The McLaughlin Group

Issues: US-UK Relations / Brazil Corruption Scandal / Cyber Security / Foreign Trade and the Election

John McLaughlin, Host
Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast
Clarence Page, The Chicago Tribune
Tom Rogan, National Review/Opportunity Lives

Taped: Friday, April 1, 2016
Broadcast: Weekend of April 1-3, 2016

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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: A Complex Relationship.


DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: He’s giving me some tips. He’s going to help me fill up my bracket. So --

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He’s going to teach me cricket.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Four years ago, President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron bonded over basketball. The special relationship seemed both personal and strong.

But in 2016, the special relationship is a little more complicated.

Enter, Jeffrey Goldberg. Writing at "The Atlantic" magazine, Mr. Goldberg quoted President Obama as lamenting Mr. Cameron’s attention towards Libya. Mr. Cameron, Mr. Obama said, had become, quote, "distracted by a range of other things," unquote.

Britons reacted angrily to the rebuke.

Still, THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP spotted the tensions before most.

During our December 12th, 2014 episode, we noted growing disagreements between the U.S. and the U.K. over defense spending. While those tensions are now resolved, U.K./U.S. relations are increasingly complicated.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What’s wrong here, Pat?

PAT BUCHANAN, AUTHOR & COLUMNIST: Well, I think, John, you can -- first off, the president of the United States, even if that’s the way he felt, should not be saying that to Mr. Goldberg of "The Atlantic," giving his feelings the relationship with one of our oldest and best and most reliable allies.

But the reality is that, since the end of the Cold War, your interests have begun somewhat to diverge. And there’s no doubt about it, in the Middle East, everybody, with French, the British, the Americans were really hot to intervene in Libya, and then we all walk away from the place and it’s gone to hell in a hand basket.

So, I guess that the president of the United States is miffed with Cameron, but I don’t think you say those things to journalists, and to say them especially about an ally like the Brits. But there’s no question about it, when it comes to defense effort and all the rest of it, the two countries are moving gradually apart.


ELEANOR CLIFT, THE DAILY BEAST: I think that’s a pretty mild rebuke and I think the relationship between Cameron and Obama is very strong. On Libya, the British parliament is investigating the Libyan -- the British involvement in Libya, because they were in the forefront of the effort to overturn that regime, and afterwards, the Brits were in charge in basically the Libyan military and then they abruptly pulled out.

And so, the parliament is investigating how Libya became such a catastrophe, not only for the Libyan people, but for for the British interests. I mean, after Gadhafi was ousted, David Cameron visited Libya twice, taking basically a victory lap. So, I think what the president said -- maybe he shouldn’t have said it, but I think he spoke the truth that Mr. Cameron has gotten distracted. Among the distractions, though, was trying to keep the U.K. in the European Union, and the president really is behind him on that.

So, I don’t think there’s any big rifts here.

MCLAUGHLIN: What are the principal tenets of the Obama doctrine as articulated by President Obama to "The Atlantic’s" Jeffrey Goldberg?

TOM ROGAN, NATIONAL REVIEW/OPPORTUNITY LIVES: The most basic and obvious one is the, quote, "don’t do stupid expletive", beginning with S and ending with T. But to avoid American entanglements abroad and to try to promote leadership by regional actors. I don’t think it works out that way, and I think the Middle East is the testament of the failure of that viewpoint.

But I think the president does have -- I agree with Pat and Eleanor to some degree, in a balance sense, in that President Obama should not have said this to Jeffrey Goldberg, I think he regrets it. But he does have understandable and very legitimate points of grievance in terms of European allies saying one thing and doing another, not pulling their weight on defense.

Britain’s better than most, but still not good enough. Germany is the worst example. But also, the degree to which they play games with the Russians on one side, allowing their finance in, and then complaining that the U.S. must do more.

But specifically with Britain, I think a big point of contention below the surface, is with China and the Asia Investment Bank, where the British government has become much more closely aligned with China than the Obama administration would want.

On the British side, I think, much more than annoyed about this, the real point of grievance was, understandably on the British side, about the Falklands, where the administration through John Kerry had seemed to suggest that was open to negotiation. That caused a lot of consternation. I think this will be washed away though.

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, Libya is a special frustration for President Obama, because elected to get us out of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This was a war he got us into with the best of intentions, trying to do something to save people from being massacred by Gadhafi. Gadhafi was overthrown but the place turned into a mess, partly because of England not being there when we needed them.

