HH: Joined now by Victor Davis Hanson. He is one of America’s preeminent military historians. He is on the faculty of the Stanford Hoover center right now. And Professor Hanson, welcome back. Good to always have you.
VDH: Thank you for having me, Hugh.
HH: Your reaction to Ahmadinejad’s appearance yesterday?
VDH: Well, I think you’re dealing with a person lives in the 9th Century. And his final prayer, I think, we’re starting to get the picture that this man, from what he said about Israel, and what he lives in the mythic world of the 9th Century, the 7th Century, and when you nuclearize that zeal, I think you’re going to see that this man probably would like to take out Israel, and then he can tell…his ghost can tell the Arab-Sunni world that the Farsi-speaking Persian Shiia out-trumped them, and they were willing to give up half their population to, as they term Israel, deal with this one-bomb state. So I think it’s pretty…that whole scene at the UN was sort of a Star Wars bar, with Kofi Annan’s speech, and then you had Hugo Chavez, and pretty spooky people. And it leaves this question. Why are we in this group? I mean, we did fine in World War II without being in the Leage of Nations. And I don’t see any advantage anymore with being with that group.
HH: Well, I can see an advantage to stop paying, and moving them out of New York. But I wouldn’t relinquish a Security Council veto, Victor Davis Hanson, because of the lunatic, international law community that attributes to the resolutions of the UN some significance that might actually hurt us, as opposed to the Geneva Convention rewrite.
VDH: Yeah, I guess, but it would be good to start off…you’re right, and I’ve written a column to that effect, to get them out of New York, and put them in the third world where they want to belong, apparently.
HH: Now let me ask you about American reaction to Ahmadinejad. I wrote a piece this morning, The Appeasement Press, because none of them, not one of the major news medias either played or broadcast or reprinted his prayer. Did you see it anywhere in print?
VDH: No, I didn’t. I did not. Not at all.
HH: What do you think is the significance of that news vacuum? Did they not understand? Or are they in fact covering for him?
VDH: I think they don’t know how to deal with him. I think that even for a man or woman of the left, a progressive, they don’t know how to deal with this person, because there’s a bad and a worse choice. You have confidence in the Iranian dissident movement, you hope the Shiia in Iraq can participate in democracy. You hope Russia and China will pressure, be of some help. The EU3 are trying to negotiate the UN. We have all these strands that are suppposedly going to work, and yet deep down inside, we feel that this is a maniac that’s not going…none of those are going to work, and that the choice is military action. Yet we know that as soon as we do that, not only are we going to have CNN and global television looking at one Iranian child who’s been hurt by collateral damage, and George Bush lied, thousands died, this stuff. But we’re also not sure that militarily, we’re going to get all of these things, and we don’t know how far. So it’s a bad and a worse choice, and the way most people react, as you know in history, in these kinds of crisis, they just don’t want to see it, out of sight, out of mind.
HH: To the extent that the nuclear ambitions…we have lived with a crazy, Islamic republic. Not crazy, but fanatical Islamic Republic of Iran since 1978. And we would not be spending much time on them now, but for their nuclear ambitions. Can we allow them, Victor Davis Hanson, to have nukes. And of course, if you say no, at what point does the bombing begin?
VDH: Well, I think that the President does not want to go down as a person who preempted, who was unilateral, who defied the UN, who alienated the Europeans. He doesn’t want to go back through that whole mess that we had in the lead up to Iraq. So you can see what he’s doing. Any observer can see that he’s allowing the Iranian dissidents to get their shot, and maybe liberalize the regime, or overthrow these mullahs. It’s not going to happen, I don’t think. He wants to get the EU3 involved. Maybe they can play good cop to our bad cop. He hopes Iraq will stabilize, and maybe even undermine the Shiia theocrats in Iran, by showing that democracy and Shiism is not imcompatible. And then maybe he can get the Chinese and the Russians to at least be neutral. And the UN, maybe, can get sanctions. But you and I know that ultimately, that’s probably not going to happen. So I think his plan is he’s going to wait until he has pretty good intelligence that they’re enriching uranium, that these centrifuges have got enough uranium now to make a bomb. And then he will act, and he will expect that he will be ridiculed and demonized, and he’ll be fatalistic about it. But he will go out of office ensuring that his successor won’t inherit a nuclear Iran for a while.
HH: I agree with your analysis. Now my question that follows from that is, after we conduct a bombing campaign sufficient to cripple at least their ambitions momentarily, what does Iran do? What does the world do?
