Victor Davis Hanson on the Bhutto assassination, and why we need to sober up on foreign policy in our presidential campaign and current government
HH: Joined now by military historian and essayist, Victor Davis Hanson, author of many fine books. Professor Hanson, welcome back, and a Happy New Year in advance to you.
VDH: Thanks. You, too.
HH: Let’s talk about the assassination of Benazir Bhutto today. Not…it’s shocking, but not surprising, Victor Davis Hanson. Or are you surprised that they got her?
VDH: No, it was just…I’m afraid she’s a very courageous person, but I think all of us thought it was a matter of when, not if.
HH: And so the impact on this on the war generally?
VDH: Well, I think it reminds everybody that the more we talk and downgrade the threat of radical Islam, and say you know, they don’t have the capability as we saw in the Cold War, it reminds us that they don’t need a capability of the Wehrmacht or the Red Army. They, in one day, they can take out a democratic candidate to control a nuclear arsenal in Pakistan. And so they have enormous ability to change the pulse of the world in a matter of minutes. And they have a whole country, Pakistan, that’s tottering on the brink, and they have a sanctuary there, and they’re vying to get their hands on the control of that government.
HH: You know, all day long, I’ve talked to Mark Steyn, Stanley Kurtz, Max Boot, David Dreier, who was in Pakistan last month, Lileks, and I’ll be talking with more people after you. And they all don’t want to go to the idea that we should be alarmed. Concerned, but not alarmed. And should we be more than concerned?
VDH: I think we should be alarmed. I’m very alarmed, because there’s not a lot of alternatives there. You’ve got a choice between a dictatorship and a theocracy. And there’s no middle ground there. And Pakistan, all these people say well, there’s really a middle class out there that wants to be heard, and it doesn’t like al Qaeda, they don’t like Islamists. But that country consistently polls the most anti-American of any country in the Middle East. And then when you look at, you’re talking about all of the differences of views that you’ve interviewed, look at our candidates. We’ve got Huckabee who wrote that he wanted to invade Pakistan. Today, like Jimmy Carter, he wants to apologize. For what, I don’t know. And we have Obama, who said a while ago he’d like to invade Pakistan, a nuclear country. And now today, he said it has something to do with the war in Iraq. We’ve got Bill Richardson that wants to remove a government from an autonomous, sovereign, nuclear nation, who said that Musharraf should step down. And then there’s the unhinged Ron Paul, that wants to blame…when you look out there, I think it shows you we don’t have a lot of people running for president that are sober and judicious. And it makes all of their complaints about Bush look sort of hollow.
HH: Now Professor Hanson, when you step back, all of the critiques I’ve been reading today also assumes that America is somehow at the heart of this problem, when in fact, as Lileks pointed out, when you’re basing your foreign policy on a 7th Century theology, it’s not really about us.
VDH: No, it’s not. And we don’t have much control over Pakistan. It’s an artificial state that was created as an antithesis to India, and it doesn’t have Hindus and Christians, and Muslims that have to work it out. And it’s not democratic. And it was a buffer in the Cold War, because it was Islamic and authoritarian, and we thought right wing and capitalist, so it could be useful to be a hedge against the Soviet Union and India. And it was a disastrous policy then, and we don’t have a lot of choices. I think that we should gradually cut back aid, and expect the worst from that government, and deal with it. But the idea that Musharraf is our SOB, or Bhutto is our Western ace in the hole is just not going to happen.
HH: If…I asked this question to Max Boot earlier. If Musharraf came to us and said I want you to help me put down the Waziristan third party, the al Qaeda center, and I need your Special Forces, and I need your air assets. Would you say to President Bush, do that?
VDH: With conditions. I mean, we can’t do that overtly, because all that’s going to do is just get a backlash. I mean, we’d get short term relief, maybe, but I think we’re doing that covertly anyway. I’m sure there’s Predators and Special Forces that are going in there with the knowledge of the Pakistan military. But I think if we were going to do it formally, then we would have to say okay, this is a part of a larger confession on your part to respect the rule of law, make sure you don’t intimidate supreme court justices, there’s a parliament there that has to share power with you. But I don’t think we can go down that road, where we’re going to back just 100% authoritarian, because he’s duplicitous, and he stages these raids that go into Pakistan, and he loses, you know, two or three hundred, and he says oh, gee whiz, I lost three or four hundred Pakistanis this month. And it’s not a healthy, it doesn’t do much, and it’s not a healthy long term policy.
HH: Now one other suggestion is that we condition aid on denuclearization, that we say you’ve got $10 billion bucks in aid since 9/11, and we’re cutting you off unless and until we see every nuke, and we take most of them away. What do you think…most if not all of them away, Victor Davis Hanson.
