RWN’s 2nd Victor Davis Hanson Interview
John Hawkins:: What’s your opinion of how things are going in post-war Iraq? Compared to other similar operations throughout history, how do you think we’ve done so far overall?
Victor Davis Hanson:: I think that if we look at it in the longer historical expanse from the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime and not concentrate on any two to three week period, then the idea that a year and a half after the regime was over with — we’d have elections pretty well under way and we would have over 2/3’s of the country pacified — then I know it’s a tragedy that we’ve lost that many men, that was not unexpected — but given history’s harsh judgment of other military operations and — we’re doing pretty well.
I think our main problem is that people don’t understand the extent of the revolutionary endeavor that we undertook — that we’re really trying to bring democracy to a place where it just simply did not exist — and there’s a lot of neutrals, enemies and allies that don’t want that to happen — whether that’s the Saudis or the Syrians or the Iranians, even the Jordanians. The second thing is we are empowering people who’re the proverbially despised of the Arab world, namely the Kurds and the Shia.
The very idea that we would try to come in there after a war and insist on a quality per person ‘ that a Shia or a Kurd is worth the same amount of humanity as is a Sunni Arab — it’s pretty revolutionary. So taking all that into consideration, I’m still optimistic.
John Hawkins:: I don’t think many people have spent enough time discussing how the Sunnis in the region look at the Shias and the Kurds….
Victor Davis Hanson:: It reminds me of something like Reconstruction after the Civil War or maybe the liberation of the Helots of Sparta. I mean, these were people who were gassed; they were massacred and Saddam Hussein did not exist in a vacuum. He was part of a Baathist Sunni culture and we have destroyed that culture — that Baathist and the Sunni shamanism — and so it’s a very revolutionary movement on a lot of levels.
John Hawkins:: Switching gears just a bit, many people on the left here in the U.S. have gone to obsessive lengths to try to find ways to compare what’s going on in Iraq to Vietnam. What do you think of that comparison? Is it a fair comparison? An unfair comparison?
Victor Davis Hanson:: Well, there’ only one modicum of comparison that works and that is whether the U.S. will continue to have the willpower and the tenacity to support a democratic government. We almost did in Vietnam and then right before the finish line we stopped, but otherwise the comparison doesn’t make any sense.
Vietnam was a war against global communism on the left; this is a war against people who are fascistic on the right. We don’t have 7,000 Soviet nukes to worry about, so there’s not a nuclear deterrent. Thirdly, we’re not engaged in real politick as we were in the cold war.
We didn’t have a lot of options whether it was South Korea, South Vietnam, Central America or Iran. We tended to back people who were righteous just on the promise they weren’t communist. We didn’t ask a lot of them, as far as being democratic, but now without that worry about global communism in the Soviet empire, we have a lot more flexibility so we are actually turning over to the Iraqis a much greater responsibility to create democracy. So it’s not at all comparable.
There’s no draft; it’s not part of a national social movement. People try to make it that way — a social protest movement — Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, these people — but it didn’t find the resonance that the Vietnam protest movement did.
John Hawkins:: Theoretically, let’s say that by the end of 2005, we have a relatively stable fledgling democracy in Iraq that’s capable of handling its own internal security. In your opinion, what would the next step in the war on terrorism be for the U. S. after that?
Victor Davis Hanson:: Well, at first, I think it would be to consolidate our position and by getting troops out of Saudi Arabia, it’s been a fantastic development because we’re no longer aligned militarily with this Wahabist government that’s been such a plague on the U.S.. If we can have a consensual government in Afghanistan, a consensual government in Iraq, and there’s discussion under way for the democracy in Turkey to be part of the EU — then I think the next move is really to press Syria on its rear flank and start to bring world attention to its illegal occupation of Lebanon and try to force the UN & our allies to look at Syria. Whether that means embargoes on trade, diplomatic pressure — let’s get them out of Lebanon and put the light of day on to the barbarity of the Syrians and also the terrorist havens in the Bekka Valley.
At the same, time I think in Iran we simultaneously have to elevate the Iranian dissident movement into something like Solidarity was during the Cold War and really press on human rights and try to promote them as quickly as possible.
So the very fact that we did use military force in Afghanistan and we can press through and finish the project in Iraq, that’s going to give us some deterrence and will make the diplomatic moves at least have a longer shelf life.
I’m not saying that either the diplomatic card with Syria or Iraq will be successful, but we’ll have a little bit more credibility than we did before because we’ve shown that if we have to, we can use military force. So, I’d really pressure Syria and Lebanon; I’d pressure the world to recognize the dissidents in Iran.
