Readers and watchers of American political punditry were left reeling from the news that one of their most respected and prolific guides to the days’ news, Charles Krauthammer, only had weeks to live. Krauthammer announced that after a long battle with cancer his doctors “tell me their best estimate is that I have only a few weeks left to live. This is the final verdict. My fight is over.”
Krauthammer, who passed away Friday at the age of 68, was born in New York City to Orthodox Jewish parents, but raised in Montreal, Canada. Trained as psychiatrist, he began his career as a speech writer in the Carter administration, he began writing essays at the New Republic and later won a 1985 Pulitzer Prize for commentary for his weekly column in The Washington Post.
Krauthammer, who was paralyzed in a diving accident, was a leading neoconservative during the George W Bush administration, advocating for the war in Iraq, and during the 2016 campaign was one of the founders of the so-called “Never Trump” movement.
Krauthammer argued for the neocon mantra of the time, “the defense of freedom requires the advance of freedom,” an ideology which informed him and other conservative commentators like Bill Kristol, David Frum and John Podhoretz to break with fellow Republicans and slam Trump for both his isolationism and creeping autocracy at home.
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A decades-long supporter of Israel, Krauthammer was one of Barack Obama’s most vocal and eloquent critics, very publicly siding with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy toward Iran over that of Obama.
After Netanyahu’s reelection in 2015, Krauthammer said on Fox News, “Look, it is clear that Obama loathes Netanyahu and he did everything he could to unseat him but he failed. I think the message here is this was an election between Bibi and Obama.”
“That worked in ousting Prime Minister [Yitzhak] Shamir in the '90s. It worked in defeating Bibi in 1998,” concluded Krauthammer, using the common nickname for Netanyahu.
He often framed Netanyahu’s successes in terms of Obama’s failures in the Middle East. After Netanyahu addressed the U.S. Congress in 2015, Krauthammer praised him for defying U.S. policy, “He [Netanyahu] said, if we have to, we will act alone meaning, he is telling the Congress, if this deal is enacted or if it begins to go through, we reserve the right to attack Iran on our own.”
Krauthammer recognized early on and argued for the Netanyahu policy of separating the Sunni Arab world from the Palestinians, writing in a 2017 article titled, “Why Middle East peace starts in Saudi Arabia,” he argued Netanyahu understands that “making the Israel-Palestinian issue central, rather than peripheral, to the epic Sunni-Shiite war shaking the Middle East today is a serious tactical mistake.”
Krauthammer was a fierce opponent of the Oslo accords, often calling them a “mirage,” as he distrusted the Palestinians’ motivations and their willingness to embrace liberal values and truly give up terrorism.
At the American Jewish Committee meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu praised Krauthammer on Sunday after hearing of his terminal illness, saying he had sent Krauthammer a letter and that Israel “had no greater friend.”
Despite Krauthammer’s fondness and constant praise of Netanyahu, he never wavered in his criticism of Donald Trump. In a heated argument with Trump supporter Laura Ingraham, Krauthammer said Trump’s failure to unequivocally condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis protesting in Charlottesville, Virginia was a “moral disgrace.” Trump called him on overrated clown on Twitter.
The conservative commentator also blasted the president for his behaviour on social media. At the beginning of the Qatar crisis, in June 2017, Krauthammer wrote of Trump’s reaction: “And this is just four days’ worth of tweets, all vainglorious and self-injurious. Where does it end?”
Krauthammer, fearing for the future of American democracy and lambasting Trump’s behavior as president concluded, “This really can’t go on, can it? But it’s hard to see what, short of a smoking gun produced by the Russia inquiry, actually does stop him.”
Krauthammer was such a well-known and respected commentator that he even fell vicitm to the “fake news” epidemic as his byline was falsely affixed to articles he did not author - which often defended Trump.
In February 2018, an op-ed praising Trump as neither a Republican or a Democrat, but a pragmatist, started getting passed around via e-mail and social media with Krauthammer’s byline - an article he never wrote and an argument he would never make.
Krauthammer concluded one of his last commentaries writing, “Trump was elected to do politically incorrect — and needed — things ... He was not elected to do crazy things, starting with his tweets... If he cannot distinguish between the two, Trump Derangement Syndrome will only become epidemic.” One can only wonder what Krauthammer would have made of Trump moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, whether it was politically incorrect or just crazy, had he been well enough to write about it.