Victor Davis Hanson on the assassination in Lebanon.
HH: Joined now by Victor Davis Hanson, preeminent classicist and military historian. Professor Hanson, Happy Thanksgiving to you.
VDH: Thank you, Hugh.
HH: I thought we might have a month away from the bad news, but as Beirut descends into crisis tonight, it appears as though the bad guys sense an opening.
VDH: Yeah, they do, and I think this should be a wake up call for everybody in the United States who wants to bring in the 1990’s realist team, that anybody who thinks that they can have some sort of reconciliation with Syria and Iran are missing the entire problem in the Middle East. The problem is those two countries, and those two governments.
HH: Victor Davis Hanson, if you had a chance to visit with the President tonight, what would you be telling him?
VDH: Don’t give up. Don’t weaken. Don’t hesitate. Don’t pause. Do not cut a deal with those two governments. They’re killing American soldiers through surrogates in Iraq. They’re trying to destablize Lebanon like they did in the 1980’s. They’re the source of most of the evil that’s now causing us problems from Afghanistan to Iraq. And this idea that you’re going to bring James Baker back, and that team back who gave us everything from Iran-Contra to jobs, jobs, jobs as the only reason we’re going to go into the Middle East, to flank the Jews. I could go on, but it’s a very sensitive point with me. I think a lot of us, Hugh, stood by this administration through thick and thin when the paleocons turned on them, when the liberal hawks turned on them, when the neocons are starting to bail. But my God, if you’re going to go into the Middle East, and put 130,000 Americans in harm’s way, fighting for democracy, and then you turn around and you appease those two governments who are killing people, I don’t think a lot of us are going to stand for that.
HH: Is this an Archduke Ferdinand moment with the assassination of Gemayel?
VDH: I think it may be. I really do. I think that Syria realizes that as soon as they saw that the United States was going to cease pressure on them, it was time to go in and start killing non-Shia politicians, reporters especially. They’ve killed journalists, they’ve killed T.V…it’s not just this Gemayel. It’s not just a Christian politician. They’ve been doing this for two years, killing, systematically, any critics. And they sense that they get a green light from us when we pull back. And I think it should be a wake up call for the United States, that when you go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, you don’t go to war in a half measure. You either go to war or you don’t go to war. And we’re in a war in Iraq, and we’re in war with, as the President said, Islamic-facism, and autocracy and dictatorship, and there’s no better examples than Iran and Syria.
HH: Victor Davis Hanson, earlier, talking with Claudia Rosett, I said, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go to war with the Congress you have, and now we’ve got a left-leaning Congress coming in. Does the President have the ability to wage aggressive war with a pacifist Congress?
VDH: I think he does, but let’s be candid, Hugh. The problem right now isn’t…it may be the left wing Congress, but he’s got another problem, and that is he’s bringing in Robert Gates, and he’s bringing in the Baker realism, and that doesn’t have a good record. That’s the people who said don’t talk to Yeltsin. Let’s stick with Gorbacev. Let’s not go to Baghdad. Let the Shia and Kurds die. Let’s arm the Islamisists to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and then leave. It’s not a good record. It’s short-term expediency at the expense of long-term morality. And it’s not in the interest of the United States to do that, to cut a deal with these countries.
HH: Now tell me something. If you and I see this as we do the same way, and almost inevitably, it’s a very clear picture what’s going on here. How could “realists” persuade themselves, Victor Davis Hanson? And I haven’t seen Baker do this yet, so I’ll withhold judgment. I haven’t seen Gates do it yet, so I’ll withhold judgment. But how could any realist step up and say the thing to do is to negotiate with the Syrians? What’s madness.
VDH: I don’t know. I think they think that these two countries, it’s almost a prima facia admission that these two countries are backing, in various ways, the Shia and Sunni insurgents in Iraq, and then maybe we can cut a deal, and let them have some leeway at the expense of what? Another democracy in Lebanon? So they won’t topple our democracy in Iraq? You can’t do that. It’d be like asking the Soviet Union to allow a democratic Ukraine, or Hitler to allow Czechloslovakia to have elections. That’s not what those countries do. They exist to destroy democracies, and I don’t understand it. But I do think if they appease these two countries, they’re going to lose a lot of support of people like ourselves, who’ve been with them thick and thin, when everybody else has bailed.
