The McLaughlin Group

Issues: Afghanistan Troop Level; China and AIIB; US-Israel Relations; Ted Cruz Candidacy

John McLaughlin, Host
Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast
Paul Glastris, Washington Monthly
Tom Rogan, National Review/Daily Telegraph

Taped: Friday, March 27, 2015
Broadcast: Weekend of March 27-29, 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: Afghanistan. Should We Stay Or Should We Go?


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was my assessment as commander-in-chief that it made sense for us to provide a few extra months for us to be able to help upon things like logistics, making sure that equipment is not just in place, but it’s also used properly, that the training and advising and strategic input that’s been provided continues through this fighting season.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, President Obama announced that 10,000 U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan at least until the end of 2015. President Obama had previously planned to retain half that number of troops. Commander-in-Chief Obama is anxious to avoid a precipitous U.S. withdrawal.

Afghani President Ghani thanked America for its previous sacrifices. He spoke of a young American girl, Reese, whose father is serving in Afghanistan.

ASHRAF GHANI, AFGHAN PRESIDENT: I’d like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to those common sacrifices, and simultaneously take the opportunity to pay tribute to the 2,215 American servicemen and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice, more than 22,000 American soldiers who’ve been wounded in action, civilians, numerous contractors and others. You stood shoulder to shoulder with us, and I’d like to say thank you.

I would also like to thank the American taxpayer for his and her hard-earned dollars that have enabled us. Yesterday in Pentagon, I saw a young girl. Her name is Reese. And her father came out of retirement, out of reserve, to serve again in Afghanistan. She’s sending a care package every week to her father, and I want to thank her and the fathers of all other American children for making sure that their parents are helping us and standing next to us.

Reese, I promised, now has 3 million Afghan sisters in school. And those sisters are dreaming of achievements that whatever career path, and hopefully one day we'll see an Afghan woman president.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is President Obama right to delay his previous withdrawal timetable?

Pat Buchanan?

PAT BUCHANAN, AUTHOR & COLUMNIST: Yes. Incidentally, that statement by that president was as gracious as we’ve gotten from any ally in a long time. And it’s certainly welcomed.

But let me why President Obama was doing that. He’s very wary, as we ought to be, John, that when the Americans pull out, we could get another situation like Iraq, say in 2006 where this thing really tumbles down and really collapses totally and you have a real disaster on our hands, after 100,000 Americans who fought there and all those Americans have died. I think the president wants to give him as much time as he can, partly for his own reasons. He doesn’t want this going down on his watch. But I’ll tell you, there’s something inevitable coming when we pull out and I do not know a lot of people who are terribly optimistic about what’s going to happen in that country when the Americans go home for good.


ELEANOR CLIFT, THE DAILY BEAST: I think the level of trust between President Obama and President Ghani is significant. Unlike his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, he visited Arlington, he expressed his appreciation for American help repeatedly, and he’s made the case that they need American troops at this current level, which is still so much lower than what it was. We’re talking about 10,000 troops and they are not in an act of combat situation. I think the president pointed out, we’re going something like 90 days without a combat casualty.

So, I think it’s a calculated risk, you leave the troops there, that you’re going to get more return and you’re not going to suffer the kind of catastrophic losses that we’ve seen in the past. I think it’s the right decision, and I think finally, you know, the U.S. has a partner in this president -- and his wife, I would point out, is actively championing women’s rights, which is a huge issue in Afghanistan. They have a lot of work to do on that.

MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that President Obama is kicking himself, so to speak, for his premature troop withdrawal from Iraq, a failure of foresight that left open the vacuum ISIS is now filling, and therefore what is happening in Pakistan and in Afghanistan now is very pleasing to him.

PAUL GLASTRIS, WASHINGTON MONTHLY: I think that he must have mixed thoughts about Iraq --had our troops been in Iraq and ISIS flooded in, our troops would be the front line right now. He didn't want that.

But I don't think we would have had Ashraf Ghani as prime minister had Barack Obama not played hardball with Hamid Karzai and said, you're not going to give us what we need to help you were pulling troops down. You do not have leverage with an ally by giving the ally unconditional support, which is what Republicans have been arguing from day one that we should give the Afghanis -- the Afghan government our troops in perpetuity and that's not how -- that's not how super powers work.

