The McLaughlin Group
Issues: Future War; China and Pakistan; Europe’s Shame?; Iran vs. USS Theodore Roosevelt
John McLaughlin, Host
Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast
Tom Rogan, National Review/Daily Telegraph
Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune
Taped: Friday, April 24, 2015
Broadcast: Weekend of April 24-26, 2015
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ANNOUNCER: From Washington, THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP, the American original. For over three decades, the sharpest minds, best sources, hardest talk.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, HOST: Issue One: Future War.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This morning, I want to express our grief and condolences to the families of two hostages -- one American, Dr. Warren Weinstein, and an Italian, Giovanni Lo Porto.
MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): The president is referring to 72-year-old American development worker, Warren Weinstein, who was kidnapped by al Qaeda in 2011, and 39-year-old Italian development worker Giovanni Lo Porto, who was kidnapped by al Qaeda in 2012.
This week, we learned that both men were accidentally killed in a CIA drone strike in January.
Here’s how it happened: the CIA spotted an al Qaeda safe house in Pakistan, and closely monitored it. Judging senior al Qaeda leaders to be present, the CIA attacked. And while the drone killed a number of al Qaeda terrorists, including an al Qaeda leader and an American fighter for the group, Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto were later found to have been hidden in the building. Al Qaeda had made sure the hostages could not be seen by U.S. surveillance efforts.
President Obama apologized for the loss of life.
OBAMA: As president and as commander-in-chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations, including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni. I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.
MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is this accident a wake-up call to reform the CIA’s counterterrorist drone program?
PAT BUCHANAN, AUTHOR & COLUMNIST: No, I don’t think so, John. You certainly should review it, but I don’t think reform is necessary. Look, these drones are really indispensible weapons in a war against terror, especially a war in which the enemy occupies no man’s lands. In this -- in drone strikes, we’ve found fewer -- less collateral damage than almost any war we’ve ever had.
I remind you, John, when you were a young man, we went and took out Dresden, killed 35,000 to 250,000 people, American POWs were right there in Dresden, we didn’t know about it. Kurt Vonnegut wrote "Slaughterhouse-Five" about that war.
Ever since that war, we’ve stopped these massive bombing strikes and relied on the best we can on precision strikes. Whether you agree or disagree with the war, I think this is an indispensable weapon and you can’t give it up.
MCLAUGHLIN: Senator Dianne Feinstein wants the whole program, stem-to-stern, to be analyzed.
BUCHANAN: Well, you can never stop doing enough looking at it. I agree with that. But the idea that we would think of giving that up I think is an impossibility, if we’re going to stay and fight terrorism.
MCLAUGHLIN: McCain would like to see it investigated, too.
BUCHANAN: Well, take a look at it.
ELEANOR CLIFT, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, in a democracy, I think it’s the right thing to do. You question it, you have an investigation, and all that. But I agree with Pat, they’re not going to give up the drone program.
I think the president is ambivalent about these so-called "signature strikes." You find targets and they appear to be Muslim-looking men who are gathering and you make some assumptions. And if you can get to near-certainty, you go ahead. The near-certainty is not absolute certainty.
But I think President Obama owns the drone program, even though it began under President Bush. He has pushed it forward, and I think the next president is either going to continue that, or going to have second thoughts.
MCLAUGHLIN: Two of the targets in this week’s drone strikes, Adam Gadahn and Ahmed Farouq, held U.S. citizenship. Does it trouble you that the president can order U.S. citizens killed by drone attacks?
I ask you, Tom.
TOM ROGAN, NATIONAL REVIEW/DAILY TELEGRAPH: No, because the reality is that these people have chosen to join a group that plots to kill as many civilians as it can, that has been doing that. The reality is, the signature profiling in terms of strikes, it’s more than just seeing people and thinking that they look, you know, natives to the particular area, or it’s about behavior, it’s about their network, it’s about where they’ve been visiting.
