Read Victor Davis Hanson's remarks this past weekend. Here is the audio - not great, best I could do and it does get clearer as the din of the tableware quiets down - I have transcribed the first 10 minutes. I am working on the rest. Bear with me - the whole thing in one beautiful elegant basket of truth. Hanson is so elegant and ..... scary
UPDATE: Remarks transcribed - Q & A still to be done - huge props to KGS of Tundra Tabloids - who did most of it and fast.
Hanson remarks (link corrected): Download Hanson111608.wav
Hanson partial Q&A: Download hansonqa111608.mp3
Victor Davis Hanson November 16, 2008
UPDATE: NEWLY TRANSCRIBED AND CORRECTED - much thanks to Ralph
[11/23/2008 – Transcribed by Ralph Blanchette]
Speech by Victor Davis Hanson – Restoration Weekend, November 15-16, 2008
I think everybody's stunned, surprised, anxious, frightened, terrified of the election. They don't know quite what to expect, whether we are going to get Barack Obama, the Utopian pacifist, the practitioner of moral equivalence, multi-culturalist from Chicago, or you're going to get a retread Clintonite and if you did whether that would be—given the dire circumstances that some feel we are in—whether that would be a relief or whether that would be cause of even more concern given the Clinton record of the 1990s with the appeasement of terrorism.
It seems to me that what we're all worried about is what does Barack Obama think about the world at large—when he says that Iran is a small threat, and then he corrects himself and says it's a large threat—when Georgia is invaded by Russia and he tells us first that each side is of equal blame and then he suggests Georgia prompted the entire crisis and then suggests the UN should adjudicate it and then he suggests that when an authoritarian country like Russia tries to destroy a democracy its because of the precedent of an American democracy trying to destroy an authoritarian regime in Iraq.
It's hard to make sense of all this. All I can make sense of is, he has a very different view of the world. This view is anti-platonic. And I say that, not to be condescending, but Plato said that the natural order of the world was chaos, it was war—peace was a parenthesis, it had to be achieved and worked at. I think in the Obama view that men like him that are charismatic, articulate, they can change the world because it's naturally a peaceful thing until people like George Bush rush in and through their stubbornness—"smoke 'em out dead or alive" vernacular—destroys it, but the fact of the matter is the only reason there is any semblance of peace and tranquility in the world today is because in places as diverse as the Aegean, planes over-flying in Greek airspace daily, where there's near fighting on Cypress, or whether we are talking about the Korean Sea and the Philippines and Taiwan and South Korean democracies not going nuclear because the United States is there, or whether Russian ships keep out of Norway every hour—all of that is predicated on the presence of the United States.
To be frank, or to put it a different way, Vladimir Putin doesn't give a damn that Barack Obama is African American. And the Chinese autocrats do not hear very well "hope" and "change"—it doesn't translate to Chinese very well—and the Europeans don't care if he has a nifty jump shot. All they want to know is half the world are vying to try to take advantage of regional opportunities if the United States is not there to stop mold, and to stop rust, which is the natural organic order of the world. They take advantage of it and our friends are there waiting to see which side to join. All of our friends in Europe know that, and Australia and South America. They don't have deities. Nations don't have deities like Barack Obama, they have interests. And their interests are predicated on who is going to win and who is going to lose. Into that void comes Barack Obama.
Contrary to the rhetoric that the world is falling apart, there actually are some advantages of being Barack Obama now as president. If you look at the war in Iraq for example, although Harry Reid said it was lost and Barack Obama himself said that the surge would not work and it did work—he said it would not work, now he says it does. There were eight times more people killed in Barack Obama's Chicago last month than in Iraq in combat—people in combat that were killed. That war militarily has been won. It was won because George Bush—obviously stubborn in support of the surge—all the generals that said it wouldn't work—that's going to save Barack Obama a lot of money. It's going to, as the original now detested neocons envisioned—that it would help enhance American security. And the cost of putting a hundred thirty thousand troops in a peaceful Iraq is not that much more than it would be in Europe or elsewhere. It reminds me, it's about a year ago today I was in Iraq—[inaudible]—and one of the private sheiks in the Anbar awakening said "Why do you want to leave? We can do it cheaper than Ohio or Indiana" There's some logic to that.
