It is quite doubtful that HBO’s Bill Maher knew what he was in for when he scheduled Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute to be on his "Real Time" panel Friday night. After all, with CNN’s Lou Dobbs and liberal actor Ben Affleck surrounding her, it seemed highly unlikely the lone conservative in the discussion would survive the scrum, let alone win the debate. However, not only did Pletka hold her own, but she also ended up schooling Maher and Affleck on a virtual plethora of geopolitical issues making this one of the more enjoyable Friday Night Fights in recent memory (video link to follow).
The first lesson came when Affleck had the gall to suggest that Iran and North Korea “became more evil after” President Bush made his Axis of Evil speech during the 2002 State of the Union address (emphasis mine):
In terms of the history of Iran, you had a fairly reform-minded guy who then was followed by Ahmadinejad because here, we’re a little afraid, we don’t know culturally how to reach out to the United States, and then you hear “Axis of Evil,” and that only emboldens the reactionary, the far-right within Iran (side chatter). In terms of North Korea, you know, they had their nuclear program, there were, you know, inspectors there, it was taped up, there were cameras, as soon as they heard “Axis of Evil,” boom, the inspectors were thrown out, the cameras were turned off, and they began resuming this program. And, I think it’s a sign of how this kind of bellicose, one-linerisms in politics have consequences.
Pletka had clearly been chomping at the bit to get into the fracas. After all, this discussion was right up her alley as the bio at AEI’s website outlined:
Danielle Pletka is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI. Her research areas include the Middle East, South Asia, terrorism, and weapons proliferation. While at AEI, Ms. Pletka has developed a conference series on rebuilding post-Saddam Iraq and a project on democracy in the Arab world. She recently served as a member of the congressionally-mandated Task Force on the United Nations, established by the United States Institute of Peace. Before coming to AEI, she served for ten years as a senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
With such a pedigree, Affleck was disgracefully outclassed in this debate; Pletka countered his typical liberal hogwash with ease and aplomb:
Look, it’s really pleasant to believe that George Bush saying the “Axis of Evil” made everybody a part of the Axis of Evil. North Korea was discovered with a nuclear weapons program back in 1993. They pulled out of the Nonproliferation Treaty during the Clinton administration. They cheated on the Agreed Framework with the United States in 1998. So, they were being bad before.
Round one to Pletka. As Affleck lay twitching in the corner, Danielle went after Maher when he said of the Bush administration’s foreign policy: “You know, they call it ‘moral clarity.’ But, it’s really simplistic and childish. I’m sorry.”
Pletka: You want a foreign policy with nuance. You want the president to stand up and say: “You know what? The North Koreans, they’re quite bad, because they have a smaller nuclear weapon, and the Iranians, they’re a little bad.” C’mon. These are our enemies. (some side chatter) But people who are talking about, who want to destroy the United States, who say that they want to…
Maher: No they don’t.
Pletka: Excuse me. President Ahmadinejad has said…
Maher: Okay. I thought we were talking about North Korea…
Pletka: President Kim has said…
Maher: …he wants to destroy Israel.
Pletka: No, he has said he wants to destroy the United States.
Maher: I missed that one.
Pletka: Oh, yeah, well you did. And you missed something good.
Maher: He wants to destroy the United States?
Pletka: That’s right. These aren’t nice people, and we ought to believe them when they say they want to kill us, because invariably they have those aims.
Round two clearly went to Pletka, as a wobbly Maher was lucky the bell sounded before the referee called the fight. Feeling woozy and foolish, Affleck wanted more of the conservative when he said: “You are encouraging terror, and that makes minds smaller and people more defensive.” Pletka struck back: “I’m not encouraging terror. Calling a murderer a murderer does not encourage terror.”
Maher then tried tag-teaming Pletka, to no avail:
Even James Baker, excuse me, who is the old man’s consiglieri, right, even he said this week it’s not appeasement to talk to your enemies. Now either Bush the first is correct, or either this Bush is correct. You can’t...
Pletka: So we’re going from the nuanced world of Ben to the one is right or one is wrong world?
Maher: I’m asking which one is correct.
Pletka: I don’t think either of them are right.
Maher: You have to choose.
Pletka: No, I don’t have to choose.
Maher: Logically, you have to choose.
Pletka: Bill Maher, you’re not the boss of me, and I don’t have to choose.
Maher was knocked down by that blow. But, the best was yet to come, as Pletka continued:
I’m sorry. We did talk to the North Koreans for a long time, and they cheated, and they developed more nuclear weapons. Talking is sometimes a bad idea.
Pletka had Maher against the ropes, and moved in for the kill when the host brought up the report last week claiming that 655,000 Iraqis have been killed since the start of the war. Pletka, smelling blood, went for the KO:
From left to right, people who understand about doing these sorts of studies agree that thing is horse manure if I can say that on cable TV. It is absolute rubbish. (side chatter) I’m sorry, my children are watching. Seriously speaking, you can say that people have died…
Pletka: No, no, it’s not whatever. You’ve got to remember that a million people have died under Saddam Hussein…
Maher: Excuse me kids, but stop watching…what ass did you pull that out of?
Pletka: I pulled that out of the U.N. ass.
Maher: Hey, your kids are watching.
Pletka: Yeah, I know, but they saw the first ass!
At that point, the referee called the fight…winner, and extraordinarily whipping two liberals seemingly with one brain tied behind her back, Danielle Pletka.
*****Update: As a postscript, I wanted to add that I have watched this segment several times, and I am more and more impressed with Pletka. In fact, it seems to me that America needs a lot more experts like her on the airwaves, and a lot fewer pretenders like Bill Maher, Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin, and Barbra Streisand whose lack of intellectual capacity and political acumen add precious little to the discussion the nation is engaged in during such a complex period in its history.
Bravo, Danielle. This NewsBuster wants to see a lot more of you!