Military historian and classicist Victor Davis Hanson’s hour long look at the state of the war.
HH: This is a special hour. Last week, I spent so much time talking to Lawrence Wright of The Looming Tower, and Gerard Baker of the London Times, he’s the American editor, with Melanie Phillips of Londonistan, I talked to just everyone, Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, Katrina Vandenheuvel of The Nation, about the war, the war, the war. And it was really a setup for this hour, a conversation with eminent military historian and observer of the war, Victor Davis Hanson. You can read all of his stuff at www.victorhanson.com. All of his books are available at Amazon.com. Victor, welcome back, it’s good to have you.
VDH: Thank you for having me, Hugh.
HH: I do want to try and cover a lot of overview ground here, so as we sit here on the first day of May, 2007, how do you assess where we are in the global war against jihadism?
VDH: I think we’re going pretty well. We’ve killed, we don’t hear that, we’ve killed a lot of al Qaeda, they’ve lost their sanctuary under the Taliban in Afghanistan, there hasn’t been another 9/11, there’s people in Europe who see that the Spanish method of contrition and appeasement does not work, and we’re killing a lot of them in Iraq. Iraq is difficult, we had a successful three week war. We got rid of Saddam Hussein. We’ve lost 3,000 people, and that’s tragic, but it’s less than the pre-war estimate that we’re going to take place just removing Saddam. And we’re killing people over there that need to be killed. I’m going to be blunt about it. So I think that most of the Americans understand that. They’re upset with what’s the end game in Iraq. They’re not sure that this government is capable of consensual government in the way that we envision it. That’s another issue. But I think in the long struggle, the Europeans are understanding that you can’t really talk to the Iranians as they advocated. That really doesn’t help. They understand that you can’t really talk the Pakistani immigrant population into London to police their own. The Spanish understand that when they got out of Iraq, and sort of apologized, then al Qaeda went after their supreme court judges. The Germans are understanding that they’ve got problems within Germany. And the Dutch understood. And I think now the Europeans are starting to see this is something…if the Pope can’t write a treatise, if a filmmaker can’t make a film in Holland, if a German opera company cannot put on an opera, if a French philosophy high school teacher can’t teach what he wants, and if a Dane can’t make a cartoon, this is well beyond George Bush. And that’s been a wake-up call, so I think they’re starting to see that now.
HH: Now you’ve mentioned some of the highlights of the last five years in your assessment of the war. But we also have to point out Ahmadinejad is moving aggressively forward towards his nukes, Hugo Chavez is nationalizing the oil industry in Venezuela, and he is a friend of all jihadists, Hezbollah survived the wars. The Israeli report, I read John Podhoretz’ column from today to close out last hour, Israel’s a mess, it’s military is screwed up, and its political leadership enfeebled. Hamas is dominant in Gaza and in accord with the supposed reformist leadership of the Palestinian state, and we’ve got terrorists all over Europe. I mean, we convicted five people yesterday in London who had conspired with the 7/7 bombers. That’s the downside. It’s a pretty long list of challenges, Victor.
VDH: They’re all challenges, but note, and you could have added Vladimir Putin, who is ostracizing the Estonians, he’s trying to threaten gas, blackmail of natural gas, blackmail of his former Soviet republics, he’s pushing Europe not to participate in missile defense. They all have one thing in common. You take away $70 dollar a barrel oil from Hugo Chavez or Ahmadinejad or Putin, and we don’t really have a problem with them. And Hezbollah really doesn’t exist as a global terror threat without petrodollars. The same thing with Hamas. And let’s be frank. There’s members of the Saudi royal family, all 7,000 of them, that supply money for people to kill Americans in Iraq. So that’s something that we’ve got a D on. It’s not an A at all. It’s a terrible record that the last six years, that we haven’t made a dent in cutting two to three…we don’t have to be energy independent. We just have to cut two or three million barrels out of the world demand each day. We consume 25% of the world’s oil. If we could just drill of our coasts, drill in Anwar, up the conservation average of our fleet, let Brazilians import ethanol, get back on the grid with nuclear power, starting with gasification, six or seven different things simultaneously to cut down two or three million barrels that we demand from the world every day, then that price would go down to $20-30 dollars.
