Editor’s note: Below is the video and transcript to the panel discussion, “Obama’s Foreign Policy Disasters,” which took place at the Freedom Center’s 2013 Restoration Weekend. Restoration Weekend was held November 14th-17th at The Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
Brian Calle: I’m going to ask, first of all, Angelo Codevilla to give us a couple of comments.
Angelo Codevilla: Thank you.
I was asked to speak about anything other than the Middle East — delighted — but also about Obama’s foreign policy, as if that were really the problem; I wish it were. The problems with American foreign policy go much, much deeper than Obama, and much deeper than what is going on the Middle East.
President Obama famously decided, about two years ago, to pivot away from the Middle East, where he racked up a bunch of embarrassing failures; to more important parts of the world. And certainly, East Asia is considerably more important than the Middle East, because it contains a couple of billion very productive people, whereas the Middle East has far fewer people; infinitely less productive, and ultimately much, much less consequential in the world.
But the things which Obama and George W. Bush and George W. Bush’s predecessors have done in the Middle East which have brought discredit upon the United States are really the same kinds of things that are going to make it very difficult for the United States to do anything good for itself anywhere else in the world. And those things can be summarized roughly as follows — roughly in the word “insolvency.” Meaning an imbalance between commitments and the capacity to carry them out.
Basically, what we have done over generations now is to do precisely what Theodore Roosevelt warned against — namely, practicing the unbridled tongue coupled with the unready hand. We have spoken loudly while carrying small sticks.
Now, consider East Asia. Consider what is the problem at hand, which is the expansion of China. China, for the moment — God knows for how long — but for the moment is really quite dynamic. And that has put a great deal of fear in all of its neighbors. All of its neighbors, who, by the way, fear and loathe each other, would like nothing better than for the United States to keep the peace there. And we nominally have chosen to do that. We’ve very loudly maintained that we are going to keep the peace in Asia.
Well, what does that take? Well, it takes a lot more than saying so, if indeed we are committed to doing that. Now, the prior question is whether we should commit to keeping the peace in East Asia. That is a separate question. There is no doubt that peace in East Asia has meant all sorts of good things for the United States in the past couple generations. But my point is that to do so would not be cheap.
Let me give you an example, a historical example, of how we have messed that up in the past, and how we ought not to mess it up in the future. Ninety-two years ago, 1921, the United States government gained the applause of the world and of the best people in America by committing to two things — to a treaty among nine powers to respect the territorial integrity and independence of China, which then was being more or less gobbled up by other powers. What a wonderful diplomatic achievement.
And at the same time, we agreed with all of the world’s naval powers to limit naval armaments. This left the United States with a nominal naval superiority over Japan, except of course for the fact that the United States has two oceans to take care of; Japan only had East Asia to dominate. And at the same time, we committed not to fortify Guam and the Philippines.
Well, anybody with any military sense looking at that situation said — oh, guess what? We have just given Japan a free hand to dominate Asia, while promising the world that this would not happen. Well, of course, very quickly it became clear that Japan was going to dominate East Asia. And to no one’s surprise, the United States then decided to do absolutely nothing about it.
Now, we are now telling the world that we are going to pivot to East Asia, and we are going to keep the peace there. With what? Well, we have 280 ships in our navy. And the number is going down, not up. There’s no way that this is going to happen. You know, it just isn’t going to — there’s no way that those 280 ships are going to project power into East Asia. It’s not going to happen.
Moreover, China — not only China but also North Korea — is developing — China has and North Korea is developing a force of ballistic missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons all over the area. Those weapons don’t have to explode to have a great deal of effect on the countries in the region, above all on Japan. Japan, whose racial, let us say, incompatibility with the rest of East Asia, was demonstrated sonorously not all that long ago within the memory of everyone there.
But is anyone going to defend those countries against ballistic missiles? Well, the United States is not. We do not have the capacity seriously to defend against ballistic missiles, there or anywhere else; and above all, here. And when the Chinese say that we would not risk Los Angeles for any Asian city, why, they’re quite correct.
And so my point is that in East Asia and everywhere else, the lack of prestige that we have earned through everything that we have done over the past generation, and the decrease in American military power, is putting us and is going to put us increasingly into a great deal of trouble. I repeat, this is not simply an Obama problem, this is not a problem of the Democratic Party. This is a problem of American foreign policy.
Let me close by pointing out — and I must do this, and since I’ve got a microphone, I’m going to do it — how strongly — and since it also follows from everything I’ve just said — how strongly I disagreed with Ann Coulter’s remark yesterday that really, all we have to do in order to fix this and that and many other problems is to elect Republicans. No, no, no — Republicans have put us into this bind in foreign policy, as well as they have put us into binds in domestic affairs.
I was just speaking with Lee Hanley outside, [at] whose house I recall discussing how both of us were energized when we listened to a man by the name of Ronald Reagan speaking on behalf of Barry Goldwater in 1964. We were working for Barry Goldwater. Not because he was a Republican, mind you, but because he was working against the bad guys in the Republican Party on behalf of the United States of America.
Brian Calle: Thanks.
I can already tell this is going to be a fiery panel.
Our next panelist is the President of the Middle East Forum. You’ve seen his writings in National Review.
You’re popular, Daniel. National Review, the Jerusalem Post, among other publications; and is the author of 14 books. When do you find time to sleep, Daniel Pipes?
Daniel Pipes: Thank you. Good morning.
I, as you can expect, am going to talk about the Middle East, which is the most volatile, dangerous and unpredictable region, if not the most important. I will defer to Asia.
My presentation will be in two parts — the bad news and the good news. But note, there is good news; it’s not all bad.
Let’s start with the bad. I’ve played with the idea of an Obama Doctrine. What would an Obama Doctrine in foreign affairs sound like? My answer is something like the following — snub friends, coddle opponents, devalue American interests, seek consensus, and act unpredictably.