TOM ROGAN, NATIONAL REVIEW/DAILY TELEGRAPH: Well, I would disagree with that. I think one of the big issues with the Iraq is that the troops withdrawing their in 2011 was that you lose the political power, you lose the interlocutor relationships. So, the Iraqi government has now just gone completely into the Iranian orbit with power, we loss that.

But in Afghanistan, yes, the president, President Obama has made absolutely the right decision. Keeping this limited number forces for intelligence enablers, logistics, in flying missions, support, training the Afghans. That’s critically important.

And the Afghan National Army is taking a lot of casualties but they are holding ground. It is not going to be some Jeffersonian democracy. I think in the best case scenario, you can have control along the arterial highways and major cities, and hopefully with time, development, education, women's right.


ROGAN: But it's not going to be sublime.

BUCHANAN: With due respect of women’s rights.

MCLAUGHLIN: What was wrong with Jeffersonian democracy?

ROGAN: It -- brilliance, beautiful, but it's not -- I’m saying, we should not expect it in Afghanistan. And that's where, you know, the kind of repudiation, I suppose, of the neoconservative view that it's going to be perfection.


BUCHANAN: Enlightenment Englishmen produced it, John, but don't have those right now in Afghanistan.

But this is a -- you know, I really do believe this is a real potential – you talk about women's rights and look at work what's happening to the people over there who convert away from Islam. And I think, John, the American Empire is coming home. There's no doubt about it the 100,000 to 150,000 Iraq is over, 100,000 in Afghanistan is over.

I don't think we're going to put an army back in Yemen. I don't think we're going to send an army into Syria or Libya. And none of the European allies are going to do it. The truth is, all these places are going to have to resolve their own crises in terrible situations and history themselves.

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. You mean the carnival is over, huh?

BUCHANAN: I think the world, Western Empire is over.

CLIFT: Well --

MCLAUGHLIN: Wow, something to think about.

CLIFT: I think there's a big difference between saying they're going to have to fight their own battles and the Western Empire is over. I think we still play a significant role in the world.

But I must say, I applaud the fact that it's the Saudis that are intervening in Yemen and it's not American troops.

MCLAUGHLIN: I guess that covers the field.

CLIFT: Sure.

MCLAUGHLIN: Unless you want to say something for the delay, for the real reason for delaying the troop withdrawal. What’s the real reason for it?

BUCHANAN: I think Obama's afraid it will go down too quick if he gets them out too fast, then I can't blame him. And I think the fear is justified, the apprehension is justified.

ROGAN: And Ghani is a serious partner, and that's new, and he's a really --

BUCHANAN: And he’d like to give him a chance.


GLASTRIS: Yes, and, of course, it would be better for Hillary Clinton if things don't go south before the elections, and he he's going to do what he can to make sure that he’s done everything he can to make sure that nothing can get blamed on --

MCLAUGHLIN: You are good, Paul. You’re so good to spot the political opponent, huh?

ROGAN: Very quick, one possibility --


ROGAN: -- as well is that Abdullah Abdullah who is the CEO the Afghan government, John Kerry helped forge a consensus government – with, you know, there at the White House as well, not on camera, but that shows, even with Afghan tribal politics in a different fractions there, that with strong leadership, and a credible cause, people can come together in a positive way.

MCLAUGHLIN: Don't forget, THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP has its own Web site and you can watch this program or earlier programs on the web at any time, from anywhere in the universe, even black holes, at Could anything be easier,, or more life enhancing.

Issue Two: Can't Beat 'Em, Join ‘Em.


JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: The decision of any country to join is certainly a decision made by a sovereign country, but it will be important for prospective members of AIIB to push for the adoption at those same high standards, including strong board oversight and safeguards, and the international community certainly has a stake in seeing the AIIB compliments and works effectively alongside existing architecture, excuse me, that's already in place that does have those high standards.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): China has created a new International Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank, AIIB.

For months, with personal calls to world leaders, President Obama tried to dissuade European and Asian allies from joining the new bank as founder members. He worries that China will use the AIIB to buy political patronage from Asian Nations and to dillute American influence in the region.

But ignoring the US president’s protests earlier this month, the United Kingdom and other European nations join the AIIB anyway.

So, now, President Obama has changed tack. Today, he’s saying that the World Bank and the new Chinese bank should work together, quote-unquote, "co-funding development projects in Asia and beyond".

But it's clear that China has scored a stunning diplomatic victory, bringing close American allies on board as founder members of the bank.

