Victor Davis Hanson With What To Do About Russian Aggression In Georgia
DB: Right now it is my great pleasure to welcome to the show Professor Victor Davis Hanson of the Hoover Institute. Professor Hanson is one of the reasons I got into writing. Victor, it’s great to have you with us.
VDH: Thank you for having me.
DB: So Victor, what do you think, what do you make of what Russia is up to in this situation in Georgia?
VDH: Well, I think they’re doing a lot of things. They’re timing was brilliant, that the world was distracted at the Olympics, we’re in an election campaign. You’ve got three different reactions from Obama, Bush and McCain, and no sense of direction. He’s (Putin) telling Europe you can give us all the sanctimonious lectures that you want, but in the end, there’s not much to soft power. We don’t really care about the E.U. There’s a lot of people who say you know, if they had been in NATO, they would have been protected. I have exactly the opposite feeling. Had they been in NATO, NATO would have been humiliated and dissolved, because nobody would have done anything to protect Georgia, from what we’ve seen in Afghanistan. So it was basically saying these are the periphery states of the old Soviet empire, and they’re really Russia, and they have been historically, and we’re going to keep them. They’re going to be autocratic, they’re going to serve our needs, and we don’t think much of the World Court of the Hague, or the E.U. or the U.N., and we have no respect for NATO, and this is the way it’s going to be from now on. And if you don’t like it, do something about it. That’s pretty much what they’ve said.
DB: Now Victor Davis Hanson, how would you assess the administration’s handling of the situation so far?
VDH: Well, we have a President with 30% approval rating, and we have an intelligentsia in the country that as soon as this happened, as a lot of us predicted, they would initially blame Bush for promoting democracy, and then blame the neocons for wanting another war, and then blame us for losing credibility in Iraq. So…and they did all those things. They did everything except blame the people who invaded an elected government, the Russians. And we had half a million people in the European streets when we removed a dictator and fostered democracy in Iraq, and we had nobody, I shouldn’t say almost, we had nobody in the streets of Europe, or in Washington or New York, protesting what the Russians did to a democratic state. So I guess what I’m saying is that Bush doesn’t have a lot to work with right now.
DB: That’s an interesting take on it. So one of the things you wrote in your column today that I found dead on is what you just mentioned, that the Russians know that their biggest apologists will be found among the American intelligentsia, on the American left, that in terms of moving forward, and in terms of checking this kind of naked Russian aggression, what kind of hope do we have?
VDH: Well, we’re going to have to sit down with the E.U., and we’re going to have to sit down with Ukraine and Estonia and Lithuania and the Eastern Europeans, and we’re going to say to all of them, what do you want? Do you want to have democratic satellite countries of the E.U? Or do you want to just have the E.U. as democratic, and NATO, and then everybody else is on their own? And whatever it is, we have to suggest what we want, and I think we do want a democratic Ukraine and Georgia, and we’re willing to do this. But believe me, the United States government has got to tell its people, and it’s got to tell the E.U. that if they go into Ukraine, this is a strategic interest of the United States, or it’s not a strategic interest. The problem we have now is nobody knows, as I said in the subtitle, if you want to die for Tbilisi or not. It’s like Danzig. And the E.U. talks a great game, and they talk all about democracy, but what Putin, who’s sinisterly brilliant, has said is I don’t believe any of this rhetoric. I don’t believe your moral universe, I don’t believe anything about you. I went into Grozny, I leveled it, I send Scud missiles, and I didn’t hear anything. And the one time a French journalist mentioned something to me, I asked him if he wanted to be castrated. And that’s the way I do business. If you don’t like it, do something about it. And we’ve got to find a strategy to counteract that.
DB: Yeah, and that’s interesting, Professor Hanson. That’s one of the things that I’ve mentioned that some of our listeners have taken issue with, that my big beef with the administration’s handling of this crisis so far is they haven’t communicated to Russia, so far, what our tripwire is, and they certainly, and some people say well, maybe they’ve done that back channels. But they certainly haven’t communicated that to the American people. Go ahead, I’m sorry.
VDH: Absolutely. I think Bush needs to tell the American people, he’d say look, the Russians want to restore the Soviet empire, they want to have these independent nations that are trying to become democratic and integrate with Europe, and integrate with us in a security sense, they want them back into the Russian sphere. Now we’ve decided that they should not do that, so here’s what’s going to happen. We have told them that if they go into Ukraine, if they go into Estonia, if they destroy Latvia, if they go into Eastern Europe again, the following are going to happen. They’re going to be expelled from the G-8, we’re going to have an embargo against their goods, and then he’s got to say you know what? They’re also the second largest oil producers in the world, they supply half the natural gas for Europe, and we are over a barrel. And it’s got to be a holistic, integrated view that everything’s involved here. We have to be successful in Iraq so that we have, we establish the sense that it’s dangerous to take on the United States. We have to be independent and drill more oil so we don’t get into this jam with a Russian cloud over our energy. And it’s holistic in that it must be explained and articulated. But we’re not getting that.
DB: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, Professor Hanson, that we have this situation where the Bush administration has this really final opportunity to tie all the strands together of his foreign policy throughout his administration. And you know, I’m a believer that I think he has it in him, but they have to do better than they have in the past 72 hours.
VDH: Yeah, I think Secretary Rice, I think what Bush is good at is being firm and not going back on his word. But this is really the prerogative of the Secretary of State. She’s got to have a speech in which she says look, we have won the war in Iraq, and we are providing help to a democratic government in Iraq, and this is very different to unilaterally invade against the wishes of the U.N., and topple an elected government. And it’s exactly the antithesis of what Iraq was, and we are successful in Iraq, and we’re going to become energy independent, and this is the last time that a dictatorship is going to destroy a friend of ours, if she believes that. If she doesn’t, then she’s going to have to say to Americans you know what? There’s only so much that we can do, and NATO stops here. But the way it is now, nobody’s really discussed what happens if Russia goes into Bulgaria, and we have a President Obama. Is a President Obama going to have a speech and say listen, we’ve got to send the 101st Airborne into Bulgaria because of the vital interest of the United States as a member of NATO, or something like that? And I don’t think any parties articulated what we want to do, and what we don’t want to do. But the funny thing about the left is that for all of that rhetoric all during the 90s about Serbia and Kosovo and democracy, all of those architects of the Clinton foreign policy are now ankle biting Bush. They’re not defending what we’re trying to do in Georgia, and they’re just, they’re doing just like a Pavlovian response. Well, we shouldn’t have moved unilateral in Iraq, or we lost credibility, so it’s Bush’s fault.
DB: Professor, we’ve got to leave it there. Victor Davis Hanson, very insightful as always, thank you so much for joining us, and God, you’re right. The thought of Barack Obama ordering in the 101st Airborne, you know it, it’s unthinkable.
End of interview.