Victor Davis Hanson’s Assessment of America And The World Today Under Obama’s Policies
HH: Joined now by Victor Davis Hanson, of course of Fresno, California, but also an historian, classicist extraordinaire. All of his material published at www.victorhanson.com. Victor, welcome back, and a happy preemptive 4th of July to you.
VDH: Same to you, Hugh. Thanks for having me.
HH: Now yesterday, I spoke with John Fisher Burns in Sarajevo, where he had gone to write a hundred years plus five on the century anniversary of the beginning of World War I, or at least the events leading to that, the assassination of the Archduke. Do you think we’re in a similar precarious moment right now?
VDH: Well, I think we’re in a period of total chaos in the Middle East, but all of the post-war order that we created after World War II is up for grabs, too, because the weakness and isolationism that prompted this Middle East turmoil, at least in part, is being detected by China vis-à-vis South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, and the same thing with Russia and the former Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, same thing with Iran vis-à-vis Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan. So yeah, I think that we’re on the cusp of something that could be pretty traumatic.
HH: This is like taking down the weight-bearing wall in a house.
VDH: That’s what it is. That’s exactly what it is. It’s sort of the United States was on the tiger, and it was a pretty dangerous ride, but as long as we were on it, it didn’t hurt anybody. And we got off, and we don’t know where that tiger is going to go or when or why or how.
HH: Now can we get back on it in relative quick fashion? I’m not believing in an Obama change of heart. I have come to the conclusion that this is the world he wants. Do you agree with that, by the way, VDH?
VDH: Yeah, I agree completely. I think this was all planned, and we can see the manifestations of it at the border. We’re in a revolution. It reminds me of 18th Century France. We’re in a revolutionary time right now where we don’t really know what the law is, or what all of the old established references no longer exist. I don’t know what NATO is anymore. I don’t know what American presence in the Pacific is anymore. I don’t know what federal immigration law is anymore. I don’t know what a coal plant is anymore. I don’t know what Obamacare is. I don’t know what quite the rules are in health care. It’s all in flux, and it’s a revolutionary time. And the president of the United States basically is telling the nation I don’t need to go up for reelection. I have deep, deep suspicions about the prior 70 years of American foreign policy and the way the United States is predicated on individual liberty, and I’m going to try to change it, and there’s not much you can do about it. So he’s a revolutionary, and he’s sort of proud about it.
HH: And he is surrounded by lightweights. Today, John Kerry came out, now the killing of the Arab teen is a heinous crime. Whoever did it is a murderer and should be brought to justice. And I am no opponent of the death penalty. But the Secretary of State does not go out before they know who did it and say revenge killings don’t help anybody. That’s just incompetence, Victor.
VDH: Yeah, but that’s something he’s done all the way along, whether it’s vis-à-vis Syria or on the Iran negotiations, or in Iraq. He’s said things that were incomprehensible. He’s been doing that for 45 years. He should have never been Secretary of State.
HH: And Chuck Hagel calling our soccer star, now I like Tim as much as the next guy, but really? The Secretary of Defense in the middle of tensions around the world calling the soccer star and saying with a little more practice, you could be Secretary of Defense? Does that make sense? Is that serious?
VDH: Yeah, I think what’s happening, though, is whether it’s Eric Holder or Hagel or any of these guys, they appeal as if they’re popular culture icons, Obama and his wife kidding about, you know, crack cocaine in a pie and stuff like that, and the emphasis is to this younger, different demographic that we’re one of you, we have the same sports metaphors, we use the same lingo, we have the same values that you do. And an older, Christian, white male, heterosexual other was in power too long, and now we’re glad to see him go. And so there’s, I find when I listen to Obama and the people around him, there’s a subtext of we’re going to have race, class, gender-mandated equality in the…
HH: The reaction to Hobby Lobby bears you out.
HH: I am really quite surprised, because I expected to win the case all along, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed nearly unanimously twenty-plus years ago. And I’m glad we won. I was a little worried that Anthony Kennedy might find some way to lose it for us, but even not really that worried. And yet the left is hysterical, Victor.
VDH: Yeah, but I’m worried when you say we won, see, I think we won, but what does that mean? It means we won in the sense that there’s an immigration law, too. Or there’s a law when he came into office called the Defense of Marriage Act. I don’t think he’s going to follow that law. I think he’s going to use executive orders to circumvent it. He’s already talked about it.
HH: Well, this border crisis is, I believe, a different order of magnitude. Now that’s something, you and I have not always agreed on immigration issues, though I think we have both agreed on the need for a long, strong, high fence. This is not the ordinary immigration issue. This is abetted, encouraged lawlessness, is it not?