A few examples — Mr. Obama rose to prominence in 2008 because he was against the war in Iraq. But in fact, once he got into office in 2009, he implemented the war in Iraq probably not very differently from the way John McCain would’ve done it. He left Iraq just exactly when George W. Bush had said we should leave. There was continuity, rather than change.
In Syria, we had the fiasco in August and September, where he was demanding that we — he was saying that we were going to — as much as said that we were going to use force, and then didn’t. In Egypt, he has managed the marvel of being despised by both sides, the Islamists and the general who suppresses the Islamists. He has adopted this policy that lawful Islamism, nonviolent Islamism, is our friend. We can work with the Islamists — that is, say, the people who want to apply Islamic law in its fullness and in full severity. We can work with them; they are the key to fixing the region. For example, he has said that the prime minister of Turkey is among his five best friends internationally.
And I’d like to focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict for bit. Because I think, unlike these other things which are well known, this is a bit more of a surprise. As you may be aware, John Kerry has devoted more time to the Arab-Israeli conflict than any other topic. He’s been eight times to Ramallah and Jerusalem. And one asks why. Why, with all that’s going on in the world, not to speak to the Middle East — Egypt on the precipice, Syria in flames — why so much attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict?
And here I think this is a good example of the mistakes this administration is making. There is a deeply felt sense — and I have quotes here from Hillary Clinton, James Jones, John Kerry, Obama, Chuck Hegel, others — Petraeus — all of whom are saying that if you want to solve the many problems of the Middle East — such as the Iranian nuclear buildup, such as the Egyptian problem, the Syrian problem — then what you need to do first is solve the Arab-Israeli problem. And if you solve the Arab-Israeli problem, then the other problems become easier to deal with.
Here is James Jones, who was then National Security Advisor — finding a solution the Arab-Israeli problem has ripples that echo, that would run globally and affect many other problems that we face elsewhere on the globe. The reverse is not true. This, the Arab-Israeli conflict, is the epicenter. And this is where we should focus our efforts. Unquote. This is the distortion.
So much is taking place, and our government is focused on this issue, which is of no particular concern. Nothing’s happening. It’s a sideshow. And the main issues are not being dealt with.
And of course, the most important issue of all is Iran. And you saw what happened just days ago, where the US government has shown that it’s willing to accept Iranian goodwill and promises and intensions, and give the Iranians months, half a year, to work out a deal, ignoring the fact that the Iranians are building their nuclear capabilities all this time.
I’d like to note that Qatar, with a national population of something like 230,000 people, has had a larger role in the Middle East than the United States government, be it Libya or Egypt or Syria or elsewhere. It is the Qataris who are the great power of the region recently, not the United States.
Now, why? I think there are a number of reasons, the most profound of which is that Barack Obama comes from the far Left, and he’s sees the United States as a malign force in the world. He does not want to see a powerful United States. As I like to put it, he, although President of the United States, would really rather see himself as prime minister of Belgium; as just one of the guys, you know, reaching consensus with the Dutch and the French and the Luxembourgers. Not really up front but leading from behind, and having us play much less a role in foreign policy.
Also, he wants to be popular abroad. Remember that huge crowd in Berlin before he was elected? He deals with issues in an inconsistent way, putting out brushfires. So in Iran in 2009, while the demonstrations were against a regime that’s very hostile to us, we didn’t say a word. And in Egypt in 2011, there were demonstrations against a leader who was somewhat friendly to us, and we supported the demonstrators.
He’s interested, finally I would say, in domestic change. Obama is the fourth Democratic President in a century, after Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Linden Johnson — the fourth President in a century who wishes fundamentally to change the relationship between state and society. That’s a big thing. And if you’re interested in that, foreign policy is a distraction. And indeed, this administration has treated foreign policy as the distraction.
That’s the bad.
The good, or the mitigating — my common theme would be overreach. And I have three particulars. If you overreach, then you pay a price. Obamacare, I think, would be a perfect example of overreach, empiric victory. It’s not just Obama; it’s generally what’s happening in the Middle East — there’s overreach.
First overreach is that the Islamists are overreaching. When they were in opposition, they were popular, and they worked together. As they’ve come to power in a number of countries across the region, they are fighting each other, as symbolized by Syria, where the Sunni jihadis are killing the Shiite jihadis. But you can find it almost everywhere. And secondly, they’re becoming unpopular, most dramatically shown by the enormous political demonstration on June 30th in Egypt — the largest political demonstration in human history. People came out in huge numbers to say no to the Muslim Brotherhood.
So one, the Islamists have overreached, have taken too much power, have gone too far, too fast.
Secondly, in energy — the producers of oil have overreached. The price today is $93. At that price, you can produce a lot of other things. And a lot of other things are online, already in production — compressed natural gas, liquid natural gas, fracking, oil shale, coal seam gas — methane hydrate may be around the corner. There’s so many other alternatives that the Middle East is undercutting itself by having the price too high, and therefore making the region less important.
And finally, if this is not an oxymoron, what we have in American foreign policy is a passive overreach. That is to say that the US government is doing too little. And so what we find is others taking up the — becoming more active, which I think is overall a good thing. One of the criticisms I’ve had of American foreign policy, going back to World War II, is that we are too ardent, too ready to be the ones to take responsibility. That was the problem in NATO. We were the adult; the other members of NATO were the children.
That was the problem in South Vietnam. We pushed aside the South Vietnamese and said — let us take care of this. It was the problem, for example, vis-à-vis Saddam Hussein through the 1990s, where we were the ones who were most concerned. One would’ve thought it would the Europeans or the Vietnamese, or the Saudis and others, who would be most concerned about Soviet Union or North Korea or Saddam Hussein. But it was we who was most concerned. And we infantilized our allies as a result of this.
