Tension in Iran


HUGH HEWITT: Welcome back, America. It's Hugh Hewitt inside the Beltway in the Relief Factor Studio. That music means it's time for the Hillsdale Dialogue. It's our week-ending conversation with either Dr. Larry Arnn, or Dr. Matt Spalding, or one of the terrific members of the faculty and team at Hillsdale College. All things Hillsdale are collected at  

All of our dialogues dating back to 2013 are found at And Dr. Matt Spalding agreed graciously to move up a half hour today to do our hour from 7:30 to 8:30 in the East and different times in the rest of the country, because, of course, Lindsey Graham is available only at 8:30.  

So, A, I appreciate your courtesy, Dr. Spalding, but B, I appreciate the timeliness. Because you've been around long enough you're not as old as I am but you can remember Ronald Reagan sinking a third of the Iranian fleet in 1988 after they pulled these shenanigans in the Arabian Gulf. What do you expect is going to happen now?  

MATT SPALDING: Wow. A lot of moving things going on. It seems to me, so clear, that the Iranians are trying to draw us in and try to get a regional conflict going on. They're suffering from the strangulation of their economy, and I think they're getting increasingly desperate. I think the question is how long do we let that go? This broadens that whole strategic perspective.  

I mean, it kind of comes back to this question going on with Mexico right now. The way this administration is looking at these things, how do you act strategically in a short-term way? Do you use leverage and pressure, but you're trying to affect an outcome farther down the road? I just don't know how long we can put up with those shenanigans.  

I don't want us to be drawn in for light reasons. If we're going to do something, we should do something serious. But gosh, I'd prefer to see the Iranian country continue to suffer under that and, perhaps, lead to a revival of reforms within the country, which has happened in the past, but unfortunately, wasn't good enough. We should encourage that again.  

HEWITT: What you're articulating—Hillsdale College runs a center for statesmanship, both on campus and at the Kirby Center, which Dr. Spalding helms in Washington DC. You ought to follow Kirby Center @kirbycenter. For some unknown reason, Matt will not start a Twitter handle. Why don't you have Twitter, Matt?  

SPALDING: I just never have. There are not enough words. There are not enough ways to say things.  

HEWITT: All I want you to do is link to things that I should read. I don't care if you ever I wish I read what you read. But here's my point about prudence. When Lincoln ran the Union, he had a two-front war, the Eastern theater in the Western theater, and he had resources to it. Right now, we have so many conflicts around the world and so many things that will follow.  

Dr. Michael Oren of Israel started the show by saying, if the United States hits Iran, they will unleash Hezbollah. Hezbollah will draw Israel in. Meanwhile, Iran is trying to get Israel to attack Gaza. It's all very sticky. It's all very complicated. At the same time, we've got Venezuela and Cuba connected.  

So if you're the President of the United States, and you're John Bolton and Mike Pompeo luckily, he's got the Secretary of State, I think the best we've had in a long time, and the national security advisor has trained for this his whole life. What is the prudent thing to do when you are being aggressively egged to take action by the Iranians?  

SPALDING: Well, first thing I'd point out is a key aspect of prudent decision-making is understanding what information you know. And I point that out because we, the listeners, outside, there's a lot of things we don't know that they do know, which means that the prudent decision we might think of is not going to be the same thing as is what they are seeing.  

They're seeing all this in real time. They're seeing more information. They're getting information from their military. They also know what we are capable of doing at any moment. That information is necessary for the deliberative process of making good judgment calls as an aspect of prudence.  

So that said, I think that, at least from the broader point of view of a framework and I think what we are seeing, and I think this is why so many of the mainstream kind of diplomatic thinking elite are upset this is different than the way they approach it. But I think this is more of a natural, political way that a statesman would look at the world, is you're trying to connect all these moving pieces in ways where they relate to each other, but you're seeing how the resources in different areas are relating, what the outcomes might be, what our options are.  

But rather than looking at them individually as diplomatic efforts or regional pieces, you're looking at it as a larger strategy, and having to do with something larger you're trying to effect. And so you want all these things communicating. So you want your policies having to do with Central America and tariffs. Those are related to your policies having to do with China right now. The questions in the Middle East have to do with your policies with oil, and all these other aspects.  

