the anti-imperialist left.

HH: How about Kos himself?

PB: I don't know. You know, the Crashing The Gate book doesn't have anything about that, because it's really mostly about political tactics. I read his stuff online, and honestly, mostly, it's tactical stuff. You don't really get a great sense of kind of what his first principles are about the world. And one of the things I made a conscious effort in my book not to do was not to attack people, or tar them with any particular labels, unless I had chapter and verse that I could cite about them. And I don't have anything about Markos Moulitsas. I haven't read anything...I mean, I haven't read anything that he has written about his view of American foreign policy in the world that would lead me to lump him into that group.

HH: What about his effort, and he is the leader of the effort to drive Joe Lieberman from the field, and replace him with Ned Lamont over Lieberman's war votes?

PB: Well, you know, it's funny. I wrote a column about this. Look, I disagree with that very strongly, and I believe that Joe Lieberman is kind of getting a bum rap. Even if you believe, as I do, that he and I were wrong on the war in Iraq, I'm sure we'll get to that. But I actually think the hostility to Lieberman is less about ideology, because these guys acknowledge that Lieberman's basically a...down the line, his voting is pretty liberal. He's hawkish on foreign policy, but is he that much more hawkish than Schumer or Hillary Clinton? I think the hostility to him is really about style. It's about the desire amongst the kind of liberal blogosphere to have people who will be, who will really, really snarl at George W. Bush, and it's really about the politics of style, and the fact that this one quote of Lieberman, which I think was a mistake that he shouldn't have said, where he basically said you know, we shouldn't criticize George W. Bush in time of war, or whatever. So I don't necessarily see the opposition to Lieberman as necessarily putting you in that camp unless again, you show me something someone said.

HH: So it's hard just do you define, then, the anti-imperialist left?

PB: I would basically say people who believe that jihadism is primarily the result of American actions, and who basically believe that the only real struggle that liberals face today is the struggle against the right, incarnated by George W. Bush, and conservatives more generally. That's the kind of the divide that I tried to draw, I think was there between Truman and Henry Wallace, I think was to some degree there between Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern, and that I think exists in a somewhat different way today.

HH: All right. Now what percentage of liberals have been seduced by this, that you refer to on page 187?

PB: Well, you know, that's very difficult to quantify. I think what we know is this, that liberals were, for the year after 9/11, basically pretty indistinguishable from conservatives in their general orientation towards the anti-jihadist struggle, you know, how big a priority they placed on it. They were overwhelmingly in support of the war in Afghanistan. I mean, not quite as high as conservatives in the public opinion polls, but overwhelmingly supportive of it. Starting with the election of 2002, and now I'm going to say something that you don't like. But I think that Karl Rove and George W. Bush were consciously trying to divide the country on this question, turn this into a wedge issue. They could have had a deal on the Homeland Security Department very easily, but they went out and they tried to basically make this a partisan issue, and I think they succeeded, and my fear is that some liberals are unwittingly playing into their hands, because now we start to see polling which does suggest that there is a pretty significant partisan divide in the priority that people give to the anti-jihadist struggle, and even to some degree on the war in Afghanistan. And that really bothers me. I think that could change with good Democratic leadership. You know, Bill Clinton, I think, the 1990's, the foreign policy debate was very different. On Kosovo, Democrats were arguably, and liberals, more hawkish than conservatives. So I don't think it's necessarily a permanent phenomenon, but it does worry me, and part of the reason I wrote the book.

HH: This very day, the Senate rejected, by a vote of 93-6, a call for withdrawal from Iraq by year's end. The six Democrats who voted for that withdrawl? Boxer, Byrd, Feingold, Harkin, Kerry and Kennedy. Are they anti-imperialist leftists, Peter Beinart?

PB: Well, I don't know that I would...again, I need to know more about how they see the world, but I definitely disagree with them on that vote.


Peter, there's a debate raging this very day in House and Senate over the war. Let me give you a few clips from the House to react to. Cut number 7, please. Ike Skelton.

IS: There are two ongoing wars. The war against terror, which has genesis in Afghanistan, and we did the right thing going in there. We're still chasing bin Laden, and someday we'll get him. We toppled the Taliban. And then of course, we went into Iraq, based upon the threat of weapons of mass destruction, and we're there. I sent two letters to the President of the United States, warning about the aftermath, warning about what might very, very well happen after our initial victory. And it came to pass. We have an insurgency there, which is different and distinct from terrorists. The insurgency is composed of Baathists, Fedayeen, Sunni who were basically in charge under Saddam Hussein. This is their attempt to knock down the government that is there, and to establish their own, far from being the terrorists that we went after in Afghanistan.

HH: Peter Beinart, do you agree with that assessment by Ike Skelton, senior member of the Armed Services Committee for Democrats in the House of Representatives?

PB: I partly agree, and I partly disagree. I think where he's right is the idea that there were not a lot of jihadist terrorists under Saddam Hussein. And he's also right that most of the insurgents we are fighting are not international jihadists with a kind of vision of basically toppling governments througout the Middle East. Those people, I think according to most studies, are a very, very small percentage of the people we're fighting in Iraq. Where I would disagree with him is that I think the...even though they are a small number, they are a very, very worrying group. There's already...I think the New York Times reported that Zarqawi was already sending people back to their home countries to do, basically, in their home countries, what the Afghan veterans did in the 1990's. Remember the Afghan veterans sent Algeria and Egypt into virtual chaos in the 1990's as a result of what they had learned in Afghanistan. So the fact that most of these guys are insurgents, and parenthetically, I think, have to be brought into the political process, we ultimately...if we're going to be able to get out in Iraq, it's going to require bringing the Sunnis into the political process. It doesn't mean that if we were to...we could just leave Iraq and not worry about it, because I think what would happen is the jihadists would move pretty freely in the Sunni areas, at least for a while, and really become, and use it as a base at least for a while to do dangerous things. The consequence of Saudi Arabia is really terrifying, given that I think the report suggests that a lot of these insurgents have come from Saudi, and would go back home quickly.

HH: So this senior, senior Democrat is very wrong about a very important matter?

PB: Well, I disagree with him about...if the implication of what he's saying is that because they are mostly nationalist insurgents, about which he's right, that we can leave quickly and don't need to worry about, I mean, that's kind of what I took as his implication. I could be wrong.

HH: I didn't get to the implication. I mean, he was stating facts, and he was saying that the insurgency is simply not the same sort of terror that we're fighting in Afghanistan. And he's wrong about that.

PB: Well, I think, you know, I think he's right that most of the insurgents...I'm sure you would agree with this, that most of the insurgents are not Salafist jihadists who basically have a kind of al Qaedaesque mission. Most of them are not. But there are some, and we have to worry about those.

HH: And he doesn't. He's wrong about that.

PB: Well, I don't know that he's saying we shouldn't worry about them, but I would stress it more than he is.

HH: All right. Let's go to Jack Murtha, Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Cut number 13.

JM: All of us want to end this thing. All of us want to find a way to prevail in Iraq. This is a civil war, and we're caught in this civil war. There's less than a thousand al Qaeda in Iraq. They've diminished al Qaeda. But we're caught in this civil war between 100,000 Shiias, and 20,000 Sunnis fighting with each other.

HH: Do you agree with that assessment, Peter Beinart?

PB: Well, he may well be right that there are less than a thousand al Qaeda. I don't quite know how one gets to that number. It may well be right. But even if you accept his premise that we're caught in a civil war between the Sunnis and Shiia, that doesn't necessarily lead you to the view that immediate withdrawal is the right answer. It seems to me that you have to make an argument about how...look, the only way we're going to be able to get out of that country, and have Iraq not be a threat, is to try to help this government that we...we asked these guys to vote, and they did. They elected this government. We have to do whatever is possible, it seems to me, to give this government the best chance of bringing the Sunnis in, and being able to deal with the militias, so that you have a government that the Iraqi people will get behind, and that ultimately, the insurgency starts to fade away. I don' own view is that immediate withdrawal would not be the best way of doing that. I know there are people who might make that case, but my view is if that government says they need us to stay...look, that government presumably would love us to be gone, because we delegitimize them. But if they still believe that even given that, they're better off with us there for a while longer, I think we should be willing to stay.

HH: Here's Rahm Emanuel today, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Cut number 18:

RE: And when Don Rumsfeld, a man who expressed contempt for the idea of nation building was assigned the responsibility of rebuilding Iraq, and mismanaged the war against the insurgency, this Congress, the Republican Congress, walked away from its oversight responsibility. Mr. Speaker, the Republicans want to protray the greatest foreign policy challenge of a generation as simply the choice between more of the same or a new direction. And we Democrats welcome that. The debate today is about whether the American people want to stay the course, with an administration and a Congress that has walked away from its obligations, or pursue a real strategy for success in the war on terror. 2, additional minute? 2,500 brave Americans, male and female, have given their lives to trying to stabilize Iraq.

HH: Okay, and let's go to cut number 21, Jane Harman, Democratic chair of the Intelligence Committee:

JH: We were all wrong. Overriding the advice of intelligence professionals, administration officials put stock in bogus sources like Curveball, and self-promoters like Ahmad Chalabi. But simply calling Iraq an intelligence failure ignores the larger policy failures that created the false momentum toward war. The administration cherrypicked intelligence, and hyped the threat. They talked in ominous tones about mushroom clouds, even though many questioned evidence suggesting Saddam had nuclear weapons capability. They made a mantra of the claim that 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta met with Iraqi agents in Prague, a claim that has been thoroughly discredited.

HH: Now two senior members of the Democratic leadership making astonishing claims, Peter. Do you agree with those claims?

PB: Yeah, pretty much, I do.

HH: Okay. And then one more. Let's go to Peter DeFazio, and cut number 11:

PD: Just recently sent 850 Oregonians off to Afghanistan to fight the resurgent Taliban and Osama bin Laden, the perpetrators of 9/11. September 14th, this house on a proud day, with one exception, voted to authorize the war in Afghanistan to take out the Taliban, take out the perpetrators of 9/11, al Qaeda. That was nearly unanimous. But sadly, the Bush administration, and the Republicans in Congress, distracted us onto a path of a war in Iraq, 1,143 days ago. 2,497 servicemen killed, 18,490 wounded. First, it was weapons of mass destruction. Then it was about 9/11. Then it was about building democracy, but now the Republicans want to pretend that it has to do all about the war on terrorism. They mentioned al-Zarqawi. The Pentagon wanted to take out al-Zarqawi. They had him in their sights before the war in Iraq, and the Bush White House and Dick Cheney wouldn't let them, because it would hurt recruitment for the coalition of the willing to invade Iraq.

HH: Peter Beinart, do you agree with that?

PB: I just don't know on that last statement, but I think the other stuff is basically true, that there was unanimous support for the war in Afghanistan, and that the Iraq war was argued about...when we said it was really for the war on terror, but in fact, it has actually been very bad for the war on terror. And the rationale really doesn't hold up in retrospect.


Now Peter, you're having a bad day in the House and the Senate today, because the real face of the Democratic Party is out there, and it's angry, and it's unhinged, and you just heard Peter DeFazio, and I think you said you agreed with him. First, it was about WMD, and then they changed to this, and then they changed to that...your own book points out that there were many reasons, among them the WMD threat, that we went into Iraq about. Nick Lehmann in the New Yorker, two weeks before the election, laid out all five of them, including planting democracy in the heart of Iraq. That's an admission against interest from a large, left icon. And the fact is that the rewrite of history by the Democratic Party undermines your claim that it can be reponsibly treated, or given power, especially on the WMD, Bush lied/people died meme, when Bill Clinton did Desert Fox in '98, for goodness sake.

PB: He did. Look, I think what's fair to say about where the intelligence was in the Fall of 2002, was there was a general assumption that Saddam Hussein probably had some stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, and probably had a nuclear weapons program at a fairly low level. If you looked at...but that was really...we knew very little, because we hadn't had inspectors in on the ground between '98 and 2002. I don't blame people for believing that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapons program in the Fall of 2002. There were some who didn't, like the State Department's intelligence agency dissented, and said we don't have enough evidence of this. But I don't blame, generally, people for believing that, given what we knew about Saddam's history. The big problem came in the early months of 2003. When we got the inspectors back George W. Bush's credit, I will give him credit. He got those inspectors back in, which was a great accomplishment. They got really good access, by and large, those inspectors. They started to learn a lot more than we knew, because we were only relying on satellite intelligence. We were just taking pictures from halfway across the world. And they started to come to the conclusion, the IAEA, that in fact, Saddam's capacity had degraded quite dramatically over the course of...during the sanctions of the 90's, and that they were coming pretty quickly to the conclusion that in fact, no matter what illusions Saddam might be telling his own guys, there was no nuclear weapons program there. And given what we knew then, by March of 2003, it was a mistake to pull the trigger.

HH: And so, Peter, what I'm...I'm not getting to the alternative narrative. I'm getting to the fact that so long as some Democrats in leadership embrace not only that we might have been wrong, but that Bush knew he was wrong, and that he led us into war for oil, and the even hint at that a little bit in your book.

PB: Well, but what's fair is...well, first of all, I think what is fair to say about the Bush administration is they took what the intelligence community knew, and they stretched it as much as possible. They kept on know, Bush would say things like if Saddam gets a softball full of uranium, he could have a nuclear weapon in a year, without saying that the intelligence community's own assessment was that him getting that was extremely unlikely. They basically took everything, and pushed it to the max, and I think that was not...they were not very fair-minded in the way they described...

HH: Peter, your book is an argument that Democrats can be trusted with the national security.

PB: Sure.

HH: And my view is that so long as Democrats insist on turning miscalculations...possibly. We don't know yet, and there's more evidence emerging everyday about ties between al Qaeda, for example, and Saddam. But if they can take evidence of mistake, and turn that into evidence of vile intent, and when they can come up with a oh, we could have had Zarqawi by repeating the cruise missile attack that did not get Osama when Bill Clinton launched it, that that betrays a fundamental immaturity about the most serious subjects, and therefore, they can't be trusted.

PB: No, I mean, look. These Democrats sincerely do believe that George W. Bush stretched...

HH: Oh, I know.

PB: And a lot of people from the intelligence communities themselves have come forward in saying that, and I think there's a lot of evidence that in fact, they did. Not that they knew that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. I'm not saying that. But that basically rather than giving the American people a balanced picture of what we knew and what we didn't know, they basically went as far as they possibly could in making it out to be as menacing as it possibly could. And where that really becomes indefensible was once we start learning in early 2003, more and more that suggests that in fact, this assumption about Saddam's nuclear program was wrong. We knew a lot about that by the time we went to war.

HH: But Peter, that's all Monday morning quarterbacking. To me, the idea that to go back and turn that into a political issue for partisan purposes...

PB: But it's not Monday morning quarterbacking.

HH: ...cabins the Democratic Party and a left fringe that we can't trust them to run national security.

PB: No, Monday morning quarterbacking is also called history, right? It's also called learning from history...that's how we in this country get better, is learning from mistakes. And the truth of the matter is it's not Monday morning quarterbacking, given the fact that we knew on the day we went to war, where there was very good evidence to believe that in fact, our assumption about Saddam's nuclear weapons program was wrong.

HH: And I don't think you are going to persuade America that holding onto that position, and asserting that, as opposed to maybe he did not have it, we thought he had, but we all believed he did. The responsble, collective responsibility for the decision is not a way to earn back trust.


HH: What's your title there, Peter?

PB: Editor-at-large.

HH: I got it right.

PB: It's getting larger all the time.

HH: Now Peter, page 135. "John Foster Dulles, Arthur Schlessinger once noted, 'had a complacent conviction of American moral infallibility. All other nations acted according to selfish motives. America was pure.'" And then you write, "And in this sense, as in others, men like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Bush himself, are Dulles' ideological heirs." Now let's put aside from the fact that Schlessinger was an enemy of Dulles, and overstated his position, because John Foster Dulles felt that the West had a moral deposit that was righteous and worth defending, and that it was shared with people like Great Britain and Canada and other allies, and France in the war, etc. But then, for you to write that other men, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush are Dulles' ideological heirs suggests that in fact, the motives of the West are, in fact, not pure.

PB: My point is that American virtue has to be proven and earned. It can't simply be asserted. That we are not angels. That we are capable of the same kind of corrupting temptations as other countries in the past were. And what makes America uniquely great, what makes us such an exceptionally extraordinary nation, is precisely because we struggle against our own capacity for injustice, even our own capacity for evil. And that that's what historically has inspired the world, is seeing America not only fight its enemies, but hold itself to a higher standard, struggling to become a better nation in the process. And I don't think that's what we've done since 9/11. I think we've been very stringent about human rights in other countries, and remarkably complacent about human rights in our own country. And the rest of the world has seen it, and it has undermined George W. Bush's often quite beautiful words about America's mission to spread freedom around the world.

HH: Do you think Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush share with Harry Truman a sense of American exceptionalism, and its moral transcendence?

PB: But it depends on what you mean by American exceptionalism. If you believe by American exceptionalism that the possibility that America can do exceptionally great things in the world, I think that Truman believed that. But what Truman did not believe, and I think what the Cold War liberals did not believe, was that American exceptionalism meant that America could do no wrong, that somehow, America could give itself absolute power in the world, without being corrupted by that absolute power, or that America didn't need to struggle to become a better nation, because it was a moral icon as it was. No liberal would have said that about America in 1953, with McCarthyism and segregation, and we shouldn't say it today. What we should say is that our struggle to become a better nation, a nation without Guantanamo Bays and Abu Ghraibs, that will inspire the world.

HH: I'm just saying the project to attempt to turn Harry Truman into some sort of archfoe of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and W. is just laughable.

PB: But Truman...first of all, on domestic policy, as you know, Truman was...

HH: Of course. We're not talking domestic. That's not what we're talking about.

PB: On foreign policy, Truman was a great believer in international institutions. His 1949 inaugural address has four planks. One of them is the United Nations, one of them is NATO, one of them is Point Forward, which is basically foreign aid, and the other is containment. Which of those do George W. Bush support?

HH: He supports quite a lot of international institutions. He is attempting...

PB: He'll be the first to tell you he abrogaded six different treaties. What international institution has he really tried to strengthen?

HH: Oh, I think, for example, the coalition of the willing that went into Iraq.

PB: The coalition of the willing is not an international institution. It's an anti-international institution. It's basically an ad hoc group that you set up because you don't want to go through international institutions.

HH: Because international institutions like the U.N. had been corrupted by Oil For Food, and by leadership like Kofi Annan. And if you're trying to tell me that Harry Truman would be happy with the U.N. the way it is today...

PB: No, I'm not saying that at all.

HH: Well, then how would Harry Truman treat the U.N. differently than W?

PB: What I'm saying is that Harry Truman would be trying to strengthen the U.N., so that the U.N. can actually intervene more aggressively around...

HH: That's what Bolton's doing, Peter. Bulletin to you.

PB: No, Bolton's view is that the U.N. should be able to intervene aggressively, perhaps in other countries, but...

HH: I think you've got the wrong guy. You're not channeling Harry Truman. You're channeling Henry Wallace.

PB: No, no. John Bolton's view is right, is that the U.N. should be on its knees when it relates to the United States, that it should be able to have no claim or no influence on American policy whatsoever.

HH: Cartoon. It's a cartoon, Peter.

PB: That's not the Truman view.

HH: You can't persuade people with cartoons.

PB: Read what Bolton wrote in the late 1990's, that the spread of international law from Europe potentially infringing upon American sovereignty was our great new threat in the post Cold War world. Truman would never have said that.

HH: And I think Harry Truman would agree with that. I don't think Harry Truman would ever agree to the International Criminal Court, do you?

PB: Yeah, I think that he would have done exactly what I'm saying to you.

HH: You're just wrong.

PB: No, that's not true.

HH: He would never turn Americans soldiers over to the jurisdiction of the ICC.

PB: That's not true. Look, as you and I well know, the ICC would...the would only ever in the most remotest possibility take U.S. troops if we had blatantly failed to...the judicial system in our own country they're talking about...

HH: Harry Truman would never, ever agree to that.

PB: Harry Truman was a great believer in powerful, international institutions.

HH: Not in 10,000 years. Now let me go back to the key part here in the book.

PB: Conservatives hated Harry Truman in the late 40's. I mean, you've got to acknowledge that. They hated his guts in the late 40's and early 1950's.

HH: I want to go now to your argument that foreign aid solves the Islamist problem. Now I am genuinely confused, Peter, because at one point here, you're arguing that, and you're using the Jakarta woman. I'm at page 123. "Dear President Bush, please help us with our economy, but let us manage our economy." And literally eight lines later, "Obviously, foreign aid alone does not produce economic development. It must be coupled with reforms that open Middle Eastern economies to the world." In other words, you want us to give money, but only to those states have reform, but there are no states that have reform, but you're still criticizing us for not giving enough money.

PB: That's not true that there are no states that have reformed. I mean, look at what Turkey has done, for instance, with the carrot of EU membership. They have actually done a remarkable amount to improve their human rights records, and change their economy, because they saw that if they did that, they would really get some benefit from it. There are lots of countries that have improved, that have improved their economies, and have really benefitted as a result. I'm saying that you can use foreign aid, and not only foreign aid, but opening markets and debt relief as a lever to get countries to make difficult economic choices that open their economy to the world, so the Islamic countries don't have the combined, direct foreign investment of Sweden, so they can start to grow economically. And the reason that India doesn't produce many jihadists, even though it has the second largest Muslim population in the world, is not only because it's a democracy, it's because there's economic hope in India, where there isn't in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.

HH: But you want a massive Marshall plan for the Middle East, but you don't want us giving money to closed societies, I gather societies with Sharia law. You're concerned about Pakistan, and their education system, but you want us to pump money into what may be a corrupt government that may be fueling the medrasas.

PB: No, I want us to use the promise of substantial know, this is funny. This is not so different, in a way, than what George W. Bush is doing on a tiny, tiny scale, far too small, with the Millennium Challenge, saying, which is just basically, use the money as an incentive to get countries to improve their policies. And then if they do, give them the money, because the World Bank study shows that countries with good economic policies that get foreign aid do far better than countries with good economic policies alone.


HH: I just don't think, Peter, you've got an audience. You can sit down with Joe Lieberman's staff, and those are about the only people that are going to believe this. The rest of your party's gone round the moon. But I want to give you the final word on trying to sell people that the Democratic Party can be rehabbed from the moonbat left, and the isolationists, and the cut and run crowd.

PB: The...I don't think that the Democratic Party in the 1990's under Bill Clinton, I think actually was in many ways, the more interventionist party of the two, right? It was Democrats, by and large, who wanted to intervene in Bosnia and Kosovo, much more than conservatives. This idea, this idealistic tendency that in fact, America has a role to play in creating a better world, I do believe is in the Democratic Party and the liberal DNA. The alienation against George W. Bush has been so overwhelming, and I think to some degree understandable, but I think it is clouded, to some degree, those principles. But with the right leadership, I think that in fact what you're going to see is that the clash of civilizations view, the view that in fact the Muslim world is irredeemable, is actually more deeply encoded on the right than it is on the left. And I wouldn't be surprised to see Republicans moving back to the kind of relativistic, Buchananite foreign policy views they had in the 90's, and liberals taking up the Tony Blair, Bill Clinton mantle, which said America has a mission to spread freedom around the world, but we have to become a stronger, better country at home in the process.

HH: Now Peter, do you think that it would be more credible to argue that, if in fact, the Democratic Party actually had read Ahmadinejead's letter, and had thought through what it meant, and what his ideology means?

PB: Well, I don't know who in the Democratic Party you mean. I think yeah, I think that reading Ahmadinejead's letter would be a perfectly good thing to do, and I have been a bit busy with my book too recently, but I'll make a plan to do it.

HH: Because I really do think that the cluelessness of the Democrats, and their antipathy to Bush have disabled them at a time when a party committed to the good fight that you envision it being is absolutely necessary, but there's just no signs of life over there. There's the Daily Kos crowd, and you're even afraid to call them out on it.

PB: Well, I don't...look, I don't call people out unless I have reason to disagree with them. I mean, that's just kind of, it seems to me, a basic principle of life. I happen to agree with the Daily Kos club probably on a vast majority of things they'd like to see in this country. And so you are not a great...I remember I tried to get you to attack, to criticize Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson for basically saying America deserved 9/11, and you were willing to discuss it for like five seconds. So I've got no problem citicizing people who are generally on my side, but not promiscuously, not unless there's some good reason to do so.

HH: But I don't think you can rescue a party unless you can rescue a party from its ideological extreme, and that's...I mean, you've got Harry Reid and Mark Warner, and everyone else showing up in Vegas.

PB: Harry Reid is so ideologically extreme that he's anti-abortion. That's how extreme Harry Reid is.

HH: I'm talking about the Kos crowd, Peter, but if you don't want to look at the problem, the gangrene will spread. Peter Beinart, always a pleasure. The book is The Good Fight.

End of interview.

James Lileks explains part of the journalist superhero code.


HH: James Lileks is my guest. is his home away from home. And of course, he is also a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and a contributor to the Newhouse News Service. And today, he wrote a Screedblog, which was a paper that only James has discovered from inside Zarqawi's safehouse. It includes these lines. Finally, patience is our ally, writes Zarqawi. We need not defeat the Americans, only outlast them. Have they not abandoned every battlefield they ever entered, besides Germany, Japan, Korea, Kosovo and Afghanistan, of course? But just as they left Somalia when their Democrats took power, so they will leave Iraq when the criminal zionist Bush regime is replaced by a slightly less criminal, albeit equally zionist Democratic regime. The Democrats wish to quit the war and return to their important issues, such as permitting men to marry, have a child with the cloning of cells, and then abort it. Such a people cannot fight, and only beseech the United Nations to send Danes to frown from a great distance. And I need not remind you that no one is ever hit or killed by a 226 kilogram laser-guided Dane. James, you know, you've got to upset the Islamists with these sorts of parodies.

