The McLaughlin Group

Issues: Obama’s Terrorism Statements; Obama-Netanyahu Relations; Government Regulation of Business

John McLaughlin, Host
Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast
Tom Rogan, National Review/Daily Telegraph
Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report

Taped: Friday, February 20, 2015
Broadcast: Weekend of February 20-22, 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: Obama’s Seminar on Semantics.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ISIL and al-Qaeda and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders, holy warriors in defense of Islam.

That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the Islamic State and they propagate the notion that America, and the West generally, are at war with Islam. That’s how they recruit. That’s how they try to radicalize young people.

We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie, nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders, they’re terrorists.


And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): An international summit on countering violent extremism. This week at the White House’s invitation, representatives from over 60 nations attended a Washington summit called Countering Violent Extremism.

Looking at the world today, the rationale for this meeting is clear: in Iraq, Syria and now, Libya, the terrorists ISIS or ISIL is growing its empire.

Yemen is divided between al Qaeda and an Iranian-supported Houthi army. In Nigeria and Cameroon, the forces of Boko Haram are massacring thousands and destabilizing West Africa. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, various Taliban factions are gleefully murdering children. In Lebanon and Iraq, Iranian-supported Shia terrorists are blackmailing and murdering innocent Sunnis.

President Obama has faced increasing critiicsm for his reluctance to specifically identify the Islamic supremacist foundations of these terrorist groups. Mr. Obama believes that that specificity will only inflame cultural sensitivity.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Was anything said or done at this week’s summit on violent extremism that will lead directly to the military defeat of the Islamic State?

Pat Buchanan?

PAT BUCHANAN, AUTHOR & COLUMNIST: In a word, John, no. I understand what the president is doing. He sees the words "Islam" and "Islamic" as very positive, like Christian, and he doesn’t want to ascribe them to this murderous outfit.

But the truth is that ISIS, al Qaeda, Ansar al-Sharia, Boko Haram, are all Sunni terrorist groups, but they identify themselves as Islamic. They’re going to purify the Arab world. They’re going to get rid of Jews and Christians and crusaders and people who have collaborated with the West, and they’re going to recreate a basic -- just like the Christians in the 16th century, John, with Luther and Savonarola and the Thirty Years War.

And that’s what they’re about, John. And you cannot deny that they are a wing of Islam. And, frankly, their appeal to people is very dramatic.

You can read Eric Hoffer’s "The True Believer". They appeal to people who have empty souls and nothing in their lives. And it gives them a cause to believe in, a cause to die for.

And this is why people, even in the West, who are sort of lost, are going and committing themselves to this cause.


ELEANOR CLIFT, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes, but we don’t have to give them legitimacy of religion that they’re claiming. I think the president is right when he says they are terrorists. They are committing criminal acts. They are not religious leaders and martyrs. And so, the criticism he’s getting is primarily from the right, where you have a number of people trying to gain a toehold for 2016, trying to make the president look weak and they’re tough.

You cannot fight the scourge solely with military power. And the summit that took place in Washington really focused on what you might call soft power. This is a war of ideas that’s playing out in the Internet age, on social media and it was a positive thing to bring together all these people to exchange ideas and to begin, you know, fighting a very different war. If military action could solve this, it would be done.

But we should have had enough experience with Iraq and Afghanistan, and to see how the blowback that we got from an invasion of Muslim countries, to understand that American military power, unaccompanied by other Sunni nations would not work in this very contentious fight.

MCLAUGHLIN: They are hardly desperate for legitimacy. Their strength is growing, not waning. According to Fouad Hussein, chief of staff to Kurdish President Barzani, Islamic State now has over 200,000 fighting forces. Did you know that?


CLIFT: That’s not true.

ROGAN: The Kurds have a political agenda in the north and they’re being abused. I mean, Eleanor is right in some sense. There are too many on the right, quite frankly, who say, all you need to do, and they’re asked, how would you defeat ISIS? Well, we should bomb them.