And, look, the nature of a threat is that you have to address these people, and a good example of people can go in Google Rashid Rauf (ph), a British Pakistani man who was killed in a drone strike, but at later, it turned out that the intelligence community knew Mr. Rauf was involved in the July 7th plot, the 2006 transatlantic plot. Had he not been killed, he probably would have thousands of people.
So, this is -- it’s horrific, but necessary.
MCLAUGHLIN: Is there a political incentive for the president to take full responsibility?
CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Political, moral, everything, you name it, of course, the president is responsible. He’s the commander-in-chief. At the same time, you know, this question about Gadahn and the legality of a shooting or killing a U.S. citizen, we wouldn’t have this argument if we actually had a formally-declared war. Since we don’t, it’s really untested legal ground whether a president can legally do what is already being done.
I don’t know how you take it to court, normally, somebody has to sue. In this case, the victim is dead. So, I don’t know when we’re going to resolve the legal aspect --
CLIFT: If the target -- if the targets are --
BUCHANAN: The authorization for the use of military force I think against al Qaeda.
BUCHANAN: But you’re exactly right. This is a responsibility of the Congress. What are we doing in Yemen? What are we doing in all these -- are we doing in Syria and Iraq? I’m not sure we got authority --
BUCHANAN: -- under the Congress of the United States for doing what we’re doing.
CLIFT: Well, the Congress finally voted to confirm to Loretta Lynch after five months. I wouldn’t hold your breath for their action on this.
PAGE: They’re not in the hurry, yes.
CLIFT: When Americans are the focus of a proposed, really, these are assassinations by drone attacks -- the standard is supposed to be higher. The Justice Department is supposed to sign off. I don’t know whether they did. I think these were two separate strikes, and the two Americans were --
BUCHANAN: Did they know they were Americans they were hitting?
ROGAN: I think they didn’t know --
CLIFT: That’s a separate --
PAGE: Well, Adam Gadahn, they know he’s an American and he was a target. I don’t know if he was specifically, I suspect he was.
CLIFT: Right, he was most wanted.
BUCHANAN: Al-Awlaki was a target. He was an American. His son was hit, though, as collateral damage.
PAGE: That’s correct.
BUCHANAN: And he was not directly targeted. I would doubt that they would directly target Americans without checking.
MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: What is the trend and historical experience regarding military technology and the frequency and deadliness of wars?
BUCHANAN: John, as I’ve mentioned -- look, these are astonishingly precise weapons and the amount of collateral damage from what the Americans do now in war is far, far less. Look at what happened in World War II.
BUCHANAN: We killed millions of Japanese and Germans. North Korea, we blasted to bits, killed hundreds of thousands.
PAGE: Vietnam carpet-bombing.
BUCHANAN: Vietnam, though in the Christmas bombing, less than 2,000 killed. It’s getting less and less every war we had.
CLIFT: Now, ask yourself, compared to what? And any president given the choice between drones, and putting young men and women in harm’s way, he’s going to choice the drone.
ROGAN: We have no other options, what are we going to -- send Special Forces in there and have a team wiped out, and the aviators go over. That would create more political toxin, you know?
MCLAUGHLIN: Swarm Wars.
MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): President Obama likes unmanned military technology and this is one of them, Locust. The low cost UAV swarm technology, a new program of the U.S. Navy. Locust is the system that launches 30 combat drones for both defensive and offensive military operations.
This U.S. military video shows the high expectations U.S. commanders have for Locust. The swarm is shown attacking multiple targets with great effectiveness. But some fear that this is just another dangerous step towards a future of war -- easier war, war in which the political dimensions of human casualties are disregarded and, thus, war made more palatable.
And it’s not just aerial drones that are changing war. In a recent "Wall Street Journal" op-ed, Gabriella Blum and Benjamin Wittes paint a future of unpredictable risk, quote, "your business competitor has sent a robotic attack spider bought from a bankrupt military contractor to take you out. Your assassin who is vacationing in Provence, will direct the spider to shoot an infinitesimal needle containing a lethal dose of poison into your left leg, and then self-destruct," unquote.
MCLAUGHLIN: Will new military technology do more harm than good? I ask you that.