JL: You know, other than that, it's actually a humor column.

HH: It is funny. That's a funny paragraph.

JL: That was actually a captured memo that came into my possession, and my possession only, from the replacement for Zarqawi.

HH: Have you seen some of the other papers that were revealed today by Malaki and his national security advisor?

JL: I'm enjoying all of this stuff. I especially enjoy that the fellow who's apparently now the number one man of al Qaeda in Iraq, at least as of 3:00 this afternoon, given an hour or two, his nickname was "The Immigrant." Now this is great public relations, because they spent three years trying to convince the West that the insurgency in Iraq is simply an indigenous uprising that's brought about by righteous despair over occupation. And who do they get to head the resistance? The Immigrant. A guy from out of town, okay? Borrowed talent from Egypt, from what I understand.

HH: They don't look to be doing quite well.

JL: Well, no, and after all of this time, we're loathe to talk about corners turned, and tunnels with the lights perceived at their end. But what I've read is good. And this sort of information gathering seems to be cumulative. It seems to have a momentum of its own. The more you find...I mean, they found a thumb drive. They found a little USB thumb drive, the sort of thing that people just plug into their computers.

HH: Yup.

JL: Now the good part is...the bad part about this war is that they are technologically savvy as well. The good part is that sometimes when they're blown to absolute jam, you can find somewhere over the hill, in their pants pocket, a little device which will contain more information than you could have gotten if you had transported the reichstag out of Germany in 1943, and dropped it in the middle of Washington.

HH: Now we are inside their oodaloop. Do you know what an oodaloop is, James?

JL: I think it's some sort of Swahili breakfast cereal.

HH: No, no. It stands for Orient Observed Decide Act, and it's how military...small group militaries are now transforming themselves in net centric warfare. And once you get inside the opponents oodaloop, they're totally screwed, because then they don't know what you know, and you're three steps ahead of them, and you shoot them when they come out of the bathroom.

JL: That's right.

HH: And so I think that that's what happened this week, but you wouldn't know it from the American media.

JL: No, because when I turned on the radio this morning, ABC was reporting grim milestones. We begin today with the cost of the war, both in lives and in money, and in a tone of voice that described...well, I was ready for thim to say that the Statue of Liberty had been toppled into the harbor. That was the sort of tone of voice they have. They're going to have absolutely nothing left in their reservoir of despair when something really bad happens. And he talked about the regrettable casualty milestone that had been made. And it's only them that are counting this. It's such a ghoulish thing. It's almost like having...if there had been a live feed at Normandie, they would have been tempted to put a counter in the bottom corner to tell you how many people were dying per second. I mean, it has that same sort of ghoulish feel to it. And so he told us that more people are dead, and it's going to cost more money, which sort of assumes...and again, the tone of the voice, the presentation of the news, assumes that the audience is leaning forward into this saying thank you for this, because this is all very bad, and we just want more information to reinforce the fact that it's bad. If you don't think that the war is a lost effort, or was a lost cause, then this strikes you as rank, nasty, brackish defeatism of the worst sort. I don't know what they're going to do when things really go bad.

HH: I'm going to try and get Adam Youngman to find the conclusion of Bush's speech to the troops on CNN from two days ago, when he made his surprise visit, and the CNN commentary that came right after. It was cut number two from...

JL: I did hear that. It's a beaut.

HH: It's a beaut. You know, they can't...well, he's trying to lift morale, but that's not going to last. No matter how enthusiastic they are, they're clearly down in the dumps, and they're going to be...stress syndrome, and...

JL: If he had ascended unto Heaven at that moment, the CNN would have come back and say that he leaves his followers in disarray, you know?

HH: Yes. Now let me play for you cut number 11, because coming up next hour Peter Beinart is going to try and smile his way past the graveyard, and talk about the Democratic Party being rational and responsible...

JL: Peter's coming back? I will not have to drink coffee then.

HH: There you go. He's coming for a whole hour. But here of his leading lights, Peter DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon, earlier today in the House:

PD: Just recently sent 850 Oregonians off to Afghanistan to fight the resurgent Taliban and Osama bin Laden, the perpetrators of 9/11. September 14th, this house on a proud day, with one exception, voted to authorize the war in Afghanistan to take out the Taliban, take out the perpetrators of 9/11, al Qaeda. That was nearly unanimous. But sadly, the Bush administration, and the Republicans in Congress, distracted us onto a path of a war in Iraq, 1,143 days ago. 2,497 servicemen killed, 18,490 wounded. First, it was weapons of mass destruction. Then it was about 9/11. Then it was about building democracy, but now the Republicans want to pretend that it has to do all about the war on terrorism. They mentioned al-Zarqawi. The Pentagon wanted to take out al-Zarqawi. They had him in their sights before the war in Iraq, and the Bush White House and Dick Cheney wouldn't let them, because it would hurt recruitment for the coalition of the willing to invade Iraq where al Qaeda did not exist. If you strip out the rhetoric from this non-binding resolution, with no Democratic alternative, no amendments allowed, it's a stay the course resolution with an open-ended commitment.

HH: Now James, is that the kind of talk that will inspire confidence of the American mainstream in the ability of Democrats to wage this war?

JL: Oh, I think people will line up behind that man a thousand long. Just good Lord. Give him Bill Roggio's phone number, will you? The gentleman you talked to yesterday, who's actually in Afghanistan.

HH: The resurgent Taliban that Bill says can't get a mortar.

JL: Yeah.


HH: Yesterday, I went six rounds with Joel Achenbach, humor columnist, or science columnist, or political...just a blogger at And James Lileks is the protector of all humorists. He's the patron saint of humorists, and the organizer of the humorist defense fund, as well as the humorists protection agency, you know, the witness protection agency...James, what do you make of Mr. Achenbach?

JL: (sigh) You know, the only people that I really want to be mean to are politicians, idiots, and my social betters. And Joel doesn't fall into that category.

HH: Right. So you don't want to say anything?

JL: Your next question.

HH: But I mean, generally speaking, what is...did you get my point? It's not that humor is illegitimate. I think humor is necessary in fighting the war...

JL: I could have a big argument about that very fact. I think that humor is absolutely indispensable. It's like they used to do back in World War II,when they'd send Daffy Duck off to make fun of Schickelgruber. I mean, it has a wonderful morale booster to cut these people up. But what is required underneath, of course, is some sort of recognition of the justness and the morality of the effort, and you can't just sit from the sidelines and say you know, I'm going to ping at Bush today, and then I'm going to ping at Osama tomorrow, because I'm above it all, because you're not above it all. None of us are above it all. Even if you haven't chosen sides, they've chosen the side for you. So the people that I get the sense of who are just sort of floating above, having fun for humor's sake, are not the ones that I particularly respect.

HH: Well that's the moral seriousness, much more eloquently put, that I was aiming at, which is you know, you've really got to declare. This war is against every single American.

JL: Yeah, but there are so many people who are just unwilling, or unable to do so, for reasons political, moral, ideological, whatever. I mean, if you didn't have whatever mental template of the world shattered on September 11th, there's...nothing's going to do it for you. If you didn't get it on that day, then nothing will. And I know that conservatives and Republicans, and people on the right in general, are accused of being hide-bound, and blinkered, and reactionary, and unable to think in a new direction. But that's the side of the equation that has them thinking in a new direction since this happened, because the old world, the 9/10, the 90's, died on that day. And the left still doesn't seem to get it. They've still got progressive talking points from 1960, although I'm happy to see that the last little bit you played there from the Congressman, apparently George Soros has bought them one new talking point, that we would have gotten al-Zarqawi in 1958, apparently.

HH: Early. Well what they're saying is we knew where he was. There was some targeting proposed, and they chose not to throw, lob cruise missiles into the Kurdistan base, which may have gotten him, and may not have gotten him, but surely would have screwed up the effort to go after the big guy and his weapons of mass destruction which we sincerely believed he had, as well as to plant the democracy. Now James, very quickly, why do some journalists just go into a beetle mode when I ask them who they voted for?

JL: (laughing) Because it goes against the superhero code. It just does.

HH: (laughing)

JL: They're just not supposed to tell you their secret identity. They can't pull off the mask.

HH: But why?

JL: Because they're supposed to be above it all, and they're not supposed to have opinions, and if they tell you that they have an opinion, you might think it colors the way they look at the world.

HH: You're right. It's the superhero code. That's perfect. James Lileks, a pleasure.

End of interview.

Return to top

Wednesday, June 14

Christopher Hitchens and the myths of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.


HH: I begin with Christopher Hitchens, contributing editor to Slate and to Vanity Fair. Christopher Hitchens, I've just read your Slate piece, and I'll be linking at on the myth of Saddam's secular tyranny, and Zarqawi's movement through it, and the connections between all these dots. Can you give the audience a summary of what you consider to be really one of the great myths of this long war?

CH: Yeah, there are two ways to tell in an argument with somebody whether they are completely ignorant about Iraq, and neither know nor care about it. One is if they start by saying and clearing their throat, well, okay, I agree Saddam was a bad guy, which as you know, is about to be followed by a but, which means they'd no idea what a really evil, aggressive, totalitarian dictatorship is like. And the second is if they intone, as if they had made it up themselves, oh, but surely, he was secular. He wouldn't cooperate with theocrats. Well, the best way to begin, I suppose, is about fifteen years ago, after the end of the Iran war with Iraq, where Saddam had been accused of being an infidel by Khomenei. And though Khomenei believes practically everyone's been infidel, and I think it stung Saddam Hussein a bit, and he began really reorganizing his party as a theocratic one. He ordered religious instruction in party branch meetings. He began a huge mosque building program, including the biggest mosque in the Middle East, admittedly named for him, with a Koran apparently written in his own blood, perhaps in someone else's. There was a lot of free blood around. But at any rate, had himself represented as an imam, as a sheikh. And...hello?

HH: Yes, keep going.

CH: Sorry, there was a click on the line for a moment.

HH: Oh, okay.

CH: I hate interrupting my own polemics.

HH: (laughing)

CH: And then, very alarming, and then...well, to speed it up a bit, I mean, he boasted of paying for, and we can actually prove he did pay for the suicide murderers among the Palestinians. In other words, the forces of Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

HH: And he allowed free transit, or at least occasional free transit of al Qaeda through his country.

CH: Yes, against the PLO, he certainly had, we don't know to what extent, contacts with al Qaeda forces in, particularly in Sudan. By the way, you know, when Clinton bombed that factory in Sudan, the aspirin factory which a lot of us, including myself, still think was the wrong factory, it doesn't mean that there was no connection. And senior Democrats at that time, like Richard Clarke, still amazingly enough maintain that that was the factory where Osama bin Laden was helping to mix Saddam's chemical weaponry. Well, they've never stopped saying that, except it's no longer true under the Bush administration that these things happened. Very bizarre, wouldn't you say?

HH: Yes, but now, going back to...

CH: Taliban...friendship with the Taliban...but above all, though, I think, the training of a group called the Fedayeen Saddam...

HH: Right.

CH: ...which was the paramilitary organization that actually was almost the only one that did any serious fighting against the coalition, and which as Cobra II I think proves we gravely underestimated, as we have underestimated the jihadists everywhere, very largely made up of foreign, imported and trained fighters. The crucial thing here is that Saddam may have been, some people think, and it's a good hypothesis, wanting just not to cooperate with bin Laden, but perhaps in some way to rival or outbid him. It comes to the same, in point of the jihadists' rhetoric, training and personnel.

HH: Now when we focus in on this, though, the key is that Zarqawi was in the country, but, the left says, he needn't have metastasized, if only we had done to him what Clinton had attempted to do to Osama, by lobbing in some cruise missiles to the Northern Kurdistan base which he was...I guess with a better effect than Bill Clinton achieved, vis-à-vis Osama.

CH: Well, if at the time we had blitzed that base, I couldn't have objected to it on moral grounds, certainly, or maybe on tactical ones either. Strategically, it might have been better to follow Zarqawi and see where he was leading. I'm not privy to those kinds of conversations. I do myself have a sense of a missed opportunity there, but it would still involve the left admitting that Mr. Zarqawi's presence in Iraq, and his cooperation with pro-Saddam forces, or with forces who were at a minimum thinking of it as their job to kill Saddam's main enemies, I'll put it like that, no higher...

HH: But don't they also...

CH: It's a very suggestive thing.

HH: But don't they also have to argue then that he was not really in Iraq proper, that he lived in a little bubble up in Kurdistan, which was the bad bubble, as opposed to the good bubble?

CH: Well, yes, but that's only if that's the only place he was, and we know that's not true...

HH: Right.

CH: ...because we know, and the Senate investigation committee in its report has accepted that Jordanian intelligence, which is very good and has excellent reasons to follow Zarqawi, he's been one of their enemies for a long time, had written directly to their Iraqi secret police counterparts, and said do you know you have this very dangerous guy on your soil? And they can prove that he was there at least in June, 2002. No later than that. Now you know, Iraq, I can tell you, and anyone will tell you, not an easy place to get into or out of under Saddam. You don't get in or out without permission. It's very hard to get.

HH: You mention in the Slate column...

CH: There are no freelance operations Saddam's soil.

HH: Agreed. But you mentioned in the Slate...that Ray Robison and others are now plumbing into the depths of these documents, most of which remain untranslated and unanalyzed, for whatever incompetency in our intelligence business. What percentage understanding do we have, Christopher Hitchens, of the Saddam regime, and of its terror network?

CH: Small, but increasing. And here, I should recommend the work of my friend Stephen Hayes at the Weekly Standard, whose stuff we read on the Standard's website going back quite a long way now. I mean, he's shown, without anyone contradicting him, that Saddam Hussein was paying for Islamist forces, including Abu Sayyaf as far away as the Philipines. He was making alliances wherever he could with the jihadists. What has Iraq got to do with the Philipines, unless it's trying to make friends with the bin Laden forces who of course originate in the struggle in Asia, not in the Middle East. They come out of a battle for a separate Muslim state in the Philipines, for a separate Muslim state in Kashmir, or maybe a state fused with Pakistan, actually, and so on. It's very important if he's colluding with them there. What it will overthrow, this disclosure, is the stupid CIA pseudo-theory that it couldn't be true. Not that it wasn't...

HH: But that it couldn't.

CH: ...nothing to do with evidence...

HH: Right.

CH: ...because they had been very bad at collecting that, as we know, but that it in theory could not be. In other words, that a regime like Saddam's obstensibly secular, totalitarian wouldn't collude with theocrats. Well, that collapses on its face. I mean, Saddam's main friend in the region was Sudan, a very highly Islamized regime, with which they had very openly, very fine relations. And I think at one point, bin Laden even considered moving to Iraq when the Sudanese threw him out. We don't know that for sure, but we know that they knew about each other's existence. They were having at least arm's length discussions. The current Syrian Baathists, for example, have as their best friends the Iranian mullahs and Hezbollah. There's an open collaboration between the Baathists and the theocrats there. The idea that it's impossible, their definition, is just childish. It shows why the CIA should have been closed and padlocked a long time ago.

HH: I recommend everyone the Slate piece. I want to get to two other questions with you, Christopher Hitchens, in our two, two and a half minutes left. Most of the rest of this program will be devoted to an extended conversation I just concluded with Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post about two subjects: the war and the moral obligation of writers who write about the war to be serious. In the first instance, he argues and asserts that nine out of ten generals who were participants in this war will, when they write their memoirs, deem it a fiasco. And secondly, he says you know, you don't have to be serious all the time when you write about this war. You can be glancing and occasional. Your comments on both of those?

CH: Well, I don't want to ever be in a position of saying people have no permission to be funny. You remember when...

HH: Very different. Very different question.

CH: Yeah, or to try to be amusing. I mean, do you remember when...I will never forget when Giuliani was asked on Saturday Night Live, a couple of weeks after 9/11, well, can we be funny? And he replied well, why start now? I thought that was good.

HH: Yes.

CH: I don't find very much that's amusing about it, I have to say. I think it's a long tooth gritting struggle, and I don't like cheap shots, and I don't like people scoring it as if they were spectators, and weren't interested in the outcome, or involved in it. As to the generals, that's why I'm for civilian control.

HH: I don't agree with that. I think that when you find nine out of ten generals who have actually fought this, whether or not it's the new commandant of the Marine Corps, who had his problems with the Fallujah operations, but nevertheless, I don't think they're going to say we had any alternative but to pursue al Qaeda wherever they were.

CH: No, look. It may be said...the two things could be congruent. I will maintain while I have breath that it was a just and a necessary, and an inevitable confrontation. It had to happen, it should have happened before, should have been taken care of in '91, wasn't avoidable, did have right on its side. That doesn't mean I think it's been done well.

HH: Agreed.

CH: So you could hold to the first position, and write a very bitter memoir saying missed opportunities, which several good people have done.

HH: But all wars have that. I pointed out Gudalcanal to him was a complete botch from beginning to end, but a necessary part of victory.

CH: Well, then we agree on that. How did he take it?

HH: I'm not quite sure he understood why Guadalcanal was a complete botch, but...

CH: Well, there's a wonderful book, I haven't read it for years now. It's called The Psychology of Military Incompetence. But what, among the things that it shows about fiascoes and botches is that it isn't always right to trust the generals, even when they write their memoirs. I mean, the great point about this country is, and it matters more than any single dispute there could be between a president and his commanders in chief, that it is civilian control and only civilian control.

HH: Christopher Hitchens, on that point, we leave it. The Slate column linked at Thanks. We'll talk again soon.

End of interview.

Bill Roggio in Afghanistan.

HH: Welcome now to the Hugh Hewitt Show Bill Roggio from Kandahar, Afghanistan, tonight, Bill. Is that correct?

BR: That's correct, Hugh, How are you tonight?

HH: I'm great, and thanks for staying up late with us. What time is it as we talk to you in Afghanistan?

BR: It's about 12:30.

HH: All right. Bill...

BR: In the morning, that is.

HH: Can you give the audience a recap of when you returned to Afghanistan, and what you've been doing since?

BR: Sure. I've been...I got to Afghanistan the day after the riot and Kabul, so I did some reporting there on the situation. The media basically blew that story. They talked about the riot as if it was a Taliban uprising, when it really wound up being some disaffected political actors in this city that had problems with the Karzai government. The riot was sort of kicked off by a U.S. vehicle that rolled downhill, and its brakes failed and it ran into a car and killed several people. There was a belief that the riots were actually staged, that people were waiting for this.

HH: What day did that happen on, Bill?

BR: I believe that was...oh, wow. That seems so long ago. About May 26th or May 27th.

HH: Okay.

BR: Right at the very end of May.

HH: So you've been there three weeks then?

BR: Yes, I've been here three weeks, and I'll be here another nine days.

HH: Tell us what you've seen, and how the war against the Taliban goes.

BR: Sure. First, let me say that Kabul and Kandahar are two totally separate worlds. Kabul is a very open city. You could drive the streets, you know, with a driver. You can go to the markets. I mean, for Afghanistan standards, it's a thriving economy. There's very little threat, Taliban threat there, if any. It's been well over a year since a Westerner's been either killed, kidnapped or even robbed. So it's a very secure city. Kandahar, down here in Southeastern Afghanistan, this is the heart of the Taliban insurgency. This is where the Taliban basically began in the 1990's, you know, with a lot of help from Pakistan. Over time, I don't believe we paid enough attention to Afghanistan, to this problem, and devote enough resources to it, and the Taliban is slowly regenerated some of its power. I think that a lot of the reporting that you're hearing in the media, particularly at the New York Times, Carlotta Gall's article is a bit hyperbolic. The Taliban...and we're not losing Afghanistan. It's just a difficult security situation now. NATO is taking over. They're actually inserting about 9,000 more troops. They're doubling their commitment, and the Taliban is trying to break up the NATO coalition, and is stepping up attacks. But the coalition also is working to root out the insurgency, and they're doing a pretty good job. Over 500 Taliban has been killed in the last month, with the casualties in, you know, somewhere in the double digits for coalition troops, and probably about 30 Afghan police and army.

HH: I'm talking with Bill Roggio,'s embedded correspondent from Kandahar tonight. It is the next day, it is Thursday in Afghanistan as we speak. Bill Roggio, which units have you been with, and how is the morale among them?

BR: Sure. I've been with the Canadian soldiers from the Princess Patricia Canadian light infantry, 1st Battalion. The Canadians have the free run of Kandahar here at the Kandahar Air Base. We have Dutch...this is the main staging area for Southeastern Afghanistan, so there's British, Dutch, American, Canadian, a whole assortment of the NATO allies are out here. But I chose the Canadian troops, because they're fighting really hard, and I wanted the American public to understand that in Afghanistan, this isn't just an American mission here. This is a NATO mission, and the Canadians fighting here in Kandahar, this is again the heart of the Taliban insurgency. I spent...I actually got out in the field for about...since I got down here in Kandahar with these guys, with these Canadians, and I'm extremely impressed with how they operate. They look like U.S. Marines to me. Well, they dress like them, they use a lot of the same equipment, have a lot of the same problems that the Marines have, you know, as far as with training and equipment. They make do with what they have, and they fight really hard out here, and their morale is high. There is a big controversy in Canada, whether the Canadian army, are they peacekeepers or are they soldiers. And to a man, the soldiers will tell you no, they are soldiers first and foremost, and they're very proud of what they're doing here in Afghanistan. And quite a bit of them also are upset at the Canadian government and the Canadian people for not...they want to fight on with the Americans in Iraq, too. They're a very proud, very motivated army down here with the Canadians. So it's the only unit I've embedded with. And I do see American soldiers and British and Dutch and what not on the base, and you talk to them...I had an encounter after Zarqawi was killed with a U.S. airman, and it was incredible. I was able to break the news to him, and he worked with the predators, so this kid's face lit up when I told him we got Zarqawi. And he wanted to know, working in the Air Force, he wanted to know what kind of ordinance got him. So I said I don't know. He told me, he said well, I'll find out real shortly. I'll make a phone call.

HH: Now Bill Roggio, in terms of the kind of fighting that you have seen the Canadians wage, is it small unit or larger battle, or simply patrols encountering Taliban out in the hinterlands?

BR: Yeah, it's real low key counter-insurgency warfare. Small skirmishes...when there's engagement that's being met, if the Taliban retreat into a home, they're calling in air strikes on them, either 500 pound bombs, or hellfire missiles from helicopters, and small arms. You know, one thing about the Taliban out here? Very different from what's going on in Iraq. A lot of the reporting is talking about how sophisticated the Taliban's equipment and tactics have been? I completely...that is one thing I completely disagree with the mainstream media reporting. Some of the reporting on the problems out here, down here, there's a lot of truth to it. Again, I think a lot of it's blown out of proportion, but this strength of the Taliban, and their tactics and their weapons? They are light years behind the Iraqi insurgency. They get off very few IED's, or roadside bombs. They're ineffective. They do not really have mortars. I mean, you know, that's a basic thing. If they do...the RPG's are not effective in the attacks. Very low casualties here for the coalition, extremely high casualties for the Taliban.'s almost on the scale of about 50 to 60 to 1 Taliban killed for every coalition soldier that's injured. So they're doing quite poorly.

HH: Now Bill Roggio, what is the sense among the troops of the proximity they are to Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri? Do they sense that they're close? Or is that just not a subject that comes up?

BR: It's...what I do get a sense of is that a lot of this problem is coming from Pakistan. I get this from the civilian security contractors I talk to, to the military officers, to the troops themselves, to various Afghanis that I have talked to. Everybody is pointing at Pakistan. Now where they might be in Pakistan is a good question. I have a personal belief that he's up in the Dir district, which is north of...North Waziristan, Kunar area where we targeted Zawahiri in January. It seems to be a staging area for the Taliban into Northeastern Afghanistan. There's also some belief that the Taliban and bin Laden are working from Quetta, in Balochistan, Pakistan, which is the southern, large southern province. I think that either of those are possible. But the belief is that Zawahiri and bin Laden are working out of Western Pakistan. And everything that I follow pretty much lends me to adhere to those beliefs as well.

HH: So do they sense that we're close? Or is it no sense of imminence at all?

BR: No, I don't think there's a sense of imminence. We're really...we really have our hands tied as far as how we can operate in Western Pakistan. It's a matter we really can only go in with intelligence, and use an air strike to get him. I mean, what we did with Zawahiri, there was a lot of ground intelligence gained. A lot of that intelligence is gained by actually capturing the cell leaders and financiers, and facilitators, and interrogating them and getting intel. We don't have those assets on the ground in Pakistan. Or if we do, they're nowhere near, we don't have nowhere near the freedom of movement that we do in Iraq. And Musharraf's hands are tied, President Musharraf of Pakistan is in a very difficult situation. And to be honest, they don't really see a difference between the Taliban...they do see a very large difference between the Taliban and al Qaeda. And I think that al Qaeda and bin Laden and Zawahiri take advantage of this.

HH: All right. Bill Roggio, last question, and I'll let you go to bed. In terms of the Air Force and air elements of NATO, how often are they up in the air? How many air strikes a day do you get a sense they're delivering?

BR: I don't have a sense for how many air strikes they're delivering. I would say probably in Southeastern Afghanistan, if I'm going to make a guess, I would guess they're making probably one or two a day. Here at Kandahar Air Field, there is constantly planes in the air. There's a plane landing right now as we're talking, and a helicopter taking off. Air assets is a very big issue out here. The Canadian forces themselves do not have their own air assets, and a lot of the NATO forces do not as well. This is really a product of the European and Canadian forces just cutting their military budgets, and they're very dependent on U.S. air assets. They have to rely on Americans for air strikes, they have to rely on Americans for medivacs, for medical evacuation of casualties. So air assets are very limited. So this air base is quite busy. And there's quite often targets of opportunity that pop up. The air power element is used to limit the casualties to the troops by conducting that last frontal assault.