We somehow think, the mainstream media somehow thinks, that this is mean-spirited on our part. They begrudgingly don't want to give credence to the fact that there might be a strategy here. It just boggles my mind, when I'm sitting back here seeing what seems to be a broader strategic policy, or strategic thinking about the world in light of our interests, national interests, but also thinking about a larger objective of encouraging certain types of regimes and certain types of actions. The world, which protects us, but also protects the cause of democratic government.  

HEWITT: And so when we have someone walk up to the podium today In fact, let me play for our audience and for you. This is Mike Pompeo. The Secretary of State walked out yesterday afternoon, after receiving all the information, assessing it, and gave a minute and 11 second statement, which is pretty complete. Cut number 20.  

MIKE POMPEO: Iran is lashing out because the regime wants our successful maximum pressure campaign lifted. No economic sanctions entitle the Islamic republic to attack innocent civilians, disrupt global oil markets, and engage in nuclear blackmail. The international community condemns Iran's assault on the freedom of navigation and the targeting of innocent civilians.  

Today, I have instructed our UN Ambassador, Jonathan Cohen, to raise Iran's attacks in the UN Security Council meeting later this afternoon. Our policy remains an economic and diplomatic effort to bring Iran back to the negotiating table at the right time to encourage a comprehensive deal that addresses the broad range of threats, threats today apparent for all the world to see, to peace and security.  

Iran should meet diplomacy with diplomacy, not with terror, bloodshed, and extortion. The United States will defend its forces, interests, and stand with our partners and allies to safeguard global commerce and regional stability. We call upon all nations threatened by Iran's provocative acts to join us in that endeavor. Thank you.  

HEWITT: What do you think he was saying there, Dr. Matthew Spalding?  

SPALDING: Well, I thought that was a great statement, but he put together all the pieces. What I was actually thinking of when I heard that was, say, the Powell statements leading up into the Iraq war, which is to say that I think now, the United States is in a much different position relative to Iran. They're different countries, circumstances are different. But we're putting ourselves in a position of strength.  

They've got the sanctions in place. Iran is the one that now has to lash out, as Pompeo says. They're doing things, trying to provoke, which means we can now go to the international community from much more a position of strength to try to assert pressure on the Iranian regime. But I think Pompeo also made clear here, very subtly that beneath this velvet glove of diplomacy is the iron fist of our military strength, which we will assert, if necessary.  

But doing it from a position of strength with the international community watching, everyone sees what's going on. It makes it a much better position to be in, diplomatically, such that when we have to take that action, if we do have to take that action, it's much more justified. I thought it was a very subtle and nuanced, but clear, statement, a very statesmanlike way. I thought it was a very good statement.  

HEWITT: I agree, because he emphasized diplomacy. It was the Secretary of State, not the Secretary of Defense. It wasn't the Vice President. It wasn't the President. We would prefer to settle this diplomatically, but it does, I think, set the table. Now, I want to switch, if we can, because I want to spend most of our time on immigration.  

Dr. Spalding, how long have you been working on the immigration issue, generally? Not the border, but immigration generally.  

SPALDING: I've got to say 30-some years.  

HEWITT: And so why were you attracted to the subject matter to begin with? Because there are a lot of demographic geeks out there, and pardon my calling you a demographic geek. But a lot of people study immigration obsessively, not for political reasons, but because it's the future of countries, nations, and thus history.  

SPALDING: Well, I would say the question that originally attracted me, and I want to come back to the point you just made, especially. But the question that actually originally attracted me was how the immigration questionespecially this idea of people coming here as immigrants and becoming American citizens the idea of how that might occur, the very notion of that attracted me, because that's a question, really, at the heart of what America means.  

And there was something different about how that occurred here as opposed to other countries. Reagan famously liked to point out in his speeches that you can go to France, but never become a Frenchman. You can become a German citizen, but never become a German. It takes generations because it's based on blood and soil. But here, anyone can come here and, in theory, become an American. It works differently from a political point of view.  

And I was attracted by that because I was interested in American thought and American politics. And so the immigration discussion became a way to understand that idea at the center of what America means. And once you get into that, it raises broader questions and points to, what does it mean to have borders?  

