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Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

Kurdish, Syrian, and Turkish Ironies

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

Outrage met Donald Trump’s supposedly rash decision to pull back U.S. troops from possible confrontational zones between our Kurdish friends in Syria and Recep Erdogan’s expeditionary forces.

Turkey claims that it will punish the Syrian Kurds for a variety of supposed provocations, including aiding and abetting Kurdish terrorist separatists inside Turkey. But what they say they can so easily do and what they really can do inside Syria are, of course, two different things.

A Noble People
Most Americans in general favor the Kurds and oppose the Turks. Aside from Israel, Kurds are about the only American allies in the Middle East who predictably fight alongside our troops against Islamists, theocrats, and Baathists. They admire Americans, and for the most part they do not indulge in the normal anti-American histrionics. They despise ISIS as much we do and are on the front lines combatting ISIS atrocities.

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On the Whistleblower Kerfuffle, Imagine a Different Scenario

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

Imagine . . .

If in early 2015, some White House staffers transcribing confidential presidential calls were disturbed about one conversation that President Obama had with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. The two allegedly had confidentially discussed the staggered release of some $1.7 billion in withheld U.S. dollars to Iran — as an understood exchange for the release of 4 American hostages, $400 million of which was to be delivered, in an unmarked cargo plane at night, and in various currencies to Tehran.

The payments were allegedly to take place in the general context of the ongoing “Iran Deal” nuclear nonproliferation negotiations, and a time when Iranian-funded Hezbollah was staging terrorist operations in Syria and from Lebanon.

Imagine further that a few of the insider staffers/transcribers talked about their worries over such a quid pro quo and the disconnect between what their president was saying to the Iranians and what the administration was denying to the press. And they were further outraged because such payments were hidden from the public and in apparent violation of US policy prohibiting cash payments for hostage releases.

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The Strategies of Targeting Trump

Victor Davis Hanson // American Greatness

There is no logical Democratic explanation for impeaching Donald Trump. The various factions within the Democratic Party calling for impeachment are united only by their loathing of Donald Trump, the person, and his systematic repeal of the Obama progressive project.

After failing with the voting machine gambit, the Logan Act, the 25th Amendment, the emoluments clause, the McCabe-Rosenstein faux-coup, the Comey memos farce, the “resistance” efforts outlined by the New York Times anonymous op-ed writer, the campaign finance violations accusations, Stormy, tax returns, whistleblowers, leakers, the Mueller 22 months charade, and now impeachment 2.0, what exactly is the point of impeaching Trump just 13 months before the election?

Here are the various rationales behind Trump’s Democratic and leftwing opponents’ latest “whistleblower” hoax. None of these scenarios are mutually exclusive.

The Primal Scream? 

There doesn’t have to be a point to impeachment. Democrats loathe Trump. That is enough. They would have impeached him on day one of his presidency before he set foot in the White House but they did not have control of the House. Now they do, so they can. Who cares whether he is convicted in the Senate? House members just want to go on record that they impeached him and put an asterisk on his presidency at worst, and at best drive his polls down to prevent his reelection.

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Anti-Trump Psychodrama 10.0?

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

What do the Kavanaugh hearings, Jussie Smollett, the Covington kids, the Mueller investigation, and now the Trump phone call all have in common?

Staged melodrama, media collusion hysteria, progressive demands that justice be served immediately, promises of walls-are-closing-in blockbuster revelations from new witnesses, supposed surprise revelatory documents, fusions between Democratic politicians and Washington bureaucrats — and then bust, nada, and teeth-gnashing as the truth catches up to various rumor-mongers.

The disgraced purveyors of lies — a Christine Blasey Ford, Michael Avenatti, Nathan Phillips, Jussie Smollet, Adam Schiff — for a time go mute, content with progressives’ praise that they lied for a moral cause and almost pulled it off.

The particular narrative is not all that important, at least compared with a general overriding theme: We are in a virtual civil war, and the Left believes that it can win over the hearts and minds of 20 to 30 percent of the swing voters in the United States with therapeutic tales of racism, sexism, unearned white privilege, and right-wing greed and selfishness, and also by destroying the elected president. Particular events in the news are warped and twisted, to the degree that they can be, to serve that narrative — on the principle that the superior moral end of ensuring a radical equality of result more than justifies the often tawdry and dishonest means to achieve it.