VDH: I think then we’re in a war, Hugh. And we’re going to be in a war not like…I think everybody should understand that, so they can try to put pressure on, because they’re going to act. They’re going to have Hezbollah use terrorism against American bases, against Israel in a much more adament way, and they’re going to try to do something to the United States. And they may do something. We don’t…the point at which we’re ready to act if they have enriched uranium doesn’t mean that they haven’t already given some types of device to a terrorist. And then the world is going to go…it’s going to be a really messy situation. And I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but we…if the President decides to do that, he’s got to go tell the American people they’re at war, that you’re not just attacking Saddam Hussein and Iraq. This is a much bigger, much more powerful, much more strategically important, and much greater oil producer. And it’s going to be bad. And I think we should be ready for it.
HH: Have you had a chance, Victor Davis Hanson, to read Lawrence Wright’s new book, The Looming Tower yet?
VDH: I’ve just seen excerpts of it. But I haven’t read it.
HH: It’s magnificent, and I spent a couple of hours with him, talking about the book. And he understands the Salafist threat thoroughly, but not, perhaps, the 12th imamist threat, because they’re so very, very different. And he didn’t spend any time on the latter. My question is, what happens to Saudi Arabia and the Sunni world if we go into conflict with the Shiias? Do they support us? Or do we get a two-front war, which, you’re the military historian. You know what that means.
VDH: Well, they don’t support Hezbollah, but they’re probably going to be analogous to the way the Japanese and the Germans acted independently. They’re going to be opportunistic, and parasitical off each one. So yeah, I think they’ll probably, al Qaeda will step up, and they’ll try to appeal to a pan-Islamic cause, even though they’ll not be…they won’t be sad if we inflict some damage on Iran, and Iran won’t be sad. But they have more in common for their hatred against us. That’s going to trump any rivalry that they have.
HH: What do you think of Hugo Chavez, not just the crazy speech today, but how he would react to a direct confrontation between Iran and the United States?
VDH: Well, he doesn’t have a lot of cards to play, but he might do something with oil exports, and hope that he can…if the Iranian oil gets off the market, and there’s some type of boycott in the Gulf of the West, then he might like to hold back oil for a while. But he’s basically leading a bankrupt economy that is dependent on oil exportation. So I think…
HH: Now Victor Davis Hanson, in your study of military history, have you ever seen a situation analogous to this resolve itself peacefully?
VDH: No, it reminds me there’s too many things going on. It reminds me of the 1930’s, when you had the wild card of Italy. You had Franco’s Spain. You had Hitler gobbling up the Rhineland, and the Anschluss, and Czechloslovakia. You had the Russians and the Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact. You had Japan fighting Russia. You had Russia fighting Finland, and Japan making a non-aggression…there’s just too many things going on with the role of Russia. It’s being very opportunistic. You’ve got the role of these Latin-American lunocracies that have come into play, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, socialist governments sweeping Latin America. It just seems that it’s going to be very hard for a divided West to…and Japan, to offer any semblance of sanity, and so I’m very pessimistic in the short term, at least.
HH: And from that pessisim as to the short term, do you see a conflict as wide, and anywhere near as bloody as World War II?
VDH: No, because of the role of nuclear weapons, because I think most people realize that if the Iranians have a nuclear weapon, and they send one nuclear bomb into Israel, then…
HH: It’ll be over the next day.
VDH: We’ve got to remember what the logic of…Israel’s been turned topsy-turvy by the Iranians. The logic was, this was going to be the sanctuary of the survivors of the Holocaust. So 60% of the world’s Jewry would be ensured that they’d always have a safe embryo to live in. And what the Iranians have said is this is right, and this is wonderful, because now we’ve got a one bomb state in the age of nuclear weapons. One bomb…we just need one to get through, and we can take them all out for good. So it’s really put the whole logic of Israel in very Orwellian terms.
HH: It makes Israel almost certain to act before they are…
VDH: You can’t be an Israeli…no prime minister of Israel will go down in history and tell the history of the Jewish people in the terms that I knew that this man promised to wipe us off. I knew he was enriching uranium, and I let him have a bomb. You can’t do that.
HH: And that means if we do not act, they will?
VDH: I think so. Not 60 years after the Holocaust. You can’t ask them to do that. And it’s just…everybody outlines their…I mean, al Qaeda has…Mr. Zawahiri tells us what he’s going to do, Hitler told us what he’s going to do. Libya tells us what they’re going to do in Qaddafi’s little green book, Mao did it. This man has pretty much laid it out, and none of these people history tells us lie about what they plan. When Qaddafi wrote the green book and said he was going to abolish private property, he did it. When Mao said he was going to have a great leap forward, he did it. And when Hitler said he was going to destroy the world’s Jews, he tried to.
HH: Victor Davis Hanson, we’re out of time. Victorhanson.com for his private papers. Thank you, Professor. Bracing, sobering.
End of interview.