Hugh Hewitt Hackery

An empty column with a seed of one good point buried in a bunch of nothing.

Hugh Hewitt has a column in WaPo that attempts to weave together Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Ukraine call, and the Bidens (with guest appearance by the Steele Dossier and Carter Page). It is entitled, evocatively enough, Iran, Burisma and Hunter Biden: The Democrats’ terrible decision to go all in on impeachment. In fairness, the title is the fault of WaPo editors, not Hewitt himself, save that the column is all over the place.

He starts off with off with Iran:

When Britain, Germany and France issued a joint statement blaming Iran for the attack on the Saudi Arabian oil refinery this week, it represented a major shift in the world’s approach to the rogue regime in Tehran. While paying lip service to the dead Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (JCPOA) — the “Iran nuclear deal” — our European allies demanded of Iran that the mullahs engage in broad, long-range negotiations. That’s thinly veiled code that requires Iran to abandon its ballistic-missile program, the export of terrorism, and all nuclear weapons research and uranium enrichment.

This collective turn toward the American approach to Iran — toward realism and away from appeasement — was a significant win for the United States. Iran’s act of war obliged even the reluctant Europeans to openly underscore the nature of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s rule.

This breakthrough was obscured by release of the rough transcript of the call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Let me start by acknowledging an important point he is making here: the attack on Saudi Arabia is a big deal and yes, the news of Trump’s Ukraine call and the circus that surrounds it has drowned it out. I will confess to having missed the fact that three key US allies directly blamed Iran for the attack. Yes, the scandal in the US is going to suck the air out of the room for a lot of important world events and will distract both the US government and US citizens from those events.

However:

  1. That there are other things going on the world does not, and should not, give Trump a pass on what are very serious allegations of abuse of office (allegations that already have significance evidence to back them up).
  2. POTUS is responsible for foreign policy. What has he done except rant a bit about the situation?
  3. Along those lines: if the US was showing leadership on this topic, we would have been involved in the joint statement with the key allies listed above.
  4. The wisdom of the current occupant of the White House to withdraw from the JCPOA has isolate the US from this process and has set out allies apart from us on this topic. This is not the fault of the whistleblower or Pelosi.
  5. Hewitt takes a substantial amount of license (that is a kind way of putting it) in calling this some shift in European policy toward Trump’s position.

To point #5, the following is from the article that Hewitt’s piece links to:

The leaders of the United Kingdom, France and Germany released a statement reaffirming their support for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the U.S. exited, but telling Iran to stop breaching it and saying “there is no other plausible explanation” than that “Iran bears responsibility for this attack.”

They pledged to try to ease tensions in the Middle East and urged Iran to “refrain from choosing provocation and escalation.”

[…]

France has been trying to find a diplomatic solution to U.S.-Iranian tensions, which soared after the Saudi attacks, and has carefully avoided assigning blame.

Earlier on his way to New York, French President Emmanuel Macron said he remained “cautious” about attributing responsibility for the attacks. There was no immediate explanation of why he later shifted positions and blamed Iran.

Macron said at a U.N. news conference not long before the statement was issued that he planned to meet separately with both Trump and Rouhani over the next day and would work to foster “the conditions for discussion” and not escalation.

This hardly sounds like some massive shift. The article also notes the following quote from the statement:

“The time has come for Iran to accept negotiation on a long-term framework for its nuclear program as well as on issues related to regional security, including its missiles program and other means of delivery,” the three countries said.

Yes, quite the breakthrough, indeed.

Hewitt continues:

So a matter of enormous and long-term international consequence — an act of war by Iran and the reforming of a coalition to oppose its aggressions — was obscured, if not wholly obliterated in the public’s mind, by an absurd coda to the special counsel’s investigation that consumed two years of nightly cable news. 

I would ask: what has Trump, the head of our foreign policy, had to say about Iran? Pompeo? Anyone in the administration? What’s our plan? Where were we on this before anyone had heard of the Zelensky call?

Later in the piece he states the following (emphasis mine):

 That upset had profound effects on the left. It shattered their certainty that their “side of history” would triumph, just as Iran’s refusal to act as a normal nation ought to have shattered their confidence in the genius of the JCPOA. 

It takes some very serious gall to pretend like the current moment proves anything about the JCPOA since Trump withdrew the US from the agreement over a year ago. To pretend like the current moment is to be blamed on an agreement that is no longer in force (at least as it pertains to its most important participant, outside of Iran) is some serious pretzel logic.

The Biden part of the column is, well, lacking. It doesn’t actually say anything. It as if the only thing Hewitt can do is mention Biden’s name and then engage in a little innuendo. If there is an accusation to be made, make it. If there is evidence for accusation, provide it.