Christine Blasey Ford’s recovered-memory accusations that a teenaged Brett Kavanaugh, nearly 40 years ago, had assaulted her were not corroborated by any firsthand witnesses, and Ford provided no reliable information on the place or date of the alleged assault. The investigation did turn up plenty of contradictory evidence, including denials from her closest friends and from people she herself named as witnesses to the alleged attack.

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The Madness of Progressive Projection

Victor Davis Hanson // American Greatness

Strangest among all the many melodramas of the last two weeks were the blaring headlines that President Trump had dared to talk with the Australian Prime Minister—and referenced the role of foreign governments and in particular Australia in U.S. electoral politics in 2016.

Given the hue and cry of Democrats in the last three years, they should have been delighted that the president was peremptorily warning foreign nations to cease to currying favor with presidential candidates and asking them to hand over what information, if any, they had of past “collusion.” In fact, they were outraged and once again returned to “collusion” charges, as if Trump were subverting the 2020 election.

I Accuse You of Doing What I Did!

Unfortunately, projection is now an encompassing explanation for almost everything the Left alleges. After all, the Australian government’s own connection with U.S. elections is only on the American political radar because in 2016 its former foreign minister, Alexander Downer, who had steered a large Australian donation to the Clinton Foundation, may have colluded with intelligence agencies to entrap George Papadopoulos, a minor and transient Trump campaign employee, to find dirt on the Trump campaign. Bringing up Australia is like the Left leaving a scented trail to its own past miscreant behavior.

Take the Ukraine. It would be hard for any Democrat politico to argue that Ukraine was not involved in 2016 to feed faux-charges of “collusion” to Hillary Clinton—a fact even the liberal press once repeatedly conceded. Ukrainians were only too happy to meet and consult with U.S. intelligence officials when they assumed Hillary Clinton was to be elected, and their yeoman service in frying the sure loser Trump would somehow be appreciated and awarded.

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Keep It Steady and Cool with Iran, America

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

Expect more desperate Iranian efforts to prompt a U.S. military response in the Persian Gulf. Trump’s sanctions have cut off 90 percent of Iran’s oil revenues. Soon Tehran’s shattered economy will be followed by more pent-up domestic unrest of the sort that Barack Obama ignored in 2009, when he felt that the continued viability of the murderous theocracy fed his bizarre dreams of enhancing a new Shiite, Persian hegemony to counterbalance the Sunni Arabs.

In contrast, America’s newfound role as the largest gas and oil producer in the world has not only lessened the importance of imported oil, whether from enemies such as Iran and Venezuela, or purported friends like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies. In a weird way, it has also turned the last half-century of oil politics upside down.

Tensions in the Gulf now help as much as hurt the United States. America is soon slated also to become the world’s largest exporter of gas and oil. Any increased costs for importing overseas oil will be offset by greater profits from American exports.

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Impeachment Coup Analytics

Victor Davis Hanson // American Greatness

Aside from the emotional issue that Democrats, NeverTrumpers, and celebrities loathe Donald Trump, recently Representative Al Green (D-Texas) reminded us why the Democrats are trying to impeach the president rather than just defeat him in the 2020 general election.

“To defeat him at the polls would do history a disservice, would do our nation a disservice,” Green said.  “I’m concerned that if we don’t impeach the president, he will get re-elected.”

Translated, that means Green accepts either that Trump’s record is too formidable or that the agendas of his own party’s presidential candidates are too frightening for the American people to elect one of them. And that possibility is simply not permissible. Thus, impeachment is the only mechanism left to abort an eight-year Trump presidency—on a purely partisan vote to preclude an election, and thus contrary to the outlines of impeachment as set out by the Constitution.

Consider it another way: Why is it that the House is controlled by Democrats, yet its leadership is not pushing through any of the policy proposals voiced so openly on the Democratic primary stage?

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Why the Impeachment Frenzy May Only Strengthen Trump

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

Contrary to suggestions by some, most Trump supporters are not automatons or blind supporters. What bothers them, and should bother others, about the latest Ukraine hysterias is the familiar monotony of this latest scripted psychodrama.

