Obama’s Leading From Behind: The National Security Consequences
(Richard Miniter, May 18, 2016)
Transcript available below
About the speaker
Richard Miniter is the CEO of American Media Institute, a New York Times bestselling author, and a national security columnist for Forbes.
His seventh book, Leading From Behind, examines the consequences of Obama’s foreign policies. Miniter sheds new light on key decisions of the past eight years and the damage inflicted by America’s departure from leadership on the world stage. He is also the author of Mastermind: The Many Faces of the 9/11 Architect, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
He was editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal Europe and was a member of the famed investigative team of The Sunday Times of London. As vice president of The Washington Times, Miniter turned around an ailing division and managed a team of 17 journalists. He appears regularly on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and hundreds of radio programs. He is the author of several New York Times bestselling books: Losing bin Laden, Shadow War, Mastermind, and Leading From Behind. Miniter has been published in The New York Times, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek, Forbes, New Republic, National Review and others.
Our speaker tonight is, in my opinion, one of the finest journalists in the United States, one of the finest investigative journalists in the United States, and one of the finest writers. He is the CEO of American Media Institute. He is a multiple New York Times best-selling author. A national security columnist for Forbes, his most recent book is Eyes on Target: Inside Stories from the Brotherhood of U.S. Navy Seals. A book before that that pertains to our subject tonight is Leading from Behind, which obviously examines the consequences of Obama’s foreign policy.
I will only relate to you very quickly something Pope Francis said in an interview two days ago. You may not think of him as a foreign policy analyst. He did say he had heard related from a Libyan the following remark, “We used to have one Qaddafhi. Now, we have fifty.”
Richard Miniter was an editorial page writer for the Wall Street Journal Europe and a member of the famed investigative team of the Sunday Times of London. He was Vice President of the Washington Times. I will not go into his multiple media appearances on multiple channels or the fact that he has been published absolutely everywhere. Other books include Shadow War and Disinformation.
I hope you know that his outstanding book on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed it out there at special Westminster discount. Rich spoke here when that book first came out. We are delighted to still have it out there for a special Westminster price for you tonight and I am sure Rich would be happy to sign it. Please join me in welcoming Richard Miniter.
Thanks, Bob. It is good to be back here at Westminster. Looking out from the podium tonight, we see in every part of the world in every place once friendly and foreign and every place once fierce, it is on fire. Every single place is markedly worse. The world is shockingly more dangerous over the past seven years.
And if it is a time reminiscent, frankly, of the late 1970s, people like to say this is one of the worst and most dangerous times to be living in and I like to remind them of the late 1970s. Remember the economics. Remember the eleven percent unemployment, the twenty-one percent prime interest rates. Remember the gas lines, the hostages in Iran, fifty-two American diplomats blindfolded and beaten and held for 444 days to the humiliation of America before the eyes of the world, Jimmy Carter’s failed rescue effort, his failed ability to force the Iranians to free our diplomats illegally held for that long period of time. The inflation, the loss of American confidence… so it could be worse. It could be 1979 again.
But we do not deserve to be here. We should have learned the lessons of 1979. Instead, we have applied them. Our foreign policy has essentially two problems. One is a product of the Obama years and the thinking behind it. And the crises we are facing – and I am going to go through them quickly – are the fruits of the thinking of that clutch of insiders known as the Obama foreign policy establishment.
But the other cause is long-term and far more important to deal with and it is never discussed. It is such a powerful thing. It is like the gravity from a blackhole. It effects all the stars around but is invisible to the eye. And that second thing is what I am going to talk about after we talk about the Obama years.
Let us look at the philosophy of the Obama years because ideas precede action and guide action. There is a philosophy. It is not ad hoc as much as it might appear. It is the same philosophy or a version of it that we saw in the Carter years. But in this particular case it was forged not by an aversion to the Vietnam War and the refugee crisis that followed, that shaped Jimmy Carter. It is shaped by the left-wing of the Democratic Party’s view of the Iraq War.
Now, it may well be a surprise to some of you that I move to say this, but the Iraq War was actually a great success. There were multiple elections in Iraq. Per capita income tripled between 2003 and 2007. The surge essentially worked. Yes, there was an ongoing insurgency fueled by Iran and peopled by recruits from Syria and across the Middle East.
We know that many of the attacks against U.S. and allied forces were paid for either by the Iranians or their proxies, but the level of violence was going down and if the U.S. presence had remained and it was not suddenly removed in order for Obama to honor a campaign promise, it may well have turned out very differently and ISIS in its current form would not exist. I think there is really no one who is paying attention to objective reality who would really disagree with any of those statements.
What was the necessity of removing U.S. troops from Iraq, from leaving Iraq to its fate prematurely? Bearing mind that this same president did not withdraw forces from South Korea or from Germany, which is now united and safe, or for that matter he did not close submarine bases in Norway, which has been at peace for almost a century.
The necessity was that the foreign policy views – and Senator Obama did not have any significant remarks on foreign policy. If you go back and look at all of his official statements on the campaign trail, on the floor of the United States Senate, and every television appearance he made before running for president, there is nothing of any consequence on foreign policy except for a ritual denunciation of the Iraq War.
If you look at the aides who come together around him, the most important early one was the former Chief of Staff from Tom Daschle. Tom Daschle is defeated just as Obama is elected, and this freshman Senator from Illinois gets an enormous chance to hire a skilled professional with a deep well of contacts from a former Senate Majority Leader, and he does. And that former Daschle Chief of Staff begins to collect other people; Axelrod, Ben Rhodes, and others. We can get into the personalities, but the general trend is what matters here.
