Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bill Kristol on the Daily Show

William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, was Jon Stewart's guest on The Daily Show on Tuesday. They didn't do "The Seat of Heat" schtick, but the whole interview was in that vein. Jon Stewart was refreshingly direct in questioning how anyone could possibly draw the conclusion that Bush is doing a good job. Although Kristol never conceded the core issue, he gave some ground on the periphery, and he was as successful at accomplishing his mission as George W. Bush has been at bringing a stable democracy to Iraq. In other words, he got his ass kicked from here to next Thursday. I'll give you the transcript below, interspersed with my commentary.

[click here for Bill Kristol's 2007-08-13 appearance]

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Tuesday, December 19, 2006, ©Comedy Partners (on Comedy Central); guest: William Kristol

Jon Stewart: Welcome back to the show. My guest tonight is the editor of The Weekly Standard magazine and a regular on our program, please welcome back Bill Kristol. Bill, come on [out to the guest chair], sir, how are you? Please, sit! How are you?

William Kristol: Fine, how are you?

Jon: I'm doin' very well, my friend. I wanted to ask you (and we're not here, obviously, to debate who was right and who was wrong about Iraq — although, if you want to, in any way, just blink your eyes twice if I was right — ) ...

Bill: Same offer to you.

Jon: All right, fair enough. History is with me right now, my friend!

Bill: Such a short-term perspective, Jon.

Jon: It is. You know, why don't I think millennially (Cosmically.) — exactly — why can't I view the planet from Jupiter? Let me ask you this: OK, so the President, you believe, is going to advocate more troops in Iraq — a "surge" they're calling it, a surge thing — do you agree with him that that is a positive strategy?

Bill: Yes. I do think we have a chance to win, and we need to take our shot at winning, and that requires more troops to pacify Baghdad.

Jon: You're backing Bush on this one?

Bill: Yes, I'm backing Bush on this one. Today he announced an increase in the size of the Army and the Marine Corps, overall, which was a long-delayed but necessary thing to do.
We certainly need to increase the size of the armed forces dramatically if we are to continue in Bush's blundering footsteps, but it doesn't get more basic than this: the American general in Iraq says we should not send more troops, the Joint Chiefs of Staff say we should not send more troops, and the man who has been both Chairman of the JCS and Secretary of State says we should not send more troops, but Bush and Kristol say we will win that random e-mail lotto jackpot if we just send in a little bit more money for processing fees.
Jon: A few years ago, he believed Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction; it turned out not to be the case. He believed that we could pacify the country with a small, light force; it turned out not to be the case. He believed that there was no insurgency; he was, in fact, somewhat — not the case. He then believed that the insurgency was in its last throes; ehhh, not the case. Are you backing him now because you believe he's "due"? In a way, like — I've been to Vegas. I've seen a guy rollin' craps, and I go, "You know what? This guy, nobody can be on a streak that bad! Yes, he's lost the house; yes, the college fund is gone; there go his pants; but I'm stayin' with him because God wouldn't do this to one person, would he??" What's your rationale here?

Bill: [facetiously] What's your view on the war, Jon? I'm a little confused about where you are. My rationale is, we have to win. Bush has been right about taking the war to them, not letting them come to us. He was right about the fact that with aggressive tactics —

Jon: Wait, wait, I heard a phrase there I haven't heard before. He was right about ...?

Bill: The fact that with aggressive tactics on our part, we wouldn't be attacked, for the last five years — which is something I think he deserves some credit for, I think.

Jon: I disagree. (Really?) I mean, 1993, (We all thought we would be attacked again.) they bombed the World Trade Center, and they didn't bomb again until, what, 2001? That's what — eight years? So Clinton needs more credit than Bush, it would seem.

Bill: Well, they attacked us, unfortunately, they attacked in Africa in 1998 —

Jon: If we're going to add in attacks in Africa, we've gotta go Spain, we gotta go England, and then we gotta say, well, they actually have attacked us, quite frequently, since ...
Jon really hit a slam-dunk home run from the 47-yard line with that one. (Sports metaphors, not my forté.) It's not like al Qaeda was launching major attacks every other day and suddenly they stopped when Bush went on the warpath. If you look only at attacks on U.S. soil, we haven't been nearly as long since 9/11 as we went before 9/11. If you include attacks on our allies, then things are far from rosy today, and all those summations like "[Iraq] is now a base of operations for internationalterrorism, including al Qaeda" and “Al Qaeda is now a franchise in Iraq, like McDonald’s,” not to mention the openly acknowledged fact that the war in Iraq has been a boon to terrorist recruiting, don't paint a picture of a safer world.
Bill: Yeah, and you know, we're in a global war. They want to kill us, and they want to kill a lot of other people.
So ... maybe we should work on making it so there are more of "us" and fewer of "them"? Just an idea.
Jon: That's why I think we should've gone after al Qaeda!