The first mention of Biden (apart from the headline) is over halfway through the column:

If House Democrats ever dare pass an article of impeachment, it will quickly be dispatched by the Senate, though Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) may well use the Senate trial to extract a huge price from Democrats in the form of extended inquiry via witnesses and cross-examination of everything connected to Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine, dealings only hinted at in this summer’s New Yorker profile.

Basically this a threat that if impeachment goes forward, Biden will be a point of attack (which I think we all knew). But beyond that is a link and the suggestion that the link may provide a taste of a problem.

If there is a problem, how about spelling it out?

Biden then appears in the next three paragraphs.

First, the name occurs in an aside about Carter Page, which is more a dig about the FISA warrant issue on Page than it is any particular argument about Hunter Biden:

(Indeed, if the standard used by the Obama-Biden-era FBI and Justice Department to secure a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant against Carter Page were applied, Hunter Biden would have been under surveillance from 2014 on, and all of his vulnerabilities to compromise closely monitored by the FBI.)

Next, it emerges in a dig at Elizabeth Warren and then a suggestion that a lot of research is about to done on Hunter Biden:

So sudden was the pivot to all things Ukraine that Democrats such as presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) scrambled to articulate conflict-of-interest policies that would prevent another Hunter Biden scenario down the road. Piecing together a chronology of Biden the Younger’s dealings and his many other woes relative to his father’s travels, actions and pronouncements, plus reactions to that chronology when understood from all Democratic candidates and, of course, the president’s Twitter feed, will take weeks.

He starts the next paragraph thusly:

But “the Bidens and Burisma” represent only the first wave of over-the-top frontal assaults. 

This is just an excuse to type “Bidens and Burisma”–it is otherwise nothing.

Towards the end of the column, the Bidens return:

And a deep dive into Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma, and its well-connected board member named Biden, is imminent. 

A shocking and insightful observation!

For a column that has “Burisma and Hunter Biden” in the title, it says essentially nothing about Biden or Burisma. Yes, those words appear in the column, but there is no argument and no evidence. Rather, there is just the suggestion that something might be wrong and that, boy, a lot of digging is coming!

Look, if there is something there, I hope it is found. But it would be nice if one is going to assert that something is wrong that there be some kind of suggestion of what that something might be.

Side note on one of Hewitt’s parenthetical statements:

(There is one good thing embedded in the Democrats’ frenzy: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (Calif.) strategy of a “narrow impeachment inquiry” contains an implicit but very definite concession of “No collusion. No obstruction.” Turns out Democrats are admitting the Mueller inquiry of two years came up empty.)

Deciding to pursue a narrow impeachment is not an admission of anything about the Mueller report. It is an acknowledgment that some charges are easier to pursue than others (something ever prosecutor knows, as does Hewitt, a trained attorney). Also, as a defender of the president, does he really want to bring up collusion this week of all weeks?

Another side note on the Steele dossier:

A Justice Department inspector general report into surveillance of American citizens based on the Steele dossier is coming.

It is an article of faith that there is some massive scandal coming down the pike about the Steele dossier. As is my standing view on all these things: if there is real evidence of wrongdoing, I want to see it no matter the political fallout. But I also hope that this is a fair presentation from DOJ.

This column has the hint of real issue: the degree to which the United States is inadequately engaged in major world events. But, the root of that problem is not the Ukraine scandal, it is the fact that the current President of United States does not understand his job nor the world around him. If Hewitt wants seriousness in the White House about foreign policy, he should turn his attention to getting a serious person elected to the presidency, not writing empty words about Hunter Biden.

Also, columns like this undercut the notion that newspapers like WaPo are just liberal shills. I will add to that I am disappointed that this is the best that Hewitt or others who share his views can do. The Biden part of the column lacks any substance whatsoever.

The Iran part of the column, though stronger than the Biden part, is quite weak. His assertions about the joint statement are simply unsupported by the evidence (there has been no significant shift in the European approach to Iran–certainly not some “breakthrough” wherein they are now cleaving to the Trumpian position).

The JCPOA criticism is just nonsense–not because the JCPOA is above criticism, but because Hewitt’s critiques are non-substantive. For one thing, the purpose of the JCPOA was to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, not to stop them from other military actions in the Middle East. Indeed, the degree to which the JCPOA could have been used in such a fashion would have been fear that Iranian actions could lead the US to withdraw from the agreement and reinstall sanctions. Since we have already done that, Iran isn’t going to be constrained by that possibility.

Further, Iran’s actions in Yemen and Saudi Arabia are being incentivized by the Trump administration. Trump has been helping the Saudis in Yemen and, indeed, has shown a willingness to let them expand their influence in the region. Iran is threatened by this and seeing the US has no interest in constraining the Saudis, indeed quite the opposite, see the need to assert a counter to Saudis actions. This is not a defense of Iran, but rather a simple and straightforward analysis of state behavior. Indeed, if Hewitt knew what “realism” in international relations actually meant, he would readily understand Iran’s behavior.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Impeachment, Iran, JCPOA, National Security, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Hewitt’s performance on Meet the Press today was just as bad

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  2. @Doug Mataconis: Not surprising.

