Interview: Victor Davis Hanson on Fighting the War on Terror
Victor Davis Hanson on how serious our society is on effectively fighting the War on Terror.
Arguably one of the most serious thinkers we are fortunate to have among us, Victor Davis Hanson joined Hugh for much of the last hour. This is somebody that you need to read, and make sure others do as well. Here's the transcript: READ MORE
HH: Joined now by Victor Davis Hanson, military historian, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His website is VictorHanson.com. Earlier today, I read extensively from his article at National Review.com, Our Wars Over The War.
Professor Hanson, welcome back. Good to have you.
VDH: Thank you for having me, Hugh.
HH: It's a magnificent piece today, and I think you put your finger on what has been coursing through...I read a piece in the Times of London by Gerard Baker today, other pieces that folks have finally realized that our civil war over this war may be more dangerous to our victory than our enemies in the mountains of Afghanistan. Do you agree with that?
VDH: I do, because they are not able, militarily, to defeat us. They're not even able to wage a successful unconventional war. But as you know, from the twenty five years that followed from the Embassy takeover in Iran, they have an uncanny ability to decipher the mind of the West: to hit, back off, allege victimization or grievances, and then to hit again, and hoping all the while to have an incremental agenda that finally achieves their goals.
HH: In that regard, what's the most important thing the American public can do, to prevent that incrementalism?
VDH: I think they have to ignore the illiberal charges of racism, on illiberalism, that the left tends to level when people ask legitimate questions. For example, why is a suspect, who may have been involved in the bombing, what process would happen that he would have a degree, or at least attend school from American university? Or why, here in the central valley, do we have people in Lodi, California, who may have been involved in medrasas in Pakistan? Or in Oregon? Or in Virginia? And I think those are legitimate questions that one can raise, without having to worry whether he's going to be called illiberal. And I think that's very, very important that we realize that during the Cold War, people didn't easily come into the United States from Romania or Bulgaria or Albania. We had enough confidence that while we loved Bulgarians and Poles and Romanians, we felt that the system of government under which they were living was antithetical to the United States and the free world. And I'm afraid to say that I think the governments, both the worst examples in Iran and Syria, but also in places like Egypt and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, either condone or encourage or abet or subsidize the type of hatred that we saw in London, Madrid. It's all over the world now. It's in Thailand, it's in Darfur, it's in Turkey, it's in Tunisia, it's in Russia, and it's not just longer what did the United States do to encourage this. What did the Israelis do. I think people are starting to see it's a fascistic movement that has hijacked Islams, in a sense that moderate Muslims either cannot or will not identify it, and isolate it, and ostracize it.
HH: Now, Professor Hanson, in the Washington Times today, Diana West wrote an op-ed, in which she talked about the danger to our way of life, posed by Islam. And I quote now, quote notice I didn't say Islamists, or Islamo-fascists, or fundamentalist extremists. I have tried out such terms in the past, but I've come to find them artificial and confusing, maybe purposefully so, because in their imprecision, I think they allow us to give a wide berth to a great problem. The gross incompatability of Islam, the religious force that shrinks freedom, even as it moderately enables, or extremistly advances jihad with the West. Am I right? Who's to say? Professor Hanson, I don't think she's right, but I'm interested in your response.
VDH: I don't think she's right, either. At least not yet, because I think that the Muslim community in the West is going to have to make a decision, and that decision is on the horizon. In other words, the people of London are going to have to realize that there may be two or three or four percent of the population, in which they go to the Medrasa, they go to a Moscque with a C, and this could be sizeable number of people. Several hundred, even several thousand. Same in the United States, same in France, same in other countries. And that's going to be the key. We should remember in 1939, there were fascist societies in places like Mexico and Argentina, that professed allegiance to what Mussolini and Germany were trying to do. But by 1946, they were moribund, because that ideology had been discredited. So while we try to attack it militarily, and prevent the terrorists from killing people as well as promoting democracy, we have to change the climate or the landscape under what we will tolerate. And we have to tell Muslims of good faith, the end is over for tolerating this type of behavior. If you go to a mosque, and somebody stands up and says Jews are apes and pigs, or the West should be destroyed, then you have a duty as a resident or a citizen in a Western country to oppose that. And if you don't do it, you're abetting it, and you're complicit in it.