At the same time, the U.S. got tied up in Iraq and other Middle East problems, and it’s been a real frustration for President Obama, because his doctrine, such as it is, is to try to work more partnerships and not be aggressive with our unilateralism. But that’s not going to work, unless you can get countries like England, our best pal overseas.

BUCHANAN: Let me take your point there.

PAGE: Go ahead.

BUCHANAN: We went in there for humanitarian reasons, to stop Gadhafi from overrunning Benghazi and perpetrating a massacre. We should have held him up for 48 hours and then said, you’re on your own.

We went in for humanitarian reasons and we left a humanitarian disaster for everybody in that place. I mean, Hillary Clinton is responsible. The Brits and the French are responsible. The president is responsible.

I mean, if there is an archetype of what a disastrous intervention there is, that is it.

CLIFT: It was a NATO operation, and everybody took great pride in the fact that nobody died on the NATO side and that this was accomplished so well. Then, they didn’t keep at it the day after and the month after and the year after. And I think that was what was behind the president’s remark in that interview.

ROGAN: And I think -- I do think here, conservatives have to be careful about criticizing the president too strongly, because I guarantee you, a lot of people who are also very annoyed with the Europeans are the U.S. military, because the Europeans claim a lot of the credit for doing these strikes, as they are in Iraq and Syria.

But the people flying the intelligence missions, refueling, armaments, all of that intelligence and logistics backdrop is manifestly with the United States military. Absent that, it would fundamentally be incapable.


ROGAN: They could not do it.

BUCHANAN: As somebody said, the Brits fired about two dozens cruise missiles --

ROGAN: And they ran out.

BUCHANAN: -- and then they had to go back home and get some more.


ROGAN: And that’s embarrassing.

CLIFT: Well --


BUCHANAN: It’s pathetic, it’s pathetic.

PAGE: It is, it is.

ROGAN: But there are a lot of things in the intelligence world and special forces, the union is very strong and, you know, of course, British have lost a lot of people in Afghanistan and Iraq. So --

PAGE: That’s right.

MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Has President Obama transformed America’s foreign policy for the better or for the worse, Pat Buchanan?

BUCHANAN: I think it’s a combination -- his reluctance to intervene is good, but Libya is a disaster. He shouldn’t have put the red line down. And there -- so I think, overall, I don’t giver him high marks. But I do, his fundamental idea that we go in, we go together and we get out and come home is right, but I think the application of it has been very poor.

CLIFT: He recognizes that American can’t go it alone in all of these places, and the American people don’t want to go it alone and he is tried to engage the world. He has some notable successes, I would put the Iran nuclear deal and the opening of relations with Cuba on that list.

ROGAN: We will see. I just think American influence and the idea that the president seeks is best practiced by, you have to show consolidation at certain points that are very clear, and Syria will be a big stain in his presidency, 250,000 dead there.

PAGE: I think he’s added a very much needed element of caution to our overseas adventures that we don’t think we’re going to go and just solve other people’s problems and install democracy overnight. We’ve learned those hard lessons. What to do instead now is a lot more complicated and that’s been a lot of big frustrations for him.

MCLAUGHLIN: Threats from ISIS and al Qaeda have multiplied under Obama’s watch. So, our foreign policy is worse because of Obama’s transformations. Relations with Russia and China are worse. And America is less trusted by its allies.

What do you think of that?

PAGE: Well, I don’t think it’s quite -- well, the problem with ISIS came about because he underestimated their ability to grow as they have, and their aggressiveness. We learned those hard lessons. But he’s turned the table on ISIS. They’ve lost ground more recently. They’ve become less organized. But it’s still going to be a long hard slog.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what do we have a Defense Department for?

PAGE: Well, we have a Defense Department in order to defend our interests and that’s the primary element of Obama’s foreign policy.


CLIFT: Right. To make sure we don’t get involved in another land war in the Middle East. That’s why we have a Defense Department.

ROGAN: Article two, Section two, the president’s the commander in chief.

MCLAUGHLIN: Why don’t they keep him informed?

ROGAN: They do.

CLIFT: I think the president is acting on his understanding of what American power can do and American power, military power, is not going to solve what’s happening in the Middle East.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Lifeboat for Lula?


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Home to energetic soccer, the Amazon rainforest, the 2016 Olympic Games, and 200 million people, Brazil is a vibrant nation. And with an annual GDP of nearly $2.25 trillion, Brazil is increasingly wealthy. But led by President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil is in political crisis. That’s because, already facing impeachment for possibly concealing government budget deficits, President Rousseff has now been implicated in Brazil’s massive Petrobras corruption scandal.

