HH: Now, I go to Victor Davis Hanson, military historian and classicist. His website is www.victorhanson.com. Professor Hanson, welcome back, always a pleasure to have you.
VDH: Thank you for having me, Hugh.
HH: I want your reaction first to yesterday’s events, a fairly significant day in the history of presidential leadership for a president of the United States to go halfway around the world in the dead of night to announce in essence abandonment of a ten year long mission.
VDH: Yeah, well, what was lacking in the speech was the word victory or defeat. I mean, there is no, he doesn’t seem to think that there’s such a thing as victory. It doesn’t exit. But the Taliban sure do. So I think what we’re seeing is that he wants to get out of town in the next two years, make sure there’s no major uprising. There probably won’t be if we stay in the cities. And then when we get out, Karzai will have to deal with the Taliban, who will win and reoccupy the country, and they’ll do what they did when they were there last time. And we’ll probably have about four to five hundred thousand refugees – women, liberals, pro-Western people, who will want to emigrate into the United States or Europe.
HH: Now I told Professor Cohen last hour that I began my career with Richard Nixon, and he always rejected the idea that Vietnamization was all deliberate speed toward surrender, you know, a decent interval. He never believed that. He didn’t negotiate that with the intention of having South Vietnam conquered by North Vietnam. Do you think President Obama has the same belief that his policy will work? Or is he genuinely looking just for a decent interval?
VDH: I think he wants to get everybody out. We’re already seeing how he looked at, he adopted the Bush-Petraeus plan, but Petraeus, when he left and a surge had worked, there was always a notion we had some leverage. And the Iraqis didn’t really, they wanted to go through the motions, but they really wanted a small residual force to help train and help them give some strategic…and Obama didn’t want that, because he wanted to say, as he’s doing now, that he was the guy who got us completely out of Iraq. So he’s going to say that he’s the guy who got us completely out of Afghanistan. And it doesn’t, as far as he’s concerned, the next two or three years, it’s probably going to be okay, and then when he’s out of office, one way or the other, it’s going to blow up, and I don’t think he cares too much.
HH: Well, it will be a perfect post-presidency intro, the man who ended two wars.
VDH: It’s what we’re already hearing, yeah.
HH: But does it, does that work at other than a sort of an idiotic level with people who don’t understand? You can’t lose a war and then walk around and act like you won it.
VDH: I don’t know. All wars begin. All wars have a beginning and an ending. It’s just how you want to, how they happened to end and how they happened to begin. And in this case, you can end the war in Afghanistan tomorrow by essentially getting out. And that’s what we’re essentially doing. When he…there was so many disturbing things. When he says Pakistan and Taliban, and he acts like he’s so in control, and yet you get the impression that he doesn’t have a clue whether it’s going to force senior ground commanders, or not talking to anybody for six months, or all of these incidents that seem to be embarrassing to him about the Korans and the disfigurement and the trophy pictures, and all that stuff. It’s just, for him, it’s just bad news. He just doesn’t want to deal with it. It’s like he’s saying please get this out of here.
HH: Let me ask you about the fact that last night, he made a speech which had some amazingly tin-eared rhetoric in it – the sun glinting off the new towers in downtown Manhattan, and the new dawn stuff. Do you think he actually edits anything that he’s given?
VDH: Oh, I think he’s got some twenty-something people who wrote the Cairo speech, and he told them what he wants, and he wants to tie all these connections. He wants the anniversary of bin Laden, the Twin Towers coming back up, and announcing the end of the Afghan war by referencing Iraq as well. And all these four or five things are going to be Barack Obama, I, I, I, me, me, me, my, my team, et cetera. And then he’s the one that solves all these problems. But when you look at it under this very thin veneer, there’s no recognition that man, there’s SEALs and intelligence, and Bush-Cheney protocols that he demagogued, and then in Iraq, the only reason he can even claim Iraq was because no one listened to him when he wanted, when he declared the surge had failed, and poor, old Bush with 26% approval rating surged, and Petraeus and all that stuff that he demagogued in September, 2007, at those hearings. And I mean, that’s not even on his radar. And then when you get into he had nothing to do with the rebuilding of the Twin Towers, he had nothing to do with the creation of the Predator program…so I’m not saying that he can’t take credit for certain things. But in his world, nobody else exists. It’s the most narcissistic view of events I can imagine.
HH: Victor Davis Hanson, when Fouad Ajami wrote this morning that yesterday, that the public will draw its own subtle line on the exploitation of the killing of bin Laden, and it will not abide the SEALs’ bravery being used as a campaign prop, do you agree with that? I hope he’s right, but do you agree with that?
