I was very pleased to get a chance to do a phone interview with Mona Charen. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Mona’s work, she has been a speech writer for Nancy Reagan & Jack Kemp, she’s a CNN commentator, her syndicated column appears in more than 200 newspapers, and her brand spanking new book, “Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First” is sitting at #25 on Amazon as I type this.
John Hawkins: Let’s say Jimmy Carter had somehow been reelected in 1980. Do you think the Soviet Union would still exist today?
Mona Charen: Without any question. Jimmy Carter came into office decrying our inordinate fear of communism. He spoke about human rights, which is a fine thing to emphasize for an American President. Unfortunately, the only human rights violators he could find were those who were our allies. He couldn’t find any human rights violations among our enemies in the Soviet Union and the entire Communist nightmare that enslaved and killed so many millions of people around the world.
Not until the Soviets rolled their tanks into Afghanistan and then only belatedly did Carter announce that his view of Soviet intentions had been affected. He was really the perfect embodiment of the syndrome I’m describing in the book. By the way, the term “useful idiots” was not my wording, it was Lenin who predicted that liberals would prove to be useful idiots for the Soviet cause.
John Hawkins: Do you think the left has largely gotten a pass for being so completely, utterly and entirely wrong about the effects of Reagan’s decision to abandon detente and challenge the Soviet Union?
Mona Charen: Yes, that’s one of the reasons I wrote the book. Not only have they never paid a price or acknowledged that they were so badly wrong in all of their dire predictions of WW3 and all of the other consequences of Reagan’s policies, but furthermore, they are now attempting to rewrite history and suggest that they were all, “cold warriors” when of course, the opposite was the case.
John Hawkins: As you traverse the net these days, it’s not unusual to hear people claim that George Bush is a Fascist, a Nazi, that he wants to create a police state, etc. Obviously, that is ridiculous, but you almost never hear these same people denounce left-wing thugs like Castro and Kim Jung-Il who actually are what they try to portray Bush as…
Mona Charen: Well, to the contrary, when it comes to people like that as I point out in the book, they tend to justify them, to whitewash them. I give many examples in the book of the gentle treatment that has been afforded to for example, Fidel Castro by our media. This is a monster, who has thought nothing of killing and torturing thousands upon thousands of people, yet they portray him as some sort of benevolent hero. It’s revolting.
John Hawkins: Speaking of Castro, we often hear Castro apologists talking about Cuba’s “model health care system”. I heard that you researched that in the book — what did you find?
Mona Charen: The Today Show & various newspapers have gone down to Cuba and they report…supposedly report…they simply repeat the government propaganda about the wonderful health care system and the universal literacy. They don’t have any idea, they haven’t done any actual reporting. People who have looked into it have found that Cuba has a two-tiered system. There’s one health care system for the party elite and for so-called “health tourists” from Western Europe. There’s a completely different system for the ordinary person. When the Cold War ended in Europe for example, we found out that half of the hospitals in the Soviet Union didn’t even have running water…
John Hawkins: I’m sure it’s about the same in Cuba.
Mona Charen: Yes.
John Hawkins: Changing the subject, does it bother you that the “peace movement” is associated with a Communist group like ANSWER?
Mona Charen: Yes it does. It doesn’t distress them at all. They don’t seem to mind the origins of the people with whom they are cooperating and they don’t seem to mind that it gives hope to Saddam Hussein. He was very honest in saying that he thinks time is on his side because he thinks the coalition, in response to public opinion in the West, which he thinks is represented by the people in the streets, will cause the coalition to collapse and he will be able to outlast us. So in effect, these people who are marching for peace are actually making war more inevitable if they harden Saddam’s will to hang on.
John Hawkins: We must think alike, because in my next question I was going to ask you if you thought the peace protests were buoying Saddam Hussein. So instead, let me ask about the Vietnam war protests. Do you think the anti-war protestors from the Vietnam era are partially responsible for the 81 million people enslaved in Vietnam today and Pol Pot’s reign of terror in Cambodia?
Mona Charen: Yes I do. But, more than that, as I say in the book, it distresses me that there were so few honest liberals, that there were so few people who looked at the consequences of what happened in SE Asia after they won. We did what they wanted, we pulled out and they had been predicting that nothing could be worse than the US participation in that war and that Vietnam would be much better off without us. In fact, in the book I reproduce a New York Times headline story that said in it’s headline something along the lines of, “analysts believe that SE Asia would be nothing but better off without an American presence”.