Each of them was strongly opposed to the Iraq War, and they were opposed not for the reasons that they state (that they think it was a disaster, because at the moment they opposed it, it was not a disaster) but because they think it teaches America a frightful lesson, which is that military intervention is possible and it can be successful, and it can be a tool of statecraft. And that terrifies them. America has never been a country of recreational wars. We have never been like European princes that suddenly take up against the far castle across the fen. That has never been us. In fact, democracies generally do not like to initiate wars.
But the view of America’s role in the world is something like a tiger that must be caged. They believe it can be caged through multilateral institutions, not just the UN and the World Trade Organization but dozens of other acronyms like that. In fact, they are creating new ones (the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the European trade deal also has yet another commission that will make rules and be an unaccountable body) all to hem in this American power.
There is a fear that American power used to shape the world will take the world in illegitimate ways. They simply do not like the idea of an activist United States, and if the Iraq War was seen as a success, public opinion they feared might suddenly shift more in favor of intervention. They had less faith I think in their fellow countrymen. I do not think if the Iraq War was seen as a success, we would see a major shift in American public opinion. I think there is almost no way in which the American people would ever become as pro-interventionist as say, their Russian counterparts.
That said, it is eerie when you talk to them, and I interviewed many of them for the book Leading from Behind, which was published in 2012, and by the way, was denounced from the podium at the White House by the White House Press Secretary by name. It was great. It was good for sales, too. It was denounced because they think that the United States ideally should be like Canada, a polite, housebroken, English speaking country that when it sends its uniformed troops abroad, it is part of a UN mission, and it accomplishes nothing of great note, strives to offend no one, and when it does speak, it is to apologize for its past.
This is actually not the foreign policy view of the vast majority of the country. It is the foreign policy view of this particular set of thinkers inside the Democratic Party. How did these thinkers gain prominence? Not just in reaction to the Iraq War, partly because the Democrats were shut out of executive power for such a long period of time. The people in the foreign policy establishment in the Carter years were discredited and were not brought back in the Clinton years. For twelve long years, almost a generation in the times of policymaking experts, the Democrats were shut out of foreign policy thinking.
And in the Clinton years there was not a great emphasis on recruiting, training a cadre of people to think about foreign policy in the party. There was an attempt at rethinking domestic policy. You saw the Democratic Leadership Council, for example, but the Democratic Leadership Council, which challenged some of the liberal orthodoxies and looked for new ideas, pointedly did not discuss foreign policy, so there was an idea vacuum that did not begin to become filled until the early 2000s in the Bush years, and it was shaped more by opposition than by original thinking, and its prime opposition was to the Bush Administration’s post-9/11 foreign policy.
It may surprise everyone to remember that George W. Bush, campaigning in 2000, was against nation-building and against foreign wars. Actually, his stated positions in 2000 were identical, essentially, to that of Barack Obama in 2008 because that is where most Americans naturally are absent some strong reason otherwise like Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 attacks. So, with this shortage of serious foreign policy thinking, followed by a thinking that is entirely shaped as a negative reaction, there was no essential, positive agenda. So, if you look at the foreign policy priorities of the Obama Administration, all of them are essentially negative; closing Guantanamo Bay facilities that house terrorists, instituting civilian trials for terrorists, limiting drone attacks and putting more legal restrictions on those attacks, limiting the use of military actions to special forces raids and drone attacks.
By the way, drone attacks under this president have more than tripled. This is actually a dangerous thing as has been explained to Obama and his people many times. When you kill terrorists, you cannot talk to them, alright? Satellites can show you the tops of people’s heads, but it is interrogation that shows you what is inside. The drone attacks make it certain that aside from killing the target, no other human rights will be violated. If you capture him and you do not give him the same Marquess of Queensberry Rules as you would a conventional criminal in an American court system, you invite all sorts of political problems from the left.
So, it is safer politically to kill than capture. That of course makes it more dangerous because we do not understand certain things that only terrorists can tell us such as future plans, but more importantly, what are the social dynamics inside the organization. In World War II, if you catch a Wehrmacht officer, he is wearing a rank, you know his role in the organization, and he most likely has written orders on his person that as soon as you translate them, you will know exactly what his tank battalion or his water supply troop is supposed to do.
When you capture a terrorist – by the way, in Guantanamo they have boxes of things they call pocket litter, which is everything that was on the person when he was captured. They opened a few boxes for me when I was there on my last visit. One box had $40,000 in U.S. cash with rubber bands. Others had bomb parts and bullets and all sorts of things. Of course, they are all innocent farmers according to the Obama administration, wrongly picked up.
Anyway, the pocket litter tells a different story, but they use the pocket litter in interrogation. You can only by interviewing them know what the relationships are. Someone might be a commander of a militia inside an ISIS or Al Qaeda network, but he might not be taken seriously because he is the second cousin of the disfavored wife, and so on. You have to map the social networks.
This is why Arab intelligence agencies, Mukhabarats, their external intelligence functions, spend a lot of time on family trees and reputations of terrorists, because they are not wearing ranks. Their rank is their reputation, and what the family remembers about them, and how well they are respected or not. In Mastermind, for example, I tell the story of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who went on to plan the 9/11 attacks.