My favorite illustration of this was in 1972. A candidate for prime minister in Denmark said — we can cut taxes and save lives if we replace the Ministry of Defense — the army and navy and air force — with a tape recorder that says, in Russian, we surrender.
And he was a serious candidate. He didn’t become prime minister. Now, that was infantilization. We did that. We bear responsibility for that infantilization.
And I think the silver lining here is that the Danes, among others, are beginning to look around more seriously. The French in particular — [three days ago], the Saudis — the Israelis always have been — we are causing our allies to be more mature, to take responsibility for themselves in a way that goes against decades of our own behavior.
So should this be an interim, and it’s followed by a new administration that picks up the reigns again, I think our allies will be less prone to see us as a nanny and more as an appreciated colleague. And that would be something for the good.
So Obama is bad news, in conclusion. But he’s not the only factor. There are many things taking place in the outside world. And the Middle East in particular makes its own destiny. And the effective American policy is serious, but not determinate. And there are some positive developments under the surface that I think will come out in years to come.
Brian Calle: Thank you.
Our next panelist is a professor at Cal State University Fresno. He’s a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. And his latest book, “Wages of Appeasement: Ancient Athens, Munich, and Obama’s America,” is available. Let’s give a warm welcome to Bruce Thornton.
Bruce Thornton: Thank you.
But before I get in trouble with the Hoover Institution, I’m a research fellow, not a senior fellow.
Brian Calle: You’re not old enough to be a senior fellow yet.
Bruce Thornton: Yeah.
I want to talk about something a little broader behind foreign policy, something that, going back to the ancient Greeks, was really key in the understanding of foreign policy — but that we, being moderns who think we know more than everybody else, have ignored — and that’s prestige.
Thucydides, in his “History of the Peloponnesian War,” has an Athenian ambassador talk about — why do states enter into conflict with each other? And he said it’s fear, it’s interest, and it’s honor. And honor is just a form of prestige. It’s what do other states think of your state. Very simply, do your friends think that you are good friends and reliable friends, and do your enemies think that you are to be feared?
And that’s really the key to the failures of Obama’s foreign policy. But as Angelo said, it’s not just under Obama; this mistake has been made under several different administrations.
To give you a brief example of how a state should behave as a world power, I’m going to use an example from the British Empire. In the 1860s, in what they called Abyssinia, which is today modern Ethiopia and Somalia, a certifiably insane warlord who called himself King Theodore came into power. And he was a brutal, vicious ruler. And with delusions of grandeur, he sent a letter to Queen Victoria asking for help against his enemies. Of course, the British ignored him. And in revenge, he took almost 20 Europeans captive, including the British Console.
What was England’s response? They got one of the great leaders from India, Sir Robert Napier. They put together a huge expeditionary force. They sailed to Africa, they had to build a port, even before they could stock their ships. They had to build a railroad. They had to build a road for 100 miles. Then they marched 400 miles to King Theodore’s stronghold. They destroyed his army, they got the hostages back, and they turned around and went home.
Now, the soldiers did a little bit of looting, as is to be expected. They did not stay to colonize, they did not do it to get more territory, they were not interested — they did it for one reason, and one reason only — do not — how’s the polite way I can say this –
– do not ef with the British Empire, basically.
All right? They understood that if you let an insult like that go, if you let assaults on your people — and particularly your diplomatic representatives — then you are inviting further aggression. And that’s pretty much what most people, for centuries, would’ve understood — that when you do not respond to aggression, you invite more aggression.
Now, I want to fast-forward. I’ll bypass Munich, because I’ve been accused of flogging Munich too much, though every day it’s a more and more appropriate analogy, but we’ll let that go by. But go back to 1979, and the Iranian hostage crisis. That was a key moment. We might not think of it as a key moment, but groups like the Islamists, al-Qaeda, bin Laden — they saw it as a very key moment. That, and the mujahideen fighting in Afghanistan against the Soviets.
They’ve received enormous — Iran got enormous prestige from taking on the two superpowers — taking on the United States, insulting it, humiliating it, taking its sovereign territory — because that’s what a diplomatic facility is, sovereign territory. And what happened under Jimmy Carter? Nothing.
A feeble rescue attempt that was even more humiliating. And you may remember the images of the mullahs and their canes poking in the remains of American soldiers who had been burned in the crash of the helicopters. Still nothing happened.
And if we go through the subsequent almost 40 years, Iran has American blood on its hands every decade, including today. And they have never paid a price for that.
So is it any wonder that they have profound contempt for us? And particularly, of course, under Barack Obama, who, when he first came into office, reached his hand out to them, sent them birthday greetings, and was met every time with nothing but contempt. And now has agreed, is trying to agree — and we hope Congress puts an end to this — to finalize a deal with Iran that even the French find absolutely insane. And when you get the French, right, showing more moxie than we are in these sorts of affairs, you know we’re really in trouble.
But I want to pick up on something that Angelo pointed out. This has been a bipartisan problem over the years. And I am as much an admirer of Ronald Reagan than anybody in the room. But in 1983, he allowed to happen a very, very profound mistake. And that was not responding to the 1983 marine barracks bombing.
And you go back, and you look at the writings of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to his trainees — not when he’s talking to us, where he talks about the Kyoto Treaty, which of course he cares nothing about — what does he mention? He mentions that event, as he mentions our abandonment of South Vietnam. A war that had been won militarily through the brilliance of our fighting forces that was then thrown away politically. He mentions Saigon, he mentions Tehran, he mentions Mogadishu. Right?
