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Change, Weakness, Disaster, Obama: Answers from Victor Davis Hanson

“VDH” are three letters that may appear random to the general public, but for conservatives they have definite meaning. They signify the person of Dr. Victor Davis Hanson. The scholar, professor, and political pundit is especially well known to readers of Pajamas Media. His blog consistently enriches the homepage and enlightens friend and foe. Dr. Hanson’s latest book, How the Obama Administration Threatens Our National Security, illustrates the peril that America’s leftist, superficial commander-in-chief has produced. Both President Obama’s ignorance and ideology now endanger the nation’s autonomy along with the world’s peace.

BC: Dr. Hanson, first off, let me ask: do you think the president believes in the concept of American exceptionalism?

Dr. Hanson: Well, he answered that already: we Americans are exceptional only to the degree that every other country thinks it is exceptional: e.g., who can say whether Venezuelans, Iranians, or North Koreans are any different, better, or worse than Americans? Not in Obama’s multicultural, morally equivalent, and utopian world. (Privately, of course, Obama assumes that the White House, the big Air Force One jet, the Chicago mansion, and all the Obamas’ perks, past and present, accrue to those who live in an exceptional place, which operates on principles that are a little different from those found in Nigeria, Peru, or Albania.)

BC: Do you regard President Obama as an isolationist?

Dr. Hanson: Yes and no. He is a multicultural internationalist who yearns for the supremacy of the United Nations or its enlightened epigones, who would go around the world fining or arresting miscreant nations that leave too great a carbon footprint, are too profit-minded, or have committed an array of politically incorrect sins.

But in terms of America trying to maintain a global postwar order based on free commerce, consensual government, free markets, and personal freedom, well, yes, he’s opposed to that in theory, and in the concrete certainly would not have supported things like past intervention in Panama, Grenada, the Balkans, Iraq, or Afghanistan. Europe will soon at last get their wish of a truly multilateral America, where we are just one of many NATO partners which may or may not support them in the United Nations. And that should be interesting: they have not had an American president to the left of them since Franklin Roosevelt.

BC: Are we currently sending a message of weakness to our foes and allies? Can anything good result from President Obama’s marked submissiveness before the world?

Dr. Hanson: Obama is one bow and one apology away from a circus. The world can understand a kowtow gaffe to some Saudi royals, but not as part of a deliberate pattern. Ditto the mea culpas. Much of diplomacy rests on public perceptions, however trivial. We are now in a great waiting game, as regional hegemons, wishing to redraw the existing landscape — whether China, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Syria, etc. — are just waiting to see who’s going to be the first to try Obama — and whether Obama really will be as tenuous as they expect. If he slips once, it will be 1979 redux, when we saw the rise of radical Islam, the Iranian hostage mess, the communist inroads in Central America, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, etc.

BC: With what country then — Venezuela, Russia, Iran, etc. — do you believe his global repositioning will cause the most damage?

Dr. Hanson: I think all three. I would expect, in the next three years, Iran to get the bomb and begin to threaten ever so insidiously its Gulf neighborhood; Venezuela will probably cook up some scheme to do a punitive border raid into Colombia to apprise South America that U.S. friendship and values are liabilities; and Russia will continue its energy bullying of Eastern Europe, while insidiously pressuring autonomous former republics to get back in line with some sort of new Russian autocratic commonwealth. There’s an outside shot that North Korea might do something really stupid near the 38th parallel and China will ratchet up the pressure on Taiwan. India’s borders with both Pakistan and China will heat up. I think we got off the back of the tiger and now no one quite knows whom it will bite or when.

BC: Can Obama get any more mileage from his perpetually played “I’m not George W. Bush” card or is that card past its expiration date?

Dr. Hanson: Two considerations: 1) It’s hard (in addition to being shameless), after a year, for any president to keep scapegoating a prior administration. 2) I think he will drop the reset/“Bush did it” throat-clearing soon, as his polls continue to stay below 50 percent. In other words, it seems to be a losing trope, poll-wise. Americans hate whining and blame-gaming.

So the apologies and bows don’t go over well here at home; one more will be really toxic, politically speaking. Most are starting to see that our relations with Britain, Italy, Germany, or France are no better under Obama — and probably worse — than during the Bush administration.

If one were to ignore the media and international elites and the Western youth-obsessed culture, and just empirically ask: Does one-third of the planet in India and China respect the U.S. more or less under Obama? Is the anti-American, radical Islamic world more or less fearful of Obama’s or Bush’s America? Is an Ahmadinejad or Chavez more or less likely to make a risky move? — the answers would be pretty clear.

The world is still in its hope-and-change stupor, but slowly through the fog our allies (Britain, Colombia, Czech Republic, Israel, Poland, etc.) are seeing that they are now mere neutrals, while our enemies sense they are suddenly worthy of deference and attention. Why then be an ally when being an enemy is so much more fun?

BC: Why have relations with Israel plummeted so far so fast?