VDH: Well, yeah. The idea is that he told the Latino community, he said you have to punish your enemies at the polls. I’m not a tyrant, you’ve got to do this. So he’s not for reelection, and he’s not going to get comprehensive immigration reform. But by the way, when he says comprehensive immigration, he’s not talking about what you think he’s talking or what I think he’s talking, because if you went to him and said let’s have legal immigration very generous and based on meritocratic, ethically-blind, racially-blind criteria that lets people from Nigeria or Korea or anywhere that have skills that we need in education, he would be against that, because it’s mostly a Latino family reconnection, proximity to border. That’s the subtext. And when you and I think that we like comprehensive immigration, and you do, when you say to a Democratic person in Congress okay, we’ll build a fence, we’ll let people here apply for a green card, they can stay while they do it, sounds great. However, we want to have some selectivity, and we will say to you if you have a DUI, if you’ve committed a felony, if you have no labor history, if you’re on public assistance, if you just came here a year ago on the scent of amnesty, we’re going to deport you, and that would be about 30% of the people. They go hysterical.
HH: Yeah, they do, and you just articulated my position.
VDH: Exactly, Hugh, but that’s not the position that your allies in the Republican Party, or your adversaries in the Democratic Party agree with. They say they do, but you mention that to them, and we can’t deport anybody for a DUI. We can’t deport anybody who’s on welfare that’s never worked. We don’t want legal immigration based on solely meritocratic criteria.
HH: Now here’s what’s interesting, Victor, when my allies in the Republican Party said we can’t possibly repeal the truncation of the COLA benefits for veterans, they were wrong. It’s like Solzhenitsyn in the beginning of the Oak And the Calf said what if the wall’s made of paper Mache? And so I think with a Republican Senate, if they simply put this stuff on his desk, he cannot veto it enough. It’s like welfare reform, but we never try. We’ve never tried.
VDH: Look, I know, but he won’t, he won’t follow the law, first of all.
HH: Well, that’s what they say.
VDH: So if you do all this comprehensive immigration, and you say build a fence and then deport people who are felons, and deport people who have DUI’s, and deport people who have never worked, and there are some of the people, I mean, not everybody’s a DREAMer, and deport, I have people in my community that right where I speak today that have never worked. And they’re on public assistance. And he won’t do that.
HH: No, he won’t, and that, and when we come back from break, can I hold you over, Victor?
HH: Victor Davis Hanson and I will continue to talk about this. We’re also going to talk about Israel, and then this massive change which I talked about with Michael O’Hanlon last hour, Prime Minister Abe’s announcement of interpreting his constitution. What worries me the most is that President Obama’s going to do the same thing, except our Constitution is not their constitution. But I think he’s going to do the same thing the wrong way.
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HH: Victor, earlier this week, I had on the senior political economy reporter for the Huffington Post, a man named Zach Carter, 31 years old, a graduate of the University of Virginia. In the course of an interview, it came out that he hadn’t read The Looming Tower. He hadn’t read anything on my necessary bookshelf, including your own, The Soul Of Battle. He was unaware that Bill Clinton had bombed Iraq in 1998. He didn’t know who AQ Khan was. He had never known that Qaddafi had weapons of mass destruction that were given up in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. In short, he doesn’t know anything, and he’s the senior political economy reporter. And I brought him on, because he had been commenting on Dick Cheney. And I’m afraid our country is just making itself so dumb that it doesn’t know what’s going on out there.
VDH: Well, when you look at people who served the Roosevelt or Truman administrations, or Eisenhower, diplomats, and then you look at Ben Rhodes or the people that are surrounding Obama in the National Security Council, or Susan Rice or John Kerry, it is frightening. But if we didn’t have Obama, we’d have to invent him. He’s a symptom of a pathology in our higher education and our public school system, and the society in general And it’s almost that we had a rendezvous with somebody named Obama. It could have been named somebody else, but somebody like him, and now I’m really worried about it, because we’re either going to gut check time and we’re going to wake up and we’re going to react against what we have, or we’re going to have a slow insidious decline. I hope not.
HH: I don’t even know it will be slow, or a recovery need be slow. Things move very fast these days. Michael O’Hanlon was on last hour, and of course, he’s no conservative. He’s at the Brookings Institution. And he said I believe we should keep troops in Afghanistan indefinitely, talking about, you know, I had brought up how we have troops in Kosovo 20 years later, and that’s why there’s peace.