[In] through the ’90s, the attacks all through the ’90s on our interests in the East African Embassy, the USS Cole, et cetera — what was the response? Oh, shoot off, you know, $10 million or $11 million worth of cruise missiles into the desert that make a big noise, and then go back to trying to make a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
So, no surprise at 9/11. You’d think that would’ve taught us the lesson. Right? If you let an adversary have contempt for you, you are going to invite aggression. And we sometimes make a material calculus. We say — well, look how much more powerful we are.
Napoleon once said morale to material is as [three to one]. Material is only one quarter of it. Most of it, in any conflict, is morale. And part of morale is our own confidence in ourselves, in our way of life and the righteousness of our beliefs. But it’s also the attitude of the adversary — does he fear you, or does he have contempt for you?
And as Daniel says, we have spent, particularly under Obama, too much time trying to get our adversaries to like us. And it shouldn’t be a question of whether they like us. The question should be — are they afraid if we like them or not? That’s the calculus. Not whether — we should be indifferent to whether they like us or not. They should be trembling in their boots, wondering whether we like them or not.
And right now, they don’t. Right now, they don’t. Their estimation of America is that we are weak, we are Godless, right? We are thinking about Miley Cyrus twerking, whatever that is.
Brian Calle: I still want to think about that.
Bruce Thornton: I don’t even know what that is.
Can’t be good, though.
Brian Calle: I’ll show you later.
Bruce Thornton: Our moderator promises to demonstrate for us.
And not enraged and outraged over Benghazi.
Now, I get and I appreciate the IRS scandals and Obamacare and all of that. But I have to tell you, in terms of foreign policy right now, there’s one scandal. And that is Benghazi. Because –
– Americans — not just Americans were killed. Not just our console was killed. But the fact that it unfolded with this administration doing absolutely nothing about it when it could’ve. The greatest military power in the world telling us that a fight that went on for seven hours — oh, you know, we couldn’t do it. And everybody should be outraged about that. Anybody who’s an American should be outraged about that. And the fact that there isn’t that level of outrage I find very troubling.
So I’m as eager to blame Barack Obama for most things, because he’s been a terrible President. And, you know, he deserves it. But we also have to recognize that the American people, many of them — I know, not people here — but many millions of American people are just shrugging their shoulders, as thought this was an accident on a highway or something. And the message that sends to the rest of the world is — man, you guys got 11 battle carrier groups, but you don’t have the will.
And for our foreign policy to be successful, our friends have to know that we have their back. Right now, speaking of the Middle East, our best friend in the Middle East, Israel, does not believe we have their back. And I don’t blame them. They’d be deluded if they thought we had their back.
And that is scandalous. That is scandalous.
And our enemies have nothing but contempt for us. After that shameful display in Syria, is it any coincidence that right after that, Iran said let’s talk? Those are not unconnected. When he bailed on his own rhetoric in Syria, then they figured — we can take this guy. Right? We can take him to the cleaners. And that’s precisely what they’re in the process of doing. And it’s only France, so far, that’s stopped that. And we’re hoping Congress will be able to do that.
So we need to start thinking, in terms of foreign policy, about the issue that for 2,500 of recorded history every great power always thought about. And that’s prestige. Do we help our friends? Do we stand by our friends? And do we put fear in our enemies? And if we do that, then we will start to have a more successful foreign policy.
Brian Calle: Thank you.
Our next panelist is a freshman congressman, just sworn in earlier this year, in January. So we can’t blame him for everything that’s gone wrong the last two years. Yet.
He was a Navy JAG officer and was awarded a Bronze Star medal and an Iraq Campaign medal. Please welcome Congressman Ron DeSantis.
Ron DeSantis: Well, thank you. And the point was made by some of the panelists that not everything is Barack Obama’s fault. So I just want you to know I’m not going to blame him for everything; I’m going to blame Hillary, too.
Ron DeSantis: So I’m going to talk about kind of Congress, from the bulk point of view of Congress. But I think it is worth pointing out — course, under the Constitution, the President does enjoy primacy in national defense and foreign policy issues. I mean, we have a role in Congress. But the President that we have — we’re constrained in terms of the good policies we want by a President that doesn’t understand that. And I think I agree with the notion that he has a very leftwing outlook.
But I also think the problem is how he views himself personally, and the inflated view he has for himself. And I go back to the time where he flew to Copenhagen to advocate for Chicago to be awarded the 2016 Olympics. So he goes over there, he brings Michelle, they give a speech — Chicago’s so great, everything. And they come in last.
Now, if you knew what you were doing, the President would never have given that speech, unless they already knew that Chicago was going to win. But he honestly believes that his powers of persuasion are so great that the rest of the world’s interest, ideologies, what have you, would just melt in front of his Ciceroian rhetoric.
And I think that’s very dangerous to have that view of yourself. And I think we see that in these Iranian negotiations. Oh, Rouhani, he seems like a reasonable guy. I can work with this guy. I will be able to get a deal with Iran about their nuclear weapons. And I think, as was pointed out, Iran smells weakness, and they are buying themselves time to be able to develop a weapon. And so it’s a dangerous situation.
So when Congress relented — but I think one thing that maybe didn’t get as much media attention, that informs kind of how to view this guy as your Commander in Chief — and I’m still in the Navy Reserve, so it’s something that matters to me — it is right before the shutdown, we actually passed a bill in the House that said — look, whatever arguments we have about Obamacare (inaudible), we’re going to pay our active-duty military their pay and allowances. Passed unanimously in the House. Reid had to take it up in the Senate. Reid passed it, Obama signed it.
So right before you had a shutdown, the military was taken care of. Paying allowances has a specific meaning. If you look on DOD’s website, it includes, of course, your base pay; but all these other different allowances, including the death gratuity for the families of fallen soldiers.
So when the government shut down, the partial shutdown, that was baked in the cake; that was the law that was not at issue. Well, we’ve unfortunately had people killed in action after October 1st. And the President took the position that he would not pay the death gratuity to the families of these fallen soldiers. The reason he said is — well, you know, legally my hands just may be — I just don’t think I have the authority to do it.
