Hans Blix for President.

June 4, 2006

Hans Blix for President.

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Every Sunday CUIP’s political director Jacqueline Salit and strategist and philosopher Fred Newman watch the political talk shows and discuss them. Here are excerpts from their dialogue on Sunday, June 18, 2006 after watching “The Chris Matthews Show,” “Meet the Press” and “The McLaughlin Group.”

Salit: So you were just saying Hillary has huge downsides.

Newman: I think there is a substantial gap between her position on Iraq and the vast majority of the base of the Democratic Party.

Salit: Yes.

Newman: She can use different sorts of semantics to try and finesse that, she can put out her prior credentials and her husband’s prior credentials, neither of which are all that fantastic from a liberal point of view, but there’s still that gap.

Salit: Somebody observed that in her Senate renomination acceptance speech in Buffalo she was already starting to recalibrate her position on the war.

Newman: Well, there might be recalibration, but there’s still a gap.

Salit: I thought Joe Biden seemed to be finding his wits a little bit.

Newman: Well, Biden is one of the people who is taking advantage of that gap. And I think he’s doing a fairly good job of it.

Salit: I was struck by the way he handled Russert’s statement that ‘Teddy Kennedy said the best vote of his entire 40-year career in the Senate was his vote against the war.’ Then Russert asked Biden whether his worst vote was his vote for the war. Biden said he didn’t think it was his vote for the war so much as his misplaced trust in the administration.

Newman: I didn’t think that was a very good answer.

Salit: It was a way of not answering.

Newman: He should have said: I can assure you, Tim, I’m no Ted Kennedy.

Salit: That would have been very sharp! He went into his frustration about the agenda coming up in the Senate this week, including banning flag desecration and the gay marriage constitutional amendment.

Newman: I heard they’re going to add to the Senate agenda the desecration of the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag.

Salit: Really! They’re going to be debating that too?

Newman: Big issue, big issue.

Salit: Well, a lot of these so-called cultural issues are about the Christian Right and where they’re at.

Newman: It’s all about the Christian Right. Because the Evangelical Right is not going to come out to vote.

Salit: In the mid-terms.

Newman: In the mid-terms.

Salit: Okay. So, now the talk is that the Christian Right is divided. On “The Chris Matthews Show” David Brooks said ‘The Evangelical movement is not monolithic. There’s a big split between the older evangelicals and the younger evangelicals on the gay marriage question.’

Newman: Right, but the split is that the younger people don’t care about these issues. And the older people do care and they’re not coming out to vote because they think the Republicans have sold them out. So, if you put those two things together, nobody will be voting for the GOP.

Salit: So the Bush people are making a play, the Republicans are making a play to get back to this issue, and get this base energized. But, as CNN’s John Roberts said, the Christian Right is hopping mad. They’re saying, ‘Karl Rove promised us that this was going to be placed on par with Social Security.’

Newman: Well, Karl Rove can argue that it has been placed on par with Social Security, namely that it’s gone nowhere.

Salit: That’s a good point. Alright, so the conservatives are restive and unhappy on the Right inside the Republican Party.

Newman: Many of them.

Salit: You have the anti-war base inside the Democratic Party.

Newman: Which is the majority of the base.

Salit: Yes, the majority of the base. There’s an argument out there coming from a lot of places, you see it expressed in this Unity’08 initiative that was announced by Hamilton Jordan and Doug Bailey last week. It goes like this. People are tired of the two extremes. We’ve got to create something that runs up the center of American politics, because that’s where the majority of Americans are at. That’s one description of the operative paradigm in American politics.

Newman: I don’t happen to agree with it at all. I don’t think that’s where Americans are at. I’ve never been to a gathering of Americans, where within about ten seconds, everyone wasn’t having arguments where each person was taking an extremist position of some kind. I don’t know that Americans are “at the center.”

Salit: Well you have a huge percentage of Americans unhappy with the war – though that anti-war position is still branded as an extremist one – and the Democratic Party is looking, presumably, for a presidential candidate who’s going to be a strong voice against the war. Now maybe the centrist narrators will call that an extremist position.