Dr. Hanson: Let us count the ways: 1) Ignorance: Obama believes that “Bush did it” rather than the problems of the region predating Bush and postdating Obama (he apparently does not know that three wars were fought before Israel occupied the West Bank). 2) In Obama’s morally equivalent universe, no one “judges” the “other,” so a free market, democratic, and pro-Western Israel gets no more deference than does a statist, dictatorial, and anti-Western Hamas, Syria, etc. 3) In Obama’s al-Arabiya interview and Cairo encomium, he makes it clear enough that he is uniquely qualified, by his heritage, name, race, and temperament, to reach out to millions of oil-rich Middle East Muslims. In such a realist calculus, tiny Israel, without numbers, oil, or terrorists, doesn’t quite rate the attention. 4) There are a number of widely diverse names loosely associated with Obama, past and present — Ayers, Brzezinski, Freeman, Khalidi, Powers, Rev. Wright, etc. — who are on record for their anti-Israeli views. At some point, one concludes that birds of a feather flock together. We have seen American politics come full circle: some of the right in the 1950s used to be anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic, while the left was unquestionably pro. Now, it’s reversed. When I hear of virulently anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish sentiment expressed these days, I usually assume it arises, whether here or in Europe, out of a leftist, multicultural perspective that hates any who reflect Western success.

BC: Do you believe that Obama’s diplomatic mishandling of Britain may lead to a deterioration in our special relationship with that nation?

Dr. Hanson: It’s hard to know. Obama — the post-nationalist and trans-racial messiah — during the campaign was a big hit, both with British elites and the UK public at large. In some sense, his trivial snubbing of the British (cf. the Churchill bust return to sender, Brown snubs, queen fiascos, etc.) is the sort of thing that one would think the British left would welcome.

Again, with Europe in general, Obama presents a most interesting paradox: they wanted a man of the left, who backed away from the old postwar American role, deferred to the UN and its global busybodies — and now they apparently got him. Rather than our first “Pacific” president, he’s our first “Europe last” president — the ultimate expression of years of elite left-wing European preening and multiculturalism here at home. He’s their nemesis.

BC: Was Obama’s stated belief that “Afghanistan is the good war” merely a political ploy used before the 2008 election as a means for him to appear non-disdainful of the military? In the months to come, will we fight to win in Afghanistan?

Dr. Hanson: I wrote an article in World Affairs before Obama was even inaugurated, predicting what we see now: namely, that all that chest-thumping was campaign rhetoric, predicated on the accepted but very wrong 2006-2007 notion that Iraq was lost and Afghanistan already won, and thus would come back to bite the “let me at ‘em in Afghanistan” Obama very soon.

And so it has. We saw the same thing in October 2002, when after the assumed easy victory in Afghanistan, a majority of Senate Democrats gave all sorts of jingoist reasons to take out Saddam (23 writs followed, passed by both houses). All that earlier chest-thumping too was predicated cynically on the expectation of another quick war — and thus was quickly renounced once the insurgency started and Iraq became a valuable political club with which to smash Bush.

On Afghanistan, I think we will see mostly exit-strategy talk. The enemy certainly thinks now, after 90 days of dithering, that our heart isn’t in seeing through the stabilization of a constitutional Afghanistan that is not a refuge for terrorists. In the postmodern world of Obama, a concept like “victory” is archaic and constructed on all sorts of relativistic interpretations. Why make a dramatic spring announcement of a new general and a bold new strategy of victory — and then, Hamlet-like, wait to the end of autumn to fully implement it?

BC: Lastly, is it possible that the current administration represents the victory of political correctness over both common sense and human nature? I ask you this not only due to your book but also as a result of the recent outrage concerning three Navy SEALs.

Dr. Hanson: We’ve seen that disconnect with natural sensibilities in all the Obama initiatives: most Americans poll precisely in opposite fashion from Obama’s agenda on health care, cap and trade, takeovers, deficits, higher taxes, obsequious foreign policy moves, etc. Most Americans live their lives knowing that borrowed money has to be paid back with interest; that before you can dream, you must have secure shelter, food, and energy; that all nations put their own self-interest before that of others and tragically interpret ostentatious magnanimity as weakness to be exploited rather than outreach to be reciprocated; and that personal pathologies and dumb choices play as great a role in personal unhappiness and lack of success as does government inattention. When Americans wait in line at the DMV and the county recorder’s office, they certainly do not want to replicate that with health care. They know that everything from the Postal Service to Social Security and Medicare are near broke — so why are they models of fiscal emulation?

And I can’t quite figure out why Obama is mystified that businesses haven’t risked to create jobs and expand — after a year of promising all sorts of new taxes; pro-union legislation; federal takeovers of private business; bashing of doctors, the Chamber of Commerce, and Wall Street; promises of enormous new charges for cap and trade and federal health care. I mean at some point, small businesses got the message that their new president is a) going to want a lot more of their money, and b) doesn’t like them or what they represent very much.

So, yes, much of Obama’s agenda seems contrary to common sense — and birthed and sheltered in the academic and community-organizing hothouse.

BC: Thanks so much for your time, Dr. Hanson.