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Republican Convention: Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer
Columnist
Tuesday, August 31, 2004; 2:00 PM

The 2004 Republican National Convention kicks off on Monday with speeches from New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, and Sen. John S. McCain (R-Ariz.).

Columnist Charles Krauthammer took your questions on politics, the 2004 election and the Republican National Convention. Tuesday, Aug. 31 at 2 p.m. ET.


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The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Portland, Ore.: Mr. Krauthammer:

Why is there no role for former President Bush at this year's GOP convention? Is it because former President Bush, in his memoirs, states that he did not invade Iraq in 1991 because he felt he could not win the peace? Is this more of the current President Bush trying to secure a separate identity from his father? The Democrats trotted out their two former living presidents, but not the GOP. Why?

Charles Krauthammer: President Bush senior was featured four years ago when George W. was being introduced to the country and was relatively unknown. When you have a non-incumbent running you want to emphasize the party's history of distinguished living presidents. Now that W. has been president for a full term, that history is already well known and there is no need to discuss pedigree, either biological or political.

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Arlington, Va.: What does President Bush have to do to convince those who question his stewardship of the war in Iraq that he has made the right decision and can bring this conflict to a peaceful resolution?

Charles Krauthammer: John McCain addressed the issue directly. People assume that in Iraq the choice was between war and some illusory pre-war stability. There was no stability. There was no equilibrium. Our planes were being shot, Iraqis were starving under sanctions, and we had a huge garrison in Saudi Arabia (to protect against Saddam) that was an enormous offense to many Muslims because Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the holiest Islamic places. Even worse, the sanctions were sure to collapse giving us the ultimate nightmare, a re-legitimized Bathist regime led by Saddam (and ultimately his sons) rearming and renewing its association with terrorists. Those were the choices. Given that, disposing the regime was absolutely the right decision.

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Alexandria, Va.: Your comments, please, on two of the President's recent statements: that "we cannot win the war on terror," and that Iraq has been a "catastrophic success."

Charles Krauthammer: You sure know how to ask tough questions. Catastrophic success is a silly way of saying that we got to Baghdad in three weeks, a success no one had expected, and even more amazing was the fact that there was no Battle of Baghdad. Which everyone expected. That was the success. The underside of that success was that it allowed the Baathists to slip away to their hinterland (the Sunni Triangle) and carry on the war later.

As for the other statement, it is more than silly it is confused. I think I know what the president was trying to say, which is that ultimately terrorism disappears when you have changed the culture of the Middle East. It does not come instantly with military victories. The victories contribute to the change of that culture - a democratizing Iraq would have a revolutionary effect on the entire region - but you don't win the war with a signing on the Battleship Missouri. This is a good president, however sometimes he is at war not just with terrorism, but with the English language.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Mr. Krauthammer,

I've noticed that many of the high profile speakers for the convention are GOP moderates, who after reading the platform, seem to play, at best, a limited role in the party. It seems somewhat disingenuous to portray these people as the mainstream GOP when they are to the left of most in the party. What would be the harm in letting someone like Tom Delay have a prime-time berth?

Charles Krauthammer: Conventions, having totally outlived their usefulness as deliberative bodies, are now television shows. Hard to call them reality shows, because the purpose is to present an image that appeals to the broad center. Inevitably, therefore, conventions become masquerades. Democrats turn theirs into an American Legion convention. Republicans turn theirs into festivals of moderation. Take it with a grain of salt, and a beer, and enjoy. And don't take it too seriously.

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Washington, D.C.: Prior to 9/11 you wrote a column on the Bush Doctrine, which state that the hallmark of Bush foreign policy was unilateralism. With recent moves toward involving the U.N. to a greater extent in Iraq and working with the Iranian nuclear program, do you still believe that unilateralism will be this administration's major hallmark.

Charles Krauthammer: Absolutely, the war in Afghanistan was fought almost alone. The war in Iraq as well. We are the only ones capable of deposing regimes like the Taliban or Saddam's regime. Therefore either we do it largely by ourselves, or it doesn't get done at all. Of course you try to get U.N. support and allies to help. No one is against that. No unilateralist turns his back on assistance. The only serious question is, when you cannot get assistance or approval do you then abandon the policy. Unilateralists like Bush answer no. Multilateralists like Kerry (if one can discern his true leanings from his various statements) would answer yes.