Fearing for their democracy, millions of Brazilians are taking to the streets to demand justice.

And note this: another target of Petrobras corruption investigators, former President Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, known as "Lula," has just joined Rousseff’s cabinet.

And while a judge has put a hold on his appointment, Lula’s rationale seems obvious. Under Brazilian law, Lula’s government office will shied him from easy prosecution. And because Lula is highly influential in Brazil’s congress, Rousseff hopes he will prevent her impeachment.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Why did former President Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva take a position in Rousseff’s government?

You want to try your hand on that, Eleanor?

CLIFT: Sure. Because under Brazilian law, a member of the cabinet can only be tried by the Supreme Court, and apparently, that takes months and years. So, it in effect put a cordon around him that he could not be prosecuted.

But this is a huge betrayal of the people in Brazil, especially the poor people. I mean, they revere Lula.

This is a huge blow. And the people in the streets tend to be not the poor, but the more well-off people who are angry about the collapse of the government. But it’s the poor people who’ve been really betrayed here. And you’ve got Brazil going in, they’ve got the Olympics coming. They’re battling the Zika virus. It’s hard to see how this government performs. It’s essentially paralyzed.

BUCHANAN: John, this is worse than Watergate, far worse. And not only have the president of the country caught up in a couple of scandals, this is the great predecessor leader who had two terms, Lula, and he’s been brought in basically to cover him. It’s given him a measure of immunity from prosecution, and you’ve got judges are going after the government. I don’t know how the government survives too much longer.

And as Eleanor mentioned, you’ve got this mosquito-born disease down there that people read about all over the world. And you’ve got the Olympics coming up this summer, I guess.

So, I think Brazil’s in very tough shape and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see this government thrown out either legally, or by the crowds in the streets.

CLIFT: They got a huge economic recession, too, to add to the list of woes.

ROGAN: I think three lessons here. First, it was the lesson of what happens when you a socialist governance structure imbued with economics. It’s ripe for corruption. And it’s why I always think we should be careful to have politicians talking about infrastructure spending without discretionary, without oversight.

PAGE: Unlike capitalism --

CLIFT: Unlike capitalism --


CLIFT: That’s ridiculous.

ROGAN: Point two -- yes, but government has some political insulation of itself.

Point two, the problem you see in Brazil is that you have, as Eleanor says, some very poor people. And, frankly, you have to give the Brazilian government credit, bolsa familia -- I don’t know the pronunciation, bolster the family, was a poverty program that actually has generated a lot of research and it’s had some very good effects.

The final thing that I think is more positive is that with Brazil having this moment of crisis, with the judiciary finally standing up and providing scrutiny, it will cause that beginning of real powerful institutions, like the FBI that we have here, the uncorruptables, who will go after everyone, and in the longer term will address these issues. But it’s going to be hard.

And you also see similar things in South Africa with this political corruption. That is why you need a strong, independent judiciary, number one.


PAGE: Those institutions are very important, but this is fundamentally to a personal corruption that’s going on here, where the president, the present president was a protege of Lula. And so, cronyism comes in on top of the corruption already involved in the initial scandal.

CLIFT: I just want to say that I think corruption is blind when it comes to ideology. You can find people across the ideological spectrum. It’s not exclusive --

ROGAN: But it’s easier to do in politics.

CLIFT: It’s not exclusive to socialists.

BUCHANAN: Tom makes the point here, when you mentioned South Africa. You take the famous BRICS, the emerging countries, Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, all of them, and Turkey -- Turkey has a horrendous problem. Erdogan is becoming an almost absolute dictator over there. Here’s a country, John, five years ago, which was really on -- we have friends in every direction. Now, it’s got virtually enemies in almost every direction. It’s involved in the battle in Syria. They got fighting against the Kurds.

I mean, the world is in a very bad place overall.

CLIFT: How did we get from Brazil to Turkey?

BUCHANAN: Because it’s one of the BRICS. It’s one of those emerging countries, great emerging powers.

ROGAN: I think one of the positives – and I give them credit for it. President Obama, one of the few things I would give them credit for in foreign policy is the outreach Africa in terms of rule of law that he’s focused on. That President Obama is focused on rule of law in Africa as that develops, and China has the same kind of cronyism problems. I think this is a great example of why people should look to the United States for a rules-based international system that serves --

CLIFT: What about the special interests and the control they have in the best congress money can buy? I’m not going to put the U.S. naturally above every other country. We have our problems, too.

ROGAN: I will, I will.

PAGE: I will say, though, President Obama looks to Nelson Mandela as a model there in Africa, a lawyer also.