Then of course, what happened as you say, was that the Vietnamese were enslaved. Thousands upon thousands took to the sea in leaky boats. In Cambodia there was a genocide the likes of which the world had not seen since the second world war. Yet, very few people, Joan Baez and a handful of others ever protested what went on in SE Asia after we left. When there was no longer a United States to demonstrate against, suddenly these people lost their concern about the human rights of people in SE Asia.
John Hawkins: In a related question, why do you think that there are so many people on the left who always look to, “blame America first?”
Mona Charen: Well, these habits were formed in the Vietnam era. They’ve remained fixed, even today and as to why they hate America, that’s a deep philosophical question and I’m not sure I have the answer. I think part of it is that you can’t possibly have an appreciation for world history and be an America hater because if you look at the history of the world, it’s very bloody, very unpleasant and most people in most places have had to live with cruel and despotic governments. Our country is hardly perfect, no country is, but I challenge anyone to find in the history of the world a nation that has had more power and has used it more benevolently than we have.
I do not understand this hatred for the United States. I think it arises from ignorance of world history and it has a life of it’s own. In the universities, the left is basically the entrenched professoriat now and they have all those young minds that they can mold. I think that may account for some of it as well. But, I would say in every case it is based on a thorough misunderstanding of history and our place in it.
John Hawkins: Changing course again here, after we remove Saddam — and I think we’re going to do so — what do you think our next big move should be in the war on terrorism?
Mona Charen: First of all, we need to turn our attention to making sure that what we rebuild in Iraq is a functioning Democracy, however long that takes. Because if we do that, we begin to remake the map of that region. The Europeans like to say that we believe in killing mosquitoes and they believe in draining the swamps. I think it’s exactly the other way around. I think that if we begin to take on that region of the world and help to reform it, we will be draining the swamp that feeds the terror that so endangers us.
Iraq is a crucial country in that region; it’s a neighbor to Saudi Arabia, it has great oil wealth, it’s people are made up of all the major populations in the area and all of the major sects in the area, it borders Syria, it borders Iran. If Iraq were to become a functioning Democracy, however imperfect — and nobody is predicting perfection — it would definitely have a radiating influence throughout that region. You would then have Turkey as a Democracy, Iraq as a Democracy, and the other people would begin to say, “Hey, why can’t we have that?” Certainly, the Iranians already want it and they’re on the verge of a popular revolution to overthrow their theocracy there…
John Hawkins: How much longer do you think the mullahs in Iran can hold on to power?
Mona Charen: It depends on whether we help the forces of Democracy or not and I hope we will. I don’t mean by going in militarily, but in every other way we should be helping them. So I think that by beginning there and then possibly turning our attention to another hotbed of radicalism which is Pakistan, we can begin to, “drain the swamps.”
I think that the reasons for their hatreds of us go back centuries and may have something to do with the fact that their part of the world and their culture has been in decline for 700 years. But, it’s not just that. It also that they live under these despotic regimes that feed them a non-stop diet of lies & hatred towards the West, towards Jews, toward every non-Muslim and so we need to fight back in the war of ideas as well and show those people that they have been misled.
John Hawkins: Some people have called Iraq a, “distraction from the war on terrorism”…
Mona Charen: No, it’s the heart of it. For one thing, people don’t understand that part of succeeding in any conflict is sending signals that you’re serious. One of the immediate lessons that our enemies are going to learn if we take care of Iraq is that they better be on their toes, they better be concerned about getting on the wrong side of the United States. There will be two object lessons right in a row, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Furthermore, as the President has tirelessly repeated, and I do not understand why people cannot grasp this; when you have a reckless, dangerous, heedless leader like Saddam Hussein, so full of hatred and so unpredictable in power, there is every possibility that he might have shared his weapons of mass destruction with terrorists. If we do not take care of that problem, the danger from terrorism could fulfill our worst nightmares.
John Hawkins: After the miserable performance of the UN in this latest crisis, do you think that the UN is going to soon become as irrelevant as the League of Nations?
Mona Charen: Yes, I do. If they cannot even enforce their own resolutions then they are very similar to the League of Nations. But, I never thought that our moral legitimacy arises from getting authority from the United Nations to begin with. There are a lot of Democracies in the United Nations, but it is also home to China, Libya, Iraq, Syria, & many other not so admirable countries that do not give liberty to their own people. Yet they’re going to be instructing us, when we freely elect our Congress and our President? They’re going to be advising us on the morality of our conduct? It’s absurd.