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  3. Jay L Gischer says:

    Every day now, I see ads on Y0uTube trying to convince me that the truth is being censored by mainstream media. I shut them off as fast as I can, but they still keep coming. They are all in on the Big Lie, and it just keeps getting bigger.

    I just don’t know how far or deep this will go. They are betting that they can blast their lie louder and farther and better than anyone else. There is apparently some pretty big money behind it too.

    I don’t know enough to know whether Hewitt is a victim or a perpetrator, I’ve never paid much attention to him. You guys seem to take him somewhat seriously, though. So that means victim is much more likely.

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  4. DrDaveT says:

    POTUS is responsible for foreign policy. What has he done except rant a bit about the situation?

    We don’t know; that recording is one of the buried ones, and no transcript was ever made.

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  5. Scott F. says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Hewitt is always this bad of a hack, yet he keeps getting booked on the Sunday shows nevertheless.
    @Jay L Gischer:
    Hewitt is a perpetrator.

    It’s almost as if there’s a profit to be made by keeping a large portion of the country misinformed.

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  6. Gustopher says:

    It is entitled, evocatively enough, “Iran, Burisma and Hunter Biden: The Democrats’ terrible decision to go all in on impeachment.” In fairness, the title is the fault of WaPo editors, not Hewitt himself, save that the column is all over the place.

    In fairness, it has to be next to impossible to come up with a title for this ramble disconnected from reality. Try to come up with a better title.

    – “Hugh Hewitt’s Whataboutism Grab Bag”
    – “A Children’s Treasury Of Poor Arguments, Poorly Made.”
    – “The Unbeatable Lightness Of Logic”
    – “Fear And Loathing In Hugh Hewitt”
    – “Clinton’s Missing Emails Missing From This Column”

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  7. Raoul says:

    I wished that when all these pontificators pontificate they would state their position on whether the president can ask foreign leaders for political dirt on their opponent. I am actually starting to think that they think it is ok.

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  8. Jax says:

    @Raoul: They DO think it’s ok….if it’s their guy that does it. They’d be howling at the moon if a Democratic president did it.

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  9. Paul L. says:

    The unhinged ignorant raving of “Your a bigoted sexist homophobic/transphobic Nazi and Rape apologist!1!” @Gustopher:
    “Hugh Hewitt’s Whataboutism Grab Bag”
    WhatAboutism: renaming “rooting out hypocrisy and naked partisanship” to deflect criticism for applying standards to your opponents that you would never hold your allies to.

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  10. Teve says:

    The last time Hugh Hewitt was in the news it was for apologizing for saying “Joe Biden has actually gone through the time machine and transgendered into Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.” on his loony radio show.

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  11. DrDaveT says:

    @Paul L.:

    applying standards to your opponents that you would never hold your allies to

    You think Al Franken is a still a senator, don’t you.

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  12. Gustopher says:

    @Paul L.:

    The unhinged ignorant raving of “Your a bigoted sexist homophobic/transphobic Nazi and Rape apologist!1!”

    I’ve never called you an apologist.

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  13. Gustopher says:

    @Teve: Joe Biden wishes he could look that good.

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  14. Teve says:
  15. HankP says:

    Steven, just FYI this is the actual statement by Macron Merkel and Johnson:

    “It is clear to us that Iran bears responsibility for this attack,” the leaders said. “There is no other plausible explanation. We support ongoing investigations to establish further details.”

    Notice that there’s no evidence here, and in fact they want ongoing investigations. “There is no other plausible explanation” seems pretty weak to me. If they had evidence they’d present it.

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  16. gVOR08 says:

    @Paul L.:

    applying standards to your opponents that you would never hold your allies to.

    How many times in the above, referencing Biden issues or the Steele Dossier or whatever did Dr, Taylor say that “if there is real evidence of wrongdoing”, he wants to see it? Reading comprehension, how does that work?

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  17. gVOR08 says:

    Thank you for reading Hewitt’s column so I don’t have to. I thought about reading it this morning, but it would have only been to point and laugh, and I didn’t really have the time.

    I can understand that WAPO, and NYT, feel an obligation to present all points of view, but if they can’t find competent conservative columnists perhaps they should just say so.

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  18. michael reynolds says:

    Guys. Guys! @Paul L.: seems a little stressed. It may be glossolalia, maybe the Holy Ghost haas entered him and is speaking through Paul using an unknown language – with certain superficial similarities to English – nevertheless, unknown.

    But if it’s not glossolalia (and I claim first use of that word at OTB), it may be a stroke. Difficult to diagnose given the hard-to-discern difference between ‘normal Paul’ and ‘Holy Ghost-ridden and/or possibly stroked out Paul.’