We forget even the energy price. We have had the most precipitous drop in energy prices in the history of petroleum industry, from a hundred and forty-seven dollars a barrel to right around fifty-five. That translates into about a three hundred billion dollar stimulus to the American economy. And it translates into about fifteen to two-thousand dollars per year per American family. But more important, for Barack Obama, that means that most of our enemies of the world, that are petro-generated. After all you take away a hundred and forty-seven dollars a barrel, and Vladimir Putin is pretty much a thug. You take away a hundred and forty-seven dollars a barrel and even the Iranians have problems running six thousand centrifuges. You take away a hundred and forty-seven dollars a barrel nobody is going to pay court to Hugo Chavez's subsidized petroleum. So all of that is going to have foreign policy ramifications that, if it's done right, would be very favorable to Barack Obama.
But I would like just like to just concentrate for a moment on one of the conventional wisdoms he has offered. On three separate occasions he said we took our eye off the ball by going into Iraq and therefore wasted our effort in Afghanistan. That was echoed on two occasions by Joe Biden. I think it's emblematic of how wrong he looks at the world, I'd like to examine the thesis that we took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan—and that's the remaining war now—by going into Iraq. First thing to remember is that the reason the UN—or at least the evocation of the UN as the reason to go into war was not that much stronger in Afghanistan than it was in Iraq so, unlike Bill Clinton who bombed the Balkans without UN approval and without even Congressional approval—he never went to Congress—George Bush went to the Congress, he went to try to go to the UN, and part of his rationale—remember there were twenty-two reasons for him to go to Iraq—part of his rationale among the twenty-three—it was a violation of UN accords, a violation of the 1991 armistice accords, and the problem with the "Oil-for-Food." So there was a UN element invoked.
More importantly, the Coalition of the Willing, if you count by numbers and nations, was larger in Iraq than it was in Afghanistan. And to be quite frank, what does it matter determining involvement in the fight in Iraq when you're not fighting in Afghanistan? It doesn't make any difference. The only people who really fought with us in Iraq, the Australians and the British, are the people who were fighting with us in Afghanistan. If you look at another common fallacy—"Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11." That's true in the strict sense, but remember, we're not at war with Afghans, rightly so, we went into Afghanistan because the Afghan Taliban offered sanctuary to Arab Muslims from the Middle East, the real enemy, at least when you look at the people who were killing us in the nineties, and the great facilitator of Muslim Arabs in the Middle East was always Saddam Hussein. Look at the people that we found in Baghdad when we arrived. Abu Nidal, Abu Abas, Mr.Yasin, one of the architects of the nineteen ninety-three World Trade Center bombings, still rolling around in Iraq—for all we know he's still there— Mr.Zarqawi, the al-Qaida affiliated terrorists that were battling us hard in Kurdistan. You could make the argument that there was a better reason to go into Iraq, if you wanted to attack the type of people who were responsible for 9/11.
And the fourth, look at—don't listen to what I say, look at what the enemy says. In 2004 Bin-Laden wrote that famous letter before the elections, saying that, the central front on the war—the global war on terror, the global war on Islam as he put it, was in the land of two rivers. That was echoed and reiterated in 2005 by Dr.Zawahiri—he said Iraq was the central feature there. And then look at the existential question that is never asked. If you weren't going to kill—and I don't know how you could, contrary to what Barack Obama says—if you weren't going to kill radical Islamists in Pakistan—and it would be very hard to invade a nuclear ally Islamic country—what were you going to do it with? Seems to me the only way you were going to do it was in Iraq.
And the point that I'm making, is when you talk to the military, this year—our people-- the record is seven thousand confirmed jihadists, insurrectionists, Bathists that were killed. In the aggregate, there is a reason why we have not been attacked—and part of the reason is a lot of people flock to Iraq to join the global jihad and never came back home and sent out the message "do not go to Iraq or you're gonna die." And that was of some utility. If you think it wasn't, go take a look at the Pew poll that was taken in May of 2007. Among the many questions were asked, two were especially notable, one, "What do you think of the tactic of suicide bombing?"—that was at an all time low of twenty-six percent, and "What do you think of the status of Bin-Laden?"—that has fallen in every country except in the West Bank, from about sixty-five percent approval rating down to the thirties. That's not because people like George Bush in the least, it was because the stronger horse, supposed stronger horse after 9/11 was shown to be pretty weak and was leaving in defeat in Iraq.
There is another thing to remember about that canard of Mr. Obama that "we took our eye off the ball", and that is: this is the United States, this is a country that just sixty years ago fought, what, three people all at once. We fought the Italian fascists, the German fascists, the Japanese fascists. Nobody said we took our eye off Japan, so we're stuck with the Battle of the Bulge or we're stuck in Okinawa because we took our eye off—by going into Germany. Germany and Italy knew nothing in advance and did not coordinate with the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. But for an earlier generation it was close enough that they were fascists, they hated the United States and we were at war, and they were all going to be defeated at once. It's very ironic for a much more powerful United States in the present, warring against radical Islam that does not have the resources of the Japanese Imperial war machine or the Wehrmacht, to be told that we can't fight one enemy, that we can't fight more than one enemy at once, it makes no sense, at least to me.
