Charles Krauthammer opened the show today, talking the massacre in Kiev:
HH: There is a huge story developing in Kiev, Ukraine tonight, what may be Eastern Europe’s Tiananmen Square unfolding in real time as fires rage. At least nine have been murdered. And I am joined to begin this hour by Dr. Charles Krauthammer, whose book, of course, Things That Matter, has now been 17 weeks on the New York Times bestselling list. Charles, welcome, I don’t recall reading anything in Things That Matter about Ukraine.
CK: No, I wasn’t that prescient.
HH: Well, what do you think of this? And what do you expect Team Obama to do in response, if anything?
CK: Well actually, I did write about the fact that very early on in 2009, the Obama administration, with its cosmic naiveté, produced this reset with Russia. And we can see now the fruits of the reset. Putin immediately understood he was dealing with an adolescent, naïve in Obama who gave him a victory in Poland and Czech Republic on missile defense, where remember, Obama just jettisoned it as the way to appease Russia, and to show how he was going to play nice, assuming reciprocal behavior. Well now, we’re seeing that reciprocal behavior in the streets of Ukraine. Ukraine is the key to determining whether Putin will succeed in rebuilding a mini Soviet empire. Without Ukraine, Russia cannot do that. With Ukraine, it becomes a mini Soviet empire with Kazakhstan on one side, and Belarus already subdued on the other. And then it puts pressure on Eastern Europe. Putin understands that, which is why he stepped in to prevent Ukraine from concluding this deal with the European Union that would have consigned Ukraine to the West, to freedom, and to democracy, which is what those people are in the streets for. And that’s why they’re getting their heads bashed in.
HH: The New York Times reports this afternoon that the resumption of violence underscored the volatility of a political crisis that has not only aroused fear of civil war in Ukraine, but has also dragged Russia and the West into a geopolitical struggle redolent of the Cold War. That’s almost comic, Charles…
HH: …because Putin precipitated this. He wasn’t dragged into this.
CK: Right. Yeah, that’s like saying Russia was dragged into the invasion of Hungary in 1956.
CK: Yeah, well, that’s not how it works. Of course, you’d expect that from a newspaper that famously had a correspondent in the 20s and 30s who praised Stalin, praised Lenin and then Stalin, Durante, and who was famously found to have been a fabricator. But let’s not accuse them of going that far. Dragging is not the right word. Obviously, Putin is the one who instigated this. He engineered the turnaround. And it’s basically rather simple. Ukrainian people in the majority, not all of them, some of them are Russian speaking and have some affinity with Russia, but in the majority, they want to join the West, even in the Russian speaking areas. This is where the weakness of the current president was exposed, because that’s his base. But in some of the Russian speaking areas of the city, they have been anti-government demonstrations and takeovers. So this is a president whose support is crumbling. But he is very strongly supported by Putin, who just a day or two ago released part of an enormous loan as a way to purchase Ukraine the way Jefferson purchased Louisiana. And we are doing nothing.
HH: Now when on the eve of a different Olympics, the Beijing Olympics, Putin invaded Georgia. He didn’t even blink. Now he’s hosting his own Olympics. Do you think he’d actually send troops as he did in Georgia into Ukraine?
CK; You know, that would be the ultimate provocation. I’m not sure. It certainly won’t happen until next Sunday night, you know, end of the Olympics. We’ve got about five days during which we know that Russia will behave. After that, all bets are off. And if Russia does invade, that would show its utter contempt for the weakness of the West. I mean, that would not be, you could say in the Soviet days, they had these fraternity agreements with the puppet communist parties in Hungary, in Poland and other places. There are no such agreements here. This would be an invasion. But you haven’t seen invasion in Europe for about 70 years. I suspect Putin would be more subtle, although that is his specialty.
HH: No, it’s not, and in Georgia, he wasn’t subtle at all, and he didn’t even have the cover of an elected, democratically-elected government. And this president, however awful he is, was in fact elected.
CK: Well, in Georgia, they manufactured invitations of the leaders of the two breakaway provinces so there was at least a facsimile of some legality. Unless you get the president of Ukraine inviting Russia, which would be suicide on his part, even the pro-Russian elements would not want to be subjugated by Russian tanks. I think that would be the ultimate defeat. So I’m less worried about an overt invasion than I am about the flooding of Russia with money, which would support the government, with provocateurs, agents, very strong propaganda support, and a Russian standing behind, a dictator shooting a demonstrator.
