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Victor Davis Hanson reflects on events in Iran, and how Obama and the left are reacting to it

Wednesday, June 17, 2009
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HH: To discuss the significance and whether or not this regime can be toppled, I am joined by Victor Davis Hanson, classicist, military historian, one of the more sober-minded when we assess events like this. Professor Hanson, welcome back, always a pleasure.

VDH: Thank you for having me, Hugh.

HH: Do you think this regime can be toppled?

VDH: I don’t know, but I know that we don’t even entertain that question. We have a new realism. It’s politically correct with a politically correct veneer. The old idea of the Jim Baker’s, you know, we don’t have a dog in that fight, or whatever bastard comes out of it and does what he does to his people, that’s none of our business, we’ll deal with it in terms of only U.S. interests. Well now, we have the political correct version of that, which says we have no right to judge another culture, multiculturalism taken to the Nth degree. So we’re not judging, we’re not making any moral judgments. We’re just keeping out of it, and this thug is going to kill a lot of people, and then we’ll deal with him. This is, if anybody else did it, it would be considered heartless realism. But when Obama does it, it’s sort of a postmodern, ‘who are we to say what’s good and bad’?

HH: Now Victor Davis Hanson, if this was a regime of the right, for example, Pinochet’s Chile, do you expect that the left in America would be as accommodating of this sort of violence as it currently is on some levels? There are some, by the way, some members of the left like Andrew Sullivan and others who have been very vocal, very good on this. But some are silent, and others are accommodating. What would it be if it was a Pinochet’s Chile?

VDH: Oh, we know what it would be. It would be a war, it would be genocide, it would be a war against humanity, it would be realism, heartless realism, amoral national security interests, something like that if we didn’t speak out against it. But this is a long pattern. Obama says we don’t meddle in other countries. Well, we do. We tell Israel what to do all the time. If it’s a choice between Venezuela or Uribe in Colombia who was a democratically-elected constitutional, as a constitutional government, we will always give Venezuela more attention that we will Colombia. If it’s a question between Iran and Iraq, he hasn’t said anything to Maliki. His attitude was let’s leave Iraq and leave that country to itself and concentrate on the dictator in Iran, Ahmadinejad. So we have these couplings where he prefers Iran to Iraq, he prefers Hamas to Israel, he prefers Venezuela to the Colombians. It’s almost like he says hey you guys, I don’t really like you because you liked the prior administration the last eight years. I’m much more interested in reaching out to these dictators who have adopted the Hollywood, America-is-colonialist/imperialist line. So you know, why should I like you because you liked the prior government here in the United States? It’s very strange what’s going on.

HH: Do you see any sequence of events happening in Iran that could change that fundamental alignment or inclination on the part of President Obama and his senior advisors?

VDH: Yeah, I think it’s kind of the foreign policy version of Reverend Wright, isn’t it? Remember Reverend Wright was the, “I could no more disown Reverend Wright than…” and then events played out, and then momentum grew, and then suddenly Reverend Wright is a racist. So he’s sort of a like at a tennis match, and he’s watching the ball go back and forth, and he sees at some point, like he always does, when 51% of the likelihood is one way, he will join that. He’s done that on almost everything, whether it’s military tribunals or renditions or wire intercepts or predator drones. He always waits and sees which is the most convenient position, then he adopts it and he dresses it up with “this is our moment, this is hope and change.” So if this demonstration continues, and if Rafsanjani or some of the old line guys turn on Ahmadinejad, and if the students prevailed, then Obama will make the necessary correctives with his soaring rhetoric that he didn’t do this week. But for right now, he’s a multiculturalist, and that means he doesn’t feel that he has the moral certitude as a Westerner to say anything about a different paradigm.

HH: Okay, stepping back from the American response to a more historical long view, how often to such popular uprisings succeed, and how often, Victor Davis Hanson, are they simply rather bloodily suppressed?

VDH: Well, it depends, because they all have one predictable pattern, and that is at a critical point, the regime has to determine, whether it was the Papadopoulos government in Greece, or whether it was the Shah of Iran, or whether Pinochet in Chile, whether they want to use a necessary level of violence. And if that critical moment passes, then things get out of control. So I imagine the next 48 hours that theocracy, they’re going to have to decide whether it wants to kill X number of people. And if it doesn’t, things will start to, I think, get out of hand. And so it would be very important for us as Americans to lend them support and condemn the theocracy as much as we can. Europe, it’s funny, we have become to the left of Europe, so Europe is out there, the EU has already been condemned by Ahmadinejad’s government, but we haven’t. It’s very strange what’s going on. I can’t remember a time since Jimmy Carter where the United States was far to the left, and far less a proponent of human rights and democracy than Europe was.