Afterwards, he was ridiculed as ‘KFC’ because he loved eating fried chicken. And he grew enormously fat, eating fried chicken, and this drove him to distraction. This is one of the reasons why he executed my former Wall Street Journal colleague, Daniel Pearl, was to prove that he was not just a brain who could come up with attacks, that he could personally kill. But the people who were captured around him, who talked about this, made it quite clear that part of his reaction was to get away from this nickname, this chicken-obsessed, brainy fat man.
Reputation really matters. If you are killing people, you are not talking to them, but again, this decision like others is guided by politics, and the politics are essentially an opposition to the Iraq War. And it is amazing how that war, which was essentially concluded in 2011 – although, ISIS did open a new chapter, didn’t they?
It turns out wars can only be ended by mutual agreement, and if your enemy keeps fighting, the war continues. Maybe that is news to Mr. Ben Rhodes, but he is more of a novelist, isn’t he? With that we saw that all of their main thinking is about what does a certain ideological sect within the Democratic Party itself, and not outside of it, think about various actions. That is why sending back large amounts of troops to Iraq is an absolute non-starter. That is why withdrawing troops from Afghanistan is absolutely politically essential. That is why maintaining Guantanamo, which is intolerable to this portion of the radical left, is intolerable.
All of the criticisms they had of the Bush administration are essentially the policy objectives of the Obama administration. The downside of that is essentially a negative outlook. There is nothing positive to be accomplished. Even the deal with Iran, which they believe will be the centerpiece of their foreign policy legacy, is couched in defensive and negative terms. Ben Rhodes, the foreign policy advisor to the president, says that the alternative to this negotiation with Iran is war, as if the Iranian war will stop.
But that is not a positive achievement. There is nothing on that list of things that they are pursuing that is essentially designed to make America better, safer, richer, stronger, or to do the same for our allies. In fact, when you spend time, especially with our Arab allies, they are incredulous as to how they have been abandoned.
About two years ago I went to see the head of Bahrain’s intelligence, and he said that they have a guy whose job it is every day to look out from the top floor of a particular office building in Manama and count the U.S. warships in the harbor. And I said do you think you are going to wake up one day and they will all be gone? He goes, “Yes.” He does not believe U.S. security promises.
Their equivalent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the next day told me something very, very similar in that they believed that the U.S. Embassy with its Obama-appointed ambassador was actively encouraging the Shiite rebellion, which I went out and got duly tear gassed, but watched them throw a Molotov cocktail and fire AK-47s at police who fired back with rubber bullets. This is an active Iranian intelligence-guided uprising. At least that is how the Bahrainis described it.
When you go to the Saudis, you listen to their talks about the oil sector, [which] has seen continuous terrorist attacks and organizing Shiite groups that the U.S. is doing nothing, they believe, to counter. You hear the same thing from the Gulf Arabs, the Kuwaitis especially. They know that they are all at risk. And they have all sorts of theories about why the U.S. and the Obama administration have abandoned them.
The strangest theory, which kind of makes sense, is fracking. They think now that we are fracking for fuel in record amounts in this country, we do not need them, as if the strategic chessboard of the Middle East is entirely guided by oil. Maybe they read too many issues of The Nation magazine or something, but that is one of their theories.
What they refuse to fully take on board is how guided by domestic policy considerations the Obama Administration is, and how much it thinks of the domestic policy implications of every one of its foreign policy decisions, how fully political. In the course of interviewing these officials both on and off the record, again and again, they either present political arguments, you know, if we do X, the politics of it will be Y, or they report that their political masters, these are career people now, are clearly weighing these political implications, and will not listen to what they think are academic arguments.
This is actually new. We have, actually, even in the Carter years, not seeing something so fully politicized, so fully focused on what a segment of one political party thinks. We have never had a foreign policy quite like this.
The second factor I mentioned, the long-term factor, is something that is going to drive the next administration just as much as the Obama legacy, and that second factor is the collapse of post-World War II institutions. Let us take a quick look around the industrialized world. Canada, the United States, western Europe, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, [and] to a certain extent South Africa after World War II all did remarkably similar things. They build welfare states. They came to rely on the U.S. militarily while cutting back their own military powers.
These entitlement states began to attract blocks of voters based on payments made to them. They began, eventually, when it became impossible to raise taxes enough, they began deficit spending and borrowing, mostly from abroad in almost all cases. And now, in Western Europe, in North America, and elsewhere, the baby boom is about to retire. It is actually in the course of retiring.
We are going to see the largest intergenerational transfer of wealth in world history, and we are going to see the largest growth of old age entitlements in the history of the world, and this has never been fully priced in. There are estimates that go from $120 trillion to $240 trillion, trillion with a t. That is in the United States. Western Europe, which has a far smaller tax base and proportionately older and larger retirement population, is even in a worse position. For different reasons, China is in a similar position, but let us lay that aside for a moment.
All of these institutions created after World War II and created in the 1960s, Social Security, Medicare, etc. are inflexible, and out of date, and expensive, and sapping of national strength. We know that the short-term moves in the United States will look a lot like what Europe did in the past 20 years.
Probably, the next administration will begin to aggressively privatize. The Europeans started doing this in the mid-1990s, privatizing airlines [and] phone companies. Most European countries have privatized their post offices by now. For example, The Economist magazine is delivered in the UK by the former Dutch post office, New Zealand has sold off its forests, and so on.