HH: You noted we’re doing nothing, and that’s because Secretary of State Kerry is clearly involved in the biggest weapon of mass destruction of all, global climate change, as he declared yesterday.
CK: Yeah, and which is an imminent emergency.
HH: But what should we do?
CK: Let me tell you, it’s getting pretty hot in Kiev.
HH: If we in fact could free up Secretary Kerry or the President from his golf game, what ought they to do vis-à-vis Ukraine?
CK: Well, look, I wrote a column about two months ago saying $15 billion dollars is about what the Ukrainians need. That is a, when you consider the GDP of the EU and the United States, I mean, that’s a rounding error of a rounding error. There is no reason why we should not be bidding, and I would use the word in a very crass and gross way, for the allegiance of Ukraine, because it’s the linchpin of Eastern Europe. And if we could help to move it into the European camp without a shot fired, and simply with some expenditure of treasure, which again would be trivial, we should be offering a tremendously large and generous, at least in Ukrainian terms, aid package to rival anything Russia can offer, and to say look, you may want to go one way or the other, but let it not be for reasons of economy. We can do, you can do much better with Western support and Western trade than you ever will with Russia.
HH: That’s a word that I hope they heed. I doubt that they will, and in fact, I doubt that news of this will even interfere with the Olympic Games. I don’t know that NBC will mention it tonight, Charles. And that brings me back to the media and Ukraine. Incredibly, it has not dominated coverage. They’ve got nine people dead, it’s already the size of our own Boston Massacre. I’m not sure we’re going to call it a massacre. Who knows what’s going on there tonight, because we don’t have cameras, and the fires are burning? Where’s the American media?
CK: Well, here I wouldn’t attribute it necessarily to prejudice or to ideological bias. American media are not interested in foreign affairs for a very good reason. American consumers are not interested in foreign affairs, generally speaking. Remember that show, Inside Washington, I used to do with Carl Rowan?
CK: And Rowan always used to say, his axiom was never lead with Eastern Europe, because everybody will turn off the set. Look, we are an isolated superpower.
HH: I led my show today with Eastern Europe. I hope people are still listening, Charles.
CK: Well, it would be the first instance in history where you overcame the Rowan rule.
HH: Well, there is a massacre underway, and the pictures are pretty dramatic.
CK: That is true. Yeah.
HH: Let me ask you about down south, then, and we’ll pause and go to break and come back from this. But Venezuela is also falling apart and no one’s paying attention.
CK: Well, look, again, that no one’s paying attention is not new. There was, interestingly, a wave of attention when Egypt was in revolt. That was very unusual. But the Middle East is so sort of attached at the hip to the United States, we’ve been involved so intimately, that it’s something of an exception. But look, I’m not sure there’s anything new about inattention. But the real issue in Venezuela is that that’s a government that in and of itself is collapsing, can’t run an economy while sitting on a sea of oil, and you wonder whether this’ll be an excuse for this to be turned into an out and out dictatorship. Even that would be unstable. But nonetheless, it is an opportunity for the West. Look, at the very least, the President should express himself openly and not talk about wants to see a reduction in the violence. Of course, everyone does. But he has to go beyond that and say we stand with people who believe in liberty, and that means the people in the streets of Kiev, and that means the people in the streets of Caracas.
HH: Okay, Charles, I want to switch to the domestic side. Originally, I’d contacted you today to talk about the Republican Party, and so in the first segment, we were talking about foreign affairs. But now I want to talk about the fact that…
CK: You’re talking about civil war, so it’s the same subject, right?
HH: It is, well, except peace broke out this weekend. Robert Costa in the Washington Post yesterday, and Jonathan Martin and the New York Times yesterday both said that the Republicans had agreed not to do anything until November, and otherwise to play rope-a-dope on the Democrats, and simply fade away. What do you make of that strategy, if we want to call it that?
CK: Look, I’m one of those who believes that you cannot govern under the Madisonian Constitution from one house of Congress. You can block. That’s the whole intent of the tripartite government, is to prevent the rise of one power over everyone else. You can block, but you can’t govern. I think if you accept that principle, I’m not sure how you can reject it, then I think the wise thing to do is to not try to govern through threats of shutdown or other such nonsense, I would say, but to gather your forces to make the argument, prepare yourself, and take the Senate. You take the Senate, the next two years will be very different. And I think that ought to be the strategy. And rather than engage in quixotic tilting at windmills, the windmill always wins. We ought to be developing our strategy, binding our wounds, a lot of them self-inflicted, and getting ready to win in November.