China has outmaneuvered the U.S. government and shaken up the foundations of international finance.


MCLAUGLIN: Question: what does it say about American influence that our European allies turned deaf ears to President Obama's appeals not to join the Asian infrastructure bank?

I ask you, Tom.

ROGAN: I think actually, in this case, -- you know, I’m normally pretty critical of President Obama's foreign policy -- I think the Europeans are concerned about the economic potential with this bank with China, the AIIB. And so, they are just predicating that is their sole focus. They want to be able to make money off it. They want to be able to get the business projects, and they see it as an economic opportunity that is too lucrative to turn down, and that is their perspective.

CLIFT: Yes, China has got a lot of money to throw around, and they have a command and control economy. So, they don't have to go through a lot of decision-making, and the at Obama administration's pivot to Asia has been less than robust, you might say. And so, there's a bit of a vacuum there.

I mean, I think it's a diplomatic coup for China, but it's certainly not the end of the special relationship with the U.K. It's an irritant, I think to the president, but he seems to have found a way to turn it into something positive with these joint projects.

BUCHANAN: But the Europeans are looking to the future, John. Look, China has $4 trillion in cash reserves. This $50 billion they’re putting up for the AIIB is peanuts. But the Europeans are looking at the Chinese as an economy that is virtually the size of the United States, but it's growing still at 6 or 7 percent. It's the nation in the future in Asia. It’s going to build the silk roads by land and a silk road by sea, all the infrastructure projects.

And while they like the Americans, they are good friends, Tom is right, they're not going to cut themselves out of this huge pie, if they can get themselves some slices of it. They are good capitalists in Europe after all up.

GLASTRIS: Let's turn this back a little bit get to the origin to this problem. In 2010, you know, the Obama administration orchestrated a deal to open up the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, to allow China, India, Brazil, some of these other countries, to have a little bit more influence, which needed to happen. This was also the year Republicans turn up took over Congress, Republicans refused to ratify it.

This was how we were going to rope China into the international system. Unable to do that, China and many other countries were sort of fed up with the United States and its control of these Bretton Woods organizations, and now, you see this coming back to haunt them. This is a case where the dysfunction in Washington is hurting us internationally.

ROGAN: I do --

MCLAUGHLIN: They know that they can be dismissive of Obama without paying an unnecessarily high price. The Chinese know that.

GLASTRIS: Well, look, we know that China is a rising power. We have to find international mechanisms to channel that power, channel that money in ways that work for everybody.

The way to do that was to get them into the international organizations that we control. But by not doing that, now, they have any international organization they control.

CLIFT: Right. The same thing --

MCLAUGHLIN: Because they know that Obama is a lame duck.

CLIFT: Well --

GLASTRIS: They know that Obama can't get anything done because Republicans won't pass anything in Congress.

MCLAUGHLIN: Right, lame duck.

CLIFT: It’s the same thing with the trade deals. I mean, the president is talking about, you want to get the other countries, the Asian countries in to play by the rules, and if that's not ratified, then they create their own rules. So, Obama gets what’s happening and he’s trying to fix it.


BUCHANAN: Paul is right, you know, Dumbarton Woods -- Bretton Woods and Dumbarton Oaks, and all these institutions, World Bank was created around the end of World War II, IMF which created then, Asian Development Bank is run by the Japanese now. It’s a Japanese-American thing.

I think China is saying, look, we don't want to necessarily all get together, we want to be number one. We’ll build our own institutions.

MCLAUGHLIN: Let’s exit with this. Exit question: on a salesmanship scale from zero to 10, zero meaning Willie Lomax in "Death of a Salesman", and 10 meaning Tony Robbins "Unleash the Power Within". Rate President Obama's powers of persuasion with American allies, zero to 10.

Pat Buchanan?

BUCHANAN: Attention must be paid. It’s Willie Loman.

CLIFT: I give him in eight. He’s kept thinking the Europeans on board with sanctions against Russia. He’s involved in world talks to restrain the Iranian nuclear ambitions. He's – America, via Barack Obama, is still pretty powerful on the world stage. Eight.

ROGAN: Yes, I'm going to cut Eleanor’s in half, four. But I would just simply say, I think the opportunity for United States going forwards with China with these international regulation view banks is that ultimately, wealth and capital will still flow through American systems because the rule of law there in the credibility and the transparency is far greater and always will be far greater than that of China.

