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An Interview with Victor Davis Hanson

Following is an interview with historian Victor Davis Hanson, author of the newly released book, Between War and Peace: Lessons from Afghanistan to Iraq. The interview was conducted by historian Jamie Glazov, the managing editor of frontpagemag.com, where the interview was first published.

Frontpage Magazine: Mr. Hanson, it is a pleasure to have you join Frontpage Interview . Welcome.

Hanson: Thank you for having me again.

FP: This collection of your 35 previously published essays, most of them from NRO, is extremely impressive. Their themes apply exactly to our latest tragedy and crisis in Spain.

One of your special expertises is on how leftists, and some of our European allies, have chosen to side with our enemy. Now, after the Madrid terror attack, we see another European ally succumb to appeasement. Let's start our discussion with your general thoughts on this development.

Hanson: Well, even before the terrorists' communiques were fully disseminated the Spanish electorate voted for appeasement and a socialist government that would distance itself from the United States. This is the most profound example of capitulation since Daladier and Chamberlain and sets a truly awful example: will British, Polish, Italian, and American elections now be presaged by mass murder on the assumption that decadent, affluent Westerners can be intimidated in fear of attacks?

Worse, this was not panic from a fickle leader but an overwhelming expression of public fear and intimidation. I am afraid it confirms what most of us have thought for some time about the Europeans: they want our bases and troops, but only in the shadows and with avenues of distance and denial, as a last guarantee only of their safety in extremis. I wish the Spanish had voted to expel our soldiers as well--but perhaps that will be in the next terrorist demand. And note that the Greeks, who slurred NATO in the Balkans, did nothing for it in Aghanistan, and trashed the US over Iraq, find a bomb at a Citibank office and suddenly are talking of NATO help in their Olympic security-even as the hated Americans are offering our commandos for joint practice operations with them against potential terrorist-like incursions.

As for Spain-and I say this with real remorse given their suffering and national catastrophe--not since Theodosius and the late Romans paid their annual bribe money to Attila have we seen such success in bullying and terrifying a Western nation. It is right off the pages of Gibbon in his discussion of how weak, wealthy, and fearful Westerners paid Goths and Huns before Adrianople and Chalons.  And this is the beginning not the end of it, as we shall soon see.

All Americans feel terrible about the Spanish mass murder, but how can we express our solidarity when the reaction is to repudiate both us and Spaniards who were allied with us? And contrast the American example: 26 days after 9-11 we were in Afghanistan attacking the Taliban and al Qaeda; the Spaniards n 48 hours were turning out to apologize. A sad day for the West.

FP: And so what do you think of the Spanish reaction to the terror in Madrid, in terms of the turning to appeasement specifically?

Hanson:  I am nauseated by it. 

FP: Expand a bit on why you say this.

Hanson: I can understand a shocked public acting on emotion rather than reason. But to channel that grief so immediately toward a political end, and have the Socialists almost immediately employ invective against the United States, promising to take the troops out by June and rethink relations with the United States. It is an al Qaeda fantasy come true.

Our own NY-DC political-military axis should take a hard look at all this, and start crafting some long-term strategies, inasmuch as this appeasement is a grass-roots phenomenon, and apparently independent of a ruling elite. Greece (which will soon have one worker per one state pensioner) just cut defense spending, asked NATO to help with its security, went on joint manoeuvres with American anti-terrorist forces-all during a year-long spasm of anti-Americanism.

It may well be that the Europeans are angry with us not despite our principled help and NATO basing, but rather precisely because of it. And I don't mean our too visible presence, but rather due to deep-seeded feelings of inferiority, envy, and spite that they are weak militarily and being protected and thus vent with the antics like what we just saw from the newly-elected Spanish minister.

Perhaps a very quiet, very professional downsizing of all our troops from the Mediterranean would send a powerful message to our allies that our alliance is based on friendship and mutual sacrifice, and does not rest in perpetuity, but only as long as there is a group effort to combat a common threat. Those circumstances simply no longer exist.

Again, we really are a different people if you contrast the American and Spanish reactions to al Qaeda's unprovoked mass murder on their shores. So sad-this idea that bin Laden knows far better than we the true nature of the Spanish citizenry. Why John Kerry would wish to hint that such leaders who are angry with the United States praise him through back channels, I don't know. That may play well with his wife's foundation friends and at the Kennedy School of Government, but out here in middle America it would seem to me the kiss of death.

