HH: Joined now by Victor Davis Hanson, military historian, classicist, author of a number of very important works, and you can read most of his columns at www.victorhanson.com. Victor, always a pleasure to talk to you, Professor.
VDH: Thank you for having me, Hugh.
HH: I began last hour by saying although the war against radical Islamists began in the 90’s, we first learned of it in 9/11, and we struck back successfully in Afghanistan and Iraq. And since that time, they’ve struck back at us successfully in Iraq, in Southern Lebanon, and now in Gaza. Is that a fair analysis, viewing it as one war?
VDH: I think so, because they have a…it’s sort of like saying that Italy and Japan and Germany all had different agendas, they didn’t know what each other were doing, but they all basically hated consensual government in World War II, the same thing in the Cold War. China and Russia hated each other just like the Shia and Sunni hate each other, but basically, it was totalitarianism against the free world.
HH: And so, against that backdrop of understanding that there is, if not coordinated cooperation, an affinity of objective, how serious is the loss of Gaza to Hamas?
VDH: Mixed bag, because one thing that’s been lacking in this whole war is moral clarity. And when you sort of put everybody in there that is rejectionism…I’m not saying that the Fatah or Palestinians are not, incrementally not much better, but nevertheless, the Hamas has, refuses to recognize Israel, and they’ve always hid behind the so-called coalition with the Palestinian Authority. They’ve called themselves the militant branch. But now, they’ve got Gaza. And remember, they’re calling the Fatah and the P.A. Jews and traitors. And so this time, when they start sending rockets into Sderot and to the Israelis. There’s not going to be any so-called moderates that are in there, that the Europeans and the Americans are going to say you can’t do this, because we’ve got people who want to work with you. And that’s the price they’re going to pay. They voted for this government. It was thugocracy. Now it’s there, and I think it makes it a little bit, in a strange, ironic way, easier for Israel to deal with Gaza.
HH: I’ll come back and ask you about that in a moment. The Newsweek story echoing a theme that has dominated a lot of the mainstream media’s coverage of the Gaza coup, blames Bush for forcing elections upon the Palestinians. In other words, it’s not Hamas, and it’s not the Palestinian voter, it’s Bush’s fault. Have you seen that theme, Professor Hanson?
VDH: I have seen it. I’ve seen Bush blamed for not giving more arms to Fatah, for cutting off aid to Hamas, for not…for allowing there to be elections. I just saw today, if you saw the U.N. Secretary-General say basically climate change, and that’s a euphemism for the Americans heating up the planet with their voracious appetite for fossil fuels has caused Darfur. So I don’t know about you, but anytime I see a story today about a so-called world crisis, the subtext is always the United States did something to cause it.
HH: Yes. Here’s a paragraph from Newsweek. “Nor did many hard-liners in Washington ever fully understand that using raw power to impose democracy on peoples who were not ready to seize it for themselves was a phantom. By insisting on the cure-all elections in countries and territories that had not institutions of justice and security, or a politically aware economic middle class to sustain democracy, the Bush team clearly seems to have overreached.” Now I read that to you because it makes so many assumptions. It’s almost a cartoon about what has happened.
VDH: It is.
HH: Explain what your reaction to that is.
VDH: It’s pathologically lying. I mean, they had this idea that we went into the Middle East, and serially knocked off…we took out the Taliban and we took out Saddam. That’s two of 21 nations. Then we politely pressured for democratic reform in Egypt. You can’t work with Iran and Syria. We didn’t invade them. And we were given a hopeless situation where people wanted to have an election. We tried to insist on Constitutional guarantees. They elected it, they got their government, we said fine, we approve of the process, we don’t approve of the result, we’re not going to pay for it any longer. Then, they chose to have some type of civil war, which we’re not supposed to use that word, because it’s supposedly…in Iraq, it didn’t apply, but supposedly…this is a civil war, but we’re not supposed to use that word. So I don’t understand where this neoconservative agenda supposedly was knocking off countries and imposing democracies. Remember the people who are making this critique, these are the same people in the 1990’s, remember that most infamous tape that circulated about Al Gore, who castigated George Bush, Sr., damned Colin Powell, said Scowcroft and Baker were amoral, because they didn’t go to Baghdad. They let the Shia and Kurds be butchered. They let the Wahabis in Saudi Arabia dictate the coalition. They sent too many troops, they didn’t have any idealism, they didn’t pressure these right wing governments, they had no idealism in foreign policy. Then they got their wish, and somewhere around April, 2004, when things got tough in Fallujah, they all bailed in mass. And I don’t have any confidence in their judgment. These are Fareed Zakaria on the left, these are Tom Ricks, these are Rick Atkinson, these are Cobra II authors. They were all on the record during the no-fly zone period damning U.S. policy as being insufficiently idealistic, and too cynically realist. Now, they’re just made 180 when things got rough.
