Victor Davis Hanson on the ISG report released today.
HH: Joined now by Victor Davis Hanson, professor of classics, as well as a military historian. Welcome back, Professor Hanson. Have you had an early reaction to the ISG report?
VDH: I have. I read it as carefully as one can. It’s about 160 pages.
HH: And what do you think?
VDH: Well, it’s sort of like…it reminds me of somebody who’s diagnosed with, perhaps, a brain tumor, then wants to do hip surgery.
VDH: They understand the problems, but here we go again. We want these multi-party talks with Iran and Syria. And there’s a very strange Orwellian line in there about it’s not in their interest that Iraq be chaotic. It is in their interest, because that alone prevents American or U.N. or European scrutiny of Syria’s serial assassination and Iran’s nuclear proliferation. They both like the situation as it is. And when Jim Baker says well, we talked to Russia, but I don’t think that Syria and Iran have 7,000 nuclear weapons pointed at the United States, so we had to talk to Russia. That’s absurd. Everything in there doesn’t make any historical sense.
HH: No, in fact, when they said that about Iran, I immediately thought well, Pakistan was pretty happy when Afghanistan was bleeding the Soviet Union dry.
VDH: Absolutely. It’s in their interest. And what’s not in their interest…and so if it’s in their interest that there be chaos, why would they not want it be chaotic? And they seem to think that well, if you give them the Golan Heights, or you pressure Israel, or you let them sort of wink at what they’re doing in Lebanon, but they think they can do that as well. And I think what…the thing I think that Iran and Syria and this document, that basically the subtext is look. We don’t want to be there any more than you want us to be there. Give us an honorable withdraw, so that you kind of hold down the attacks on us. We’ll get out. Give us about a year, and then let the thing blow up or turn into sort of like Finland did with the Soviet Union, or Lebanon did in the 90’s with Syria. It’s your problem then. But just let us get out, and short term expediency, it won’t look like we were defeated. Peace with honor, and then we don’t do the stuff again, and we let you guys go back and kind of sell out the Lebanese democrats. We sell out the Israelis. We sell out all these people who were worried about Iranian proliferation. So it’s not very encouraging.
HH: Let me ask if they knew where they were going before they set out? And I judge that from the people that they spoke with. They spoke to fifteen Senators, not one of whom had been elected since 1991. They spoke with many dozen, 21 foreign officials, only two of whom were Israelis, not one of whom was from the democratically elected government of Lebanon. Of the 43 former officials and experts that they consulted, were Mark Danner of the New York Review of Books, Thomas Friedman, Leslie Gelb, Sandy Berger, Anthony Lake, Ken Pollack, Thomas Ricks, George Will, not you, not Lawrence Wright, not Robert Kaplan, not Mark Steyn, not Michael Ledeen, not Christopher Hitchens, not…well, they did talk to Bill Kristol for 50 minutes. Did they get garbage in, garbage out, Victor Davis Hanson?
VDH: Well, I think that they realized that public opinion is for doing something other than what we’re doing now. Everybody knows that there has to be a tactical and strategic readjustment. But they feel that there’s this wave of popular discontent, and they’re going to meet this wave. We saw that with the Gates confirmation, that it was a unanimous vote. Once he said we’re not winning in Iraq, I almost thought to myself if John Bolton had just said we’re not winning in Iraq, he would be the U.N. ambassador for life.
VDH: So yeah, they just sort of…they have no ideology. It’s just they want to be…to reflect popular opinion. And let’s be honest. For those who thought that it was a good idea that that monster was removed, and that the Iraqi and Shia would have a chance for consentual government, we need to win, because most people, as we see from this commission, have no ideology. They just…these same people would have said in March, April, May, 2003, this was a great idea to get rid of Saddam. They just reflect the popular perceptions. That’s why I think that if I was George Bush, and it’s very easy for me to say, I would just get all the 100 one-star generals, and say the first one-star general that can find something that we’re going to win is going to be a four-star general, just like we did on the eve of World War II, when Marshall did the same thing.
HH: Let me ask you. It feels like the 30’s in reverse, Victor Davis Hanson. They went from a lack of resolve to an almost insane resolution to fight on to the bitter end. We’re doing it in reverse.
VDH: We are, and what’s ever scarier is that we lost 8,000 Americans a month for the duration of World War II, and we didn’t blink. We’ve lost, on an average, 50, 50. That’s terrible, but it’s 50. It’s less than 1/100th of what we did in World War II, and this country is twice the size, and its economy is ten times the size. And we’re just about ready to give up. As I said, boy, I would not want these people issuing a report to Lincoln after Cold Harbor, or to Truman after the Yalu River, or to Churchill after the fall of Singapore, because the world that we know today would not be as it is.
