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Victor Davis Hanson on Iraq and Iran

Wednesday, December 20, 2006
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HH: We began today’s show with Arthur Herman, author of Getting Serious About Iran: A Military Option, we checked in with Bill Roggio over in Kuwait, just back from embeds in Fallujah, then went to Daniel Drezner of the Washington Post editorial page this past weekend, talking about grand theory. And now, to sum it all up, Victor Davis Hanson. Professor, I’m glad you got out of the Sierras with your chains intact.

VDH: Yeah, I am, too.

HH: That’s a close run thing sometimes.

VDH: It is.

HH: Professor, we had Arthur Herman arguing for vigor, and then we just had Daniel Drezner telling us that Ahmadinejad lost the elections, and he doesn’t really have the power to launch a nuke, and if we do anything, the Iranian people will be mad at us. Who’s right?

VDH: Well, I’m afraid Arthur Herman’s right. I think the reason that the Iranian president is losing some popular appeal is precisely because we are not talking to him, and we’re racheting up the pressure, and the people are starting to worry that this madman might get them into a war with the United States. So now is the time to keep the pressure on, don’t legitimize that Holocaust-denying regime, and let these dissidents have a voice, and have some sympathy for them. So it seems to me confirmation of what we’ve been talking about, that by not talking to Iran, that theocracy seems weaker and weaker.

HH: We had Bill Roggio telling us at the top of the hour that he was in the city council meeting in Fallujah last week when men and women stood up and debated the ISG report, and what it meant, and how dispiriting it was. And that seems to me to be completely at odds with victory or containment, Victor Davis Hanson.

VDH: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I was in Mosul in late February, and it was amazing to see women talking in a city council meeting. The 101st Airborne was doing a great job, and remember that General Dempsey, Martin Dempsey, I think it was yesterday, announced that they’ve already met the 325,000 goal, and they’re going to increase it by 20,000. So I mean this idea that Iraq is lost is very disturbing, because I think we’re right at the cusp, and we can pull this thing off. Nothing would be more destabilizing for Iran than to see an Arab-Shia democracy right across the border. We keep thinking they’re destabilizing Iraq, and they are, but we can do the same thing to them by making Iraq viable.

HH: I want to play for you John Murtha on with Wolf Blitzer earlier today:

WB: The new defense secretary, Robert Gates, said yesterday that failure in Iraq, in his words, would be a calamity. Here’s the question to you. Has the U.S. already lost in Iraq?

JM: Militarily, we’ve lost. There’s no question about it. We cannot win this militarily. The way we have to operate when we go into an area, we went into Fallujah. We put 300,000 people outside their homes. The way we operate in all these places, kicking down the doors and so forth, the military, in order to protect lives of Americans, and I agree with that, but the problem is it makes enemy. Abu Ghraib is another example, when you have untrained people handling this kind of stuff. You don’t have enough people. So militarily, we’ve already…to the point where the troops are doing everything they’re asked to do, I’m inspired by the troops, but that’s not the point. They don’t have a defined mission, and it’s not getting better, so we have to find a way to redeploy these troops. There’ll be some instability, but they have to settle it themselves, as I’ve…one year ago, I spoke out, and the incidents were 400 a week, and now they’re 973, 93 attacks a day.

HH: Now Victor Davis Hanson, it’s almost impossible to listen to that, and imagine our maintaining the political will to win.

VDH: Well, he’s…if I can be candid, he’s an historical ignoramus. That’s like saying that we took the highest casualties in 1945 in January, than we did in the entire Normandie, post-Normandie invasion. Therefore, we should quit, because of the surprise at the Bulge, or that Okinawa, which occurred just ninety days before the end of World War II, that was the worst casualty rate we had in the entire Pacific war. We should just quit, because the incidents of violence was higher than it was in Guadalcanal. And this idea that we can’t win is preposterous. People do temporarily lose their homes. They should ask the people at Hamburg or Tokyo. I imagine Mr. Murtha said we can’t win in Japan, because we’re getting Japanese out of their homes. The people that we’re trying to defeat are jihadists. They don’t have broad popular support. They don’t have an agenda. Every day there’s thousands of Iraqis that are getting up and fighting terrorists, very uniquely in the Middle East. And this isn’t specific to Iraq. As we speak, in Somalia, in Darfur, in the Sudan, on the West Bank, Hamas and Lebanon with Hezbollah, in Pakistan with jihadists going across the border in Iran, we have this worldwide jihadist movement. And if he thinks that by redeploying out of Iraq that we’re going to seem magnanimous, and win support from these people that want to destroy us, it’s absolutely lunatic. We’re in a…

HH: Well, that takes me back to Professor Drezner. He’s a fine blogger. I don’t know if you’ve read his stuff…

VDH: I have.

HH: And so he’s very careful. But his assessment of the various grand theories leaves no room for all of them being as astonishingly wrong as the confidence in interlocking alliances in 1913 proved to be.

VDH: Yeah. You know, I try to be empirical about all this. It seems to me that somewhere around November 15th, this country, as you mentioned, lost its collective sanity, and just woke up one morning and said we can’t do this anymore. We’ve lost Iraq, we have to talk with Iran, we’ve got to listen to people who gave us Iran Contra, or the hostage problem. Jimmy Carter’s advising us on the West Bank. I mean, it’s just…it’s very disturbing. That’s why the Iraqis don’t know what’s going on.

HH: But is that just the Beltway-Manhattan media elite, and the echo chamber they provide for the hard left? Or is that in fact the majoritarian opinion?

VDH: It’s hard to know, but one thing I’ve learned in my career is that I never underestimate the lunacy or the influence of National Public Radio, of the Washington Post, of the New York Times, CBS News, Newsweek Magazine. It’s a grave mistake for conservatives to say you know, this is just in the Beltway, because somebody in Omaha turns on NPR once in a while. Somebody looks at Newsweek in the airport waiting room. They have enormous influence that belies their actual numbers.

HH: But does a free people have a deep common sense about threats of the sort that we are seeing rise up? Or are we Great Britain in the 30’s again?

VDH: I think we’re like the United States around January, 1941. We’d seen war break out in Europe. We think we can finesse it. We don’t think it’s going to involve us directly. We think that maybe Lindbergh and Father Coughlin are right. You can talk to Hitler. We understand Britain is a colonial power. They may have brought this on themselves. Japan has legitimate grievances with China. That’s what was in the collective mentality of a lot of people in the United States. And then we got hit on December 7th. I think a lot of us are surprised, though, because after September 11th, which was the most grievous wound in our history, right on our shores, not in Hawaii, and right in the centers of finance and military power in Washington in the U.S., we thought that America would declare war on this movement.

HH: We wouldn’t forget, but we apparently have in large numbers. Victor Davis Hanson, always a pleasure.

End of interview.

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