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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Victor Davis Hanson reacts to the election Tuesday night.

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HH: Joined now by Victor Davis Hanson, our favorite military historian and classicist. Professor Hanson, welcome back. What did you make of Tuesday?

VDH: Well, I think everybody pretty much knew things were going to get bad, and now it’s going to be incumbent upon the Democrats to show us all this hidden wisdom, this secret plan they have for Iraq. In fact, there’s no secret plan, because if you put more troops into Iraq, I think you’re just going to create perpetual dependency. And if you withdraw, you’re going to have chaos. So I expect for all the rhetoric, they’re not going to do much different than we are.

HH: As you watched the vote roll across the country, we had lots of races lost by narrow margins, but lost. Do you detect in the United States a decision that they want to opt out of this war, that they cannot be opted out of? Or was this a different set of circumstances at work?

VDH: I have a little bit of a different take. I know that the Republicans say that there was scandal in particular races, there were particular local problems with getting out the vote, or particularism, but I don’t really believe that’s the answer. I think it was Iraq. I really do think the American people want to get out of Iraq, that it’s just an inconvenience, and I think that we’ve been now almost five plus years, almost six years. We’re coming up next year to, after 9/11, and people think you know, we really didn’t need that Patriot Act, we didn’t need the wire taps, we didn’t need Guantanamo, we didn’t need the detention centers, we didn’t need killing al Qaedaists in Iraq. And I think that’s part of the problem. And we didn’t articulate it, those of us who’ve supported it, well enough to remind the people don’t get complacent.

HH: But is that a persuadable issue? If people have gotten there because they hate watching it on their television every night, and our media insists on portraying it that way, is that an issue on which the public can be repersuaded, Victor Davis Hanson?

VDH: I don’t know. I don’t think so. You know, right after we had gone to war for almost four years in Europe, and then suddenly, the American people were told hey, wait a minute, you can’t really come home, because you’ve got four hundred Soviet divisions, and these guys are just as bad as Nazis, so here we go again. They weren’t up to that until about three or four years, until they took it seriously. So I think it’s going to be a very hard problem. That’s why I don’t really, I don’t understand the hysteria about Rumsfeld. I can see the political…public relations problems, but Rumsfeld basically said we don’t want to be in Vietnam like ’64-’71. We want to be in Vietnam like ’72-’73, where we have air support, commandos, and a light footprint. And I don’t think people, for all the criticisms of Rumsfeld, are going to do anything differently than what he was doing. There is nothing to do different.

HH: No, there isn’t. I mean, that is…expand on that a little bit.

VDH: Well, I mean, we know that if you go to Iraq, you see the problem right away is that we have too many support troops, and not enough people out there fighting alongside the Iraqis. And you can get latte anywhere in Iraq at these big support bases. And the idea that you want to put a half a million, 300,000 people, and turn this into, you know, San Jose or something, it’s just insane. What we want are commandos, air support, and training. And on the other side of the coin, you can’t just withdraw, because you’ll have a Lebanon situation, or something like Afghanistan in the 1970’s. And Rumsfeld knew that. The problem was that they didn’t articulate that enough, or that the Democrats wanted to get in power, so they demagogued the issue, and the American people, as we said earlier, were tired.

HH: Victor Davis Hanson, this morning I heard Rush read a series of quotes from European newspapers, and the Arab press, as well as even Muqtada al Sadr’s chief lieutenant in the Iraqi Parliament, all jubilant at what had happened. Are they justified in that jubilance? Or are they misunderstanding American politics?

VDH: No, I think they’re just…I don’t think they should be jubilant, because it will be insidious and incremental, the changes. But I feel that they have some justification. We in America should ask ourselves…the elites kind of scoff at this, but I mean, it’s common sense. Why are these people so happy that we’re going to have a change in course? And if they are happy, are these the type of people we want to be happy? Because if you look at the European left, they have a very different view of what Western civilization is than our own. And the people in the Middle East that are happy are the more radical and the more jihadist minded. I don’t think that Mr. Maliki and the people that are for democracy in Lebanon, or for democracy in Iraq are jubilant at all. That’s what’s so bizarre about this whole thing, that the people that are resonating with the American left are the people who are fascistic in the Middle East.

HH: There is a critique, and it’s going to be embodied in James Webb, Senator-elect from Virginia, a known warrior, a former Reaganite, which is that we’re breaking our military by overextending it. He has great authority, his son is in Iraq, he’s visited the troops, he’s a combat and highly decorated veteran. What’s the response, Victor Davis Hanson, to the idea that we might not have a choice, but we’re breaking our army?

VDH: I don’t think we’re breaking it, but again, getting back, because I don’t think the answer is to put more troops there, because mostly not because we don’t have them, or that we’re breaking our army that we’re going to create dependency, but I got in trouble from people on the right, because before the election, I wrote a complimentary column about James Webb. I hold him in really high esteem.

HH: As do I. He’s been a guest on this program, yeah.

VDH: Just as a sidebar, Hugh, I can’t figure out why the Democrats were so ga-ga over Obama, who’s only had two years, no real experience, when they had a guy like Webb, who embodied the whole idea of how to capture the middle and give credibility on national security to Democrats. He should be the hero of the Democratic Party in the future, not Obama.

HH: Oh, and I wrote yesterday, he is a very likely vice presidential mention immediately for Hillary’s ticket, because it addresses everything that’s wrong with the Clinton restoration that’s coming, or at least the attempt is coming.

VDH: Absolutely.

HH: But in any event, his critique is, but we’ve worn them out. We keep sending back the same people. We keep asking people to leave their families and do three tours, and we’re not making progress. What’s the response to that?

VDH: I think that’s a larger critique that we have 80,000 people in Okinawa, we have 30,000 still in Korea. We still have 100,000 plus in places like Spain and Greece and Germany and England. We’ve got these new places in Eastern Europe. And we’ve got little contingents all over Africa and South America, and we’ve got to ask ourselves, the American people, do we want to continue to do this? If we do want to continue to do this, we need two or three more army divisions. We need a larger military in general. And then we’re going to have to be honest with ourselves, and say when you commit these people in places like Lebanon or Mogadishu, or in the Middle East, people are going to get killed, CNN is going to demagogue it, and are you up to that? And if the American people are not up to it, and then we’re going to have to look and face a different reality. But the American people should also know there’s not a war right now in the Aegean, between Greece and Turkey, or in the Korean Sea between Korea and Japan and China, or terrorism coming right into Europe’s shores in the Mediterranean because of the U.S. Navy and Air Force, and its forward deployment. So we do a lot of things we get no credit for, and then people like the Chinese and Russians, who actually try to subvert this, or the Europeans who sort of piggyback on that security we provide, find this armchair quarterbacking. That’s why I’m so upset with the left, that they never stop and give appreciation to what our military, and what the Bush administration did.

HH: Victor Davis Hanson, is this an opportunity to actually expand the military as it needs to be expanded, and build the 300 plus ships that we need, because Democrats, particularly Mrs. Clinton, will be suggesting such steps?

VDH: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. You know, Reagan and Nixon could deal with the communists far better than the Democrats, because they had credibility. They could…Clinton could get rid of welfare reform to a certain degree, because he had credibility with the left. And the Democrats have credibility with the left, and they can muzzle that opposition, and they’ll also find it politically convenient for them to regain their fides on national security. Now whether they will want to, when it comes to it, and withstand the criticism from the lunatic fringe, I don’t know.

HH: We can hope so. Victor Davis Hanson, as always, penetrating critique.


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