John Hawkins:: Two related questions to that; Iran, is there any way in your mind, if it comes right down to it, that we should let them have nukes, any way? The second question deals with the Bekka Valley. Even if Syria pulls out, somebody is still going to have to deal with Hezbollah and all the terrorist groups over there. Any thoughts on how we should do that?
Victor Davis Hanson:: Well, there are situations where there are no good choices. Whatever, whose fault it was, I’m not interested in assessing blame, but it has been pretty clear to most people that Iran has either through help from Russia or through appeasement of the U. S. and Europe, been on this course (towards nuclear weapons) for about 4 or 5 years. Should they obtain nuclear weapons, they along with North Korea are the most likely governments in the world to use it.
So I don’t think they can and I think that we have to just announce to the Iranians that we’re willing to play the bad cop and let Europe play the good cop. We can use diplomatic efforts to promote democratic peaceful change, but there’s something that’s not going to be discussed, it’s not negotiable, and we’re not going to let a radical theocracy that controls the world’s commerce, that fuels world’s commerce in the Persian Gulf, have nuclear weapons to bully oil supply nations, Israel, and be a cause for revolutionary fervor.
Before 9/11 they killed more Americans, the Hezbollah, and the Iranian support for Hezbollah, than any other terrorist group in the world. As far as the Bekka Valley goes, I think we’ve got to get the Syrians out and then we’ve got to put pressure on for elections. Then we have to tell the consensual government in Lebanon that they have a choice to make; they can either have an open and fair society in the way that there is one in Iraq or Afghanistan or we’re going to have to deal with Bekka Valley on our own. There are a lot of ways of dealing with that without invading; I mean there are air strikes, there’s diplomatic (maneuvers), there are embargoes, but we won’t win this war until Iran, Syria and the Bekka Valley are resolved either diplomatically or militarily.
John Hawkins:: I agree. Here’s something you wrote in a column last year,
“Small armies, whether those of Caesar, Alexander, or Hernan Cort’s can defeat enormous enemies and hold vast amounts of territory – but only if they are used audaciously and establish the immediate reputation that they are lethal and dangerous to confront. Deterrence, not numbers, creates tranquility and the two are not always synonymous.”
Keeping that in mind, do you think that we have been lethal enough in fighting the war on terror or have we, in an effort to be compassionate, held back too much and paradoxically, caused more civilians and more of our own troops to be killed?
Victor Davis Hanson:: I think we have. I think that Fallujah, the first encirclement of Fallujah and the withdrawal, is one of the worst military decisions since Mogadishu, perhaps since Vietnam, because when you start to do that, then you create a self-fulfilling prophecy. When soldiers are in junta force protection or they’re just into garrison duty, then there’s always a greater cry for more and more soldiers.
When they’re audacious and they’re on the offensive and they’re killing the enemy, then there’s going to be less of the enemy and they’re going to get a reputation for ferocity. As you know, we were no safer in Vietnam with 525,000 in 1967. We were no better off than we were with 25,000 in 1971 or 1972. So it’s not the number per se.
That’s why this whole inside the beltway acrimony is so disturbing. The real discussion should be not how many troops you have but what is exactly the mission of these troops? What are they going to do and what are they not going to do? I think they should have been from Day 1 going after — in really an offensive mode — the people in the Sunni Triangle as they did with this wonderful operation that we saw the last couple of months in Fallujah. That should have been done earlier.
John Hawkins:: Given the corruption and incompetence of the UN, the meager help given by many of our allies in the war on terrorism, and the nearly endless amounts of scorn heaped on us even when we’re doing good things these days, do you look down the road and perhaps see a more isolationist America that’s less willing to help other nations?
Victor Davis Hanson:: That’s a good question because I think we’ve seen a little bit of that with the disaster relief. You know, Americans are so tired of seeing Kofi Annan skiing and then people criticizing Bush for being in Texas or providing all of that aid and being called stingy or trying to help an Islamic Indonesia that wasn’t all that friendly after our own catastrophe of 9/11.
So I think it’s not so much we’re going to be isolationist because we’re not silly, we do have commitments to Korea and Japan, etc.. However, the average American is disenchanted and he has no desire to be a part of the U.N. He’s increasingly skeptical of NATO. He’s not solidly behind the concept of the EU. He just expects now that people out of irrational and deductive reasons will attack him for who he is rather than what he does and incrementally with that, I don’t know if that’s going to lead to isolation on our part, but it’s going to lead to an independence.
You talk to people in the military and they’re saying, you know, ‘Look, these old carriers weren’t such a bad idea after all because every time we use a base, we have to pay political blackmail or bribery or use diplomatic appeasement.’ So there’s a sense that the U.S., if anything, should build up its defenses even more, but use them in a way that reflects less dependence on other people.