The whistleblower admits to hearsay (“I was not a direct witness to most of the events described”). His term-paper report is laden with anonymously sourced rumors, e.g., “According to multiple White House officials I spoke with,” “I was told by White House officials,” “Based on my understanding,” “I learned from multiple officials,” “I do not know whether similar measures were taken,” “I do not know whether those officials spoke with or met with . . . ”

Between references to Internet news accounts and “I heard from” and “I learned from” and “I do not know” anonymous officials, there is nothing here to launch an impeachment of any president.

In the complaint are all the now-familiar tell-tale signs of pseudo-exactness, in the form of Mueller-report-like footnotes and page references to liberal media outlets such as Bloomberg, ABC, and the New York Times. There is the accustomed Steele-dossier scare bullet points. We see again Comey-memo-like disputes over classification status with capital letters UNCLASSIFIED stamped as headers and footers and TOP SECRET lined out.

Scary references abound to the supposed laws that the legal-eagle whistleblower believes were violated. In sum, there is all the usual evidence of an administrative-state bureaucrat, likely to be some third-tier Brennan or Clapper-like intelligence operative, who is canvassing disgruntled White House staffers, writing a report that imitates intelligence-department formats, combing the Internet, in “dream-team” and “all-star” footnote fashion, for scare quotes and anti-Trump stories, and then likely having it dressed up in legalese by an activist lawyer. Take all that away, and one is left with “I heard.”

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The Death of American Citizenship

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

The American Founders institutionalized the best of a long Western tradition of representative government, with the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. These contracts outlined the rare privileges and responsibilities of new American citizens.

Yet the concept of citizenship is being assaulted on the premodern side by the legal blending of mere residency with citizenship.

Estimates on the number of undocumented American residents range from 11 million to more than 20 million. The undocumented are becoming legally indistinguishable from citizens and enjoy exemption from federal immigration law in some 500 sanctuary jurisdictions. An illegal resident of California will pay substantially less tuition at a California public university than will a U.S. citizen of another state.

Multiculturalism has reduced the idea of e pluribus unum to a regressive tribalism. Americans often seem to owe their first allegiance to those who look like they do. Citizens cannot even agree over once-hallowed and shared national holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July.

It is eerie how such current American retribalization resembles the collapse of Rome, as Goths, Huns, and Vandals all squabbled among themselves over what was left of 1,200 years of Roman citizenship — eager to destroy what they could neither create nor emulate.

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Book Review: Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War Between Islam and the West by Raymond Ibrahim. Da Capo Press, 2018. Pp. 297

Please read this book review from my colleague

Terry Scambray // New Oxford Review

Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War Between Islam and the West by Raymond Ibrahim.  Da Capo Press, 2018.   Pp. 297

             We judge individuals by what they say and what they do.  We judge cults, religions and ideologies the same way; that is, by their doctrines and history.  

             Which is common sense, of course. 

Apparently though, common sense is abandoned when it comes to ideologies like Marxism which has largely escaped such scrutiny by our schools and popular culture; and now the same cover up is happening with Islam.

But Raymond Ibrahim, fluent in Arabic  is an equal opportunity Middle East scholar committed to truth rather than conforming to dangerous fads.  

Ibrahim gained attention with his revealing translations in his 2007 book, The Al Qaeda Reader, which showed the difference between what Osama bin Laden said in Arabic to Muslims and what he said for receptive, if not gullible, Western audiences.

Ibrahim’s second book, Crucified Again, showed the murder and destruction that Christians are enduring at the hands of Muslims throughout the world.

In Sword and Scimitar, Ibrahim begins by explaining Mohammed’s doctrine of jihad or “holy war”: “Whereas the rewards of the pre-Islamic tribal raid were limited to temporal spoils and came with the risk of death, the deified raid (jihad) offered rewards in the here and the hereafter – meaning it was essentially risk free – and thus led to a newborn fanaticism and determination.”   In other words, robbery, murder and enslavement were sacralized and then transformed into a prodigious engine of Islamic conquest.   

Conquest being the major feature of Islam’s 1,400 year history, Sword and Scimitar takes the reader on a tour – “a tour of force” – as represented by eight significant battles and an array of lesser clashes. 

             Skillfully relying on first person descriptions, Ibrahim’s narration of these battles is gripping and suspenseful while also evoking the pain and terror of warfare.   Especially after the current revival of jihad, his recounting of these barbaric episodes and their consequences is not comforting.   

