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Victor Davis Hanson with a more realistic look at the first week of President Obama

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

HH: President Obama has been President Obama for one week today. And to discuss this first week, and especially yesterday’s decision to give his first interview to Arab television, Victor Davis Hanson, classicist and military historian. Read all of Victor’s work at Victor, welcome back to the program, what do you make of the decision of Barack Obama to grant his first interview to Arab television?

VDH: Well, I can see the argument, but I think he’s playing with fire. The argument is that in sort of Zen-like fashion, they will concentrate on the messenger as more sympathetic than the traditional American message, and he can get things done that Texas twangy Christian George Bush couldn’t. But he’s playing with fire for a variety of reasons. First of all, he’s dealing with a state-run radio by a monarchical kingdom that practices everything from gender apartheid to absolute religious intolerance. So to suggest in any remote way, which he did, that we are the problem, that we are the ones who dictate and not kingdoms like Saudi Arabia, or not fascistic countries like Syria, that’s going to finally start to get back to the American people. And the second thing is we heard for two years that there were certain taboo issues. One was his Muslim, multi-cultural background, that we weren’t supposed to mention his middle name. and so what he was basically telling us is that I’m not Hussein here, but overseas, I’m Barack Hussein Obama when it’s advantageous for me to connect with Arabs. But I’m not going to mention it when you yokels back here might use it against me. And then three, he talks about Iran, but the problem with Iran isn’t a lack of communication. We all know what Ahmadinejad’s about. You can get on the internet in two seconds and see what he wants. The problem is that they want to get a bomb, and they want to blackmail Israel, and they want to unleash Hamas and Hezbollah to destroy democracy. So when he says it’s really a problem of dialogue or diplomacy, it’s wrong. And four, you know, Bush did it. It has a limited shelf life. Is he going to do this for the next month? Year? Four years? He’s got to get a life at some point. You know, George Bush didn’t go through and say Bill Clinton did this and this. He’s got to get a life and say Afghanistan is a war because they were the launching pad for 9/11, not George Bush started the war.

HH: Now Victor Davis Hanson, I want to get a preemptive strike in on the left. Neither you nor I, nor anyone listening to the show, thinks Barack Obama is a Muslim. But we do see in this gesture, how would you call it? An attempt to cast himself as a uniquely qualified American for a dialogue with the Muslim world?

VDH: Well, it’s a very subtle, careful but ultimately very dangerous two-step, because what he’s doing is he’s saying with a wink and a nod to us, hey you guys, you elected yourself a guy with a father who was a Muslim, who was accused of being a Muslim, and I’m really not, and I’m furthering your interest, and I can kind of handle and finesse these guys overseas who are going to be sympathetic to me and wouldn’t be to you. And then he goes overseas and he winks and nods, and says I’m not kind of the white, male Christian guy that you always assume. And he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth. And at some point, he can get away with this once or twice, but if this is the way he’s going to conduct foreign policy, you’re going to start to see people who catch on. The media, you know, will go along with this up to a point, but do you really want people that are creepy in Saudi Arabian government to be sympathetic, and to suggest that America is the obstacle to peace in the Middle East? I mean, the Pew International Poll has just shown us last year that bin Laden’s ratings are way down, suicide bombing is way down in the Middle East. So it’s not a complete failure the promotion of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

HH: Oh, it’s working. Now it is working, and I’m very proud of what Bush has accomplished in this regard. But Victor Hanson, today Iran arrested people who allowed women and men to play soccer together. This is that regime. And yet, Saudi Arabia, as you pointed out, is a completely intolerant of any other religion other than their own, and of course, practices gender apartheid. Does the president legitimize those practices by giving preferential treatment in the media to those regimes, as opposed to the real politick of oil as one thing. But media legitimacy is a precious coin in the realm.

VDH: Absolutely, and if he wants to go into the lion’s den, then he should speak truth to power as the left says. He should say to those people look, it’s not the United States that knocks walls over homosexuals, or it wants them dead, as they are in Iran. It’s in fascistic, Islamic, fundamentalist Sharia countries. And we have nothing to apologize in the United States. We want to be your friend, we want to get peace, but there are problems, and we’ve got to work at it. But if he goes over there, and he suggest as he did that due to his unique background he’s more sympathetic to the landscape, and that the United States has been at fault, and Bush started wars, then you start to say well wait a minute, what do you represent? Do you represent the United States? Are you representing the left wing of the Democratic Party? Or are you a multi-cultural UN world leader? Or what is it? And I think that he can get away with it, as I said, once, because back here, the media will say wow, as they already have, this is neat. We kind of Zenned them. We kind of flipped them, because we got a guy who’s black, and he’s been accused of being a Muslim, and he confuses al Qaeda. He confuses the Arab world. But that’s only going to go so far, because finally the majority of America is going to say look, that may be true, but when we have a president, we want him to go over there and represent American interests, and know the difference between the United States and what it’s been trying to do, and what regimes like Iran and Syria and Saudi Arabia have been doing and trying to do.