I mean, that is -- that’s a stupid comment, because ultimately, yes, you have to kill them, you have to have air controllers on the ground who can direct airstrikes right on top of them. You have to have Special Forces raiding them. You have to take apart their networks, financial fundraisers across the Sunni Arab monarchies who are throwing money at them.

But at the same time, you also have to have a political strategy that addresses the rot in political Islam that has allowed too many imams to present an especially pernicious brand of Salafi extremism, which is the Sunni issue, and you have to address the Iranian side, which is, as you know in the entry sequence there, funding militias, using political black mail, the kind of things they do in Lebanon and Beirut with politicians, car bombings, threatening.

You have to be aggressive in that regard, but you also have to address those political issues. Again, the Sunni tribes, Anbar Deras (ph).

And you also have to roll the dice. I would say you have to roll the dice, that the risk the president is concerned is about that if you give these weapons, for example, anti-tank weapons, if you’re going to give them to the Sunni Arab tribe, is there a risk that ultimately that might end up in a European shopping center -- there is. But I still think you have to do that. That’s how serious the threat is, because of the spread, the metastasis around the world.

MCLAUGHLIN: That was very well-stated. I think you have the introductory chapter of a book there.

ROGAN: Potentially, let’s --


MORT ZUCKERMAN, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: Well, I think there is something here that’s going on that we have to recognize, which is a lot of children in those communities who are young, are really getting to be -- call it what you will, they’re certainly getting to be, I don’t want to use the phrase "brainwash", but they’re becoming radicals. They’re radicalized by their teen years, and then they become extremely dangerous.

It’s very difficult for us to find some entry into that world of teenage life. It’s astounding how much it spread and how violent it is, and we all look at it and wonder, where does that all come from? And the problem is, it’s only coming from that generation, or that age group, but it’s expanding at a tremendous rate.

BUCHANAN: It does come out of the faith. I mean, it is a very fundamentalist view of the faith. But, John, let me tell you militarily -- militarily, this problem could be solved. The Turks have an army of 500,000, 3,000 tanks, 1,000 planes. All they have to do is come south, they could finish off ISIS in Syria. And, frankly, if you get some -- you’re going to have to use these Shia militia and these others in Iraq, but you could finish them off militarily, I think.

But the problem is, this underlying thing is, this has an appeal to people who look at the Saudis and say, they are corrupt, all this money, they’re up on the Riviera, they got the Americans here, they got all these other -- you know, let’s purify our land, and let’s retake Mecca and Medina, and have a -- you know, a land of the prophet.

MCLAUGHLIN: OK. Republicans disagree with President Obama’s refusal to link the religion of Islam with violent extremism. Here’s one of them, 2016 president hopeful, Jeb Bush.


JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: It’s violent, extreme, Islamic terrorism. And the more we try to ignore that reality, the less likely it is that we’re going to develop the appropriate strategy to garner the support in the Muslim world to do what I said, which is tighten the noose and then take them out. And it’s important and I think people in our country, including the president, struggle with this. They have a hard time accepting what it is.

We -- I think our strategy would be more incisive if we accept it for what it is.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Would Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is also an army general, agree with Jeb Bush’s analysis of the problem?

ROGAN: Yes, I think he would. But I also think -- the and look, he is tough on counterterrorism. You see what he’s done in the response to Libya. Frankly, we should have been with the Egyptian air force there, even with just refueling. That absence is a big problem. It sends a message of absent credibility in the region.

At the same time, though, al-Sisi needs to release the political prisoners he has, because that will cause in the long term, a Salafi spring. And, you know, as Pat says, if people are angry, that’s not a good path.


CLIFT: Look, we need to keep the allies that we have and al-Sisi is one, Saudi Arabia is another. But they have to be called out on their contributions to this problem, particularly the Saudis, which put a lot of money into building mosques that, again, export the most extreme version of Islam.