HH: And I think that’s absolutely true. That’s one of the downsides that we’ve got in this war. And we could defund our enemies, but we choose not to by doing things like refusing to allow drilling in Anwar. But that brings me, really, to the biggest vulnerability, which is American political will to wage the war, and only we can do it. We have allies, but if we’re not in it, it doesn’t get waged, and we lose. Today, the Democrats have signed, you know, have passed the spending bill that has a deadline on defeat, that signals everything that they believe in, and I wonder, Victor Davis Hanson, if that isn’t the most important thing, and that we’re losing the argument at home, or failing to inspire those who understand the argument.
VDH: I think we are. I think that, and I wrote that ad nauseam, so I just sort of stopped it. But I think that in these critical months of 2004, 2005, 2006…on Monday, Vice President Cheney should have been giving a speech about what our ideals were. Maybe he could have reminded the people we didn’t take any oil out of Iraq, the price went up. It’s now under transparency. On Tuesday, the President could have said this is Wilsonianism, as the Democrats always wanted us to do, and we’re away from real politic. Wednesday, Secretary Rice, Thursday, National Security Advisors Handley, then Rumsfeld, and they should have just pounded that. But what happened was the narrative was lost because they didn’t defend this policy in idealistic terms, and the narrative became the IED and the suicide bomber. And then each time there was a key event, the first pullback from Fallujah, people said well, election’s coming up, we won the war, let’s finesse this, three points, four points in support for the war lost. Sadr is, Muqtada al Sadr is surrounded, let’s get rid of him. No, we don’t want to have CNN filming this massacre of something, so two our three points lost. And each time that we tried to finesse it and suggest that we weren’t in a war, we…public opinion was like grain from a person’s hand. They just went through the fingers, and now we got down to 35%. The Democrats had no ideology one way or the other. This is a party, 27 of the Democratic Senators voted for it. Harry Reid of all people voted for it, gave a speech where he said his main concern wasn’t WMD, but that Saddam had violated the ’91 peace accords, and so therefore, we were in a state of de facto war. So they were on board, and then they looked at the pulse of the battlefield, and made the necessary political adjustments when that thing hit below 50%. And that means that when you have a controversial war, you have to explain to the American people what we’re doing. And now, what we’ve basically done is we haven’t had an articulate defense of the war, so now we’re basically telling General Petraeus, you’re Matthew Ridgeway going into Korea, or you’re General Sherman on your way to Atlanta. You’ve got to do something dramatic, and win back the momentum for us, and then win back public opinion. And if you do, the Democrats will cave, and then they’ll take credit for it.
HH: What do you make of Petraeus’ ability to do that, and his success thus far?
VDH: I think he’s got a 70-30 chance to pull it off, because he understands that he’s willing to take casualties this month, next month, to get people outside of the secure zones, outside of the compounds. And what he’s really trying to do, if we could summarize that complicated, complex strategy, he’s saying I’m going to create a sense that we are winning. And then people in the Sunni community, the sheiks, the tribal leaders, the mullahs, the imams, will see that we’re here to stay, and we’re going to win, and they’re going to join the winning side. And once that happens, that critical mass will start to flip, and they’ll start to flip over people. And it makes it very difficult, however, when at the same time he’s doing this, Harry Reid declares, the Senate majority leader, that the war is lost.
HH: Victor Davis Hanson is my guest. One of your books is a study of wartime leadership of Sherman.
HH: Do you see Sherman in Petraeus?