FP: Kerry's behavior, of course, is part of a long leftist tradition of siding with our totalitarian enemies. Tell us a bit about why the Left is now so excited with siding with the bin Ladens and Husseins of this world. As always, it admires the tyrants that extinguish all supposed sacred leftist values themselves. Give us an insight into the psychology here.

Hanson: It's not so much that they prefer such monsters per se--after all a Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore are not dying to move to Haiti, Syria, or the West Bank.

Rather they start with the premise that what America does is probably wrong, and therefore its enemies de facto can claim the moral high ground. Lately this deductive anti-Americanism is becoming laughable. Look at the rogues' gallery of our dethroned opponents--the Grenada thugs, Noriega, Milosevic, the Taliban, and Saddam are hardly national liberationists.

While there is genuine disagreement in America over foreign policy, this shrill near-hatred of the United States government is largely a different phenomenon of a very pampered elite in the media, universities, bureaucracies, and entertainment.

Perhaps because they are divorced from the real world through their wealth, they demand instantaneously their own utopia for the rest of us 'victims'--or else. They feel guilty about their privilege, of course. but rather than moving to more pedestrian digs or teaching at a JC or sending their kids to the local public school downtown, they sign petitions and go to up-scale rallies.

They resent bitterly that our plutocratic society rewards CEO's far more than in-the-know actors and glib professors, who"really" fathom what this country is supposedly all about. Beneath all this hysteria of invective, there really is a sense of class privilege and intellectual disdain.

FP: Fair enough. But Mr. Hanson, I disagree with you when you say that the Left does not prefer monsters. Chomsky and Moore are not dying to move to Haiti or Syria. . . . well yes, the Left has always been hypocritical on this level. But this is not just about silliness or some kind of dishonesty on their part. Throughout the twentieth century leftist Western intellectuals worshipped Stalin, Mao and other mass killers. They went in droves to visit the communist concentration camps and they praised these societies while the killing fields were in their highest gear.

It is not just a coincidence that leftists venerate every despot that opposes the United States. The Left's embrace of militant Islam today is just a logical continuation of Western intellectuals who travelled to Soviet Russia in the 1930s and worshipped Stalin -- and of Jane Fonda praising the North Vietnamese despots.

What I am getting at here is that there is a malicious and sinister objective within the heart of the Left. It craves totalitarianism, because totalitarianism will suffocate freedom and, ultimately, human life itself – which the Left hates the most. That every communist revolution ate its own children reveals a pernicious death wish in the heart of the Left, and I think it is very much in prominence once again in the War on Terror, in which the left is now in love with those despots who, once again, offer them the dream of extinguishing their own civil society and the freedom within it.

You find this interpretation too extreme?

Hanson: But we are talking about apples and oranges--on the one hand, hard-core, thuggish revolutionaries abroad who want power and all that it brings under the cynical aegis of"equality" and"social justice;" and on the other, mostly pampered intellectuals here at home at the trough of American splendor and luxury, in the manner of court jesters, jetting around trashing their alma mater.

Again, while there were a few deluded who really did cut sugar cane in Cuba, committed treason of sorts in Hanoi, and went down to idolize Daniel Ortega, most on the radical Left are really indistinguishable from most Americans in their patterns of consumption, tastes, jobs, etc.

So we are not confronted with Stalinists, hard-core Marxists, or fifth-columnists as much as those afflicted with the "Western disease"--a sort of glib self-hatred of the very society that imparts such freedom and affluence.

Of course we don't want to downplay the pernicious effects of such a malady. These fakers are serious and in fact pose our greatest challenge in the current struggle by unleashing a constant stream of negativism that encourages our enemies and weakens our resolve. The hysteria over the looting, the missing WMD, and the president's aircraft carrier landing--all that and more have clouded a stellar military victory and a largely successful effort so far to foster consensual government under impossible circumstances--something that fifty years from now we will look back on with awe.

The transmogrification of Islamofascists into the"other" is one of the most stunning developments in American intellectual history--but inexplicable apart from this postmodern, trendy left-wing dogma. We overlooked twenty-five years of continued terrorist assaults from November 1979 in Teheran to the USS Cole, in part because multiculturalism and cultural relativism were so entrenched that we dared not condemn as evil and wrong those creepy people who believed in gender apartheid, fundamentalism, autocracy, anti-intellectualism, and anti-Semitism, but instead romanticized or at least ignored them.

Ditto Arafat's Tunisian Mafia--and all the assorted Middle East manipulators who grasped that an NPR, New York Times columnist, ABC evening news lead-in, or Kennedy School of Government symposium would always prefer to hector Israeli self-defense, rather than suicide bombing, or scream over an American missed bomb rather than Taliban lynching, or looters in museums rather than Saddam's garrish destruction of Babylon.