ROGAN: And they betrayed his legacy.

PAGE: Yes, that’s what’s happened here. You know --

BUCHANAN: Disaster with Zuma down there in South Africa --

MCLAUGHLIN: What’s that?

PAGE: Yes.

BUCHANAN: South Africa is in a disaster with this Zuma character and they got Malema, and these people are waiting or basically ethno-nationalists, very hardliners, are waiting for power.

ROGAN: But I think Lula is going to jail, at some point.

PAGE: None of which is new in South Africa, but the one thing that has kept them at bay is strong institutions, like the law and the courts.

ROGAN: They got rid of that Scorpion police unit.

MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: is Lula Brazil’s equivalent of Julian Assange? You remember Julian Assange?

PAGE: We can never forget Assange.

BUCHANAN: Nothing like it, John.


BUCHANAN: Nothing like it.

MCLAUGHLIN: Meaning he’s free only as long as he stays beyond the reach of the law.

BUCHANAN: He’s an historic figure. He’s not some character that released some documents.

PAGE: Yes.

CLIFT: Right. And if you were putting money on whether he can dodge the bullet when it comes to legal prosecution, I put my money on Lula.

PAGE: Yes. Assange certainly was involved in something larger than just himself here. And we are talking about sanctuary of sorts being offered by the law in the Brazil. But other than that, the similarities fade.

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. Well, Brazil is depending too much upon trade with China.

Issue Three: Hackers Beware.


OBAMA: My budget includes more than $19 billion for cybersecurity, which is up by more than one third.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Hackers. Whether stealing personal information such as credit card, Social Security numbers, or pilfering the innovative developments of U.S. companies, or copying U.S. government secrets, hackers are waging constant war with the United States. Some of these attackers work independently, some for criminal organizations. Others for governments like those of China, Iran, and Russia.

President Obama responded to criticism that his administration has done too little to counter hackers. So, he has requested $19 billion to defend the U.S. government’s information technology infrastructure. Funds he says are crucial for the nation’s security.


MCLAUGHLIN: What’s the most effective response to this kind of hacking? More security or more cyber deterrents?

There you go, Clarence.

PAGE: I’ll take one of each, John. I think the fact is that chasing the hackers is especially complicated because they’re always coming up with new techniques and new methods every day. So, we need to be guarded in both ways, both preventing hackers from getting in, and also being able to detect what they’re doing and be able to use it to our advantage when we can, especially when we’re dealing with overseas governments trying to hack into our system.

MCLAUGHLIN: Here’s what I’m showing. Cybersecurity did not stop 22 million OPM files from being hacked by China. Cyber deterrence should be tried.


MCLAUGHLIN: Is U.S. counter hacking policy today analogous to counterterrorist policy before 9/11, too reliant on law enforcement? Pat Buchanan?

BUCHANAN: Oh, I think that, look, if you’re dealing with China, you’re dealing with governmental hacking. You’ve got to have the ability to counterattack what they’re doing, you know. Given the proliferation of all these ITs and all the rest of this, and given the ability of these young kids and these people to break through it, I think this is an enormous problem ongoing. It’s something in which I think the United States and Russia and these other countries, we’re all going to have an interest in preventing and blocking and protecting what we’ve got going in these countries, because the most advanced countries are the most vulnerable.

CLIFT: The new frontier for defense spending, actually. And I think the administration’s response now is just sort of let folks who are doing it know that we know they’re doing it, and kind of send back little messages, but to avoid getting into a full cyber warfare.

ROGAN: But they’re not reading those little messages. I think the problem here is that we have to take more of a stance in deterring these attacks. So, the Chinese are playing us for a joke. And the president signs an agreement with them, and then they go and break it. Amd we also have a failure --

MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Is President Obama’s $19 billion cyber security budget request too little, too late? Yes or no? Pat?

BUCHANAN: I think it’s far more than it was, and I think it’s accurate, but I do not know.

CLIFT: I think that it’s -- he ought to be able to get out it of the Congress, if he can get anything out of the Congress, that should be it.

ROGAN: We need it, but we also need our senior people to stop using personal email.


PAGE: It’s kind of like Donald Trump’s wall. Should it be 10 feet tall, 30 feet tall? You know, the more we can do -- but our spending shouldn’t be wasteful. How about that for an answer?

MCLAUGHLIN: I’ll buy that.


MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: Trade Voters.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It’s the greatest thief in the history of the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think, you know, his business actually needs China. I don’t know why he says something very mean.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): In 2012, both presidential candidates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney declared their fervent support for free trade. But this year, things are different.