VDH: I do in a bit, because we have this caricature of Sherman that he was some sort of barnburner, and he was not. He war far more well-spoken, and we wrote far better than Ulysses S. Grant. In some ways, he understood the war better than Lincoln. And throughout his campaign, he gave very detailed exegesis of what he was doing, why he was punishing the people who owned slaves, and not the poor, white people who didn’t, and why he was going to humiliate and destroy the façade of Southern manhood. And that’s what his aim was. And this is what Petraeus does. If you read every three or four days, he’s trying to tell people we are trying to get people out in the neighborhood, we’re trying to protect women, and reformers who put their alliances in it. There’s no military solution alone, this is a window to give these people confidence to come forward. We gave them assurances that we were going to support them, and we’re not going to pull out and let them get massacred. And he’s doing a very wonderful job. He’s a very strange person. He’s got a PhD, he’s probably a Democrat, he’s an expert on counterinsurgency, and we’re very lucky to have him.
HH: I am amazed, though, that the military still does not know how to deploy him well with the media. I just don’t see him enough, Victor Davis Hanson.
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HH: Professor Hanson, we went away to break, and we were talking about David Petraeus, and his ability, his uniqueness and his willingness to communicate. Does the Pentagon, does the Bush administration yet have a good grasp on how to deploy this amazing asset, not just his strategy and ability to command, but his ability to communicate?
VDH: I think they do, but remember that his job is not to do that solely. He’s in charge as the senior ground commander in Iraq. So he’s got all these other commitments. We really didn’t, in World War II, we really didn’t have, see Eisenhower tell us what he was going. That was George Marshall’s job. So the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, has got to step up there as well, and it doesn’t help any when Mr. Petraeus, General Petraeus comes to Washington, and the House, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, doesn’t even want to meet him.
HH: Right, right.
VDH: And so it’s very difficult when…what we’re seeing right now, we’re seeing something just about like 1864, where you had a genuine copperhead movement under McClellan, and you had governors in some of the Northern states that wanted Lincoln to lose for political reasons, and they wanted to go back to a status before the war. And I think that that’s what we are seeing in the Democratic Party. They want us to get out of Iraq, they want it to be embarrassing for the people who proposed to get rid of Saddam, and then they think that they can use those assets in Afghanistan, not understanding that at…the Taliban and everybody else are going to be energized.
HH: Victor Hanson, how did the copperheads react to Sherman’s success?
VDH: Well, Sherman was not liked. Remember, let’s be frank, he had severe depression, he was relieved of command in 1862. Grant gave him another chance in Shiloh, but what he did was that he understood one central fact, and I don’t want to be cynical, because it comes from Sherman, not me, that most people, not you and I on the right, or people like Howard Dean on the left, but most people have no ideology, the 80, 60, 70% in the middle, but they do react to the winning side. So he understood that for all of this brilliant strategy, and all of his ability to articulate the Union cause, if he did not give a sense of winning, then people would not ally with him, and he knew the best way to get rid of McClellan in the election of 1864, was to take Atlanta. And he knew that…this is even more controversial, he knew that while he didn’t want to burn Atlanta, he didn’t want to kill people, he knew that in the ultimate judgment, if he took Atlanta, then that would sort of settle history’s assessment, not whether he reply to John Bell Hood with an incendiary device or something. And I think Petraeus understands that. He secures Baghdad, and everything else, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Fallujah, all that will be ancient history, and then people will come back on board, and it’ll be good. We’re also, let’s be candid, we’re also fighting another problem, and that is George Bush is the Wilsonian. He’s trying to convince the American people we have brave Iraqis in the millions who have risked their lives to have a consensual government. We’ve promised that we’re going to assist them. But while that narrative goes on, we have the al Qaeda, the radical jihad, people, the people in the United States in CAIR, and other Arab movements, and the result of that, if you look at polls, the American people’s confidence in Arabs of the Middle East, and Muslims in general, has just died. 50% of Americans do not feel comfortable with Muslims or Arabs, and yet these are the very people we’re trying to help in Iraq.
HH: Now what do you make of the potential that Iran simply won’t let us win, and does this administration and this military have it in them to confront Iran seriously? You know, Petraeus mentioned in his briefing that they were, you know, he had Quds people under custody, people who are from Iran, in Iraq killing Americans.