HH: Well, let me pose it to you this way. Things That Matter has been atop the New York Times bestseller list for 17 weeks because every night, or most every night, you go on Fox News and you make arguments. And those arguments resonate, and people want to read more about those arguments. And the opinion class slowly but carefully changes, and the influencers beneath them, and every community across the United States, slowly but surely changes their opinion. I don’t see the House Republicans doing anything when it comes to messaging, Charles. Do you?
CK: Well, it seems to me that you do your messaging, here in the House of Representatives, district by district. It’s not a megaphone for crafting a national platform. The way our system works, it’s a very, as you know, it’s a decentralized system. In a parliamentary system, yes, the parliamentary opposition speaks with one voice. It has a shadow prime minster, a shadow foreign minister, a shadow exchequer, and they speak the party line, and they meet once a year at some lousy resort on the coast of the British Isles, and they come up with a platform that people actually read. Here, you know how it works, you have an entrepreneurial, presidential system, people decide on their own they’re going to run. They gather people around them, and the way we do it, we come up in the end with a candidate. And that candidate, and that campaign, is what defines the stance of the party. So in advance of the presidential race, neither party ever comes up with a unified argument. You make it one district after another, and most importantly, it’s one state after another, because you want to win back the Senate. And it is eminently winnable this year. That’s how you make the case.
HH: Now Charles, I don’t want you to become an enabler of incoherence. The one thing that the House does have is the right to hold hearings. And the one hearing that has made a difference thus far was the Benghazi hearing that Darrell Issa held last year when Gregory Hicks testified. I don’t see them using the one power they have, which is to subpoena witnesses, and to set the agenda at all. It’s rather haphazard. And I put the blame for that at the Speaker’s feet and the feet of the Leader and the Whip, and every committee chairman. But do you want to give them a pass on this?
CK: No, I don’t give them a pass on this. I think the few things that you can do with control of one house is precisely to block, number one, and two, to bring things to light. And I think many of the hearings, not that they haven’t had hearings. They have had hearings. But when you think of how they let Hillary off with the complete incoherence of the questioning, rather than having some coherent set of questions, one following up on another and challenging what she said, how she got off the hook from that hearing, just showed these guys weren’t up to major league play. I don’t think I’d put it all at the foot of the leaders. I think it has to do with the people asking the questions.
HH: Well, that’s very true.
CK: Some were good, but most, as you know, were not.
HH: That’s very true. Let me finish up there on Hillary. With these fiascos underway in Kiev, a massacre, and in Venezuela, the arrest of opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez today, Hillary’s foreign policy trifecta is complete. She’s lost South America, she’s lost the Middle East, and she’s lot Eastern Europe. How does anyone recover from that and run for the presidency?
CK: By losing the Pacific Rim.
CK: Then you get a straight flush. You get a royal flush. Look, you know, when people talk about Hillary being a superb secretary of State, I just ask one question. Name me one thing, just one, not three, give me one thing she achieved in her four years as secretary of State. I have yet to hear an answer.
HH: You’re right.
CK: She traveled a lot. So did Marco Polo. And you want him to be president?
HH: No, I’ve asked repeatedly your friend, E.J. Dionne, many other people, Jonathan Alter, abba dabba dabba dabba dabba is what we get out of them, because they don’t know, they don’t see it coming, Maggie Haberman of Politico. But nevertheless, one of them, well, Dana Milbank said she accomplished becoming the frontrunner for the nomination. And you know what? That was astute on his part. Cynical, but astute. And is he correct that that will endure?
CK: I think she is the frontrunner. I don’t think the convention will be a coronation. It’s going to be a worship service. But that’s not exactly why we have a secretary of State. I do think it’s really awful that you can have a four year term, achieve nothing, and as you say, go backwards with Russia, backwards on Iran, backwards on Syria, backwards on Venezuela, backwards in relation with just about all of our allies, including, I would add, Keystone, which sits on the President’s head, and antagonizing Canada, for God’s sake. Canada, of all people, that’s quite an achievement when you can antagonize Canada. That’s not easy to do. And to get them upset, which is never happened in about 100 years, I mean, this is foreign policy of failure. And the only reason people haven’t focused on it is because there’s been so much failure at home that it’s overshadowed what’s happening abroad.
HH: Charles Krauthammer, always a pleasure, thank you for talking to us today.
CK: Great pleasure, Hugh.
End of interview.