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Victor Davis Hanson On Why He’d Say No To AUMF In Syria

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HH: All week long, we’ll be talking about the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, AUMF 2.0, proposed by the President. And one of the critics of the President’s actions is Victor Davis Hanson, a friend of the show. You can read everything Victor writes at I just Tweeted out his Obama Indicts Obama piece, which is must reading. VDH, welcome back, always a pleasure to speak with you.

VDH: Thanks for having me, Hugh.

HH: Now at the bottom of the hour, I will have Tom Cotton, Congressman, soon to be a Senator, Ranger, Rangers lead the way. He’s going to vote for whatever comes before him, because he believes America’s interest is engaged here. And perhaps what comes before him will include, as Buck McKeon is arguing, a plus up of the Defense spending and a repeal of the sequester as it impacts the Department of Defense. But you are being cited by many people, both muscular hawks and isolationists, as the guy who’s saying don’t do this. So explain, Victor, how you would vote if the AUMF as we current understand it would come before you.

VDF: OH, I’d probably vote not, and I wouldn’t say it would be an easy vote. But I just don’t see that the President has given us an objective, a methodology and a desired outcome. And by that, I mean is the purpose to get rid of Assad? Is it to punish him for using WMD one time? And will he do it again when he does it again? Is it to destroy WMD? Is it to help the insurgents? If so, which insurgents? Who are they? Is it to restore the President’s red lines? I’m not sure that we’ve got that articulated. Then we have sort of a Syrian circus. We’ve got the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who’s weighing in, that’s not his prerogative, on policy. He tells us on one day that the military does not have the equipment or the material or the budget to conduct a major military operation. That was not very long ago. And then he just said that he’d come back not long ago, and he didn’t know who the opposition was. And then he’s quoted by the president of the United States saying that in fact, it’s very doable, and it’s so doable, that it doesn’t really have to be time specific. Then we have a secretary of State, and he has been on record as recently as 24 months ago that Bashar Assad represented a new second-generation force in the Middle East, is a person that Nancy Pelosi visited in 2006. Hillary Clinton summed up the appraisal that he was a reformer. Then we have the President, who told us quite contrarily that Bashar Assad had to go. He had to go. And then he made these red lines. And this is all in a context, Hugh, of what I’m worried about, is it’s in a context of surges in Afghanistan, but with withdrawal dates, five serial deadlines to Iran, all empty, red lines to Syria, none of them applicable, flip-flop-flip in Egypt, leading from behind in Benghazi, where is the Benghazi punishment for the killers? And the result of all of this is I’m very worried, because although this is not a major operation like Iraq or Afghanistan, it’s on the Mediterranean, and it borders Lebanon, a hotbed of Middle East violence, Shia-Sunni-Hezbollah-al Qaeda, and Israel. And then we have all of these players in the region, for some reason, Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, even China’s mouthing off now, and they all have a feeling that this reset reset with Putin, and the new pivot, and the new profile on the trillion dollar cuts, the United States is not the United States of the last, you know, ten, fifteen, twenty years. So what I’m worried is that even though this should be a very limited operation with no geostrategic risk, I’m afraid that once we get into there, somebody is going to say you know what, this is the time to test this president. What I’ve seen the last five years gives us an opportunity to make some regional adjustments. And I’d want to know what he’s going to do if that happens.

HH: Well, I agree with every bit of your analysis, but riddle me this. The cover story in the Foreign Affairs, Who Is Khamenei, The Mind Of Iran’s Supreme Leader by Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji, very chilling, VDH, as to, he’s our audience of one, really. And I don’t know that any strike of the sort the President will now impress him. But I think if the Congress of the United States fails to back up a limited action, that will sign, seal and deliver the very message you’re afraid of sending, which is he can do whatever the hell he wants.

VDH: Or it will prevent him from sending a couple of Cruise missiles that Assad brags that he battened down and weathered quite well, and dares him to do some more. And then where are we, because that’s what I think is going to happen. He’s going to do what Bill Clinton did in Afghanistan. It didn’t really matter whether the Congress approved what Clinton did in Afghanistan. Ronald Reagan shelled the Bekaa Valley with the New Jersey, and it didn’t do anything. So if you want to send a message, we have a lot of proof that if you’re not going to go into Panama or Grenada or Iraq and Afghanistan and get serious, and we’re not, then there’s not a lot of evidence that a one-time retaliatory Cruise missile on the wrist works. And it has, often, the opposite effect. And with this president, he’s a force multiplier of that factor.

