Victor Davis Hanson joined me in hour two today to talk Kiev.
HH: Incredibly, because I’m a little bit stunned by this, CNN just cut away from the Kiev massacre underway in real time to cover a Chris Christie fundraiser with Paul Begala providing commentary. I’m joined not by a political hack, but by Victor Davis Hanson, historian, classicist, and observer of all things Obama. VDH, welcome back, good to talk to you.
VDH: Thank you, Hugh.
HH: What do you make of CNN’s editorial decision right now?
VDH: Well, there’s only two ways to look at it. One, they’re eyeing the presidential election of 2016, and they want to damage Christie, obviously, and help Hillary Clinton. And two, they want to get all of our minds off this disastrous reset policy with Vladimir Putin. So it was a two-fer.
HH: It is a two-fer, but it would be like cutting away from Tiananmen Square to cover a George Herbert Walker Bush event. I mean, it’s insane.
VDH: Well, I agree with you. I can’t decide which was the greater impetus on their decision, whether it was to get the attention away from, really, it’s been a disaster with Russia, and Russia’s a second-rate power that’s become a first-rate power by bluff and intimidation. And we’re a first-rate power that’s become a second by timidity and appeasement. But I don’t know if that was the primary objective, or it’s to damage Chris Christie. But either one, they were coincided and they were mutually complementary.
HH: Yeah, I think it’s probably the latter with a dash of incoherence. But VDH, put this into context. It’s a massacre in Kiev. 19 are already dead. We won’t know what the real numbers are, and we don’t know what this predicts for the future. Charles Krauthammer began the first hour, doesn’t believe Putin will send troops in, even if chaos spirals. But I’ll be talking next hour with Frank Dowse, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps who served three years in Kiev. And he’s been watching the Crimea and all of the Russian troop presence down there.
VDH: Yeah, I think it’s all coming, it’s all connected. Putin is now getting direct, overt help to Iran, he’s talking about more help with their reactor. Syria, that so-called U.N.-brokered settlement to get rid of the WMD is in shambles. Putin knew that would happen all along. The peace talks are in shambles. We’ve forgotten, at this point, what we did in Eastern Europe to the Poles with the anti-ballistic missile backdown, so if you’re Vladimir Putin, you just look for the series of events, and they all form a pattern, a pattern of sort of what we saw with Russia in 1979, that we can’t or we won’t say no to them. It’s almost as if they would respect us and like us more, but they can’t believe it.
HH: And today, Leopoldo Lopez in Venezuela taken into custody by the fascists there. And Victor Davis Hanson, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that this president has nothing in terms of a foreign policy, no strategy. John Kerry speaking yesterday about global warming being perhaps the greatest weapon of mass destruction, that’s worse than stupid. It’s dangerous.
VDH: Yeah, it is. Yeah, and it’s also humiliating that a billionaire who has a propensity to enjoy speedboats, SUV’s private jets, travel, would go over to a relatively poor country and lecture them on global warming and the sacrifices that they would have to make with the understanding that he’s exempt from the ramifications of his own ideology, which is sort of characteristic of this administration. But I don’t know whether this is incompetence or it’s preconceived, because if you look at, you brought up South America, and you think wow, is there any advocacy at all from the United States for democratic, transparent capitalism in South America, the only hope for that continent. And you look at Ecuador and Bolivia and Argentina and Nicaragua, Cuba, and you know, this is well besides Venezuela, and you just get the impression that we like the socialization of the continent, or we don’t believe in our own values. And people understand that. So if you’re a democratic reformer in those countries and you stand up and say something, and you know that not just that the United States won’t say anything or won’t worry about you, but might in fact be more sympathetic with the socialist forces against you.
HH: Victor Davis Hanson, a week ago today, or yesterday, actually, President Obama made up wholesale changes to Obamacare, and it was sort of a scales falling from the eyes moment. A lot of people noticed what many of us have been saying for years, that he’s essentially lawless and unbound from any Constitutional restriction. And it’s shocked people. Do you think Kiev is going to shock people into realizing that the emperor has no clothes when it comes to foreign policy?