HH: Professor Hanson, if in fact the Democrats succeed in obliging us to retreat from Iraq without a stable Iraqi government, won’t we have Hamas times a hundred in that country?
VDH: Yeah, it’s going to be like Afghanistan in the 90’s, only a little bit worse, because you see, it’s in this region where it’s got a seaport, it has access to the Persian Gulf, the transportation of oil. It’s got the third largest reserves of oil. It’s going to be the rump state in the south of Iran with oil. It’s going to be a protectorate of Syria. It’s going to be an Afghanistan in Anbar Province. And there’s not much you’re going to be able to do with it. And ask yourself if suicide bombing and IED’s got rid of 160,000 Americans, why would you stop there? Why not go into Qatar, or go into Saudi Arabia, or go into Kuwait, train the people there in Iraq, send them across the borders, undermine those governments. And then once you’ve done that, then you have pretty much an open blank check to deal with the Russians, the Chinese, the Indians, and sell them oil, buy arms from the Russians, get nuclear weapons. That’s what, I think that’s obviously going to be the future if we fail in Iraq.
HH: And there is no alternative. I did appreciate, I’m not a fan of John McCain, but in the last debate, when he was asked about if it’s not working in September, I think he was trying to say, though he did not say it elegantly, there is no alternative. We have to stay. Is that how you interpret it?
VDH: Yeah, I do. I think he’s been very good. I think he understands that the danger is not the Democrats. We’ve written them off a long time ago. It’s 12 or 13, as you know, Senate Republicans that will not want to run in 2008 on Iraq, and they’re going to go to the President, with some members of the House, and they’re going to say look, I can’t support this, because I’m worried about being reelected, and I’m not going to be there for a two-thirds…I’ll be there for a two-thirds override of a veto or filibuster. And that will cut the war off. That’s what happened. People forget, they keep damning the liberal Democrats, who deserved it in ’74. But if you look back at that period, to the 21 cut off’s of aid to South Vietnam, it was when people like Goodell in New York, and Cooper in Kentucky, and all those Republicans joined the anti-war Democrats.
HH: Victor Davis Hanson is my guest, preeminent military historian and classicist. Will…now let’s go back to Israel. I’ve had a few callers today argue that the clarity that this is going to provide will be of great benefit to Israel striking back. But I’m already warning if they do strike back at Gaza, rather than allow Hamas to nest and root deeply there, they will immediately be condemned by Europe. Do you agree with that?
VDH: Yeah. The only difference will be, they’ll be condemned by the European intelligencia, but the European diplomatic corps will privately urge them on, and so will the Saudis, and so will the Palestinian Authority. They’re basically going to say go deal with them. And remember this, I talked with a high level administration official right after the Lebanon war of last year, and he told me that the Saudis called up this administration, and said let the Jews unload on Hezbollah, and they gave them sixteen, eighteen days, and they were very upset that Israel did not take care of that Syrian-Iranian-Shia nexus. And I think the same thing’s going to be true. They’re going to tell the Israelis, look, you do it quick, overwhelming, and we will condemn you publicly. But privately, we’re all for it, and I think that’ll be the cynical green light that Israel will get.
HH: Unless and until the regime change in Tehran, Victor Davis Hanson, this does not, this is not solved, correct?