HH: Last question for Bill Roggio from Afghanistan, and we'll talk to you when you get back, Bill, and we'll be reading your posts over at as well. What's the sense of what the people think? Are they better off today than they were four years ago under the Taliban, five years ago under the Taliban?

BR: I think so. I mean, from what I saw, and specifically what I saw in Zabul, they definitely know that they're better off than they were in the Taliban. It's a little tougher to gauge in Kandahar, because the security situation is a little more fluid. But I drove through the town in the middle of the night, and all of the markets were open, and people were on the streets, and kids on bicycles. And I thought that that was quite incredible. I expected Kandahar to be a dead city. And I also had a very interesting conversation with a young gentleman who works for the Human Rights Commission for Afghanistan. 23 years old, speaks English, and Andari, and works with computers, and he travels the country to work on computer programs for the Human Rights Commission. So he travels throughout the country, and very optimistic, very positive about his country's future. He realizes that yes, they have a very long way to go, but to hear this young man talking, I mean, this is the future of Afghanistan. It was just very positive, very energetic, and also was very, very thankful for what the American and the Western world did to liberate his country from the Taliban.

HH: Well, Bill Roggio, thanks for covering it personally, up close and personal from Kandahar, and for the last three weeks, from Afghanistan. Look forward to having you home. Safe travel and God speed, and we'll talk to you when you get back, Bill.

BR: Thank you for the opportunity to come on, Hugh, and have a great night. Thank you.

HH: Thank you, Bill.

End of interview.

Joel Achenbach unplugged.


HH: Joel Achenbach is a staff writer for the Washington Post. He's the author of six books, including the Grand Idea, Captured By Aliens, and Why Things Are. He writes a monthly science column for the National Geographic Mazazine. He's been a commentator on NPR's morning edition. He's a Princeton man, graduated from there in 1982. His Post column is Rough Draft, his blog is Achenblog, and last week, he made his first appearance. This is his second. Welcome back, Joel Achenbach, to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

JA: Hugh, thanks for having me back.

HH: Now last week, I evidently, erroneously concluded that in your blog, you were making a political point. But Lileks then appeared on the scene to announce...he runs the columnist protection program, that in fact, you were part of the great Switzerland of American writers, the humorist or science writer. Is that in fact true, Joel?

JA: I like to do science humor if I can.

HH: So you really don't do...

JA: Science comedy.

HH: Do you do politics?

JA: You know, quarks, and things like that are very funny.

HH: Well, I saw that you did a piece on Seti, and you did a piece on Darwin. So you write a lot about science. Do you ever do politics?

JA: I do politics once in a while. I'm not sure I do it as well as most of the people here at the Washington Post. I mean, half the newsroom is political reporters. But yeah, I do politics. I write about whatever people are buzzing about on a given day.

HH: Okay, so let's center you somewhere...would you describe yourself as center-left, left, way left, or a reader of the Daily Kos?

JA: (laughing) You know, I tend to get about equal amounts of grief from your side of things as I do from the other side, you know, the left wing. So...but I hate to say that I'm a moderate, because it sounds so wishy-washy, you know, it sounds so...I would guess that compared to a lot of your listeners, I'd be more on the liberal end of the spectrum.

HH: But how would you describe yourself in terms of your core beliefs?

JA: Well, you know, I should tell you that I'm not actually a member of an organized political party. Now that's not a code word for saying I'm a Democrat. But my core beliefs? I'd like to think I'm more like a scientist. I'm like a realist. You know, I'm me the evidence, show me something that works. And I'm not as ideological as most people seem to be these days. I mean, a lot of people today seem to basically decide there are two camps on everything. I mean, for example, you're either pro-war or you're anti-war. You know, you're either for us or against us. And I don't know why everything seems to want to fall into that trap. I was sort of encouraged by the news today that Bush seems to be reaching out to some other voices on the Iraq war, that maybe he's getting a little tired of it, too. And I don't see that he's going to form a war cabinet, a bipartisan war cabinet. But I kind of wonder if this whole phenomenon of everyone being so bitterly divided has kind of worn out its welcome.

HH: Well you know, you see, I have to take issue with that, because I'm not bitterly divided from my Democratic friends. They're just wrong.

JA: Right.

HH: I just spent the weekend with Bill Clinton's communications director, who's my best friend in the world. He's just been wrong since he was born. It doesn't mean I'm bitterly divided.

JA: He can't help it.

HH: He can't help it. He's just wrong. And so what I'm trying to figure out is if Joel Achenbach is just wrong, or if you're occasionally right, which would be good.

JA: You know, I'm a modest person, but I am so often right, it's almost supernatural. I mean, time and again, I look back at something I wrote earlier and go gosh, I was so right. You know, it's like a habit of mine. But I'm sure...I've no doubt, you know, using your crack research team, you've found some things I've written that are demonstrably wrong, so hit me.

HH: Oh, I do. I have many of those, actually.

JA: Go for it.

HH: But rather than do that, I did this with Dana Milbank, and every other Postie. Let's just get you centered.

JA: What is Milbank? Is he a liberal? What is he?

HH: No, he's an iconoclast. For example, he voted for...

JA: Is that a party? Is that a...

HH: No, it's kind of an aberration. He voted, for example, Chuck Hagel in 2004. You voted for Kerry, correct?

JA: I'm not going to reveal who I voted for. I actually...I don't think I have to do that.

HH: You don't, but I mean Dana told me.

JA: No, I don't every talk about stuff like that. I mean, if you read my blog, I'm sort of...I'm clearly not as conservative as some people, but I actually...what I find puzzling is it seems like the Republican Party isn't as conservative as it used to be. It's become this sort of radical party of people with these...who have this idea they can transform the world, and the real sort of rock-ribbed, realist conservatives were routed by the ideologues.

HH: Now I'll come back to that in a moment. That's interesting, but...

JA: Isn't that true?

HH: No, of course not. It's silly. (laughing) You don't run with Republicans much, so you wouldn't know. Okay, let's leave Kerry aside. How about Gore? Did you vote for Gore in 2000?

JA: I'm actually not going to discuss that. I mean, do most reporters give up their right to privacy about how they vote when they come on your show?

HH: No, it's just a question. I can't...

JA: I'm not...

HH: I'm not Patrick Fitzgerald.

JA: Hugh, I'm not going to tell you who I voted for.

HH: How about in 1992 or '96?

JA: You can go all the way back to the Roosevelt era. Okay, I'll tell you this. I voted for Harding.

HH: You've never voted for a Republican, have you?

JA: I'm sure I have.

HH: I mean, for national office. I mean, the first Bush, Reagan...

JA: I'm not going to discuss my votes with you. I don't have to do that.

HH: Of course you don't have to.

JA: You know why? Because you know, when you got into the booth, there's like a little curtain or something. It's considered private.

HH: Well, it is...

JA: And I'm not going to tell you who I voted for. And if you want to tell people who you voted for, that's great. I mean, all power to you. I don't think I've ever told people who I voted for, and a lot of people around here...they actually, they don't even believe in voting.

HH: I know. Leonard Downey does not vote.

JA: Downey doesn't vote.

HH: Right. But...

JA: I mean, I don't even think Downey even allows himself to have opinions.

HH: Do you think that makes a...

JA: They're fully sourced in every way. Now I mean, that's one way of going about it. In my case, when I moved to Washington, I'll tell you this. I moved to Washington, and they asked me what party did I want to join. And as a newspaper reporter, I'm not really a joiner, so I didn't join a party. I put down no party. But then, of course, people say well, I'm an independent, and that sort of sounds like its own little category. Independent, you know? And so, I'm not an independent, either, because I don't want to join the independents. Not a joiner. That's the key phrase. Not a joiner.

HH: But you are a voter.

JA: I do vote, that's right.

HH: Okay, so what I'm getting at is why not tell people? Why not just honestly say here I am. I'm Joel Achenbach in the round. I'm not trying to fool anyone. I'm not trying to smuggle politics into my humor/science column. I'm just a guy who believes in this, this, and this, and correct for the lie of the green. Why not share that out?

JA: That's a good question. I don't know, I don't think that it necessarily helps if you know the political voting pattern of everyone who writes for the newspaper. And I'm not...because I'm not a classic pundit, you know, the way George Will is a pundit, these people who write about politics all the time, who give you their assessment, day in, day out, of what's happening on the political landscape. Because I don't do it that much, I don't really think that my political voting pattern is that relevant to most readers out there. I don't think that they necessarily care. I will tell you that if you read my blog, it's probably a little more to the left of where your listenership is.

HH: Whom do you admire?

JA: In the whole world?

HH: Yeah.

JA: I know, the people I really admire tend to be scientists. I always likes Carl Sagan a lot, even though he had some goofy opinions, and I disagree with him on his sort of estimate of the abundance of intelligent life. My book that I did, Captured By Aliens, he was one of the major characters there, and I just liked his curious mind, the way he believed, even as he had a sort of imagination for what might be out there, he really believed that it all comes back to science. It all comes back to show me the evidence. And so he spent a lot of time telling the UFO folks you're crazy. You know, it's just not true that aliens are coming here to abduct people. And one of his final books was science was called The Demon Haunted World, and he basically argued that science is this candle in the dark. And I realize that some people hated Sagan, they thought he was an atheist. He himself said no, I' atheist knows more than I do. He didn't like the word atheism. He thought it was sort of too dogmatic. But Sagan is someone I admire, certainly.

HH: Now who in politics do you admire?

JA: Who in politics do I admire?

HH: Yeah.

JA: I'll have to think about that. I mean...I'll take it under consideration.

HH: No one leaps to mind? How about in the history of politics? Did you like Reagan?

JA: Well, my book on George Washington, if I can...I'm not trying to plug it...

HH: No, I actually want to go read that. Did you get to the Western Reserve, by the way?

JA: What's that?

HH: Did you get out to the Western Reserve, which was my home town, out to Warren? I know you were looking at the Potomac to the Ohio Valley. Did you happen to make any trips out there to see what he did out there?

JA: I did actually go out to the Ohio Valley.

HH: Oh, very good.

JA: It fact, that was one of my favorite things in the whole research, was to go out to these sort of remote places, which back in the day, were considered just...that was the West. That was the West.

HH: Yeah, but...

JA: Ohio...I mean, Ohio filled...People choke up with emotion at the thought of all the land out there.

HH: Still does. Ohio's the 17th state in the Union, home to more presidents than any other state, because the ones born early in Virginia were really born under the crown. Now Joel, I want to go back...

JA: Let me just say about Washington...

HH: Yeah.

JA: I mean, he's someone who I didn't think I liked him that much before I started my book, but I came to admire him greatly. I think that he was...I think he was fundamentally a very decent person. He was know, he was strong in so may different ways, and he wanted to do the right thing. And he also...the way he surrendered power, you know, he stepped down from the Army.

HH: And he persevered throughout the long war as well.

JA: Yeah.

HH: And didn't give up.

JA: He was all man, you know?

HH: And when things were going against him, and the media was down on him, and the Congress was yelling at him, he never blinked, right?

JA: Yeah, he his final act, in his will, he frees his slaves, which was...I mean, none of the other slave holding presidents did that. And I think he also had the vision for the country. He saw what the United States could someday be. I mean, you think about...and do you mind if we go off on this...

HH: No, absolutely not.

JA: Okay, if you think about his situation back in the 1780's and the 1790's, so many things we take for granted about our country, for example that it's continental country, that it's this sea to shining sea, that it's going to be this big, powerful player on the world stage, it wasn't true then. It took a lot of vision to see that possibility. And because he understood the terrain, and understood the continent, he saw that, and I mean, he really did...I mean, we say he's the father of our country. Well, it's true. I mean, that's a saying that comes very close to being a fact. And without George Washington, it's quite possible that the whole experiment would have fallen apart. And one of the things he particularly was crucial to was keeping the country together and unified at a time when everyone was just at each other's throats. I mean, not just north and south, but the federalists and the Republican Democrats, you know, and these people...the level of political rancor then rivaled, and perhaps exceeded what we have today.

HH: Now do you see...and by the way, I agree with your assessment of Washington completely. Richard Norton Smith's a pal, his book is magnificent. Larry Arnn's written a lot about George Washington. I agree with all that. Do you see any similarities between Bush's vision for Iraq and Washington's vision for the not yet United States, but the colonies in revolt?

JA: You know, I've never really thought of it that way, so...I mean, I don't really know if you can make that direct comparison. I mean, the difference is that number one, Washington was extremely conservative about getting involved, as you know, with complicated affairs overseas. His whole farewell address sort of said stay out of that stuff. But he was a realist about so many things. I think he might view, and I'm just going to throw this out there as a possibility. He might view the Iraq was as overly ambitious, and that trying to...and I'll just tell you my thoughts about the war, if you want to hear it, is that I think that what's happened in the last three years has made the elder President Bush, and that first Gulf War, look like yes, a cautious war. But you can see why some conservatives prefer that approach, because it has a clear objective, you sort of know how it's going to end, and at the end, you accomplish your goal, and everyone comes home, and you have a parade. And I think that that's...the lesson that people like Colin Powell took out of Vietnam was the next time we have a war, let's go back and look at the old...the history books. I mean, what makes a war work? Let's go back and look at Clausewitz. You know, let's go study this stuff. Let's figure out what are the fundamental principles involved. And so they put together a sort of perfect little war that had a clear goal. And the Americans were really in control of all of the events of that war. I mean, obviously, every time you have an actual war, your plan doesn't survive the contact with the enemy, and so on. But it was well planned out, and they did it by the book. President Bush played his role perfectly, the first President Bush, saying this will not stand. And he was very, very firm throughout. Now this President Bush has also been very, very firm throughout. The problem is that so much of what's going on over there is not really in our control. And so that's sort of what's happened now. He's gone over there and said okay, this is going to be a team. We're going forward. What did they call this thing? Operation forward together? What's it called?

HH: Enduring freedom.

JA: Well, no, there's a new operation they announced today.

HH: I didn't hear that.

JA: Yeah, they've just announced the sort of new code name.

HH: Well let me ask you though. Doesn't 9/11 change things significantly between the first Gulf war and the Iraq front in the War On Terror?

JA: It doesn't change the fundamental rules of warfare, Hugh, and I think that...I mean, there's no doubt there's bad guys out there who want to kill us. And we have to do something about that.

HH: But I mean, in World War II...

JA: But that doesn't...

HH: Joel...

JA: Let me just finish. That doesn't change the sort of timeless principles of fighting a war. And they include that you want to lay out a clear, achievable objective. Now is the objective in Iraq right now, is it achievable? Well, I hope so. I mean, yes, it could be, but so much depends on the Iraqis. It's not something where we can say all right, we are fully in control of events as they go forward. We need to catch a few breaks here and there, if this thing is going to be successful. I mean, at some point, we are going to pull out of there, and we're not going to do it abruptly, because that would be a disaster. But as far as what happens next, it's so different from what happened in the first Gulf war, becuase in the first Gulf war, Colin Powell said we're going to do this, and we're going to do this, and we're going to do this. And that's what we did, we did it by the book, and I think that war was shaped so much by the experience in Vietnam of a whole generation of military officers who got involved in a war that went on and on and on for years and years and years, and ultimately, at the end, it turned into a loss. And they didn't want to do that again.

HH: Joel, you made reference to the timeless principles of war, and I think one of those that you were intending to intimate was that always have an objective that can be achieved. What if your enemy does not reduce himself to such a situation? What if your enemy is, like Robert Kaplan has written in Imperial Grunts, constantly metastasizing, constantly moving, constantly in search of a safe haven from which to plot, and do great harm to the United States? What do you do? Sit back and wait for it to happen?

JA: No, I think most people in this country supported the Afghanistan war, because we went after known bases of these people. But I mean, I don't want to dodge your question, because it's a good one. But it's not something...I mean, at the risk of for just a second sounding intellectually modest, because as I told you before, I try to be right about everything. I don't really cover this full time, so I don't know what the best military strategy would be for rooting out terrorism out there. But just as an observer, just as a casual observer, it seems to me that as Bush himself has acknowledged, this situation in Iraq has proved much harder than anyone anticipated it would be.

HH: But he hasn't acknowledged, and I don't think he believes for a moment that it was wrong to go into Iraq, and I think a lot of people who study this believe that Iraq was a menace, was a threat to the United States, and that we had no alternative to do what we do. I gather you disagree with that?

JA: Well, let me ask you this, Hugh. Do you think when this war is all over, and the military people write their memoirs of this war, write the sort of lessons learned of Iraq, do you think that those books are going to say we did this right? Do you think that even one out of ten will say we did this right? I will guess that nine out of ten will say this thing was a fiasco. That's what I think they'll say.

HH: What do you base that on?

JA: That's how...that's just a guess. I'll just place the bet there. I think nine out of ten. Maybe it'll be eight out of ten. But I don't think that many people will champion this as a well thought out plan. I think that if you'll go back and look...

HH: But what do you base that on?

JA: Look at what Colin Powell said to Bush in that meeting that Bob Woodward reported about, where Bush tells Powell get your war uniform on. Powell says to Bush, you know, you're going to end up owning this place, meaning all of Iraq's problems are going to become our problems. Now Bush said, I believe it was Monday, at the press conference, the press availability at Camp David, he made the point look, this is worth it. You know, what we are doing over there is worth it. And I think it's important for the President to make that argument. I mean, to persuade the American public that the sacrifice is worth it. But when it all...when it's all over, and the historians go through it, that's the question they're also going to have to ask. Was the level of sacrifice worth it?

HH: But I want to have more of a conversation, Joel. These are honest questions, trying to plumb whether or not you have a clue what you're talking about. Was Guadalcanal a fiasco, Joel?

JA: You mean in World War II?

HH: Yeah.

JA: No.

HH: Absolutely it was. It was an utter and complete fiasco from the first landing...

JA: How did we get to Guadalcanal?

HH: Because I'm trying to establish fiascoes, or tactical errors, of which...

JA: How would you describe...tell me...

HH: I'm trying to help you out here.

JA: How would you describe this overall conduct of the war?

HH: No, but what you said was that nine out of ten generals will describe this as a fiasco. And I'm certain that nine out of ten generals, in fact, ten out of ten will find things upon which they might have improved, and which they wished they had done differently, whether it's more troops at the beginning, whether it's getting the 4th Infantry Division through Turkey so that they could engage and destroy the enemy, whether it was more quickly moving so that WMD could not be disbursed or destroyed. There are lots of second guessing. But given any kind of war, and given every fiasco, and I mean, there are much bigger fiascoes than Guadalcanal in World War II. There's the fiasco of a training exercise off of Britain in advance of D-Day, which I believe killed more people than have died in this entire war.

JA: No, I will concede your point that in fact's a strong word. It's also kind of the norm for any war. And I've been reading this Rick Atkinson book. It's called An Army At Dawn, and it's about the war in North Africa in World War II. And it's a really wonderful book, and I commend it to all your listeners. It won the Pultizer Prize. He's a Washington Post reporter. He's since gone on to being really a historian. And the thing that's so striking about that book is that everything goes wrong. I mean, we got...we won the war, ultimately. But everything from the supplies to the weather reports to people blowing themselves up accidentally, everything goes wrong. And I'm not saying that this is a case where what's wrong is...I mean, obviously, in every war, your battle plan gets shredded the moment things start happening. But I'm just going to guess that the people who study this, and particularly the people who are military experts, and the generals who were there, will be very jaundiced about this war. And do you disagree with that?

HH: Yes, absolutely. I think in fact that you will find that the generals who were there by the reverse margin will agree that it was a necessary war, though at times not exactly executed as was the case. But I understood you to say nine out of ten will regret the decision to go to war. Is that what you were trying to say?

JA: No...well, I mean, I don't think that's what I said before. I think the decision to go to war is actually not something that a military person makes that decision. That's a civilian decision.

HH: All right, as a civilian, then...

JA: And the military people say okay...

HH: Do you think we made the right...was it smart to go to war in Iraq, Joel Achenbach? Do you think George Bush did the right thing when he launched that invasion?

JA: Based on where I sit now, no. I think it probably was a mistake. I think that more specifically, I think if you're going to go to war, you've got to have the resources to make sure that you win it, and that your casualties are as limited as possible, and your political objectives are met. And know, based on where I sit, and you know, watching them, wathcing the same war you're watching, it doesn't look to me like the decision was the right one.

HH: But Joel, I want to come back...

JA: But let me just say this before...and just stop for a second. I appreciate that at the beginning of this little interview that you mentioned all the different things I do, and I write, and so on. And in my blog, we jump all over the place. We talk about the World Cup, we talk about all these various things. You know, I don't think I've ever written a piece addressing the question of whether or not we should have gone to war. And it's fine for you to ask me what my opinion is, but just so that your listeners know, we have people who specialize in writing about that, and thinking that through, and this is not something I specialize in. I'm just giving you my opinion as someone who watches the same stuff you watch.

HH: All right. Now I want to go to one column that struck me as unusual and interesting, because it was both...

JA: You loved it?

HH: It was both a humor column, but it was a political column, and it was your column from July 27th of 2004, on They're Out To Get You In A Multiplex: Paranoia Isn't What It Used To Be. And I go to almost the bottom of the column, Joel Achenbach, and you write Fahrenheit 9/11 is also remarkably ideology-free. Michael Moore ignores the stated neo-conservative goal of expanding democracy in the Middle East. Israel goes unmentioned. Forget all those times that Paul Wolfowitz has suggested that the war in Iraq will have this magical transformative effect on the Arab world. That didn't make the cut. Moore's point is you can't trust a guy who spits on his comb. His larger message is there are connections out there, linkages, secret deals among people with secret handshakes. The rich help the rich, the powerful help the powerful. The oil companies get a pipeline, and the little guy gets the shaft. By the way, George W. Bush and John Kerry are both members of Skull And Bones at Yale. Coincidence? Now that is both funny, but it is also non-declarative of your view of Michael Moore's view of the world. What is your view of Michael Moore's view of the world?

JA: I'm not a fan of Michael Moore, any more than I'm a fan of Ann Coulter. I've got to be honest, I thought that the piece, what I said in that piece, with the excerpt that you read, and I'm sorry that I don't have the whole article in front of me, and I don't remember what else I wrote. I thought that his piece was...had elements of paranoia. And the movie had elements of paranoia. And that in general, he plays to people's worst fears that there is a sort of grand conspiracy out there to screw the little guy and so on. And I don't think...I actually think that one element of the reason we went to war was this sort of ideological notion that we could bring democracy to the Middle East.

HH: That's clearly true. I agree with that.

JA: If you heard Gore last night, Gore talked about on Larry King...did you see that?

HH: I saw parts of it. It's on at the same time I'm working, so...

JA: I mean, look, I think that one of the reasons that we went to that war was because a number of people really did...when I say ideological, I mean really did want to change the face of the Middle East, and bring democracy there, make it possible for women to have rights. And I'm not a big subscriber to conspiracies, and if you look at my writing over the years, whether it's aliens, the conspiracy of aliens to secretly run our government...

HH: But Michael Moore's anti-American, right?

JA: I'm not a big believer in all that.

HH: I know, but Michael Moore's...

JA: In that piece, I was sort of struck that in Fahrenheit 9/11, there was no mention of any of the sort of rhetoric or declared statements about let's bring democracy to the Middle East. It just wasn't there.

HH: I know, because I think he was engaging in an anti-American screed. Do you think it was an anti-American film?

JA: I wouldn't use that phrase.

HH: Okay, when Markos...when Kos, Markos Moulitsas writes, as he did in 2004, about the murdered contractors in Fallujuah, "I feel nothing over the death of mercenaries. They aren't in Iraq because of orders, or because they're trying to help people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them." Don't you recoil from that? I mean, hasn't the left gone unhinged in its critique of Iraq. I mean, I understand you to say that there have been tactical errors, and things have not been run as well as they could be, and that you wouldn't have gone to Iraq. But do you have, do you share the contempt for the approach that Kos has, and that Michael Moore has? And do you believe that George W. Bush is sort of driven by Halliburton fueled madness of overreach, and father revenge, and all that nuttiness?

JA: Hugh, you've read my blog, and you know I don't share those views. And it's...I don't really feel like I have to answer for what other people have written. I mean, I think in the case of Kos, Markos writing that thing about the contractors, you know, I think most Americans felt horrible when those people were murdered like that. It was an atrocity. But I don't think that he's a bad American. He wrote that. For all I know, he since has retracted that comment. I don't know. We're fighting over something that he wrote a couple of years ago.

HH: I'm not saying that he's a bad American. I'm saying that was a bad sentiment. I've condemned Ann Coulter suggesting that the widows of 9/11, the Jersey girls, were happy about their husbands' death as well.

JA: I mean, look. I someone...I get a lot of flack from the left from people saying oh, you're chanting Republican talking points. You know, I get as much grief from the left as I do from the right. But I think that part of the problem, I mean, frankly, if I can say this, Hugh, is that there's a kind of adversarial nature to all political discourse these days, and I hope you're not part of it.

HH: No, I'm getting back around to that point.

JA: Are you? I mean, are you?

HH: I am absolutely committed to defending the war, because I think it's necessary. And the point of this whole conversation is there really aren't any neutrals. And the guise of neutrality, whether struck by a science writer or a humor writer, is in fact a walkaway from the most important questions of our time. And I actually...and I don't mean this personally. I actually admire Kos for being wrong, but being engaged, as opposed to people who are above it, or beyond it, or not engaged in it, or refusing to say what they did or who they voted for, because the issues are of such consequence, it's dilettantish not to declare.

JA: I think that's absurd. First of all, when it comes to something like who I voted for, I don't think people need to know who I voted for.