HH: That’s very well put.
HH: Professor Hanson, John McCain shrewdly and quickly dismissed the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group report. Do you think any Republican would-be nominee will have a viable campaign if they don’t follow suit?
VDH: You can talk all you want about it, but basically, there’s two problems with it, and they’re very naive. It suggests that Iran and Syria are not our enemies, and it’s not in their interest for us to fail. That’s all you need to know. They want us to fail. And for all this talk in the report about concessions on the Golan Heights, or the West Bank, or Lebanon, all of that means nothing, compared to the fear they have of a democratic and prosperous Iraq right on their borders. To them, that’s all that matters right now. That we can offer up all these things, and what we’re going to get, as I said, that what we’re going to get in exchange is some half-hearted assurance from both of them that if we get out, they’ll give us a year or two grace period so we can say we won, or something before that becomes a protectorate of these rogue nations. I’m just thinking about all the thousands of people who took us at our word, in Israel, in Lebanon, and in Iraq, that we really did believe in values and traditions and democracy, and we’re willing to stand up for them. They’re out high and dry if you look at this thing.
HH: But let me ask you, because I didn’t hear the first part of your response there, Professor. Do you think the heart of the Republican Party remains victory oriented? And that McCain’s example of dismissing these recommendations is going to be sort of the de facto and automatic position for would-be Republican nominees?
VDH: I think for most mainstream Republicans, absolutely. I think the Buchanan right, and some of the neocons that have bailed will find things that resonate with them. But for the people who are National Review-Weekly Standard-Wall Street Journal-Republican National Committee-Bush administration advisers, the Bush administration itself, I don’t think this thing’s going to be palatable.
HH: Now where is the Vice President, do you think, Victor David Hanson?
VDH: I think he’s rock solid.
HH: But we don’t see him.
VDH: No, we don’t. We don’t. And I would think that when this thing comes out, what we need now are people like the Vice President, Secretary Rice…we don’t see, either. We need her to be…we don’t see Mr. Hadley, the National Security Advisor. We all need people to say well, this is very valuable, but there’s no substitute for victory, and we’re constantly adjusting tactics, we’re going to find…I’d like to see, like I said, a George Marshall who said there’s a lot of one-star generals out there. Give me anybody who can give us victory, and you’re a four-star general. And we have people in the U.S. military that we know can do things.
HH: Now we’ve got the Pace Committee working in the Pentagon, the internal Pentagon review of Iraq. I am hoping that that is the antedote to all that ails us in terms of at least clarity, as to what has to happen. What are your thoughts?
VDH: I agree absolutely with you, and you notice, it’s very interesting, that people who were fierce critics of this administration, like General Zinni of all people, says we can’t get out of Iraq. We need to win this thing, because all these generals that came out and triangulated during the campaign season are starting to understand that if we do what this commission wants to do, this will be the greatest defeat since Vietnam of the U.S. military, and it’s going to ruin its reputation for 25 years. I think that all these generals who thought it was cute to sort of ally themselves with the left, with Kerry, all this easy criticism, better take a deep breath and say I may not have been for this, I may have been against it, I may have had my reservations, but we’re in there now, and it’s the reputation of the U.S. military to win. And this idea that there’s not a military solution is only half true. There has to be a military solution to give the political process a window of viability. They need to kill the jihadists, and convince the insurgents, or anybody who would support them, that it’s bad to support them, and it’s good not to. And that’ll give this government time to get the breathing space. It’s only been three years, and to get viable. So it has to be politics and military, but there is a military solution to jump start this, and we need a general who believes that, and has the expertise and confidence to carry it out.
HH: And how much do we need clarity on the nature of Iran and its puppet, Syria?
VDH: We need the President to say I’m willing to be as reasonable as anybody, but my view, consentual government, an open, free market, individual liberty and human rights, these things are antithetical to the present governments in…these are antitethical to the present governments in Damascas and Tehran. I wish it weren’t so, but unfortunately, it is. And we can’t talk to them until they start to abide by U.N. non-proliferation accords, and until Syria gives some accounting of the murderous serial assassinations. We need that, because boy, this country, Harry Truman didn’t go to Mao and Stalin, and say would you please stop the People’s Army from going across the Yalu River. He knew that was a waste of time. We didn’t go in World War II to Spain, and Switzerland, and the Royal Family, and Stanley Baldwin, and said you know what? We lost Tuebrook…the British, Churchill didn’t say that. Now we need your help to bail us out. Lincoln surely didn’t call up Jefferson Davis or go into McClellan, or the U.K. and say you know what? We can’t take Cold Harbor and the wilderness and the seven days. This is just too much. We need to go back to a status antebellum. And we don’t have a tradition in this country of doing that.