How did this narrative get started? How did this narrative of "taking your eye off the ball"—by going into Iraq—get started? I think that there was a lot of reasons. First, there was this naïve assumption because of the seven week victory in Afghanistan, and the six months establishment of political [inaudible] provisional constitutional government, that Afghanistan was easy. Well people thought, you know, wow, Afghanistan took seven weeks, and you have six months for a government, Iraq took three weeks and suddenly we'll have a government in three months. When that didn't happen, Afghanistan became the good [inaudible] war and Iraq became the bad.
If you look at it historically, I think that everybody would realize that Afghanistan always posed more problems than Iraq. It was landlocked, it was surrounded by a lot more enemies, it had no allies in the region so to speak, it had no history of even a trace of secularism as Iraq did, it did not have a port, and strategically, as far as the United States was concerned, it was not of the same importance, and it was also the home of forty percent of the world's heroin. So there was always a problem of going into the ninth century versus maybe the sixteenth century in Iraq and establish a constitutional government. That was lost in the hysteria about Iraq.
The second thing is, remember how this strange phenomenon emerged, that you have all these talks today, all during the campaign we've heard that you have to go across national borders and you have to surge troops as long as you do it in Afghanistan and don't dare do it in Iraq. Part of that—that anomaly emerged, and to understand it, I think you have to go back a little bit to the exegesis of Afghanistan in the first place. After 9/11, there was this pretty much blanket criticism of the Clinton administration, and the Democrats felt that dearly, and so then there was the war proposed, remember, less than thirty days, George Bush was in, on October seventh, he was in Afghanistan.
>I talked to the commander of the US Kennedy, he said he turned the boat around and headed towards Afghanistan, a great carrier class—a conventionally fired carrier—the day of 9/11. He got the message that he was right about four hours later. And George Bush was very calm in seeing that day in going to war, and people in the Democratic Party were really ambiguous about it. Columnists as diverse as Maureen Dowd and R. W. Apple said peaks were too high, too cold, the Hindu Kush was inhospitable, a burial ground, the British and the Russian empire couldn't do it, there were some ambiguity.
Most—not all but most—supported the war, it looked pretty well, and suddenly the Democrats were looking at a pretty bad scenario in November, 2002, that this his war had gone very well in contrast to the appeasement of the nineties and it wanted to get on board and show that it had national security credentials. So the war and the lead up to Iraq. I suggest, that you all sometime go to the YouTube films of October 11th and October 12th 2002 and hear Harry Reid give a certain speech about no need to worry about WMDs, that we were already in a de facto war with Iraq given its violations of no fly zones, we should have been at war much earlier.
John Kerry, I thought gave one of the best speeches, so did Hillary Clinton. I like John Edwards, I don't want to leave him out—he gave a good one. I like comments by people like Andrew Sullivan, Joe Klein at Time suggested Bush might be a possible Nobel Prize laureate. When the statue fell, I remember, Chris Matthews said we are all neo-conservatives now. [laughter] [inaudible] that was before teaming up with George Bush, [inaudible] Chris Matthews said. That was before. The Democrats wanted to get in on this because they thought that they did not want to be on the wrong side as they had been on the Gulf War, they had elections coming up. And they fought with each other, to be—to out talk the other.
Then the war started, and I suggest that anybody go back and read the comments after the statue fell. Seventy-six percent of the people supported the war. As the White House correspondents said on that night, two people who had supported the war were in the ante room where George Bush was talking—and I can remember Joe Klein almost knocking me over to get to the front so he could shake George Bush's hand and say that he has been for the war the entire time. I debated him later, in 2006 at Columbia and [inaudible] and I remember he said that "I defy anybody to say that I was ever against [sic—i.e. 'for'] the war." And I said, Joe, remember that they have Wi-Fi in the audience. They can Google you when you're lying. [laughter]
In any case, then [inaudible] it, we have the difficulties, we had the insurgency, people started to make the necessary political adjustments, and then we have the Shia revolution, the voting, the purple fingers, people making other adjustments. But by 2006, the Democrats decided that it was now in their interest to do two things. To oppose the war in Iraq, but not to give up the credibility they have on national security. So then the most amazing thing happened. Afghanistan, which they thought would always be sort of [inaudible] and always be easier [inaudible] sort of thing, and Iraq was going to be inevitably be lost, [inaudible], it made good sense to say that Iraq was the bad war, not because that it was amoral or unethical all the way—though they did say that—but because you took your eye off, sort of like that cartoon you saw, where someone put his palm on a fellow's forehead and said let me at 'em, well that what they kept saying about Afghanistan.