The U.S. has done very little of this. This is low-hanging fruit. This will almost certainly happen. Putting these assets in the private hands would be more productive and would, if that money is used correctly, pay down some of the debt, but it does not change the problem.
Now, I am not here to give you an economics lecture, but I am here to talk to you about foreign policy, and this enormous spending is going to have a real effect on national strength and national will, the will to act militarily against our enemies and the ability to do so.
So, to sum up, these long-term trends, the collapse of these institutions that are more than 70 years old and are about to be burst into pieces by the baby boom, this institutional crisis is coming at the very time in which tactically, the Obama Administration has alienated our allies, emboldened our enemies, and shrunk our options.
The next president, whoever he or she is, is going to have a very big job. I do not think that America’s best days are behind her. I do not think this is the end of America, but I think if we continue to make these reckless decisions, the end will come. Thank you. Any questions?
Stupidity or Malice
So is it stupidity or is it malice?
Does it matter?
Yes, it does. When you start off saying foreign policy is based on basically a stupid reaction against the Iraq War, it sounds like you are saying stupidity. But then you said they really wanted to teach a lesson. They do not like American power being used effectively, so that is more malice. And they want to kowtow to the agenda of the left in complaining about everything. Presumably, behind the agenda of the left lays the narrative of the left, which is that all of the problems of the world are due to the injustices of the West, which exploits the world, creates pollution, blah blah blah, so they will not think it is malice toward Western power. I wonder to what extent do you think it is stupidity [and] to what extent do you think it is malice?
Before I answer that question, I think you are slightly wrong about the nature of the left. It is not that they think that America is an evil country and needs to apologize. They do think that, but they think that not for the reason you suggest but for a different reason, because it is to take power in its place. It is to beat down the old ways to make room for a new kind of power.
That is why, for example, if you look at the changes in German politics from the 1950s to the 1980s, you saw that the SPD was so intense about blaming Germany, its own country, for World War II, not blaming the Nazi party but Germans themselves, and making them feel guilty. That is now starting to fade, but the attempt to do the same thing here, when you talk about the suffering of slaves, American Indians and so on, you see the same thing. They call them First Peoples in Canada. The left tries that same tactic everywhere. The pattern is the same over and over again, and that is because by creating that guilt and that paralysis, it gives them scope to have power elsewhere.
Okay, stupidity or malice? Why can’t it be both?
I think they are reckless in that they do not fully consider the consequences, and I think The New York Times‘ profile of Ben Rhodes – I do not know if you had a chance to read it. It is extraordinarily honest because it is exactly – and I have not spent much time talking to Ben Rhodes, but I have talked to people around him and under him. It is exactly what you hear. This sort of breezy, arrogant confidence mixed with a disgust for details.
There is no attempt to master details, to summon experts, to say okay, we have a crisis in Northern Iraq, let us get in someone who knows something about the Turkmens, and the Kurds, and so on. It is not of that at all. It is what would we like to do? The reality is on the ground are [irrelevant to him]. I mean they are more ignorant and more dismissive of realities on the ground than 18th century European statesmen just drawing out grants of land in North America, or 16th century for statesman, I guess.
There is no concern for these details, so is that stupidity or is it malice? Functionally, it is the same thing, isn’t it? I do not know why it matters.
Well, it matters for further projection.
Would NATO Defend the Baltic States?
Article 5 is the heart of NATO. An attack upon one member is an attack upon all members. Do you believe the United States would act [or that] NATO would act to defend the Baltic countries, any or all of them, if the Russians took part or all [of them]?
I cannot answer your question without knowing who the president is at the time. If the president is Barack Obama, I do not know the answer. I mean those Syrians and the red line was a moment as important as the Suez Crisis. Remember what happened in Suez in 1956, where the French, the British, and the Israelis worked together on this operation to take the canal. They were abandoned by the U.S.
The French reaction was never to trust the Americans again. The British reaction was never to do anything without the Americans on side. And the Israelis’ reaction was to play it by ear. It took more than 50 years for the French to recover from that Suez lesson. The red line in Syria put a wave of fear through the Arabs and more importantly through our NATO allies.
I mean there was a very clear message from the President of the United States. If you do X, Y will happen. At that point, he is bound. Why must happen or he is not leading, and lives were literally on the line. The stakes were very clear.
The Europeans, who are suffering the migration crisis now, know very well that if Obama had acted differently in 2012, there would not be more than a million Arabs in the heart of Germany, that Sweden would not be facing 350,000 newcomers in the past nine months. They know that, and it is going to take them a very long time to trust us again. If Putin decides to act against the Baltic states in the tail end of the Obama years, he may well get away with it, and the result will be a shattered NATO. It will be the end. The trust will be gone forever.
And is there any reason to think, other than the declining revenues from Russia’s oil sales, that Putin would not take advantage? Did he not take advantage of South Ossetia? Did he not take advantage in Ukraine? Did he not take advantage in Chechnya? Is he not taking advantage in Syria now?
What is Syria?
Syria is a Russian naval base surrounded by an odious dictatorship run by a strange religious clique. Without Syria, Russia has no warm water ports. I do not know why it was not a foreign policy goal of any administration to both bring down Assad and drive the Russians and the Iranians out of Syria, end Russia’s hold on the Middle East, end Russian support for the Iranian nuclear program.
And the Iranians are independent actors. I am not trying to suggest they are proxies, but they are certainly informed and guided by Russia, and we know there are more than 300 Russian scientists at Bushehr, building atomic devices. We know this because the Iranians have said so, and they have photographed these men, and the Russians have said so, as well. There is no reason to doubt them.