VDH: I think you and I would both think that would be the best of all solutions, but it’s utopian. It’s just not going to happen. That’s not just an Islamic bomb anymore. That’s a Pakistani nationalist bomb. And what I don’t understand is that for all the criticism of the current administration about Iran and North Korea, we stopped the bomb in Libya, perhaps, we may have stopped it in North Korea, and we’re working on Iran. But the government that gave us the Pakistani nuclear bomb was the Clinton administration, and nobody talks about that. That was the biggest disaster, both on a political plane, that we’ve seen in the last quarter century. And the CIA, you know, our intelligence agencies, didn’t have a clue how close they were.
HH: Well, that’s the AQ Khan network.
HH: There are a couple of new books out about that, that I haven’t read yet, but which are evidently quite amazing in their detail about our indifference to the facts on the ground of what was going on there. So Victor Davis Hanson, you’re a historian, and I know you’re not a prophet. But looking forward twenty years, what do you see in that region of the world? Do you see the massive conflict between India and Pakistan, driven by Islamist radicalism?
VDH: I do. I think the only ace that we have in the hole is that we have an English-speaking democratic multi-religious 1 billion person nation that’s in the process of globalization, pro-Western, especially pro-American in India. And that provides the only deterrence we have against a nightmare in Pakistan. And I think what we need to do is gradually curtail aid, and make it contingent on democratic reforms, and just admit we have a de facto alliance with India now. And that’s our best ace in the hole.
HH: We do a lot of training with the air assets and the naval assets with the Indian military and the American military. I assume that you would endorse ramping that up as fast as they’ll let us?
VDH: Yeah, I think I would, because India’s very valuable in a geopolitical sense, with Russia and China as well, and I’m afraid that the more we give weapons to Musharraf, and I think we’ve given him $7-10 billion dollars, the more that they’re going to be diverted to use against India, and that’s a mistake.
HH: Do you think the use of the Islamic bomb is inevitable?
VDH: I do in a regional…I’m not sure that in the sense of Armageddon that there’s enough of them to cause a worldwide conflagration, but I think that we’re going to see something in the next ten to twenty years where an India and a Pakistan, or Iran, is going to use it, yeah, and in a tactical sense, to take out a city.
HH: And that sets in motion events that really don’t have a stop. We don’t have any idea what happens after that.
VDH: No, we don’t, and I think that’s one of the things that Bush has been most criticized for, and should be most praised instead, is the missile defense program, because that’s something that’s going to be increasingly important, that we’re going to have to have some type of naval-based, and land-based deterrence, so that when these countries that have 50 or 60 nukes start to use one or two of them, that we have some last stand, some last defense against it.
HH: Now Victor Davis Hanson, the idea that we’ve got a presidential campaign underway, the only good side of the assassination of Bhutto is the clarity it brings to the importance of these issues…
VDH: I think you’re absolutely right on that. I really do.
HH: But how long does it last?
VDH: I don’t know, but it reminds us that there’s still a war on terror, there’s still a radical Islam, there’s still people trying to get nuclear weapons, there’s still people who assassinate anybody who they sense is Western, and that tends to help candidates. On the Democratic side, I think it would help Hillary over Obama. He said some foolish things. And on the Republican side, I think somebody like a Giuliani and a McCain benefit, and Romney’s been pretty sober. So but people who shoot off at the mouth, and have taken these opportunistic cuts, and are sort of cheerleading on the sidelines as if they’re sober and judicious, every time there’s a crisis, they say the wrong thing, and you know who I’m talking about. It’s Huckabee, it’s Richardson, it’s Obama, the nut Ron Paul, to be candid. And these people are just not up to the job of being Commander-In-Chief.
HH: And does, will it translate…the Congress is out of session, but we have been screwing around with a military budget for Iraq. We have not expanded the Marine Corps as the President has requested. We are down to 280 ships. Does it bring enough clarity that we might actually see some serious revision upwards of the military budget?
VDH: Yeah, I think it does. I think that President Bush is realizing that his domestic agenda, it’s going to have to be cut spending. He doesn’t want to raise taxes, then he’s going to have to cut spending, and use the savings to fund the military. And we’re going to have to raise the military, or we’re going to have to cut our liabilities, either one, overseas. And more importantly, I think it really gives us all a sober reminder that when you have a Democratic Congressional opposition that does things like demand official diplomatic relations with Iran, or goes over to talk with a rogue nation like Syria, or tries to pass a resolution right in the middle of a Kurdistan-Turkish standoff that condemns Turkey for the 19th Century Ottoman practices of a government that doesn’t exist, and you’ve got people in Congress that have serious problems about the world.
HH: Victor Davis Hanson, always a pleasure, thank you. www.victorhanson.com for all of his columns and of course, a listing of his books.
End of interview.