HH: Now what about the calculus in Israel tonight, Victor Davis Hanson? They clearly miscalculated about Hezbollah. Hezbollah has not been wounded or weakened. Or if it was, it has responded by going aggressively internally to expand its power base in Lebanon. How ought Israel be reacting to this attempted coups?
VDH: Yeah, I think Israel’s learned that when Syria and Iran supply Hezbollah with the methods to attack Israel, that you don’t go back and fight in the suburbs and get on CNN and be shown to be inept. What you do is you give the Syrian government a list of targets. And you say to Hezbollah okay, the next time you send in a missile, or you go across a border, we’re taking out the Damascas power station. That’s all. We’re not going to get on the ground. We’re going to take it off. And the next time you do it, we’re going to take out an airfield. And you give the Syrians about fifty targets, and just say it’s up to you how much you want to escalate this process. But I would not get involved with Hezbollah in Lebanon. I’d go right to the source of it in Syria.
HH: Now Michael Totten, a very fine writer who spent a lot of time in Lebanon, has pointed out that what is underway here is an attempt to make the government fall, because if you kill three cabinet members, they lack, under the constitution, they must collapse, and seek a new government. And there was a second assassination attempt today. This is clearly an attempt to have a coups, Victor Davis Hanson.
VDH: Yeah, it is. To subvert a democracy by killing the principal players, and then creating a climate of fear that no one will step forward. But it’s exactly what we’ve seen in Iraq the last three years.
HH: It’s what Hitler did.
VDH: It is exactly the same. And remember that what we’re seeing in Iraq today are Shia, with Iranian backing, killing Sunnis, and Sunnis, with Syrian backing, killing Shia. And both of these countries work hand in glove to destabilize, at their own benefit, what we’re trying to do in Iraq. And so we crossed…I mean, we crossed the rubicon a long time ago. We went to war in Iraq, and we’re there. Now we either give up and get out and appease these people, or we finish the job. And one of the ways you finish the job is you don’t have any, any, any dealings whatsoever with Syria. And anybody can read The Missing Piece by Dennis Ross, and remember that in the Clinton administration, they sent Warren Christopher to sit on that tarmac for six hours, to wait for Mr. Assad to talk to him. I don’t think we want to go back to that.
HH: Can you stick around after the break, Victor Davis Hanson?
HH: Okay. I want to complete, for listeners who lack history. When Hitler leaned on Austria, he did so through the disruption…and I can’t remember the name of the prime minister that he forced out. Do you have it handy, Victor Davis Hanson?
VDH: Yeah, I think it was…(Schuschnigg)…I do remember.
HH: And he had the brown shirts of Austria do exactly what Hezbollah is doing now, force out the legitimate government, and then declare anschluss. And that’s what’s happening.
VDH: He did. He did the same thing in Norway, too, to destroy morale and then invade it.
HH: And so, again, do we take active measures in turn? Do we do the McCain thing, the big build up in Iraq right now, Victor Davis Hanson?
VDH: I don’t think so. I think we keep the same troop levels, but we change the method of attacking. We enlarge our target lists, we use more air power, and more, especially, we get more advisors to train people. Bing West wrote a good article about that today. When one goes over to Iraq, I think part of the problem is that we have too many conventional troops, and too much support troops. Six, Seven, eight soldiers for each soldier in the field. I think we want more soldiers training side by side with Iraqi special forces, forces that can train soldiers, rather than a massive Vietnam, 1965-style build-up.
HH: Victor Davis Hanson, if the Syrians and Iranians, and their proxies, Hezbollah, have taken the wrong message from the elections, that is the ability of the President to conduct the war has been undermined. It seemed to me that now is exactly the time that you’ve got to remedy that misinformation by strong action, not next week, or next month, or six months from now.
VDH: I think absolutely. I think what…there’s been this perception that the President is A) hamstrung by a Democratic Congress-elect, or will be, shortly, and then B) that his father’s advisors have come in as firemen to change his policy that we’ve had muscular support for democracy. And between those two poles, that we’re sort of like deer in the headlights, and that we’ve given an opening for Iran and Syria to cause more mischief.
