An Interview With Jed Babbin
John Hawkins:: We’re now hearing that Saddam Hussein skimmed $21 billion off the top from the Oil For Food program, some of which was paid to Palestinian suicide bombers, and the UN doesn’t seem too anxious to get to the bottom of it. What should be the end result of all this in your opinion?
Jed Babbin:: Well, the question is not what it should be but what it will be. Obviously what it should be is to find the money that was stolen from Iraq and return it to the Iraqi people, but I don’t think anyone other than us and the Iraqis have that even as a consideration. The United Nations investigation is certainly not looking at things in a way that will result in a recovery of the money and I don’t have any real faith in their investigation at all.
John Hawkins:: What do you think we should be doing here? Should we be putting the pressure on them?
Jed Babbin:: Well, I think we should be putting pressure on the United Nations and I think that’s beginning right now. I think that as soon as Dr. Rice takes over the State Department she’s probably going to turn the heat up on these guys a good bit.
In the meantime I think Senator Coleman and the Senate subcommittee on investigations are doing what they can, Congressman Hyde is doing what he can, and Ralph Hall and the good guys over at the Energy and Commerce Committee are doing what they can. There are two other Congressional investigations, but none of these guys are really going to get very far unless and until the UN either decides to cooperate or we cut off their funding and basically say, “If you want that 7 billion dollars a year we kick over to you guys, you better start cooperating.”
John Hawkins:: Yeah, I’d love for us to do that.
It’s a well known fact that UN run camps for Palestinians have become terrorist enclaves. What should we be doing about that?
Jed Babbin:: Well, it’s another one of those things that the United Nations is doing very badly and they’re being no help in the war on terror. If you look at what the United Nations has done in terms of terrorism and resisting it, controlling it, working against it, you’re not going to have a very full plate. You’re not going to see very much at all.
So I think what we have to see is some more pressure on the UN basically to make them do some more. I don’t frankly think that anything is going to help. I don’t think the UN is ever going to really be of assistance in the war on terrorism because if you look at the make-up of the UN you see that of 191 members, fewer than 50 are democracies. So basically 3 out of 4 of the members of the UN are despots, dictators, rogues and terrorists themselves. …It’s about as good as making a big plea to the Mafia to come in and help you clean up corruption. It just isn’t going to work.
John Hawkins:: So given that, there are a lot of conservatives who’d like to pull out of the UN. Would that be a wise move in your opinion?
Jed Babbin:: My answer to that is yes, but the idea is that we can’t just walk out of the UN and slam the door behind us. That would be foolish. America is the sole superpower at least at this moment. We can’t afford to cut ourselves off from the rest of the free world and even from the rest of the bad guys in the world.
We want to be in a position where we can sit down with the democracies of the world and address problems in good faith. To do that, we have to create a political atmosphere where the democracies can follow us out of the UN without their presidents and prime ministers committing political suicide.
So what we have to do is gradually create that atmosphere so that when we leave the UN, and hopefully it will be sooner rather than later, the other nations of the world who are democracies can follow us.
John Hawkins:: So we’re talking about setting up an alternate organization with democracies running the show?
Jed Babbin:: Absolutely. We don’t need to sit down with North Korea to determine what’s right in the world. We need to sit down with North Korea to deal with the problems of North Korea. The problem with the UN is addressed in my book in the section that I call ‘The Legitimacy Scam.’
What the UN is trying to convince the world of is the idea that although the United States is a democracy and our government speaks the will of a free people, our judgment and our policies and our actions are somehow more legitimate if we have the blessing of despots and dictators. To me that is not only illogical, it’s fairly well incomprehensible.
So, in order to legitimize whatever we do in the world we do not need to go to the UN. What we do need to do is to build a consensus, a strong consensus, among the democracies as problems arise ‘– and it’s not just problems of war and peace, it’s problems of health and all sorts of things that go on around the world, like famine and disease. We can act and we can act in good faith with nations of like mind and not have to worry about whether or not we have the blessings of the tinpot dictators like Fidel Castro.
John Hawkins:: I know we’ve done some groundwork in order to move toward an organization like that but realistically is that something we can see in 5 years, 10 years?
Jed Babbin:: I don’t know. It depends on whether Mr. Bush decides to make it a priority. I think if he did, he’s taken some steps toward it already, but if the President is not focused on that, I don’t think it’s going to happen maybe for a long time.
I think what the President has done, and again I discuss this in my book, is focus on the Proliferation Security Initiative. I think there are now 16 countries that are members of it ‘ totally outside the UN, nothing to do with the Security Council or any of these resolutions. Basically what these nations have agreed on is finding and interdicting the shipment of weapons of mass destruction and missiles between and among terrorists and rogue states.
