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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Victor Davis Hanson on the “unhinged” Harry Reid

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HH: Joined now by Professor Victor Davis Hanson, one of the regular guests on this program that always excites the audience to hear from. Professor Hanson, welcome back. You’ve been busy.

VDH: Yeah, I have. I’ve been out here at Hillsdale College for a month teaching.

HH: Watch out for Arnn. He’s a very, very tricky guy.

VDH: Yeah, he is.

HH: Now I want to explore with you an article you wrote a couple of days ago, Why It’s So Hard To Win, and I want to drill down on one paragraph. “The enemy’s desire and ability to kill the requisite number of Westerners in sufficiently savage fashion, hanging their corpses on a bridge, or executing them on the internet, to cause large-scale demoralization on the home front, savagery is a force multiplier. The more horrific the carnage on the suburban televisions of America, the better.” Let me ask you…that’s absolutely true. But does it have its own correction as we’re seeing in Ramadi? I just read the Michael Totten piece where the savagery of al Qaeda turned the whole population against them.

VDH: When it’s used against Iraqis, it does, absolutely. If we looked at this war just from a historical point of view, and I think Dr. Zawahiri had written two letters, one to Zarqawi before he died, and then one to another al Qaeda person, that they really erred in their strategy of treating the population. I don’t think many people cared too much when they were torturing or beheading or blowing up Americans. But when they started doing that to Iraqis in a very savage fashion, and gratuitously, and then hypocritically that they posed as religious zealots, and they were kidnapping child brides, by the way, something that bin Laden we know did himself when he married a fifteen year old right before 9/11. So there’s a lot of hypocrisy about these zealots, and I think that finally just turned everybody off, that they really didn’t want to live in the 7th Century.

HH: Now there’s also a very important development today. UPI has a story out, a leading Saudi religious scholar and former radical has broken with Osama bin Laden, accusing him of having the blood of millions of innocents on his hands. “How much blood has been spilled? How many innocent children, women and old people have been killed, maimed and expelled from their homes in the name of al Qaeda,” asked Sheik Salman al-Odeh in an open letter posted on his website, and read aloud on a Saudi satellite TV channel. “Are you happy to meet Allah with this heavy burden on your shoulders? It’s a weighty burden indeed. At least hundreds of thousands of innocent people, if not millions.” Odeh was one of the leaders of the Sawa, a revivalist movement among Saudi clerics in the early 1990’s, one of the first to preach against the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. Peter Bergen has argued that the Odeh imprisonment in 1994 had a radicalizing effect on bin Laden. What do you make of that, Victor Davis Hanson?

VHD: Oh, I think he’s absolutely right. Peter Bergen, who discussed that at length in the Osama bin Laden I Know, his book, and that testimony from that group of scholars in Saudi Arabia was very anti-American at one time. I think what we’re seeing is that al Qaeda’s starting to implode. If you looked at the latest Pew poll, it would corroborate that, where I think his ratings now are not more than a third popularity in most Arab countries, other than the West Bank. Support for suicide bombing is down. So I think that when you’re in a war, you really can’t determine the pulse of the battlefield, but I think we’re doing very well. And one of the ironies is that when the venom against Bush is so high now, if we just take a step back and ask ourselves, when he came into office in 2001, what were people worried about? WMD in Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea. And it may be three of four of those places don’t have any WMD, and we were worried, after 9/11, that this would be serial, a bombing in America. That hasn’t happened. And there’s a lot of things going on. Lebanon is starting to stabilize. They just crushed a terrorist camp. And it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of imagination to think that you could see a reform government in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and some moderating things going on in Libya and the Gulf as well. That would be an amazing achievement. But we can’t see that right now, because we’re caught up in the election cycle of hysteria.

HH: Now Victor Hanson, we’ve also got a report tonight that originated in Jane’s Magazine. And for the benefit of the audience, Jane’s Magazine is a very reputable source of information on military and national security affairs, is it not?