HH: He’s a Democrat. I think O’Hanlon, you know, I don’t know for sure, but my guess is he’s a center-left Democrat of the ordinary sort of pre-Clinton variety that is now missing. Do you think that the Democratic Party elites begin to worry about this, even though the Elizabeth Warrens are high in the saddle right now?
VDH: I think they’ve made a calculated decision that there’s more to lose by coming out against Obama than there is for him because of the changing demography and the constituency that makes up most of the Democratic Party now. So I think they feel that they’re scared to death to be opposed to the first African-American president, or a young, hip, cool leader. So they’re not going to say anything. Michael O’Hanlon, I like him, too. I met him, but he wrote an article not long ago that said basically, other than Iraq, he had no objections for most of Obama’s foreign policy.
HH: Yeah, he does not like Afghanistan.
HH: Let me ask you about Modi, though. You mentioned the changing demographic. Part of the changing demographic of America is Asian-Pacific-Southeast Asia influx of immigrants, legal.
HH: And they came here for a reason, which is capitalism and free markets, and the liberties that they’ve not been able to enjoy, and the mobility. I don’t think they’re going to be left wing, Victor, do you?
VDH: One would think not, but in a community where I live, where there’s a great number of those Southeast Asians, and especially the Punjabi community, they reflected the national trend about 70% of Asians voted for Obama. And part of it was a lot of them are in professions that are very liberal, and it’s sort of the thing to do, you know, if you’re a professor or a doctor or a lawyer. Maybe, but there was a brilliant, political cynicism on the part of Obama where he sent a subtext that said the white male Christian paradigm is through, and whatever you are, if you’re not part of that, you have a collective unity around me. And so I just talked, it’s funny you mention this, Hugh, I just talked to a Punjabi farmer, a neighbor who’s worth $20 million dollars, and his whole family voted for Obama.
HH: Does he regret that?
VDH: And he was complaining about Obama, and I said why did you do it? And he said well, the white male has been here too long, and I wanted change, and it’s time to let other people have it. and I think Obama conveyed that brilliantly.
HH: But is that also reversible? And now, if we go to what Rush likes to call the low information voter, you just have to change the cast of your leading man or woman. You don’t have to change your philosophy.
VDH: Yeah, and the reason he came over here, he was furious, because all of these Punjabi students all over the San Joaquin Valley are getting straight A’s, 4.0, 4.3, top GRA-SAT scores, and they can’t get into Berkeley or Stanford while they have Hispanic-Latino colleagues that are getting in with 3-4 percentage points less on the GPA. And he was complaining about this, and said you work at Stanford, can’t you do anything? And I said I can do absolutely nothing. I said this is part of the agenda you voted for. It’s an equality of result.
HH: How did he react to that?
VDH: Well, he’s baffled. He didn’t think that that would affect him.
HH: It’s interesting, if I can keep you one more segment, Victor, I’m imposing on you.
HH: But a fascinating conversation on the eve of the eve of July the 4th with Victor Davis Hanson, one of the country’s treasures, great historian and classicist.
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HH: Victor, last week, former Vice President Cheney joined me for a pretty wide-ranging interview in the course of which I asked him this question and got this answer.
HH: Do you think we get through this decade without a massive attack on the homeland?
DC: I doubt it. I doubt it. I think there will be another attack, and the next time, I think it’s likely to be far deadlier than the last one. You can just imagine what would happen…
DC: …if somebody could smuggle a nuclear device, put it in a shipping container and drive it down the Beltway outside of Washington, D.C.
HH: Now Victor Hanson, that exchange generated more attention than anything I’ve done in 14 years on the show, I think, maybe other than my interview with David Petraeus from Iraq. And it’s just, he’s stating on obvious fact that if you create a stew in Western Iraq of thousands of Europeans and hundreds of American passport-holding jihadis, and then you add in the mobility of WMD and other means of terror, the world’s going to feel this sooner, I think, rather than later.
VDH: Well, when I hear a statement like that, I always say, I try to calibrate it, you know, and I try to say what exactly does that mean. Does that mean that one of Pakistan’s 90-150 nuclear devices would be given over to a jihadist by a sympathetic member of the military, then that would find its way into a terrorist cell that has that type of logistical ability to bring it in the United States? So…or would they find enriched uranium from North Korea, but…it’s not out of the realm of possibility. I agree with that. But I always try to think, I just don’t say terrorists are going to do it again. We have to decide where they’re going to be trained, and now they’ve got a big training ground. What would be their motive? Where would be their funding? And what’s scary is we’re starting to see the embryo of that forming now again like it did in Afghanistan in the late 90s.