Why are the Russians helping the Iranians? What is it in their interest? Is there any reason to believe that Putin will not take all that he possibly can when he has the advantage of an extremely distracted and uncertain president? If you were him, would you play the chess game any differently?
Do you think that the decision to allow Iran to go nuclear and become the hegemon of the Persian Gulf area, I think both Bush and by Obama, was deliberately thought out, or was that just the fallback position after they busted the balance of power by destroying the Sunni army that blocked Iran when they took out Saddam Hussein?
Okay, there is a lot moving in that question. I think for the Obama people, and certainly the ones I have talked to and the ones whose accounts I have read, they did not want to be forced into a situation where they had to either allow the Arabs and the Israelis to jointly bomb Iran’s facilities or for America to do it ourselves.
They paid a great price from the left [for] getting involved in Libya. They did not stay long enough in Libya to make a real difference. They were pushed into Libya by the Europeans, who feared the migrant crisis. One Frenchman put it very well, that Libya is like a cork in the bottle. You pull the cork out into a collapsed state, all of central Africa rushes through, up the boot of Italy and into Europe. Well, now they have got it coming from a different direction.
So I think that once you decide in the White House that there is no way you are going to be maneuvered even to air strikes against Iran, then what is left? You have to surrender, essentially. I mean, if you are essentially in the Chamberlain position where if you decide that war on the continent is unthinkable, then you have to give into evil. There is no real other option. It is very binary, so I think they made a political calculation first, and then that drove the strategic calculation.
Also, I think they did not properly understand. I mean look at who they sent to the places they sent people to, to Oman and elsewhere. They were not sending people with deep knowledge of the region to negotiate. They were sending people they trusted politically, so the goal was to avoid a political problem and let the Middle East take care of itself.
Now, what the Middle East looks like with Iran in charge is Hobbesian Hell on Earth because there is no way the Sunnis are going to yield. I mean 450,000 dead in Syria since 2011, that number is going to grow, and it will expand beyond Syria. And it is much more than just ISIS.
Some Arabs think, and you have probably heard the same thing from people you know, that the strategy of the administration was let the Arabs and the Persians bleed themselves, and deal with the wreckage afterward, but I think that is frankly giving us too much credit.
How much impact on the Obama foreign policy is it to have an Iranian advisor living in the White House?
It is unfair to call Valerie Jarrett an Iranian advisor. She was born in Iran to American parents. Her father was a famous blood researcher who was asked by the Shah of Iran to come to work at Nemazee Hospital in Isfahan, and she was born there, and spent on and off the first eight years of her life there. And she went on to spend a lot of time, by the way, in West Africa. I do not believe she has applied for an Iranian passport, although I guess she would technically be eligible.
More interestingly, why does CNN have Amanpour covering Iranian developments when she has both family and property in Iran at risk? But again, Valerie Jarrett though – and I, in the course of writing Leading From Behind, looked up and read every single printed thing on Valerie Jarrett in English and in a couple other languages, not that there is much in any other languages.
It is amazing, first of all, how small this corpus of material is, and how fully political she is. She is a Chicago fixer. I mean one of the most telling things about her strategic judgment is when she got the First Lady and the President of the United States to fly to Europe to push Chicago’s Olympic bid, without wiring it in advance, and losing on I think the first ballot. This, the idea that this costs the prestige of the United States, did not occur to her nor did the idea that you do not, you know, in this chess game, you do not risk the king until things have been arranged and are certain. This shows you the kind of recklessness with which she is willing to play.
But all that said, I think her understanding of Iran is shockingly poor. When she was presented with evidence – because the talking point that was put out regularly is that the Iranians are not building a bomb, they are short of electricity, which by the way, is true. In any Iranian city you go to at night, you will hear the hum of diesel generators. I mean, the joke in Iran is that you have your generator to blur out the noise of your neighbor’s generator – that they just simply need it for electric power.
And when confronted with a U.S. Department of Energy study that showed that they flare off in natural gas alone more energy than an entire atomic power plant, that they have vast potential reserves of hydropower, and that they have very, very little uranium in their soil, [she had no retort]. They have to import it, [the uranium], from either Russia, Kazakhstan, or West Africa, or Venezuela if you like, but the point is it is not there.
So strategically, if you are going to build a new electric infrastructure, the cheapest thing to do is simply capture the flared off natural gas. The second cheapest thing to do is more intelligently use the oil that you do pump. They leave a lot behind in their fields. They do not properly unitize the fields. The capture technology is very old, etc., etc., etc.
So she is presented with this, and it is obvious that if they are interested simply an electric power, this does not make sense. And why do they disperse the facilities to more than 40 locations? And why are they so deeply underground? Why are they devoting such an enormous amount of their GDP to this effort when it would be cheaper to do other things? And she just quietly drops the talking point, but never changes her mind. I mean, I just do not think she is a serious or knowledgeable thinker about Iran. Worse, I do not think she is willing to listen to people who are serious and knowledgeable thinkers about Iran.
Do you have any observations regarding the influx of immigrants into not only Europe and so forth but to a lesser extent in this country in terms of what the potential impact would be on some of your foreign policy observations?