What does a country mean? Why is something like citizenship important? And all of those elements. So in a certain sense, the security aspects, the very particulars we spend a lot of time debating today, are extremely important, but were, in many ways, secondary, in terms of how I came to the issue.  

HEWITT: When I come back from break with Dr. Matt Spalding, you can't follow him, but you can follow Hillsdale on Twitter and Kirby Center. And maybe someday we'll get him to do it. We're going to talk about a phrase he just used, blood and soil. We are not blood and soil conservatives, Dr. Spalding and I.  

We are the antithesis, actually, of blood and soil conservatives, but there is a lot of misinformation about people. And a lot of blood and soil conservatives misuse the immigration issue for very tendentious and divisive purposes. We're going to spend some time talking about that this morning. I'll be right back with Dr. Matt Spalding. Stay tuned to The Hugh Hewitt Show.  

Welcome back, America. It's Hugh Hewitt. It is the Hillsdale Dialogue, running a little bit off of our ordinary programming. Normally, we do it the last radio hour of the week, but Senator Lindsey Graham is available in the second half of next hour of our show. Dr. Matthew Spalding, the director of Hillsdale College's Kirby Center, their sweet lighthouse of reason in the shadow of the Capitol, joined me early today so we could do our hour's conversation and then post it over at  

All things Hillsdale are collected at, including the most terrific collection of online courses. Go there and be smarter. We suffer from a deficit of information, education, analysis, and prudence, and Hillsdale will fill that.  

Dr. Spalding, in the last segment, we're talking about immigration, and this is so important. You use the term "blood and soil immigration conservatism." That's not you, that's not me, but there's a lot of it around. Would you explain what that means and why it is not an American concept?  

SPALDING: Right. Well, there's a lot of confusion about it. And I think that one of the reasons why this conversation is so important is because you have all this confusion surrounding this question of immigration, security, citizens, asylum. All of these things really turn on a going back to and getting correct these underlying principles. This is almost always the case with many of these large questions, which deal with the nature of what it means to be this particular country 

What are its principles? This is why American conservatism and liberalism, for that matter, broadly speaking, are always debating the meaning of the original idea of America. Do we want to conserve that thing? Do we want to liberate ourselves from it? And we're always going back to that.  


SPALDING: And in this case go ahead. What were you going to say?  

HEWITT: So we're always going back to that, but we're not always going back to it in Europe. I mean, they don't believe in this.  

SPALDING: That was the distinction I was going to make, right?  


SPALDING: So much of that question is a distinction between what it meant here and what it meant in the European tradition. And there, you see a key difference, especially within conservatism, but also, broadly speaking, in American liberalism I'm using that in a very generic term about what the difference is. Here, let me give you an example, which is not immigration-based.  

At the time of the American Revolution, they're fighting a revolution against the King of England, and they are thinking about how we're going to justify a revolution. Is it common law? Is it our compacts? Is it our agreements through Parliament? And ultimately, they turn to an argument about rights.  

But then the question is, are we going to fight for our rights as Englishmen? Well, up to a point, that's what they wanted, the rights of what it meant to be an Englishman, i.e. someone born in England and having the rights of an Englishman. But they realized that wasn't sufficient if you're fighting a war against the King of England.  

So they actually went beyond that. They went above that, or behind that, however you want to put it, to the rights in nature held by all human beings. They made a universal claim that really transcended the notion that we are defined by where we're born, which is an old feudal argument, or our bloodline. We are not, by blood, French or German or Italian. We appealed to something that was a universal truth. And of course, that's at the center of the Declaration of Independence.  

HEWITT: That is the fact from which launched the idea of an American sort of citizenship different from anything it's what American exceptionalism is actually based on. You said going, under, over, behind. It's gone higher, in my view. But distinguish that from what happened in the French Revolution, because I don't think the French Revolution, though they may have originally intended to pursue the same sort of thing, ended up doing anything remotely like the American experiment.  

SPALDING: Well, so what happens is the old feudal argument, which is the blood and soil reference we made earlier, which was what it meant to be a citizen, was defined not by an idea, but by where you're born, what your bloodline is. It's, essentially, an aristocratic notion of what it means to be a citizen. It's what you inherited.  