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Wheaton, Md.: Mr. Krauthammer, in your view, are those who dissent from the views of the President honorable, loyal Americans? Always? Sometimes? Never?

Charles Krauthammer: Among those who dissent from the president's views are citizens of all kinds. Some, like Michael Moore, are dishonorable because they deliberately distort the truth in pursuit of propaganda. Others who dissent - and in that category I would include the overwhelming majority of those that dissent, beginning with John Kerry - are entirely honorable. One does not acquire one or the other characteristic simply because one dissents.

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Montclair, N.J.: Thank you for coming on here, Charles.

My question is about Rudy Giuliani's speech last night and, in particular, the line in the speech poking fun at "John Edwards' Two Americas." I thought the quip was dismissive of one of the greatest problems in America today. There are plenty of serious economic issues that President Bush is side-stepping, but to have a surrogate stand on stage at the Republican Convention and act as if the Democratic running mate has created some illusion that there are two hugely different economic classes really concerns me. I think this 'Two Americas' concept is not only a catchy line, but is a real problem that President Bush has not begun to solve and one that he now seems content to deride.

Did you see what I saw and have some kind of reaction?

Charles Krauthammer: There always has been and always will be class divisions in any society. What is ironic about Edwards' schtick is that America is probably less class-ridden than most advanced democracies. Yes there is a large disparity in wealth. But America more than any other country has a mobility and a fluidity that is nearly unknown in most of the world. It is because people are not stuck for life or for generations at any one point on the socio-economic ladder that people from all over the world clamor to get in here and to start on their way up. Which is why I think Edwards' characterization is a rhetorical device and little more. Giuliani's take off on it was clever and simply meant to be taken as a ju-jitsu maneuver on Edwards' little bit of demagoguery. It was a good chuckle. My advice is to take it as such.

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Washington, D.C.: Much attention has been payed to some of the more centrist Republicans that have been showing up at the convention (McCain et al.) Does their participation stem from true support of Bush, or a more pragmatic attempt to stay within the scope of their party's attention, while possibly gearing up for the four years ensuing convention?

Charles Krauthammer: Very astute. Madison Square Garden is full of subtexts this week. Yes, they all want Bush to win. It is always nice having your guy in the White House. But what makes 2004 unique, is that presidents elected to their final term invariably choose a Vice President as the anointed heir apparent. Not this time. Cheney's job is to be deputy president right now and he himself, I believe, has expressed no interest in running for the presidency after the Bush presidency is completed. Which means that win or lose, the successor to Bush as Republican leader and presidential candidate in the next cycle is entirely open. Which in turn is why everybody, especially the moderates, are preening for the cameras. If Arnold wows the hall tonight you can be sure there will be a movement to repeal the constitutional bar to Austrians inhabiting the White House. Think of the convention as American Idol for Republican politicians.

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Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: Two buses exploded in Israel today killing 11, so reports The Washington Post. Isn't it high time for George Bush to drag out his long neglected "Roadmap to Peace" and update it? Perhaps during his speech on Thursday night?

Seems like Israel and Palestine have gotten the short shrift ever since the hunt for Osama and his constipated Islamic unhappiness group took the nation to Baghdad. Perhaps it's time to drop the democracy in our time nonsense and just try to win some stable peace in the region.

I'm sure the folks in both Jerusalems would appreciate it.

Thanks much. Vietnam Era Draftee

Charles Krauthammer: Unfortunately there is no one to talk to on the Palestinian side. Vassar Arafat remains in the saddle, and everyone, and I mean everyone - including even the U.N. envoy to the region and almost all the Europeans - have finally come to the realization that he has no interest in concluding a real peace with Israel. As soon as a new leadership arises that want to negotiate, you can be assured that Israel will be reengaged in negotiations. Until then, Israel has to protect itself. And it has done so with remarkable success by building the fence. Today's attack is the first major attack in almost half a year and it happened precisely where the fence has not yet been built.

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Charles Krauthammer: Enjoyed the chat. Terrific questions. See you all next time.

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