Okay, the same thing is happening in immigration in all industrial democracies, right? The left realized that the native, mainly white in most cases, working class, which was a solid union-backed vote for them after World War II, by the 1960s began to move away from them, partly because the union members were getting richer and looking around, and partly because they were disgusted by the social permissiveness summarized by the hippies and by the 1968 takeover in Paris, you know, insert local example here, and also the rise in crime, which they see as a product of left-wing permissiveness.
So the left realized it needed a new class of voters, or it was ultimately going to lose power. If you look at some of the statements made by Senator Ted Kennedy for the 1965 Immigration Act, remember what this law does is it turns upside down the quotas. Before this this law, this Great Society reform, the majority of the immigrants, the largest category, was European, and there are good reasons for that. [Their] ability to integrate into American society was much higher. They tended to come with more skills. They tended not to rely as much on social welfare, or not for as long.
And instead, Africa, and Asia, and South America became overwhelmingly favored, and the quota for Europe became the smallest of the regional quotas, not the largest. Canada did something very similar, and most Western European countries essentially eliminated immigration and replaced it with an asylum policy. Now, asylum, you know, fleeing religious persecution or political persecution, sort of rules out immigration from other industrial democracies. It is just simply not plausible to go to France, seeking asylum, coming from Canada, and so they begin to get the mix of voters that they want.
And the Europeans had another factor driving them, which is the collapse of the empires, especially the Algerian disaster for the French, and then other Arab migration into their cities. The Germans actively encouraged the Turks because they had a worker shortage due to their population losses in the war, but all things said, these things were very congenial to center-left parties because they believed that this would be a new class of voters and would secure their electoral victories.
So when you see it through that lens, then all these arguments about racism and diversity and multiculturalism simply become a cover for political power. Now, maybe you think that view is overly cynical. For a long time, I did. I no longer do. I think that is the point, and so if you decide that you cannot win with the voters you have, you need a new set of voters. You can play around with the franchise. You can lower the voting age from 21 to 18. You can do other things, allow criminals who could not vote to [vote again], readmit them into voting, but that is all marginal.
Bringing in millions of new people, however, gives you a new lease on political life. And if you read the works of the left, frankly, they are very gleeful about this. There is a triumphalist tone that immigration means that the Republican opposition will die. If all of these third world immigrants were destined to vote Republican, would they be welcome?
Robert R. Reilly:
I know you covered this in your new book, but could you fold Benghazi into the ‘leading from behind?’
Well, Benghazi is also a result of thinking politically about a foreign policy crisis. Let us say you are perfectly aware, and we know from the White House timeline that they were aware as early as 3:45 pm in the afternoon, that the U.S. compound, the State Department compound, was under attack. We know that the Situation Room had a briefing at 4:00 pm. We know that [Leon] Panetta, who was then Secretary of Defense, and Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, do not have another conversation with the president past 6:00 pm at night.
The last item on the president’s calendar, the last thing we can say for certain that he did, is between 7:00 pm and 8:00 pm. He had a nearly hour-long conversation with the Prime Minister of Israel, and what he was talking to [Benjamin] Netanyahu about was a story that was published in The New York Times that morning about some comments that he believed were taken out of context, and some tussle between the Israelis and the administration. And given that it was an election year, he did not want to seem anti-Israel or to alienate the Jewish vote, and so he was attempting to placate the Prime Minister. Again, [this was] a political act in an election year.
We do not see any activity from the president regarding Benghazi at all that night, no briefings, no actions, because any kind of action would be seen as an aggression and might be politically dangerous, especially in an election year. Remember it is September 2012. Also, they were aware that the U.S. Embassy in Cairo had been invaded that very day by protesters, carrying Al-Qaeda flags, and there were demonstrations outside other embassies. They did not know if Benghazi was part of a larger pattern, and they were afraid that if they ‘overreacted,’ that it would massively inflame the situation and have political implications.
Now, you would say, well, what are the options? What are the realistic options on the table? And we could all come up with movie-like scenarios in which the SEALs rope down from Blackhawk helicopters and rescue everyone. [That was] probably not a realistic option given the deployment of forces and so on, but what you could very easily have done is dispatch fighter aircraft from the U.S. base at Aviano or some of the other southern Italian bases, and those planes would not necessarily have to attack any targets on the ground at all.
Simply roaring overhead would send a message that would probably scatter the attackers. [They], by the way, at their height numbered more than a hundred. They had fixed mortar positions. They had people functioning as forward spotters, directing their targets. They had a pretty sophisticated interlocking series of machine gun fields. This was not, you know, a few [rabblerousers] taking pot shots. Or you could do a very minor ground attack designed to show that American airpower is there, and that would most likely have scattered the attackers.
But if you do absolutely nothing and leave the Americans to fend with themselves, the political risks to the president are zero, and that was a calculation. They had to bet that Romney would not press, [and] the press would not press, the criticism of the inaction, but they bet right, did they not? It cost four people their lives, but they bet right.
Would you comment on the things we keep hearing from the administration, the message, which is basically Islam is not a threat to the United States? Do I have that right?
That is what they say. Look, in broad strokes I agree with them, right, Islam is not a threat to the United States. A radical, Salafi version of Islam very much is a poisonous political ideology that seeks to kill people in large numbers, the ideology that animates Al-Qaeda, and ISIS, and Hezbollah, and to a certain extent the Muslim Brotherhood, etc. is a well-defined ideology. You can find it in the works of Sayyid Qutb, like In the Shade of the Qur’an and Milestones, especially. An interesting account from the Egyptian police is that when they raid Muslim Brotherhood houses in Egypt, they always find books by Sayyid Qutb.