VDH: I’m not sure. I went back and looked at what, how they were, how they looked at Saddam. They gave Bush, even though he didn’t take credit personally for Saddam, but the media went crazy. They said that Bush was demagoguing that issue when he wasn’t. And I think that we underestimate the power, I think, because we have internet and cable, and radio talk shows like this one, everybody says well, we’re getting the message out. But they underestimate the power of Reuters, AP, NBC, ABC, Time, Newsweek, New York Times, Post, and that’s an Obama narrative. And you look at that mainstream media that just reverberates all day today these narratives that he’s trying to place…
HH: But the counter narratives, let me push back a little bit on that. You’ve got not just people like Professor Cohen, but Attorney General Mukasey is mad. I had a former, retired ex-SEAL commander of SEAL Team Six, a commander, Ryan Zinke, who is now a state senator in Montana relating that the people in the teams are mad. I think when you begin to trade on the Special Forces…
VDH: Yeah, I hope you’re right. But you know, I’ve written so many articles, I feel like I shouldn’t even write them anymore, because I’ve gone over every single element of the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols, whether it’s rendition or Guantanamo, or preventive detention, or it’s Patriot Act, wiretaps, intercepts, Predators. And in every single one, I can produce a quote that Obama as a state legislator or a Senator demagogued, and said that they were either unconstitutional or had no utility, and yet he embraced it, expanded all of them without anybody in the media saying a word. And it just told me that what was 2003 and 2007 all about, that hatred of Bush as some unconstitutional tyrant that we heard? And it ceased, it just went completely silent on January 21st, 2009. And when Obama kept Guantanamo open, or he found preventive detention valuable, or renditions valuable, or tribunals valuable, nobody said a word. Harold Koh used to sue from his Yale dean law perch on behalf of Guantanamo inmates. And now, he’s writing briefs saying it’s okay to execute U.S. citizens in Yemen by Predator drone attack.
HH: Well, let me test my theory this way. My theory is that the Manhattan-Beltway media elite is a giant bubble. It’s like a circus tent.
HH: And inside that tent, they only hear and see…they go to the correspondents’ dinner, which is actually kind of a disgusting exercise, and they get together, and they buzz, and they have a received wisdom. Did anyone call you yesterday, VDH, from any of the networks to comment on this speech?
VDH: No. One big radio station in the Midwest this morning, and that’s it. Nothing else.
HH: See? That’s remarkable to me. You spent time with W. Whether or not people are going to agree with you or not, it’s just remarkable to me that the people who made the war policy, or informed the people who made the war policy, were not consulted on this yesterday for reaction. And I think it’s, you know, the left loves this term, epistemological closure. In fact, that’s projection. They’re not open to…
VDH: I think you’re right on that element. Just a few minutes ago, before we got on, I wanted to go back and look at what W.’s poll ratings were in March and April of 2004. This was a very unpopular time in Iraq when the insurgency, or whatever you want to call it, was really starting to heat up. And it was at a time when Kerry was starting to crystallize as the opponent. And it was about 57%.
VDH: Yeah, and you look at Obama now at 47%, and so I guess what I’m saying is things aren’t quite computing. We’re told he’s going to get reelected, he’s still popular, people still like him. But you look at those approval ratings, and you see in some polls, Rasmussen and Gallup, that Romney and Obama are almost equal at a time when Romney’s just coming out of this suicidal Republican nomination fight. And there’s something going on. I don’t know whether Dick Morris is right that the undecideds are not being candid about their preference for Romney, or something’s going on that there’s starting to be a critical mass. I don’t know whether it’s the war against women, or all these crazy dog wars, or whatever it is, but I think a lot of people are starting to say you know what? We really do have 8.3% unemployment, we really did add $5 trillion dollars, we really are borrowing another trillion in the deficit this year, GDP is 1.7%.
HH: The Brothers are taking over in Egypt, Syria is a despot…
VDH: Yeah, and you look abroad, absolutely right, that we’re having, Israel is calling up reserves…
HH: Yeah, that happened this afternoon, yeah.
VDH: Iran is really close to getting the bomb now, and North Korea, who knows? And I think people are saying this is Jimmy Carter, 1979-1980. And then you know, you look at the media, and I was thinking gosh, I must be crazy, because I remember in 2004, they tarred Bush with a 5.4% unemployment rate as a jobless recovery. Well, it’s 8.3%, and we don’t hear that. I remember in 1992, George H.W. Bush was called it’s the economy, stupid, the worst economy. And I went back and looked at that. That economy grew at 3.4% GDP.
HH: All evidence for the idea that outside that carnival tent, things are not great for the President. Victor Davis Hanson, thank you so much, www.victorhanson.com for of his writings.
End of interview.