HH: Yeah, I know. You told me that. But I mean, how about declaring specifics about the war, and...

JA: Was I not responsive about the war?

HH: No, you weren't.

JA: Okay.

HH: Did you think Bush lied so that people would die?

JA: No.

HH: Good. Now having...I sort of intuited that.

JA: Did I think Bush lied...

HH: You know, the whole thing, Bush lied, people died. The whole mantra of the left. You think that's nonsense, right?

JA: No, I don't think Bush lied so that people died, as you put it. No, I do think that the WMD wasn't there, and there was sort of...and I don't think this was a war we needed to go into. And as far as for you to call me a dilettante...

HH: No, I said dilettantish. I didn't call you a dilettante.

JA: So dilettantish is not as bad, I guess.

HH: dilettantish is to dance...

JA: Dilettantish?

HH: Yes. It is to engage in a certain sort of writing which avoids the most serious declarations for fear that a pox will come down upon your head from one side or the other. It's like Churchill...

JA: Actually, listen. Let me just stop you for a second. You know, I've told you what I thought about Iraq. And ask me any specific question you want. But keep one thing in mind. My blog isn't a political blog. And the fact that it doesn't engage in politics in the same way that your radio show engages in fact, it's not as sort of sledgehammerish as your blog is, okay? That's my choice. Not everything in our society has to be engaged in the culture war that you seem to be reveling in. You're saying that there's no such thing as neutrals. It's not neutral, it's just that it's possible to have a nuanced opinion on things, in which it's not seem to be putting everything in terms of either you're Michael Moore, or you're Ann Coulter or something. I don't buy it.

HH: No, I didn't do that at all.

JA: I feel like...I will admit that I do not dive into some of these political battles with both feet. I choose not to, in part because my editors, actually, they want me to operate a blog...and I invite people by the way to read it. It's called Achenblog. We have all types of people who show up. There's Republican and Democrats, old people, young people. And you know what? This is going to shock you, Hugh. They kind of like the fact that it's not all politics, all the time. They like the fact that it's not Bush bashing...

HH: Time out. Joel, time out. Joel, you're not hearing what I'm saying. What I have said many, many times, it's a fine blog, you're a great writer, I'm looking forward to the Washington book. What I'm saying is you dabble in politics, as we said at the very beginning. Occasionally, you write about politics.

JA: That's true.

HH: But you don't write about politics in any way that people can get some sense of what you really mean. I think you actually approach it as sort of, when it comes to politics, as sort of dilettantish. I'll say this, I'll say that, and then I'll go back to the safe worlds of humor and science, but without really engaging.

JA: Hey, you know what? The world of humor is hard.

HH: Of course. I didn't say it was easy.

JA: Last week, you made this condescending comment about me being a humorist. You ever try to write humor columns?

HH: No, I can't. I'm fundamentally unfunny.

JA: It's very hard. It's very hard.

HH: But I didn't say that, Joel. I didn't say it was easy. I said it was safe.

JA: Well, it doesn't feel safe when you're on deadline, and you finally produce a column, and your editor says this isn't funny, start over.

HH: Now that makes it hard.

JA: But it's true. But your argument is this. Your argument is that I have some kind of duty, because I occasionally dabble in politics, to be readily identifiable to you, Hugh Hewitt, as to what my opinions are on all issues.

HH: That's not what I said. My argument is this, that serious subjects deserve serious treatment in an extended fashion, not drive-by's, not drop-ins, not occasional asides, but that serious subjects such as Iraq, terror, the war, the future, what's going to happen, what do we do about Mogadishu, how long do we stay, what do we do next, that those are not walk-ins and walk-outs. And I think maybe E.J. Dionne is wrong, but I respect him. He goes at it every single day. I think I'm just arguing that it's not...if you're going to write about politics, write about it, not all the time...even if it's only one out of twenty times. But when you do it, do it with an eye towards people understanding what you're trying to say, and with a serious point to make that people understand.

JA: You know, having a blog is not exactly the same thing as having a credential. I know that's a shock, because we live in a time when bloggers are so self-important that they think that they have a blog, therefore they're the authority on everything. I exercise my prerogative sometimes to not pose as the expert on what to do in Mogadishu. I have not ever written about Mogadishu. I haven't...I mean, that I can recall, because I don't know. I mean, occasionally I do touch on a political theme. Let me just shock you, Hugh. I'm not an expert on everything, and I actually choose not to write about things that I'm not an expert on. I mean, my blog has...and you called me last week the most popular blogger at the Washington Post. But that's not a credential for me to therefore like weigh in on immigration, you know, what should we do about immigration. Should we build a wall? I don't know. It's not something I know about, and so I choose not to write about it.

HH: And I accept that.

JA: And as far as the Iraq war, you've been asking me all these questions about the Iraq war, and I tried to give you my answer, but if you read through my blog, I don't write a whole lot about the Iraq war in part because it's not something that I have so much to contribute to, that I therefore think I should slap my opinions onto the blog for everyone else to read. And I think you're saying that everyone should be...

HH: No, I didn't say that. I said if anyone writes about the war, they ought to do so seriously, with a forethought and concern that they be understood, and that they be informed. And I just got the sense, Joel. You're a very good humorist and science writer, but that when you wander into the of world of politics, and especially into the world of the War On Terror, that perhaps you came a little unprepared, and that you resent that people who do do their best to report on this in a serious, thorough going fashion...earlier today, I had on, for example, Bill Roggio, who's given up his life to go to Kandahar and embed with the Canadians there so he can understand this war. I've disagreed extravagantly with Michael Ware, who's a tremendous Baghdad chief of the Time Magazine Bureau there. But I have him on, because these are serious people trying to get to the truth, and I just think the subject matters deserve not the light-hearted, humorist approach that you may have given them before, but that they deserve seriousness.

JA: Okay.

HH: You get the last word.

JA: So you're saying hands off Iraq?

HH: No, I didn't say that.

JA: Don't write about politics?

HH: No. If you write about Iraq, if you write about politics, then it ought to be done in a fairly...not necessarily politics...

JA: No jokes?

HH: No, politics is for mocking. I think Stephen Colbert is good. I think the War On Terror, when you write about it, is not a joking matter. I don't think life and death situations are a joking matter. I don't think that they're matters, if not even joked about, to be treated lightly. That's very different from politics. Politics is a source of great mockery.

JA: Well, I mean, have I, in your opinion, somehow made light of tragedy?

HH: No, I think you have not treated, for example, Zarqawi's death, where this began with us talking last week, was kind of a slapdash, here we go, here are a few graphs, and fundamentally confusing to many people. I don't mean them to be mad at you, it was just very fundamentally confusing. A lot of people took it the wrong way. And that there is moral seriousness called for. That's what I'm saying.

JA: Hugh, you saw my little apology on my blog, right?

HH: Yeah, and I apologized to you, too, for jumping to the conclusion that you intended to be understood as I understood you.

JA: Yeah, I mean, you were totally fair on the radio last week, and I thought you were giving me sort of a pop quiz, or a patriotism test, or something.

HH: No, it's not a patriotism test.

JA: And I understand you want to know what I believe, and I'm a little resistent to just spout off my opinions on all these heavy duty political things, in part because I don't really view myself as a political pundit. You know, that's just not how I see my role. And I prefer having the blog be a little more light-hearted place where everyone can jump in. However, politics is around us all the time, and so yes, I sometimes do touch on it. And I think that you misconstrued what I was writing last week, but it certainly was not written in a tone that was flippant, and I think you would agree with that, that it wasn't flippant. It might have been a little unclear, but it wasn't flippant.

HH: On that note, we're going to have to postpone Round 3 for a couple of weeks from now. I hope you'll come back, Joel.

JA: I'd be happy to.

HH: Good. And I will have read Washington's...what's the book about the Potomac? What's the title of it?

JA: Oh, The Grand Idea.

HH: I look forward to that. Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post, thank you.

JA: Thank you, Hugh.

End of interview.

Return to top

Tuesday, June 13

Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe tells of Iraq's new defense minister's hatred of CNN.


HH: Senator Inhofe, how are you?

JI: I'm just great. How are you?

HH: Great. Welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show. It's great to have you on. I understand you've just returned from Iraq, Senator?

JI: Yeah. In fact, it was my 11th trip to the Iraqi AOR, and this know, every time I come back, it's something that's better and better and better. And so, I'd like a chance to talk about it.

HH: I would. I'd love to talk to you right now about it. How long were you in Iraq on this trip?

JI: Oh, I just went...actually, the radio alarm woke me up in the morning...I was here in Washington, and it said that al-Zarqawi's dead. And I thought oh, I've got to get over there. I'd just come back three days before, and went over just to see what the response was. And then, also, the fact that another miracle took place there that you probably don't even know about. A lot of people don't. And that is that they...the same day that he was killed, the ministers were confirmed to the cabinet.

HH: Actually, you're on the right radio show. We know a Sunni's at defense, and a Shiia's at the interior ministry. We're up to date with you. Tell us, how's the reaction of the new cabinet, Senator?

JI: Oh, it's just great. I mean, my reaction is great, because I got a chance to talk to all of them. Abdel Jassim is the minister of defense, and he's one you have to really watch. He and a Dr. Rubai...Dr. Rubai is the national security advisor. And these two people, they are right on top of where their troops are. The Iraqi security troops right now are up to 264,000, and it's growing. And each time I'm over there, I talk to them as well as our troops, and their training is coming along just great.

HH: Now Senator Inhofe, did you get word that an offensive in Ramadi is about to begin, or even underway?

JI: No, I was in Ramadi, and that's one of the old terrorist training areas. But look, this new guy, Abu Muhajir, nobody knows anything about him. We don't even know where he came from, whether he is Jordanian, or Saudi, or what he is. But they're going to start talking about different offensives they're going to launch in different places. And they're going to do all they can, but we're in a position right now where we're able to put those things down.

HH: Let's talk a little bit about the new defense minister, Jassin, Senator Inhofe. How's he strike you? Is he middle aged? Is he experienced in military matters?

JI: Yeah, he's very experienced. He's a general. He is a career military guy, and he's tough as he can be. And he came out with all kinds of wild things. I probably shouldn't tell you this...

HH: Oh, go ahead.

JI: But...and this is so funny when it happened. I was talking to him through an interpretor, and I didn't know whether he could speak English. And I finally got to the point where I said look, our big problem is the media, the media back in the United States, because they're lying to the people of America. All of a sudden, in clear English, he said I hate CNN.

HH: (laughing)

JI: And I just shook my head, and I thought...

HH: Did you toast him at that point? Did you clink glasses?

JI: this guy's on top of everything. And these guys say that, you know, all the cut and run crowd that I serve with in the United States Senate, they said if that happened, that's a recipe for disaster. It's a civil war, and things are happening...look, let's keep in mind, and they're fully aware of this, that the problems with the terrorists, those are not Iraqis. They're from...Zarqawi was from Jordan, and...

HH: Right.

JI: Osama was Saudi, and we don't know where this guy, Muhajir is from, but he's not an Iraqi. But some of the things that Zarqawi was doing, this Abel Jassim that you're going to be real impressed with, their defense minister, he was telling me some of the things he did. He said that he would send letters in a community to the Shiite homes, warn them to move away from the Sunni areas. And as they left the house, he'd shoot them all down, the whole family. This guy fact, the defense minister told me that the people of Iraq were...getting Zarqawi was a bigger deal than getting Saddam Hussein.

HH: I'm talking with Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, just returned again from his 11th visit to Iraq, just today, I imagine. Senator, I just want to pause on the defense minister of Iraq's reaction to CNN. I hate CNN. Did he tell you why he hates CNN?

JI: Oh, he said all they do is talk about negative things, things that are bad, and we have nothing but successes over here. And then he start enumerating the successes, which I can verify, because I'm there all the time. The number, out of 112 battalions, they have 62 of them. That's over half of them that are either level 2 or level 1. That means they can conduct their own combat. He made the statement, and this is one of the things that he says that CNN and some of the media keeps saying, they keep saying that America is leading them, and we're in the rear. And he said that's not true at all. We are leading, and America is offering support. In fact, of the last 500 special operations that took place, 75% of them were led by the Iraqis, not by the Americans. Only 25% were. Now if you go back, as I've done on almost a monthly basis, you can see how this changes. And a year ago, hardly any of them were led by the Iraqis. These guys...I was up in Fallujah during the last election, and they were so proud. They were going down there to vote, and they were targeted, because they were supposed to shoot any of the Iraqi security forces that voted. And they went down, they voted, and they came back, and they were real proud of it. And then, when I asked them the question, are you going to be able to take over the security of's kind of funny, because of the language problem, they said nein, nein. I thought that meant no, no, but that really means yes, yes.

HH: Oh, okay.

JI: So those guys are excited, and they're proud, and you talk to any of the...I challenge any of your listeners to talk to any of our reservists, or the Guard that comes back, and they'll tell you that these guys are learning fast, they're good soldiers, they're disciplined, and they're looking...well, in fact, Dr. Rubai, the guy that you need to watch, too, the national security advisor, he said that by the end of the year, he's going to recommend that the coalition forces cut down to 100,000. That's going to be a military decision, but this is an Iraqi saying that.

HH: Let me ask you about the allegations about death squads, especially from the minister of interior, going out and cutting down Sunnis, and then the reprisal killings. How big a problem, the sectarian violence?

JI: Yeah, I don't think it's happening. It's funny, you hear about these little conspiracies, and these things that are going on, and when you're over there, you don't see it. Now I'll have to say this, the one minister I didn't talk to was al-Balani, and he's the minister of interior. So I don't have a first hand handle on that.

HH: What about the reports you've received on the Haditha incident?

JI: Well, this is kind of interesting. As the more we look into it, and I'm not really the one looking into it, the more that comes out, are misrepresentations of things that may have happened a year ago, or happened six months ago, and they kind of put them all together in this one area, Haditha. Now another interesting thing that was said by Abdel Jassim, he said Haditha is a bigger story back in the United States than it is here. I asked him about it, and he said oh, it's not a big story here. And that's one thing that I think we need to know over here. We keep conjuring these things up as if they're big stories, but they're not over there. You want to know another one that isn't, Mr. Hewitt?

HH: Yes.

JI: All this thing about reconciliation that the Democrats talk about, oh, they're going to have to reconciliate between the Sunnis and the Shiias, and all that, well, the defense minister said that that is another American issue, that the reconciliation has already taking place, and we are Iraqis first. Now I didn't believe that, and so I stopped's kind of a monument they have to the unknown soldier, and there were 9 honor guard people, very sharp soldiers standing there, and through an interpretor, I asked the guy that was leading that group, I asked him the question about the Shiias and the Sunnis. He said no, that's not...I'm a Sunni, my wife is a Shiia, and I can't tell you...I've spent the last nine days with these eight guys. I don't know which one is a Shiia, and which one's a Sunni. We're all Iraqis. And again, he claims that's an American issue, and I believe it is.

HH: What about the Sadr brigades, and Iranian meddling?

JI: Well, you know, Sadr down there...I could never figure him out, because he was the one, after all, Saddam Hussein murdered his father, his father in law, his brother and all that, and then he turns around and defends him. So the guy, I don't think, has any credibility there. He has a small following because of his father, but he himself does not have the credibility. He's of the mentality that he will do anything that will get attention to him, if he thought that he could be a dictator, and move in where Saddam Hussein used to be, and he probably does believe that, he will try to do that. But Sadr is not a credible force in Iraq.

HH: What do the Iraqis think about the nuclear ambitions of their neighbors, President Ahmadinejead, and the mullahs of Iran?

JI: Well, I didn't ask them specifically about that, but they volunteered something that I thought was really interesting. They said don't worry so much about the leaders over in Iran. He said the people in Iran are intermingled. Their families are related to the families in Iraq. They talk to each other. And all of a sudden, they're realizing that in Iraq, women are voting, and women are going to school, and all these wonderful things that are happening, their infrastructure is back, better than it was before the war, and they're saying hey, I'd kind of like to get in on that. So I think the Iranians have a problem because of the successes we're having in Iraq.

HH: Senator Inhofe, do you approve of negotiating with the Iranians, and would you rule out military force, or recommending military force if they move forward with their nuclear program?

JI: You know, I'm on the Armed Services Committee, and as an individual, I would say it could take military force. Frankly, I'm more concerned about the Chinese than I am the Iranians. So you're probably asking the wrong guy.

HH: All right. We'll come back to that. Let me switch subjects over to the Armed Services Committee. Your colleague, John Kerry of Massachusetts, wants to attach an amendment to the armed services bill, that will call for a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq. Your reaction to that?

JI: Well, let me go back, and instead of giving you my reaction, you know what that is, but give the reaction of the defense minister. He, it wasn't. It was the national security advisor. He said Americans leaving too soon is a recipe for disaster, a civil war, right when we're winning the war. And they all agree with that. This would be something which just can't happen. And I don't believe...John Kerry, you know, he believes all that stuff. But I don't think there are many Democrats who are going to vote with him on that.

HH: All right. Let me just ask you've just left a briefing from Secretary Rice and Rumsfeld. Are they as upbeat as your interlocutors in Iraq?

JI: Well, they...when we have these confidential briefings, in which I can't say too much about, but we had a full house there of Democrats and Republicans, they have to be very careful not to show as much optimism as I can, because then, they'll have to end up facing these people again, and they'll say well, this is what you said at this time. So they're saying we're cautiously optimistic, but we're very pleased with the new ministers, and the fact that their government is now in the position to run itself. And nobody ever believed that they'd be able to get these ministers confirmed, and have people that are mixed all the way from...every tribe represented there. And so, you could tell they were pleased about that.

HH: Do they have any ideas about how close we are to doing to Osama and Zawahiri what we have done to Zarqawi?

JI: No.

HH: Okay. Now let me switch for the last subject, and I don't want to monopolize your time, Senator, but you are chair of Environment and Public Works, and another year has gone by, and there's no endangered species reform, because your colleague from Rhode Island has sat on it again.

JI: Well, you're right on top of everything, aren't you?

HH: Well, I follow Lincoln, and I follow the ESA. Why can't the United States Senate do something for private property owners who are absolutely burdened by this unjust, confiscatory act?

JI: Okay, let me...I can answer that. I chair the commitee, it's called Environment and Public Works, and it has two big jurisdictions. One is all the roads and highways, and that stuff, but the other is 17 bureaucracies. The irony of this is, I spent 30 years in the real world getting beat up by these bureaucracies, and now I chair the committee that has oversight. We do need to do something with endangered species reform. The problem is I have ten Republicans and eight Democrats, but one of my Republicans is Lincoln Chafee. And so that really means we have nine and nine. And that subcommittee on...that handles endangered species, he's the chairman of the subcommittee, and Hillary Clinton is the ranking member. And so for that reason, we're not going to get anything out of there that is going to protect property rights. For that reason, I am receptive, and I've told everybody this, I'm not going around my committee. I don't care, I don't want to have a turf battle, I just as soon do it on another bill. And so, I think what we'll end up doing, the House has already passed theirs, it's good, it has property rights in it. I think we can get something out of the Senate to get into conference. If it gets into conference, we're going to have property rights. Unfortunately, it can't come from my committee.

HH: Any relief from your committee on army corps of engineer overreaching as well on wetlands?

JI: Oh, yeah. In fact, we have for this. We have the WRDA bill, that's the Water Resources Development Act. It'll be on the floor here shortly, and we have several amendments that will affect the corps of engineers.

HH: Well Senator Inhofe, great to talk to you. Thanks for going back and forth to visit with the troops and the new Iraqi government, and for your enthusiasm. I look forward to talking to you again soon.

JI: Hey, thanks so much for what you're doing.

HH: Thank you, Senator.

End of interview.

Instapundit and Kausfiles on the Rove non-indictment and the Bush trip to Baghdad.


HH: On a day of such enormous amounts of important news, I thought I would consult with two of the leading bloggers in America, Mickey Kaus of Slate's Kausfiles, Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, from the University of Tennessee Law School. Gentlemen, welcome. Let's start with the tape, shall we? Cut number two, the President in Baghdad, followed by CNN. Let's listen to it, and then get your reactions.

GWB: Our military will stay on the offense. We will continue to hunt down people like Mr. Zarqawi, and bring them to justice...(applause)

HH: That was his reaction, but then, the CNN reporter said this:

GWB: May God bless you all, may God bless your work, may God bless your families, and may God continue to bless the United States of America. Thank you. (applause)

Kyra Phillips: Well, VIP's fly in and out of Iraq, but U.S. troops come and stay. They're fighting a war that's now more than three years old with no end in sight. President Bush now talking to them, but are his words enough to boost morale?

HH: Mickey Kaus, can CNN every be brought to say something good about the President?

MK: Well, that was pretty blatant, wasn't it?

HH: Yeah.

MK: I think CNN is torn between whether they want to be the anti-Fox, or whether they want to try to play it straight. That was playing it straight by conventional American terms, meaning a mild to strong left bias.

HH: Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, what did you make of that?

GR: I just wonder what we have to do to get them to suck up to us the way they suck up to Iran, and the way they sucked up to Iraq back when Saddam was in charge. I think it requires either bribes or blackmail. I'm not sure.

HH: Earlier today, I spoke with Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who just returned from Iraq, literally today, where he had spoken to the new Iraqi defense minister. Listen to this exchange:

JI: Now I probably shouldn't tell you this.

HH: Oh, go ahead.

JI: But...and this is so funny when it happened. I was talking to him through an interpretor, and I didn't know whether he could speak English. And I finally got to the point where I said look, our big problem is the media, the media back in the United States, because they're lying to the people of America. All of a sudden, in clear English, he said, "I hate CNN!"

HH: What do you think, Glenn Reynolds? Is the defense minister on to something?

GR: Well, you know, terrorism is an information war disguised as a military conflict, and the media play a vital role. And though they are extremely vigilant against being maipulated by the U.S. government, they are not merely non-vigilant, they're actually complicit in being manipulated by terrorists. And I think that they should be willing to take responsibility for that, but they certainly are not.

HH: Mickey, are you surprised by the vehemence with which the defense minister of Iraq regards the international powerhouse, CNN?

MK: No, but keep in mind that there have been credible pro-war people like David Ignatius who have gone to Iraq, and been shocked by the chaos and disorder, and have basically confirmed what a lot of Western reporters who have been there, and sort of think it's going downhill, have said. So it's very hard for me to get a handle on what's really going on. It's possible that the defense minister's living in a cocoon in the Green Zone, and doesn't know how chaotic things are in the streets.

HH: Let's go to the next reaction to Bush from the troops when he's know how the ambivalence about the Zarqawi killing has sort of shot through the American media. Here's Bush on Zarqawi to the troops.

GWB: Our military will stay on the offense. We will continue to hunt down people like Mr. Zarqawi, and bring them to justice...(applause)

HH: Mickey Kaus, there does not seem to be much confusion among the American troops about the significance of that event last week.

MK: No, I mean, you do read that we built him up into a bigger deal than he was, but that's sort of a smart move on our part, if we were then going to get him. It sort of dealt a bigger psychological blow.

HH: Glenn Reynolds, the troops know that killing a killer of that order is a huge win.

GR: Yeah, sure they do. And of course, it is, because as I say, terrorism is an information war disguised as a military conflict. And once again, my problem with people like CNN isn't that they report bad news, it's that they have an obvious agenda, and that agenda does not include victory for the United States. That's my objection. There's lots of bad news they could be reporting that they are not reporting, that would actually be helpful, but they don't do that. Instead, as in the example you showed, they settle for simple, easy spin that always cuts against the U.S. effort.

HH: Let's cut over now to the second major story of the day. Karl Rove is not doing any perp walk. In fact, I'd say he's exonerated. Cut number six, Senator Schumer, though, disagrees:

Chuckie: No matter what the outcome is of the final investigation, I am renewing my call on Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald to issue a report detailing his findings, and explaining his charging decisions. In this type of case, I think that's the prosecutor's obligation.

HH: Mickey Kaus, he just can't bear himself to come to the conclusion that there's no there there.

MK: Well, that's right. I mean, to my mind, this case was always interesting mainly for its practical implications. In other words, a special prosecutor had the power to take out Karl Rove. Once that isn't going to happen, it all becomes much, much of a smaller deal, and much less interesting, and it's understandable that Democrats wouldn't want to let go of it.

HH: Glenn, sometimes silence would be more appropriate, rather than attempting to spin what is a disastrous overplay of the Democratic hand.

GR: I pronounced this scandal bogus three years ago, and it remains bogus, and I think the Democrats are going to regret trying to ride it all the way down to the bottom, because there's going to be a thunderous crash when they do. And I think that it has played out quite as people who were paying attention expected it to, and it kind of reminds me of Hurricane Alberto. You know, I happen to be on vacation right in the middle of where it hit, and I was watching CNN, and all these people were standing there pointing to twelve inch high waves...literally, twelve inch high waves coming in, and talking about pounding surf, and there's nothing. You know, I put a picture on my blog of an overturned deck chair, which was the only damage I could find. This Plame scandal is the same story. Lots of media hot air, no actual damage.

HH: Mickey, does that get through to the base, though? Does the electorate, not just the base, but the middle...does the electorate see the frenzy on the Democratic side, the gnawing on the wrists, and then conclude you know, those folks at Daily Kos, they simply can't be trusted?

MK: Well sure, although Kos is cleaning up his act and going mainstream at a rapid pace. I do think this might help the Democrats, because it will stop them talking about it, and there's plenty of time before the election to actually talk about real issues, as opposed to rehashing these various obscure conspiracies that I don't think have any purchase with the public.

HH: You agree with that, Glenn?