VDH: Yes, it is. Jane’s fighting ships is just famous.

HH: This begins with, “Proof of cooperation between Iran and Syria, and the proliferation and development of weapons of mass destruction was brought to light today in Jane’s Magazine, a report that dozens of Iranian engineers, and fifteen Syrian officers, were killed in a July 23 accident in Syria. According to the report, cited by Channel 10 on Israeli TV, the joint Syrian-Iranian team was attempting to mount a chemical warhead on a SCUD missile when the explosion occurred, spreading lethal chemical agents including Sarin nerve gas and VX gas.” Your reaction?

VDH: Something went on. We don’t know whether it’s nerve gas or whether it was nuclear material from North Korea. But what’s interesting about that story is that the Syrians are not talking too much about it, because of the failure to stop the incursion.

HH: Oh, this is a different story.

VDH: Oh, that’s a different one? From the nuclear one?

HH: Yeah, this is in July. They blew themselves up in July with Sarin and VX gas.

VDH: Yes, excuse me, I did see that story. And I think they both dovetail, though.

HH: Yup.

VDH: They show you that something is going on in that region, and what’s going on is that the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, are not objecting to what Israel’s concerns are. They’re just as concerned, and we see that that nexus is reaching a point now where somebody’s going to have to do something. And I think what the solution seems to be emerging is that the Saudis and the Jordanians and the Egyptians are telling the United States let Israel handle this, and we won’t object too much if it’s done stealthily. And then the second thing that’s very interesting is where were all…I mean, WMD is such a taboo subject, a third rail conversation, but you do wonder why does Syria have this expertise, and whatever happened to the WMD that the Clinton administration said was there, and the technicians who developed it? And both these stories suggest to me that there might have been Iraqi, former Iraqis involved as well.

HH: You know, the WMD taboo, I think is going to wear off because of Tim Weiner’s new book, Legacy of Ashes. This is a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter who writes the following on Page 491. I interviewed him about this yesterday, talking about Powell’s testimony at the UN. “This was not a selective use of intelligence. It was not cherry-picking. It was not fixing the facts to fit the war plans. It was what the intelligence said, the best intelligence the Agency had to offer. Powell had spent days and nights with Tenet checking and rechecking the CIA’s reporting. Tenet looked him in the eye and told him it was rock solid.” You know, the left hates this book, but it’s from a journalist they’re not going to be able to attack as a pawn of the Bushies.

VDH: Well, you know, we had the…the famous speeches in October, as you remember, of 2002, October 11th, where all of the luminaries of the Democratic Party gave impassioned speeches not based on what Bush said, but based on what they had been briefed, not during the Bush administration alone, but during the Clinton administration, and buttressed by European and Arab capitols. So I think what we’re going to see is this story is just too big not to just completely be repressed. I think we’re going to start to see bits and pieces, and it’ll take some historian or journalist to put them all together, but we’re starting to see things in Syria now with these incidents that suggest that a lot more is going on with Iranian money, Iranian technicians, maybe North Korea, and former Iraqis. Something’s going on there.

HH: Do you think we’re on the verge of a big blowup in the Middle East, or a major terrorist attack, Victor Davis Hanson?

VDH: I don’t think so. I think we’re in the midst of a big realignment where we’re seeing for the first time whether in the West Bank, or with the Arab countries, that bin Ladenism and al Qaedaism has got out of control, and it’s starting to bite the hand that fed them. And it’s empowered Iran, and Syria is isolated. And I think what you’re seeing is more or less a very quiet consensus emerging to say to the United States our chief concern now are the terrorists that we created in Iran. And for this moment, at this time, that’s more of a concern to us than Israel. I know that when I was in Libya last year, people in the Libyan government kept telling me that they were more worried about al Qaeda and radical Islam than they were Israel.