We’re out there right now ‘ and it’s a quasi-military alliance ‘ and we are seizing these materials as we can find them on the high seas and everywhere else. This is, I think, a model of two things: number one, it shows that American diplomacy does better outside of the UN than it does inside the UN, because we just went ahead and did this. These nations were very glad to come along. For heaven’s sake, even the French are part of this thing.
So that shows you how we can succeed outside the UN when we can’t succeed in it and we are really doing some good. The reason that Libya disarmed its nuclear program has nothing to do with diplomacy. It’s because we and the Italians caught a shipful of nuclear centrifuges on the way to Libya.
We seized the ship and we basically had a little “Come-To-Allah” meeting with Khadafy and said if you don’t want to be the next Saddam Hussein, you’re going to surrender your nuclear program. Having seen what happened to Saddam, he didn’t want to play, and his nuclear program is now sitting in some site in Nevada. That’s a result not of diplomacy, that’s a result of direct action and the diplomatic effort underlying it was the proliferation security issue.
John Hawkins:: Do you think there are a lot of European elites who are pushing for a “United States of Europe,” a united Europe because they view our country as a rival and want to use the combined power of Europe to “counterbalance” our power?
Jed Babbin:: Of course, that’s the whole theory of the European Union. That’s clearly what Mr. Chirac has in mind on any given day, but I’m not really very worried about that. The European Union basically is a theoretical disaster waiting to happen.
What you’re doing is you’re combining 25 relatively weak economies trying to create one big strong one without solving the underlying problems. What you’re basically going to do is put the burdens of the weakest on the less weak and so it’s going to drag them all down. I don’t think the European Union is something we are going to have to worry about except as a disruptive element in the UN.
John Hawkins:: So you’d say basically that you never see the European Union that people like Jacques Chirac actually envision coming to pass, like a United States of Europe?
Jed Babbin:: Oh, they do envision it.
John Hawkins:: But, you don’t actually see it coming to fruition the way they envision it?
Jed Babbin:: Well, clearly not the way they envision it, They’re not going to be a counter-balance to us. All they can do is be an obstacle to us in foreign policy, particularly in the UN. They’re only an obstacle so long as we allow them to be and put up with all the nonsense that goes on in the UN.
John Hawkins: A related question ‘ Has the military gap between America and Europe grown so large that multilateral operations (aside from perhaps with Britain’s help, of course) have become almost irrelevant?
Jed Babbin:: Excellent question. That’s discussed in some great detail in my book. Basically as I explain in “Inside The Asylum”, we have, since Gulf War One, developed what’s called network centric warfare. Unless you have the technology, the capability and the training to literally plug into the computer networks that operate the war, you can’t be much help to us on the battlefield because by the time you catch up, we’re gone. The people in Europe have not invested in network centric technology. The Brits have to some degree, but even they are a good bit behind and nations like Germany ‘ they’re probably a hundred years behind where we are right now.
John Hawkins:: So basically, there’s no way for them to ever realistically catch up?
Jed Babbin:: No, there really isn’t.
John Hawkins:: So what does that mean for these sort of operations in the future? I mean even in Iraq right now, if you look at what sort of force we’re bringing to bear and what sort of force the rest of the world is contributing, it’s amazingly unbalanced. I don’t think that’s not just because they don’t want to help, I don’t think they’re capable of helping very much.
Jed Babbin:: There’s a couple of concepts we’re mixing up here and we need to sort them out. Number One, in terms of this phase we’re going through in Iraq we’re not applying the full blown network centric warfare.
Network centric warfare is relevant when you have joint forces operating in a major military engagement like the March and April ’03 campaign in Iraq. What’s going on right now in terms of the counter insurgency operation and basically in terms of the peacekeeping operations that will follow, that really does not require the network centric operations that we have brought to bear. So if the European nations had the capability, even on a lower level, they could participate there.
Now that brings us to the second question. Aside from Britain and France none of the European nations have a significant military capability and it’s not a question of whether they’re network centric capable or not, they just don’t even have the numbers of troops needed. They don’t have the ability to put boots on the ground because they just don’t have guys in uniform. The Germans in particular and the Italians have basically engaged in a campaign of unilateral disarmament over the past 20 years or so. They’ve gotten to the point where, you know, maybe the German and Italian armies ‘ if you put them together ‘ they might be able to put down a small riot in New Jersey, but that’s about the capability they have.
The French and the Brits are a different story but, you know, the French are genetically uncooperative. We’re never going to be able to get them to do much of anything and the Brits have different political problems. Mr. Blair’s relative weakness at this point, I think, places it in very great question as to whether they are going to be able to participate in anything else we have to do.