And so, you know, Jeb Bush had a very rocky debut talking about foreign policy here. And tightening the noose and taking them out is hardly a thought through policy. And he made a number of other errors in the way he spoke, saying there are 200,000 ISIS fighters, when there are 20,000, confusing Iraq and Iran. He’s got a long way to go.

But the Republican primaries are probably going to just -- they’re all just going to try to out-tough each other in criticizing Obama. But they have no credible alternatives.

MCLAUGHLIN: Do you agree with Eleanor’s reading of George Bush -- I mean, Jeb Bush?

ZUCKERMAN: Jeb Bush. No, I don’t. I think he is -- he’s got to may be work on his -- I think his basic instincts are right and his analysis by and large --

MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see that performance out in Chicago?

ZUCKERMAN: I didn’t see all of it. No.

MCLAUGHLIN: I thought it was impressive.

ROGAN: Yes, I thought it was --

CLIFT: It’s gotten roundly criticized.


ROGAN: Q&A was very good.

BUCHANAN: John, let me make a point here. Look, you mentioned Iran, the Shia understand this is a Sunni fundamentalist movement and all the Shia are fighting. Hezbollah is fighting. Iran is fighting. Assad is fighting. The Shia militias are fighting. The Houthi rebels, they’re all Shia and they are fighting here.

What has happened though is the Sunnis, who are the real target, the Saudis, are not engaged to the degree the Shia are.

MCLAUGHLIN: OK. You want to say something?

ZUCKERMAN: No. I’m -- the Saudis and frankly, Egypt, are the countries that we can rely on the most to do both what they’re doing publicly and what they’re doing privately, in effect, to try and suppress those people.

CLIFT: Well, to the extent that Obama has a strategy, is to smoke out the other countries in the region, Turkey for one.

BUCHANAN: Exactly. But --

CLIFT: Egypt is another…


CLIFT: Saudi Arabia is another.

BUCHANAN: They’ve been aiding these guys. All of these guys have been aiding these characters at ISIS, and they suddenly said, oh, we got Frankenstein here.

MCLAUGHLIN: OK. Instead of an easy question, let’s take an exit poll.

How do you feel about the danger from ISIS in the aftermath of the White House summit on violent extremism? Here are your choices: (a), significantly safer, (b), about the same as before, (c), headed into the bunker because it’s clear to many that President Obama is clueless about radical Islam?

Pat Buchanan?

BUCHANAN: I don’t think the summit did a thing, John. But let me say this: ISIS is not an existential threat to the United States of America. If it’s a threat over there, it’s to the Sunni countries, and they’re going to have to man up and deal with it and provide the troops without whom there’s going to be no victory.


CLIFT: The point of the summit was to demonstrate that the Obama administration understand that this threat comes from many places and has to be fought -- in addition to the battlefield, has to be fought in the world of the Internet. And it was a positive summit because it brought a lot of people together. But, you know, it’s not a turning point. This is a long fight.

MCLAUGHLIN: This is a poll.

ROGAN: I would say B, all right? But the reason is --

MCLAUGHLIN: OK, B is somewhat safer, right?



CLIFT: Same as before.

ROGAN: No, no, no, B is the same as before. I’ve always thought the president doesn’t have a political strategy to deal with this. This double down that. I don’t -- still doesn’t -- I just want to say one thing as well.

BUCHANAN: I’ll say A.

ROGAN: The problem is --


CLIFT: I take E.


MCLAUGHLIN: About the same as before? Is that C for you?



ZUCKERMAN: I do think this does help. I mean, we’ll get some things going. You know, people are now focusing on this thing. Could they do more? Would we like them to do more? Absolutely. But I think it’s a start. So, I’m very happy that they had it.

MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is E, significantly less safe. Don’t forget, the MCLAUGHLIN GROUP has its own Web site.

CLIFT: I thought there wasn’t an E. I was going to take E.