I think John Kerry made the opposite argument to Americans: we want to keep working with our allies. I don’t think Americans really do want to work with France. I really don’t think they care too much for working with the Arab League. I don’t think they really are friendly with Saudis.
I don’t think they want much to do with Germany in a partnership so it’s more who’s with us — and if it’s Australia, Britain, or countries like that, or Eastern Europeans — then we’re fine, we’re happy and I don’t think that’s resulted in the U. S. being isolated. If you look at a billion Indians, they’re more pro-American than ever and so is China. India and China seem to be not giving us as many problems as we might have otherwise expected. It’s our friends, not our neutrals or our enemies, that are really hurting us.
John Hawkins:: A related question to that — In your opinion, if you’re talking about the apparatus of the Cold War, things that served us well in the past like the Geneva Convention, NATO, the U.N. — are they just outdated to the point where they need to be replaced?
Victor Davis Hanson:: Yes, I think they are. Maybe you can, but I can’t envision another NATO operation like the removal of Milosevic that we would participate in because the proof of the pudding is not Iraq. We didn’t even expect them really to go into Iraq, but Afghanistan was a locus classicus. Everything was there; this was a rogue government. It was responsible for world-wide terrorism; it attacked indirectly a NATO member and when it was all said and done I think we only had 7,000 NATO troops there. It was just a fraction and yet the U. S. went right into the heart of Serbian Kosovo.
So I think if you said today to Americans there’s a rogue Soviet republic that’s involved with Eastern Europe or there’s a problem with Morocco and Spain over islands in the Mediterranean or Greece and Turkey are fighting over the Aegean or Cyprus is flaring up — I don’t think there’s any American support for going in there any more.
When it comes to Europe I think left, right, liberal, conservative, there’s almost this schadenfreude; it’s almost like, well, you people are utopian and your 21st century humanists, you settle it because we in America believe it’s a lose-lose situation for us. That’s a dangerous situation because it may be in our national interest to intervene but no president will be able to galvanize public opinion to do that.
John Hawkins:: A related question ‘ Europe and the U. S. do have a lot in common. We’re both Western civilizations. Many of our citizens emigrated from Europe at one point or another in time. We fought in many of the same wars. Yet, we’re so puzzlingly far apart on basic issues like the war on terrorism, Israel and Palestine, & the use of military force. Why do you think Europeans and Americans seem to have such a dissimilar view of the world these days?
Victor Davis Hanson:: I wish it was because of issues that divide us on principle, but I’m afraid a lot of it has to do with the absence of 300 Soviet divisions. During the Cold War, the U.S. subsidized the defense of Europe and it kept Russia from going in and doing to Western Europe what it had done to Eastern Europe.
With the demise of the Berlin Wall, the Europeans immediately began to follow up on their socialist utopia. They not only increased social spending, but they cut defense because they were just convinced that the danger was over with. They thought that all of these nukes, all of these divisions, all of these tanks and planes that the U. S. had stationed and protected them were, kind of, if not our fault, at least we were as culpable as the Soviet Union. Now it was the time to let European soft power, money in the U. N., these international bodies, & the EU, adjudicate trouble.
All of a sudden the U. S. says, you know, ‘Look at the 20th century, whether it’s Prussian militarism, Tojo, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin or Mao, there always seems to be a mass murderer that appears on the stage and every time there’s collective action proposed no one acts. It’s always the U. S. that acts and we’re not going to disarm even though we did cut back radically.” Europe saw that as sort of, ‘Ohmigosh, these guys are retrograde, they’re Neanderthal, they’re going to pull the world back to the use of force,’ and so the U. S., I guess, represents a stinging reminder of how weak they are and how the rest of the world does not operate on their premises and that bothers them a great deal.
The very emotional response with Europeans is almost like a child telling the parent, you know, ‘I can take care of myself, I want the world to work my way,’ and then the parent says, you know, ‘Sorry, you’re on your own.’ The child then gets angrier and angrier as he sees the world isn’t up to their visions, a very puerile, immature view of the world.
John Hawkins:: Changing tacks a bit, I’ve read your superb book: Mexifornia. I enjoyed it quite a bit and would just like to get a quick summary: in your opinion, what should we be doing about illegal immigrants that are already here and to prevent more of them from coming over the borders?
Victor Davis Hanson:: I’m not in favor at all of the President’s proposals. I think we’re just going to have to bite the bullet and have a multi-faceted solution and one of the ways to start would have really stiff employer sanctions.