Newman: What they’re actually looking for is a strong voice against the war that can win.

Salit: That’s the chemistry…

Newman: …they’re looking to see if they can create.

Salit: Right.

Newman: In a test tube. And I don’t know if they can. But, Hillary is certainly going for it.

Salit: Well, she’s going for it, but she’s got problems on the anti-war front and she also has problems on the electable front.

Newman: Sure.

Salit: She’s a woman, she’s Bill Clinton’s wife. There’s a funny way in which, given what the base of the Democratic Party is looking for, she doesn’t fit the bill – no pun intended – at all. And yet she’s being talked about as the frontrunner, as the presumed nominee, as the person who the Republicans are going to have to go up against.

Newman: It is interesting. But, the election is still 2½ years away.

Salit: Hans Blix was on “Meet the Press.”

Newman: Can we run him for president?

Salit: He does seem like a very sensible fellow.

Newman: He says quite forthrightly, ‘If we’d had 2½ more months in Iraq, we could have told you whether there were or weren’t weapons of mass destruction.’

Salit: Yes.

Newman: ‘So, what was the rush?’ Answer: the neocons. I think it just becomes more and more plain that the war was a political decision.

Salit: It does.

Newman: And that’s bad. You shouldn’t send young Americans to get themselves killed for politics.

Salit: What about the question of Iran? Blix discussed this with Russert and Chris Matthews asked his panel about it, too. What does Iran want other than a nuclear program? What does the U.S. have to offer, what does the world have to offer Iran? How can you incentivize their giving up the development of nuclear weaponry?

Newman: Well, Blix gave an answer. The tendency is to radically dichotomize and to say it’s all or nothing – you either have a nuclear program for military purposes or you have nothing. But that is not the real picture. There are millions of things in between. There are ways that the world can be of great help to Iran, to build them up economically, socially…

Salit: To help them modernize.

Newman: To modernize, yes, and I think Iran wants to be the dominant power in the area. They might be the leading candidate for that position right now. The question is whether or not Washington wants to let that happen. There are some who would argue that it could be quite positive if they were. The history of the last 15-20 years has not been all that great, but things change.

Salit: One thing that’s interesting is to hear Blix talk about these highly sensationalized and polarized issues in such a non-inflammatory way. He says ‘Well, the U.S. says we’ll only sit down at the table with Iran if they agree to discontinue their program.’ That’s a condition for sitting down. He says, somewhat simply, and almost genially, ‘You can’t really do that, because that’s the very issue that you’re negotiating over, so you can’t make that a condition of coming to the table.’

Newman: Right. First year logic students at second-rate schools understand that.

Salit: He’s also worried that the U.S. is posturing in this, but then he says he thinks that ultimately the U.S. will drop that demand and will come to the table because it is in the interest of the United States and of the world to do that.

Newman: Actually, I think the likely outcome is that the U.S. won’t drop that demand, and will still come to the table without it being met.

Salit: How?

Newman: They’ll do it under cover of the so-called allies. And the U.S. will say, well, we still held out for this.

Salit: Not a bad way in.

Newman: Washington has more options when they have these allies. If nothing else, Washington is learning, given their overall conduct of the war in Iraq, that if you do things by yourself, forget the moral issue, you have less available for covers for stupid things that you need to do for political reasons back home.

Salit: Yes.

Newman: It’s a bad position to be in, from a purely political point of view, to be isolated. I suspect that they won’t do it very much anymore.

Salit: Back to the evangelicals for a second. There was a lot of talk today about how they feel they’ve been betrayed. Do you think they have been betrayed? They would say that they put a set of issues on the table with the Republican Party and with Bush in good faith and certain promises were made to them that are now being taken off the table, or not fulfilled.

Newman: I don’t know; “betrayed” is a difficult word. Bush was very responsive to them relative to the Supreme Court.

Salit: Okay.

Newman: Although, I think that some of the real hardliners argue that he gave them a bunch of moderates on the Court.

Salit: We’ll find out soon enough.