ROGAN: No, I think it will do more good than harm. But again, there needs to be a framework governing it, and there needs to be public disclosure of what’s happening. I think a key area to do that is the U.S. military, that they have disclosure about kind of things are we researching and where we’re appropriating money.
MCLAUGHLIN: What are the futuristic weapons and is the U.S. Navy testing, Rogan?
ROGAN: Rail guns, electromagnetic weapons.
MCLAUGHLIN: What is that?
BUCHANAN: Also --
ROGAN: Testing unmanned jets --
MCLAUGHLIN: Also, electronic pulse to shoot down missiles. They’re defensive weapons and it’s a great idea.
CLIFT: Yes, you could --
ROGAN: Very expensive.
CLIFT: You can flood the zone with mosquito drones. It’s my favorite.
PAGE: I want to see what happens though when China, Russia, other countries have drones, too. Just the basic drones that we’ve got now. It’s going to change the whole debate.
MCLAUGHLIN: It’s going to be all for the better.
BUCHANAN: One problem, John, is those aircraft carriers are going to be much, much more vulnerable, the more you get these tiny weapons that can’t be detected.
MCLAUGHLIN: Drones versus conventional warfare. Here’s Commander-in-Chief Obama himself:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Conventional airpower or missiles are far less precise than drones, and they’re likely to cause more civilian casualties and more local outrage. And invasions of these territories lead us to be viewed as occupying armies, unleash a torrent of unintended consequences, are difficult to contain, result in large numbers of civilian casualties and ultimately empower those who thrive on violent conflict.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLAUGHLIN: I ask you a question: Do you share our president’s view on conventional airpower versus drones?
Clarence Page, I’m asking you. You’re from Chicago.
PAGE: Well, yes, but Chicago --
PAGE: Chicago only believes in conventional airpower. But anyway --
PAGE: No, I think drones are like any other weapon of power. They have to be evaluated in their own merit or demerit. But they’re here to stay.
MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: China and Pakistan.
CHINA’S AMBASSADOR TO PAKISTAN. The China-Pakistan economic corridor is the backbone. The energy and transport infrastructure construction and the construction of Gwadar Port and the industrial park are the arms and legs.
MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): That’s China’s ambassador to Pakistan.
This week, China’s president, Xi Jinping, travelled to Pakistan and confirmed $50 billion worth of trade deals. The more than two dozen deals range from energy projects to a massive port development, to cultural centers, to new submarines for Pakistan’s navy. And in a signal of Pakistan’s desire to consolidate strong relations with China, Mr. Jinping will be awarded Pakistan’s highest civilian honor.
Although many in Pakistan welcome these deals, others are concerned, notably India seeing China’s desire to expand its power and influence across Asia and into the Indian Ocean. In opposing Pakistani efforts to destabilize Indian democracy, India’s government feels increasingly threatened.
The United States shares that concerned. After all, with China throwing its weight around across the group, some American strategists fear this China-Pakistan arrangement will undercut American security.
As one example, just listen to how Pakistan’s ambassador to China explains how China will use the port.
PAKISTAN’S AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: Your trade uses this artery, uses this route to go out to Middle East, Central Asia and Africa, because in terms of distance, by using this Gwadar-Kashgar route, this link, China will be saving about 6,000 kilometers of distance, maybe more actually. So, this is the benefit which both countries realize will occur and it’s a long term strategic vision.
MCLAUGHLIN: We’ve got a China alliance with Pakistan. Is China’s alliance with Pakistan a cause for American concern?
I ask you.
ROGAN: I think we have to be prudent about what China is doing. When the Gwadar port that they’re talking about building is clearly designed --
MCLAUGHLIN: The what?
ROGAN: The Gwadar port. It’s a port in Pakistan that the Chinese are funding. It’s clearly designed to exert Chinese geopolitical power, to have their navy be able to go there, to be able to challenge United States, you know, hegemony in the region.