So I am talking about a secular religion of anti-Americanism brought on by our very success that allows such utopianism and cheap caring--and it does weaken and tire our efforts to win this war.

A final example: the President has raised domestic spending by 8 percent per annum, lavished funds on health care and education, offered near amnesty to illegal immigrants from Mexico, appointed  a plethora of minority judges, cabinet officials, and administrators, and committed more AIDs relief funds than all prior administrations put together--and is still  hated by our Left, simply because his demeanor, accent, religion, and even appearance don't validate the aristocratic Left's rhetoric about sex, class, gender, and the other. It really is a make-believe world in which a Barbra Streisand, Gore Vidal, or Arianna Huffington cheaply sound off from their estates about some purported cosmic evil fostered by poor deluded Americans hooked on K-Mart and NASCAR.

FP: Some of our European allies stooped to a pretty low level in the Iraq war. The French are quite a case study. What is their problem? Has anti-Americanism become so pathological there now that they think Saddam is Mother Theresa? It's like George Bernard Shaw prostrating himself before Stalin. Give us your perspective.

Hanson: Funny, isn't it? Europe is to New York and Boston like the latter are in turn to Boise and Bakersfield--affluent, elite, culturally aristocratic, and largely ignorant that the rest of the world does not operate on the premises of The Hague or Geneva. But why this European hobbits-in-the-Shire fantasy?

We've protected them for sixty years. They spend almost nothing on defense. And they see this wild, dynamic and utterly democratic  popular American culture everywhere---and wonder why would the world want that crassness over French film or a German play? Who would prefer Starbucks to Vienese coffee, after all?

Once we withdraw some troops, once they begin to fathom the jam they've gotten themselves into through appeasing Middle East dictators and large, unassimilated Islamic minorities, and once-- terribile dictu--terrorists divert their attention to such easier targets, they will slowly and ever so insidiously began to talk about NATO, the Atlantic alliance, and the friendship of the United States.

The irony? George Bush was the best friend that the Europeans ever had. He really believes in making sacrifices for Western Civilization and promoting, not just talking about, our shared vision of liberal democracy that after all began in Europe.

His muscular action and courage to address the corrupt status quo in the Middle East (whether Arafat, Saddam, or the Taliban) allows Euros to triangulate like never before, playing good cop to our bad, and touting their soft power as the civilized alternative to us. The Euro diplomats and elites I've talked to are more worried about our growing pique than promulgating their own.

FP: Anti-Americanism is just skyrocketing throughout the world now. What's going on?

Hanson: I don't think it is. The strange world of intellectual journals, CNN pundits, state radio andTV, etc. is perhaps comfortably anti-U.S., but the real world of immigration, fascination with U.S. products, mimicry of American culture, desire to visit and study in America is quite different.

Jamie, what do Bin Laden, President Musharref, Hanna Ahsrawi,  the Saudi Royal Family, Iranian mullahs, Hans Blix, the German ambassador to the U.S., etc all have in common? Their kin are either in or were in the Great Satan to study, work, or play. Of course, boutique anti-Americanism is cheap, pyschologically satisfying (envy being a powerful emotion), and sort of hip--especially when the current U.S. president has a drawl, is Christian, from Texas, says “nuclar,” cares little for the NY Times op-eds, and pretty much thinks Crawford is a nicer place than Beacon Hill or Paris.

FP: But Mr. Hanson, because Saudis study in the U.S. does not mean they love the U.S. They exploit the U.S., and coming to the U.S. only escalates their hatred of us. The very fact that bin Laden was Westernized shows the great danger of anti-Americanism, no? Surely you are cognizant of the fact that many who come to the West seek to destroy it, exploiting our tolerance and freedom to ultimately suffocate it? Look at the Islamists in France and Europe.

Hanson: Of course, I understand that. But again you miss my point. Their hatred arises precisely out of desire--fascination with our wealth, freedom, tolerance, and liberality that turns to envy and finally to hatred (both for us and themselves)--when they ultimately realize that their own allegiance to fundamentalism, statism, autocracy, and sexual apartheid are responsible for their own misery.

So again, it is an Alice in Wonderland phenomenon of a pampered bin Laden with his video technicians and cell phones, or jet-setting Saudis with Mayo Clinic doctor visits--entirely parasitic yes, but also instructive because their own actions belie their rhetoric.