Do I think there is a political Islam that animates terrorist activity and justifies it? Absolutely. Do I think that they are not careful to say this is what we are opposed to, and instead argue or contend that any criticism of this radical form of Islam is criticism of Islam generally, and is therefore racism? Now, I do not know how they [say that]. The structure of that argument always amazes me. First of all, Islam is a religion, not a race. But second of all, not even all Salafi Muslims are a threat to the United States, but there is a radical portion of Salafi Islam, as opposed to the Quietest portion.
What about Sharia? Islam is a religion, and it is a political system. And you cannot divorce the two. You cannot pick just one of them.
That is true. Look, only in Western civilization do we divide religion and politics. We are the exceptions. We are the weirdos. In every other civilization, religion, politics, ethics, these things wash together. They are not cleanly divided, and it is a weird aspect of our history with the emergence of the Christian church and the secular Roman Empire as separate things that began this legal tradition of this is a matter for secular [bod]es, and this is [a matter for religious bodies]. And of course, Jesus says something similar. That is a uniquely Western perspective.
So for the Arabs, to Arab thinking, the Sharia includes political and religious statements. In fact, the current head religious authority of the Muslim Brotherhood said on television, on Al Jazeera actually, that Sharia tells you how to do everything, the Muslim way to do everything, including use the toilet. And he is not wrong. It does actually have stipulations about that.
Now, do I think there is any short-term risk of Sharia being imposed in the United States? No, I do not. I do not spend one minute thinking about that. Do I think that 20 years from now in divorce and child custody cases, especially in Europe, will there be an alternative Sharia option? Almost certainly, and especially for women who marry into Islam, and therefore will be covered by this legal doctrine. They are about to discover that the legal thinking behind any one of the six major versions of Sharia is fundamentally different than the various versions of Roman law that we have all been governed under for nearly two thousand years.
Audience member:[Some believe] that there has been a systematic removal of some of our best military from their posts or their positions. Have you seen that? Do you see that? Do you have an understanding into that?
I have heard the same thing. I do not have any evidence for it except for Petraeus’s departure on, you know, minor intelligence [handling violations]. I mean, there are more than seven million people in the United States with Top Secret clearances. If we prosecuted every person for minor violations of these incredibly restrictive and voluminous rules, we would have probably seven million people in jail, so it is a selective prosecution.
I mean, I have heard from others that key officers have gotten disgusted and have retired early or taken retirement because they are tired of the Obama Administration. Look, this is a challenge in any organization, right? How do you keep the most talented, dedicated people engaged and enthusiastic about their core mission when they believe that the leadership is not looking after them and their career prospects, and not looking after the core mission, which is their idea of how the country should prosper?
Look, the officer corps of the U.S. military is actually a fairly liberal group. It is like any group of college-educated people. It is as liberal or more liberal than your average lawyer in the United States. They go to the same schools. They have the same friends, I would say, and Claire would know better, but I would say the intelligence services are even more liberal than the military and then the lawyers, so it is not ideological, it is institutional.
If you believe you are in a field that does not have a future, that your contribution is not going to be valued, and you are also wondering whether future presidents or future congresses will trim your retirement benefits, you might well retire early and take with you into the private sector the millions of dollars’ worth of training that the military has invested in you. And I do not think anyone has calculated the loss of key officers, what economic loss that means in terms of training, time, and experience, and what the replacement cost of that would be, but we have a way to guess.
If you remember, again, I am going back to the 1970s, but there was a brief period in the ’70s in which West Point significantly lowered its standards for admission. They did so I think after 1974. I think the period of ’74 to ’78, but do not hold me to that. It is something like that. And the idea was that they were getting fewer applicants, and they needed to graduate a certain number of officers, so they lowered standards to attract more.
And that group of officers sort of winded its way through the military, rising over time. And those were the officers who were fighting in Gulf War One, and those were the senior officers in the Iraq War, which arguably, maybe that is why we had problems in the early days of the war. So, the impact of a cohort of officers leaving the military in the last half of the Obama years could well be an impact we are going to feel for 20 or 30 years. So, if what you are describing is occurring, and I have heard it, too, I think the effect is not small now and could grow over time.
Can we conclude from a previous answer you gave that you do not think that Islam is a threat to Europe, that is just a question of in 20 years in divorce cases, Sharia will be applied etc.? Do you not think that the risk to Europe and to the rest of the world is a little greater than that?
I was speaking specifically about Sharia, and do I think that full-blown Sharia, including an amputation of hands for stealing, is going to be imposed in America or Europe anytime soon? And the answer is no, I do not. I do not think Islam by itself is a threat. Do I think that the political ideology that animates terrorist groups, which is a radical form of Islam, is a threat? Yes, I do, and the evidence for this is voluminous and it is also clear.
We know the works. You can read Ayman al Zawahiri, who now runs Al-Qaeda. He wrote a very interesting book in 2000 called Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner (that is knights with a K, at least in the English translation), in which he gives an account of his thinking and his goals for the world. It is kind of his Mein Kampf, and it is absolutely fascinating reading. And it is clear that what he and his cohorts want is a totalitarian state that governs every aspect of individual life, that shrinks the role of non-believers and women extraordinarily, that executes Muslims who leave the faith, that executes people who challenge the faith in even small ways.
