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Victor Davis Hanson on Obama’s schoolchildren address next week, and where we are in Afghanistan

Wednesday, September 2, 2009
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HH: I begin this hour by welcoming back Victor Davis Hanson, extraordinary military historian and classicist. Professor Hanson, always a pleasure, thanks for joining us.

VDH: Thank you for having me.

HH: I want to start by discussing with you what I began last hour with, an announcement by the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan last week, that the President of the United States has decided to address all of the nation’s schoolchildren on September the 8th. Arne Duncan wrote in a letter to all principals that this is the first time an American president has spoken to the nation’s schoolchildren about persisting and succeeding in school. We encourage you to use this historic moment to help your students get focused and begin the year strong. I encourage you, your teachers and students to join me in watching the President deliver this address on Tuesday, September the 8th. Then, they distributed a bunch of suggested classroom activities, which are just so creepy. But the one that I’ll draw your attention to, “Extension of speech – Teacher can extend learning by having students write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the President. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals.” Your reaction, Victor Davis Hanson?

VDH: Well, I mean, this is what, all he has to do is put a red cover, and he’s in China, and a green cover, and he’s in Libya. This is what totalitarian societies do. They reach out to children in the schools who don’t have any choice. The teacher apparently can’t say you know what? I don’t want to do this, or a child can’t say I don’t want to read this, because it’s part of a mandated curriculum. It’s…and this is happening, remember, at a time when his polls are crashing, so you get the impression that last week, it was to invoke God and say that people who were against health care were not properly religious, and now it’s to go over the heads of everybody to the children. You know, this administration, we saw this in the campaign with the Latinate, Vero Possumus, yes we can, this is our moment that the seas will stop rising, the planet still start cooling. There was this whole narcissistic, messianic sense of himself. And it’s kind of, it is creepy. That’s a perfect word for it.

HH: Now in terms of your suggested response, many, many listeners just do not like this at all. In fact, some are very stressed out about it. I think they should go to their principal and say I don’t want my kid involved in this, and I don’t think they should be intimidated by people who say they’re making a mountain out of a molehill. But at that point, they’re going to need a response as to why it’s not making a mountain out of a molehill. How would you have them respond to that?

VDH: I would have them not only say that they don’t want their child in class where they have to have a mandated politically correct address from the President. But I’d try to suggest that teachers don’t go, either, because the teachers, I don’t think that’s in part of their contract that they have to go in and get group think. This is sort of like, this whole thing about…I wrote a column not long ago about Orwell and Barack Obama, this idea that everybody blames Bush. He’s like Emanuel Goldstein, where you go shout at him, he did it, he did it. Today, Robert Gibbs said oh, it’s not our fault in Afghanistan, Bush did it. This is nine months later when there’s more casualties this year in Afghanistan already than there was under the last year of the Bush administration. And it’s this whole double think, double speak, group think, it’s creepy. And it comes out of the Chicago organizing, therapeutic mindset that we saw before during the campaign. And every time I hear this, I hate to be so negative, but when Barack Obama says he wants to transcend race, I hear, I expect another Sotomayor wise Latina, or profile speech about Skip Gates. When he says he wants to balance a budget and be fiscally sober, I expect a $2 trillion dollar deficit. When he says he wants to repeal the Bush abrogation of the Constitution, I expect he won’t do anything with tribunals, even Guantanamo. He’ll leave it alone. Every single thing that the man says should give us all pause, and it’s not going to be true. He’s not going to complete it.

HH: Now I also want to stress, though, Professor Hanson, I would make the same exception if it was George W. Bush.

VDH: I would, too.

HH: So explain to people why as a matter not just of Obama, but presidents should not be talking to school kids in a captive setting.

VDH: We have these examples, we’re very fortunate, because we look abroad, and I’ve been to Libya, and the first thing you see when you get into downtown Tripoli, is that everybody has to have a green book, and all the children have to wear green, and the same thing in China with the red scarf and the former Soviet Union. And that’s a method of the totalitarian manner, that children en masse have to hear a great leader speak to them. The Great Leader is never a guy with a Hitlerian mustache. He’s always a sympathetic, big brother-type figure that’s compassionate, soft-spoken, and that’s what Orwell was trying to get at. He was trying to warn people that totalitarianism is not going to come from an easy identifiable brown shirt. It’s going to come from somebody who’s going to take care of you. He’s going to tell you what kind of car you should have bought. He’s going to give you money when you make your mistakes. He’s going to help you get out of your mortgage. He’s going to take over the car industry for you. He’s going to give you health care. And he’s going to do all these things for you. That’s what’s really creepy about this entire broad assault on the traditional notion of what America used to be.