HH: I asked the question last hour, I’ll ask it of you, what WWWD, what would W. do? What do you think George Bush would have done by now?

VDH: Well, he would have given a statement like he did in Iraq, and like he said about Iran earlier. He would have said our hearts are with people who yearn for universal freedom, and then say it’s not predicated on any particular culture. It’s something we all share. And he would have come out, I think, pretty strongly. But you know, once you’ve apologized to a dictatorship, and you’ve said that we don’t meddle in the affairs of a dictatorship, and we’re sorry for what happened in the past, then you’ve sort of self-censored yourself. And that’s what Obama’s done, that he’s already predicated that he wouldn’t make, exercise moral judgment, and he wouldn’t meddle. He only meddles in democracies. So if it’s a democracy like Iraq, or it’s Uribe in Colombia, or if it’s Israel, then he will meddle and dictate and tell them what he thinks of them, but not an autocracy.

HH: Now I want to, we’ve talked many times about the 30s and a culture of appeasement. And that term is not necessarily pejorative. It describes a particular way of thinking about how to deal with antagonists. Do you think appeasement is appropriate to apply it to the United States thus far?

VDH: Yeah, I think it is, because remember appeasement wasn’t a dirty word until 1940-41. It was considered an enlightened rhetoric, narrative, diplomatic effort rather than going back to the psalm of the gun. And so what Obama feels is that his powers of rhetoric, his non-traditional heritage, his serial apologies, all of that can do what deterrence and military preparedness and alliances, he thinks, fail to do. So this is what we’re seeing, and it’s the same thing in North Korea. I think if I was a South Korean, I’d be very worried, because I don’t think that the United States will do anything if it comes to the 11th hour that North Korea’s going to threaten them with nuclear weapons. I think Japan should be very worried. I think Taiwan should be very worried.

HH: What is the root of the difference response, Victor Davis Hanson, when the Wall was challenged in ’89, Americans, perhaps conditioned by forty years of loathing of the Soviets on both sides of the political aisle, cheered that. But there’s a lot of ambivalence, and in some instances, disinterestedness in what’s going on in Iran.

VDH: No, I think it’s the Soviets didn’t quite fit a paradigm. With Ahmadinejad, he doesn’t wear a tie, he has a three day growth of beard. He’s like Venezuela’s military garb, or Castro’s, Ortega. They kind of have this Che’ Guevara-type revolutionary romanticism for many in the United States. And even though he is a right wing theocrat, or I don’t know, maybe a left wing theocrat, whatever he is, he’s a dictator, he’s got blood on his hands, he subsidizes Hezbollah, he’s a promoter of terror. But for the left, the fact that he doesn’t look Western, that he mouths all of this anti-Western leftist drivel, there’s a romanticism about him that gives him a pass. I know that when he went to the U.N., there were actually bloggers and other people who said wow, look at him. We may not like what he says, but wow, he’s a non-traditional figure. The Iranians don’t conform and wear Western dress and ties, and this is kind of neat. And so I think he taps into that.

HH: He did that today in Russia. He said the age of empires is over, which is almost an incoherent comment against the backdrop of the chaos in Iran, but one that does play to the Western left.

VDH: Yeah, and we have an $11 trillion dollar economy, we have the largest military in the history of civilization, and he says that we’re not going to be exceptional, we’re not going to be a power, just one among many. And so these guys in Iran that are getting killed, and they’re trying to promote democracy, good luck. I would also say that the left’s primary narrative is that we empowered Iranian theocracy by removing Saddam. And a lot of us said all along that if we could stick, stay the course and promote Iraqi democracy, that would be far more destabilizing to Iranian autocracy, than Iranian autocracy would be to Iraq. So they did their best, and they sent the Revolutionary Guards across the border to destroy democracy. We killed a lot of them, we stopped it. The Maliki government’s still there, and it turns out that Iran is being destabilized in part because of the news, the broadcasts, the television of a Shiite-dominated but constitutional government in Iraq.

HH: That’s an important point, Victor Davis Hanson. Have you written that up, yet?

VDH: Yeah, I’ve mentioned it in the past, because I couldn’t believe the left’s attitude that the last six years was sell out Maliki, the democrat who came to power with internationally-inspected elections, and then court the autocrat that rigged elections and doesn’t even have a secret ballot. It’s very strange.

HH: Victor Davis Hanson, always bracing. Thank you.

End of interview.

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