One of the problems with the refugee crisis in Europe is that they are not so much fleeing intolerance as bringing intolerance with them. Every human, every culture has a set of political outlooks, and when you see a large migration with a similar outlook come in, to western Europe for example, that has a different outlook, if the aliens outnumber the natives, the alien ideology triumphs. It is a numbers game. And with the exception of Marco Polo, any time two civilizations have met with different technological abilities, the more numerous triumphs.
Now, you can be more numerous by technology, too. Is it a threat to the future of Europe, and has Europe made itself weak through its various public policy choices? Yes, yes, and yes. Do I think it is unstoppable? No, I do not. Now, when I lived in Brussels and I wanted to terrify Belgians, I would ask them about their welfare state, and I would say who is going to pay for the welfare state when the average Belgian prays five times a day? And they always kind of lost the blood in their face. I mean they know the bargain they have made. And they know that absent radical reforms, that demography is destiny in democracies.
Let me stop and ask you just on that. I think you are right. Your emphasis on Sharia makes the anti-Islamist criticism of Sharia almost silly sometimes, but is there an aspect of Sharia that is a danger, using that Sharia as a supplement to political correctness, the doctrine of blasphemy, the argument that Muslims have an intrinsic right to get offended at us? From the standpoint of political correctness that is intrinsically true because they are the anti-imperialists, third world people against the evil us, Western, mighty imperialists?
Yes, I mean, look, you can always tell a fanatic because they believe that words should be punished just like actions should, and that is the problem, and college campuses, especially. I gave a talk recently to a collection of northeastern preparatory schools on free speech, and what was terrifying is the students were divided 50/50 on whether free speech is a good idea. And these are the so-called best and the brightest.
“But what if your words hurt people,” they asked. Well, maybe they are meant to. Maybe in a free society, we are all acting on each other in unpredictable ways, and that chaos and creativity is how progress happens. When you outlaw words, you outlaw ideas. And when you outlaw ideas, you eliminate innovation, and you create a static society, and that is exactly what Sharia and radical Islam are trying to create. The problem is that society is not sustainable, and it is not anything like ours.
Robert R. Reilly:
You left China out, the effects of leading from behind and our strategic situation vis-à-vis China as a result of Obama’s policies.
Yeah, so Obama’s pivot to Asia strangely does not involve moving U.S. forces closer to China. It amounts to watching the Chinese move their forces closer to us. That is an interesting strategic outlook. Look, China is a rising economic power, [but] a lot of its economic numbers are garbage.
One of the interesting things that a Western intelligence service started doing was looking at satellite photographs of electric power usage in Chinese cities and comparing that to the economic numbers they say they are generating. And basically, when you know power generation and power use is going down, and economic activity that uses a lot of electricity is going up, either the satellites are wrong, or the Chinese are lying. [It is] your call.
China has a couple of other problems, too. Its population is aging rapidly, and its one-child policy has had a lot of strange effects on its society. One is it makes it a lot harder to balance out and create a taxpayer base for the old people, but another problem is that when you change the ratio of men and women from something like 49/51 to something like 100/118, 100 women for every 118 men, the value of men goes down and the ability of those men to find useful relationships in society goes down. And the ability of the military to absorb them is limited because it is costing China. It is an incredibly unstable situation.
Add to that that Chinese women for some reason are massively preferring to marry foreigners, which causes enormous stress right inside China, similar to a black woman marrying outside of her race in a majority black neighborhood in the United States. It is a very similar kind of function. The regional differences inside China are enormous, and at various points, various China experts, of which I am not one, you know, predict China will break up into various parts.
But before China declines, it is on the march.
And if you look at the North Korea nuclear problem, and you think about it for about a moment, you realize that Kim Jong-un is not the problem, that North Korea is not the problem. We do not have a North Korean nuclear problem. We have a Chinese problem located in nuclear North Korea. When 80 something percent of the electric power of North Korea comes from China, China is overwhelmingly its largest trading partner. When virtually all the medical care for its elite is in China, etc., if the Chinese wanted it to stop, it would stop immediately.
So you have to ask why the Chinese are using North Korea as a proxy state not just for atomic adventurism, but also when you talk to the Taiwanese, they believe that most of the drug trade that they suffer from originates or is directed by North Korea, which is a source of hard currency for them. It is also a great source of illegal timber sales and so on. A lot of illegal activity, cross-border activity, emanates out of North Korea, so it allows China to pretend to be a lawful state while having a wild west playground in North Korea to do what it wants. And China may well decide that to be a great power, you need to have a war, which would also have the added advantage of maybe evening the balance between the sexes.
Now, in the short run I think what you are seeing is that the Chinese learn from the Russians. We have seen Russian aircraft, military aircraft, over the coast of California. The Navy and Marine Corps pilots that intercept the Russian aircraft have done so, [intercept the aircraft], so frequently they know the handles of the Russian pilots. We have seen Russian submarines off the coast of Texas and Florida and Louisiana. We have seen [a] Russian warship go through the English Channel for the first time in what, 30, 40 years, and they have seen there are no repercussions.
So the Chinese decided to see what they could do with the Spratlys, with other islands, with making threats to the Philippines, and essentially giving orders to the Philippines in regard to the handling of their Chinese population, that China is not just playing around in Burma but is feeling that it can tell the Thais what to do. This is an aggressive China that is testing its limits, and it is being met by an administration that is stepping back as China advances, which just encourages the march. And while that is very handy for a president who wants to avoid a war, where does that leave the country and the next president?