HH: Let me play for you a clip of Maureen Dowd, New York Times columnist, sort of articulating perfect pitch of what the Syrians and Iranians and their proxies must be hearing:
Don Imus: Why do you think the President fired Rumsfeld, to switch gears here?
Dowd: Well, I heard you talking to Frank (Rich) about this. I think that you know, I talked to some of the old 41 people, and they agree with you guys, that…this is what one of them said to me. He said, “Junior can get us back up, and he may start moralizing again, and get back in the missionary position.” And they think it’s just the beginning of trying to capture him with the butterfly net, you know, that the door will be open to the father and Brent Scowcroft, but not…you know, that Cheney is still there, and Sy Hersh has this New Yorker piece suggesting that they’re going to bomb Iran, so…
Imus: They’re attacking poor, old Sy Hersh, who has had his problems, but I mean, why not try to debunk the story? I mean…
Dowd: Well, Cheney…I mean, I agree that as long as Cheney is there, who knows…it’s going to be very hard for W. to just sort of flat-out admit my father was right, everything I’ve done has been wrong, and has made the situation worse in Iraq, which is has, and the Middle East. And I think, you know, that for him to dismantle that reality, and just suddenly say my father was a better president is just going to be almost impossible.
HH: Victor Davis Hanson, this is silliness and absurdity on an epic scale, but it’s also dangerously idiotic.
VDH: Yeah, well…yeah, but here’s the height of moral depravity. We have this New Yorker/Washington insider, this high nasal twang acting silly and stupid when thousands of people’s lives are in jeopardy, and Americans are fighting for freedom, and she’s looking at this as some type of Oedipal arrangement between Bush I and Bush II. It’s just ridiculous, because what’s happening right now is that a government is trying to have a systematic plan of assassination to destroy democracy, and she can’t seem to make the simple moral calculus that people who are risking their lives every day in Iraq need our support. And it’s not just some stupid, little political inside the Beltway game that she writes her stupid, little columns about. It’s people’s lives at stake. Just listening to that just reminded me how amoral these people have become, when they don’t believe in anything anymore.
HH: That’s exactly right. And the huge…Engelbert Dollfuss was the man who was overthrown by Hitler after trying valiantly not to have that happen to him, and what we see unfolding…I’ll bet you that most of the D.C. elite would not understand what that name conveys, Victor Davis Hanson, and that’s why I’m a little bit alarmed at this point. The Democratic Party probably does not have a historical memory for how roguish and thuggish a facist regime like Syria can be.
VDH: They don’t, and what’s very strange about this Democratic opposition is that they are welcoming people like Baker and Scowcroft, as they see these people as far more closer to their own point of view. That shows you that they don’t have an ideology. They don’t have anything other than opposing George Bush, because they used to be the people, if we go back to 1991, and you read what a Rick Atkinson was saying, or Tom Ricks, or all these people were damning Bush I, and they were saying there were amoral, that Jim Baker didn’t help the Shia, the Kurds. We tried to raise money and have a mercenary war. We had too many troops. Suddenly, they come around and they give you the exact opposite diagnosis of what’s wrong now, and they say that we need Baker, we need Colin Powell. We don’t like Wolfowitz, even though Wolfowitz was their hero in ’91. They have no consistent ideology, other than being against whatever Bush is for.
HH: I misstated, by the way. Dollfuss was Hitler’s guy. Victor Davis Hanson, 30 seconds. Should Israel move to the footing that it was on this Summer? Ought they to be preparing for a war that looks to be inevitable?
VDH: Oh, I think they are. I think they understand that next time, CNN, Reuters, are all against them. They can’t wage that type of global war, where they’re going street to street, and have their bombs on TV, and have a morally indifferent world that can’t make the distinction between rockets that are aimed at civilians, and precision bombs that are aimed at terrorists. What they need to do is go right to the source in Syria, and then humiliate that government by giving them a list of targets, and saying each day you do this, we’re going to do this, and don’t get on the ground with them in Lebanon.
HH: Victor Davis Hanson, thanks for short notice. Happy Thanksgiving in tumulous times.