HH: Now that's powerful stuff, and I think you're absolutely right. I hope it happens. In the course of this, though, in your article today, in a very brilliant diagnosis of the left, you speculate that our left has lost its way. I discussed this with great journalists earlier today, Fred Barnes, Morton Kondracke of the Fox News Channel, because of a speech that Paul Begala gave a couple of days ago. I'd like to play for you a clip of this speech, Professor, and have you react to it. Paul Begala yesterday:
HH: Victor Davis Hanson, you're a serious man. I hate to ask you to comment on unserious things. But what is that emblematic of?
VDH: I think it's symptomatic of the bankruptcy of the mainstream Democatic Party, because, after all, we know that almost everything he just said was false. We have more gross revenues coming in after the tax cut than before. The deficit's going down. The problem is spending, not a revenue problem. Within four weeks after 9/11, we conducted this sophisticated military campaign seven thousand miles away. And in less than seven weeks, we took out that God-awful regime, and put democracy where it had never existed before. We took Saddam out in three weeks. We stayed on to try to create a democratic government. There's change in Lebanon, Syria, places like Libya, Pakistan's nuclear roguery is being exposed. So, it's just oblivious to that. But it is symptomatic that we've had a mid-term election, we've had another election since 9/11, and the electorate, even after the unleashing of the New York Times, CBS, Michael Moore, the electorate still doesn't trust Democrats.
HH: Can we keep you, Professor? Can we have extra time with you?
HH: Great. I'll be right back.
HH: Professor Hanson, you talked about the left in the article at National Review.com today. Our first hindrance is moral equivalence. Our second shackle is utopian pacifism. The third restraint is multiculturalism. The question, and it's a very serious question, is can the left be rescued from these three chains?
VDH: I don't know. It was rescued before in the 50's, remember. There was a strain, the Henry Wallace Party. And a group of concerned, sophisticated Democrats decided that was not where to go, and got tough on the Soviet Union, were the architects of the Cold War, and produced people like Scoop Jackson, Harry Truman, JFK. And then Vietnam started that detour again, and we haven't really gone back yet. We've tried to, a little bit sometimes with Bill Clinton's middle course. But I think what's happened is they've come very close...they won the popular election in 2000. They came within three or four points in the last election. But they have no political power, in the sense of no majority in the House, none in the Senate, no presidency, no Supreme Court, no majority of state legislatures or governors. And that creates a frustration. And rather than to do the hard work of laying out an agenda, that would give the American people a clear-cut choice, they just look for an Abu Ghraib scandal, a Koran flushed at Guantanamo, a Karl Rove, any little scandal they think that can get them in power on the cheap. And it's not going to work. Not in a time of war.
HH: Having said that, I don't want to spare the center-right from appropriate criticism. I've spent hours talking about the need to build the wall on our southern border, and something of an equivalent on our northern border. Nothing happens there. Is this because of the multiculturalism restraint as well?
VDH: I do. I really think that's true. We should remember that a lot of conservative corporations encourage bilingualism, and that...which can be devastating for young immigrant communities to come here and simply, when they get on the phone, when they turn on the television, when they see people, they don't ever have to speak English. In banking...where I live, you can go to the bank and speak Spanish. You can turn on the television and speak Spanish. It doesn't require the person to participate in the civic business of the United States in English. And the right has been just as guilty for different reasons than the left. And you're absolutely right about illegal immigration. And we all know this time bomb is ticking, that once somebody comes in from the southern border and does something like we saw in London, we will overreact and go crazy. And there's no reason to have to get to that point. We could do it now, but it's going to take, I'm afraid, some type of disaster before we wake up and realize we have a fifteen hundred mile border that's completely unguarded, and we have a government in Mexico that's not a friend of ours. And at best, is a neutral. If you read the Mexican newspapers, especially those in Mexico City, it's almost a belligerent.
HH: Let me ask you about my theory of hemispheres, that eventually, given demographic trends, unless the Islamist jihadist strain of Islam is crushed, or put to bed, it will infect and take over, simply on a demographic basis, a lot of Europe. Does this hemisphere then, have to become sort of a unity, a single entity, in order to survive in such a situation?
VDH: Well, it depends upon how we define unity. I have no problem if Latin America and Mexico want to emulate the Anglo-Saxon classical traditions that created this country: the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, an open economony, the protection of private property. But if unity means that we're going to erode the core values, and resemble Mexico or Argentina or Peru or Venezuela, then I think that would be a disaster. We can be enriched in a multi-racial society by food, music, art, but that's very, very different than tampering with these core values. People are dying to come to the United States from Mexico, not because they want to emulate Mexican culture. They want to reject it and enjoy what we have to offer.
