CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER is a bad-mannered chickenhawk who seems excessive, preposterous, and self-parodic. And he never apologises. So claims Phillip Adams, who interviewed the syndicated US columnist on September 19 – along with The Australian's Editor at Large Paul Kelly and New York University academic Tony Judt – for Australia's Radio National.
Adams recycled that interview on Saturday for his column in the Weekend Australian. By "recycled", I mean Adams distorted it, misrepresented Krauthammer's responses, and ran without attribution quotes from Krauthammer's Washington Post columns, presenting them as though they'd been said by Krauthammer during his Adams interview.
Following are the highlights from Adams's preposterous, self-parodic column:
Let me introduce you to the wonderfully christened Charles Krauthammer. It's a name worthy of Evelyn Waugh or Dickens. And it fits its owner like a glove. An iron glove containing, yes, an iron fist. For Krauthammer simultaneously evokes notions of a master race and massive blows to the anvil.
Krauthammer wasn't christened "Krauthammer". Krauthammer is his surname. In fact, it's likely Krauthammer wasn't christened at all. Why would he be? He's Jewish.
I spoke to him in his Washington, DC, office just a few blocks from where his friends rule the roost – and the world.
Adams spoke to Krauthammer on the telephone from Sydney, just a few blocks from where his friends catch the bus – or the train.
To describe Krauthammer as an apologist for the present regime does him a disservice. For Krauthammer never apologises. He is the most hawkish of the Bush chickenhawks.
"Chickenhawks" being the slur du jour for those who support a war but aren't enlisted. Fight for your country, crippled Jewboy!
In words as percussive as shell bursts, Krauthammer said the US is dominant not only militarily, economically and politically, but culturally. As well as the hard power of the Pentagon, there is the soft power of its film and television industries, which had softened audiences around the world.
Krauthammer's stance is rather more subtle, involving issues of disparity and global governance. Here's what he actually said, transcribed from my recording of Adams's radio program:
There were very few of us in the late 80s who were saying what was clear to us, which was that the US was going to emerge from the bipolar world as uniquely powerful, and again not just militarily, but diplomatically, economically, and culturally, in ways that we have never seen in the modern world. Nothing like that disparity has ever existed. Even Britain at its peak had rivals, second, third powers who were nearly its equal. And certainly, for instance, the combined navies of the second and third always exceeded Britain. Here we're in a situation that we have never seen, and probably has not existed since Rome.
And that's why I have argued for twelve years now that we need to look at the world's international systems in a new way because we have never had this kind of structure.
As for Krauthammer's "percussive shell burst" words, well, if you've ever heard the guy speak, you might disagree. Next, Adams trashes Krauthammer's opinion on multilateralism:
Multilateralism? A nonsense. "The whole idea that the Afghan war is being fought by a coalition is comical ... the Afghan war is unilateralism dressed up as multilateralism ... a unilateralist doesn't object to people joining our fight, he only objects when the multilateralists, like Clinton in Kosovo, give 18 countries veto power over bombing targets."
Krauthammer never spoke these words during his radio interview. They've been taken from this ten-month-old column. Adams obviously couldn't paint Krauthammer as a simplistic unilateralist based on the material Krauthammer provided on air, which was as follows:
Nobody objects to coalitions. Why not have as many friends as you can with you? Nobody wants to be unilateralist in principle. The question is, if you cannot get your allies, are you ready to act alone? In the war in Afghanistan, we did not need allies in terms of the war itself. Obviously, we fought it almost unilaterally. Of course, Britain, Australia, and Canada did help, but everybody recognised that without that help the outcome would have been the same.
Seems reasonable enough. And now we return to the Adams column:
So if countries allow themselves to be dragged along by the US coat-tails, if they want to sign up for (or surrender to) America's military campaigns, they're welcome. Provided they obey orders and don't interfere.
(At this point, Krauthammer informed me that his wife is Australian, as though this would prove a comforting notion. My response was to wonder whether Mrs Krauthammer had much of a say in family matters. If it echoes the relationship between our respective nations, we should call in the marriage guidance counsellors.)