VDH: But you’ve got to remember, Hugh, Iran can’t let us win, because they are sitting on a volcano. They’re an unpopular government, their economy’s in shambles, even with the increased oil prices. They’ve blown $10, 20 billion dollars on a nuclear program when the Russians have walked out on it. They have to subsidize their own food, they import gasoline. The Europeans have broken off relations. We have these first, as pathetic as they are, we have the first attempt at some type of embargo sanctions from the United Nations. And then we have a democracy on one side in Afghanistan, and we’re trying to do another one in Iraq. And they know that if that happens, they’re all through. So what they have to do is they’ve got to get a bomb to stop all of these developments, because the long term is not good for them. They’ve got to stop Iraq, and they’ve got to get a bomb. And we should keep that in mind. No matter what they say, no matter what their willingness to negotiate, they only have two ways to survive, and one is to destroy the consensual government in Iraq, and create a Shia buffer state next to them, and two, to get a bomb.
HH: With all that as background, what do you make of the would-be next generation of leaders from the White House that we’ve seen in the Democratic debates and conversations, including last Saturday, and on the Republican side? What do you hear in their messages? What do you make of their competencies?
VDH: I think there’s two different categories. I think that when you look at Obama or Edwards, you realize that these people don’t have a clue what’s going on in the Middle East, when their reactions to what would happen if the United States had another city hit, and the first thing they talked about was first responders and multilateralism, and then didn’t really give an example of how they would retaliate, and restore deterrence. But the other group, Dodd, Biden, Hillary, I think, for all of that anti-war rhetoric, and all of their opportunism, they would go back to a foreign policy of Clinton, which would be bad, but it wouldn’t be disastrous. But here’s what’s scary, is that all these Democrats now, for three or four years, have not just opposed George Bush, and not just opposed neoconservative idealism, but they’ve demonized it to such a degree that they’ve almost made Bush the equivalent of the enemy. And Bush has a lot of supporters in and out of the military. So now they think that they’re elected, people like yourself and I are going to jump back up and say you know what? They’re the president, we’re going to support them at every opportunity. We probably will, but there’s going to be a lot of us who won’t, because they’re going to say they nitpicked, they were counterproductive, they wanted the people in Iraq fighting us to win. It’s almost as if you burn down the house, and then you want to reoccupy it, or if you destroy the system of bipartisan dialogue, and then suddenly when you’re president, you say let’s restore bipartisan dialogue. But they’ve so demonized people on the conservative side of the aisle, that it’s going to be very hard for them to create unity.
HH: Now when you watch the media, their role here ought to at least pose the questions, in my view, of the serious nature that needed to be posed. Do you think they’re doing their job with these candidates?
VDH: No, not at all. They don’t ask any of these serious questions at all. They don’t ask Obama…he’s…after Virginia Tech, he said that well, people were depressed about the war, and people were depressed about outsourcing. They didn’t ask him exactly what he means by that. What does Hillary mean by she’s going to send Bill Clinton around the world to do what? To bring us back a foreign policy that in some ways led to where we were on 9/11? And that’s not even reaching the issue that you and I know that for the last six months, we’ve had really serious problems in the world, a war, we’ve had resurgent Taliban, we’ve had escalating oil prices, we’ve had Putin back in ascendant. And what have we heard almost every day? We went from Donald Trump and Rosie to Anna Nicole’s estate, to Imus, and we’re just getting trivial, and nobody wants to look at these real problems.
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HH: Professor Hanson, I want to run through some of the critiques of the left which have become like barnacles on the public discussion of the war. The most important one to respond to, in my view, is that our occupation of Iraq, and our fight there, is manufacturing terrorists. In other words, that we are giving them a cause celebre that is attracting them and radicalizing the Arab world, and that if we left, that would stop. Your response to that critique?