John Hawkins:: Well, given all that, does that mean that NATO is irrelevant as a military alliance?
Jed Babbin:: Well, NATO is working itself into irrelevance and as I argue in “Inside The Asylum” that’s not something we can afford. There’s a lot of assets that NATO has that need to be preserved and we need. America does not want to cut itself off from Europe. What we need to do is to find a way to incent some of the NATO countries, not just the old ones or the new ones as well, to invest and stick with NATO and revitalize it so that it can still be a valuable military alliance. We do not want to alienate ourselves from Europe.
Some parts of Europe have alienated themselves from us. I mean, quite frankly, France is now irrelevant to the international political equation and it doesn’t matter what they do or what they say. They’re just not part of the equation but other nations, for example Spain, may be relevant again at some time. There are also Eastern European nations that have joined NATO more recently. Poland in particular is a very considerable ally and those are the guys we need to knit back into NATO. It may even require a little financial or military aid or both from us to do it but it’s worthwhile.
NATO has some assets that we can’t do without and we can’t afford to see wasted because it can be very hard to re-create them. Number one is sort of a brand name. NATO means something, and when you say NATO is involved, that can throw the fear of God into a lot of tinpot dictators around the world. That’s worth something.
Number two is something I’d call muscle memory and what we talk about in “Inside The Asylum” is you start at the level of the individual soldier. The muscle memory of the soldier is he’s trained so well that in combat, for example, he can inject the magazine, put in a new one and keep shooting, keep fighting without thinking about it. That’s muscle memory.
If you’d look back at the history of NATO, going back to the end of World War II, NATO has created a muscle memory on a national level. We have had training with these people over and over, year after year ‘ our Armies and Navies and Air Force, Marines, everybody. They all train together; they know each other. They have similar doctrines, they share tactics, the strategy, and that is, again, a muscle memory on a national level. That’s something that you can’t just throw away and expect to re-create in a year or six months. It’s taken us 50 years to get it to where it is in NATO and I think it’s worth doing something to try to preserve it.
John Hawkins:: Do you have any suggestions on how keep NATO relevant, and the reason I ask, of course, is like you say there are only a couple of modern sophisticated militaries in Europe and the rest of them don’t seem to have the will or maybe even the capability to significantly upgrade their military forces.
Jed Babbin:: Well, in my book I have a couple of suggestions on how to do that and let me just review one of them with you right now. A guy who’s a whole lot smarter than I am, Air Chief Marshall Sir Brian Bridge, is the commander of Strike Command in the RAF. Sir Brian posed this question: what is it that everybody in NATO needs and that most don’t have? He basically answers his own question and says “an active air defense”.
Everybody in NATO is threatened by remotely piloted vehicles, rogue aircraft, hijacked airliners, and so forth ‘ you know, the 9/ll scenario. What if we could entice many of these nations, I mean even Iceland for example, into some sort of a NATO network air defense system? It probably would not cost them a great deal to join up. They already have at least a decent Air Force so all it really takes is some command and control, some joint operations and it might be the thread around which the NATO fabric can be re-woven. I think it’s a hell of a good idea.
John Hawkins:: Let me shift gears here a bit. What’s your opinion of the International Criminal Court? Do you think American soldiers and politicians could face frivolous or politically motivated prosecution? Would there be any significant upside to signing up?
Jed Babbin:: Let me answer the third question first. There’s absolutely no upside to joining the International Criminal Court.
The second question is it would politicize military tribunals and international criminal law in a way that is relatively unheard of. Number one, the International Criminal Court statute, their own statutes, purportedly expands and changes the law of war crimes. War crimes are very well and clearly defined by the Geneva Conventions and I think everybody knows what they are and we ought to stick to what they are because it’s a good solid basis of law.
If you have their own statute you have things such as, well, environmental crimes are my favorite example. They say in their own statute that certain environmental damage beyond the requirements of military strategy could be a war crime. It gets to the point to, well, be careful where you pitch your tent, soldier; if you disturb that spotted owl in the tree above you, you could be hauled in front of the ICC. It’s ludicrous and that is even less important than the second problem which is the politicization of it.
If you look at the International Criminal Court, and I forget the number of judges on it, but only a couple even come from countries that have the rule of law. If you’re going to have judges sit in international criminal courts you have to draw them from first world nations where the rule of law applies. If you’re going to have a judge from Cuba or communist China you’re not going to have anything but a political trial and that’s what the ICC has. It has almost no judges from really, truly, free countries.