HH: Now Victor Davis Hanson, after the break I’m going to talk with Peter Beinart, long time editor of the New Republic, and now at the Council On Foreign Relations. And Peter wrote a piece in Time Magazine that basically came down to now is the time to deal with Iran. This is how we increase our leverage in the world. We’re overextended, we need to recapitalize our influence. Let’s go deal a deal with Iran. And I’m going to ask him, where is the evidence that they want anything to do with a deal, or this is other than crazy appeasement. Is there something that I missed?

VDH: Well, Bill Clinton did it. He did it for eight years. He tried everything in the book, and they humiliated…every time it got to the point of sealing the deal, they humiliated him. All the so-called moderates would say terrible things. And the second part of that revisionism, that’s what George Bush did. He didn’t go bomb Iran. He got the EU3 to come in, he tried to beg the Chinese and the Russians not to tell them weapons. He thought that a democracy in Iraq might be subversive to Iran as it was to Iraq. He tried to pressure the Syrians. He tries to uncouple them. He did everything. He tried to have a coercive economic embargo. He tried to get the UN, and he did it, and it didn’t work very well, because these people are hell bent on getting a bomb, because they see it brings dividends, in the way it has to Pakistan. And they think they can get away with it, and say you know what? We have a bomb now, so next time the Israelis go in after rockets in Gaza, you better not, because we all want to go to Paradise, and we’re willing to lose half the country to take out the Jews once and for all. Whether that’s true or not, we don’t know. But that’s a very powerful bargaining chip, and that’s what they want.

HH: All right, let’s turn just with a couple of minutes left to us to the domestic side of this, and this massive Porkapalooza I’m calling it. I do think it’s had one beneficial effect. It’s managed to bring the Republicans together and give them a coherent identity, or at least the opportunity for that, much faster than I thought it would happen. Your assessment, Victor Davis Hanson?

VDH: Yeah, I agree with you, because what we’re seeing is the ultimate expression of the Baby Booming generation. We don’t have 10% unemployment yet. We don’t have an ’81 recession yet. And what our panic reaction is let’s print a trillion dollars, two trillion dollars, and pass the debt onto somebody else and blame George Bush. And the fact that spending and printing money, and too much government programs got us into this mess is what we’re going to do, I guess, to get us deeper into this mess.

HH: Now we’ve lived for a long time with a rather slow-moving media culture that has been accelerating over the last ten years. And Obama rode the acceleration of his opinion rather rapidly from obscure state senator to president of the United States. Can it turn around on him that quickly?

VDH: Yeah, I think what’s going to happen is the media invested in Obama, so anytime that people like yourself or me wrote that they were worried about his Congressional election, where he sued to get people off the ballot, or they were worried about how both candidates, primary and general, dropped out in Illinois. They were worried about being the most partisan Senator. We were demonized as hyper-partisan and worse. So the media gave this guy a blank slate, and they were embarrassed, because everybody knows there is no media now as we used to know it. It’s Obama Inc. And now I don’t know if they’re going to want to do that twice, because if they don’t apply a standard they applied to every other candidate, Hillary, George Bush, they’re going to be completely discredited. And they’re financially in a mess, in a meltdown. And morally, intellectually, ethically, they’re in a meltdown. So I don’t know how long they’re going to follow all of this charade. I don’t think they can be an official state Pravda-like news agency forever.

HH: Have you yet seen in the first week any hard-hitting piece on President Obama from the MSM?

VDH: I haven’t.

HH: Neither have I.

VDH: I’ve seen all sorts of play about he’s going to have a new ethics, and then it’s almost a suspension of belief, disbelief, I guess to quote Hillary, because Geithner didn’t want to pay his FICA taxes, Eric Holder pardoned somebody on the FBI’s most wanted list, Richardson dropped out, William Lynn was a Raytheon lobbyist who’s going to go to the Defense Department. You name it, and all of a sudden, I’m supposed to accept that this is the most ethical, moral administration in history? It’s just a disconnect.

HH: It is. Victor Davis Hanson, always a pleasure, always bracing., America.

End of interview.

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