Newman: You could say they were looking to transform the United States of America, to change its character, to get rid of any sort of liberal, human rights tradition, to throw the Bill of Rights out the window. From that point of view, they were betrayed because that didn’t happen. On the other hand, they’ve gotten a great deal and they now have to figure out what they’re going to do politically.

Salit: They’re looking for issues.

Newman: But, they’re not going to win this fight in the terms they’ve set it up in their minds, in my opinion. So you can inject intelligent design into the curriculum, but it doesn’t follow that intelligent design is going to win the day. They’re relatively new at political compromise. They organize their base on religious grounds, which means on the basis of no compromise. So, now they’re dealing with the limits of that position.

Salit: The McLaughlin Group got pretty emotional there in the first segment, more politically charged than usual. This was around the alleged civilian killings by the Marines that occurred in Haditha. There’s an investigation into the sequence of events that took place, as to whether the rules of engagement were violated by this group of Marines and whether Iraqi civilians were killed improperly. Tony was very, very worked up.

Newman: He was worked up and he was being provocative at the same time. Tony often gets worked up. The real issues that were being raised here were, in a sense, psychological issues. Are the people who are reporting on this liberals who are sneering and trying to show how bad the United States is? And Tony gets all worked up about that.

Salit: He sure did.

Newman: And so does Eleanor Clift. I think there’s not much content to it, frankly. They’re really saying to each other ‘You’re being disingenuous.’ ‘No, you’re being disingenuous.’

Salit: ‘You’re being opportunistic.’

Newman: ‘No, you’re being opportunistic.’

Salit: I was a little bit surprised at how far Pat Buchanan went in his opening statement.

Newman: How far he went in what?

Salit: When he said that if the allegations about Haditha are true, that this will be worse than My Lai.

Newman: True enough. But how many people in this country still remember My Lai? Certainly not much of the younger generation.

Salit: That’s a fact.

Newman: My Lai was terrible, and so is this recent stuff that’s being uncovered in Iraq. Is it so dramatically different than what’s always gone on? No. “The Ugly American” wasn’t written three days ago. It was written 40 or 50 years ago. I was in the army. I know what goes on. Does that mean everybody is partaking of it? No. Does that mean that the majority are partaking of it? No. But, when you put 19-year-old guys – and now women as well – into this kind of enormously stressful situation, that is also incredibly permissive, things can go bad. You turn these young people into acceptable killers in 8-16 weeks of basic training. What’s going to happen when you let them loose in the world? In Iraq? Well, there’s no telling.

Salit: How did you react to Eleanor’s description of the course of the war? She said the American people first supported the war because it’s what we needed to do to defend national security. Then, we accepted that there weren’t weapons of mass destruction, but that we were doing good for the Iraqi people. But when you start to have these kinds of incidents occurring, that undercuts even the fallback rationale for our presence. I guess the endpoint of her argument is that the whole rationale in terms of selling the war to the American people will unravel.

Newman: Well, it is unraveled. And that’s why the American people can now start to see a thousand things that they didn’t see two years ago, because that’s what happens when things are unraveling.

Salit: Yes.

Newman: I think what’s of long-term value in this picture is that the whole concept of the U.S. as the policeman of the world is being challenged once again.

Salit: You do?

Newman: Yes, I think what the neocons were working from and what they anticipated would happen, is that the Iraq War would erase the Vietnam War. And it hasn’t erased the Vietnam War. It’s enhanced the Vietnam War and the critique of the Vietnam War.

Salit: When you say “enhanced the Vietnam War,” what do you mean?

Newman: It’s enhanced the arguments against it. The U.S. should not be the policeman of the world. It’s not a healthy position for the U.S. It’s not good for international growth, economic growth, social growth, moral growth. It’s not good domestically. The U.S. can play a very powerful role in the world, without stepping into being the world’s policeman, which in my opinion, is not a powerful role. The neocons’ argument is that role is open to us and we should play that role because it’s advantageous. I don’t believe that it is advantageous. It costs the country a fortune and it doesn’t gain very much for anyone.

Salit: Yes. Thank you.