HH: Now I do believe, though, that part of that assault has produced a counter-reaction, and that the reason his numbers are plummeting is not just because Obamacare’s a terrible idea on policy grounds, but because people do not like the arrogance, the condescension…

VDH: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. We saw the last six weeks that on every issue, cap and trade, nationalized health care, stimulus, deficit spending, the apology tours, those issues were polling 10% negatively. And then we thought you know, blue dogs and everybody went along with it because the President’s ratings were up to 55 and 60%. Now, people, it’s gone down to 45-50%, and the issues are unpopular. But now the President is, and the question is why. And I think it’s because they thought that he was getting, they were getting a no more red state, no more blue state sympathetic, racially transcendent figure, empathetic figure. But now they’re starting to see you know what? This guy makes fun of the Special Olympics, he says doctors take out tonsils and cut out legs, the insurance companies profit unduly, Wall Street, you shouldn’t go to Vegas, you shouldn’t go to the Super Bowl, he weighs in on things, and he’s got a mean streak about him. And people are starting to see that he’s a polarizing figure, and he is becoming more of the caricature of the right that said don’t elect this man, because he pals around with hard core people like Rashid Khalidi, Bill Ayers, Reverend Wright, Father Pleger. And we all thought you know, that’s a little bit too much, but exactly, he’s turning out to be that Chicago polarizing, divisive figure. And I think that’s made his polls suddenly go down. It’s the most precipitous drop in the polls in the first eight months of any presidency since Bill Clinton.

HH: Let’s talk about the one area where he’s done well, which is Afghanistan policy to date, resupplying and re-supporting the effort there, although he’s under pressure from the left to abandon it. George Will today called for abandoning Afghanistan. Your reaction, Victor Davis Hanson?

VDH: Well, everybody’s done that in the history of…there were people who said that we should have a negotiated, after Okinawa, they said we should negotiate with the Japanese, and we should not ask for unconditional surrender. In August of 1950, there were a whole bunch of people who said we’re down at Pusan, and we cannot win the Korea War. And then when we went up to the Yalu once again, and the Chinese made it, they said we can’t get it, let’s quit, and Ridgeway came and restored things. We saw that in Iraq, the surge won’t work. This country’s had these moments, and we’ve only given in one time, and that was during the Vietnam War, which I think everybody now starts to see was not doomed to be lost. So I think you know, I respect George Will and everything, but look, we only have 30-something thousand, 32,000 troops in Afghanistan. We can escalate if we have to. But there’s a question that I’m curious about, and it really confounds the left’s thinking. We only lost from 2003, ’04, ’05, we were losing 48, 52, 98, 97 people a year, less in a year in Afghanistan than we were in Iraq. Suddenly, we’re spiking up to 150, I think it’s 158 this week. And the question is why, when Iraq is cooling? And I think a lot of it is that the Taliban and al Qaeda thought that they could not win last year, the years before, because of what we were doing in Iraq. We were A) killing a lot of al Qaeda people in a way we couldn’t in Afghanistan, because there wasn’t a sanctuary nearby. But more importantly, we were committed to staying there. And the last 8 months, the radical Muslim world is seeing the left in America say we’re going to get out of Afghanistan, they’ve seen the timetable in Iraq, they’ve heard that the Muslim world is not culpable for certain things, they’ve seen these apologies, they’ve seen the dismantling of the war on terror, they’ve seen the CIA officers threatened with investigations. And I think the message to the Taliban and al Qaeda is you know what? We are worn out, we are scattered, we lost in Iraq, we lost tens of thousands, but you know what? They’re in worse shape than we are if we just press and escalate. And we’ve seen that in history when Dean Atchison said South Korea’s not in the sphere of U.S. influence, North Korea invaded. When April Glaspie said you know what, borders between Kuwait and Iraq are not our concern, Saddam did that. So when you give these signals from the White House, that whether you want to or not, or whether you intended to or not, or from the Democratic Congress that you’re tired, we are just as culpable, that Bush did it, that Cheney is an odious figure, that, those images and implications have consequences.

HH: Victor Davis Hanson, in terms of General McCrystal, how many troops do you think he’s going to call foree?

VDH: Oh, I think he’s going to want about 60 or 70,000 total. And if he’s going to try to pacify, I think what he’s trying to do is lessen the violence, and then build this security force up to three or four hundred thousand.

HH: 60,000 in addition to those that are there or total?

VDH: Yeah, that’s what Petraeus did in Iraq. Each time we had a problem, Petraeus sent more people into particular areas, and they doubled the size of the security forces, and it worked. But it’s going to require, if you’re going to win in Afghanistan, you can’t say separate Iraq and the war on terror and say that Bush screwed up here, he did bad here. It’s just not going to work. These are all fronts that are connected.

HH: Victor Davis Hanson, I appreciate your time so much.

End of interview.

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