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