They do sense that they have failed and want the West they hate. It is our duty not to facilitate that hatred by appeasement or multicultural goobly-gook, but instead offer the carrot of reform and help--and the stick that lets them know in no uncertain terms our ancestors didn't die at Gettysburg, Iwo, or Pusan to give into their pathetic Dark Age fantasies. They must accept that the next regime, rogue nation--call what you will--who has any remote connection with those who commit a 9-11 like attack on the United States will  learn that their complicity is  synonymous with their utter destruction.

FP: Mr. Hanson, your new book also contains some material on one of your key interests: the strange connection between affluence and privilege and venom. True enough, ever since the counterculture, we see many of the most privileged people in the world full of rage and hating their own society. Tell us a bit about this phenomenon.

Hanson: What to call it? Prep-school populism? Isn't it grating to hear a  Howard Dean of Park Avenue, Al Gore of a swanky DC hotel, John Kerry of Beacon Hill, or various endowed professors and spoiled millionaire actors screaming about economic justice and"the people"?

Do they think their education, money, travel,  or class has given them some special"insight" into the machinations of a George Bush who has pulled the wool over all us yokels in places like Fresno? Are we all suffering from false consciousness and slavish consumerism that need the morality and wisdom of a Sean Penn, Gore Vidal, Tim Robbins, or Al Franken to free us?

Aristocratic angst is not new, but reminds me a lot of the sophists at Athens who were upset that their rhetoric--a product of investment in very expensive"thinkery"--did not always win praise for wisdom. 

So we have this strange, rather sick idea in the United States--should we call it"Clintonism" or even"Gorism"?--that an "educated" person from the Ivy League or a product of prep school, who can spin a sophisticated argument, replete with all sorts of sarcastic asides, smug name-dropping, and allusions to esoterica, is de facto either a genius to be listened to, courageous enough to follow, or moral enough to admire.

The fact is that since 9-11 those who have saved this culture--Army Rangers sleeping in the Afghan Mts., marines in the Sunni Triangle, millions of ordinary Americans who cleaned tables and poured cement, tough policy makers who endured terrible invective like a Paul Wolfowitz or Don Rumsfeld, and of course the president himself did so through skills other than verbage. Thank god for all of them in this hour of crisis.

FP: So how do you see the war in Iraq and the War on Terror in general right now? What course must we take? In what objectives and tactics in victory rooted?

Hanson: Beneath the hype? In less than three years we took out the world's two worst regimes--and fostered consensual government, not dictators in their place. Al Qaeda is on the run. No more 9-11-like attacks so far--knock on wood. Europe is learning that the U.S. is really its best friend, but that Europeans' own cheap rhetoric and triangulation is a suicidal policy that will leave them alone and defenseless while we move on.

Libya is coming clean. Pakistan is helping hunt down OBL and revealing its nuclear roguery, a far cry from its pre-911 behavior. Iran is worried about a revolution and an unpredictable U.S. Soon no more troops in Saudi Arabia. Arafat is lord of his rubble heap, not in the Lincoln bedroom each month. So despite the tragic sacrifices of 600 American dead overseas, many hundreds wounded, billions spent, and perhaps a trillion committed to security and economic recovery from 9-11, America is doing pretty well and turning the corner.

We must press on in Iraq. Continue the pressure on the Saudis to join in the war against al Qaeda and embrace reform--or end up on the wrong side of a very angry U.S. We will not win until terrorists feel that they cannot live in Syria, Lebanon, and Iran. Those countries must change and they have a choice between voluntary radical domestic reform (unlikely), revolution by a democratic opposition (preferable) or military confrontation with the United States (the turmoil in Afghanistan and Iraq will not last for ever).

Victory will come when Americans accept that terror is but a method, not an enemy. We are at war with Islamic fascists who out of conventional military impotence employ terror, along with their autocratic patrons that either actively abet them or knowingly ignore them.

We will win when such regimes either fall or at least choose the Khadafy option of compliance (we will see whether it is genuine). That goal of ending the pathological landscape that gave us 9-11 is accomplished by military action, promotion of local reformers, and a massive ideological campaign to explain Western civilization and its transcendent values- not only to Arabs but to our own citizens who so often, almost criminally so, take it for granted or have not a clue about what allows them to prosper as we do.

All this can be done-but only if we learn from the past wages of appeasement, have confidence in our ability to defend our culture intellectually and spiritually, and never give into our fears.

FP: Mr. Hanson, thank you, our time is up. It was an honor to ahve you here. We hope you can visit us again soon.

Hanson: My pleasure Jamie.