ZUCKERMAN: We didn’t know there was an E.

CLIFT: I thought it only went through D. I’ve forgotten now.

MCLAUGHLIN: My recollection. You’ve forgotten?

CLIFT: I was going to pick E, because I didn’t think there was one. So, whatever.

MCLAUGHLIN: I can give you the name of practitioner who can help me with that.

CLIFT: Fortunately, it’s meaningless, John. Fortunately, it’s meaningless.

MCLAUGHLIN: I don’t know about that. Don’t forget. The MCLAUGHLIN GROUP has its own Web site and you can watch this program or earlier programs on the Web at anytime from anywhere in the world, and the universe, even in black holes, at, for anything, it’d be easier., or more educational for the universe.

BUCHANAN: Or more exciting.

CLIFT: Right.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Battle Over Bibi.


OBAMA: We have a practice of not meeting with leaders right before their elections, two weeks over their elections. For us to maintain these -- these protocols, because the U.S.-Israeli relationship is not about a particular party. The way to preserve that is to make sure that it doesn’t get clouded with what could be perceived as partisan politics.

Now, I don’t want to be coy, the prime minister and I have a very real difference around Iran, Iran sanctions. I have been very clear and Angela agrees with me, and David Cameron agrees with me, and the others who are a member of the negotiations agree that it does not make sense to sour the negotiations a month or two before they’re about to be completed.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Relations between the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel are very poor. President Obama is furious that Prime Minister Netanyahu has accepted Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress on March 3. Neither Speaker Boehner nor the Israeli government consulted the White House. In fact, Mr. Boehner told Israel’s ambassador to Washington that he should not tell Mr. Obama’s staff.

The disagreements between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama run deep. Where President Obama is keen to pursue a nuclear deal with Iran, with concessions on Iran’s future ability to pursue nuclear enrichment, Mr. Netanyahu believes Iran must be given a simple choice: no nuclear program or face U.S. military action.

Most Americans support President Obama over Netanyahu and Speaker Boehner. A CNN poll taken in mid-February says that by 63 percent to 33 percent, Americans believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu should not have been invited to speak without Mr. Obama’s support. But Speaker Boehner is not backing down.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: And then when it comes to the threat of Iran having a nuclear weapon, these are important messages that the Congress needs to hear and the American people need to hear. And I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu is the perfect person to deliver the message of how serious this threat is.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Who’s to blame for the crisis in U.S.-Israeli relation? Tom Rogan?

ROGAN: I think both sides are partly to blame. President Obama is to blame for the sort of petty comments that he’s made about Israel over the past few years.

MCLAUGHLIN: Like what? Like what?


ROGAN: -- absent credibility.

Complaining about how they were -- you know, making comments about Netanyahu personally. Netanyahu, for example, questioning his courage. And Netanyahu is an ex-special forces officer. To bring his courage into question is kind of not -- it was just pathetic.

On the other side, though, the Israelis have been bad, in the sense that they have respected the president. He’s the president of the United States. They’ve tried to outmaneuver him in a partisan way. This is problematic that it is so close to the Israeli election.

I also think Democrats have some blame, because this idea that Republicans bring -- Nancy Pelosi, as speaker of the House in 2007, went to Damascus and told Assad that Damascus was the road to peace. That is a gaffe.

CLIFT: OK, all right.


MCLAUGHLIN: On this special services that he has on his history, one of those --

BUCHANAN: He’s special forces, he was in their top --

ROGAN: He was Sayeret Matkal. He was this tier one --

BUCHANAN: Elite unit.


BUCHANAN: His brother died in Entebbe with --


MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, I know that.

BUCHANAN: But he was in elite unit, the same one --

MCLAUGHLIN: Are we talking --


ROGAN: Netanyahu.


BUCHANAN: No, an elite Israeli --

ROGAN: Like Delta Force, Israeli Delta Force.