But I also say just as a second point of interest. We’re talking about Pakistan and the tensions there with the U.S. policy and drones, the Chinese government is very aggressive against the Muslim Uyghur population. And the fact that the Pakistanis are so interested in it shows I think the level of political corruption in Pakistan, the degree to which mercantilism, wealth serves. Chinese give them money and they give China whatever they want. And this is evolving relationships, values don’t matter to them.
BUCHANAN: It’s mercantilism --
MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute, if you were counseling the president with regard to China, what would you tell him?
ROGAN: I would tell him that we need submarines. The carriers are vulnerable.
BUCHANAN: But, you know, the Chinese --
ROGAN: But you’ve got to be careful. They can throw their weight.
MCLAUGHLIN: Meaning what?
ROGAN: There’s potential for conflict.
MCLAUGHLIN: Between China and the United States?
BUCHANAN: John, they’ve got weight because they’ve got $3 trillion in cash reserves as a consequence of their trade with the United States. They’re making themselves the economic power in Asia, the industrial power in Asia, and the strategic power in Asia. And eventually, they’re going to displace the United States in Pakistan, which is a next door neighbor to them and 8,000 miles from the United States. That’s the future, John.
CLIFT: It’s a hugely ambitious project. They’re basically constructing over land and sea, the new Silk Road that connects Europe and Asia. And when the U.S. put in I think it was $7 billion or $9 billion in 2009 when Obama first came in, they put it in infrastructure that’s a pittance compared to what the Chinese are doing.
But I think overall, it’s a good thing for everybody. I think the Pakistanis are not going to be anybody’s reliable ally. And if they can put this money in and help Pakistan become a more stable, wealthier country, I think it’s to everybody’s good. I’m not so worried.
PAGE: I’M NOT SURE INDIA WOULD AGREE.
CLIFT: Well, India might not agree, that’s right. You’re --
MCLAUGHLIN: Aside from its need to protect its oil imports from the Middle East, why else is China interested in this port? Do you happen to know?
PAGE: Well, it does have a high strategic interest, no question to that. But I look at what China is doing in Pakistan, I think of what they’re doing in Africa. They’ve become a leading source of development across Sub-Sahara Africa. If the U.S. did it, it would be called economic colonialism. But for them --
BUCHANAN: They’ve got more money than they do. They have enormous amount of cash to invest.
CLIFT: Well, they’re in Nicaragua, and there are protests in Nicaragua. These people are beginning to catch on that the Chinese, they don’t create jobs. They bring their own people. They really plunder the land. They don’t worry about the environment.
MCLAUGHLIN: Is China still the biggest foreign holder of U.S. debt?
BUCHANAN: No, Japan is.
BUCHANAN: Japan just moved ahead of them. It’s $1.25 trillion for both of them. But together, they’ve got $2.5 trillion, they’re holding our debt.
This is --
MCLAUGHLIN: Now wait a minute, let me hear that again. Did you say trillion -- trillion dollars?
BUCHANAN: $2.5 trillion. This is --
MCLAUGHLIN: Did you confirm that?
BUCHANAN: This is a product of free trade while the Chinese practice economic nationalism. Chinese are doing to us, John, what we did to the British Empire in the 19th century. It is as clear as day.
MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Europe’s Shame?
DONALD TUSK, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT: I do not expect any quick-fix solutions to the root causes of migration -- because there are none. Had they existed, we would have used them long ago. But I do expect that the commission and the European External Action Service will present options for immediate action.
MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): That’s Donald Tusk, the European Council president. This year, 1,500 migrants have lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Africa to Italy. Relying on ramshackle boats, and the whims of human smugglers, migrants who dare to cross the Mediterranean, face great danger.
And the human costs are often severe. Last weekend, an estimated 900 people lost their lives when their ship sunk off the Libyan coast.
This growing crisis has brought much unwanted attention onto European Union officials. With underfunded navies and coast guards and domestic populations deeply hesitant about illegal immigration, E.U. nations have long lacked the means and the will to tackle this problem head on. But get this, in 2015, the E.U. has actually cut the rescue force saving lives at sea.