Bill: And we did go after al Qaeda, and we went after Afghanistan — and Afghanistan is tough now, incidentally.

Jon: Because we pulled so many of our troops out of there!

Bill: No, we didn't. We've actually increased the number of troops there; we probably should have more still, but that's a separate issue.
The central point is that the U.S. drew its focus away from Afghanistan towards Iraq. We took our eyes off the prize, leaving us with P.R.
Jon: But at the time when we were on the offensive, when we had a chance to really build that country — look, I understand that there are theories that are developed about the transformational power of liberty, and this idea that a democracy will flower, but to, even to this day, continue to argue that the Iraq strategy was the right move in the overall war on terror — I think is — I may have to revoke your magazine. (OK, and no more...) I didn't want to do this — I didn't want to do this today — you are now The Monthly Standard. You can only come out once a month! That's it! You are The Quadrennial Standard! Four of them a year! That's all you're gettin', Kristol!

Bill: I thought you were going to revoke my...

Jon: No, no, and you know what? Standard — that word's gone!
Jon Stewart makes a very serious point: it is impossible to support President Bush's Iraq policy. Bush did not make the right call. [By the way, "quadrennial" is every four years. Jon meant to say "quarterly."]
Bill: I feel I'm here to be cathartic for you, you know. (You really are!) Once every three or four months. You know what, (You know what it is?) you have all these lovefests, Barack Obama, (No!) Tom Vilsack — "Oh, so good to see you, (Did you see Vilsack?) so good to see you, (No, no.) sir, oh, what an honor it is to have you" (I took him out! Did you see Vilsack?) — I show up as the punching bag once every few months. (No! I respect your point-of-view!) You don't have enough time with the two little kids, with the 10-month old kid and the 2½-year-old, so it strains you a little bit, you come in here, "Hey let's get Kristol!" you tell your crack staff and ...

Jon: No! That's not true! Honestly, I would do this every night if you'd let me.

Bill: I'm sure you would!

Jon: All right, we're going to take a commercial break. We haven't even had a chance to have a good conversation. We're going to take a commercial break; we'll come right back with more from Bill Kristol right after this.

[commercial break]

Jon: Welcome back, we're celebrating with Bill Kristol, the — (Hanukkah, Hannukah.) Festivus, it's Festivus.

Bill: For you; it's Hanukkah for me, but that's why I'm a Bush voter, and you're a —

Jon: ... whatever I am.

Bill: Upper West Side liberal. Festivus — is that what it is?

Jon: Downtown libertarian. I think you're the Upper West Side — wait a minute! (Yeah, that's true.) Neo-conservatism (I covered that up.) is just liberalism with old guys; it's "the transformational power of liberty," it's "I've got magic beans! Iraq will grow and flower!" ...

Bill: It's liberalism grown up. It's grown up.

Jon: "Once they realize they're free, they'll love us!" All right, so listen to this, what's the whole "blaming the Iraqis"? What is this?

Bill: It's wrong, actually. (Thank you.) If I can say the truth about it, (Please, say the truth.) it is wrong for America — we have screwed up this war pretty badly, (Thank you.) but the truth is, the Iraqis — but, but, I think we have an obligation to ourselves and actually to the Iraqis to take a shot at winning it as long as it's winnable, which I think it is. (What do you think is "winning"?) The Iraqis came out to vote three times in 2005, under bad circumstances — a large majority of them voted. Most of them would like to live in a decent country.

Jon: I would think most human beings would like to live in a decent country. But I think the transformational power of order is underrated.
And how about the transformational power of knowing what the fυck you're doing? Setting aside for just a moment the fact that the decision to invade Iraq was wrong from the beginning, the fact remains that the Bush administration's incompetent prosecution of it has made the situation even worse. I'll freely admit that I'm an intellectual and also a serious traveler, but I have to say it bothers me deeply both that Bush has so little intellectual curiosity and that he had only barely stepped outside the United States before taking the office of Leader of the Free World. Even if Bush is nowhere near as stupid as he looks, that still leaves plenty of room for him to be well on the dim side. Sure, he has political cunning, but he lacks intellect and he lacks the fundamental understanding of and empathy with people who are different. He doesn't understand the world, in large part because he's never really traveled without a Secret Service escort. He doesn't empathize with the people of the Ninth Ward, because he has seldom associated with people who can't afford to buy a 4-wheel-drive SUV.
Bill: Well, order has to go with democracy and liberty, and we failed to establish order. Now, I think if we surge in troops, and we take one more shot at stabilizing Baghdad, I think we really do have a shot at winning this war.