Now, that is rich coming from a guy who’s willing to disregard laws, suspend laws, grant waivers whenever it suits his purposes. But in this instance, he thought it was politically beneficial to withhold death gratuities from the grieving families, because he thought that that would reflect poorly against the Republican Party during the shutdown.
And we can have some of these disagreements. But I’m telling you, as a Commander in Chief, you should be willing to move hell and high water to make good to the families of those fallen people for making the ultimate sacrifice. And this President was not willing to do that.
So there was some hemming, hawing. Finally, the House passed the bill. Said please, obviously this is authorized. Senate passed it; the President finally signed it, I think, 10, 14 days into the shutdown. But that bothers me. I think it bothers a lot of Americans.
Look, I was there for the Syria debate. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a more inept performance by a President on the world stage in my lifetime, certainly — and I include Jimmy Carter in that — than what the President did with the red line, the comments, the retreat, and everything.
So I’m sitting there being asked to authorize this. And I got to worry about — even if somehow the mission was a good mission, this President [speclatis] am I going to be authorizing a Mogadishu or something like that? I’m not about to do that, to put our guys in harm’s way if there’s no clear purpose or strategy involved.
General Dempsey was asked — what are you guys asking for? He said — I don’t know what we’re asking for. John Kerry said, because we had concerns about the Syrian opposition, he says — look, about 25 percent are radical Islamists. But understand how they define that. They consider al-Qaeda to be radical Islamists. They consider the Muslim Brotherhood to be moderates. So they’re saying 25 percent are hell-bent jihadists. But we know that there were Muslim Brotherhood fighters there, too, who they thought that we could somehow work with.
And so we’re in a situation where he’s essentially asking Congress to authorize force that would have the effect — and this would’ve been roughly around the date of September 11th, when we were debating this — that would’ve had the effect of essentially aiding those forces that were fighting Assad. And so while we certainly don’t like Assad or Iran or Hezbollah, we also understand that there are bad actors on all sides of those. I don’t know if you could ever harmonize that to create an outcome that would be supportive of the United States and our allies, like Israel. But I know that this President certainly wasn’t capable of doing that.
Unless Israel does something, I’m sorry to say, we’re going to do sanctions. We’re going to push more stuff in Congress. But unless Israel does something, my fear is that Iran is going to develop a nuclear weapon. I don’t think this President is going to be able to stop that. I’m not sure that he is all that concerned with stopping it, apart from whatever political benefit he can do by waving a sheet of paper, saying — oh, we have an agreement.
And understand, if there’s an agreement, the New York Times will say — breakthrough agreement between US and Iran. He’ll have a sheet of paper. And people like us will know it’s not worth the paper that it was printed on, because Iran has no intension of actually following through with that. But I do fear that that’s something that we may see coming down the pike soon.
With the shutdown — understand, that does affect foreign policy. Because we don’t do appropriations bills anymore. We pass these big, voluminous — one, either you fund the government or you don’t — everything. So understand what that does. That detracts from my ability to try to defund some of the money, say, going to the Palestinian authority that they use to inculcate these kids in hatred for Israel. We shouldn’t be funding a lot of this stuff. But we don’t even have the opportunity, if we’re going to be doing these big CRs to try to — one, protect taxpayers; and make sure that our money’s not being spent in ways that are contrary to our interests and our allies’ interests.
And then, I would just say, finally, with Benghazi — a lot of the kind of attention is on what did Obama do, and all that’s legitimate. But to me, the thing that I don’t think gets talked about as much is — like Beirut — we have not responded against the terrorists who actually killed our people. And I don’t think that there’s any attempt to do that. I know we filed an indictment or something in federal court. But these guys are out there. We understand this. And yet, over a year later, nobody — there’s not even been an attempt to really bring those terrorists to justice. And that is only going to invite more people to do things against ourselves and our interests in the future.
Hillary Clinton — she testified in early January. But since then — I’m on the Oversight Committee — we’ve received a lot more information from State Department witnesses, as you know. And we know that she wasn’t telling the truth to the committee. We know that she lied to the families of the fallen, including Tyrone Woods’s father, when she told him that — mark my words, we will get the man who made this video and bring him to justice.
There was not any evidence that that video had anything to do with what happened in Libya. The State Department people on the ground have all testified to that. But she wanted to perpetuate that fraud on the American people, so that it didn’t appear that she was responsible for the lack of security. And so we’re going to keep on that.
Another thing we don’t know is where the President was during these fateful hours. When they did the bin Laden raid, there were pictures of him in the Situation Room posing like this and that and everything. And oh, he’s in control, he’s doing — you almost thought that he himself fast-roped out of that helicopter with the SEAL Team 6 guys, the way they were doing it.
With Benghazi, it’s just crickets. We don’t know what he did. We know he went to a fundraiser the next day. And I think we need answers. I think the problem we’re having is the administration is successfully stonewalling the committee because they know the media does not care about it. And they want to move on from this. They blamed Romney when this first happened during the campaign, which is outrageous. Candy Crowley ran interference for him in that debate.
So we know — so on the committee, we’re going to continue to do it. It’s tough because of the stonewalling. But I will just say, you look at 2016, and people always say Hillary, Hillary. There are going to be two things that are going to be albatrosses for her. The first is going to be Benghazi and her record in foreign affairs. She doesn’t have any achievements. She’s the one probably most responsible for the situation those men found themselves in that night.
And, oh yes, she’s the godmother of Obamacare. This is an interesting quote from her in ’93, when she was pushing Hillary Care — we just think people will be too focused on saving money, and they won’t get the care for their children and themselves that they need. The money has to go to the federal government, because the federal government will spend that money better — end quote.