VDH: Well, there’s two or three things to keep in mind. There’s an autonomous government in Iraq, and anytime they want to vote and ask us to leave, because they think that we are creating terrorists that endanger them, they can do it. Anytime the Democrats want to cut off funds, they can make that argument to the American people, which is not persuasive, if you look at the polls of the American people. Second, there were terrorists there before we got…one of the amazing and surprising things about the Tenet testimony, and his excerpts that are being released to the press, is that while demonizes the President for suggesting there was a 9/11-Saddam Hussein tie, which there probably wasn’t, he gives all sorts of evidence that al Qaeda had ties to the regime in the sense that Saddam knew they were in there in the Baghdad area, and they were in Kurdistan, and people like Zarqawi were there. And one of the most fascinating things was his February, 2003 testimony to the Senate, where he outlined that a man named Zarqawi was in Baghdad, had fled Afghanistan, and was the most prescient warning that what would have happened in Iraq, and what did happen in Iraq, and now he is distancing himself from that. So there were terrorists there. I think that the more existential question, that there are half of us in America believe that there’s a certain type of person unhappy with modernism, of the failure of the Middle East and living under an autocratic government, and seeks a solution in the 8th Century or the 7th Century, and that person has a propensity to do a deed. It may be in London, it may be in Madrid, it may be in Iraq, it may be in Afghanistan. And there’s a lot of us who believe that they don’t have that. And suddenly, they wake up one day, and they read in the paper that Americans in Iraq, and they say I’m a terrorist today. And so I think that’s a philosophical question. Myself, I believe that these people have propensities to do it. There’s a large number. They go to Iraq, and we can fight them in Iraq rather than fight them here. And the left seems to think that’s reductionist, and that we are…I don’t think you create a terrorist in Iraq.
HH: And that is, that is the great divide, I think.
VDH: Yeah, it is.
HH: If we look at the left’s critiques, and we’ll go through some other ones, most of them are silly. But this one really at least has a philosophy behind it that we are somehow adding fuel to the fire that converts ordinary, peace loving, productive, young Muslim men into jihadists and suicide bombers. And when I look at London, or I read Londonistan by Melanie Phillips, or I see that those convicted yesterday of killing ambitions in Great Britain, had been to Waziristan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan before we invaded Iraq, it just doesn’t make any sense. It’s crazy.
VDH: No, it doesn’t. Remember the people, the 170 or so the Saudi royal family say that were trying to blow up an oil field. And read what bin Laden…he’s got 16 or 17 reasons he said now he went to war. They’re not just we had troops in Saudi Arabia. They’re gone, the UN embargo of Iraq, that’s over with. He’s still at war. He said things like global warming, and he said the lack of campaign finance reform. So I mean, these are just perceived grievances that people throw out there, because the fundamental issue is that there’s a large number of people in the Middle East who have instant communications, they see how awful it is, and they try to find a scapegoat, rather than address the solution, which is beyond the pale for them, and that would be things like a transparent economy, a consensual government, and end to polygamy, gender equality, religious tolerance, transparency. And neither the dictatorships nor the theocrats want to embrace that.
HH: Is part of the problem that critics of the war simply also cannot believe that people really do believe in God, and that some people interpret the Koran to require them to do this? I don’t think they take seriously the religious fanaticism of the jihadists.
VDH: You’re absolutely right. That’s a big facet. And there’s…another thing is a…people on the left who are highly educated and highly affluent, are very well spoken, just can’t believe that people don’t share their enlightened view of dialogue, and the value of words and speech and discourse and narrative. They think they can…Bill Clinton was, as we saw, thought he could talk and charm and debate anybody, and they don’t understand these people would rather kill you than talk to you.
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HH: Professor Hanson, I want to go back to some of the critiques of this war. The number one you hear the most, and almost every form, Bush lied, people died, there were no weapons of mass destruction, we were misled into war. I mean, Hillary uses this as well. How do you respond to that?
VDH: Well, Bush was just one singer in a chorus. George Tenet did say it was a slam dunk. He’s the head of the CIA. Hosni Mabarak warned Tommy Franks not to go in there for the reason that there’s going to be WMD, 27 Senators, the majority of the Democratic Senators in the Senate, and the majority in the House voted, and if you look at those speeches, the transcripts on October 11th and 12th of 2002, they were very eloquent. Bill Clinton had bombed Saddam Hussein in 1998 in Operation Desert Storm, or…
HH: Desert Fox.