GR: Yeah I do, and I have to say it's been sort of an interesting week. The Democrats, once again, have peaked too early. Things looked dreadful for Bush a couple of weeks ago. Now Zarqawi's dead, the big media are backtracking on Haditha, you've got an announcement today that the administration thinks they're going to hit their target of halving the deficit three years early in 2006, and you've got Bush going to Iraq, and the Rove non-indictment. I mean, they just peaked too early.


HH: Gentlemen, listen to Joseph Biden a year ago, today, and a year ago again, all from Hardball I believe (actually, the today was from the Situation Room).

Chris Matthews: Let's come down on the more mundane question of the President's chief political advisor in the White House.

JB: I'm just glad I'm not him today.

CM: Well, do you believe that he's done something wrong?

JB: Well, I know he's done something wrong based on what he's stated. It is totally inappropriate.

Wolf Blitzer: Karl Rove, off the hook from the special prosecutor. What do you make of this?

JB: Well, I make of it that there weren't facts to make the case against him, and I respect the prosecutor, because obviously, there was overwhelming pressure for him to do something. I think the hardest job for a prosecutor is not to indict. And I trust his judgment that if he said there weren't the facts here to indict, that he shouldn't. And Karl Rove, as far as I'm concerned, then, is innocent of any wrongdoing.

CM: Let me ask you this, Senator. Do you think the Democrats wish they had a guy as good as Rove?

JB: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. But I hopefully...uh, um...yeah, yeah.

CM: (pause) Thank you, Senator Joe Biden.

HH: (laughing) Glenn Reynolds, what do you think?

GR: It just reminds me why I don't watch Hardball.

HH: (laughing) What about Joe Biden, Mickey Kaus?

MK: Well, in that last little clip, he was obviously about to say and I hope we're going to get rid of him by the elections, and then he swallowed it, and thought better of it. What he said was...made sense. I mean, he thinks Rove did something wrong, but it wasn't criminal. I mean, it's not...for Joe Biden, it made an unusual amount of sense.

HH: (laughing) Well, that might be true about Slow Joe. All right. Let's fast forward to presidential politics. The President going to Baghdad, the Rove thing gone. This changes 2006. But how does it affect the lay of the land looking forward, Glenn Reynolds, to 2008?

GR: I think you can see that the trend lines on the war are such that Democrats, with the exception of Hillary Clinton, are painting themselves in a corner by being sucked into the Russ Feingold-Daily Kos line on the war. I think that the biggest danger for the Republicans is that the economy, which is doing really well, is going to be overdue for a shift into recession by 2008.

HH: And Mickey Kaus?

MK: Well, I hope that's true about the war. I doubt that these Kos people are going to drop the war...their anti-war fervor. Although if you heard Kos himself on Meet the Press this week, he said he doesn't oppose Hillary or Joe Lieberman entirely because of the war. There are other things, mainly against Lieberman. So they are shifting slowly away from the war, which is also a good sign.

HH: All right, gentlemen. Thank you both. Mickey Kaus from Slate., if you want to get to it directly. Glenn Reynolds from

End of interview.

National Review's Byron York on the meltdown of the left after Rove got away.

HH: Joined now by Byron York, who is among America's leading political reporters. He writes for, and many other publications. Bryon, fill us in, will you, on the developments of today, especially for the...well, let's assume that some people don't really know what's been going on out there with Rove.

BY: Well, first of all, you know, Karl Rove, the President's top political advisor, has been under investigation for gosh, more than two and a half years in the CIA leak case. And what we learned today is that the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, informed Rove that Fitzgerald is not going to seek an indictment against him. So it's a huge relief for Rove, and for the White House, because just imagine the kind of political misery that would have occurred if Rove had been indicted. But it's a huge disappointment for a lot of Democrats, and a lot of critics of the President, who wanted to see Rove "frog marched out of the White House in handcuffs," to quote the immortal words of Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

HH: Now Byron, you spent the weekend in Las Vegas. I've been linking to, and in fact, I read part of your report from the Yearly Kos gathering of all the left wing bloggers. How much was Rove on their collective mind?

BY: Well, he was quite a bit. The Yearly Kos conference in Law Vegas had lots and lots of panel discussions. You know, let's build a progressive majority. Okay, they've got a panel discussion about it. How to talk back to talk radio. They had a panel discussion about it. And they had one on the CIA leak investigation, and it was by far the biggest and best attended, and the most opinionated, I guess, panel of the whole session. And the sense, the desire that Rove be indicted, and much more importantly that Rove's indictment somehow also bring down Dick Cheney, was very, very apparent in the room. Of course, no one knew at the time that this would turn out this way, and that Fitzgerald would decide not to indict Rove, but they were very, very passionate about it.

HH: And they must now be, and I have been gathering some comments, on a spectrum that ranges from despair to denial. But there isn't any celebration of a system of justice that did not attempt to pursue an innocent man?

BY: No, no, not at all. And don't discount the denial part, because what you immediately saw after we learned that Rove wouldn't be indicted, was speculation about what this really means. And on some of the left wing websites like the Daily Kos, or Fire Dog Leg, we saw speculation that what was really occurring is that Rove has decided to cooperate with Fitzgerald in return for not being indicted, and that cooperation would somehow involve Rove helping to nail Vice President Cheney. But just so your listeners know, this afternoon, I spoke to Mark Corallo, who's the spokesman for the Rove defense, who said, "there are no conditions to this action by the special prosecutor. There was never any talk of conditions of cooperation, of anything that could even be construed as conditions." So the Rove side is strongly denying all this kind of theorizing, I guess, on the left, that there's some sort of deal behind this all.

HH: Now Byron York, this strikes me as becoming the equivalent of the Vince Foster suicide...

BY: Right.

HH: ...which unhinged a lot of conservatives in the era of Clinton. They simply could not accept the fact that that was a tragedy, and Vince Foster took his life at his own hand, and they still don't. I'll get e-mail for saying that right now. It seems to me that now, the hard left, and some of the leadership of the Democratic Party that must bow to it, are trapped in this endless cycle of Libby-Rove-Cheney-Libby-Rove-Cheney, and Fitzgerald's conspiracy.

BY: No, I agree with you, and I've been reminded of the same thing myself. You may remember that Richard Melon Scaife, who was the philanthropist whose foundations fund, you know, thousands of great mainstream projects, but who also did put some money into looking into Clinton in the 1990's, was once quoted as saying that the Vince Foster death was the rosetta stone that would explain everything about the Clinton administration. And what you find in gatherings like the Yearly Kos, is that there is a very, very similar attitude about this CIA leak case, that somehow if it's just probed deeply enough, it will reveal some terrible truth about the Bush administration. And the sense of frustration, then, when there's not indictment of Rove, you know, is pretty strong.

HH: Now we've had quite a week for the Republicans and the President, beginning with...and the country. I mean, Zarqawi killed...

BY: Right.

HH: ...the Iraqi cabinet complete, followed by political events like the special election in California, now the Rove non-indictment, exoneration, really, followed by the President's jaunt off to Iraq to celebrate the new government, his thunderous reception at the hands of troops, and now the report on Ward Churchill...I mean, it's a wonderful week, and I would have to think that the Yearly Kos people are going to have trouble getting their energy back.

BY: Well, it's just one week, and we should say that...I agree, it has been a very good week for the administration and for the President, but it comes after a lot of bad weeks. And certainly, there are a lot of divisions that the President still has to deal with within his own party, namely the issue of immigration at the moment. But certainly, for the Democrats who were sort of hoping that the Bush administration would just somehow implode, or be consumed by scandal, it hasn't been a good week.

HH: Now Byron York, did immigration come up at Yearly Kos, because it seems to me...a point you made yesterday, how Tim Russert sort of laid down for Kos when he appeared his show, didn't ask him about some of his more incendiary comments, and your general point that no one ever reads the left wing blogs, it seems, except reporters from the conservative side and right wing blogs.

BY: Right.

HH: Did they have an opinion on immigration? Are they open borders people?

BY: Well, this is interesting, because all of the speculation, or all of the press talk has been about how immigration divides the Republican Party. And indeed, it does. To some degree, that's absolutely true. But to the extent that Democrats are united on it, I think they're united against the wishes of probably the majority of American voters. So the question of how it would cut in elections that pit a Democrat against a Republican, that is the general elections this November, is not at all clear. So I have to tell you, I didn't go to every single one of the discussions at Yearly Kos. It was not physically possible. But immigration was certainly not on the list of issues, and certainly not as exciting or sexy to them as something like the hope for an indictment of Karl Rove.

HH: Now I want to close by asking you more of an atmospherics question. I've been to a lot of Republican gatherings, and I know you've been to CPAC. I've never been to CPAC. And you know that they gather enthusiasts.

BY: Hugh, I've got to confess to you, I've never been to CPAC.

HH: Okay, well that's two of us.

BY: I've been to Progress For America, Take Our Country Back...

HH: Okay, so you've been to enthusiast gatherings...

BY: Yeah.

HH: And you will attract a lot of unusual people to that. Yesterday, there were pictures from Yearly Kos of tin foil hat wearing bloggers.

BY: Right.

HH: Are the people at Yearly Kos more to the left than the people at sort of conservative gatherings are to the right?

BY: Well, I think in this case, when you're the party in opposition, you're desperately hoping for something like a scandal to knock down the party in power. And I think the party in power deals more with issues, with policy. So I think back in the 1990's, when Clinton was in power, I think certainly among Republicans, we know that there was a huge attention to the Whitewater investigation, Travelgate, Filegate, all of that stuff. So now you're seeing a similar stuff on the Democratic side, and you have to remember Republicans were largely disappointed with the results of all of those investigations.

HH: You're right. Byron York, great reporting over the last few days at Thank you.

End of interview.

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Monday, June 12

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales


HH: Mr. Attorney General, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

AG: Hey, Hugh.

HH: I'd like to start with just the question that always is around this time of the year. Have you or the administration received any word of an imminent retirement from the Supreme Court?

AG: (laughing) I'm one's talked to me. I'll say that.

HH: That's going to create some eyebrow lifting, Mr. Attorney General.

AG: No, I meant no one's talked to me about a retirement.

HH: Okay.

AG: That's what I meant.

HH: How about over at the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. We've been waiting for one or two nominees. Will any be forthcoming shortly?

AG: You know, we...obviously, that's a very important court. And we have been working hard with...we, the Department of Justice, have been working hard with the White House to identify great candidates, and make good recommendations to the President, including the D.C. Circuit. And once a recommendation is made to the President, that person then goes through a background check by the Bureau before they're actually nominated. And that sometimes can take six weeks to eight weeks, depending on a person's experiences. And so, it may look like there's not much going on, but often times we've identified good people, and we're simply trying to get them cleared through background, and then we can formally nominate them. So we understand we're sort of in a critical period in the life of an administration, and we need to get names up sooner as opposed to later. So what I can assure you is we clearly understand this, and we're working as hard as we can to nominate...for the President to nominate good people as quickly as possible.

HH: Last week on this program, Mr. Gonzales, Senator Sessions said he really didn't think we should fill the 12th seat on the D.C. Circuit. That's kind of an odd position to take. Do you agree with that? Are you fully aware of the Senator, and he's got some others who agree with him, on that?

AG: No, I am aware, and obviously, I respect their views very much. And I think one of the things we need to look at is whether or not, given the new jurisdiction under the Detainee Treatment Act of the D.C. Circuit to look at certain cases, and whether or not that creates additional case load for them that would warrant filling that last seat. But these are all issues that we're looking at, and obviously talking with members of Congress at the Senate with. And we very much, of course, respect their views. On the other hand, I think the President believes it's important that we nominate good people to vacant seats. And if in fact seats are not necessary, maybe they shouldn't be there. But we're going to continue to work with the Senate, and identify good people, and nominate them as quickly as we can.

HH: Is Debra Livingston of Columbia one of those people, Mr. A.G?

AG: Again, Hugh, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on specific names of potential nominees. I just think it's fair to say we've got a good list of people that are under consideration, and at the appropriate time, all that information will become public.

HH: All right. I want to switch to...before we get to immigration, two other quick topics. In the past, the Department of Justice has had to intervene when state proceedings have gone afoul in the criminal justice area of civil rights considerations. I'm thinking of the Rodney King incident and others. There are now serious question being raised about the Duke prosecution, whether or not the animous behind that is political, whether it's based upon considerations of race and elections. Is your department going to look hard at that prosecution, as many in the very centrist bar are beginning to look at this and say this is a miscarriage of justice?

AG: Well, we look at these kinds of things carefully as a matter of practice and policy. We don't confirm whether or not there is a ongoing investigation as to a particular matter, but obviously, if something is high profile, and generates a great deal of interest, it's going to obviously get our attention, and we'll look at something. But I'm not going to comment on the fact as to whether or not there will be an investigation, or there is an ongoing investigation. Our job is to assure that the laws are enforced. And if we feel like we can...that we can prosecute a case, we will do so. But I can't comment on a specific case.

HH: Back it away from the specifics, then, of the Duke case. How long would the department allow a prosecution it believed to be political to go forward, Mr. Attorney General?

AG: Well, we have to be sure a normal matter, quite frankly, Hugh, we allow the state prosecutions normally to go forward first, before we decide to do something, as a general matter. And I'm not talking about a specific case. Sometimes, the state prosecution penalties are tougher, and this is a matter of practice we generally defer to the states, and let that go forward. As to whether or not we think something may be politically motivated, that's something that we'd have to evaluate on a case by case basis.

HH: Okay. Now, it's been widely reported that after the seizures of William Jefferson's papers, you threatened to resign if those papers were returned. Is that correct?

AG: I'm not going to comment about what's going on with respect to that matter. I've already talked a lot about that investigation. We are in litigation now, and I think the briefs will speak for the department's position.

HH: But if, in fact, they were turned back, would you remain in the job?

AG: Again, that's not where we're at today. We are committed to work with the House leadership to try and find a resolution. I am aware of their concerns, and I'm optimistic that we can reach a way forward.

HH: All right. Now to the question of immigration, as the conference prepares to either meet or not meet, the biggest question I've seen in the opposition is on the guest worker program, Mr. Attorney General. Given that people routinely by the millions come to this country legally on visas, and say illegally after those visas, how would we assure that guest workers would in fact be obliged to return to their home countries?

AG: Well, that's a very good question, and you're right. That is one of the problems that we have, is that people are overstaying their visas. And so, we'd have to have a better way of tracking these individuals, so that that doesn't occur in the future. And that's just one component of what the President is proposing. I do think it's an important component, because these immigrants do serve a very important role in promoting our economy. They're very important to our economy, and so we need to figure out a way that we can continue to utilize their talents and expertise, and that's a very valuable resource for our economy, but to do it in a way that the people don't take advantage of the system, and are here illegally. So that's something that...that'll be something Congress is looking at, of course, and that we look forward to working with see what comes out of the conference, and hopefully legislation will be passed this year that the President can sign. My own view is that this is an important issue. I think we are talking about the national security of our country, and that's why you need to have comprehensive immigration reform this year. And I'm hopeful that we can get it done.

HH: But have you seen any answer to that? I think as well that there needs to be a comprehensive approach, but that one issue seems to be the sticking point, and that regularization is also a sticking point. But if there isn't an easy to refer to solution, how could they get to comprehensive reform...

AG: Well, we have to find a solution, Hugh. It's the kind of thing where we just have to find an answer, because we can't not allow people to come into this country under visas. And so, we have to find a solution, and we'll just have to work with the Congress to find the best solution we can.

HH: Well, at the risk of sounding stubborn, though, given that we're in conference, it's late in the day. Should on a wing and a prayer...

AG: It's, it's not late. You know, the House has passed legislation, the Senate has passed legislation. They're very different in the approaches that each House of Congress has taken. And so, we're going to get into a very detailed, very passionate discussion about what is the appropriate way to move forward. And so, I would say that virtually everything is on the table, and this will be one of the issues that'll have to be resolved.

HH: Could you imagine comprehensive reform occurring without a guest worker program?

AG: I hope not. I think it's important. That's one of the principles the President outlined to the American people. And so, that's certainly not what we hope happens. I think it's got to be comprehensive, otherwise we have very real concerns it's not going to be successful in securing our country.

HH: There's a larger objection to guest workers, which is that you're actually bringing in people who are not going to assimilate, that it's better to bring in larger numbers of people on a path to legal residence and permanent status, than it is to guest workers who are supposed to go back. Your response to that, Mr. A.G?

AG: Well, look. They're coming over here for a reason, that is to be here temporarily. And so, the fact that they don't become fully assimilated into our society as people applying for citizenship, that is to be expected. It's a different objective that we're trying to achieve, with respect to a guest worker program. And the fact that they're not as fully assimilated, that doesn't concern me.

HH: Mr. Attorney General, thanks for the time. Look forward to checking back with you as the conference goes forward.

AG: Appreciate it, Hugh. We'll look forward to talking again.

HH: Thank you.

End of interview.

Sunday, June 11

Robert Baer Blowing the House Down.

HH: Last week, I was watching Hardball, saw my next guest on the program, speaking common sense to the often unperterbable Chris Mattews. And Robert Baer now joins me. His new novel is Blow The House Down. It's an excellent read, and I have a very high standard for spy thrillers. And I read it in one sitting...actually two plane flights, but broken up, on Sunday. He spent 20 years in the CIA's directorate of operations. His memoir, See No Evil, actually inspired the very bad movie Syriana. I don't expect him to agree with that. But nevertheless, probably a very good memoir. Bob Baer, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

RB: Thanks for having me.

HH: It's your first novel. Did you used to read Len Deighton, and Le Carre, and the spy thrillers of the Cold War?

RB: Le Carre I like.

HH: Okay.

RB: Le Carre is great. He's sort of the model I used a lot. I can't say I really...I'm not as good as he is, but one day maybe.

HH: Well, the reason I love those genre is that they taught people about the Cold War, even as they were entertaining them, in many specifics. Did you aim to do the same thing with Blow The House Down?

RB: I couldn't resist. That's why I used so much non-fiction in it. There's so much information I want to get out there, except at the same time, I know novels aren't about getting information out. So I wanted to meld the two, but keep a dramatic structure.

HH: Are the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping and execution of Bill Buckley accurate, as retold in this book?

RB: They're absolutely accurate. Bill Buckley was kidnapped by the Iranians. He was murdered by the Iranians, and there may be a chance...and I'm not going to go on record on this, that the Iranian president was somehow involved. He was part of this organization in the 80's, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps, the guys who kidnapped Buckley. His role is very mysterious, and we don't really know who we're dealing with in this guy.

HH: And so that's what...that's what's so fascinating about this book, because you spend a lot of time explaining Hezbollah, its ties to Iran, and its possible cooperation with elements of al Qaeda, and free agents, including Sheikh Khalid Mohammed. What do you base this on? Give people sort of your vita, Bob Baer, so they know of what you speak?

RB: Well, you know, I spent 21 years in the CIA, and I'm like a laywer who knows evidence, who knows how to deal with DNA. And the evidence that al Qaeda and Iran worked together is very clear to me. Back in 1996, they had a meeting in Afghanistan, bin Laden himself and an Iranian officer. I know the guy's name, I know the house where they met. It was black and white. We are dealing with some bad guys in Iran. But I'd like to say right up front, I'm not advocating war. That's not what CIA officers do. I'm just saying here's the nature of our enemy, you guys decide what to do.

HH: Let's talk about al Qaeda in Iran, because of course, Zarqawi is (was) there now, he was there before the invasion, but a lot of the left will argue he was up in Kurdistan, he's not being run, there's no operational contact. What's your response to Zarqawi's movements through Iraq. Could he have been avoiding Saddam's secret police there without their permission?

RB: You know, I simply don't know, because I really like to stick to the intelligence I know to be absolutely accurate. But the chances of Zarqawi not being assisted by somebody in Iraq, wandering around the country, are close to zero. And that's a country I went up against many a time, and Saddam ran the place with an iron fist.

HH: When you say you went up against it, were you running agents out of both Iran and...

RB: I tried to overthrow Saddam in 1995. I led a CIA coup attempt which was stopped mid-way by the Clinton administration who got cold feet. You know, they didn't really want to know much about it, and once it started to get underway, they pulled the rug out from underneath us.

HH: All right, let's focus on the current people running Iran, because...have you read the letter from Ahmadinejead, Bob Baer?

RB: Yeah, I have, but the guy's crazy. You know, here's a guy that believes in the Shiia apocalypse, you know? He believes that he wants...that the Iranians should all die as martyrs fighting the United States. He communicates with the so-called 12th imam who disappeared. I mean, the guy's dead, of course, but he disappeared hundreds of years ago, by dropping notes down a well.

HH: And what about Yazdi, his mentor, one of the mullahs who's very much in the background, but very influential?

RB: They're all key to this clerical rule, which know, it wants nationalistic, it wants conniving, it wants everything to go up against the United States in some cataclysmic confrontation in the Gulf. And this is why you even see Khomenei, who's considered fairly well grounded, but he's talking about his latest statement, which was taking out all of Persian Gulf's oil. This wasn't just Iran. This isn't something that we can replace overnight. Now I can't tell you whether he can make good on these threats or not, but it does worry me, because the Shiia...and of course, Iran is a Shiia country, majority, not a huge majority, are all looking to Iran to liberate themselves from the Arabs. And these divisions, which the United States, we don't get. You know, Catholic-Protestant one really cares anymore. But there, they care about this stuff, and's worrisome, and this is why the administration is so cautious right now.

HH: Robert Baer, I posted at today extensive exerpts from an interview with Bernard Lewis, one of the leading scholars of Islam. I want to read you the last paragraph of one of his exchanges with a journalist from USA Today. I remember being on a tour of Islamic religious universities in Indonesia, which is a solidly Sunni country, Professor Lewis said. And in the student dorm, they had pictures of Khomenei hanging on the walls. The Iranian revolution has gone through many phases. It's had its Jacobins, and its Girondins, its Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, its terror, and I would say it's now in its Stalinist phase, and that also has a global impact. Do you agree or disagree with Professor Lewis, Robert Baer?

RB: I agree that it's in the worst phase it possibly could be in, because its president, Ahmadinejead, is a radical hard-liner with American blood on his hands. He is capable, if he had a nuclear weapon, of pulling the trigger and firing a missile with a warhead at Israel.

HH: And do you think if he obtains a device, or could make a device, he will use it?

RB: Yes. This is what the Israelis tell me. I was just in the Middle East, and this is what they're worried about. It's not so much Iran having the bomb. It's the hard-liners using this thing, for instance, to free Palestine, or to bring on a third world war. I think, unless these guys have changed their stripes, they could do it.

HH: Robert Baer, in your book, you have some very sympathetic Kuwaiti princes, and brothers in the Kuwaiti intelligence, and there are people who are desperately trying to get the Americans to pay attention to...your fictional Americans. Do such people exist, in your experience in the Middle East?

RB: Absolutely. In 1998, I was in Lebanon. I had resigned from the CIA, and a prince came to me, who had been tapping the phone of the mastermind of 9/11. Remember, this is 1998. And he said these guys are going to run airplanes into your buildings. He didn't accuse Iran, but he accused someone in the Royal Family. There's so much in the Middle East that we are not getting, you know. I mean, the Saudis are...frankly, are despicable. They're supporting the resistance in Anbar Province. You know, they call it the resistance. This is amazing. These guys are out cutting the heads off of Iraqis, and the Saudis just call it the resistance as opposition, as opposed to murder.


HH: Robert Baer, before we go back to the substance of what's going on in Iran, I began a book yesterday by Richard Posner, federal judge, on what has happened to the CIA, and the intelligence efforts in the United States, post the establishment of the national intelligence directorate. What's your assessment of what's happened to the CIA in the last three years?

RB: It's been broken. We have the new director coming in, General Hayden, who I'm very optimistic about, has said listen. It's been the amateur hour. And his first address to CIA employees was listen, we have to get back to basics. We're going to be based on our competence, not on our political correctness. And the new deputy director is an old colleague of mine, Steve Kappes, who's got a great reputation. So now we have a team in place to clean that place up.

HH: Reuel Marc Gerecht writes frequently on these matters for the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal and other places. Did you work with Mr. Gerecht?

RB: He used to work for me in Paris when we were there, assigned there.

HH: Do you admire his work?

RB: He's got some great stuff. You know, he was the first one that said we're blind. He said that in the Atlantic Monthly, on terrorism. We just don't know what we're doing. We're going to get hit, and this is long before 2001. And anybody that can tell me what's going to happen in the future, correctly, you've got to appreciate their work.

HH: And does that mean younger, more people? Or does it mean more people in the countries we're trying to get into, which leads me to do we have any assets, as you folks call them, in Iran?

RB: We've got some assets, but not enough. And we don't have them where we need them. We need them inside the clerical establishment. It's very difficult to get into, frankly. We don't have a station inside Iran. We don't have any people. And if you're not on the ground, it's really hard to get in the inside into a country. There's not even, really, permanent Western journalists there.

HH: What about in Syria and Lebanon, two other locations that figure heavily in your Blow The House Down book?

RB: We do well in Syria and Lebanon. We've got a good grasp of the leadership. We've got people on the ground. We've got a lot of Lebanese and Syrians who are telling us what's going on. It's Iran that's the real problem.

HH: And now tell me, you've been to most of these places you were writing about, correct?

RB: I was just in the Middle East...I was just in Syria last week.

HH: And so these hotels, of which you are giving us tremendous detail. I mean, it's nicely written. These are places that exist, and places where you've stayed?

RB: Everything in there exists. Even the connections in Iran...I've been in, I've spent two months now in Israeli prisons talking to the Islamic Jihad bombers. I cut this novel close to the bone on the base, on the detail.

HH: You also, obviously, have spent time in Gaza and in the West Bank, in the company of murderers.

RB: Oh absolutely. Hamas...I was just in Gaza, and the shelling goes on day and night. And this place is slipping off the side of the world, Gaza. You don't even recognize it as an Arab society. The people aren't polite there anymore. And it's violent, and I don't expect any good to come out of there for a long, long time.