And so, if this is the direction America wants to go, that someone — to the extent she’s distancing herself from Obamacare, it’s because she wanted something even worse than Obamacare. And then, of course, her failures in Benghazi — I think that we’ll be ready in 2016 to bring back a strong victory.
Brian Calle: They like you.
I’m going to play devil’s advocate here for just a second. You know, on Hillary in particular — let’s talk about Hillary. And I think everyone will have some kind of comment on this. But in polls, Hillary is very popular. And her approval rating when she left as Secretary of State was very high. And she gets accolades around the country almost on a daily basis. I think she was at USC a few days ago — I’m sad, because I’m a Trojan alumni — you know, getting accolades for her service as Secretary of State.
So maybe in our circles, we say — oh, you know, Benghazi’s an albatross, and she was terrible on foreign policy. But the perception among, it seems, the general populace was that she was a good Secretary of State. So how would you respond to that?
Ron DeSantis: Well, she wasn’t scrutinized as Secretary of State. As Secretary of State, you could pose as nonpolitical. You travel the country, you’re waving and whatnot. And obviously, the media has been kind to her since she’s been Secretary of State.
But when you get into political campaigns, there are things you’re going to have to answer for. And I think it’s going to be much different. She was inevitable in 2007, 2008, everyone said. The fact of the matter is she’s not a very likeable candidate. And I think those numbers are more just based on name ID. And the average public knows she’s out there doing something. But they don’t necessarily know what she’s doing on a day-to-day basis, so they give her the benefit of the doubt. And I think that’s going to change a lot.
She has a 100 percent name ID. So when you look at those polls showing her, she has 47 percent of the vote against 42 for some of our guys — just understand, none of our guys have even close to 100 percent name ID at this juncture.
Angelo Codevilla: I don’t want to spend any time on this. But please note that one of the reasons for her approval rating is that Republicans have not attacked her. I mean, when you see a horse misbehaving — I deal with horses — you seldom say what a bad horse. You say what a bad rider. You see public opinion not doing what it should. And you say — well, who’s been shaping it? Somebody has not been doing his job. The Republicans have been John McCaining, if I may use — if I may take a –
– name and make it a verb — have been John McCaining her, as well as a lot of other things.
Bruce Thornton: Hillary Clinton is a brand. She’s a celebrity. Obama is a celebrity. He’s never been a President, he’s never governed as a President. He’s like Fred Thompson out there selling reverse mortgages.
Right? I really believe that. And I want to apologize to Fred Thompson, because I think he’s a good guy. All right?
Or William Devane selling gold.
You know, if you wanted a reverse mortgage, you would not ask Fred Thompson to draw up the documents for you. Because you understand that he’s just — that is Barack Obama. That is Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton has absolutely no achievements ever in her whole life. She was married to a President, and then she humiliated herself when he publicly besmirched her and stood by her for her own ambition.
Unidentified Speaker: Cuckolded is the word.
Bruce Thornton: Yeah, can you use that for a woman?
Unidentified Speaker: Yeah, you do.
Bruce Thornton: You do? Okay.
So you know, it amused me when everybody went after Sarah Palin as some sort of Yeti from Alaska. And here, she’s done something. She can kill a bear or something, you know.
And Hillary Clinton’s done what? So I think the congressman’s right. I think that once you start getting into the primary season — and I don’t know what you think — I think a lot of it will come from her own party, perhaps.
Unidentified Speaker: (Inaudible)
Bruce Thornton: Yeah. She might get it from her own party. Because from my understanding, the Clintons are not liked, even by people in their own party.
Brian Calle: Yeah, I don’t think she’ll be — I actually don’t think she’ll be the nominee, so you can write this down as a prediction. I don’t think she’ll be the nominee, for two reasons. Number one, I don’t see the Obama power structure wanting to give up the power structure back to the Clintons, which dominated it for many years. But number two, and more importantly, Democrats aren’t like Republicans in this sense — we always pick the next guy in line. It’s always the next guy’s turn. It’s McCain’s turn, it’s Romney’s turn, it’s this person’s turn. Democrats don’t do that.
Okay. So let’s have some questions from the audience. I know this is a hot topic for a lot of people in the audience.
Unidentified Speaker: This question’s about national security. You touched on this very briefly. One of the first things Obama did after taking his office was negotiate this silly nuclear treaty with the Russians, where we reduced our nuclear warheads down to 1,500 and they were going to have 1,500. However, if you take the Chinese and the Russians together, they far outnumber what we have.
We touched on the navy. We have the smallest navy, I think, in 50 years. This is just coming out — President went through and just fired nine of the top military commanders in our military, including the individual who’s in charge of our nuclear program.
I’m just wondering, how safe are we right now?
Bruce Thornton: Well, despite those — and you’re correct — idiotic decisions, American military power is still so overwhelmingly superior to anything else. Now, that doesn’t mean we can be complacent. That doesn’t mean we can say — oh, it’s all right. We still have to fight against that, because we have to maintain it. We [just don't] have to maintain it.
And here’s something else we have to remember. We have constantly to be innovating the next generation of jet fighters, of missiles, or whatever. And that frightens me. Because I don’t think that is necessarily going on.
But again, that power doesn’t mean anything if our adversaries don’t believe that we’ll use it. And right now, they don’t believe that we’ll use it. Iran just does not believe — they are convinced that under any circumstances will the United States use its power against them — in fact, that the United States is actively — and you all know this — actively putting pressure on Israel not to use its power.
But you’re absolutely right — this decline that we see going on — it has to stop. And we have to think not just about today; we have to think about five, 10, 15 years down the road.
Angelo Codevilla: Two brief answers, regarding arms control and strategic forces. Arms control has never been, in America, about limiting others. Arms control has always been a means by which some Americans have limited the weapons in the hands of other Americans. Arms controllers have never worried about what others would do. Period.