Moreover, even they were all perfectly functioning democracies like France, they would all also be pursuing their own interests. The notion that the UN is some sort of dispassionate body that, “does right” and just pursues everybody’s best interests is a fantasy. Each individual nation will be pursuing their best interests. That’s the normal behavior of nation-states. It shouldn’t surprise us, but neither should we go to them for permission to do what’s in our national interests.
John Hawkins: Ann Coulter once wrote that, “Not exactly smashing stereotypes of liberals as mincing pantywaists, the left’s entire contribution to the war effort thus far has been to whine.” For the most part, would you agree or disagree with that statement?
Mona Charen: I would agree.
John Hawkins: And could you elaborate a bit?
Mona Charen: I think that the left’s reflexive position is to find fault with the United States. Therefore, they’re not actually being very helpful. Here we were, the victims of an attack. Yet, the immediate reaction of many on the left was, “We deserved it. We brought it on ourselves.” Basically, that does arise from hatred of this country.
Katha Pollitt of the Nation magazine refused to fly a flag from her apartment window although her young daughter wanted too. She said the flag stands for jingoism and war, etc, etc — if that isn’t hatred of America, I don’t know what is. So I do think that they have been remarkably unhelpful, but I think the same was true throughout the Cold War, and I write about that. The answer is, you have to take them on and defeat their arguments in order to be successful in the world. By the way, their arguments have influence beyond our shores…
John Hawkins: I can tell. If you listen to the statements from a lot of these anti-American Muslim groups overseas they sound just like the left…
Mona Charen: That’s exactly right. Those poisonous and curdled views of the United States travel very well.
John Hawkins: Do you think that we should have gone into Iraq this summer or…
Mona Charen: I do, I do. I was not in the Colin Powell, “let’s go to the UN school.” I think it would have been better to do it earlier. I don’t say in the summer, it’s awfully hard to fight in the summer in Iraq, but as soon as it cooled off I would have gone.
John Hawkins: Your editorials have been syndicated in more than 200 newspapers and I believe that your new book, “Useful Idiots” is probably going to make it to #1 before it’s all said and done…
Mona Charen: Oh, God bless you, I hope you’re right (laughs)
John Hawkins: Hey, I’ve interviewed authors that have made it to #1 before, it wouldn’t be the first time. But, do you have any tips for those of us that want to reach your level of success one day?
Mona Charen: Just write and write and write. Read good writers and then write yourself. Reading other good writers is the best way to improve your writing. Even after talking to a good writer you’ll find yourself sounding more intelligent…
John Hawkins: Well that should help me out then.
Mona Charen: (Laughs)
John Hawkins: I guess I lucked out today. Can you tell us a little bit about your new book, “Useful Idiots?”
Mona Charen: Yes, I was moved to write it because I think the left has never been held to account for how wrong it was about American foreign policy in the Cold War. So I decided to go back and look at their actual quotes and reprint what they were actually saying while the war was going on to counter this revisionist history since then where they’ve claimed everybody was a Cold Warrior which was obviously not true. Furthermore, I wanted to show that these habits of thought that were formed during the Cold War remain a key part of the liberal mindset even today. Although the Cold War is over, the anti-American posture of the left has not changed at all. To show this, I give many examples post 9/11.
I also think that the United States was faced with two huge challenges in the twentieth century. The first was Nazism and the second was Communism. Both were moral, strategic, and military threats to us. We rose to the first challenge beautifully and everybody agreed that Nazism was a terrible evil that needed to be eradicated and we did it. The left had no trouble identifying Nazism as an evil. But, they had a great deal of trouble identifying Communism as such and they have never come to grips with the fact that they had a tendency to excuse the Soviets, to justify their actions, to understand them, to try to appease them, and to find fault with us for opposing the Communists. They called themselves anti-anti-Communists, but that was a fundamentally immoral position for them to take and I wanted to call them to task for that because I think they have not yet grappled with it.
John Hawkins: In fact, I’d say a lot of people today are still reluctant to criticize Communism.
Mona Charen: I have a quote in the book from Eleanor Clift during the whole Elian Gonzalez thing where somebody was saying, “Oh, it’s a discussion about whether the boy would be better off in the United States or in Castro’s Cuba.” And Clift says, “I’m not going to pass judgement on them for their lifestyle.” (Laughs)
John Hawkins: Are there any websites out there that you’d like to recommend to our readers?
Mona Charen: Oh sure, first of all they can read my column at Town Hall &Jewish World Review. Some websites that I visit often are National Review, The Weekly Standard, & Andrew Sullivan….Sometimes I look at Mickey Kaus.
John Hawkins: Is there anything else you’d like to say or promote before we finish up?
John Hawkins: Thank you, I really appreciate your time.