Then we have to get to the Mexican government and find out what the proper number of legal immigrants is, maybe give them a little privilege over say the Phillipines, Korea, India or Europe. (They get) 100,000, 150,000, and that’s it.
That would encourage Mexico to change its economic and political social paradigm to feed and house its own people rather than counting on us to be a safety valve. Then we’re going to have to abandon the salad bowl metaphor and go back to the melting pot. (We’ll need to) insist on English language in our schools, no more bi-lingual education, no more exemptions on drivers’ licenses or college tuition for illegal aliens, restore sanctity of the law, and expect a rocky 10 or 15 years.
For the 10 to 12 million people here who are illegal from Mexico, we’re going to have to say to the right, ‘Look, this was a policy that was in error and that was a disaster,’ but on humane grounds, you’re not going to be able to take somebody who’s been here 30 years and throw them (out of the country).
It just won’t work, so we’re going to have to give a one-time, not a rolling amnesty, but a one-time amnesty, for people perhaps that have been here 10 years or so. Then that’s it and then we start back with the formidable powers of assimilation that we possess in the U. S. and that will solve the problem very quickly I think.
John Hawkins:: Haven’t we already done that though during the Reagan administration when we were going to ‘give a one-time”’..
Victor Davis Hanson:: We’ve done it twice but the problem is nobody believed us and so it was a rolling amnesty. In other words it was never coupled with real border security. It was never coupled with an ultimatum to the Mexican government. It was never coupled with really stiff fines for employers.
It was never coupled with any method of enforcing an ID program and it was watered down immediately by exemptions for drivers’ licenses, tuition discounts for illegal aliens who go to universities, bi-lingual education — it can’t all be done by government.
We also have to create a radical cultural change. Just as if a white group said, ‘I’m part of the volk,’ we don’t like that. We’re going to have to tell the Chicano groups there’s no more La Raza, there’s no more MEChA, no more ‘a bronze state for a bronze people’, no more of that 1960’s ideology of separatism and hatred. We can’t tolerate it……We have (to prepare to meet them) with social censor from everybody because we do not want to go down the path of Rwanda or the Balkans. (We should have) one language, one culture, many races — and that’ll send a message as well to potential illegal immigrants that if you come to the U. S., you no longer get a drivers’ license (and) speak Spanish in an apartheid community. No, if you come to the U.S., you’re going to have to do it legally and you’re going to have to learn English immediately in an immersion program and you’re not going to get any special weight whatsoever for being Mexican. You’ll be treated like an Italian or a Greek or a Korean or Punjabi.
There’s not going to be any guilt, affirmative action, victimization culture just because you crossed the border illegally and that can’t be done by government alone. That has to be changed in our own minds and hearts and the left is going to have to accept that just like the right is going to have to accept an employer cannot count on non-union cheap wages in perpetuity. It’s just not going to happen.
John Hawkins:: A couple of historical questions; One thing I seem to hear a little more these days is people questioning whether the U. S. was right to drop two atomic bombs on Japan and whether they would have surrendered without it. What’s your view on that issue?
Victor Davis Hanson:: Well, they wouldn’t have surrendered after the first one; we know that. They almost had a coup after the second one; there was a plot to kidnap the emperor during the peace signing ceremony.
I think the answer to that question is for a person to go back very carefully and look at the campaign in Okinawa which was started on April 1st and actually the United States military didn’t declare the island secure until July 2nd which was just about 70 days before the surrender. If they would go back and look at that they would see that was the costliest campaign for the U. S. Marines.
It was also the costliest campaign for the Japanese, 100,000 Japanese killed, 100,000 Okinawans killed, 50,000 American casualties and wounded, missing and killed — and that was just a foretaste of what was going to come with an invasion. If some people say, ‘Well, maybe we didn’t have to invade,’ then they should look at what Curtis Lemay had as an alternate solution; bringing B-17’s and 24’s, Lancasters and B-29’s and putting them on Okinawa to continue the incendiary raids of Japan. That would have been a bloodbath. So any calculus you have for achieving a non-conditional surrender would have cost more lives.
If you take the third alternative and say, ‘Well, we didn’t have to have an unconditional surrender,’ then critics should look and see what the Japanese army was doing in places like the Phillipines, Korea and China up until the last days of the war. They were continuing a pattern of systematic butchery and execution. That’s really not been commented on, but they were just as bad in some ways as the Nazis and the Soviets were. So they were just a barbaric military and the only thing that put them out of business was the U. S.
John Hawkins:: Looking back through American history, are there are any wars that in retrospect you’d say weren’t worth it?
