Victor Davis Hanson on the Columbia University invitation to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
HH: Professor Hanson, thanks for making a quick stop by. What do you make of Columbia’s decision?
VDH: Well, I think it’s a mistake, because it’s not just a lack of common sense, it’s a lack of common decency. This is a man that probably was involved in the terrorist kidnapping in 1979. He’s advocated the destruction of Israel, he denies the Holocaust, and wants to start what he calls a real holocaust, I suppose. This is a campus that won’t extend free speech to U.S. military personnel in recruiting efforts. It’s part of a very loony time, left and right, on the campuses today. We don’t have any administrators with any common sense. We have the Chemerinsky problem at Irvine, we’ve had the retraction of the offer to Larry Summers. You just get the feeling that people in American universities, especially their administrators, are out of touch with common sense.
HH: You know, you’re a military historian, and a distinguished classicist as well. This is a…I don’t think Bollinger, the president of the Columbia University, a former law professor of mine, by the way, a very smart guy, though now, I believe, bereft of common sense, this is a propaganda windfall to Ahmadinejad. And tonight, the National Press Club announced they’re making him the star of their first ever video conference on Monday. Do people not realize how propaganda works, Victor Davis Hanson?
VDH: I don’t know, but what you’re doing is a man who’s an international rogue, who’s killing via Syria brave democratic reformers in Lebanon, who’s killing Americans who are trying to create a constitutional government in Iraq, who’s threatening a holocaust and killing his own people, is suddenly elevated to the status of statesmanship, and it’s a terrible mistake, because this man is a thug.
HH: Is there any way to distinguish between him and, say, Mugabe or Kim Jung Il?
VDH: Well, I don’t think so, and I don’t think…the only thing that makes him attracted to Columbia is that unlike North Korea we don’t know much about, it’s a Stalinist holdover from the Cold War, but as you know, we’ve had thirty years of cultural relativism and multiculturalism, whose doctrine, multicultural activity, and the doctrine is that no culture can be any worse than the West. So he’s sort of romantic in his beard and his lack of a tie, and his perpetual victimization chant. And for a people on campus who were told that the United States is the source of the problems in the world, some people might feel that well, he’s a little crazy, but we’ve got to extend some…give him some slack, because we’ve done so many things in the past with Mosaddeq in Iran. And that’s where this is coming from.
HH: Is there any precedent for a nation in an undeclared but real war inviting their enemy to the most prestigious podiums…I mean, I’m just…
VDH: I can’t think of anything. It would be sort of if right in the middle of the Civil War, that Harvard University wanted to talk with Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson, or maybe during the World War II, we thought that maybe Goring or we could put Rudolf Hess on a speaking tour while he was in captivity. I can’t understand it. The only thing I can think of is in the Vietnam War, you know, I remember Ho Chi Minh poster everywhere, but I don’t remember a North Vietnamese person coming to the United States to speak.
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HH: Professor Hanson, the…Columbia was once led by Ike, Dwight Eisenhower.
VDH: Yes, he was. He was president.
HH: And when Eisenhower confronted Holocaust deniers, and those who turned their eyes away, he marched them through the camp of Buchenwald. Columbia’s fallen pretty far since then. How would Eisenhower deal with this, do you suspect?
VDH: He would be appalled. I mean, remember what the subtext of this, I don’t know if it’s very sub, is that if you’re an anti-American, that gives you a cache. You know and I know, Hugh, that they wouldn’t ask David Duke, and give a lecture and say we want to air all views, no matter how reprehensible. They just wouldn’t do that. Remember what the status of academia is. This last week, we had UC Davis refuse a platform for Larry Summers on the grounds that he was sexist. This is a man who gave $50 million dollars to women’s studies programs at Harvard, and yet at a similar rank university, will ask a man to speak whose done all sorts of atrocious things to women in Iran. We know that. He just imprisoned a U.S.-Iranian woman scholar. And women are fourth class citizens. But why he gets that cache is because he’s rubbing the West’s nose in the dirt, and for a lot of people in this 9 to 5 boutique world the campus, that’s sort of neat and interesting and curious, and so he gets a platform that where a Larry Summers wouldn’t.
HH: Is there any difference from the perspective of you having studied both Afghanistan and the Iraq War between Ahmadinejad and, say, a Zawahiri or bin Laden?
VDH: No, I mean, there’s…the only difference is that he has more material support at his fingertips, because he’s in control of a nation state. What he says about destroying Israel is much more explicit than what bin Laden or Zarqawi or Zawahiri said. But the difference is neither one of them have 3,000 centrifuges at work. There’s a difference.
HH: Is there…this is really kind of the crucial question. Does Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, not know that he is arming the insurgents, and directing them and trading them, who are killing American soldiers and Marines? Or does he not care?
VDH: You know, I don’t know, but I see this as endemic right now of the left. I’m bewildered when a Dennis Kucinich or a Nancy Pelosi goes over to Syria, that engages in serial assassination of reformers, democrats in Lebanon, or when we, as you say, Ahmadinejad is killing people inside Iran who want free speech. He’s killing people in Iraq who want free speech. He’s killing people in Lebanon. He’s killing people, trying to in Israel, and it seems to me that a democratic institution would not want to give that man a platform.
HH: But it also occurs to me, he shuts down Tehran University.
VDH: He just did. More than Tehran, I think it was fifteen universities he shut down. So he would destroy everything that Columbia is, had he the chance. And so it’s mystifying to people why they would do this, except there’s this very fuzzy attitude about the world’s rogues, the Hugo Chavez, or an Ahmadinejad, or any of these people who pose as sort of peasant anti-Americans. As simpletons, they have a sort of nostalgic attraction toward the boutique left in this country. I don’t understand it. It’s frightening.
HH: Do you see any of the traditional democratic left, the Harry Truman left, raising their voices against this?
VDH: I don’t think they exist anymore. Joe Lieberman? Who is he anymore? He has a constituency of one. The Democratic Party sold its soul to the Daily Kos, the MoveOn.org, and the Hollywood base that has a lot of money, and is sort of…let’s be candid, they’re sort of an elite, white, affluent, professional class that really doesn’t understand what this country’s about, but has a lot of money, they’re very articulate, they’re highly educated, and that’s the engine that drives the Democratic Party.
HH: You’re right, and it’s a sad statement. I hope someone wakes up at Columbia. Victor Davis Hanson, always a pleasure, thanks for joining us on short notice to bring some clarity to this. It’s not hard to understand. I just want to make sure that our audience understands.
End of interview.