VDH: Well, you know, we’re looking at a train that’s going off the bridge, and we can’t seem to have the moral courage to stop it. We all know where it’s going, we all know they’re cheating on every non-proliferation accord, we all know the centrifuges are going up on this countdown to Armageddon, we know we have to do something to stop it, but we don’t have the moral courage to do it. And the way that we rationalize that, if you look at what these think tank and diplomatic wonks are saying that we’ve handled, or we’ve finessed Pakistan, why can’t we live with an Iranian bomb. So we know what’s going to come, but we don’t seem to be able to…it’s like Czechoslovakia or the Rhineland. Everybody knew in Europe what was going on, but they didn’t want to have another Battle of Somme or Verdun.
HH: The weekend reports in either the Post or the New York Times suggested that the Bush administration has taken an attack on Iran off of the table. Do you believe that to be true?
VDH: No, I don’t. I think that somewhere in early 2008, we will see an ultimatum when the intelligence becomes overwhelming that they’re six months to a year away, and we’re going to see first, some type of stepped up embargo, and then probably a Naval blockade, and then maybe a punitive attack on an oil refinery. But I don’t think George Bush will leave office with them having a nuclear weapon, or even close to it.
– – – –
HH: Professor, before we went to break, we were talking about how the parallels with the inability of the West to deal with the rise of the totalitarian states in the 30’s are quite striking. There was a failure of imagination about Hitler, and also a failure of literalism, and perverse that both were at the same time. They wouldn’t take him seriously what he said, and they couldn’t imagine what he would do. Do we have the same situation arising right now?
VDH: I think so, and remember, people forget that in the 30’s, people said that Hitler came to power through an election. He’s legitimate, even though he was undermining constitutional government all the while. And the same thing with Hamas. They say well, they were elected. We’re not responsible for what people choose to do with their votes. So there’s nothing wrong with telling the Palestinian people you have a choice between a radical group in Fatah, and a loony radical group in Hamas. Now whichever, if you choose to elect Hamas, you’re not going to get any American subsidies. If you choose to elect former terrorists rather than more active terrorists, we’ll probably give you some money. They chose, and they have to live with it. I don’t see what the problem is.
HH: And what do you see as the worst possible scenario over the next three to five years?
VDH: The worst possible scenario is that this Fatah, who…the corruption of Fatah is so bad, and the incompetence of it is so bad, that rather than being a shining beacon that the West can point to and say look, the West Bank works, and Hamas doesn’t, so Arab world, see what happens…this is what they think is going to happen, that Hamas just becomes sort of like Afghanistan or Iran, and then it migrates by osmosis into the West Bank, and then we’ve got two of these places. So our policy right now, as I understand it, and maybe you can shed some clarity on it, is that basically, this is now going to be the showcase, that we’re going to give money to Fatah, we’re going to give money to the Palestinian Authority, we’re going to give money to all of these corrupt terrorists in the West Bank, and they’re going to show without Hamas around, that albatross around their neck, they’re going to have a working democracy, they’re going to cut a deal with Israel, we’re going to pressure Israel to give up more land, and then the Arab world is going to see the contrast between those two, and then that’s going to, by example, shed some light on Iraq. You name it. I’m very pessimistic about it.
HH: Is that how you’re reading the statements out of the administration, and particularly the State Department?
VDH: Yeah, I am.
HH: Yeah, I think that’s a very plausible…
HH: When I asked about three to five years, though, I was speaking in terms of more globally in the region, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and of course, whether or not they would dare strike directly at Israel.
VDH: You know, I think everybody…it does remind me. I know that we pressed that soma often, 1935-1936, that we think that this is intolerable what’s going on in Iran, it’s intolerable what’s going on with the serial assassinations in Lebanon by Syria. We understand that Hezbollah is trying to destroy a democracy. They’re trying to destroy a democracy in Lebanon and Israel. And we know what has to be done. They have to be isolated diplomatically, we have to be ready to use military power, and yet 3,400 tragic deaths in Iraq have put that off the table. And you and I know right now, tomorrow, that if we were told that Iran has the bomb, or we are told that the Assad kleptocracy was directly involved with those murders, the U.N. finds that out, there’s no public support in the West to do anything about it.