The French Revolution goes a different direction. They appeal to rights. They claim to follow the American Revolution, but it was a much different thing. What they claimed was not grounded in nature, which said it had no moorings, but it was revolutionary, in the true sense of the word, to break down everything. And so their notion of rights is much more rationalistic and open-ended and we are citizens of the world, so kind of modern cosmopolitanism. A lot of that comes out of the remnants of the French Revolution and European thinking as well.  

HEWITT: Is it fair to say, Matt, they wanted we have 30 seconds they wanted nothing of tradition or God. They wanted license and they wanted  

SPALDING: Well, that's right. So if those are your two extremes, America is another alternative, which is we have a universal principle. We believe all men are created equal, which creates this notion of citizenship. Anyone can become a citizen, but it's in a particular nation. This nation with this constitutional system, which is why the other principle at the heart of this is consent. We must consent to our laws and those can become citizens, if we consent to that through our legal system.  

HEWITT: We continue the conversation about the immigration debate as a bill to assist people at the border pends in the United States Senate. Dr. Matt Spalding will be back with me after the break to talk about why we want to help people who are in distress, but why we also have to keep our eye on those who are willing to become citizens in the highest sense versus those who are not. Stay tuned, America. It's The Hugh Hewitt Show.  

Welcome back, Americans. Hugh Hewitt. Bonjour, hi, and morning glory. I was just listening to the President of the United States talking about Iran. My guest is Dr. Matthew Spalding. He is the Director of the Kirby Center, Hillsdale College's lantern of sweet reason in the shadow of the Capitol. Follow it @kirbycenter 

Dr. Spalding, he just said Iran did do it. He said that, basically, they left one behind, had Iran written all over it. He also said they were unstoppable and now they're in deep, deep trouble about Iran. And he said they were having a good time at Barack Obama's expense. They aren't going to be closing the Straits of Hormuz. What do you make of that?  

SPALDING: I make of that a president putting some markers down and letting them know what he just let them know what we know and he let the whole world know that. And he also said what we're not going to allow them to do. So I think that's exactly what he should do, and there's a lot of room in between there, right?  

So on the one hand, we know what's going on here. In the extreme here, you're not going to close down that Strait, because that's an international waterway. In between, he's not told them what we're going to do. If you attack another one the ships, if you do this, if you do that, that's all up in the air. And that was a good move. I like that.  

HEWITT: I mean, I just think they're watching, obviously. The whole world is watching. He just said Iran did it. They basically have Iran written all over the mine. One of them didn't explode. It's sort of like sending Stevenson to the UN Security Council with incontrovertible proof of the missiles in Cuba.  

We did the same thing with WMD in Iraq and we were wrong, but on this one, you've got the mine. You know, we know Iran. We know Iran did it. He served notice. He's reinforcing what Pompeo did. It's very prudent. I want to go back to immigration. We have two subjects.  

Right now, Mitch McConnell was a guest on the show earlier this week. He's bringing forward a bill. It's not about border security. It's about providing resources to process asylum claims and to house people captured crossing the border without permission. It is being opposed by Democrats. How do you advise Republicans to frame this discussion, Dr. Spalding?  

SPALDING: Well, going back to our earlier discussions, I think, rhetorically at the very least, but just in general, but especially rhetorically and how we discuss these things, it's important that we keep our eye on the ball. What's the principle that informs everything about immigration? Why do we have immigration? Why do we have immigration laws? Why are we making a big deal out of this?  

Sometimes I think that the debate is down in the weeds so much. And these are very important questions, don't miss my point here, but sometimes we don't take the high ground. We don't point out what we're doing. Why are we trying to secure the border? Why are we trying to make asylum We're not denying asylum, but we're trying to make it occur through a process, a predictable process, an understandable process under the rule of law with reasonable terms and a lot of room to make exceptions. Why do we do that?  

I think it's important to understand that that has something to do with the whole reason of immigration has to do with inviting people, being very reasonable and humanitarian, but having a purpose to it under our laws, according to the principles of consent, moving towards and what we're really inviting here are those people who are leaving countries because they need to be protected, but also want to come here with the intention of becoming Americans.  