VDH: Yeah, I think the American people sense that, but I’m even more scared that I think even people abroad that might have been sympathetic to him, I think people in the Middle East, I think people in Europe, they just don’t listen to what he says. When he gets on the podium, it’s embarrassing now, Hugh, because it’s going to be make no mistake about it, let me be perfectly clearly, in point of fact, it’s going to be a little braggadocio, a little touch, macho stuff, and then he’s going to brag on something, trash George Bush, and then he’s going to pronounce some grand initiative. And nobody’s going to take it seriously, because never once in the past has anything he said proved to be true or called true. So you know, they’re going to say well, this is the guy who gave all the deadlines and the red lines, I should say, to Syria, the deadlines to Iran, pulled out of Iraq, played Spades with Reggie Love on the night of the bin Laden raid. Come on, they don’t take him seriously anymore, and that’s really, it’s kind of sad. I’m worried, because it’s our country.
HH: Well, it’s three years. It’s three years with essentially a vacant Oval Office.
VDH: That’s a very good point, Hugh, because we saw this, some of us our age, with Jimmy Carter and then that annus horriblus in late 1979 and ’80, they called all the chips in. And suddenly, there communists in Central America, China invaded Vietnam, the Russians went into Afghanistan, the Shah fell, they took hostages, but that was a four year term. And that happened in the last year. We’ve never seen something where we have three more years to go to this. It’s going to be really scary, because I think a lot of people, regional hegemons, whether it’s Iran or China or Japan, or maybe Turkey in the Aegean, they’re going to take risks and take gambles that they otherwise wouldn’t do, because they’re convinced it won’t lead to a wider war, because the United States, they think, has lost its deterrent effect, so they feel now it’s time to get up from the poker table and cash in your chips. And we’re much stronger than we seem, and I don’t think that’s quite right, but that’s how wars start when people think they can get away with something stupid.
HH: Now obviously, that brings Taiwan to mind. It brings the Baltic republics to mind, maybe even Poland, because Putin won’t be satisfied with just Ukraine, will he, Victor Davis Hanson?
VDH: If I was Putin, or if I were the Chinese communist leadership, or I was those people in Iran, whoever is actually running Iran, I would say you know what? The United States has given us a golden opportunity. All we have to do is carve out a regional sphere of influence, and avoid a wider war, and I think that they’re not going to back up their allies, and secretly, they might even sympathize with our regional status. So we’re never going to get a time like this again. Let’s start acting. If we can all act in concert, if China can go cause trouble with Taiwan or Japan or South Korea, and Putin can do what he’s doing in Eastern Europe to the former Soviet republics, and Iran can start bullying the Persian Gulf sheikdoms, I think if they did it in concert, I think our President would be just bewildered and baffled. What would he do?
HH: Well, if America’s in a coma for three years, that means the responsibilities on Netanyahu and Merkel increase, don’t they? Those are the real leaders of the West in the period of American abdication.
VDH: You would think so, but you have to look at, I mean, they’re not very strong vis-à-vis the global problems that face us. Maybe with Iran, Israel is, or maybe Germany has some financial clout.
HH: That’s what I’m thinking.
VDH: But what I’m more worried is that they might be forced to cut deals with people they otherwise would not cut a deal with, because I think what’s happening especially in the China Sea is that China is saying basically the Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, maybe even New Zealand and Australia, hey, you guys, do you really want to deal with the United States? You’re not under their nuclear umbrella. There’s no deterrence there. Why don’t you join us? And that sounds absurd, but they’re right, and we’re not there, then what choice do they have being much weaker powers?
HH: Let me draw one good conclusion from the last few weeks. The Congress reversed itself when it came to the retirement benefits of career military by an overwhelming margin last week. And only a few people got that wrong upon reflection. And it might have been, Lindsey Graham made the argument on this show that that was a moment of clarity vis-à-vis military strength. Do you agree with that?
VDH: Yeah, I think I do. I think people have to realize that whether they’re Democrat or Republican that expanding food stamps and disability, and talking about all these new global warming initiatives, all of that is minor in comparison to the existential threats this country faces. So it’s not morally equivalent to cut one dollar of social spending and one dollar in military. There’s also something really weird with this country right now. And during the Korean period, 70% of all dollars in the budget went to the military 30% or social entitlements. Nobody felt they were being shorted. Now, it’s just the opposite. 70% for domestic spending, 30% for military, and everybody feels that they’re living in 1800 without a social safety net. So it’s a really sick change in perspective and mentality.
HH: But a great opportunity for someone to speak clarity into it. Victor Davis Hanson, thanks for spending time with us.
End of interview.