HH: That is the case. That’s…the Democratic Party has left us high and dry here. Do you see any hope of them…you know, there’s a strong pro-Israel contingent in the Democratic Party, which I believe is sincerely attached to the state of Israel. Do they not recognize the peril which has got to be at least as high as it was in ’73 at this point, Professor Hanson?
VDH: I don’t have any confidence, because they remind me of the Israeli left. They really do believe that if they just talk and they have more diplomatic ties with these Palestinians, it’s the arrogance of the enlightenment to the nth degree, that we are so educated, we are so affluent, we’re so successful, that surely these logical people will want to emulate us, because there’s reasonable people that have been trained in the West, educated, and they don’t understand human nature that it’s just as likely that people will hate them for their success, and want sort of the lobster bucket mentality, you crawled out, we want to pull you back down into this miasm. My attitude is, and I think most reasonable people, if I could be so bold, is that they’re going to have to separate themselves from the West Bank and Hamas, and they’re going to have to keep up their military preparedness, they’re going to have to deal with Iran, and they’re going to have to hope that globalization, economic liberty, rising levels of affluence will finally corrupt this radical Islam in ten, twenty, thirty years, and then they can deal with them in the next generation. But they can’t deal with them for a generation.
HH: Last question before I want to talk to you about immigration briefly. We’ve been talking about the invasion of Poland, and of course, the rise of the Nazis. But if you go back to June of 1914, or maybe even early or late 1860, before the inauguration of Lincoln, did anyone, do we ever see conflagration coming? Or does it always surprise when it does arrive?
VDH: No, I think everybody, I think if you go back and read what people said at the time in the North, they could see where it was going, that there was…I think Sherman and Grant and Lincoln and Northern Senators, the abolitionists, they all said this was the richest plantation class. This plantation class was the richest group of people in the history of civilization. And there’s no way, voluntarily, they’re going to give up that system. And I think people understood that by 1867, in Germany, with its industrialization, unification of Germany, and its success and its militarization, and its ideology, that this idea that Niall Ferguson had that World War I was avoidable, and that it was just an in-house fight between two similar systems is just rubbish. It was an antithetical system to liberal democracy, and there was nothing stopping it, except that terrible trench warfare from Switzerland to the Baltic. And however chaotic and insane that tactic was, it saved the idea of a liberal Western government. I don’t see any way that you can deal with radical Islam in Iran or Syria. Nancy Pelosi went over there, and she bragged and bragged, and the result, and the fruits of that were more serial assassinations. And she cut out all of the democratic reformers. If you’re a Syrian, and you can’t get on the internet, or you can’t speak your mind, or you’re in Lebanon, and you’re afraid that you’re going to be blown up for writing an op-ed, and you see Nancy Pelosi over there embracing that dictator, and she’s supposed to be the paragon of liberal values? It’s pretty depressing.
HH: Last question, Victor Hanson. Is there any reason for the Bush administration to be pursuing an immigration bill that is destroying its political base at a time when it needs its political base?
VDH: I don’t understand it. I really don’t understand it. I don’t see…they had it up on a platter for them. All they had to do was build a 900, 800 miles of fencing, fine employers, get an ID, beef up security, and they could stop that 1 million coming across to maybe 30,000. And then you had 11 million people, you could give all the rhetoric to the 11 million here. And believe me, when that influx is stopped, that 11 million is static. The formidable process of popular culture, assimilation can work, and then all of the other issues, guest workers, de facto amnesty, all of those things could be dealt with in a timely manner, piecemeal. But this idea of comprehensive immigration reform, all of these statutes, laws, fines, you and I know that the first time they say to somebody you’re going to have to pay $5,000 dollars, Juan Lopez is going to be on CNN saying he doesn’t have a dime, and he’s being tortured, and he’s being chased by the government, and he’s not going to do it. It’s…politically, this was the stupidest thing you could have imagined.
HH: I have to agree with that assessment as well. Victor Davis Hanson, always a pleasure. Thank you, Professor.
End of interview.