VDH: Yeah, Desert Fox for that very reason. Zinni, General Zinni got up and gave a press conference and bragged that we may have killed 5,000 people involved in that weapons complex. And so, remember that switch didn’t change until the battlefield perception changed. When we went in there and we said, Bush said mission accomplished, and there was 75% of the people were for it, that people were disappointed that there weren’t WMD, but the left said well, you know, they voted for 23 reasons, including trying to assassinate George Bush, or committing genocide or breaking the ’91 accords, or subsidizing terrorists in Israel. There were all these reasons. But suddenly, that became the one reason because the sense of the war was it’s not going well. And ask yourself, Hugh, have the other 22 changed? I’d like to say to Hillary, okay, well, there’s no WMD’s. So you found out that you voted for a writ of war because he tried to kill George Bush. Was that not true? Did he not kill Kurds? Did he not try to give to suicide bombers? Was Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas and Zarqawi not there?
HH: Were they not shooting at our planes in the no-fly zone? Were they not corrupting the world through Oil For Food?
HH: Were they not…
VDH: You’re just naming all 23. Was the architect of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing not in Baghdad where he fled?
HH: Well, given all that, it’s just cognitive dissidence at a level of art, really, it’s so complete and profound. What does the left do? Does that persuade America? I think I’ve heard you say yes, because we’re not winning, no if we win.
VDH: That’s exactly right. It’s the way it is with every war. I hate to say that. In 1863, after the victory at Shiloh in ’62, and Vicksburg and Gettysburg, Lincoln was canonized. He gave the Gettysburg Address, he earlier in the year had the Emancipation Proclamation. Everybody wanted a piece of Abraham Lincoln. Fast forward a year, suddenly, it’s a year later, and what happens? He’s got the wilderness, he’s got Cold Harbor, 20,000 Americans, not three, 20,000 Americans in a month killed, and those terrible campaigns in the summer of 1864, and you couldn’t find anybody to support Lincoln. People who had praised him to the skies had not only, Hugh, you’re not going to be elected, but you’re not even going to be re-nominated. And Sherman looked at this and said somebody’s got to do something radically different. So he cut his supply lines, took Atlanta, and that was it. September 2nd, everybody said I supported Lincoln all along. And believe me, if Petraeus secures Baghdad, and you get an Iraqi government that’s secure and competent, and that somebody comes over and address the U.S. Senate and says thank you, Americans, I can’t believe you did this for us, you’ll have all these people like Biden and Dodd and Hillary remind everybody they voted for it.
HH: When Katrina Vandenheuvel quoting other people, I’ve heard it a lot, says with a straight face that this is the greatest foreign policy disaster in American history, what do you think? And what ought they to be thinking about before they make such a foolish statement?
VDH: Well, you know, I have this little rule, that whenever I hear the word greatest this, worst that, I just assume that person is ignorant of any history, because they don’t know what this country has gone through. Greatest what? Meaning fighting the Korean War when we had a million Chinese cross the Yalu River? When we had nuclear Russia with Stalin that was contemplating use of nuclear weapons? When we had an officer like MacArthur that was openly insubordinate, and Harry Truman had not a 35 approval rating, but 28, and then down to 22? Was that bad? Or as I said, the summer of 1864. How about telling everybody you’re going to win the war, and it’s almost over. That’s what Ike and Marshall did, and suddenly, you have 250,000 Germans cross into the Bulge. Or better yet, say that the Pacific was almost pacified, and then have the worst, worst battle in the entire war, sixty days before the armistice at Okinawa. So this country’s been through things that would make Iraq look like a joke.