That has infuriated many activists.
FEMALE ACTIVIST: Nobody leaves their country in search of snow. They leave because there’s war, there’s trouble. And what do they want? They want to be treated as human beings. They want to live with dignity and work, like any human being.
MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What does this crisis tell you about the state of the European Union?
PAGE: Well, a couple of things. For one, they are not as united as they would like to be. One big issue here is trying to share the burden of these boat people coming across the Mediterranean. Right now, it’s Italy, Greece, it’s Spain. They’re carrying most of the burden. But across Europe, you’ve got a resurgent, far right, populism rising in the midst of economic troubles that are still lingering.
And there’s not the same kind of support between nations for how to deal with refugees that we had, say, after the Vietnam war in the mid-‘70s with the Southeast Asia refugee crisis, where we dealt with a much larger number of refugees.
MCLAUGHLIN: Why is the death toll rising? Is it because the tide of immigration is rising? Or is that one other story?
PAGE: Because they went out of good boats. The fact is, they -- all the safe boats are long gone from Libya. They’re taking anything floating now and that’s why you’re getting a lot more deaths.
BUCHANAN: These people are fleeing from wars, John, and they’re coming endlessly and Europe has no way to stop them, Europe is aging, shrinking and dying in its populations. Africa is going to add 1 billion people by the middle of the century.
Europe is simply has no way morally, physically to stop what is coming. This is what was called --
CLIFT: Well --
BUCHANAN: The Camp of the Saints.
PAGE: I thought it was called the Buchanan scenario.
CLIFT: And if Europe figures out a way to resettle these people, they will no longer be aging and running out of new blood, and they’ll be getting more people in, and they’d be Americanizing themselves.
MCLAUGHLIN: This goes to Eleanor.
BUCHANAN: They’re not Americanizing very well there in Europe.
MCLAUGHLIN: This goes to Eleanor: Can you argue the case that increasing the E.U. coast guard patrols to rescue stranded migrants will only make the problem worse by encouraging smugglers to cut lose even more unseaworthy boats?
CLIFT: They tried that in October. They cut the resources for the search and rescue because they felt it had a pull factor. It was encouraging people to come.
CLIFT: More people have come. People aren’t sitting there and figuring out, am I safe or not safe? What’s the risk?
They’re just going for it because they’re in such impossible --
ROGAN: Let me quickly get in here, John
CLIFT: And because the center of the chaos now is Libya --
ROGAN: I need to get in here.
MCLAUGHLIN: We got to let --
CLIFT: Excuse me, is Libya, where we bear some responsibility for the collapse of that society, I think the U.S. has responsibility here as well, as the E.U.
MCLAUGHLIN: I’m going to squeeze in --
ROGAN: Very quickly.
MCLAUGHLIN: Ten seconds.
ROGAN: It shows the vacuum of the European idea of, you know, social welfare. They didn’t spend on defense. They clearly don’t care about these people and they allowed them to drown. It’s a disgrace. That’s it.
MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: Iran Versus the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president also, as I mentioned in response to Major’s question and to several others, continues to be concerned about the instability in Iran, interfering with the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the Gulf of Aden. And there are U.S. military resources in the Gulf of Aden to try to protect those two priorities as well.
MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest is talking about the USS Theodore Roosevelt. It’s a Nimitz class aircraft carrier operated by some 6,000 sailors and Marines. To get an understanding of the scale of this ship, it serves 18,150 meals a day. The Theodore Roosevelt forms the heart of Carrier Strike Group 12, which includes a cruiser, destroyers and possibly also a hunter-killer submarine, sometimes deployed to defend the fleet.
The Theodore Roosevelt strike group is operating off the coast of Yemen and it may be utilized to stop Iranian vessels from supplying weapons to Houthi rebel forces in Yemen. The White House is refusing to roll out future action against Iranian vessels.
EARNEST: I’m not going to speculate about any sort of future events that may or may not occur. But it is possible for the United States to be justifiably concerned about protecting the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in this volatile region of the world, while at the same time ensuring that the arms embargo that the United Nations has put in place is one that everybody takes seriously.