MCLAUGHLIN: So theres a happy ending here?

GLASTRIS: I give him a two on the AIIB, but about an eight on everything else.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I think that’s quite reasonable.

Issue Three: Obama Unhappy With Israel?


OBAMA: What we can do is pretend that there's a possibility of something that's not there, and we can’t continue to promise our public diplomacy based on something that everybody knows is not going to happen, at least in the next several years.

We believe that two states is the best path forward for Israel’s security, for Palestinian aspirations, and for regional stability. That's our view, and that continues to be our view. And Prime Minister Netanyahu has a different approach. And so, this is -- this can’t be reduced to a matter of, somehow, let’s all -- you know, hold hands and sing kumbaya.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Prime Minister Netanyahu's reelection last week has sealed the fate of one of President Obama's top foreign policy goals for his second term, a Middle East peace agreement. The White House is furious at a comment made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his campaign for reelection.

Asked by an interviewer, quote-unquote, "If you are a prime minister, a Palestinian state will not be established?" Mr. Netanyahu replied, "Indeed."

In response, the White House may halt U.S. veto protection for Israel at the U.N. and possibly support a U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state.

QUEST: Will you consider supporting Palestinian statehood at the U.N.?

OBAMA: We're going to do that evaluation. We’re going to partly wait for an actual Israeli government to form.

MCLAUGHLIN: Further complicating matters, Mr. Obama believes Israel has imperiled another top second-term agenda item -- a nuclear agreement with Iran. "The Wall Street Journal" reported this week that Israeli intelligence spied on U.S. and Iranian negotiators in the sensitive talks. Such spying is routine in high-level negotiations. What is not routine is that Israel shared details of the talks with members of Congress.

The breach of protocol has angered the White House.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is the US-Israeli relationship at a turning point or is it already passed the turning point?

Tom Rogan?

ROGAN: I think, at least for the Obama administration, it has already passed the turning point. You saw the president's words. They are strong words that -- I mean, I've ever seen American president talk about a close ally in terms of -- there's a real anger at Prime Minister Netanyahu and I -- at least of the Palestinian peace process, I share the president's anger with Prime Minister Netanyahu, because, look, you can't say, if you're talking about developing the peace process that it's not going to happen on my watch. His language was clear before the election. Now, he’s trying to bring it back. He shouldn’t have said that.


ROGAN: And there’s anger about it.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, would it have been politically smart up for the Obama administration to brief Congress on the negotiations, and include it in any -- in approving any deal with Iran?

ROGAN: Yes, and that's why I make the distinction about the Palestinian issue. But on the Iranian issue, I have much more sympathy for --


GLASTRIS: Well, look, I think what the president is doing is he’s again taking a little leverage. He's using an opportunity that he wishes Netanyahu hadn't given him, but he has, to say, all right, our military support for Israel doesn't change, but politically at the U.N., we're not going to use our veto to guarantee a shield from U.N. pressure.

MCLAUGHLIN: My exit question is as follows: Did the Palestinians pass up their best chance for statehood 15 years ago, in 2000, when Yasser Arafat refused to sign a final agreement at Camp David? Yes or no?

BUCHANAN: I think Rabin's assassination killed the last best chance for peace. You shouldn't fool with Netanyahu. He doesn’t believe in the peace process, quite frankly, John.

With regard to the Afghan -- I mean, with regard to -- with thing with Iran, look, Congress doesn't want it, Bibi doesn't want it, Obama should go negotiate it, and then send it to them.

CLIFT: There are some aspects that they would have to be involved. There are certain sanctions that were congressionally impose that only they can lift. But presidents make -- they have a right to make international agreements and they don't all go to the Congress as treaties.

But in terms of Netanyahu, I think the president thinks that there should be a penalty for what he did, in order to get elected. And secondly, I think he wants to let the Iranians know that Bibi Netanyahu does not call the shots in this country, and I think that's very important as the negotiations for that nuclear deal go down to the wire.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: Commander-in-Chief Cruz.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Ted Cruz. If you want more of the same, there'll be plenty to choose from. But if you want real conservative change and a proven record, I hope I can earn your support.