HH: Given that history, but our ability to forget history like that, is George Bush Truman? Is that what you see him turning…
VDH: I do see him that, because if you go back and read biographies, David McCullough especially, you get the impression that he understood that there was no way that he was going to get, after the enormous popularity of Roosevelt, there was no way he was going to get a 50% majority. And people were very shocked that they had gone into World War II side by side with the Soviets, and then they had turned on us, and they’d lost China, and they wanted to blame something that you couldn’t blame Truman for. And then he didn’t have, he was like Bush in the sense that people in his party at that time were isolationist, they did not want to fight the Cold War, and people in the Democratic side were suggesting he was a warmonger on his own party, so he didn’t have the Republican base, he didn’t have his own party, the Democratic base, and this is sort of the policy that Bush has. He has the Jim Baker-Brent Scowcroft-Larry Eagleburger, people who say you know what? We’re realists, we liked your dad’s policy. And then he’s got the Democrats who say I’m not an idealist anymore. I want to go back and deal with the House of Saad. Talking about worst mistakes, I think we’re going to come to regret one very grievously, and that was allowing Pakistan under the Clinton administration to get a bomb, because that’s given them de facto sanctuary, and we’ll never be able to get bin Laden as long as he’s in Pakistan.
HH: Now that’s a huge, you’re absolutely right, a huge foreign policy mistake, and it would be even worse if the jihadists ever take over Pakistan as they often try and do. At least there is some cooperation there.
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HH: Professor Hanson, because I’ve read so much of military history, including your books, and others like [James] McPherson’s, and just lots…John Keegan, I know that battles have long runs, and they’re up and down, et cetera. But at the end, equilibrium is achieved, and it looks like something. It looks like victory. How would victory look in Baghdad, do you think?
VDH: I think it would be something analogous to what we see in Kurdistan or Turkey. In other words, there would be some worry that it wasn’t as consensual or transparent as a Western European democracy. The government wouldn’t be, there would be occasional people in the streets demonstrating, there would be occasional terrorist acts, but the government would be legitimate, and it would have the political and military capability and support to attack terrorists. And then we would probably had about as many troops in the general area that we did before the worry over Saddam Hussein. We were worried about Saddam Hussein, so we beefed up during the Clinton administration to about 50,000 troops, and we got 10,000 out of Saudi Arabia, and we had taken some out, but we could probably leave the same number in that area. It wouldn’t have to be all in Iraq, and they would be protecting that democracy for a while, and we wouldn’t be in any worse shape than we were in the 90’s as far as our commitment to the area.
HH: Would you imagine that occasional car bombings and suicide missions would be a feature of that landscape?
VDH: Absolutely, that we saw them in Algeria, we see them in Morocco. We see them all over the Arab world. We see them in Saudi Arabia. But I think in the long run, that that government would have a greater resiliency, because it would be consensual, and people will be participating, and all of the grievances wouldn’t be aired through this extremism as we see. As bad as Turkey is, as difficult as Kurdistan is, there’s more hope for it than Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, in my view.
HH: And are you an optimist, as we close out this hour, about Petraeus bringing that equilibrium to fruition?
VDH: I am. I think that he can do it by the autumn, and I think that the Democrats have a sneaking suspicion that there’s a 50/50 chance in their view that he can. And so for all of the rhetoric, they don’t want to cut off funds yet, because if he succeeds, they can say that hey, we got rid of Rumsfeld, we got rid of Abizaid, we got rid of Casey, our pressure got rid of Libby, we got rid of the neocons, Wolfowitz, and that allowed Petraeus, one of our guys, to do the necessary things that we all called for. And if he fails, they can say well, we gave him too much time, and now it’s time to cut off. And the result of that, that triangulation, will give, I think, Petraeus until October.
HH: And if Petraeus succeeds, politically, does the country rally to the Republicans or the Democrats?
VDH: I think that the Republicans benefit, but I’m pretty cynical. I have a feeling that you’ll see people like Biden step up and say you know, I was the guy who wanted more troops. And I think you’ll see Hillary step up and say you know, I wanted Petraeus in there. We had to get rid of Rumsfeld.
HH: Interesting. Victor Davis Hanson, always a pleasure, thanks for an abundance of time today to cover the war in detail. It’s not done enough, and you’re always the fellow to do it with. Thank you, Professor.