              The battles are taken chronologically beginning in 636 with the lesser known Battle of Yarmuk, a place now in Syria.  This battle displayed the fierce power of jihad by imbedding in the Western mind a fear of Islam for the ensuing 1,000 years.

And with good reason, for as Ibrahim, channeling other historians, reports, Yarmuk “had more important consequences than almost any other battle in all world history,” for within 73 years after this Muslim victory, the area from Syria west to Morocco, 37,000 sq. miles, was permanently conquered by Islam!  “Put differently, two-thirds of Christendom’s original territory – including three of the five most important centers of Christianity – Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria – were swallowed up by Islam and thoroughly Arabized,” as Ibrahim puts it.

             However, despite Islam’s vast conquests, Constantinople, “Eastern Rome”, with its wealth, strategic location and light skinned women, prized as potential concubines and slaves, tantalized the Muslims.

            So in 717, Constantinople was sieged by the Arabs of the Umayyad Caliphate. Unfortunately for them, their invading fleet was commandeered by their own conscripted Coptic Christians, who jumped ship once the opportunity presented itself.  Worse for the jihadists was the annihilating weapon called “Greek fire,” akin to modern flamethrowers, which along with a huge storm and debris from a volcano, wrecked all but five of the attacking 2,560 Muslim vessels.

That the Byzantines withstood this siege was a stunning setback over an insurgent Islam which had it prevailed would have opened a crucial portal into a then divided and vulnerable Europe.

Islam’s defeat at Constantinople was followed in 732 by another debacle at the opposite end of the Mediterranean at Tours, 150 miles south of Paris.   The Charles-Martel-led Franks, organized into phalanxes, literally undercut the charging Berber Muslim cavalry.  It was a rout.

              After Tours, no serious attempt was made to breach the wall of the Pyrenees though Islam occupied Spain until 1492 when Columbus discovered America while seeking an alternate route to India so as to avoid Muslim raids on caravans through the Middle East.

             But if the Pyrenees became a dam against the rising tide of Islam, that tide subsequently overflowed into the Mediterranean, as Ibrahim notes.  Thus the coastline of southern Europe was awash with raids by Saracens, as they were then called, making the Mediterranean “a Muslim Lake” just as it once was, “a Roman Lake.”

            In 1071, the Seljuk Turks won a significant victory over the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert, also now in Syria.

             This triumph marks the “Turkification and Islamification of Anatolia,” as Ibrahim writes.  So what Yarmuk was for the Arabs, Manzikurt is for the Turks, with the victory commemorated annually by Prime Minister Erdogan and the Turkish government.  Even the battlefield is considered sacred wherein “15,000 Turks defeated 210,000 Christians”, as the official account puts it.  

In 1095, Christendom finally mounted an offense against Islam, the Crusades.   The immediate reason for this counter-attack was that the Seljuk Turks had gained control of the Islamic Empire and began raping, murdering and enslaving pilgrims to the Holy Land.  Thus, the Crusaders took the fight across the Mediterranean, a thousand miles away, and mostly prevailed over the Muslim occupiers of territory that Christianity had originally gained by conversion.  

             Another pivotal victory, this time led by Saladin, occurred in 1187 at the Battle of Hattin, near Tiberius.   It was an ignominious defeat of the Crusaders by Saladin who gleefully watched while Sufis and other devout Muslims beheaded captured Christians.

             These defeats hastened the Crusader’s departure from The Holy Land, as Ibrahim writes, though the superior Crusader forces could had remained in Palestine.  But they left in 1291, tired of this distant conflict just as Americans are tiring of their own overseas wars with jihadists.

             “For more than three centuries prior to the Crusades and for more than three centuries after Hattin, Spain for eight hundred years was a microcosm of the war between Islam and Christianity,” Ibrahim adroitly summarizes.  Thus the Spanish victory in 1212 at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa was transformational, for it ended Muslim hegemony in Spain and was celebrated for hundreds of years until Vatican II abolished the celebration.

             Constantinople, however, remained “a bone in the throat of Allah.”   So in 1453 the Turk’s 100,000 fighters and 100 warships surrounded the great metropolis’ 7,000 Christians guarding its 15 mile wall.