Secondly, the numbers of strategic weapons — they are less relevant than the fact that we have zero defenses against any of them. There’s not going to be any kind of nuclear exchange, for a variety of reasons, which I won’t go into. But the fact that we are vulnerable and that our ruling class intends to keep it that way is of enormous significance.
Ron DeSantis: I would just — in terms of the Defense Department, as somebody who was active and now reserve — I mean, I do think that [in] Obama, there’s been a lot of change in the military leadership. People have speculated why he’s trying to do that.
There is, I think, a problem with political correctness in the military. I mean, for example, we see these PowerPoints, and I’ll be involved in kind of writing the letter asking why people in the army are briefing religious extremists, and they equate an evangelical Christian or Roman Catholic in the United States with a Sunni Wahhabist or somebody of that nature.
And I think you saw this play out a little bit with the Nidal Hassan situation, where everybody knew where he was coming from. I don’t know that you would predict that he was going to necessarily do what he did. But the idea that somebody with those views and that type of hatred for the United States would be somebody who we would want to be an officer in our armed forces — and yet nobody seemed to want to do anything about that.
So when I see all these little data points about this moral equivalence and not understanding who the good guys and the bad guys are, that worries me. Because that’s kind of staffing some of the vitality that we need to have in our armed forces.
Unidentified Speaker: There’s a lot of evidence that Obama is not only a Marxist but that he is a Muslim. And there’s a lot of evidence that the things he’s doing to our country are being done in order to destroy our country and increase the strength of Marxism and Muslimism. And I’m wondering why nobody is really taking the approach — let’s see what his motivations are for doing what he does.
So my question is — what do you guys think about his motivations for what he’s doing?
Daniel Pipes: Obama’s early years are murky. But from what one can tell — and I have studied this extensively — he was born and raised a Muslim. Certainly, he was a Muslim when he was in Indonesia. And there are reasons to think he was a Muslim after that.
At some point, in some fashion — again, very murky — he became a Christian, or at least the kind of Christian that Reverend Wright is.
I think it would be a mistake to argue that he is a Muslim now. We do not know what’s in his heart. He says he’s a Christian. I don’t think it’s smart to tell him — to deny that. You don’t have any evidence.
But he was born and raised a Muslim, and he denies it. This is a most profound lie, one which has come out sometimes very overtly. You may recall that in one interview with George Stephanopoulos he said that he was a Muslim. And then Stephanopoulos corrected him — you’re a Christian. He said — oh yeah, yeah, I’m a Christian.
Can you imagine? Can you imagine saying inadvertently — I’m a Buddhist, when you’ve never been a Buddhist?
As for the present — I mean, this is done. He was elected twice, and these points are no longer — never made an impact in either of the two presidential elections, and now will never have an impact on elections.
But then the question comes up — how is this important? And I would argue to you that his Muslim past, and possibly even present, are not significant in terms of policy. He is from the left wing of the Democratic Party. And he’s got cookie-cutter views from the left wing of the Democratic Party, which include a certain softness and sympathy for the Islamists. Working with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or in Turkey, its equivalent, is something any one of his disposition would do.
So I don’t think it’s worth bringing up today, accusing him of being a Muslim; or saying that his policies are distorted by the fact that he is a hidden Muslim. If one wants to get him, I think the useful thing is that he has lied, lied overtly and repeatedly, about his own personal past. And that, I think, is of great significance.
Bruce Thornton: Yeah. I agree with Daniel. And the thing is, being 40 years in a university — everything that Barack Obama believes, every two-bit part-time English professor in the university believes –
– all the way down the line. All right? All the way down the line. So even if all that’s true, if you look at everything he believes about every issue — if you want to know where does Obama come from, he comes from the American university.
And it’s important to point that out. Because the Freedom Center — one of its major tasks is precisely, right, to try and reverse and push back against the ideology of the university that has created Barack Obama. And I think that’s where we need to keep the focus.
Brian Calle: Next question?
Unidentified Speaker: This is for the congressman.
We have oversight committees, we have hearings, et cetera. My question is — why does it seem that — to me, anyway — you tiptoe on eggs? For the public and the ones that are televised, yes, you ask the hard questions, you want to expose. But you don’t really seem to get to the bottom of anything. You say that they’re stonewalling. Well, if we have a committee that we’re paying tax dollars for, why are we allowing them to stonewall? And aren’t there any measures in place that we can come up with so that they can’t stonewall?
I remember Greta Van Susteren asking a million times — Issa had subpoena power but never used it. And when they would be questioned on TV, they would always seem to hem and haw. What’s going on? If you don’t have the power, why are you going to have investigation?
Ron DeSantis: Great question.
And I’ve been on Greta’s show. And she says — why don’t just subpoena this person? And I have to tell her that I’m not the chairman of the committee, and that’s just not my decision. I would be subpoenaing whoever. I would want Hillary to come back and answer questions now. But it’s unfortunate — it’s not my determination.
The problem with some of the subpoena, though, is — yes, you have subpoena power. And if I subpoena you, and you’re, say, somebody who used to work for the administration who could provide information that could be damaging, and you disregard the subpoena, how do I enforce that subpoena through the Justice Department? Eric Holder?
And so we’re in a situation where I do think that if you do subpoenas, and you know that we’re not going to be able to follow through on a contempt, because Holder is just not — he’s going to ignore it, then you’re in a situation where you could potentially neuter your own power. That’s just kind of me looking at how the chairman sees it.
But I do think, in terms of — I think it was Christian Adams that mentioned some of these inferior officers, like a Lois Lerner, who’s now gone, so may be moot — you actually could try to impeach them and hold them accountable. And that just hasn’t been done in a long time. But when you get into somebody like Holder, that’s a political thing that Democrats — so it’s a food fight.