BUCHANAN: But, John, here’s what’s going on here. I think Bibi sees himself as the Winston Churchill of his generation. Iran is Nazi Germany. And he’s going to lead this battle to get the sanctions, the new sanctions imposed and lead America into war.

And the point is, he has decided he’s got to go with the Republicans, the war party, the neocons and the others. And that’s where he sees his place in history and that’s where he’s moving, frankly, Israeli policy.

CLIFT: Speaker Boehner was just trying to score political points in inviting him. And, generally, when the Israeli prime minister comes, it’s this bi-partisan love fest.

It’s different this time and Netanyahu’s goals are twofold. One, he wants to undermine the emerging deal with Iran and a lot of people think that that’s not appropriate for a foreign leader. And secondly, he wants to enhance his bid for reelection. But he’s got problems at home because this has backfired.

All the commentary in Israel focuses on the controversy with the U.S. They don’t like that.

And Netanyahu has problems that echo what Bob and Maureen McDonnell had here in Virginia. A huge – they’ve diverted all kinds of state funds to their personal use, $24,000 for take out meals, even though they had a personal chief. And, I mean, just go down the list. That is what’s topping --


CLIFT: That is what’s topping the news in Israel and it’s threatening his reelection.


MCLAUGHLIN: Would you untangle that?

ZUCKERMAN: I’m not going to entangle that, if I may say. I’m going to leave that.

But I do think that Bibi Netanyahu, like any leader of the country, has to deal with the security of his country and the great threat that in fact will come out of Iran if it develops nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. And they’re very close to that, according to the Israeli intelligence and, in fact, according to other intelligence services. They’re just a matter of a couple of years away from that.

Now, that is an absolute fundamental danger to Israel. Israel has to do whatever it can. It cannot do everything, because it takes the United States and several others to tell Iran we are not going to allow you to develop nuclear weapons, OK? We’re not going to --

BUCHANAN: We’ve said that. We’ve said that.

ZUCKERMAN: But they are allowing them to, in fact.

BUCHANAN: They are not. There is no bomb program going on, according to our intelligence.

ZUCKERMAN: Right now, they’re --


ROGAN: Missile development is going on.

BUCHANAN: Well, I don’t believe there’s an intercontinental ballistic missile being developed by Iran.

CLIFT: And you can’t bomb away intellectual --

ZUCKERMAN: It does not have to be intercontinental to go from Iran to Israel.

BUCHANAN: They got those already.

ROGAN: They have to know the military option is on the table for diplomacy.

ZUCKERMAN: Exactly. And they can put nuclear weapons. They can put weapons on those --

BUCHANAN: But we are going to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon. That’s what the talks are about. It’s either talk or go to war.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Regulation Conundrum.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): The Heritage Foundation released a report this week, claiming that President Obama’s proposed climate change regulations would cost an inflation-adjusted $7,000 income per person and $2.5 trillion in lost GDP by 2030.

Last September, the National Association of Manufacturers released its own concerning report. Each year, it asserted, regulations cost the U.S. economy over $2 trillion. According to this report, economic regulations cost $1,448 billion per year. Environmental regulations cost $330 billion per year. Occupational safety and homeland security regulations cost $92 billion per year. And tax compliance cost $159 billion per year.

Here’s what one manufacturing business owner had to say.

BUSINESS OWNER: Workforce regulations, environmental regulations, tax regulations, the cost of compliance with all of these regulations is extremely burdensome, particularly for a small company like ours. Let’s go back and look at these things that were passed 15, 20, 25, 30 years ago, see if they’re still really worth keeping.

MCLAUGHLIN: It isn’t just energy and manufacturing regulations that are raising concerns. Take financial regulation, one of the most controversial of all. Today, some say, the financial regulations also need to be pared back. They point to the decline of community bank, in face of the Dodd-Frank banking regulation law.