HH: And we also saw in Pakistan two weeks ago a Taliban attack on the airport. It did not appear to be a mass slaughter attack of the sort that we recall the terrorists in Israel pulling off many decades ago. And I wondered whether they were attacking a strategic weapons hold. You know, it would make sense to have your strategic weapons close to the airfields that could transport them in the event of an Indo-Pakistani war.
VDH: Yeah, I think that’s a good, I don’t know that, I’m not attuned to that part of the world, but I don’t know if this is out of the realm of possibility that some Taliban senior commander would go to a rogue element of the Pakistani military and say if you give me so many pounds of enriched uranium for a dirty bomb, then we’ll call off all attacks, and we’ll have deniability of culpability, and nobody will ever find it came from you. If it did, you can say it was stolen. Take that stuff, pack it into a conventional bomb, let it off in Manhattan. Yeah. That seems to me that it’s possible, especially when we’ve had six years of Guantanamo was bad, renditions were bad, military tribunals were bad, overseas contingency operations, man-caused disasters, workplace violence, jihad is a personal journey, Muslim Brotherhood, NASA’s chief objective is Muslim outreach, that sends a message that there might not be necessarily anger at radical Islam, that we want to contextualize it.
HH: And there is also a second reaction, though, and it came out in Japan yesterday when Prime Minster Abe announced a reinterpretation of the Japanese Constitution to allow a more aggressive military posture. I talked about this with O’Hanlon as well. It’s a good development, especially as American power recedes. But it will have counterparts that won’t be as well publicized, for example, in Saudi Arabia and Jordan and other places, where the liberal left, which has been opposed to proliferation and arms races, they’re going to get it in wheelbarrows.
VDH: Yeah, I’m really worried about it, because I think China will come to, go to Taiwan and South Korea and say look, we all suffered millions of casualties from this government. It’s a unrepentant military government. And it’s a symptom of a deeper problem. It’s a symptom that somebody in this administration did not go over to Japan and say look, all of your cities are under the American nuclear umbrella. You know that, don’t you? And then we didn’t go to the Chinese and say butt out, do not go into Japanese airspace, do not go into Japanese territorial waters, cool it, or the following will happen. So this is a reaction from some sense of uncertainty that the world’s third-largest economy is weak, and it’s not protected anymore by the United States. And whether that’s true or false, it doesn’t matter. That’s the perception in Japan. And that’s going to have ripples in South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia, because some of these countries are going to say Japanese aren’t stupid. If they feel that they have to get nuclear weapons, and they can get them in nine months, and they’ll build them like they do Toyotas, then maybe we should. And maybe we should. And that’s not a necessarily a pro-Western completely solid collective when you put those countries together. They have historical grievances among one another. And it’s not a good idea that some of them will become nuclear and some won’t, or some will become aggressive. It would have been much better to come at the very beginning, preempt that, and get over there and say we’re all on the same team, here is our forces, China knows that, do not worry about it.
HH: And so, last question, we can’t impact Japan or China, but you and I actually do have a smidgen of influence within the Republican Party. And within the Republican Party, there are very few people who talk in internationalist terms, very few hawks in the way that Reagan was a hawk, or Nixon. Indeed, Rand Paul is one of the guest stars of Dinesh D’Souza’s very good new movie, America: Imagine A World Without It. What’s your advice to the Republican Party vis-à-vis these issues and their platform?
VDH: Well, they have to go back and be honest, and don’t say that we intervened all over the world. We had two interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two. That was it. And they were supported by Congress. They both would have been successful had we just kept residual troops in Iraq. And they were controversial, but we didn’t go all over the world trying to overthrow dictators, as Rand Paul says. We didn’t go into Iraq because Dick Cheney wanted to make money on Halliburton. So what needs to be said is take a deep breath, go back and look at the record, yes, Iraq was vicious and it was dirty and it was costly, but that was not a policy where we were going to intervene everywhere in the world. And that’s the first thing we need to do. And then we’re going to say what do you want an Iran-led Middle East, or a Russia-led Eastern Europe, or a China-led Asia in the Pacific, what do you want that to be? What do you think it’s going to be as far as we’re concerned? When is it going to affect us? And Rand Paul, I agree with him on a lot of domestic issues. He’s very charismatic. But he says things that are completely irresponsible, and they’re not attuned to the reality. They’re make believe stuff.
HH: Victor Davis Hanson, it is always a great pleasure to speak with you. Have a wonderful 4th of July in California’s great Central Valley. And hopefully, happier times are ahead and we do this next year at this time, and we’ll have seen a Republican Senate and a reconfigured Defense budget. Whether or not the President spends it, at least they can force the money on him if they win the Senate. Victor, thank you.
End of interview.