But if you find somebody who’s been derelict, maybe a rung down who’s not well known, that could be something that we could look at. Nobody’s lost their pension, nobody’s done anything. So there’s no accountability within the administration. And unfortunately, we don’t have the tools to force somebody to be fired from an executive branch agency position.
I’d like to change the law so that you don’t have a lifetime job, essentially, and that there are standards. And if you’re derelict, the default should be you’re gone.
Angelo Codevilla: In [expiation of] my sentence — I used to work in Congress. And in those far-gone days, we did have tools, those tools provided by the US Constitution, to do all sorts of things. That was before continuing resolutions that funded the entire government. We used to pass appropriations bills.
Ron DeSantis: Right.
Angelo Codevilla: And authorization bills. And in those bills, I and lots of other people used to assert seven magic words, again and again and again — no funds appropriated herein shall be used for. With those words, you can fire anybody, including the Attorney General. You can hamstring any operation of government. You have enormous power. The Founding Fathers meant the Congress to have that power.
And the reason that it does not have it is that Republicans, along with Democrats, have agreed not to pass ordinary appropriations bills and have agreed, through this ludicrous system of continuing resolutions, which reduced votes, to — shall there be a government, or shall there not be. Are you going to have tyranny, or are you going to have anarchy? Oh, what a wonderful choice.
That ain’t the way it’s supposed to be, and it is this way, only because the John Boehners of this world let it be this way.
Brian Calle: You know, an interesting point and an ongoing theme from a lot of panels this weekend is that — obviously the politicians are a problem. But the lower level, or the midlevel of the bureaucracy which never leaves, is the problem. And we see this in California as well. And instead of maybe advocating for term limits, we should start advocating for staff and bureaucrat limits.
Unidentified Speaker: I want to get back to the previous round of questions that both Dan and Bruce touched on, on Obama’s ideology and its potential effect. Is it possible — Norma [Tudor] suggested this in a much-talked about op-ed — that maybe Obama isn’t allowing the enemies to win by incompetence but actually wants them to win.
And I have one brief example about that, which I actually wrote about in The Wall Street Journal also. Remember when he greeted the ambassador from Vietnam in the White House, and he praised Vietnam, the Vietnamese government, the precise week in which Vietnam was now arresting scores of political dissidents in Vietnam who were advocating democracy. Obama publicly praised him, praised Ho Chi Minh for building the Vietnamese Communist government on the basis of the American Declaration of Independence.
This was one of the great myths about Ho Chi Minh perpetrated during the anti-Vietnam War movement which was completely false. And that does give some evidence, possibly, that it’s not just the university culture, but it really is his leftwing background. And his mentor, his youngest mentor when he was in high school, before going to Occidental, was Frank Marshall Davis, who was a leading Communist apparatchik — born in Chicago, moved to Hawaii; sent there by the Communist Party.
When you grow up in that culture, you believe that America’s enemies are the correct side, and what the United States stands for is the wrong side.
Brian Calle: What’s the question?
Unidentified Speaker: The question is — is it possible that Obama really wants, in his heart, the enemies to win?
Brian Calle: Well, they answered the question for you. Go ahead.
Daniel Pipes: We are basically saying the same thing. He wants the enemies to win. I said he wants the diminishment of the United States. You’re putting it a little bit more strongly, but we’re saying the same thing. He sees the United States as a malign force. I think everyone in this room sees it as a benign force, a beneficial force. The world is a better place for the United States. He and his wife, particularly, has exactly said this — they don’t see it. So turning the United States into a larger version of Belgium, where it is not a key player and not influencing events, is something that he seeks.
I’m a little bit hesitant about saying he actually wants the United States to lose. But I would go so far, easily say, he wants it diminished. And that points to a profound conundrum. Because on the one hand, he comes out of circles, and he himself shares these views, of wanting a diminished United States. On the other hand, he’s President. He wants to be a great President. And how is he going to be judged if the United States is diminished? It’s not really going to help his reputation. So one sees a friction in his own actions here.
Bruce Thornton: Yeah. Again, divining motives is impossible at a distance. And he always reminds me of something Orwell said, I think, around 1940 or maybe even earlier. He said — and he was speaking of England — England is the only country in which intellectuals actively despise their own country.
So he’s pointed to something that has been developing in the West in general for many, many decades now — that it has become fashionable, for anybody who fancies himself an intellectual or deep thinker, reflexively to think that his own country is inferior or is to blame for most of the wrong that has gone on in the world.
So given that wider sort of context, and particularly again given how it’s a reflex in the modern American university, I think that Obama just unthinkingly, unthinkingly, just accepts — like everybody in his circle and everybody he ever grew up with — yes, we have committed historical crimes, we must expiate those crimes. And we will diminish our power and have a more cooperative sort of world order, and become something like the EU.
But of course, you know, the EU collectively has a bigger GDP than us, and spends about a third of what the United States spends on its military. And so the EU countries get about 14 percent of their oil through the Strait of Hormuz. Well, we all know who’s keeping the Strait of Hormuz open. And it isn’t France’s single aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, which I understand is a great wine cellar, but –
– you know. If you really want to keep the Strait of Hormuz open, you want the big fleet there.
So I guess I’m pretty much in agreement with Daniel that whatever his motives are — and I think it’s scarier, actually — I think it’s scarier, because if it was one guy who had this malign plan — but this is so pervasive throughout the higher education, it’s trickled down in K-through-12. It really permeates the reflex that — gee, we must’ve done something wrong. Remember after 9/11 — what did we do? You know, why are they doing — we must’ve done something wrong.
Brian Calle: Thank you very much. Jeffrey just gave me the sign that we are done and out of time, because Monica Crowley is waiting for us.
Thank you very much. And let’s give a warm round of applause for our panel.
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