HH: Well, what...okay. So stepping back from all this, what do you see happening, Robert Baer, in the next five years, with Iran in a headlong rush for nukes, with al Qaeda trying to co-opt Hamas, and dig in there, Hezbollah threatened to be deployed against us around the world if we so much as blink against Iran, and of course, al Qaeda's not banished from Afghanistan, though they're on the run.

RB: I'm worried. Frankly, you know, I don't like to sound this down and this pessimistic. But you know, you've got even Somalia has established an Islamic republic, and you've got the Canadian bombers, who were a couple of Somalis. And last year, we had in Britain, the four Somalis that tried to blow up the buses and the Tube. The third world is spinning out of this universe, in terms of conflict and chaos. My first thing I would do is get control of who's in this country. We don't need, obviously, any suicide bombings here. We have to know who's in the country. We have to know...

HH: Are you disturbed by Bush's surveillance programs, including the NSA's warrantless surveillance of al Qaeda contacting its operatives in the United States.

RB: Yes...I'm sorry, but we need national identity cards, we need to know who's in the country, we need the National Security Agency to be able to trace telephones. It doesn't mean you have to listen to them. You can get a warrant to listen to them. But we need all this stuff, we need these tools. These are the same tools that the Israelis use, and they're successfully used. I mean, the suicide bombings are way down there. We have to look at what they're doing.


HH: I turn back to the situation with revolutionary Iran, Robert Baer. Realistically, any chance of regime change from the ground up in Iran, in the next three to five years?

RB: I don't see it, unless we are able to impose an economic embargo on Iran, and really force this regime off the edge, which this is what the Bush administration is trying to do. They're trying to line everybody up internationally to put some real pressure on these guys, and as they should be. We cannot have...and I reiterate, the Iranians getting a nuclear weapon, because the next people that are going to want one are the Saudis. And I like them as much as I like the Iranians.

HH: Now I go back to the fact you had to be in the Agency when the Soviets were still running around, trying to manipulate the Middle East. And if they couldn't stop, with their methods, the Taliban from forcing them out, and they could not stop Khomenei from coming in and taking over the country, what possibility do we have, who don't play nearly the kind of hardball the Soviet secret police played, of forcing regime change via covert means?

RB: Well, there is some divisions in Iran. One is they've got a high unemployment, which is driving the students out in the streets from time to time. But more than that, there's religious differences, because they're cracking down on the Sunni minority, and the Turkmen, and all these other people. And this may be one of the reasons that the president, Ahmadinejead, wants a conflict to force unification on the country. There are bombs going off in Iran, occasionally.

HH: I saw that, and there are pictures coming out, occasionally. So the internet is wiring people together. But is Ahmadinejead a creature of the supreme leader, or in opposition to him, at this point?

RB: Here's what we're afraid of, is that he is actually replacing the relatively moderate officials with the crazies, the ones that fought in Lebanon, the ones that were involved in Pan Am 103. He is the creature of the very hard-line clerics. He's probably even more hard-line than Khamenei, or Khomenei even, two very hard-line guys, simply because he's been in the trenches fighting the West for 21 years.

HH: And so, is there room within the Iranian system for him to accumulate power that the supreme leader did not intend him to get?

RB: Exactly. You know, you hit the nail on the head. Iran is a...their power is very diffuse between the expediency council, the majh lists, various leaders, the presidency. He's using the presidency to vault himself into a position of more power. And people are tired of the clerics, not that they necessarily want this guy, but he's taking advantage of it, that Khatami, the guy before him, never did.

HH: Now is his appeal limited to Iran, or do you see him making gains as kind of a rock star beyond his borders?

RB: His gain...he's a populist leader. His main support is, for instance, in South Tehran. It's the poor part of Iran. He's promising anything from full employment equality, stopping corruption. So he's a populist leader, which gives him, momentarily, a lot of power until he's unable to fulfill his promises.

HH: And then it could fall fast?

RB: It could fall fast. We can do it, let's make it. But first, we really need that economic embargo, cut off his oil exports. Deal with this guy with kid gloves in a sense, because you don't want him appearing to be a martyr, you know?

HH: Right.

RB: Now if we bomb the facilities, it should be as a last resort, as the President said.

HH: Would you ever let them have the nukes?

RB: If I were the Israelis and they were within range, never. Never. Not on a bet.

HH: No doubt in your mind that he'll use them?

RB: No doubt about it. He will get in some...because he's looking at the world in terms of the millennium. It's the Shiia millennium. He's telling people this. It's time for us to take control of the Gulf from the Arabs and from the Americans, to wipe out Israel. And it's not just propaganda when he denies the Holocaust. He may believe there wasn't a Holocaust. He's in a bubble.

HH: Last couple of questions, Robert Baer. From Blow The House Down, obviously, you know Lebanon and Syria. Is Lebanon a success story? Can we at least be optimistic about what's going on there?

RB: I think it's a success story. I mean, look. Everybody was predicting the civil war would start again after the Syrians were thrown out. It wasn't. The Lebanese are getting along. They're very nervous about each other, but it's still a democracy. It's friendly to the United States. They have a lot to go, but yes, it's a success story so far.

HH: And Jordan, the Hashamite kingdom? Are they still...and do you see success in Iraq coming?

RB: Iraq, I think, we should divide that country up. I've never been....there was never a country before. I think that we need to get some regional powers in there, us...and divide them up, because they hate each other, and they hated each other under Saddam. You know, in the Iraq war, we sort of precipitated change that was going to come anyhow after Saddam's death, or even a revolution while he was there. And they would have ended up in this civil war in any case.

HH: Okay, last question. Do you suspect that you're going to have enough time to write successors to Blow The House Down?

RB: I'm going...the next one's on Russia. I'm going to sit down, I'm going to turn the phone off, lock myself up, figure out how to do this genre so it entertains people.

HH: Oh, please keep it coming. It's very entertaining, and we have lost this since the end of the Cold War, and I do believe that one of the key things to teach people in a region is good, readable novels. There's a lot of information in it, but it's a good yarn as well. Robert Baer, thank you very much for your service in the Agency, and for your great novel.

End of interview.

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Saturday, June 10

The Beltway Boys

HH: Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke are the Fox News Channel Beltway Boys. You can watch them tomorrow night at 6PM on the Fox News Channel in the East, 3PM in the West. It repeats later. Welcome, gentlemen. Let me begin, Morton Kondracke, with you. Are you surprised by the general reaction to the death of Zarqawi in the American media?

MK: Well, it's been basically reported, and I don't think it's been criticized, so no, I haven't been surprised. I haven't even noticed that they did anything but report that it happened, and quote everybody. Is there something I've missed?

FB: Yeah.

HH: I'll ask Fred. Fred, what has he missed?

FB: Yeah, there is something Mort missed. I mean, the majority of the coverage has been, I think, has accurately reflected how important Zarqawi is. And I think he's...I mean, you have this whole world of jihadist conglomerate of Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda, and the government of Iran, and so on. And he was the most important guy. He was terrorist number one for them, out there doing their business. But there's been a minority in the press that has taken the view that oh, he wasn't important at all, he's just symbolic, he's somebody built up by America. And you certainly see that reflected in some columns and some TV commentary. And it's out there. I don't think it's the majority, though, of what...of the way the mainstream media has played this.

HH: Do you think, Fred, I'll stick with you for a second, that there would have been anything like the ho-hum attached to the shooting down of Yamamoto?

FB: (laughing) No, that' know, the amazing thing is...Charles Krauthammer just mentioned this on Special Report that we were doing on Fox, that the same people who have criticed relentless the Bush administration for not capturing Osama bin Laden and Zarqawi are in many cases the same ones who are now saying well, he didn't really matter, he wasn't important, he was symbolic, and all that stuff. I mean, they've changed their tune. The fact is, he was enormously important, and depending on how aggressively the Bush administration and the Iraqi government follow up, this could be a turning point. We don't know yet, but it certainly could be the turning point in Iraq.

HH: And Morton, let me read to you the first two paragraphs of a blog column by Joel Achenbach, who's the most popular blogger at the Washington Post, I am told by Jim Brady, their on-line editor. This is what he wrote yesterday morning at 9:38. So it's very soon after American leanrns the news. He writes The Next Zarqawi. The military briefing this morning featured footage of the bombing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's hideout. We've become familiar with this kind of image - the jet fighter's view of the terrain, the target in the middle of the screen, the flash of light, the erupting cloud of smoke and dust. American fighters hit Zarqawi's lair with a 500 pound bomb, and then after pondering the situation, sent in another 500 pounder to bounce the rubble. Six bodies were later found, including that of an unidentified child. One body definitely belonged to Zarqawi. American Soldiers identified him every which way from scars to fingerprints. Second Paragraph. But no human beings are visible in that jet fighter footage. I actually couldn't tell what I was looking at. It could have been a warehouse demolition in Tulsa. It was an impersonal obliteration. You could argue that it was the opposite of Zarqawi style of killing. He preferred to murder hostages by beheading them in front of a video camera. How do you interpret those two paragraphs, Morton Kondracke?

MK: What does the third paragraph say?

HH: Zarqawi's death is a signal military achievement for the American forces...

MK: Ah-ha.

HH: Well, let me finish.

MK: All right.

HH: ...the American forces, in a time when they really needed some good news. But the briefing this morning also provided a reminder of the difficulty of fighting a guerilla war. We have all manner of advanced military technologies, laser-guided this and that. But rarely do we have enough intelligence on the ground to deploy those technologies the way we did, finally, against Zarqawi. There were years of near misses and false leads in the words of President Bush. Perhaps the real significance here is not just that a bloodthirsty killer and terrorist mastermind has been removed from the planet, but that ordinary Iraqis, parens, apparently turned against him. Now you can...I can keep going, but I mean...

MK: Yeah, well, he' looks like he's wandering, and doesn't quite know where he's going, because he acknowledges in that last thing that ordinary Iraqis, that intelligence worked. He seems to want to have it both ways. I don't know what quite to make of that. Look, my position on this whole thing is that this is enormously significant, that he is the top jihadi, that he was trying to foment civil war, that he was maybe responsible for the blowing up of the Golden Dome at Samara. And that to the extent that he's not around anymore, you could get sectarian violence, perhaps, a bit under control. The fact is still, however, that the jihadists are estimated to represent about 10% of the insurgency, and that you've got all these Saddamists out there. You know, before we knew anything about Zarqawi, there were monsters who were ex-torturers hired by Saddam Hussein who used to kill little kids in front of their parents and all that kind of stuff. They're still out there, and we've got to deal with them. So Fred and I have been, for the last couple of days, advocating, and other people...we're not the first ones to be sure, advocating not pulling back or pulling out or reducing our forces, but joining up with the Iraqis to clean out Baghdad once and for all, an offensive...more troops, not less.

HH: Fred, your reaction to Achenbach?

FB: What a silly response. I mean, some picky, picky respose? I mean, it was not a response of someone who was thrilled that Zarqawi had been caught, not of someone who sees the war as important as I think I see it and you see it, as...I mean, everything rides on this war. The success of the War On Terror, the success of the crusade for democracy around the world, the success or failure of the Bush presidency, for that matter. Just some sort of trivial drivel, I think.

HH: Well, I thought it was at best, ambivalence, and at worst, moral equivalence.

FB: Yeah.

HH: And it reminded many of my listeners of Bill Maher's comment after 9/11, that at least the jihadists had courage.

FB: I know.

HH: And that's what...

FB: It reminded me of that, too.

MK: I mean, a beheading of innocent people is preferrable to blowing up a monster?

HH: Well, he said they're opposite, but he did not...what I find in the American media that Joel is representative of, and it might have been sloppy writing. I don't want to come down too hard on this writer, because he's not a political writer.

FB: Oh, go ahead.

HH: Well, he's a friend of Lileks, too, and Lileks likes him. I just want to...there is such moral ambivalence about this war in the American media that it is hard to sustain any idea that we could possibly win it, Morton, unless the media...

MK: That's true. No, that is absolutely true. There's no question about that, that as a matter of fact, I think the overwhelming consensus of the American media is that it was a disaster, a mistake, and we shouldn't be there, and I think they're rooting for the pull out.

FB: President Bush said today, Hugh, as I'm sure you saw, he was thrilled at the death of Zarqawi. I think much of the mainstream was not thrilled.

HH: I think that's right, and I have to ask myself, why not? How could you not be thrilled at the death of a butcher? And you reminded me, Morton, I haven't even seen this anywhere, that he's widely suspected of blowing up the Golden Mosque.

MK: Yeah.

HH: One of the most heinous religious crimes of my memory.

MK: Anything that serves the interest of George Bush is something that the media cannot possibly cheer wholeheartedly. If we caught Osama bin Laden, the media reaction would be well, it's about time. How many lives have been expended trying to find this guy. How come they didn't do it earlier.

FB: You know, Hugh, like these liberal Democrats, the media's the same way. They didn't see what I thought was obvious to me, and to Mort, and to others was that the response of Democrats, and many of them, the John Kerrys, the Barbara Boxers, and many, many others was oh, we got Zarqawi, now we can start pulling our troops out.

HH: Right.

FB: When that was Zarqawi's goal, was to get the coalition, the American troops out, because then, the insurgency might have a chance of doing something.

HH: Right.

FB: Let me respond to something Mort said. Look, the truth is, if we wipe out, or substantially reduce the jihadists, the 10%, that's when the other 90%, the Sunnis, will start to fade away. They'll realize that...a lot of them will be interested in entering the political process, because it's the jihadists that are doing the suicide bombers. They're the spearhead. They're the ones that...I mean, it was Zarqawi who was not only the leader, he was the strategist. It was his game plan that was being followed. With him gone, I think it's going to be different.

HH: Now Fred...I think Morton's wandered away here. I'll ask you this. Mogadishu fell this week to the Islamists. That's a very bad thing. Has that registered on people's screens?

FB: No, because it's been completely overshadowed by the other events of the week. And the election out there in California, for one thing, and mainly Zarqawi. It is a bad thing, and not that Somalia was a thriving, high civilization, however.

HH: No, but it's just a safe haven for terrorists. I talked to J.D. Crouch about this yesterday. And so the reason I'm afraid people don't know is they don't understand the war's just not in Iraq, and it's not going to go away, Morton Kondracke, and I'm afraid...

MK: No, that's absolutely true. You know, I think we've not focused significantly on the Canadian development, either, you know, that the fact that they''ve got home-grown terrorists assembling ammonium nitrate in Canada, for God's sakes. That's yet another reminder.

FB: And they're in contact with American terrorists. You know, all the bad guys have a tendency to get together.

HH: Yeah.

FB: I mean, even Hugo Chavez goes over to Iran and praises them when they're anti-Western civilization and anti-American.

HH: Yup.

FB: It ties them together.

HH: Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke, Fox News Channel Beltway Boys, tomorrow night at 6PM in the East, 3PM in the West. Thank you.

End of interview.

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Friday, June 9

Washington Post blogger Joel Achenbach tries to explain the Zarqawi post.


HH: Joel Achenbach is the most popular blogger at I've been told that by his editor, and I'm pleased to welcome to the program...Joel, good to have you on the program.

JA: Hey, Hugh. Thanks for having me.

HH: Now I wish I had you yesterday. I did invite you yesterday.

JA: It's true. I got the invitation at the last second. You know, I actually have a life. I know that's inconvenient, but...

HH: It is for radio. We really need you to be on call at all times. But thank you for being here.

JA: I apologize, and I do appreciate you inviting me on yesterday. I mean, because that was the gentlemanly thing to do before you then blasted me with the bazooka.

HH: Well, but you called it a ridiculous distortion of my blog item, and I really don't think it was. I want to talk to you about it, because I actually...

JA: But is it the word ridiculous that you're objecting to? Or is it the word distortion? Or is it together, both of them?

HH: It's distortion, because I read the top two paragraphs over and over again, I posted a link to the whole column, and then I read those two paragraphs to Mark Steyn, Christopher Hitchens, James Lileks, Victor Davis Hanson, and today to Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke.

JA: So we're going to do like an up or down vote? Thumbs up, thumbs down?

HH: No...

JA: I mean, keep in mind that some people who read it had a different impression than you did, such as Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit, who said what's the big deal? He's contrasting the bestial, murderous tactics of Zarqawi with the kind of professional behavior of the American military pilots. And that's how I meant it, and I've got to admit, Hugh, I was kind of shocked...I guess not shocked. You know, I was a little taken aback. You seemed a little quick to come after me.

HH: No, I still...that's why I'm having you today so we can correct the record if it needs to be corrected by precision. You know, in 2001, Bill Maher...or actually, it was 2002, I guess. Bill Maher went on Politically Incorrect, and he said we've been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly, staying in the airplane when it hits the building. Say what you want about it, it's not cowardly? Immediately, without prompting from me...I hadn't even remembered that, dozens of e-mailers after I'd read them that said that's what you were saying. Is that what you were saying, Joel Achenbach?

JA: Of course not. Of course not. Let me point out, I didn't say that, okay?

HH: I know.

JA: Among the words I didn't say were it was cowardly to do that, or it was wrong to do that. In fact, if you read that item, and I know you've already read it a bunch of times, so please don't read it again, because it'll make you cross-eyed, and it's not worth reading, actually, more than that once. It doesn't have any criticism of the military at all. And let me just set the record clear here. This guy Zarqawi was, I mean, the worst of the worst. I mean, he was a heinous character who cut people's heads off on videotape.

HH: So was it a good thing that we killed him?

JA: He was an enemy of our entire way of life.

HH: An unequivocal good to kill him?

JA: I am glad that he is dead. And Hugh, I root for our side, okay? I'm just as good of an American as you are. I don't know why you felt compelled to try to root out some possible anti-Americanism there. I mean, read my blog. I have never ever gone after the American military in this operation over there. I want us to win. I'd love to see our troops come home. I mean, just tonight, you know, I...

HH: Joel, I didn't call you unpatriotic. Joel...

JA: ...I want him coming back.

HH: No filibusters. I didn't call you unpatriotic. I said I don't see how these paragraphs can easily be read as anything other than an assertion of moral equivalence between the American pilot who delivered the bombs, and Zarqawi. Now that is not questioning your patriotism. It's questioning your writing, and I believe you've admitted it was damned sloppy.

JA: When did I admit that?

HH: I thought I'd read it in the next column about me.

JA: Well...

HH: Or when you talked about Glen Reynolds said it...

JA: It's not going to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

HH: And so, I'm glad to hear that. But you can see, can't you, how all these people read that and immediately...

JA: It's not even going to win like the little, local media prize, you know, the Northwest Washington journalism prize.

HH: No, but do you see how people can...

JA: Let's just read it out loud, though, for people. I'm going to read what I wrote, just for those of your listeners...

HH: They've heard it like 30 times on this show already, Joel. So I just you see how...

JA: Okay. You can argue...wait, wait. You could argue that it was the OPPOSITE of Zarqawi's style of killing. He preferred to murder hostages by beheading them in front of a video camera. Now Hugh, let me ask you. What is it about the word opposite you don't understand?

HH: And I think you know that that is wonderful, wonderful rhetoric, but it doesn't go to the issue, because opposite in kind does not mean opposite in morality. If you had would have been easy to say the killer, Zarqawi, deserved what he got. Hooray for the American military. I'm glad he's dead, I hope we kill them all, and I'm glad we have the weapons that can do it. That would have been unequivocal.

JA: And that's Ann Coulter's blog.

HH: What's that?

JA: That's Ann Coulter's blog, you know?

HH: Is that not appropriate to say?

JA: Hooray for the American...convert them to Christianity.

HH: That's not what I said. You would have removed the ambivalence about it, Joel. We'll come right back. Joel Achenbach is my guest. He's the blogger for the Washington Post, but he's filibustering, and we'll go after that when we return to the Hugh Hewitt Show.


HH: With Joel Achenbach, who is the lead blogger for the Washington Post, the most popular blogger at the Washington Post, and we're talking about his blogs of yesterday and today. Joel Achenbach, I'd like to give you an uninterrupted minute or two, just to sing the praises of the American military.

JA: (Pause)

HH: Joel?

JA: Yes.

HH: Go ahead. You weren't on there. Go ahead.

JA: Am I on now?

HH: Yeah.

JA: You know, Hugh, I mean, we need to win this thing. We need to come out with something like a victory. And I would love it if the President, as he lays out his vision, if it all turns out well. You know, I mean, I'm on the same side you are. I don't like the seems like that you want to kind of impugn my patriotism. And I've got to tell you, I kind of take that personally.

HH: How do you think...I've just given you the opportunity to state your beliefs about the American military. How is that impugning your patriotism?

JA: Well, the piece that you wrote, and the things you've been saying on the radio.

HH: Well, I'm giving you the opportunity right now to set the record straight.

JA: What is it you want me to say, exactly, Hugh? And let me turn the tables on your for a second. I mean, I've told you, and I've said this just now, I'm rooting for our side. I salute the same flag you do, all right? I would like to see this situation turn out well. What...why did you decide to try to like hold me up as a posterboy for I guess the anti-American left? First of all, your listeners out there, I invite you to read my blog. It's called Achenblog. It's at the Washington Post, and just read it. I mean, you can see...I don't think I have ever criticized the American military once in that blog. Ever. Okay? I mean, you can find plenty of blogs that are...hate America, or think that anything that Bush does is wrong, or that...and so on. That's just not my blog. My blog, actually, it attempts to be a humor blog, mostly, though it dares to be not funny sometimes. And you know, just go check it out.

HH: Joel, is Iraq better off today than it was four years ago?

JA: (pause) You know what? Let me be honest with you here, Hugh. I am not qualified to answer that question. But I would certainly think that if you want to play a game like that, I would say that Saddam was, you know, a horrible person, and I'm glad he's gone. But it's like you're trying to play a little game with me. What are you contributing to the discussion here?

HH: I'm just actually asking neutral questions that I think are easy to answer.

JA: No, it's like a game. It's like a game.

HH: Well, what bothers you about being asked first principle questions, Joel? It's not sophisticated stuff. It's just...

JA: Okay, I'll answer your question. Is Iraq better off today than it was four years ago?

HH: Right.

JA: First of all, I don't cover that topic, okay? I mean, I can answer it the same way any person on the street could answer it, okay, which is that having Saddam out of power, and having him no longer committing mass murders and being a dictator, that's all good. You know, but I have not been to Iraq, I'm not going to give you like some kind of official summary of what the situation there is. I think that the...I would certainly hope that the President is right, and that we can help Iraq form a lasting democratic government.

HH: Do you think we're...

JA: I would like this thing to work, just like you would.

HH: Are we embarked upon a just and noble cause in Iraq?

JA: I think the idea of establishing democracy around the world is a great idea. But again, it's like you're playing a game with me here.

HH: Do you think...

JA: What are you after here? What do you want? What are you trying to...

HH: I just want your opinions.

JA: It's like you want to somehow establish that my thoughts are impure.

HH: No, I just want some answers. I just am curious're the most popular blogger at the Washington Post. You have a significant...

JA: That's actually not even true, first of all.

HH: Well, Jim Brady told me that person to person.

JA: The Celebritology blog gets about four...

HH: No, Jim Brady told me you get the most hits, so I'm believing your editor.

JA: ...Just listen to me. Celebrity blog gets four times as much traffic as I do.

HH: So...but I'm going...

JA: The Froomkin blog gets probably ten times as much traffic as I do, okay.

HH: I'm just going with what Jim told me. So now I want to go back, and say the reason I ask these questions...

JA: And if you think I'm going to sit here and answer questions about, like, you know, is Iraq better today...I mean, you're asking the wrong guy, fella, okay?

HH: Are they important questions to ask the right fella?

JA: Yeah, I think that's a great topic. I think you should...

HH: And so, since you wrote about it yesterday...

JA: I think you should definitely...

HH: ...and you're not prepared to talk about the basic underlying questions today, was it a good idea to write about it yesterday? I mean, these are kind of primary questions, not secondary questions, before we get into big think pieces about dropping bombs from the sky, and it was local into Iraq...

JA: Yeah, it was about three paragraphs, Hugh, and you know it. It was not a big think piece about dropping bombs from the sky, first of all. It wasn't anti-military, it wasn't anti-American. And it seems to me, and correct me if I'm wrong, that you're trying to sort of rile people up and play a little bit of a culture war here.

HH: No, you're wrong.

JA: First of all, you know something...

HH: No, you're wrong. You're wrong. I read the Washington Post because it's probably the most influential newspaper in America. I read it almost every day, all of it, the first thing I read.

JA: That's good.

HH: And when one of their major, if not most important blogger starts off with two paragraphs that Christopher Hitchens and Mark Steyn react viscerally to, and that Victor Davis Hanson sees defeatism in, and which James Lileks explains away as bad writing and unintentional, and Glenn Reynolds comes to your...

JA: Now that hurt my feelings, because...

HH: I know, but then it becomes important to me to find out...

JA: It's one thing to say...

HH: find out what you think, because I would like to know. And it sounds like you're just an innocent humorist who wandered into the fast lane. And I'll accept that. But I don't think you should wander into the fast lane if you're not ready to come on and talk about first principles, and the importance of this war, and the most important issue of all, which is whether or not we're involved in a just and noble cause, upon which much depends, including the future of this country. Do you agree with that?

JA: Let me say something to you, okay? I try to write a blog, and columns for the Post, and articles for the Post, in a variety of formats. I don't usually try to go on the air, on the radio, and get in like a big debate with someone who seems to be...I mean, seems to me, and tell me if I'm wrong, is that you're trying to goad me, okay? And I don't really appreciate that.

HH: You're wrong again. In fact, I'm at a break. Can you stick around for the last short segment?

JA: Sure, I'd be happy to.

