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Victor Davis Hanson comparing the world reaction to the Middle East crisis to the 1930’s

Saturday, August 5, 2006
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HH: If you heard Rush today, if you ever go to National Review, if you hear anyone talking about anything that matters, you will have heard conversation about an op-ed by Victor Davis Hanson, The Brink Of Madness. It is today’s National Review Online, www.nationalreview.com. Of course, Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the author of many amazing books. Professor Hanson, welcome back. It’s good to talk to you.

VDH: Thanks for having me, Hugh.

HH: Today, a lot of people have been talking about the 30’s: Jonathan Last, I’ve written about it, etc. But today, you wrote about not just Chamberlain and Baldwin, but Charles Lindbergh and Father Coughlin, and a lot of the people who had not marginal status, but a lot of status, and that we see the elevation again of the marginal and the delusional, and that it tells us a great deal. Expand for our audience, please.

VDH: Well, I think we forget that after Pearl Harbor, we think that everybody was on board, and maybe they were. But we forget that prior to Pearl Harbor, the two most influential private citizens, in some ways, were Father Coughlin and Lindbergh, and they said things that were pretty astounding. I say that because like you, I’m astounded by things that have happened the last two or three weeks, when you have John Dingell who says he doesn’t want to take sides against or for Hezbollah. This is…until 9/11, it killed more…this terrorist organization had killed more Americans than any other. It’s an enemy of the United States. The L.A. Times published an op-ed from the Syrian ambassador, sort of a mea culpa about how this administration had been berating him. This is the main supplier of weapons to Hezbollah, and also weapons that are killing Americans right now in the Sunni Triangle. So it’s not marginal. It’s as if everybody thinks that they…either the Europeans or us, or, I don’t know what the problem is, but we’ve lost our moral compass for not…we know the problem’s there. We know what the problem is, but we think it’s going to go away.

HH: Now this week, Ahmadinejead of Iran gave two speeches, and Khamenei, the supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, gave one. In all three of them, they demanded the end of Israel, and they threatened the United States, and they glorified jihad. And in one of them, Ahmadinejead says they have nuclear weapons, and they cannot be dealt with as a non-nuclear state. These are very serious people who are being ignored, Victor Davis Hanson, and there’s another parallel to the 30’s.

VDH: Yeah, they are, and remember while this is going on, we’re also waging a pretty…I mean, for all the gloom and doom, we’ve installed or birthed a democracy in Iraq, and we have most of the major people in the Democratic Party that thinks that it’s a fiasco. That’s the title of a new book that’s out. And it seems like after six or seven weeks, somebody who at sometime was supportive of our military’s efforts in Iraq now come clean and say that we don’t have a chance, we’ve made things worse. So we have this doom and gloom in Iraq, and we have this inability to marshall our moral forces against Iran. And the worst I thought, Hugh, was the French ambassador who went to Lebanon and proclaimed that Iran was a force of stability in the region.

HH: Now a staff sergeant called earlier tonight, second tour. He’s at Fort Carson, he just got home. He’ll be home for a couple of years, and I hope he doesn’t have to go back. But he was very confident that the Iraqi army is indeed standing up and successfully gaining momentum and strength by the day. But at the same time, we’re arming…and I mean the media, generally, and not intentionally, though perhaps recklessly, arming the opposition with every propaganda victory they could possibly want. They had, you know, 14,000 Shiias on the Sadr side show up in Baghdad. My guess is if they hadn’t been reading the clips, they wouldn’t have been that popular, Victor Davis Hanson. Am I wrong?

VDH: No, I don’t think you are. I think if all you had to do it read the fatwas and the infomercials that come from Dr. Zawahiri, the second in command of al Qaeda. All he seems to do is recycle, even these books that are written by Western anti-war activists. He even mentions the title and authors. So most of the anti-Americanism that’s voiced in the Sunni Triangle is recycled from Europe or the American left, and it has two effects. It does filter down the people in the military who are not sure the people are behind them. But more importantly, it tells the insurgents that if you do it one more week, one more month, one more six month period, there’s…these people are going to crack. They’re fighting with each other, they’re falling apart, they have no united front. They really would like to cut a deal privately. And so, that was why I think the metaphor of the 1930’s was so popular, that everybody was trying to…Spain, Turkey, France, England…people of England, we forget, were trying to cut deals, including the royal family, with Hitler.

HH: Oh, and right up until France.

VDH: Right up until France.

HH: Victor Davis Hanson, coming up on a break. You’ve just been in D.C., talking to all sorts of people. Is the mood there resolute among those who matter?

VDH: Yes, it is. I can tell you that the people in the administration that I talked to who are responsible for the policy of Iraq have assured the Iraqi democracy that they’re not going to leave them in a lurch, and that they should not listen to people who say otherwise in the United States.

HH: I mentioned Sicily on the way out, and I was thinking about your most recent book, Professor Hanson, on the Peloponnesian War. And of course, Sicily is where Athens ran aground, where it went an island too far, if you will. Have the Israeli’s done that? Have we done that?

VDH: No, I don’t think so. I mean, people have evoked Sicily as if it was…as if Iraq was a modern day Sicily. But Athens attacked a democracy in the middle of a war that was neutral, and was larger than Athens. So I don’t think that by any stretch of the imagination, we did something like attack India. That would be the proper historical parallel.

HH: Interesting. Okay.