If you just had not gone to Iraq, Barack Obama said, I would have gone into Pakistan and crossed the border and hunt down Bin Laden. I remember four or five days they were almost out bidding each other to be tough. And the irony is of course, when you're duplicitous like that, it's something called fate or nemesis and they're going to have an opportunity, because the bad war has actually become the good war, and is essentially over , and now will see, what Barack Obama will do. He already knows that we go into Pakistan. The only difference is that we don't tell people when we do. [laughter] Now that he's going to be president, he has a good war and he has all the support he needs to surge troops, and he's on record that nothing we learned about counter insurgency will be of any utility or [inaudible] in Afghanistan, and he got what he wanted there. It's very ironic.
I want to finish on a broader point and that's the election. This was always going to be a strange election, because remember that this is first time since 1952 that an incumbent president or vice-president had not been on the ballot. So you have an orphan presidency the same way Harry Truman had. So just as Adlai Stevenson and Dwight D Eisenhower attacked Harry Truman, so John McCain as well as Barack Obama of course attacked George Bush. It was also the first time in my life, in my voting life, you could say that a northern liberal senator actually thought that he was going to win. Remember, the rule had been since John F. Kennedy, if you were a democratic senator, from the north, whether it was John Kerry or Walter Mondale or George McGovern, you were going to lose and like the caucus, a governor. The only way the Democrats had a chance, they had to have a cover, a conservative [inaudible] with a southern accent whether it's LBJ or Jimmy Carter or Clinton. Here someone who says I'm not only from the north, I'm also very liberal, nobody thought that would be possible.
Second—third thing is we have an African American on—it was a serious campaign unlike Jesse Jackson, and a woman on the Republican ticket who was I think a much more serious candidate than Geraldine Ferraro, and we have the oldest candidate, John McCain. So all these precedents. I think—I just got back from the National Review cruise and there was all this acrimony in two schools, George Bush did this to us, or John McCain did it to us, or it was inevitable, or McCain was ahead on September 14th until the financial meltdown.
My view is more that it is sort of like a Greek tragedy. That is, that given the fact the incumbents, after eight years find it difficult—the incumbent party would have twelve years in succession, given the fact that we're in two wars, given the fact that the meltdown in September, given the fact that Bush is an orphan, so that your own party would be attacking itself in a way that has not happened since 1952, given the fact that, it's just in a very brilliant fashion, once Barack Obama made the critical decision to disown everybody that had been among his most eminent social list, and that means everybody from Bill Ayers, Father Phleger, to Reverend Wright, Rashid Khalidi. And once he made it, another key decision—although he had been voted one, two or three in the senate as the most liberal member—once he decided that he was so trusted in this base, that he could essentially renounce his position on everything from nuclear power, to coal, drilling, ICE and NAFTA, public financing, guns, abortion, capital punishment, and run as a centrist, then I think it would have been as hard for John McCain to beat Barack Obama as it would have been for Adlai Stevenson to beat another fervent hero like Eisenhower. You can debate this point with us. But it was like a Greek tragedy in a sense.
But in every Greek tragedy there has to be a Greek tragic hero. In this way, it was sort of George Bush. He was our Ajax, wasn't he? He was inarticulate, he was stubborn, he was almost self destructive in his single mindedness, he was at times oblivious to criticism, inept at defending, but like Ajax, he saw that he had a certain mission, that was to keep Americans—nobody could say that they were safe after 9/11—safe, and he was going to remove the two worst regimes in the Middle East and to try the impossible and establish constitutional governments. And he was going to do that no matter what. And everybody was going to abandon him as they did Ajax, and they were all going to be impressed with the glib Odysseus of our age, Barack Obama, who could out think and out talk anybody. But a man you wouldn't want to have on a Homeric battle field with you. And like Ajax—to finish the story—he has to self destruct and he did, but that's not the end of the story, because today we read about Ajax—and most of us who are classicists like him a lot more than Odysseus—and you remember Harry Truman, he went out of office with a twenty-two percent approval rating, he was vilified as somebody who left the Democratic Party. He fell on this crazy idea of containment against this 'mythical' threat of global Communism, and twenty years later, he was seen as a good man, and the same will happen to George Bush. [inaudible] Thank you very much.