    Either way I think we can agree that mocking him is wrong. But fun. So. . . You know. Do what you want. Your honor, I withdraw my objection.

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  19. @Gustopher: A fair point.

    I would choose “Hugh Hewitt’s Whataboutism Grab Bag”

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  20. @Paul L.: An honest question: what is the purpose of your injections?

    What are you trying to accomplish? What do you want to accomplish?

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  21. @gVOR08:

    Thank you for reading Hewitt’s column so I don’t have to.

    I almost didn’t. I am honestly trying to see if anyone has any actual arguments or evidence about the Bidens. So far, not much at all aside from vague suggestions and innuendo.

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  22. @michael reynolds:

    I claim first use of that word at OTB

    Points!

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  23. Teve says:
  24. Teve says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Either way I think we can agree that mocking him is wrong.

    Poor guy does seem to be in a heckuva state. 🙁

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  25. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I still think that Joe Biden should have avoided even the appearance of impropriety, and stepped away from Ukraine (or told his son not to take that job).

    I don’t see actual problems given the timeline, but the appearance of impropriety is almost as damaging as actual impropriety. It has the same corrosive effect on norms. It’s why Loretta Lynch had to step away from the Clinton email probe, and why that was the right and necessary decision.

    It’s not disqualifying from further political office, but it’s not good either. In a just world, he would get a stiff slap on the wrist, and future instances of similar behavior would get a stronger response.

    Compared to Trump not refunding the money of the Ukraine government when their President told Trump he had people stay there… it’s nothing. But, it’s not good.

    And better than the less problematic impeachable offenses on that phone call is too low a standard.

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  26. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Either way I think we can agree that mocking him is wrong. But fun.

    If we didn’t mock him, he would think we were ignoring him. The mocking is a kindness.

    (Hey, I tried explaining to him why superfluous Soros references suggested antisemitism, but he didn’t want to listen — i think I’ve earned the opportunity to mock him)

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  27. @Gustopher:

    but the appearance of impropriety is almost as damaging as actual impropriety.

    It clearly is damaging, and as I noted on James’ post on this topic, I am not a fan of Hunter getting a massively well-paying job because of his last name.

    But, all I can see the critics doing is pointing out innuendo and nothing more.

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  28. Jax says:

    I think somebody around here, waaaaaaay back when it was still under discussion on who would jump into the Democratic pool, mentioned in a hypothetical sense that Joe Biden would end up taking the flak from Trump, and somebody else would end up being the nominee. I honestly don’t remember who it was, but I’d say that “hypothetical” is more likely to come to pass, right now.

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  29. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: The appearance of impropriety is more than an innuendo. But, perhaps the people pointing that out don’t quality as “critics” in this sense.

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  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: How about, as a tribute to AC/DC,

    Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap (and badly)?

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  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: The correct term is “Holy Ghost filled,” but I’m not aware of Jack Daniels being a form the Holy Ghost appears in.

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  32. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “as I noted on James’ post on this topic, I am not a fan of Hunter getting a massively well-paying job because of his last name.”

    This is not aimed at you, but at so many others in the world who are shocked that Hunter Biden got this position — while we can all agree that it is a problem in our society that the rich and connected get richer and more connected, why is it only a scandal now that it’s about Hunter Biden? Why has it not been a scandal for all the others getting identical deals for identical reasons?

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  33. @Gustopher:

    The appearance of impropriety is more than an innuendo.

    But isn’t the basis of the appearance of impropriety in this case based on innuendo?

    The suggestion is that a job on a foreign board of directors at a high rate of pay must be problematic is the basis of the appearance in question, yes?

    At some point if one cannot move off of asserting the appearance of impropriety to actual evidence of impropriety it means that the appearance was misinterpreted, yes?

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  34. @wr: There is a substantial amount of shock over gambling in Casablanca going on here. Not to mention it is really hard to take Trump defenders overly seriously when they find it a huge problem for children to be banking off their parent’s name.

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  35. @Teve: Indeed.

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  36. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “Not to mention it is really hard to take Trump defenders overly seriously when they find it a huge problem for children to be banking off their parent’s name.”

    But that, all his defenders insist when this is brought up, is entirely different.

    Why it’s entirely different is something they tend to have trouble with…

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  37. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “What are you trying to accomplish? What do you want to accomplish?”

    Isn’t this really the fundamental question about all the trolls here? The only answer I’ve ever been able to come up with is “to annoy people,” but are these guys so empty and void of purpose that this is what brings them pleasure or meaning?

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  38. DrDaveT says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I’m not aware of Jack Daniels being a form the Holy Ghost appears in.

    The angels don’t share their share?

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  39. Teve says:

    @wr: some people are maybe just lonely and need attention, and negative attention is still attention.

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