ANNOUNCER: Ted Cruz for president.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): The game's afoot. This week, Republican Senator Ted Cruz announced that he's running to succeed Barack Obama as the 45th president of the United States. But while Ted Cruz shares an alma mater with President Obama, both men are JG graduates from Harvard Law School, their similarities end there. Mr. Cruz, after all, is a proud conservative hard-liner who has made his name by opposing Mr. Obama's policies.

Senator Cruz stormed to public attention after orchestrating a government shutdown in protest to President Obama's health care law. That said, Ted Cruz opposes the president at virtually every issue from foreign policy to immigration reform.

Yet Mr. Cruz’s penchant for public showdowns has attracted the ire of some conservatives. For one, 2008 Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain, has referred to Mr. Cruz as a, quote-unquote, "wacko bird". Mr. McCain also strongly criticized Mr. Cruz’s government shutdown strategy.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: You cannot change Obamacare until we have a Republican president and Republican majorities in both houses, and that's a reality. And to tell American people that you can defund Obamacare was a fool's errand and a deception of the American people, and I resent that.

MCLAUGHLIN: Mr. Cruz has responded by describing his conservative critics as, quote-unquote, "a bunch up squishes", and Republican presidential candidates like Mitt Romney as, quote-unquote, "the mushy middle". This tells us something. Mr. Cruz embraces controversy and is determined to center his campaign on the right of Republican politics.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Senator Cruz’s purist conservative ideology an asset or a liability for the Republican primaries?

I ask you, Paul.

GLASTRIS: I think it's a liability. His essential role in the primaries is going to be to set the far-right line. He’ll try to get to the right of everyone else, and move everyone to the right, which is going to complicate anybody who comes out of there with the winner’s chances in the general election.

BUCHANAN: John, I think it's an asset for him. He's got a couple things going for him. One is, he’s the most pure conservative out there, hardest liner. Secondly, he has certain skills in terms of communication and speaking and charisma that can move an audience, and that's a real asset in the Republican primaries.

Now, I don't know that you can say that he’s going to be the favorite, but I think he's got part of his party that he can hold onto, and you -- frankly, you get into Iowa and New Hampshire, I think he could do well. It's hard to see him going the distance because of the money problem --

CLIFT: Yes. Well, he could be president of Tea Party America, because nobody will get to his right. But, you know, the great jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes once said of FDR, that he had a second-rate intellect and a first-rate temperament. This Cruz is very smart, he's even brilliant, but nobody likes him. On Capitol Hill, they detest him. I mean, he really has a very hard-edged personality.

So, I think his temperament is what will do him in.

MCLAUGHLIN: The Tea Party movement was partly -- I'll change that to largely -- in reaction to the perception that the GOP establishment -- you know them well, Buchanan -- had compromised too much and was too captive to Washington and special interests. Since then, many GOP incumbents have lost their seats to Tea Party challengers. Cruz’s ideology could be a strong asset. Do you concur?

ROGAN: I think he's going to be positive in the primary process because you want to have -- look, it’s democracy. It’s democracy in the primary process. You want to have an exchange of views. He is on the hard right side. I think that's going to make it difficult for him, in terms of general election prospects. I actually think he won't be the nominee.

But the guy -- as Eleanor says -- is very intelligent. He doesn't care about really aggravating people. I think he genuinely believes what he says. And so, look, well, let's see what happens in the primaries.

MCLAUGHLIN: What's the downside of Cruz?

BUCHAHAN: The downside of Cruz is that he won't get moderate votes. He won't raise an awful lot of money. And if he were nominated, it’s very hard to see how he puts together a coalition of 270 electoral votes -- very, very hard.

CLIFT: Right.

MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions, Pat?

BUCHANAN: Iranian nuclear deal this week, and a non-spontaneous firestorm on the Hill.

CLIFT: Biggest threat to Ted Cruz coming from Marco Rubio, who's out-pandering him by proposing that American embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and going after the district’s gun laws.

ROGAN: I agree with Pat -- Iran deal, but immediate fracturing in the aftermath, both from Khamenei in the Iranian side, and Republicans in Congress. The deal will not last.


GLASTRIS: The deal this week to fix the dock fix broke the no tax pledge of Grover Norquist. We've only begun to see the reverberations from that.

MCLAUGHLIN: I predict President Obama's decision to hold a Rose Garden ceremony with Bowe Bergdahl's parents to announce his release from captivity will go down in history as a case of premature jubilation. Bergdahl has now been charged with desertion, casting a shadow over the prisoner swap deal.