MCLAUGHLIN: After all, in 2016, Republican and Democratic Party frontrunners, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, oppose President Obama’s free trade treaty, the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP. They say it will shift American jobs overseas, and damage the U.S. economy.

And so, in the White House and on Capitol Hill, free trade proponents worry, as the election gets closer, that TPP may become politically toxic.


MCLAUGLIN: Why are voters turning against free trade? Pat Buchanan?

BUCHANAN: Because they’ve seen the consequences of 25 years of it, which have de-industrialized America, costs us tens of thousands of factories, millions of factory jobs and it’s created basically terrible economic conditions in the key states, John, of Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania and Illinois. And these are the states that could decide the presidential election. And Donald Trump is pointing to the trade deficits these -- both parties -- have produced and the disasters in these parts of the country.

And that’s the issue I think that, if Donald Trump could win the presidential election, that is the one he would win it on, and that is where he would win it.

CLIFT: Well, that would get him some of the, what we used to call Reagan Democrats, some of the blue collar workers in these states. But in the recent round of primaries, Bernie Sanders won Michigan on the issue of trade against Hillary Clinton, but it didn’t bring Ohio along for Bernie Sanders.

There’s a lot of hypocrisy on this issue in ’08. Barack Obama said that he would renegotiate NAFTA when he got into the White House, never went near it. And I think there’s a lot of suspicion that Hillary Clinton, while she is opposed to the TPP for the moment, if she should become the president, you know, she might evolve on that particular issue.

I think trade is responsible for a lot of these losses, but there are so many other dynamics at work. And you cannot put up a wall around the United States. And negotiating rules that are beneficial to the U.S., and not to China, are what the TPP is about.

ROGAN: I think one of the reasons there has been this populist uprising in support of Trump, in support of Bernie, is that, for too long, conservatives such as myself, who favor free trade, haven’t articulated the real specifics. And I think they’re pretty obvious, I have to say, Pat, in terms of why free trade is beneficial.

Number one, it manifestly has saved American families tens of billions of dollars in terms of reducing their consumer good prices. Number two, it has actually forced productivity increases, and forced the United States to invest in economic sector where we do very well. If you look at China, for example, what does China import from the United States? Integrated circuits, computers that are high technology, aircraft, helicopters.

And the question then becomes, as a country, what do we want the next generation to be building, do we want to be making t-shirts to sell here, or do we want to be making planes to sell at high prices abroad? As the global economy gets richer, the demand for those goods, where we have a comparative advantage, will increase.

BUCHANAN: Where do you think those Boeing planes get their wings made now? All the -- in Japan.


ROGAN: We still export them.

BUCHANAN: What are you talking --

ROGAN: We have the export value.

BUCHANAN: All of your -- even your high tech things, they’re coming in, taking those factories away, sending back parts. Look at your country, my friend.

ROGAN: But if you see TPP, one of the things there that is different and I would agree you have a point here is that the protection against patents, so that we have the ability to stop these countries -- patents. To stop these countries --

PAGE: Americanism, yes. I agree with you about conservatives. And I would add the liberals, too, have not done a very good job of really explaining the benefits of trade, and also what have been the consequences of NAFTA and all. I beat you to it, Pat.

BUCHANAN: Can you get Hillary to explain the benefits of NAFTA in the fall to us? It would be most helpful.

PAGE: Well, you know, the original question was, while America’s turned against free trade, I think actually, Americans -- I know coming -- I’m originally an Ohio native and upper Midwest, workers have been complaining about our trade policy for years. But for the first time, there is a leader, I got to say it, Donald Trump, who’s become a spokesperson for this cause.

CLIFT: Yes, but who exploits --


CLIFT: He exploits all of the loopholes that benefit corporations. So, his argument is, he knows how the system works, so he will change it? I don’t think so.

MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction: Hillary Clinton will secure the necessary delegates to lock up their party’s nomination before Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, and Trump will lock up the nomination before the GOP convention.


BUCHANAN: Hillary Clinton is already there, if she can defeat FBI Director Comey in the late primaries.

But with regard to the Republicans, I do believe despite what everyone says, that Trump will have enough delegates to go over the top before he arrives at Cleveland for an exciting convention.

CLIFT: Yes to Hillary, and maybe for Trump.

ROGAN: Yes to Hillary, I don’t think Trump will. But I do think Pat is right on that FBI. John Schindler of "The Observer," people should check out his writing.

PAGE: I say yes on both. I think Trump is going to make it.

MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is double yes. Hillary secures delegates first, then Trump does it before convention.