Jon: But isn't that what the — you know, isn't that the sort of Russian Chechnya strategy, like, [ganster voice] "I'm tellin' you, if we just flatten it another half-inch..."

Bill: No! Because most of the Iraqis want us to help them suppress the insurgency.
OK, supposing for a moment that most Iraqis would like us to stay long enough to help stabilize the situation, we have to make sure that our efforts are aimed with smart-bomb precision at very specific and limited objectives. Would it genuinely calm the situation if we could, say for example, expand the "Green Zone" to include all of Baghdad, just for a very few weeks so that the Iraqis could figure out their "way forward, a new approach"? If there isn't some clearly delimited mission, then we should get the troops out. It's insane to leave troops on the battlefield with no real plan.
Jon: I think the problem is —

Bill: I mean, it's not like Chechnya.
It's not like Chechnya, yet. The more we become a long-term occupying power, the more like Chechnya Iraq will become. To many Iraqis, it feels like the United States has come in to establish a puppet state, which is not much different from the Chechen separatists feelings towards Moscow.
Jon: No, we don't know who to — Talking to these guys over there —

Bill: You talk to the soldiers over there, they know who's...

Jon: No, they say they drive down the street and a guy waves to 'em, and then they drive back the other way and he's hitting an IED. They say that's the biggest problem: they're insulated, and they feel like they're house-sitting. Basically, what I've heard is, "Unleash us or let's get the hell out of here — we're not babysitters!"

Bill: Most of the soldiers I've talked to would like to win, they would like a change in strategy (Is that the Weekly Standard parties?) No, seriously, we get a lot of e-mails, as you do, too, I'm sure, from soldiers, and I'm struck. They admire a lot of the Iraqis, they're frustrated by a lot of what's happening, they would like a new strategy, they would like more troops, they would like to take a shot at winning, and they deserve that.

Jon: You know what else they want? Can I tell you this? I mean, Chappelle Show DVD's. I mean, that's what I get. I get a lot of "Hey, man, this war, we can win this thing. Can you get me some South Parks?" I get a lot of that.

Bill: They ask me for free subscriptions to The Weekly Standard, but you know, hey, we deal with different soldiers.
"The soldiers would like to win." Well, the soldiers would like to win $23,000,000 in the Lotto, too. Nobody — not even a liberal! — goes into battle hoping for defeat, but sometimes you have to recognize that you're not going to win. What the Vietnam War proved, and what draws so many comparisons to Iraq, despite the obvious differences, is that Vietnam dispelled the illusion that American military power was invincible. A smaller, more poorly armed fighting force kept American victory forever out of reach. We could have stayed in Vietnam for another twenty years — well, actually, we couldn't have, since the troops were beginning to rebel in large numbers — but it would not have brought us victory. The United States cannot defeat an insurgency with broad popular support in its own country, no matter how shock-and-awesome our weapons may be and no matter how numerous and how well trained our troops are.
Jon: When Rumsfeld says things like, "When you fly over this country and you look down, it's not all smoldering" — that's a direct quote, by the way — do you think that's so dismissive of the pain and suffering that ordinary Iraqis are going through, that that is part of the insularity and arrogance of the administration — is that part of the problem?
Insularity and arrogance are excellent words to describe the faults of the Bush Administration. They know what they think is right for the rest of the world, and by golly, they're going to do it, even if no one else agrees. That insularity and arrogance shows profoundly in Iraq, but it was illuminated most disturbingly, perhaps, in the pathetic response to Hurricane Katrina.
Bill: I think Rumsfeld was not a good Defense Secretary; I'm glad he's gone.

Jon: Cheney said he was the best ever!

Bill: Well, this is a rare thing that Dick Cheney is wrong about. I know that will shock you, that the Vice President is occasionally in error. This is a mistake, he's fond of Rumsfeld, they've known each other a long time, but he was wrong about this. I know you're shocked. Look at this — speechless.

Jon: You just said the craziest thing I've ever heard. Cheney — I haven't heard one thing Cheney's right about! I mean, he shot a dude in the face, for god's sake. Ah, thank you very much for coming by. Six months? You come back when I need a little somethin'? Bill Kristol from The Weekly Standard!
I just can't fathom the mental contortions required to believe that Bush knows what he's doing and is doing a good job. Lately, he hasn't even been politically cunning!

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