All of our immigration policies are designed towards that, it's about making Americans. Now, 5, 10, 20, 50 years from now, future generations. That's where it's about. And I think too often, we don't talk about that, which leaves it to the critics to take the more impassioned, which seems to be the idealistic high ground, when, in reality, that's what we're trying to do. We're not trying to keep people out because of the color of their skin, or because we don't like them, or where they're coming from.  

We're trying to do the best we can as an actual country with resources and limits to what we can do, but being open to expressing and upholding our principles. And we've got to have a process to do that. It's got to be rigorous. It's got to be the rule of law. It's got to be compassionate. But it's in our interest, but it's also in the interest of everyone who wants to join us in this republican small r experiment in self-government.  

HEWITT: Indeed, the President just spoke about  

SPALDING: Europe as well.  

HEWITT: The President just spoke about immigration. Let's hear what he said.  

DONALD TRUMP: Mexico, a lot of good things are happening, things that they've been trying to get approved, Brian, for 25 years. I got them done in one day. I put the tariffs on and we got them approved, and Mexico's been terrific, and it's really slowing down. But I watched Lindsey Graham and he's right. We have to get help from Congress. The Democrats in Congress are not giving up and we need help from Congress.  

BRIAN: Right, they're really not. Going back to the topic  

HEWITT: So that help from Congress is where we come. What you just said, Matt Spalding, we want to make Americans. The Hewitts arrived here in 1869 from Saint Field, Ireland. He came through Ellis Island, my great grandfather.  

He went and worked in the mines, got himself a little farm, put his kids in school, Catholic school for me. Civics was taught. Public education was required. We made Americans out of Ulstermen. And the same for my German forebears and my Irish and my Scots forebears and my Swiss forebears. They all were made into Americans. Have we abandoned that project?  

SPALDING: Well, let me answer by putting it this way, yes and no, in the sense that that project will continue. It is occurring right now. The question is, what kind of Americans do we want? The problem, and the reason why there actually is a crisis at the border, is because we no longer control that process. That's the problem.  

And people are coming here, many for nefarious reasons, perhaps many for legitimate reasons, but not under our control. And they will become Americans because, over time, through generations, that's what's going to happen through a natural process. And they get absorbed into the existing system, whether that's the modern welfare state or the modern political system, and that happens.  

My point is that we should have some planning about that. We should think about it. How do we make Americans? How should we make Americans? And I think that there is why our whole system is designed. The principle is clear. Anyone could become an American, but to do so, you have to do it through the process of consent, which means our consent, which is our laws of creating a process. And through that, you enter what is called a process of naturalization.  

You become a citizen as if it was a natural thing, but with some agreed upon rules and a process to teach you about what it means to be an American. But also, and this is important as well, we're going to give you the skills to be a successful American who can participate in and take advantage of all of the opportunities that we offer.  

And to do so, you need to know the language that we use in our economic system, and you need to have opportunities to hold a job, and get a job, and keep a job, not become a ward of the state, which is a rule under naturalization, and those things. And that creates a process by which one assimilates, become similar. Not the same, similar, assimilation.  

HEWITT: We have at the Cleveland Indians, a great first baseman named Carlos Santana. He's been playing for the Indians for many, many years. He was traded for a while. He's back. He's having a monster year. He became an American citizen last month, and everybody in Ohio was applauding him, et cetera.  

That's a conscious decision, that it was not made when he emigrated to the country to play baseball. Was made subsequent on his part, consent by him, and he had to pass a test. That test, by the way, Doug Ducey is now requiring every high school senior in America to be able to pass, because it's not hard, but it's necessary. It's the basics of how do we govern ourselves. And the idea of a citizenship test seems quaint to a lot of the progressives out there, the social justice warriors, but it's everything, Matt Spalding. It's everything.  

SPALDING: That's right, which is why back in the second Bush administration, there have been various pushes. And one of the things that was created, which I had a hand in, was an Office of America Citizenship. And we reworked and worked on the citizenship test and gave it a little more substance that was there before.  