VDH: Yeah, I think the problem that we’re having is that we are a leisured and affluent society that demands perfection if we’re going to be good. If you’re not perfect, you’re not good. And if you look at the long, sad tale of military history, what we’ve done in Iraq, no doubt it had a lot of errors and mistakes and foul-ups. But if you put those in context of what happened up on the Yalu River in Korea, or what happened on Okinawa, it’s pretty small. And we can still pacify Iraq, we can get a democracy birthed, and I think we have, and we can stabilize this whole region, if we are just, in this hour of peril, we keep our nerve and we don’t panic. The same goes true for the Israelis. I mean, they should have gone in there the first day with a large surprise, a pincer attack, airborne, land troops. But they didn’t. And then they thought they could do it on the cheap with air power. Still…that’s still not fatal to their cause. They can still disarm Hezbollah, and I think when this is all over, people are going to wake up and see that A) the infrastructure of Lebanon, especially Beirut, is not destroyed, as all this shrill hysteria has implied, and 2) Hezbollah’s going to be left with a shattered infrastructure, and people in Lebanon are not going to want them around. But that will all depend on the resolve of the Israelis, and the resolve of this administration to keep supporting them.

HH: Do you expect this administration to give them the time they need to correct their initial errors as you’ve just described them, and to double down and do what they’ve done well, again and again and again?

VDH: I think I do. It’s really amazing, Hugh, if you think about it in a historical context, because here we are with oil creeping up to $80 dollars a barrel, here we are with Shiia militants in Iraq who are demonstrating on behalf of Hezbollah, here we are with the French, and many of the Europeans siding openly with Hezbollah, and the only friend that Israel has is George Bush, and yet he hasn’t weakened a bit, even though many people in the United States are calling for an immediate cease fire, which would be, I think, disastrous.

HH: Another thing I think would be disastrous, but it’s your opinion I’m interested in. Senator Clinton called for Rumsfeld to resign yesterday, a little bit of a surprise, because she’s been as, as a lot of people have said, on the fence about everything since she got to the Senate. A) What do you think of her, and B) would you think it would be a good, neutral or bad thing for Rumsfeld to quit?

VDH: Well, I think that she understands the polls now, that she hasn’t called for his resignation, even though other people had, until a majority of the people are unhappy with Iraq, and Rumsfeld in particular. So she’s running for president, and she wants to get ahead of that issue. But what the problem is, he was trying to transform the military in a radical fashion, at the expense of conventional armor and artillery units. If you look at the generals who have been most critical, they’re people in the traditional army. And I think what happened is that we went into Afghanistan, and we got it done in seven weeks, and then birthed a democracy. That was supposed to be the hard nut. So then we went into Iraq, and it was just three weeks, and people thought well, if it was seven weeks military in Afghanistan, and three in Iraq, then democracy in Iraq will be even easier than it was in Afghanistan. And of course, nothing really happens in wars you anticipate. So we’ve had some unexpected surprises, especially the resiliance of the insurgency. And the person who’s at top is Rumsfeld, and he’s…Wolfowitz has left, Tommy Franks left, so he’s really the last person who was the architect of the actual operational plan. He’s the natural person to blame. But if you compare him to George Marshall, or other great Secretary of Defense, his heirs are not nearly as serious as some of them. I mean, Marshall made a lot of serious errors, and yet he was a great, great American. I think when this is all said and done, in 18 months, or whatever the length of his tenure is, people will look back at what Rumsfeld did as a success. But I just hope he doesn’t…I hope he’s not fed to the wolves right now.

HH: I agree with you completely. Now you’re a Democrat, Victor Davis Hanson, or at least you were. And yesterday, I interviewed one of the long Cold Warrior Democrats, Martin Peretz, editor of the New Republic.

VDH: Yeah.

HH: …about the Democratic Party. I’d like to play a little clip at the end of it, after we’d talked about the dire consequences of Democratic majorities for the war, and especially for Israel. Here’s what we said:

HH: Do you want the Democrats to win majorities in the House or the Senate, Martin Peretz?

MP: Uh, I’m…I’m appalled by some of the people who would become head of Congressional committees.

HH: Is that a no?

MP: Uh…but I’m also appalled by some of the shenanigans…

HH: I’ve got five seconds. Is that a no, Martin Peretz?

MP: It’s a cowardly refusal to answer.

HH: A cowardly refusal to answer said in jest, Victor Davis Hanson, but I think felt deeply. And in the Democratic Party, I’ve got to ask you. I think Harry Truman and FDR’s party is dead, and I think Joe Lieberman’s loss to Lamont in a primary, even if he wins the general, is the funeral. What do you think?

VDH: I do, and there’s a big difference, Hugh, that the people in the Republican Party, the old, isolationist wing, or the old, John Birch wing, have been isolated. So you don’t see the counterpart of a Howard Dean being the chairman of a Republican National Committee. You don’t see people making these wild statements. I know that when Clinton bombed Kosovo and Bosnia without Congressional approval, and without the U.N. approval, there was a few Republicans that really tore into him, but most of them didn’t. And they understood that that was necessary. But you…so while I’m nominally a Democrat, but won’t vote for them, is entirely because of, mostly, national security, because they have not been able to isolate people in that party to do things that are very dangerous, and undermine the security of nine states.

HH: 30 seconds, Victor Davis Hanson. Do you have a feeling that it is a time of great peril, and that any morning could bring something of enormous consequence?

VDH: I do. I’m worried on a lot of fronts. I don’t know what people in China think of what the status of Taiwan is now. While they think that we are preoccupied, I don’t know what North Korea’s thinking. I don’t know what the status of the Iranian nuclear program is. I don’t know how powerful the anti-war movement in the United States will be to press leaving Iraq before the job’s done. So all these things worry me. But this is also a time of great opportunity, because we’ve never had a better military than we have now. It’s doing a wonderful job in Iraq. There is this movement of democracy and liberalization. This is why Iran and Syria let loose on Hezbollah.

HH: They know it could go either way. Victor Davis Hanson, thank you. Great piece at Nationalreview.com.

End of interview.

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