– – – –

HH: Professor Hanson, you point out that the West has prevailed. In the Philippine insurrection, 1899-1913, the British in Malaysia, ’48-’60, and you intimate we had won in Vietnam as well until we decided not to win. Are you sensing that it is indeed possible, and maybe there’s a turn in political opinion that we should win?

VDH: I think so. I think people are starting to see that the Democrats…notice quickly their talking points are changing. Rather than it’s lost, Harry Reid, the war is lost, now it’s a different tack. It’s well maybe it is stabilizing, but it’s not worth $10 billion dollars a month and lives. So they’re saying yes, the war can be won, but if we look in the aggregate, it was not a good investment in money, blood and treasure, and it won’t be in the long run. It’s a very radical shift that I think is starting to emerge.

HH: Well, I think last week was significant for revealing the left as being so viscerally anti-American, and anti-military.

VDH: I think a landmark moment in recent American history. I think we haven’t even seen the full repercussions, but that did more damage to the Democratic Party than anything since the campaign in 1968, Chicago or something.

HH: I agree with that. Now today on CNN, Bill Maher, and I’ve always said there’s a difference between rotten and wrong, and Bill Maher is rotten, said about General Petraeus that, “Bush put words in their mouth. That wasn’t a Petraeus report, it was a White House written report. We know that. Bush has an interesting little scam going on. He also quoted in his speech on Thursday night Maliki, and he said basically that the Iraqi leadership is asking us to stay. So in other words, he puts words into his stooges’ mouths, and then he quotes them.” That means he’s calling Petraeus a stooge, and Maliki a stooge.

VDH: And I don’t understand why the left, people who are utopian, they almost praise almost the enemy in the sense that they think they’re unbeatable, that their fascist attempts are invincible, and then all these people who are dying every day in Iraq, Iraqis especially who want to have a reform government, they make fun of them and caricature. It’s disgusting. He’s beyond the pale now. And the problem the Democrats have is that any day we wake up, they do not know what a Bill Maher, what, or what a Michael Moore will do, but they do know that these people give them money, they give them financial, psychological and political support, and they just can’t…they’re untouchable. So what it means is it’s sort of like the Republican Party in the Cold War when they had McCarthy or the John Birch Society, I mean, that they didn’t quite know how to deal with them for a while, because these people could say or do anything outrageous, whether talking about the purity of drinking water, and it was embarrassing. And then finally, Buckley and these people purged the party of the neo-confederates, and they started to be considered sober again. And this is what’s happening with the Democratic Party. It’s been hijacked by these people, and there’s nobody that can stand up and say you know what? This ad is wrong, it’s reprehensible, the Democratic Party has a history going back to Truman of support for the military. You should be ashamed of yourself. They can’t do it.

HH: Well, on the weekend, Harry Reid told a Nevada newspaper that a million Iraqis had been killed in Iraq since the invasion. That’s trafficking in propaganda.

VDH: Yeah, it is. He’s unhinged. I think that people have to realize that he’s unhinged. You know, when he said the war was lost, or that Petraeus was untrustworthy, this was a man, remember, that on October 12th, 2002, gave a speech and said that he didn’t care about WMD, because we were in a de facto war with Saddam since ’91 when he broke the armistice accords, and we had to go to war with him. So I think he’s just somebody who’s…he’s almost a poster boy for the Republicans.

HH: And does that translate into the campaign ahead for the presidency? Did Hillary…is Hillary the Senator from now?

VDH: She’s got to be very careful. Her tack, as you keep seeing her, and she’s appearing now as to say this is the distraction, this is the distraction. But at some point, somebody’s going to ask her was this ad right or wrong, just say yes or no. And I think she’s going to have to say that it was wrong. And then when she does that, she’s got all of these people against her.

HH: Well, your optimistic. I’m glad to hear it. So is Michael Totten writing from al Anbar Province, so are people in the military, and so are some calm people on the Hill. So hopefully, it continues in that direction. Victor Davis Hanson, always a pleasure, Professor., America. And if you want to get the piece I’ve just referred to, it is linked at

End of interview.


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