A recent report by two Harvard academics, Marshall Lux and Robert Greene, suggests that the Dodd-Frank law may explain why small community banks are showing, quote, "declining market share in several key lending markets, decline in small business lending volume and disproportionate losses," unquote.

But don’t expect easy changes to a law many Democrats say few changes are necessary.

His liberal favorite, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, speaking earlier this month.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The good news is that Dodd-Frank does reflect that basic principle. It exempts community banks and credit unions from many of its rules. And for the others, it almost always gives regulators the discretion to tailor their approach based on the size and business model of the institution.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is the Obama administration miring America in red tape?

Mort Zuckerman?

ZUCKERMAN: It’s not just the Obama administration. This has been building up over a lot of years. But it’s certainly added to it.

And what you have, on a ratio of a cost per employee, if you’re talking about medium-size businesses where you have 50 employees, it’s costing $29,000, $30,000, of one kind of regulation that cost or tax. That’s a lot of money to impose on people who wanted to hire people, OK? And frankly, that’s the reason, or one of the reasons why our hiring has been so low.

CLIFT: Right. This is such an old sore on the part of Republicans. They’ve always have this anti-regulatory agenda.

Look at the good things that regulations have brought. They’ve cleaned our air and our water. They made places safe. They’ve allowed people with disabilities to find jobs. Lots of positive things.

And what’s going on now is you have a Republican-controlled Congress and they are trying to tee up all of these anti-regulations in order to -- in the hopes that they’re going to get the White House in 2016. Then it’s Katy bar the door.

BUCHANAN: You know, John, look, let’s take the air and water then. I mean, I remember, Potomac River was polluted. The air was polluted. Buses as you get behind them are -- that has all been cleaned up.

And what that gentleman you had on there, John, said, look, some of the things were needed. They were done. They were outstanding. But when they do ever sunset them and end them? Somebody ought to go all the way through that code and say, this was done. This was done. This is no longer needed -- and clean it out.

CLIFT: And say, start polluting again?



ROGAN: That’s --


ZUCKERMAN: That’s ridiculous.

ROGAN: That’s a ridiculous example.

CLIFT: If you don’t have the sheriff on the beat, the problem will start up.


CLIFT: And there are new problems.

ROGAN: Look at Dodd-Frank, thousands of pages, regulations, right? It basically says, it requires compliance with lawyers.

Listen to the businessman. Don’t talk to us. You talk to businesspeople. I worked at a restaurant recently as a waiter, for a long time. You see the business pressures on local owners there to have a marginal cost of one more employee with Obamacare.

Now, you have to debate, fine. But the idea that somehow this is just about, you know, pollution is not true. Dodd-Frank, look at the community --


CLIFT: Dodd-Frank, yes.

ROGAN: Someone with less savings, the fees that banks are putting on to me. It is not the simplistic thing, that it’s the ally of the working person.

CLIFT: The big banks.

MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. Where was the restaurant? Was it here or was it in the U.K.?

ROGAN: Arlington, Virginia.

MCLAUGHLIN: Prediction, Pat?

BUCHANAN: When Netanyahu shows up, he will be follow and openly embraced by the Republican Party, which is going to make a real effort to pull the Jewish vote to Republicans in 2016.


CLIFT: The federal judge in Texas that ruled a stay on President Obama’s executive order on immigration will be overturned by the Fifth Circuit. His ruling was very narrowly-based.

MCLAUGHLIN: Tom? Be short.

ROGAN: In the coming months, the U.S. Navy will increase its carrier in presence in the Fifth Fleet, which is the area approximate to Iran, in order to try to push diplomacy -- push Iran to a deal.


ZUCKERMAN: The economy is going to remain weak, particularly in terms of employment, except at the very lower end of the employment numbers. And we’re going to have a very, very slow recovery to a full economy.

MCLAUGHLIN: I predict the Supreme Court majority will rule that the Affordable Care Act, aka, Obamacare, subsidies are illegal and that the Obama administration overreached by unilaterally rewriting the law.