Victor Davis Hanson’s look at the Annapolis Summit, Russian and Venezuelan elections, Iraq, immigration and who he likes in the 2008 primaries
HH: Joined now by Victor Davis Hanson. Professor Hanson, welcome back to the program, always a pleasure to speak with you.
VDH: Thank you for having me.
HH: What did you make of the Annapolis Summit last week, Professor?
VDH: Well, I think it’s an exercise in futility. I wish it weren’t true, but it’s…we have this problem with asymmetry that nobody talks about. But you’re dealing with a dictatorship and authoritarian government, terrorist, and on one side, you have a constitutional democracy. So how can the two talk in any symmetrical fashion?
HH: And in fact, not only is the dictator there, he doesn’t control the territory.
VDH: No, I know this sounds politically incorrect, but they really do need some sort of civil war to settle it. And then barring that, it’s bad cop/good cop, and they both hand in glove work with each other in a very strange way. They say they don’t, but remember, this…suddenly, we feel that Abbas is a moderate. That’s only because the alternative is considered worse.
HH: Bernard Lewis wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal last week that there are only two questions. The first is does Israel have the right to exist, and if the answer is no, then there’s nothing to negotiate. Have you been persuaded that the PLA, forget Hamas, we know Hamas does not believe that, but have you been persuaded that the PLA has acknowledged and endorsed Israel’s right to exist?
VDH: No, you could see that, but nobody wanted to even shake the hand of the Israeli foreign minister, Livni. They wouldn’t even get near her, as if she had the Plague or something. That’s something that’s just unconscionable.
HH: Now you’ve been honored by George W. Bush. You’re a friend of his.
HH: He reads your books, as does the Vice President. What would you tell him about this Annapolis effort?
VDH: Well, I think he’s in an ebullient mood. He’s in an up mood because of the radically changed perceptions of Iraq, and the feeling that there’s some sort of containment going on, at least a process with Iran, and that he feels this might be some sort of trifecta. And we don’t know the actual subtext of that conference, but from the people I talked to in Washington, a lot of it was it was a lining up of an anti-Iranian coalition. So there may have been more there, but I think it isn’t going to work. You know, human nature being what it is, Hugh, how can you just say that the solution to the Middle East is for Israelis to be vigilant for twenty, thirty more years, keep up their deterrence, and hope that their method of government, their method of government, their method of culture, their method of economic practice, slowly by osmosis changes the Palestinians until they’re an equal interlocutor. To say that, which is true, and the only solution is sort of to give into despair, so most people just aren’t capable of that.
HH: All right, I want to switch to two huge elections yesterday. In Russia, the party of Putin swept to a massive win, and in Venezuela, Chavez suffered a narrow defeat. The significance of both, Victor Davis Hanson?
VDH: Well, we know Putin is, he’s created a thugocracy, when he can either control overtly or implicitly, and that’s going to go on for years. He’s pumping eight million barrels a day at $90 dollars a barrel, so he’s flush with cash. That’s disguised all the intrinsic failures of the Soviet economy. His foreign policy is predicated on whatever is bad for the United States must be good for Russia, or at least any mischief you could help incite. The only, I guess the only good thing out of that election is it’s really waking up people that I talk to in Europe, especially Eastern Europe, but also in Germany, who have specters of the return of the Red Army, so to speak. And they’re in Russia’s proximity, and they’re very worried, and that’s drawing them much closer to the United States. As far as Venezuela, I was struck by the way media talked about this election as reform, a reform referenda. This was not a reform referenda, this was a plebiscite on how to hand over officially a country to a dictator. And this isn’t the last we’re going to hear from that effort. He tried to do it in a semi-transparent way, because he thought he could get away with it with a plebiscite. But when he didn’t quite pull that off, I think he’ll resort to other mechanisms to achieve the same effect.
HH: And do you think that the United States has the will necessary to stop that, working either alone or with people like Colombia, where we do have a democracy that is threatened by this megalomaniac?
VDH: No, for two reasons. One, oil, that he has enormous influence. I think he’s our third source of imported oil. And then second, there’s a lot of nostalgia or naiveté on the part of Democratic politicians about the left in South America. There always has been. So you have people in the Senate and the House who are harder on the success in Colombia than they are in the failure in Venezuela.
HH: Let’s switch over to Iraq now, Victor Davis Hanson. How complete is the reversal, and how permanent do you think it is?