HH: Have you been underwhelmed by the American reaction to the London massacre?
VDH: A little bit. I have. I think what's going on in Europe has confused Americans, because they thought, you know, here's a very liberal Holland, and now they've not only stepped up to the plate, but they're going further to the right than we are, if you read what they're doing to a lot...in their immigration laws. France just cancelled the EU utopian borderless entry controls. And England is going that way.
HH: I didn't realize that. That's a very interesting development.
VDH: It is, and what you're seeing is what all of us sort of suspected, that we would be hectored and hectored by Europeans from the left, but then, when it finally got to them, they would not only pass us by, but go hard right. And I think we're going to see them...how hard right it goes, I don't know, but this country, we should remember, is very, very stable, and has good common sense. We have a post-modern neighbor in the north, and we have a pre-modern neighbor in the south. And we've got something that's unique that we need to protect.
HH: I'll be right back. I'll try and keep Victor Davis Hanson one more segment.
HH: I always hate to do this, because I never know what you're going to say, but do you ever worry that we've entered sort of the phase of the late Roman Republic when it comes to politics, Professor Hanson, when personal vendetta mattered more than the interest of Rome?
VDH: Yeah, I think so. And it's not just Rome. It's late 18th Century French politics, or Athenian politics in the 4th Century B.C. And that's a dangerous time. And I think that the Democrats have to, as I said earlier, lay out an agenda. We're in a war, and any time you see an article in the New York Times by Thomas Friedman, The Washington Times and The London Times, three Times articles that are never on the same page, today they were all about the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism. It tells you from left to right to center, not just in the United States, but the West is very concerned about this issue. They don't really care about Karl Rove's phone calls. They don't care about a Koran in Guantanamo. They don't care about these trivia that keep coming up on the part of the Democrats.
HH: The last historical question, you wrote a book about Sherman, in part, about three great commanders, Patton and Sherman and a great Greek general. Do we need to go Sherman in the area between Pakistan and Afghanistan? It occurred to me, after the SEALs were killed a couple of weeks ago, I've never been one that we need more troops, more troops, but maybe in that place, there is an argument for total war.
VDH: Yeah, but except people misunderstand Sherman. He didn't kill very many people, because he felt that if you came in, in overwhelming force, and destroyed the property and the iconic property, and humiliated the land-owning class, most people have no ideology, and they want to be with a winner. The problem we have, you're absolutely right, in that Pakistani border is they don't know who's going to win. They don't know who's more powerful. But if we were to show some type of force, and let it be known that we're serious, I think it would pay dividends. Remember Mr. Musharraf, though, really doesn't want to find bin Laden, because as long as bin Laden is loose in Pakistan, he's immune from our pressures to democratize.
HH: Oh, a good point.
VDH: And he doesn't want to find him.
HH: Professor Hanson, it does...the noise of the 90's seem so distant now.
VDH: Yeah. I really think that most people in their gut understand that if Al Gore had been president in 2000, or John Kerry in 2004, we would have followed the EU model, and we would have seen things like Madrid and London to come, because that model doesn't...is not workable. The idea that you're not going to address the two root problems that we have, one is terrorism, and the lack of democracy in the Middle East. And for all the caricatures of George Bush's policy, he has an agenda and a goal to democratize, and to kill the killers, and then to be vigilant at home. And that three-pronged strategy is the only thing that will work. It's not perfect, but it's the only solution.
HH: Last question, professor. I've been reading To Rule the Waves, a magnificent history of the British Navy...
VDH: It is. I reviewed that book for the Los Angeles Times.
HH: Oh, you did? I missed the review. It's a magnificent book.
VDH: Arthur Herman. It's a wonderful book.
HH: And they went up to 700 ships in the course of their war with Napoleon. We are going down below 300. Do you see that as a strategic miscalculation of the first order?
VDH: I do. I think it's a terrible mistake, and not just for strategy. I went out once on the John F. Kennedy, and spent three days. And you should...we should re-evaluate how we look at those ships. That was a university campus for five thousand young people. They were working together, they were eating together. Eighteen year olds had responsibility for sixty million dollar planes. And when I teach, before I retired, I would see eighteen year olds that couldn't even come to class, and our campus was balkanized by race, and that was a model of racial integration and harmony. So the military does things way beyond just national security.
HH: Victor Davis Hanson, always a great pleasure. Thanks for your time on a Friday afternoon. We'll talk again soon on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
End of interview.