A staunch conservative, Charles Krauthammer is best known for his nationally syndicated and Pulitzer Prize-winning column in The Washington Post. He is one of the country's most prominent foreign policy thinkers. Moment Magazine Editor Nadine Epstein speaks with Krauthammer about rumors of a planned U.S. military strike against Iran, turmoil in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and why he is pessimistic about the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
For decades Americans lived in fear of the Soviet threat. Two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, what national security threats does the United States face?
Islamic radicalism and, over the horizon, China. I doubt that China will pose the kind of existential threat that the Soviet Union did because it's a geopolitical rival but not a particularly ideological one. Unlike the Soviet threat, Islamic radicalism doesn't have formal colonies or tank armies, but because of possible acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and because of its apocalyptic intentions, it has the potential of becoming an existential threat.
Is democratization a useful weapon against Islamic radicalism?
In theory, it is probably the best avenue to a safe world for free peoples. The problem is that democracy requires deep roots and certain social prerequisites that are lacking in much of the world, so it cannot be created instantly. But in certain strategic locations, democratization can be helpful. The way to defend ourselves against Islamic radicalism is to resist it through financial means, sanctions, surveillance, counterterrorism and counterinsur-gency. But for the long run it is also by trying to support moderate elements in the Muslim world, for example, trying to keep the Pakistani state alive. And, ultimately, by some measure of democratization, which would take power out of the hands of failed dictatorships that turn the fury of their people against the West and particularly against America.
How are we doing in the fight against Islamic radicalism?
Well, we haven't had a significant attack since 9/11, which nobody would have predicted. So we're doing something right, but we're doing it at a very high cost. To sustain the fight we have to find a way to do it at a lower cost because it will be a very long haul.
How would you define success in Iraq? In Afghanistan?
In Iraq, success would be leaving behind a functioning, reasonably democratic system, which may be near. That would be success considering that the current government is a successor to a genocidal, unpredictable, aggressive, dangerous dictatorship. Afghanistan is much more problematic. It's not developed enough in its political culture, economy or even in its sense of nationhood to get where Iraq is. In Afghanistan, success will be measured in a defensive way: What have we prevented? Total Taliban takeover.
It has been long known that elements within the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's intelligence agency, have been helping the Taliban. What can we do about that?
Nothing. What leverage do we have? Practically zero. Abandon the Pakistanis to their own devices? Pakistan is a country of 170 million people, a nuclear-armed Islamic state, with very powerful Islamist elements. We want to make sure that the army and the government remain in control of the pro-Western elements, and we will try to exert pressure to tame the rogue, pro-Taliban elements in the ISI as best we can.
How would you compare Barack Obama's Pakistan policy with that of George W. Bush?
Since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Bush and Obama have navigated a very difficult time in Pakistan. Obama is doing reasonably well. We've accelerated the use of drones, for example. But we are not going to change very much, and it's an illusion to think we could do so with a few hundred million dollars of aid spread throughout a country of this size. …