Victor Davis Hanson’s sober assessment of Barack Obama’s first year
HH: For the first time in 2010, the first time this year, and the first time this decade, I’m pleased to welcome Victor Davis Hanson, historian extraordinaire. You can read all of Victor’s work at www.victorhanson.com. Hello, Professor Hanson, welcome back, good to have you on the program.
VDH: Thank you for having me, Hugh.
HH: It’s an interesting time, because the President made remarks about terrorism today after the first major terrorist incident of his presidency that we know about. What did you make about his response to the Christmas Day attack on Detroit that failed to kill anyone, but succeeded in getting there, and his response since then.
VDH: I didn’t understand it. Yeah, I didn’t understand why when we know beyond a reasonable doubt that this terrorist tried to kill people, Mutallab, he used the adverb allegedly. That’s like saying on December 7th, the Japanese allegedly attacked Pearl Harbor. At this part…and I don’t understand today why he’s surprised or bewildered or angry that the counterterrorism response has been, in his words, insufficient, because it’s a logical dividend of an entire year in which he said that we weren’t in a war on terror, it was an overseas contingency operations, manmade disasters was the problem, not terrorists, and that he was going to reach out to Iran, reach out to the Muslim world, reach out in the al-Arabia world, interview to the Islamic world community, and apologize. And all of that filters down to bureaucrats in the federal government, and to people in the military, and seems to me that a Major Hassan, or a Mutallab, are all sort of the natural dividends of that new landscape that he’s fashioned.
HH: I want to play for you a segment of his remarks today, Professor Hanson, because he talks about Guantanamo Bay as a causative agent for the Christmas attack, and I’ll pick up on it after we hear it.
BHO: Some have suggested that the events on Christmas Day should cause us to revisit the decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. So let me be clear. It was always our intent to transfer detainees to other countries only under conditions that provide assurances that our security is being protected. With respect to Yemen in particular, there’s an ongoing security situation which we have been confronting for some time along with our Yemeni partner. Given the unsettled situation, I’ve spoken to the Attorney General, and we’ve agreed that we will not be transferring additional detainees back to Yemen at this time. But make no mistake. We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests, and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda. In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
HH: Now Victor Hanson, this seems to me to be his argument Bush made the Christmas bomber do it, the underpants bomber, because no Gitmo, no bomber. This is absurd, and it’s dangerous.
VDH: Yes, I think it’s shameful, because we…nobody listens to what the grievances are of an enemy. That’s like saying Hitler went into Poland because he had grievances from Versailles. Every aggressor always dreams up rationalizations, but anybody who’s sober and judicious doesn’t believe them. And if he doesn’t think Guantanamo serves a purpose, then he should close it. There’s no need to delay. But the very fact that it’s been open one year under his administration, shows that it has some utility, otherwise he would have closed it. But he has this very strange, schizophrenic attitude that I’m going to trash Bush on tribunals, Guantanamo, renditions, predator attacks, when I’m demagoguing as a candidate, but as a president, when I’m responsible for governance, I’m going to keep them open, and keep them useful. And it’s not sustainable. It’s going to get people very, very angry.
HH: I’m wondering, do you think he understands Wahabism, Victor Davis Hanson?
VDH: No, I don’t think he does. I think that all those issues that we discussed right after 9/11, that it was a rich or well off, upscale Islamic terrorist profile that was our problem with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or bin Laden, or Mohammed Atta, he didn’t get at all. He thought it was because of poverty, and then we get Major Hassan, and Mutallab, who just confirm the profile, that it’s not because of hunger, or illiteracy or oppression, but it’s because of envy and anger and pride. The more it one becomes Westernized and has the stark contrast between a successful West and a failed Middle East…it’s not Israel, it’s not anything that we do. It’s who we are. That was established in 2001. And then the seven years of calm has deluded us back into this period of recrimination and self-doubt, and he doesn’t get it.
HH: Do you believe that Wahabists and Salafists across the globe, those who are both in al Qaeda and affiliated with it, and those who are running their own operations, are emboldened by President Obama’s rhetorical weakness, or soothed in their anger?
VDH: Oh, I think that they’re emboldened, because after all, in 2009, we had more terrorist attempts than any year since 2001. In fact, one third of all attempts since 2001 occurred in 2009. This was a period with the al-Arabia interview, the reach out to Iran, the Cairo speech. And it sends a message that the real problem in America is the Bush-Cheney nexus and their anti-terrorism protocols, rather than radical Islam. That may be unfair, but that’s what the enemy is beginning to conclude. And they think that this present administration either isn’t up to it, or has no heart in fighting terrorism as in the past seven years.
HH: I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read Peter Baker’s Inside Obama’s War On Terrorism in the forthcoming New York Times magazine, Victor Davis Hanson. Have you yet?
VDH: No, I haven’t.
HH: You’ll take it apart. You’ll find this fascinating on a number of levels. But one of the things they talk about is that he was going to change the mood music – the rhetoric, the attitude, et cetera, and that was going to be sufficient to make it all work. Do you think they are that na