To which "point" does Adams refer? It can't be a point in the interview, because the initial comments Adams is responding to weren't made in the interview. Presumably Adams means some point between September 19 and last December, when the column from which he lifted the comments was published.
The UN? Irrelevant. The Europeans? Vacillators, nervous nellies, spent forces. "The Europeans sit and pout. What else can they do? We do not force on them military obsolescence. They chose social spending over defence spending."
Though Adams would have you believe that these remarks were provoked by his surgical interviewing skills, they are in fact taken from this column, published on March 1. No editing is indicated, although Adams has flensed Krauthammer's words of context. Here's the unedited copy, with Phil's selections highlighted:
The Europeans sit and pout. What else can they do? The ostensible complaint is American primitivism. The real problem is their irrelevance.
Being subordinate they can tolerate. Irrelevant they cannot. They may have been subordinate to the United States in the Cold War, but in that great twilight struggle, they manned the front lines, gamely fielding huge land armies against the Warsaw Pact. We provided the nuclear guarantee. They provided the boots on the ground. We were the dominant partner. But we were still partners.
No longer. And they know it. The Soviet threat is gone. Against the new threat of terrorists and terrorist states, the Europeans are sidelined. They are capable of police work, but are irrelevant to war-making.
The Afghan war, conducted without them, highlighted how America's 21st century high-tech military made their militaries as obsolete as were the battleships of the19th-century upon the launching of the Dreadnought in 1906.
This is not our fault. We did not force upon them military obsolescence. They chose social spending over defense spending – an understandable choice, perhaps even wise given that America was willing to pick up the slack. But hardly grounds for whining.
Adams had to carve aside 168 words before he'd sculpted a quote he felt was fit to publish. Back to his column:
Thus, in the future the US will make its own decisions without worrying what Europe, or anyone, thinks. The US feels entitled to ignore international rules and regulations, to conduct its affairs absolutely and utterly in its own interests.
I suggested that if the US made a habit of kicking doors down and rushing inside without wiping its feet, it would create new and unprecedented alliances against it. That a policy devoid of subtlety and careful calibration, with consensus replaced by capitulation, would antagonise even its most obliging allies. Krauthammer was unconcerned, sure that economic and strategic self-interest would force lesser nations to line up and salute the flag. Theirs.
We don't know if Krauthammer was unconcerned, because this suggestion was directed not to him but to Paul Kelly. As it was the final exchange of the broadcast, we never were able to learn of Krauthammer's concerns re the kicking down of doors and the non-wiping of feet.
If Krauthammer seemed excessive, preposterous, self-parodic, the presidential statement that followed showed a power elite in deadly earnest.
During the interview Adams never hinted at how "preposterous" and "excessive" he found Krauthammer to be. Only now, nearly a month later, safe from an on-air rebuttal (and with online access to the original Radio National interview removed, so nobody can easily review the program) does he finally reveal his inner feelings.
As with Krauthammer's machinegun delivery, Bush's speech was as memorable for its bad manners as for its message.
This is inexplicable. At no stage during his interview did Krauthammer display anything even resembling bad manners – unless Adams thinks Krauthammer's American accent is somehow offensive in and of itself. And, again, the claim of a "machinegun delivery" is puzzling. Krauthammer is a calm, moderate speaker.
Adams, however, can be accused of bad manners, once referring simply to "Krauthammer" when asking a question of another guest ("Tony, to what extent are commentators like Krauthammer and Robert Kagan right when they say that the Europeans and the Americans are from different planets?") and interrupting Krauthammer as he strove to make a point about American cultural dominance:
Charles Krauthammer: The fact that the Esperanto of our times is English, it's not the Queen's English, it's American English, it's Elvis's English, it's …
Phillip Adams: [laughing] We have noticed this, Charles. This is not entirely a revelation.
The revelation of this column is that Adams inhabits a fantasy world, where opinion columns written for millions of US readers are actually conversational gambits directed solely at himself, where he is able to transport himself to remote locations via telephone, where Jews are christened, and where questions asked of Australians in Canberra are answered by Americans in Washington. Let's see who has to apologise now.