John Hawkins:: On a little bit more detail on the war on terror, how do you think we’re doing against Al-Qaeda and do you think we should just keep doing what we’re doing basically or should we change our tactics significantly? What’s your opinion?
Jed Babbin:: Wow, how long you got? That’s the question. I can either give you the short answer or one that’s going to take about a week.
John Hawkins:: Let’s give the short answer…
Jed Babbin:: Yeah, the short answer is we’re doing really well and like everything else in the world, well is pretty good, but we could always do better.
John Hawkins:: Right.
Jed Babbin:: We can be doing things to put a lot more heat on the centers of terrorism. We’ve done a very good job in Iraq. We have freed millions and millions of people in Iraq and Afghanistan, but until we deal with the problems at their source, which means Iran and Syria and Saudi Arabia, the problem will never stop.
I mean, we can never have a free, fair, democratic, and secure Iraq until the Iranians and the Syrians stop interfering and the Saudis stop inflaming the Sunni Triangle with their outrageous religious rhetoric. So until we deal with those things the problem is not going to be done.
John Hawkins:: A related question here ‘ what should we be doing to deal with Iran and how far should we be willing to go to keep them from getting nukes?
Jed Babbin:: All the way… Iran is the central terrorist nation in the world. They have already threatened that they will use nuclear weapons against Israel. They will also use them if they get them against American interests both here and abroad. They will use them against Europe. They’re designing missiles that are intended to carry nuclear weapons to the range of Europe to intimidate them.
We cannot afford to have the mullahs in Tehran have the ability to obtain or achieve nuclear weapons. We have to do whatever it takes. I do not believe that will require an American invasion like Iraq. I think that would be a terrible mistake. I think that what we need to do is to stir the pot in a lot of other ways and enable the Iranian opposition groups to overthrow the mullahs. If necessary, if it becomes apparent that they are on the verge of achieving nuclear weapons we may very well have to knock out their nuclear program from the air and we can do that very quickly and very thoroughly.
John Hawkins:: Another related question — Now that Arafat is dead, do you think there’s any chance of making peace between the Palestinians and Israelis? Have things significantly improved or will we see more of the same? What do you think?
Jed Babbin:: Well, as I: wrote in National Review a week or so ago: (The day after Arafat died they printed the column) basically we have to avoid the trap of the peace process and we do not want to have the Israelis fall into it either. The basic bottom line is that there is an opportunity for peace and it may very well be that this is the time where it could be achieved, but just because someone is elected by the Palestinians does not mean that person is automatically entitled to a seat at the peace table.
The Palestinians, having had so many decades of terrorism, need to buy a place at the peace table by providing some period of stability and some period in which no terrorist attacks are mounted from their territory against Israel or against us. If they can manage to keep the lid on it for, you know, five or six months, absolutely, let’s get back to the peace table, but before that, I think it’s frivolous to even suggest that we start a new peace process.
John Hawkins:: Would you also say it’s a waste of time to even try to get started as long as Islamist jihad and Hamas are allowed to roam free in the Palestinian territories?
Jed Babbin:: Well, yeah, I mean these guys are going to be mounting terrorist operations and they are very well funded from Syria, Iran, and from other sources. That again comes back to the basic problem: it’s just like Iraq in many ways. You have to trace the problem to the source. Unless and until you deal with the problem at the source you can’t solve the problem.
Basically when you’re dealing with the Palestinians, it’s like trying to make a peace treaty with a couple of privates. You need to bring the generals to the table before you’re going to be able to make peace and the generals don’t live in the Palestinian areas. They live in Iran, they live in Syria, they live in Egypt, they live in Saudi Arabia, and a bunch of other places. These other nations basically are using the Palestinians as their proxies and cannon fodder against Israel and until the Palestinians realize that, this simply will continue.
John Hawkins:: In Iraq, well, it’s almost December 2004, so where do you see us in December 2005 in Iraq if you just take your best guess? I know no one really knows that until it’s done, but…..
Jed Babbin:: Well, you know, I can only look at what is most likely.
John Hawkins:: Of course.
Jed Babbin:: I suspect that a year from now there will be a democratically chosen government of Iraq that will have been chosen by approximately 2/3’s to 3/4’s of the population. There still will be an insurrection going on and I think that the bases that we are building there will be pretty close to done and we will be looking at what we need to do with some of the neighboring countries in order to stop the insurgency once and for all.
John Hawkins:: Do you see American forces being the primary police force or do you see the Iraqis handling almost all of their own policing, fighting insurgency themselves by then?