HH: Oh, he’s a force multiplier of…

VDH: Because once he does that, if I were, if I was an evil man like Assad, and I was in his position, I would welcome a strike, because I would come out of my bunker and say okay, is that all you can do? Do it again. And he wouldn’t do it again. And we’re going to get into a…and I understand your point, Hugh. It’s very well taken, that people should not be partisan, and they should not just be, if you were for the Iraq war, you should be against Obama, or if you were against the Iraq war, you should be for Obama. That’s not my point.

HH: I know that, yeah.

VDH: For the Iraq war, we had a rationale, we had a methodology, we had a desired objective. We went to the Congress. We even tried to go to the U.N. There was a whole year of deliberation. And after 9/11, I think there was an argument to be made. But 23 writs from the Congress, I don’t see that here. I don’t see the preparation. I don’t know at what magical point, if you could tell me, at what magical point in the last two years, we’re going to hit him now. He’s used WMD. If he did it this time, he’s probably used it before. There were reports that he had. I don’t know…

HH: I think, VDH…

VDH: I was pretty bad, I was upset about the first 99,000 people who were killed. I don’t quite know why the last 1,000 take precedent over the earlier 99,000. Is that the straw that broke the camel’s back for Obama?

HH: No, it’s the red line. It’s my view that if you have a president of the United States say if you do A then I will do B, and he doesn’t do B, it damages the presidency for the next 39 months that we’re stuck with this guy, but even beyond.

VDH: Okay, so you’re talking about credibility, mostly, these red lines.

HH: Yeah, and I really do worry that everyone in the world will just go off and gamble around…

VDH: Oh, I’m worried about that as well. I just, like you, I share that worry. I just don’t know if I share your remedy for it.

HH: Let me ask you is Chairman McKeon is successful in attaching to this a rebuild of some of the Pentagon cuts which have been so devastating, and I believe his agenda in the House is to say here’s your AUMF, and now return the sequester to the DOD, which should never have been in the sequester to begin with. How would that impact your analysis, VDH?

VDH: Well, I’m really not partisan. I just don’t think that this president is up to it. Everything I’ve seen rhetorically, symbolically, iconically, I just don’t think…

HH: Well, he’s not.

VDH: …that he’s not up to it. And what I’m worried about is when he gets himself into a situation, we’re in the most dangerous cycle that a leader can be in history, and that’s when he knows that he’s lost credibility and deterrence, and he’s desperately trying to reclaim it by some type of gesture. And Jimmy Carter, as you remember, after he gave all those same Obama-type lectures about inordinate fear of Communism, nobody’s going to die on my watch. He got himself into Russians in Afghanistan, Chinese in Vietnam, hostages in Iran, Communists in Central America. And then for a brief period, he just said if you go into the Middle East, we’ll use nuclear weapons, the new Carter doctrine.

HH: Yeah.

VDH: And he got very muscular, and he reacted, and he had to do it, but it was a very strange and scary time, because I didn’t think the Soviet Union really took him too seriously, and might try to test his resolve. And this is what worries me right now. Obama is desperately searching for any…somebody’s got to Obama and said you know what? You’re just about on the brink of ruining U.S. foreign policy for a generation. There are some very sober, judicious, smart guys in the Democratic Party, and they’ve told him that. And now he’s got to come through.

HH: You see, if we don’t help him, VDH, the 39 months, I can’t imagine the weakest in modern American history exposed as that for 39 months.

VDH: Yeah, I just don’t think going into Syria in that particular place at this particular time, after what he said, is going to do the trick. And I think at this point, if you don’t have a goal and you don’t have an objective, and he doesn’t. I mean, you can say that he wants to restore a red line, but once he sends this missile or ten missiles or a hundred missiles, and he comes out of his bunker, what if there’s going to be WMD in two weeks? Then what do we do? And then three weeks? And then four weeks? We’re not going to do anything. You think Obama’s up to keep doing this again and again and again like he has to?

HH: Well, that is the question. And it is my hope that like…

VDH: He’ll compound the initial error is what I’m saying.

HH: Yeah, it would be like would he go Baldwin? Or would he go Chamberlain after, you know, and Chamberlain finally bucked up for a year after Munich, right?

VDH: Kind of, sort of. But it took Churchill to come in, in May, in 1940, and say hey, there’s not going to be anybody in the English government and establishment aristocracy that’s going to talk to any third party about a negotiated settlement.

HH: Right, but…

VDH: And he put an end to it.

HH: But for a year, Chamberlain…

VDH: Chamberlain had allowed that go on.

HH: For a year, Chamberlain was better than he had ever been after he got bucked up when Churchill went to the admiral…I mean, what a crazy set of analogies we’re obliged to use. VDH, let’s talk early and often through the crisis.

End of interview.


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