HH: Okay. Joel Achenbach is my guest. I'm going to try and explain to him that what we do here is talk about the most important issues in the world with experts on them, because they're serious, they have real life consequences, people are trying to kill us, whether they're in Canada, whether they're in Europe, whether they're Zarqawi and his friends, that this was upon which the future of the country hangs is important, ought not to be taken lightly, and ought only to be commented on people who are prepared to step up and defend what they write in detail without being defensive and saying you're attacking my patriotism when I'm not. I'm just trying to get to the answers. That was a setup for the next segment with Joel. Don't go anywhere. It's the Hugh Hewitt Show.


HH: Joel, I want to tell you, Lileks called during the break, and he knows he hurt your feelings, but he still thinks you're a very, very good writer, as do we all.

JA: Did he really call?

HH: Yes. James listens every day, and he's a friend.

JA: He is hilarious. He has like the funniest blog out there.

HH: Don't do that. You'll swell his head up, and it's already too big.

JA: No, he's a genius. In fact, I wish the Post had hired him way back in the day.

HH: Hey look, do you want to stick around next hour for the top of the hour?

JA: I have to go.

HH: All right.

JA: But I'll come back on sometime, if you don't ambush me with like...

HH: Will you come back next week?

JA: know, spend two minutes discussing the origins of our involvement in the Middle East, and all the good...I mean, I'm happy to talk to you about stuff.

HH: Will you come back next week sometime?

JA: Sure.

HH: All right. We'll get a pretape, so we don't get interrupted. Now here's...I want to go back to your original blog. "We have all manner of advance military technologies, laser-guided this and that. But rarely do we have enough intelligence on the ground to deploy those technologies the way we did, finally, against Zarqawi." Now admittedly, Joel, it took a while to get Zarqawi. It took a long time. He killed a lot of people. But how do you know that we're not using those advance technologies, laser-guided this and that, every single day to great effect in this war?

JA: Well, let me try to explain what my point was. And it's very likely that as with most of the things I write, I didn't explain it as well as I could have, okay? Which is just that this is a difficult war to fight. We have all these tools, you know, as we saw with that footage, but this is a guerilla war. And it was a very simple point. It wasn't a very profound point. It's hard to measure what the benefit is going to be of having taken out this guy, Zarqawi. I mean, I hope, and I'm very hopeful today that it's going to be extremely beneficial to our cause there, because of all the intelligence we've gotten from that raid. And so, it's a hopeful day. But it's hard to measure, but it's not like you can say well, we took out 40% of the tanks, you know, in that division of their army.

HH: Joel, did you ask any military people whether or not it's rarely that we have enough intelligence on the ground to deploy our technologies? Because I think it's just wrong.

JA: I don't understand.

HH: I think actually, we deploy our technologies every single day in the War On Terror in Iraq, and everywhere else, to great effect and great success. And I think if you'd talked to some military people...I'm a civilian, like you, but I try and talk to a lot of them. They think we're doing a hell of a job there, that we're winning, and that we're simply not getting the message back to the American people that the effort is not only good and noble, but working. And I think your column may have fallen into the defeatist tinge a little bit, and a little bit ambivalent about whether we can ever win this thing.

JA: And I can understand people could, you know, be frustrated at the thought that we might be winning it, and the media is not...the media are not adequately conveying that message. I, because I don't cover the war, I don't know what the truth is on the ground. But like you, and probably like many of your listeners, I am somewhat dismayed that this has been such a long and difficult road. I do think you're right, that the technologies we have, we probably use them in a wide variety of ways. But it's, you know, it's a tough situation when you fight an enemy that you can't see.

HH: Joel, we're out of time. This is the beginning of a long friendship, I'm sure. I'm glad...and you're a very patriotic and loyal American, and I'm glad you came on to celebrate the 1st Amendment with me. I'll talk to you next week on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

End of interview.

Larry Kudlow with a novel solution for the tax the rich people.

HH: Joined now by Larry Kudlow of Kudlow & Company. Columnist extraordinaire. Hooray For The Death Tax is his column today getting quite a lot of notice. You don't mean that, Larry. Why don't you explain to people what happened.

LK: Well, I'm just so sick of all this bashing the rich, and the idea that the death tax, which would eliminate the multiple layers of taxation on saving and investment, which we all agree we need. So I figure, okay, fine. I think what we should do is take all the rich people in America and deport them, okay? Maybe send them to Mexico. Maybe Lou Dobbs and Tommy Tancredo can send them to Mexico and fix the immigration problem. Or better yet, let's tax them more wherever they go. Good restaurants? Tax them. Charitable contributions for colleges and scholarships and medical centers? Go ahead and tax them. Hell, we ought to go and get them on the street and harass them, the way the animal rights people harass people who wear mink coats. Let's go after rich people, because after all, we don't want rich people. We'd rather they went to the 20 or so countries that have a zero estate tax rate.

HH: You know, Larry Kudlow, I think the point you're making, and it's one that hasn't been made much, is that opposition to eliminating the death tax is more of an aesthetic argument than it is an economics argument. It really has zero good basis in economics, but a lot of basis in class envy.

LK: You know, there isn't an economist worth his or her salt, with the possible exception of lefty Paul Krugman of the New York Times, who disagrees with the notion that the quintuple taxation of saving and investment, which is earned by entrepreneurs and small business people who build up businesses and wealth, that that quintuple taxation of saving and investment isn't a bad thing. Every economist in the country says that America should save and invest more. So what do we do? We heap layer on layer of taxation. And that's why I wrote this sardonic, sarcastic piece, because I am just sick to death of their hypocrisy.

HH: Now you also point out, and I didn't know this, and I want to thank you for it, that Democrats Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, Ron Wyden and Mark Pryor all voted this week to not allow cloture on death tax repeal, and yet they voted in favor of repeal a few years ago.

LK: Right.

HH: That is hypocrisy.

LK: Absolute hypocrisy. And you know, I got one that was on the blog site, but didn't make the cut for the column, because this thing was already 850 words, which as you know, is too much for a column. But Frank Keating, Republican former FBI agent and prosecutor, when he was governor of Oklahoma, he campaigned for the abolition of the estate tax. So what happens? He comes to Washington, he becomes the head of this big insurance lobbying operation, and what does he do? He opposes death tax relief, because so many of the insurance companies' income derives from dodging the death tax. Now this is so hypocritical, it's unbelievable.

HH: Now why do the insurance companies care about this?

LK: Oh, they have constructed, in order to get around this tax, they've constructed all these long term insurance policies - death taxes, variable annuity taxes, variable life taxes, which help to either reduce the burden or exempt it all together. And you have a phalynx of lawyers, Hugh, all across this country, who have figured out how to skip generations, where to put it, where to hide it. Look, if this country decides that it wants to punish rich people, it is going to lose competition, because as I indicated in this article, there are tons and tons of countries out there, including China, including India, including Indonesia and Malaysia, that have guess what? A zero, a zero estate tax. And if we want to be like Japan, that has a 70% estate tax, fine. Japan hasn't created any new capital in 15 years.

HH: Now let me ask you. So we've developed an entire class of specialists who get rich helping the rich, and who are then invested in not really helping the rich by blocking death tax repeal?

LK: Well, yeah. It's a big waste of our resources.

HH: Wow. I hadn't even considered that, but you're absolutely right.

LK: You know, what are these guys left with? This is some kind of Karl Marx argument that capital is the enemy. And here's the dirty, little secret. You can't create a new job without a business, and you can't create a business without guess what? The capital to finance the business. But if we are taxing wealthy, successful people, we are layering taxes on their capital, then that seed corn is going to disappear, and we are not going to be competitive, and our fabulous economy, our booming economy, which I call the greatest story never told, will dissipate, just like Western Europe, just like Japan. Is that what we really want, all in the name of chasing and insulting rich people?

HH: Right. Now Larry Kudlow, since I've got you, let's go over the week's economic news. Again, the market's still shuddering. What's going on?

LK: Well, there's still a big issue here. People are whining about Ben Bernanke, who made it very clear at the beginning of the week, and I have told you on this program that's why I wanted folks to sell gold a few weeks ago, he's going to be an inflation hawk. And he should be an inflation hawk. And what we're talking about is draining a little more cash out of the economy, which will result in somewhat higher short term interest rates, that's all this is. But you have this global phenomenon. A lot of central banks, Hugh, raised interest rates in the last week, including the European central bank. And so, emerging market funds sold off big time. Gold, metals and mining continue to sell off here in the U.S.A. Cyclicals and industrials continued to sell off. What you're hearing, and I disagree with this, is that we're going to have a very bad economic slowdown, or worse, a recession. I do not agree with this. In fact, I believe Bernanke's remedial work to contain inflation will prolong the boom for the next three or four years. However, I have not convinced stock markets to rally back.

HH: Now how certain are you, because everyone has opinions. Sometimes, they're lightly held, sometimes, they're deeply held about the economic expansion, Larry Kudlow.

LK: Look, profits are at a record high. Businesses have never been healthier. Productivity has never been stronger. Jobs continue to rise. These are the fundamental building blocks for a long boom. Yes, residential housing is slowing down. However, commercial construction is speeding up. Business is the heart of the business story of the economic story. Profits are the mother's milk of the economy, of business and stocks. And profits are great. We're running about 9% as a share of GDP for after-tax profits, which is terrific. I had a guy on the program last night, National Semiconductor, an excellent company. They make a whole bunch of chips for car companies, for the bluetooths you put in your ear when you're on your cell phone, for the high definition TV. This guy turned out terrific earnings, okay? Actually, his stock actually went up today, National Semiconductor. That is just so typical of the disconnect between what's really going on in business, and what you're hearing from a lot of the commentators and pundits. But having said that, we are approaching the end of this correction. And I think there's a lot of good bargains out there in the stock market, though I would caution people. Do not jump back into gold, do not jump back into copper.

HH: Larry Kudlow, a pleasure.

End of interview.

Jed Babbin on the impact of Zarqawi being terminated.

HH: The Sith Lord of the radio, Jed Babbin, joins me now, author of Showdown, a marvelous, magnificent romp through the future with China. It doesn't go well, but Jed, welcome back. Thanks for filling in for me last week, friend.

JB: It is always a pleasure sir.

HH: I wanted to talk to someone who I know would be happy that we roasted, toasted, and sent off to the next life Zarqawi, so I called you.

JB: Well, I'm certainly still celebrating. I mean, we've got a couple of empty champagne bottles, but at the risk of being serious about this, this is a wonderful achievement by our guys, the Brits, and most of all, the Iraqis. We found this guy, we dug him out over a period of weeks, we hit him, then within an hour of hitting him, we hit 17 other locations, rounded up a lot of his network, gathered up a lot of intel. And in the hours following that, we hit another 39 locations. These guys are hurting right now, Hugh.

HH: And I wanted to get that out there, that we are close to now 60 roll ups since the bomb went off.

JB: Yup.

HH: And that's a lot of terrorists in the tank.

JB: Absolutely. And you know, however many of these guys we capture or kill, it's just one more life, or ten more lives that we're saving. That's the way you've got to look at this. Every one of these guys we toast and send on to whatever hell awaits these guys, this is something that makes Iraq safer, it makes our troops safer, you know, it just makes the world safer.

HH: I want to play for you cut number 4 from Hardball last night, Jed Babbin, to get your reaction. It's Chris Matthews talking to David Gregory.

CM: Could one concern be that they bragged, and appropriately so bragged about killing Zarqawi, a real bad guy who killed Nicholas Berg and a number of other people in the most vicious way, beheading them, that they would expose the fact that they haven't caught Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban. They haven't got Zawahiri, the number two guy, number three guy over there, and they certainly haven't caught bin Laden.

DG: Right.

CM: Are they concerned that bragging at this point would look like bragging about a AAA world series rather than a real one?

DG: Well, two points. One is I think they know, and I think maybe much of the public understands that actually bringing these people to justice is not easy. It takes luck, it takes good intelligence, and it takes surmounting a lot of obstacles in tough parts of the world. But I think it's not even that it had to be such a calculation that we don't want to gloat. I mean, this is a pretty, at the moment, grim bunch here in the White House, from the President on down, when they think about Iraq. This has been a very difficult period for them, politically, and then operationally in Iraq. So I think at this point, it's more instinctual to recognize that there is some really important facts here: what Zarqawi was responsible for, what killing him could potentially mean, and what it means immediately. But nobody's going around and believing themselves that it's going to creat some sort of sea change. What they believe in is the prospect for it to give new momentum to a unity government, and a real boost to morale, obviously, for U.S. troops, who as I think might described...executed an incredible operation under difficult circumstances. But in terms of what really changes the tide here, it's so very much outside of the President's control, and outside of this White House's control what happens over there at this stage.

HH: Jed Babbin, I know they're doing their best not to sound defeatist there, but it sounds defeatist.

JB: Well, it is wonderful. Was there any coherence in that at all?

HH: No.

JB: I mean, these guys basically can't...they're caught on their own petard here, Hugh. They can't stand to admit that something is working in Iraq, which it obviously is, because that might mean that what we're doing is right, and we need to stay with it for a while, which doesn't fit into their principal theme of we've got to cut and run, we've got to get out of there. So I just love hearing these guys go at each other about this stuff, because there's just absolutely no coherent thought among them.

HH: Now Jed Babbin, you, as former deputy undersecretary of defense, and long time student of history, especially military history, I wanted to ask you, have we ever known a turning point when we've gotten to the turning point? Did we know Midway was the turning point? Did we know when, in fact, Europe, the balance was over? Because I know Normandy's a big deal, but just getting there didn't mean we were going to go to Germany. I just don't believe in turning points.

JB: There aren't, really, any such thing, at least unless you have the perspective of history. You're absolutely right. Nobody knows what a turning point is when it happens. This may be one and it may not. I mean, it could very well be that the Iraqi government could still make a complete hash of this, and throw out the victory that this really portends. But they've got an opportunity here, Hugh, that is almost historic. They've got this huge roll up of the Zarqawi network. Now they have to deal with the rest of the insurgency, and they can go to the Sunni leaders and say you guys want to keep playing this game? It's not going to work, or let's get together and let's have a real coalition government.

HH: And the fact of the matter is that the Shiia militias are just as much of a problem as the Sunni militias, but that they have found in their new defense and interior ministers, people of high reputation on both sides, which I think is sort of the sine qua non of progress.

JB: Well, absolutely. And you've got, don't forget, the new defense minister, General Jassim is a Sunni. So putting a Sunni in charge of the most powerful ministry in Iraq is a huge symbol for these guys. And again, the Sunni leaders are going to eventually come to the conclusion that they're all going to be fighting to their own deaths unless they come up with some sort of compromise. Hopefully, the Shiia can continue to be at least a little bit reasonable. The wild card, though, is of course Iran, which has a lot of influence in the South.

HH: Now let's finish by talking at least a couple minutes about Showdown, Jed. I have not yet schedule the hour with you to do this. I know you've been off busy doing stuff, but I want people to know about this tremendous read. By the way, I talked to your buddy Wayne Simmons yesterday.

JB: Uh oh. Well, there goes the neighborhood.

HH: I know. There's another Sith Lord of the radio.

JB: He is so smart about the intel stuff, Hugh.

HH: Someone just sent me a note, he's the real John Clark.

JB: That's probably right.

HH: Just checking. Anyway, going back and talking about Showdown, it's about China. And you know, it's hard to get people to focus on the long threat, even if it's five years out when the short term threat is so in front of us. How are you find the book being received by people?

JB: Well, people are really sitting back and scratching their head and saying holy smoke. When you look at what's going on in the world, and this is the whole point of Showdown. Showdown is just trying to be a little bit of a wakeup call, saying there's a lot of moving parts in the world. You can't just ignore the rest when you're dealing with one or two. And if you look at what's going on, the Chinese are so heavily involved with all the terrorist nations, particularly Iran, this whole thing comes together in one foul-smelling lump.

HH: And I hope people pay attention and's a great read. It's a fun read, but they need to focus on China. Do you think D.C. is?

JB: Well, I think some of the people who really count are. I know the President has focused on it at least a little bit. And I've got to tell you, the big dog, Don Rumsfeld, is focused on this like a laser. He spent the whole last week over visiting countries surrounding China. And he's building know, it's really shocking. Most people don't think of him as kind of a diplomat, but I'll tell you what. All things being equal, he's getting more done diplomatically in the Pacific Rim than Condi Rice is in the whole doggone world.

HH: India, India, India.

JB: Yes, India. Exactly.

HH: Jed Babbin, always a pleasure. One of the Sith Lords of the radio, but a wonderful writer, a tremendous host, good friend. His book, Showdown. Go to right now an order it.

End of interview.

Return to top

Thursday, June 8

Mark Steyn and Hugh say adieu to Abu


HH: To discuss the significance of Zarqawi being dead, dead, dead, we start with columnist to the world, Mark Steyn. You can read about Mark Steyn's reactions at And Mark, I was looking forward to this all day, because you are an obituist for the Atlantic Monthly. You revel in the art of obituary. I doubt he'll be one of your subjects, but what should his tombstone read?

MS: Well, I wish I was doing him for the Atlantic, but generally with that, Hugh, I try to pick subjects I can always, at least, think of something poignant and moving to say about. And in fact, I can't think of a word to say about him. I assume what's left of him will be taken to the town of Zarka, which is the industrial city in Jordan, just a little ways north of Amman, and it's a pretty ugly town. I've been there a couple of times. It's sort of a grim, depressing, industrial city. But what's interesting to me about it is that people who were at high school with him hate this guy, because of course, he subsequently...he's basically been killing Muslims for the last couple of years. I mean, his kill rate on Americans has gone down and down, and his kill rate on his fellow Muslims has gone up and up, culminating in the fellows he killed in those Jordanian hotel things. So whether he even gets a tombstone is up for grabs.

HH: I am amazed at the reactions today, and I want to read you a few of them, and gather your reactions to the reaction. From Richard Clarke, ultimately for the loved ones of troops in Iraq, this is not going to mean a big difference.

MS: No, that is pathetic, because the point of this is that it is good news. You can say that about any stage in the war. You could have said all through the Second World War, you could have said when we liberated the Solomon Islands...well, this isn't going to make a great deal of difference to those of us who are waiting for our troops to come home from Europe. You could say that about every victory in a war. In that sense, every victory is just a pause to take a breath, to cheer the great work that's been done, and then on to the next stage. I mean, this man, Richard Clarke, he's so corroded by bitterness, basically, because people didn't do what he said. And there's no reason to pay any attention to him, as far as I can see.

HH: Let's do a second quote. This from Steny Hoyer, the number two ranking Democrat. While the death of al-Zarqawi is certainly a positive development, it must be tempered by the sober recognition that this will not end the insurgency.

MS: Yes, well they're doing a lot of tempering with sobriety, and I think they haven't quite got the formula right. You know, the Democrats sound to me a bit like al Qaeda. Al Qaeda released this statement on the death of Zarqawi, saying congratulations to our glorious comrade al-Zarqawi for finally achieving martyrdom. It is a great victory for us. And it reminded me of the announcements the Democratic Party puts out after they failed to pull off the victory in the special election in California this week, and the one in the Ohio Congressional district last year, I think, where they lose, but they nevertheless hail it as a tremendous political upset and a great victory.

HH: A moral victory.

MS: Yeah, and it reminds me of that thing where I think the British teacher's union last year proposed abolishing the concept of failing exams. And instead of being given a failing grade, you'd be given this thing they called a deferred success. And in the same way, the Democrats had a great deferred success in the California Congressional election this week, and al Qaeda had a great deferred success in the death of Zarqawi.

HH: Now I've got to read to you two paragraphs. Joel Achenbach is the most popular blogger for by far, I'm told, by people who know. He gets the most attention. And I went to see what he had to say this morning. He posted at 9:38AM Eastern time, and here are his first two paragraphs, and you can read this at, America. The military briefing this morning featured footage of the bombing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's hideout. We've become familiar with this kind of image - the jet fighter's view of the terrain, the target in the middle of the screen, the flash of light, the erupting cloud of smoke and dust. American fighters hit Zarqawi's lair with a 500 pound bomb, and then, after pondering the situation, sent another 500 pound bomb to bounce the rubble. Six bodies were later found, including that of an unidentified child. One body definitely belonged to Zarqawi. American Soldiers identified him every which way from scars to fingerprints. Paragraph two. But no human beings are visible in that jet fighter footage. I actually couldn't tell what I was looking at. It could have been a warehouse demolition in Tulsa. It was an impersonable obliteration. You could argue that it was the opposite of Zarqawi's style of killing. He preferred to murder hostages by beheading them in front of a video camera. What is he talking about, Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, this man is disgusting. And to hell with him, frankly. I find it harder and harder as the days go by to take this kind of talk. You know, the Archbishop of Canterbury made this point. He said that the terrorists and the United States Air Force were both equivalent. They were only capable of viewing people at a distance. The guy in the plane, with all those anonymous buildings as little blips on the radar screen, on the GPS positioning thing way below him, he has more understanding of the humanity there. He knows which is the schoolhouse. He knows which is the hospital. He knows which is the restaurant. And he knows which is the one building he's allowed to hit. What's interesting to me about the people we're up against is they look you in your eyes. Zarqawi can look American hostages, British hostages...poor Margaret Hassan, an Iraqi aid worker, he can look these people in the eye and he fails to recognize their common humanity, and he reaches for his scimitar, and he cuts their throat. The guys at the Beslan school massacre...they looked those kids in the eye, and then they killed them. And the guy in the plane dropping the 500 pound bomb has more understanding of the common humanity that links us and the Iraqis and all peoples on this Earth than Zarqawi does. So to hell with that twerp at the Washington Post. I've got no time for him on a day like this.

HH: There are many of those, though. I'm amazed at how this is diminished, deprecated, blurred in any other way, because Zarqawi's just evil personified. If you can't get it right on Zarqawi, Mark Steyn, you can't get anything right.

MS: No, you can't. And this is what staggers me. Those so-called Christian peacemaker teams who were kidnapped in Iraq a couple of months ago, the American guy, he basically agreed with everything that Zarqawi was doing, and they still killed him, because his agreement didn't matter, because in the end, he's still the infidel. He's still the other. And that's what links Zarqawi with these fellows who've been arrested up in Toronto. But in the end, it doesn't matter whether you're Bush or you're Dick Cheney, or you're Don Rumsfeld, or you're some hippy-dippy, loony tune, peacenik, Christian peacemaker, Washington Post reading, moral equivalence driveling, nerd. They still see you as the infidel, the other, and they'll still kill you.

HH: They will. Now I want to switch over to Kofi Annan's reaction to Zarqawi's death, because yesterday, the United Nations, and the day before, deputy secretary-general found passion, time in denouncing Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and the intelligence of the American people of flyover country. Listen to the passion in Kofi Annan's voice as he talks about the death of Zarqawi today.

KA: This is an individual who has been responsible for many heinous crimes, caused lots of problems in Iraq for the government and the people of Iraq, the people of Iraq who are afraid to step out, people of Iraq who are only demanding peace, stability, and to have the streets back. I think they will all be relieved that he is gone. And of course, we cannot pretend that that will mean the end of the violence, but it is a relief that such a heinous and dangerous man who has caused so much harm to Iraq is no longer around to continue his work.

HH: How come so much opportunity and length to inveigh against America, Mark Steyn, in 40 seconds, heinous crime relief from Kofi Annan?

MS: Well, he wasn't exactly singing Happy Days Are Here Again, was he?

HH: No, he wasn't.

MS: I mean, I do think this reaction is pathetic. I think the correct attitude is that of Mrs. Thatcher when the British troops liberated South Georgia, an outlying island of the Falklands from the Argentinian forces. And the newsmen were asking her all these silly questions, and she just said to them, gentlemen, just rejoice, rejoice. And rejoice, rejoice is what any sane human being ought to have to the news that Zarqawi has been dispatched. Now in the case of Kofi Annan, I think he particularly needs to read...I think this idiot deputy secretary-general of his, Mark Malloch Brown, deserves to be fired, because every listener of your show, Hugh, pays this guy's salary. The United Nations is nothing more than the collective will of its member nations. That's all it is. And the people who pay up the dues for the United Nations pays this guy's salary. He's an international civil servant. And as John Bolton says, for him to condescend to these sort of moronic hayseeds in the American heartland who pay his salary is completely unacceptable.

HH: 30 seconds left, Mark Steyn. Ahmadinejead today said we will meet, but we will not negotiate. Do you think we are going to drop all demands and go down the Munich route?

MS: I think what we're about to see is one by one, all the tough demands will be turned into soft demands, and soft demands will be turned into softer demands, and then in the end, there will be no demands. It's this decade's Oil For Food, this decade's North Korean deal.

HH: Mark Steyn, a great pleasure as always. Thank you. Mark Steyn can be read at

End of interview.

Christopher Hitchens on the significance of the ex-Zarqawi.


HH: To discuss the significance of it, Christopher Hitchens joins me. Christopher Hitchens, welcome back. You wrote a great piece at Slate. You are correct. This is a big day, and it means a lot. Why doesn't the left get that?

CH: Well, because much of the left is committed in advance to the idea that the advance of Islamic revolutions have cooled. Actually, it's a very reactionary counter-revolution, as you know. It's in some way unstoppable, when is in any case, the sort of verdict on American foreign policy. So not all of them take the Michael Moore view, that people like Zarqawi are as he put it, the moral equivalent to the American Minutmen. Roll that 'round your tongue for a minute or two. But many of them have a sort of sneaking feeling that these characters must be, in some sense, insurgents or rebels, whereas in fact, as we know, they're either the agents of a former dictatorship or the harbingers of the future, even more frightening one.