The previously repelled Muslims now possessed a cannon provided by a bribed German or Hungarian.  It had a mile range and belched out 1,300 pound bombs which devastated the walls of the city though it took hours to reload.  When holes were blown in the city’s walls, the defenders hurriedly repaired them; when the Turks tunneled under the wall, they were intercepted or buried alive.  When a fire spewing siege tower was rolled up to the wall, the defenders blew it up.

After seven frustrating weeks, the Turk’s leader Muhammed II exhorted his troops with promises of women, handsome boys and virgins in the next world and booty and concubines in this world; slackers were promised “a lingering death” by impalement which meant hammering a lengthy pole up the anus and then standing the pole and person upright like a scarecrow to frighten other potential deserters.

As one observer of the ensuing carnage wrote: the invaders climbed through breeches in the walls and clawed over human pyramids of their own fallen; the defenders fought bravely with axes, pikes and javelins.

            Finally on May 29, with overwhelming numbers, the jihadists triumphed.  So the city that began with Constantine the Great ended with Constantine XI, and the Roman Empire, dating from 753 BC concluded its 2,206 year run!  The victors then forced the vanquished to endure “strange and horrible unions and foul debaucheries,” according to other contemporary commentators.  Survivors were enslaved; the Hagia Sophia, the most beautiful church of the early Middle Ages, was transformed into a brothel.

             Gaining impetus by this momentous victory, the scourge of Islam continued to lash its victims into submission though there were notable defeats at Malta and Lepanto. 

Nonetheless, Muslim forces began bombarding Vienna in mid July 1683.  The Viennese retaliated with their own artillery barrages.  But the Ottoman’s blockade caused the spread of dysentery inside the city and bodies began piling up. 

             As happened in 1453 with Constantinople, Western Europe refused to help because of its own troubles and also at this juncture because of the disunity caused by the Reformation.

             By September the situation was dire.   Fortunately, the Polish military hero, Jon Sobieski, offered deliverance.  As Ibrahim writes,” the Poles were common and crude, at least to the ultra-refined, wig-and-powder-wearing Viennese court”; nonetheless, King Leopold flatteringly wrote Sobieski, “Your name alone, so terrible to the enemy, will insure victory.”

             By then, joining in to rescue Vienna were 40,000 Austro German troops which merged with the 25,000 man Polish army.  Though outnumbered by jihadists, the Christians turned back this last direct attack on Europe by Islam.

             One could argue that Ibrahim has equated lesser battles to historical hinge points like those at Tours, Constantinople, Lepanto and Vienna.  Nonetheless, as one can see, he establishes the significance of each of his choices just as his book demonstrates that his knowledge of Muslim conquests and depredations offers depth and perspective to each of his choices.

             This is so because Ibrahim fleshes out the history of these eight battles by recounting the numerous attacks and savagery that occurred in their wake.  One such occurred in 1019 when the Seljuk Turks descended on Armenia, the nearest Christian country.  The Armenians fought bravely but succumbed to the plunder, rape and massacres by the invaders; as Ibrahim dryly writes, “This was the beginning of the misfortunes of Armenia.”

Cameos of fearless individuals like the Genovese nobleman, Giovanni Guistiniani, animate this tale of the killing fields of jihad.  In 1453 Guistiniani, a siege expert, rushed in to defend Constantinople at his own expense accompanied by 700 highly trained soldiers at a time when others were fleeing in panic.  

Ibrahim was an Arabic language specialist for the Library of Congress and has testified before Congress, is a consultant to America’s intelligence community and lectures at universities and the National Defense Intelligence College.   

Ibrahim quotes Bernard Lewis to the effect that, “.  .  . the limits and even the identity of Europe were established first through the advance, and then the retreat, of Islam.”  As Ibrahim trenchantly concludes, “Simply put, the West is actually the westernmost remnant of what was a much more extensive civilizational block that Islam permanently severed.”

And that separation remains though it is sometimes blurred by the velocity and volume of contemporary events.   But Sword & Scimitar is a compelling reminder of the terrifying dynamic which continues to drive the Islamic world.   History hasn’t ended and Ibrahim has written an engaging and sobering narrative that makes that extremely clear.

This review originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of the New Oxford Review, and is reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2019 New Oxford Review, www.newoxfordreview.org

Terry Scambray lives and writes in Fresno, California

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