It could still be, I think, improved, but the idea is that if America is not like a blood and soil country, then becoming an American is not a process like it is in a blood and soil country. Here, it is based on an idea, and the way you express that is through consent, which means you've got to learn something about not monarchy, not despotism, but republican self-government. A test, naturalization, civics courses, all that is crucial to the process.  

HEWITT: It's about republican self-government. Not the Republican Party, but a form of government. One more segment coming up with Dr. Matt Spalding. We'll also keep our ear tuned to President Trump as he talks on Fox and Friends, bringing the news, when we return to The Hugh Hewitt Show.  

Welcome back, America. It's Hugh Hewitt, concluding this week's show, Hillsdale Dialogue with Dr. Matthew Spalding. He leads the Kirby Center. You can follow the Kirby Center on Twitter @kirbycenter. He's Hillsdale College's Vice President here inside the Beltway. You can also follow Hillsdale at Matt Spalding, I want to end the President continues to make news, and he's talking about Kellyanne Conway and the bogus charge against her, and it's all very interesting, but that will pass.  

Mitch McConnell wants billions of dollars to assist people at the border in a humanitarian way and that means to house, feed, care for, provide basic nutrition and supplement as they wait to be processed as to whether or not they will be allowed to be in the country to become this process we've been talking about. Why would any Democrat oppose that? What is the upside for people opposing? It's not the fence. It's not border patrol. It's for humanitarian aid. What is going on?  

SPALDING: Well, if there was ever an argument about what the Left was up to, I think now there's actually quite some evidence about what they don't like, if you think about this deal with Mexico and how people are reacting to that, this asylum bill, any conversations about the wall or anything like that.  

I think the modern Left is having somewhat of their own intellectual crisis and they're quickly abandoning kind of the for a long period, for most of its history the widely accepted arguments about immigration that we've been describing. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an extreme argument about how this process should occur and how we want to be open and humanitarian yet have an actual rigorous process.  

Why would you oppose any of that unless you are having troubles within your own coalition about making distinctions? Because all of these things demand recognition or a process by which some people might receive asylum and some people might not receive asylum. You have to distinguish between things. And increasingly, I think modern Liberalism, progressive Liberalism, is incapable of making those distinctions.  

We see it in all of the aspects of identity politics and multiculturalism. You can't ever assert some argument that somehow questions somebody else's status. And I think that right now, they're almost being irrational in how they're thinking about these questions. This is an extremely reasonable approach to try to make this process work in a more humanitarian way.  

This deal with Mexico, extremely good approach, which is we're using the leverage we have with the tariff to do something in our national interest with an ally. We've found common ground. They don't want those tariffs. But we've convinced them that they need to help work with their southern border.  

But also, it's tied back to the asylum question about at what point people receive asylum? Where do they wait while they're receiving asylum? And we're negotiating that. There seems to be some agreement on those terms, because that takes the pressure off of the United States to divide families, and all these things that no one wants us to do. But also, allowing people to come here and then releasing them into the country when 75% of them don't actually qualify for asylum.  

So these are all pretty reasonable measures. And I think that it's been politicized to such an extent that we can't have what strikes me as a bipartisan, rational deliberative discussion about how to do this in a way that's humanitarian, according to the rule of law, and in light of our higher principles of immigration policy.  

HEWITT: And I just have to believe, Matt, that, eventually, that's going to win. I think that's a nonpartisan approach. With 30 seconds, do you think the American people understand it to be a nonpartisan approach?  

SPALDING: I think it's becoming clear, as the evidence of this crisis just increasingly grows. It's being recognized by more people in the mainstream, and even within the Democratic Party. These things can't continue.  

The ground, I think, is set for a larger agreement. We see things moving in the Senate and the House. The administration with this Mexico deal and other things are writing their own bill. I think we're having a new conversation. He's kind of reset the terms and opened up this conversation.  

HEWITT: Matt Spalding, always a great pleasure. Everything Hillsdale, Follow Hillsdale on Twitter @hillsdale. Follow the Kirby Center @kirbycenter. Follow me to the next segment, Dr. Lindsey Graham. Dr. Spalding gives way to Senator Lindsey Graham, here on The Hugh Hewitt Show.