MCLAUGHLIN: Whatever President Obama decides to do, the risks involved here are great. If the Houthi rebels are able to defeat Saudi Arabia’s military campaign, they may seize control of Yemen.
But that’s not the only danger. Iran’s navy is taking increasingly public and aggressive steps to deter U.S. military action. Iranian forces recently sank a mock American aircraft carrier. The footage was played proudly on Iranian television.
MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of that description?
ROGAN: Yes, well, look, actually, the Iranian navy appears, or a convoy has actually turned around and gone back to Iran, which reflects a calculation on the part of the Iranian government and Khamenei that he wants to avoid a conflagration with the United States, if possible, in the run-up to the nuclear deal. But what the Iranians will do is simply put their arms on planes back into Yemen, so in reality, this is what’s happening. You know, I said a few weeks ago that -- again, the reality in the Middle East at the moment is the politicization of sectarianism between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and it’s very bad because it has destabilizing impact across the region.
MCLAUGHLIN: Before the Saudi bombing campaign begun, the Iranians had increased daily flights between Sana’a and Tehran from two flights daily before the Houthi coup, to 28 flights daily. Are these weapon shipments do you think, Pat Buchanan?
BUCHANAN: No, I don’t think so, John, because, look, the Houthis got all the weapons they need. They’ve been fighting for about five to six years.
Secondly, General Saleh, the former dictator, he brought his segment of the army, which is armed with $500 million worth of good American weapons, and they gave them to the Houthis and the Houthis got tanks and planes and everything. That’s how they helped take over the country. But the Houthis have been stopped in Aden.
John, with regard to Iran, Iran doesn’t want a confrontation with the United States. The real foolish mistake here is on Saudi Arabia, starting to bomb people in order to drive them back to the land they’ve taken, and to put a puppet back on the throne.
MCLAUGHLIN: Let’s go to Eleanor -- but hold on, Eleanor, for a minute.
All sides are at pains to deny that there is a proxy war underway between Iran and Saudi Arabia over Yemen. Are those denials credible? I ask you out --
CLIFT: It’s proxy light because I don’t think either side really wants to get into a full blown confrontation. And the Saudis did bite off more than they could handle with the bombing campaign, and the answer here is, a power-sharing arrangement with the Houthis are going to have some voice in government and I think the Saudis are going to have to come around to that at some point.
To Clarence, why is the fig leaf necessary? Why doesn’t the White House explain in plain English the real mission of the USS Roosevelt?
PAGE: I think they want to stay flexible, because you have to with Yemen. You know, John, I was there about nine years ago, and I said, this place has a potential of being more important to the U.S. than --
MCLAUGHLIN: Yemen. You were in Yemen.
PAGE: -- Afghanistan.
Yes. And that will -- well, sure enough, the previous government has been deposed and the Houthis have gained ground. They were just a faction up in the north before. Now, I think -- well, the Houthis are starting to cut deals now to be able to pick up the diplomacy where the old regime left off. But the country still has the potential of being split once again into North and South Yemen.
MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of Saudi Arabia reducing it -- a lot of it to rubble? What do you think of that? Quickly.
PAGE: Well, that’s a -- it’s indicative of the kind of history that Saudi Arabia has had with Yemen.
CLIFT: What took you to Yemen? What took you to Yemen?
BUCHANAN: There are a lot of Americans right in there, in Yemen, right now. That’s also why the fleet is there.
MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions, Pat?
BUCHANAN: Hillary’s problems will draw in new Democratic candidates into the field.
CLIFT: Hillary in the hot seat now over campaign money. Jeb Bush is next.
ROGAN: Hillary Clinton is going to have to make a statement in regards to the allegations regarding Russia and the uranium.
PAGE: I’m sticking with my prediction for the last two years, that we’ll -- our choice in November will be between Clinton and Bush.
MCLAUGHLIN: British Prime Minister David Cameron will eke out a victory in his May 7th reelection bid.