HH: Christopher Hitchens, you wrote at the end of your piece, if we had withdrawn from Iraq already, as the peace movement has been demanding, then one of the most revolting criminals of all time would have been able to claim that he forced us to do it. I think that's an incredibly important point. I also think it's...I'd like your reaction to something I wrote earlier today. Had we not invaded Iraq, Zarqawi would not be dead today, but rather esconced in some Baghdad safe house, or a larger encampment.

CH: Oh, yes, yes. I mean, you have to notice after 9/11, countries like Pakistan, for example, and Saudi Arabia, which had been far too close to Wahabi, Salafist training camps and ideologies, but before then, began to throw these people out of their countries.

HH: Right.

CH: As with our help, did the Afghans. But only Iraq started to welcome...and to some extent, Iran started to welcome them in. That's all the difference in the world. It's quite impossible to imagine that someone like Zarqawi is basically a Jordanian criminal, could simply just get himself to Iraq and start a major military operation without the help of the pre-existing Baathist secret police and paramilitary forces.

HH: There's also the significance that today, the three ministers were named in Iraq, defense, interior and international security.

CH: Yeah, it was about time.

HH: And they got it done. You think there's a connection here?

CH: Well, I'd like to think so, because a good friend of mine, Patrick Coburn, who covers Iraq very well, and has been doing so very bravely for many years, observed to me the other day, somewhat sarcastically, he said as of today, Iraq has a minister of tourism and not a minister of defense. That was a kind of ridiculous moment. I think maybe a bit more on the front foot today, and yes, the most dangerous and most horrible terrorist in the world, and I don't exempt Mr. bin Laden from this, I mean, the vilest of the lot, is dead. And if the defeatists had been listened to, he would by now be the most famous Muslim warrior in the history of the world. They keep telling us that only by fighting these people do we give them credibility and make them powerful and so forth, that we create them. This is a complete lie. If we had retreated from Iraq, Zarqawi would have claimed victory over a superpower, and his name would be on T-shirts. In bazaars of illiterate, unfortunate, Muslim children all across the world, he'd be a hero. Instead, he's dog meat, which is what he ought to have been a long time ago.

HH: Today, at the Washington Post...I know you don't read blogs, but I have to read you the first two paragraphs of Joel Achenbach's Washington Post blog, because he's their most popular blogger. He has quite a large audience. And he wrote today two paragraphs. The military briefing this morning featured footage of the bombing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's hideout. We've become familiar with this kind of image - the jet fighter's view of the terrain, the target in the middle of the screen, the flash of light, the erupting cloud of smoke and dust. American fighters hit Zarqawi's lair with a 500 pound bomb, and then after pondering the situation, sent in another 500 pound bomb to bounce the rubble. Six bodies were later found, including that of an unidentified child. One body definitely belonged to Zarqawi. American Soldiers identified him every which way, from scars to fingerprints. Second paragraph. But no human beings are visible in the jet fighter footage. I actually couldn't tell what I was looking at. It could have been a warhouse demolition in Tulsa. It was an impersonal obliteration. You could argue that it was the opposite of the Zarqawi style of killing. He preferred to murder hostages by beheading them in front of a video camera. Christopher Hitchens, what is he talking about?

CH: Where do you start with so blasé, half-baked journalism. And I don't want to be in the same profession as someone who writes that way. I mean...well, I don't think I need to add. All you need to do is quote it, right? I mean...

HH: But do you think he's hinting that the violence is the same, that they're morally equivalent?

CH: He's not hinting it. He's openly stating it.

HH: Okay. I...

CH: So I mean, look. It's like Cindy Sheehan claims to speak for her son, who never gave her any permission to do so, and who died a hero's death on Memorial Day. The father of Nicholas Berg, who's been a pain in the ass...the father, I mean...for some time now, long before his son went to Iraq, says today that his son was not killed by having his head sawn off by Zarqawi's people on a video. He was killed by President Bush. Well, fine. That's not making it morally equivalent. That's saying Bush is worse than Zarqawi.

HH: Right.

CH: People who think like this, and talk like that, they're perfectly entitled to do it, but they have to live with having said it. And that must be, it ought to be hard. It really ought to be hard.

HH: John Kerry said today that Zarqawi's killing, "is another sign that it's time for Iraqis to stand up for Iraq and run their own country. American troops have done their job in Iraq, and they've done it valiantly. It's time to work with the new Iraqi government to bring our combat troops home by the end of this year."

CH: Yeah, he always says that. He said that last month. He'd have left Zarqawi in possession of the field, and everyone would have said he'd won. I mean, come on. We can only say this two or three times. He says that, the Senator from Massachusetts says that every time. If he'd said it last month, which he did, we would have been leaving just in time for Zarqawi to declare victory.

HH: Now let's turn to the effects of the death of Zarqawi on the larger al Qaeda network, in your opinion, Christopher Hitchens. Is it demoralizing? They took Mogadishu this week. People aren't noticing that they scored a strategic victory this week.

CH: That's certainly true. And they're...we're faced with an extremely relentless force. Mind you, now that they've gotten Mogadishu, they have the problem of having to run it, which is what always discredits these forces, that they have no program for running any society. But that doesn't mean we can afford to be indifferent. Look, it is very bad news for them, because...I mean, Zarqawi was obviously out of the common run of fanatics. He had, really, done an enormous amount of damage to Iraq, and to the coalition, and to the U.N., and to the agencies, and all of that. So it won't be that easy for them to recover, but there is still this generalized force. And what interests me the most is the relationship between them and Iran. I mean, it's been plausibly alleged that Zarqawi may have got into Iraq via Iran, perhaps with Iranian help. Now if you ponder this for a second, this means that the Iranians are secretly helping someone whose public program is the massacre of Shiia Muslims. In other words, of their co-religionists, that their anti-Americanism is so intense, and so sickened, sorry, so sick, that they'll even collaborate with someone who regards them as a vile heretic, scumbag faction. This would be a very, very serious conclusion to come to in the present circumstances...

HH: Yeah.

CH: ...because it would mean that the Iranian government was dealing with the most evil forces, even those who murder innocent Shiia in Iraq. And if that can be shown to be true, then we have another bill to add to a long series of bills of indictment against the mullahs for what they do to their own people, as well as to others in the region.

HH: We received 40 seconds of rather blasé congratulation from Kofi Annan today, and relief in Iraq is what he said would greet this. I don't quite think he understands this. But yesterday, the deputy secretary-general slashed out at Fox News, at Rush Limbaugh, and basically at the stupidity of middle America for not esteeming the U.N. more highly. Your reaction to that, Christopher Hitchens?

CH: Well, I know Mr. Malloch Brown, and he's a kind of jovial, rather cynical character. I don't know what made him decide to amuse his luncheon companions in New York that way. But what Mark has missed, as a lot of people have, is the following. At the U.N. now, hypocritical, though, a lot of the talk may be, it is all about reform. Even Kofi Annan talks about nothing else. It's a bit like in Egypt. They may not do it, but it's in the subject of conversation. Well, that's a good thing. They admit that they were rotted out and corrupt in the Oil For Food program. They've had to admit that. They admit that they're not up much to the task of peacekeeping, let alone of enforcement of resolutions. They...all the conversation is about, the one big thing. This would not have been the case if the administration hadn't forced the issue and said look, how much longer can this body go on being insulted by Saddam Hussein, and collecting a thesaurus that mounts every day of violated U.N. resolutions?

HH: And we would never have stopped Oil For Food for dictators for terrorists. But my question, since you know Mr. Malloch Brown, you can answer this. Does he have contempt for the average American who watches Fox News and listens to Rush Limbaugh, and draws the conclusions there from?

CH: Well, the way I read it, what I saw, I imagine I read the same stories as you, would mean that I'd have to say yes to that, because taking his target of opportunity as Mr. Limbaugh, whose show I've never listened to, or Fox News, or anyone else who might like to trash the U.N., he appears to have regarded it as the job of the U.S. government to wade in and shut down Fox News, and rebuke Rush Limbaugh, and say you mustn't give a bad impression of the U.N. Well, I'm sorry. That's not the job of the U.S. government at all. Mr. Bolton, our envoy there, just very recently said look, we can't do everything about Darfur, but we can do some things. For example, we can name the known violators of U.N. resolutions in the genocides there. That's the least we can do, given the amount of time we've wasted being flouted here. And yet again, vetoed by Russia and China. They couldn't even get that far. Surely, their passivity in the face of Darfur is far greater an insult than anything Fox News could hurl at them.

HH: Christopher Hitchens, always a pleasure. Thank you. The Slate article is up now on the demise of Zarqawi. Read it.

End of interview.

Victor Davis Hanson on why the left can't rejoice in good news about the war.


HH: Zarqawi is dead. Here to discuss the significance of that, Victor Davis Hanson, military historian and classicist extraordinaire. Professor Hanson, welcome back to the program.

VDH: Thank you for having me, Hugh.

HH: How significant the events of this day, the killing of Zarqawi, the rolling up of 17 other sites associated with his network?

VDH: I think tactically, it's very important. Strategically, he was responsible for long term planning. Politically, there was...after the Haditha hysteria, there was a need for, along with the news of the new cabinet of selections, there was a need for some optimism on Iraq. And then there's also a psychological element to it, because it really puts the onus on critics of the war, who really don't come out and rejoice. I've been shocked at driving today and listening to some of the reactions that are almost underwhelmed by the news that this monster, this sort of satanic figure, who had killed teachers, murdered innocent women and children, who now was brought to infinite justice, so to speak, people were not delighted. And it really shows us that there are a lot of people in this country that want us to lose this war. And that's very disturbing to see that today.

HH: I have had that theme throughout today, and there is plenty of evidence for it, and I'll come to that in a moment. But before we move to the bad side of the good news, the good side of the good news. You've written a lot about military leaders, and he was...he was a terrorist, but he was a military leader. When you lose an charismatic commander, like Stonewall Jackson, or someone else from your epic knowledge of war, what happens to his lieutenants and his troops? What's the effect?

VDH: Well, that's a very good point, because if you look at something comparable, like the insurrectionists that tried to destroy Rome, people like Vercingetorix, the Gaulish popular leader, or Mithridates, or Jagurtha, any time these people were captured or humiliated or killed, the popular uprising usually lost steam and petered out. And I think that we in the modern, sophisticated, technological age don't look at things in this emotional sense of honor and pride and spirit. And yet, wars are so often, they so often hinge on just these factors. So I think there's going to be a lot of intangible benefits to the United States that we'll see in the next six months, just for the reasons that you point out.

HH: I would like to read to you now on the bad side of the good news, two paragraphs from Joel Achenbach in the Washington Post. He's the most popular blogger there, Victor Davis Hanson. And you know the power of the blogs. You write for I assume you'll have a column in tomorrow.

VCH: Yes.

HH: Here are his two first paragraphs. The military briefing this morning featured footage of the bombing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's hideout. We've become familiar with this kind of image - the jet fighter's view of the terrain, the target in the middle of the screen, the flash of light, the erupting cloud of smoke and dust. American fighters hit Zarqawi's lair with a 500 pound bomb, and then after pondering the situation, sent in another 500 pounder to bounce the rubble. Six bodies were later found, including that of an unidentified child. One body definitely belonged to Zarqawi. American Soldiers identified him every which way, from scars to fingerprints. Second paragraph. But no human beings are visible in that jet fighter footage. I actually couldn't tell what I was looking at. It could have been a warehouse demolition in Tulsa. It was an impersonal obliteration. You could argue that it was the opposite of Zarqawi style of killing. He preferred to murder hostages by beheading them in front of a video camera. What do you make of these two paragraphs, Professor Victor Davis Hanson?

VDH: Well, they're lunatic, and that's sort of like Bill Maher saying that the people who were attacking us on 9/11 showed a certain sort of courage. And we have also suffered through earlier remarks that when Zarqawi did these infomercials, and these fatwas, and these horrific videos, and people would tell us and remind us that we were losing because we couldn't find him. Now that we've found him and killed him, the fact of that is so repugnant to them, they have to almost explain it away. But these are things that we can't really aruge over, because they're facts. He's dead, we know he's dead, and the left will have to put up with the fact that the United States has had a great victory today, and will win in Iraq, and that will have very positive effects on the Iraqi people, and the general war against terror. And I don't think they can stomach that. That's apparently the problem.

HH: Well now, but can a country recover when even...I used the analogy earlier either with Christopher Hitchens or Mark Steyn. News reaches you that Hitler suicided in his lair, and someone finds reasons to criticize the pace of the Allied advance. It just doesn't compute how a country should react.

VDH: No, it doesn't, but we're a pretty resiliant country, Hugh. Remember when Uday and Qusay were killed, and immediately, we were told that the embalming was horrific, that we showed the bodies on camera. Then we caught Saddam, remember we gave him the dental exam. So it's almost a Pavlovian response that whatever the United States does, there's going to be a cadre of pretty sophisticated, elite, leisured people who are protected by other types of people who don't share their beliefs, and they're always going to be critical, they're always going to be cynical, because let's be honest. It fills some deep, psychological need in these people to hate the very system that created them, and makes life good for them.

HH: Now does that...can that be eradicated? Can that be driven out? Not by force, but by argument, or by counter-argument?

VDH: It's kind of like rust. You know, it just keeps creeping, and it always has to be dealt with and addressed. I think that's the only criticism that I have of this administration, and that is that I think they thought that by going into Afghanistan and Iraq, that these were facistic regimes, we were going to try and implement democracy, it was a no-brainer that this was a moral, humane idea. And they did not have to respond to these left wing blogs, New York Times, National Public Radio, New Yorker Magazine, Harper's. These were all elites that were in a minority now in this country. And they forgot just how influential and pernicious these people can be. And you always have to address them. What you do on your radio show's like scrubbing rust off iron. It has to be done every day, or they take over the dominant conversation.

HH: Did you read the President's West Point commencement address?

VDH: I did.

HH: What did you think of it?

VDH: Well, it was very good.

HH: That's what needs to happen pretty much every week.

VDH: It is, and if you notice that not long afterwards, Mr. Rumsfeld gave a very good address at VMI as well. And Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, each one has to articulate what's at stake, and that we're involved in the greatest civil rights movement in the history of the Middle East by trying to establish one person, one vote. And we'll give these despised Shiia that have never had any representation a chance for representative government. It's's right out of the playbook of the left. They should be so happy to see Shiia that were butchered and murdered, to be participating in consentual government.

HH: Victor Davis Hanson, a tremendous point on which to close. Thanks for spending a segment with us. Victor Hanson's Private Papers. He'll write tomorrow at

End of interview.

Deputy National Security Advisor J.D. Crouch on the dispatching of al Zarqawi.


HH: Pleased to welcome to the program now J.D. Crouch. Dr. Crouch is an assistant to the President, and Deputy National Security Advisor. Dr. Crouch, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

JDC: Good to be here, Hugh.

HH: Well, I have just come from a luncheon for Lynn Swann, featuring all these USC people, Anthony Davis, Sam Cunningham, John Neighbor. And I see here on your bio that you got your bachelor's, masters, and PhD from USC.

JDC: Yeah, I kind of bleed cardinal and gold.

HH: I didn't realize it was a degree granting institution.

JDC: Oh, gosh. I'll take the knife out.

HH: It's a great day. It's a great day for the American troops that targeted and killed Zarqawi. How significant is the elimination of this terrorist?

JDC: Well, this is a really a severe blow to al Qaeda in Iraq, and I think a blow to al Qaeda internationally. And it's a great victory for the Iraqi people. It's really an opportunity for Iraq's new government to begin to turn the tide in this struggle. This is a vicious operational commander of the terrorist movement in Iraq. He was involved in planning and executing kidnappings, beheadings, car bombings, assassinations. Osama bin Laden had kind of tapped him as the prince of al Qaeda in Iraq, so taking him out and bringing him to justice is a very big deal.

HH: In the briefing this morning, I noted that the General referred to a treasure trove of intelligence that allowed both the targeting of Zarqawi and the roll up of 17 other suspected terror sites or cells. What was he talking about?

JDC: Well, obviously, when we undertake operations like this, there's a lot that goes on before the execution of the operation. I mean, there's just a lot of people involved that really deserve a lot of credit. It's not just the guys who are the trigger pullers, although they deserve a lot of credit, too. But it's the people who put together the intelligence to get you there. And once you hit a place like this, you also have the opportunity to mine that intelligence. And these guys are set up to rapidly do that, and see if they can't go quickly to the next set of targets. And it's not unlike the way SWAT teams will do narcotics busts in cities, and then move around to various places as they go up the food chain.

HH: How large is the network of al Qaeda, even post-Zarqawi, in Iraq, Dr. Crouch?

JDC: There's no exact number that can be put on it, because what you''ve got relatively small number of foreign fighters, people who are not Iraqis in the country. When I say that, we're not talking about thousands, hundreds, probably. And then, but you've got a lot of Iraqis who've associated themselves with the Zarqawi movement, who are members of the insurgency.

HH: What can you tell us about how the information was developed? Was there a turncoat inside of al Qaeda? Or was it an Iraqi who simply saw, noted, and turned him in?

JDC: They were able to basically identify people that they thought would have contact with Zarqawi, and they were able to track those people. And so, one of the ways you try to find somebody, obviously, is figure out who are the people they might be meeting with, who are the people they might be having phone conversations with, or whatever. In this case, physical movement. And they were able to track people to one of the safe houses where he was holding a meeting.

HH: Now that is interesting. Dr. Crouch, I got an small step for Iraq, one large step for mankind. Let's talk about the impact on al Qaeda outside of Iraq.

JDC: Well, obviously, we're trying to put pressure on al Qaeda globally, so there's a lot going on with our allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan to try to put pressure on them in that part of the world. And that's our most likely area where we think we'll eventually get number one and number two, Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri. At the same time, al Qaeda in Iraq had become a very important node for them, and we believe that as the President said, that they were going to try to establish a safe haven, if you will, in at least part of Iraq, so that they can then undertake attacks outside of Iraq. And Zarqawi himself is responsible for that wedding bombing in Amman, Jordan.

HH: Right.

JDC: And there's no reason why he was not...would not be seeking to plan attacks in Europe, or even here in the homeland.

HH: Diverging for a moment, and we'll come back to Zarqawi in Iraq. Yesterday, the news came that Islamists in Somalia are declaring that Mogadishu is now under their operational control, and of course, the threat arises that that could become the new Kandahar, the new Kabul. What are we doing about that?

JDC: Well, obviously, we've got to...and this is a problem of safe havens, obviously that the President and Secretary Rumsfeld and others have talked about. We have defense relationships in the region that we will be exploiting. We obviously have contacts along the border. We do not have diplomatic relations with Somalia. We're not a...this is not a country that we could have direct relationship with. So we're having to exert pressure and exert influence from basically around and outside the country.

HH: But it is indeed a serious threat, isn't it, that you have Islamists in charge of a major port city with some industrial base?

JDC: Absolutely. It's something we're going to have to deal with, and as I said, we've got an approach to that, and we're working not only with the countries in the region, but we also have, as you know, we also have military forces in the region from a Naval perspective that are in and around that area.

HH: Let's go back, now, to Iraq. Earlier today, upon being asked to comment on the death of Zarqawi, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts called it, "another sign it's time for Iraqis to stand up and run their own country. It's time to bring our combat troops home." Representative John Murtha said that because of Zarqawi's death, "we should be able to substantially reduce our presence in Iraq." Both men hobby-horsing a big day for their own agenda of withdrawal. Your reaction, Dr. Crouch?

JDC: Well, you know, that was their view the day before we got Zarqawi. I mean, I think that the main point is we have been saying that it's absolutely important for our security that we have an Iraq that can defend itself, an Iraq that can sustain itself, an Iraq that can secure itself, and we're going to work with the Iraqis, with them in the lead increasingly, to do that. And in our view, that does not mean that we have to pull everybody out. And in, in fact, the Iraq view, they don't believe that at this point. But obviously, the main thing is to try to get the Iraqis out in front, and increasingly they are out in front. And we see more and more Iraqi units now taking the lead across Iraq, and being able to do more of the patrolling and the other activies, so that our forces can be utilized, really, for two key missions. The first one is training Iraqi security forces, and building them up. And the second is what we saw an example of last night, which is where our Special Operations forces are able to go after the most dangerous people in Iraq.

HH: But again, if in fact these quotes are correct...they're going around on e-mails, so I always want to make sure we double-check them later.

JDC: Yeah, I don't know whether they are.

HH: Yeah, the fact is, it's not really an occasion to declare anything about the level of troops. It's simply a good event in moving the ball forward in Iraq. I don't think anyone can conclude one way or the other how the war will go from this point forward, or am I wrong about that, Dr. Crouch?

JDC: No, and in fact, on the contrary, we think that the death is a significant blow to al Qaeda, both in Iraq and everywhere. But we also expect the violence to continue. And in fact, in the short term, I would say we would expect to see the al Qaeda in Iraq, who are still around, try to demonstrate their presence by setting off more bombs, and killing more innocent people. But the reality is that they don't have a plan, they don't have a strategy, and I think that the combination of establishing a unity government...we now have a fully-fledged unity government. One of the things that really kind of got overshadowed by this is the fact that...

HH: The three ministries, yeah.

JDC: Prime Minister Malaki took another very important step today, completed the formation of his government, named an interior minister and a defense minister, who have strong backing among all the groups. And he's really stepped up his...Malaki's stepped up efforts to secure Baghdad and Basra, and to begin disarming the militias there. So all of those will be very positive steps as we move forward.

HH: Dr. Crouch, the interior ministry when to a Shiia, the defense ministry to a Sunni, and the national security ministry to a Kurd. Tell us a little bit about these three individuals whose names we may not know very well right now, but who are clearly pivotal figures in the future of the new Iraq.

JDC: Well, I think the two that we know the best are the defense minister and the interior minister. And I think they're going to be critical. The defense minister is a a Sunni general. He's well respected across the various groups, and is viewed for his competence rather than being attached to any set of political parties or ideology. The interior minister is a Shiia. I'm told he comes from, actually, a tribe that's sort of a Sunni-Shiia mix. He's well respected by Sunnis. And that's extremely important, because the interior ministry...and there have been problems with the police over there, the interior ministry is the group that controls the police. And having somebody in charge at that ministry who has the respect of both the Sunni and Shiia will be really key to ending the sectarian violence.

HH: A couple of more related topics. First, Ahmadinejead was...let me back up. Last thing we heard from Zarqawi was on Al Jazeera this weekend. He was denouncing Hezbollah. Hezbollah, of course, the Iranian paramilitary terrorist organization that's backed by Tehran. Ahmadinejead today said we'll meet, but we won't negotiate. How did you interpret President Ahmadinejead's talk today, and the Zarqawi attack on Hezbollah of the weekend?

JDC: Well, as you know, on the Zarqawi point, he actually released a four hour screed, I think is the best word for it, attacking all elements of Shiiaism. And again, his main objective was to try to foment as much violence between these Muslims sects as is possible, thinking, I think, that that violence would both have the effect of undermining the government, the legitimate government of Iraq, and driving us out. He's failed. We think he will fail, and because...the people of Iraq really do want to be able to live together and get beyond this violence. And so it's one of the reasons why taking him out last night is a big victory. I didn't see the quote from Ahmadinejead. I'm not sure exactly...was he referring on negotiating...was he referring to us?

HH: Yes, to the gang of six, or whatever we're going to call it, the big five, Germany.

JDC: Yeah. You know, the President made a very bold move, but obviously, to try to show that we want to resolve this issue diplomatically. But that's going to require that the Iranians suspend their enrichment program. And we've made that very clear. That's not just a demand of the United States. That's been a demand of the Europeans, it's been a demand of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and it's a demand that they signed up to when they signed the Paris agreement back in 2004. So I think notwithstanding the President of Iran's comments, I think we're going to hold to that. And if on the other hand, the Iranians are interested in resolving this diplomatically, and can suspend, then I think that we'll have a way forward, and the President is committed, we're willing to come to the table and talk to them.

HH: But if they don't suspend, we don't meet?

JDC: That's right. And in addition to that, we've also made it clear with our European allies, and with the Russians, that there are a series of measures that we're going to have to take at the Security Council, be they financial measures, diplomatic measure, and other kinds of potential sanctions, that we'll have to move in that direction. So we've really offered the Iranians two paths. One is a diplomatic solution to this, in which there will be real benefits to the Iranian people. On the other hand, if they're not willing to go down that track, then we're going to have to go down the other track.

HH: Okay, last couple of questions, Dr. Crouch. And they have to do with yesterday's comments at the U.N., and the day before comment at the U.N. by Mark Malloch Brown, attacking, basically, the American people, the administration's support for the U.N., naming Rush Limbaugh, naming Fox News. John Bolton came out and blistered him, but Kofi Annan's spokesperson stands by it. Why...what's your reaction first to the U.N.'s sort of declaration of war on the American public?

JDC: Yeah, well, I haven't read the speech. I've seen what's been in the news, and I'll have to tell you that I was not happy with what I saw in that speech.

HH: Have you ever seen a U.N. official attack American media before, and implying that the American public is stupid and being misled by the media?

JDC: I have not...I think John Bolton's comments about that were accurate. It's something that I think was relatively unprecedented.

HH: And have we received any congratulations from the U.N. for removing one of the world's worst terrorists from our midst today?

JDC: I don't know. We've actually been receiving a lot of congratulations from around the world on this, because people recognized the importance of it. I don't know whether we've received anything directly from the U.N. or not.

HH: I'll bet you you haven't, but I know you don't know that.

JDC: (laughing)

HH: I'll let you go. Dr. Crouch, a pleasure. For a Trojan, my goodness, you know things.

JDC: Well, you know, every once in a while, they let one out.

HH: I guess so. But that's great. Too bad football or band isn't included in that. Dr. Crouch, thanks for being here on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

JDC: Thank you.

End of interview.

Lileks on the Achenbach Zarqawi-fighter pilot gaffe.