VDH: Well, I’m in the minority here, because I think it’s pretty permanent, and not for the reasons everybody else thinks. I know that the surge created better tactics. We had more manpower. I know the Sunnis were tired of al Qaeda and the atrocities of that mob. I know that they wanted the United States to act as an honest broker with a Shia-dominated government. They also were hurting, because we’d forced the Saudis to cut off the subsidies. But I think there’s two other things going on. One is $90 dollar a barrel oil. When you fly over Iraq today, the highways are crammed with convoys of semi trucks coming in from Kuwait and the Gulf, bringing in consumer goods of all types. You can see them in Buquba, Ramadi. Just by default, that’s making an effect. And second, this is sort of politically incorrect to suggest, the United States military and Army, between 2003 and 2007, killed a lot of Sunni insurgents. And I asked one of the sheiks there, why didn’t you do this in 2003 when you had a chance to join the new army, the re-formulated army that had been de-Baathisized? And he said we wouldn’t have done it. We had to show you we could fight. We didn’t want to serve the Shia. Now, basically, we regained our honor. We were defeated. And I know that sounds deterministic, but there was some type of catharsis that was needed. And believe me, talking to those people over there, you really get the impression that the Sunni insurgents felt that they could not defeat the United States any longer, and it was futile to try, especially when the United States was not the bogeyman al Qaeda had sworn to them. So I think that’s just something we don’t think of, but they were defeated, and they lost a lot of people.
HH: Let’s switch now to American politics. The presidential election is really about two and a half weeks away, two and a half months away from narrowing to two people. Are you impressed or disappointed by the quality of the conversation you’ve been hearing about the world and the times in which we live?
VDH: Well you know, I’m kind of a little depressed, because I’d like to hear either that a historically low dollar is of no relevance, or it’s very important to our lives. I’d like to hear whether the trade surplus is going to continue, or I’d like to hear whether the national debt is that important. I’d like to hear of the aggregate debt, the appearance of American financial instability. All of these things economists can bicker over, but they have to agree that they’ve had a devastating psychological effect on the American people, who in the times where we have pretty good employment, pretty good control of inflation, pretty low interest rates, good growth, people are despairing, and that none of the candidates are talking about how to translate those depressing statistics, and these gloom and doom prognostications that we’re in decline. They don’t tell us why we’re not or why we are, or what we should do about it. You know, who really cares about a lot of the things that they’re talking about? I mean, I think that abortion and gay marriage and some of these other issues are very important, amnesty, and I’ve written about them. But I would like to be told that the United States is A) financially strong, B) not financially strong, C) must do something to restore…it’s completely neglected by everybody else. And everybody in the world, outside our borders, seems to be thinking about it, and not us.
HH: Let’s turn to the immigration issue about which you have written, because it’s controversial now surrounding Mike Huckabee, and specifically his desire to give in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants. Are you persuaded by Mike Huckabee’s argument that that’s compassionate, and we…
VDH: No, I think it’s not compassionate. I think it’s illiberal, and it’s representative of the whole distortion of this debate, in which things that are not compassionate are considered somehow utopian or idealistic. What that means is when he takes that position, and I speak as someone who taught twenty years in the California State system, and saw this phenomenon first-hand, is that he’s telling a Mexican-American citizen from Nevada, or New Mexico, who goes to Oklahoma, or goes to California, that they have to pay three times the amount of tuition that an illegal resident has to pay in-state on the dubious theory that that illegal alien’s family has paid income tax, or has income that’s on the books, or through sales tax. It’s just not fair to other people who go to universities outside their state who play by the rules and are citizens.
HH: Huckabee argues that it’s better to educate an illegal and have them a productive member of society, and get them the scholarship and the aid that they need to do that, than it is not to educate them. What’s your response to that?
VDH: In theory, yes. But it’s also better to give them universal health care, give them a free graduate education, pay for their law school, buy them a car. We don’t have to stop just with a reduced education. That’s a slippery slope. We can do almost everything and bankrupt the nation in the process.
HH: Victor Hanson, we’ve got about 45 seconds left. You’re a California voter. We don’t have to vote until February 2nd. But if you had to vote now, though, who would you cast your ballot for?
VDH: In the Republican primary, probably…I haven’t decided between Giuliani and McCain, although I’m a Tribune columnist, so I’m not supposed to be partisan. So I try to just look at things. I don’t want to use the word objectively, that’s overused, but you know, I’m not one of these people who think there’s not a good candidate. I like all the candidates in the Republican side. I think they have flaws, but any one of them is preferable to Hillary Clinton.
HH: And who’s the least worrisome on the Democratic side?
VDH: The least worrisome? I’m worried about all of them, Hugh.
HH: (laughing) Victor Davis Hanson, so am I. Always a pleasure, thank you, Professor.
End of interview.