Victor Davis Hanson:: There are two of them that I don’t quite understand the logic of and one of them is the Spanish-American War and the other is the Mexican War. I think they could have been avoided. I’m not saying they were great crimes against humanity because the Spanish empire was pretty corrupt, it’s probably true that most people in northern Mexico welcomed the U.S. troops that invaded, and they would have rather joined the Americans, but I think they were probably not necessary.
John Hawkins:: What about the War of 1812?
Victor Davis Hanson:: That’s a hard (one), sort of an emotional war, that’s tied up to a great degree with Europe and the idea that America was triangulating with the French and Napoleon. But, I think it was also a punitive war on the part of the British. I see that we had less options there than maybe the Spanish American and Mexican War, but there are just so many things that are hard for us now to take into consideration.
We call it the War of 1812. We forget that Canada was on the table and a large percentage of the Canadian population had been American, had been pro-British, and had fled to Canada. The sovereignty of Canada was one of the issues, the anger of the British after being humiliated, being punitive to the Americans, the British fleets’paranoia with American trading with Napoleon….it just didn’t have a lot of issues that are easily fathomed today.
John Hawkins:: One last one I want to ask you about; What about Vietnam? I guess it would have been worth it if we had stayed in there and hung in there and helped them become a democracy, but in retrospect, would you say that one was worth it?
Victor Davis Hanson:: I do. I think it was necessary. I mean, all our strategic objectives, I think you could argue, were met by 1974. We had American troops gone, we had a viable government in South Vietnam that was working and the danger to it was not coming from local resistance, the Vietcong.
The way that government was destroyed was not through a local uprising which had been pretty well wiped out in the year since Tet. It was a classic invasion from the North which could have been stopped with air power. But, once we had the Watergate fiasco and the cutting off of funds and air support, then not only did we have a disaster in Vietnam with a half a million people interred, probably a half a million killed or missing, another million in boats, plus 30 years plus misery — but we had immediately a holocaust in Cambodia, a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that did untold damage, a revolution in Nicaragua, and the hostage take-over and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran. All that adventurism was based on the premise that the U. S. no longer had the will to follow through with its commitments, had become isolationist, and was shocked and battered and humiliated after losing the war in Vietnam.
John Hawkins:: Had we continued aiding them, had we continued to supply them, had we continued the air support, do you think we’d have a democratic Vietnam today?
Victor Davis Hanson:: Absolutely. It would be something like Korea. It wouldn’t have been at the first. It wouldn’t have been a liberal democracy the way that we would like it, but it would have been something on the evolutionary path of Korea and we would have ended up with something that would have been an anchor, right there with Taiwan, South Korea, and then Thailand.
It would have been a very good thing and for the counter argument that consumer capitalism is inevitable anyway and it’s liberalizing its economy, there are two answers. One is that we’ve lost three decades those people have had to live under that government and the other is there is no guarantee that government will liberalize politically either. It’s still a Stalinist state.
So I think it was a tragedy all the way around especially because the U. S. military — people forget especially after 1969, 1970, — it fought very, very well and did a wonderful job.
John Hawkins:: Last two questions; Are there any blogs you’re reading regularly or semi-regularly these days?
Victor Davis Hanson:: I do about 3 things. I read a lot of internet magazines, especially the foreign Arab news, Le Monde, and then I read a lot of internet magazines,: National Review Online,: Weekly Standard online, that kind of stuff online.
Then I do read, let me think: I look at yours,: Right Wing News; I look at: Little Green Footballs. I look at, I guess it’s called: Powerline,: Instapundit: andRealClearPolitics. I look at all of them, just not every day, but I try to keep up. Then I read some of these Iraqi blogs and military blogs, the names escape me, but I see them, listed and cross-listing & I always look to them.
John Hawkins:: Is there anything else you’d like to say or promote before we finish up?
Victor Davis Hanson:: Well, I have two people who have started their own web magazine,: victorhanson.com. I don’t have much to do, I don’t own it or anything, they’re doing it —- and they have a lot of young and very gifted writers who are just starting to get some attention.
I think Bruce Thornton is one and we have a fellow who is anonymous living in Saudi Arabia who writes and a woman named Nora Chapman. So we have a stable of about 4 or 5 people and the people who run this magazine, Jennifer Heyne and Joey Tartakovsky, they want to make it into a top ranked literary magazine and probably change the title when they get up there….
John Hawkins:: You ought not to let them change the title. It’s got your name on it (laughs)…
Victor Davis Hanson:: (laughs) Yeah, they’re trying to expand beyond just my writing which I think is good.
John Hawkins:: Thank you, I really appreciate your time.
Victor Davis Hanson:: OK, thank you, John.
You can read RWN’s first interview Victor Davis Hanson, which was done on Nov 11, 2002, by clicking: here.