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Victor Davis Hanson analyzes Barack Obama’s session with General Petraeus today

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

HH: Joined now by Victor Davis Hanson, classicist, military historian, as well as a columnist. You can read all of his work at Professor Hanson, welcome back, always a pleasure.

VDH: Thank you for having me.

HH: What did you make of today’s testimony, especially the exchanges with the Democrats on both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees?

VDH: I think you could sum it up by anti-empiricals, that they’re responses flew in the face of the evidence, that they had a predetermined response that everything was bad, that the Iraqis haven’t lived up to anything, there’s been no progress. And I don’t understand it. I heard speeches on C-Span, I was watching it, and I heard speeches supporting the Dalai Lama and criticizing the Chinese, and trying to support the idea of democracy. But it seems that they want to support democracy everywhere but in Iraq.

HH: I want to play for you some Barack Obama, but before I do that, the one theme I took away from the Petraeus testimony today is that four or five times he referred to Iran’s malignant influence in Iraq, especially its direct assault upon American and Coalition forces. How long, Victor Hanson, can we allow Iran to meddle without punishment in Iraq?

VDH: Well, you know, it’s very funny, because we are actually in a pretty good situation. We have a viable government that the Iranians have not been able to destabilize. And for all the criticism of Maliki, he did exactly what all the, when I went in October, and everybody in Anbar wanted him to do one thing, and that was crack down on Sadr, and he did it. And he emerged standing after he took him on. And so this is what we all were waiting for, and yet American deaths are down, American security is up, and things are looking great. And yet, the country, or at least the country as emblematic of the Democratic leadership, has never been more demoralized about their ability to put pressure on Iran. In the background, we feel that we’re flat broke, and everybody’s out of a job, and it’s the Great Depression, we can no more take on Iran than we could Adolf Hitler in 1939. So I just don’t think the country, that the Democrats are speaking for, is mentally or spiritually or psychologically prepared for this threat.

HH: Let’s listen to a little bit of Barack Obama, and we’ll cut in at a couple of points and have you provide commentary, Professor Hanson. Here’s Barack Obama earlier today;

BO: We all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq. All of us do. And that, I think, has to be stated clearly in the record.

HH: Stop for a second. Professor Hanson, do you believe him?

VDH: Well, I wonder why he has to keep saying it. Who’s he addressing? Who does he have to reassure? What these are, are all qualifiers, throat-clearing, because what he’s doing is saying I have to say this, because what follows will suggest to you that I don’t want it to work.

HH: Well put. Let’s continue with Barack Obama.

BO: I continue to believe that the original decision to go into Iraq was a massive strategic blunder, that the two problems that you’ve pointed out, al Qaeda in Iraq, and increased Iranian influence in the region, are a direct result of that original decision. That’s not a decision you gentlemen made. I won’t lay it at your feet. You are cleaning up the mess afterwards, but I think it is important as we debate this forward.

HH: Now Professor Hanson, assess his logic there, which is that because there are still some problems, we ought not to have addressed the first problem that was Saddam.

VDH: Yeah, I don’t understand, because both of those statements are demonstrably false. Al Qaeda chose, after the fall of Saddam, to make Iraq a test of their battle worthiness against the United States. And we all know they lost. That’s why they are fleeing Anbar. And if anybody had said in 2003 that Sunnis, some of them Wahabists and ex-Saddamites would join us to turn on al Qaeda and rout them successfully, nobody would have believed you. And then to be told this last two weeks that and Iraqi-Shia government turned on Mr. Sadr, and those who were being backed by Iran, that’s exactly the opposite of what he just said.

HH: All right, back to Obama.

BO: I also think that the surge has reduced violence, and provided breathing room, but that breathing room has not been taken the way we would all like it to be taken. And I think what happened in Basra is an example of Shia versus Shia, jockeying for power, that underscores how complicated the political situation is there, and how we still have to continue to work vigorously to resolve it. I believe that we are more likely to resolve it, in your own words, Ambassador, if we are applying increased pressure in a measured way. I think that increased pressure in a measured way, in my mind, and this is where we disagree, includes a timetable for withdrawal.

HH: Professor Hanson?

VDH: Well, it’s not Shia versus Shia. He’s reduced an elected government, the Maliki government, into just another Iranian-backed Shia clique. It’s not. What it was showing was a constitutional government was trying to take on an illegitimate militia, and did so successfully. So it’s sort of a moral equivalent argument that anytime there’s violence, it’s just all parties…everybody’s who’s a party to the violence are equally culpable. And that’s…I don’t understand, maybe you can help me, Hugh, that why the Democratic Party, when they look at these Iraqis who have been elected, and they’re trying to save a government, and they lose two to three times more than we have, and they’re out there every day fighting terrorists, and they’re the only people A) who are doing it under the auspices of a constitutional government in the Middle East, and really, B) are the only people who are unafraid to take on al Qaeda and Iranian-backed Shia extremists, why we criticize them so much.

HH: I can’t explain it, either. It seems to me to be almost suicide of the West time when we start doing that to our allies who are putting it all out there on the front. Let’s go back to Senator Obama.

BO: Nobody’s asking for a precipitous withdrawal, but I do think that it has to be a measured but increased pressure, and a diplomatic surge that includes Iran, because if Maliki can tolerate, as normal neighbor-to-neighbor relations in Iran, then we should be talking to them as well. I do not believe we’re going to be able to stabilize the situation without them. Just the last point I will make, our resources are finite. And this has been made, this is a point that just was made by Senator Voinovich, it’s been made by Senator Biden, Senator Lugar, Senator Hagel. There is a bipartisan consensus that we have finite resources. Our military is overstretched, and the Pentagon has acknowledged it. The amount of money that we are spending is hemorrhaging our budget. And al Qaeda in Afghanistan, I think, is feeling a lot more secure as long as we’re focused in Iraq and not on Afghanistan.

HH: Professor Hanson, there are a number of statements he made there. Your assessment?

VDH: Well, we’re spending about 4% GDP on all of our defense. That’s including the war in Iraq, in which in the last five years, we spent 1/60th of the total goods and services that this country produced. What we’ve lost has been tragic, but we lost about the same people in combat that we lost in the Battle of the Marianas in World War II, single battle. So this is ridiculous that this country is flat broke. I mean, it has financial problems, but they’re induced not by the war, but by the types of spending programs that Senator Obama was judged 100% a liberal Senator for. I guess what I’m trying to say is we have a 5% unemployment rate, and we feel that we’re right in the middle of the Great Depression, and we’re unable to handle any of these threats, when there was a prior generation that would have said in comparison to Japan, or comparison to Germany or Italy, Iran and Iraq are minor problems, and we’re doing very well. And we’re doing it very well with spending almost nothing in historical terms on defense. 4% GDP is nothing.

HH: Exactly right. Professor Victor Davis Hanson, always a pleasure,, America, to catch up on all the commentaries from Professor Hanson.

End of interview.

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