Jed Babbin:: Well, that’s really the $64 question. I obviously would like it for the Iraqis to be doing it themselves not only because it’s their job but I think when you put American combat soldiers into a peacekeeping role, you are removing the advantage of the training that makes them good combat soldiers. I don’t want a Marine Lance Corporal to be yelling, “Stop or I’ll shoot.” I want him to shoot and if you put a guy like that in a peacekeeping role you are going to reduce his effectiveness as a combat soldier; so we’ve got to really think about that. I’m afraid that we’re still going to have a bunch of guys providing quasi-police services in Iraq a year from now.
John Hawkins:: This is something that doesn’t get brought up a lot, but I wanted to touch on it. In broad strokes, can you paint a picture of what we should we be doing to try to get rid of Hizbollah?
Jed Babbin:: Wow…well, very easy: to get rid of Hizbollah you have to topple the regime in Syria and the regime in Tehran and that will do it. Quite frankly unless you do both of those things it will not be done.
Also, I would point you to Page 155 of my book. There’s a picture there of the UN peacekeeping outpost on the Israel-Lebanon border and there are two flags flying side by side. It’s a UN peacekeeping outpost so as you’d expect, hunky dorey, you know, there’s the UN flag. Flying 10 or 15 feet away is the flag of Hizbollah.
As you recall, I’m sure, Hizbollah has more American blood on its hands than any other terrorist organization except perhaps Al Qaeda. I think the Marines who lost 241 of their comrades in the Beirut barracks bombing in November of 1983 have a very clear recollection of Hizbollah.
It is outrageous to me that the United States would allow the UN to have this go on and it is obscene and an insult to the memory of all of those brave young men who died that day for this to go on. There’s a lot of reasons, oil for food and all the rest of that, to start cutting off the flow of money from the US to the UN but I’ll tell you what; Were it up to me, until that flag came down, those guys wouldn’t get one Yankee dollar.
John Hawkins:: I agree with you.
Another question; Watching what has been going on in Russia under Putin has been a bit disturbing. The free press has been largely curtailed, the power of the state is being used against Putin’s political enemies, and Putin has been consolidating power, all without too much of an outcry from the Russian public. Is it possible that we may see a return to totalitarianism in Russia?
Jed Babbin:: Well, they’re well on the way. You know Putin is KGB and you know once you’re KGB, you’re always KGB. I think he is more interested in consolidating power and restoring the totalitarian system that existed under the Soviets than he is in doing much of anything else. I mean look at the new ICBM they’re announcing and the fact that a nation that is supposedly broke is fielding new missiles, new classes of submarines, new classes of aircraft. The money is obviously coming from somewhere, they’ve obviously got a lot of it, and they’re also obviously not spending it on much of anything else. I don’t think we should by any means declare Russia an enemy at this stage, but anybody who would trust them would be extraordinarily foolish.
John Hawkins:: Can you tell us a little bit about your new book, “Inside the Asylum: Why the United Nations and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think.”
Jed Babbin:: Well, we’ve talked a lot about it. The point of the book is a couple of things; Number one, the UN is a failure. It’s broken and can’t be fixed. The problem with the UN is not the UN; it’s the members. You have 191 nations; fewer than 50 are democracies, and the rest being despots, dictatorships, rogues and terrorists. You can’t really say that the UN is a group of nations coming together to deal with issues in the sense of good will.
You have a real problem with the UN and basically it’s a quagmire of diplomacy. The UN by its charter is supposed to be the central form in the world for diplomatic action. For good or for ill, and mostly for ill, it has become just that. Having joined in making it the central source of diplomatic activity in the world, we are also now faced with the problem that its diplomacy is unending.
There’s never a decision made, there’s never action taken unless to pillory the United States or Israel. So my point to you and your readers is that the UN, by capturing the diplomatic option, basically takes it away from us and because it’s diplomacy for its own sake, rather than diplomacy for the sake of result, and it makes war more likely. That is the principal point of this book.
What we need to do is to get the democracies together to create the political environment so that the good nations of the world, the democracies, can leave the UN when we do or soon after form a new alliance. We can create a new forum and organization of democracies where nations of good will actually can meet and discuss and solve a lot of the problems of the world. The UN is not ever going to do it.
John Hawkins:: Are there any blogs you read regularly or semi-regularly these days?
Jed Babbin: Oh, golly, semi-regularly, of course I read the: Corner on NRO: and I read: Powerline: once in awhile. There’s a military blog called: Blackfive: that I read once in awhile. I’m sure there are a couple others. I’m just bleary eyed at the end of the day from reading all this stuff.
John Hawkins:: I understand. Is there anything else you’d like to say or promote before we finish up?
Jed Babbin:: No, but I appreciate your interest in the book and hope everybody takes a good hard look at it.