Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The World on January 20, 2017

by Victor Davis Hanson// National Review
Red-blue tensions at home, mounting dangers abroad
Most Americans are worried about our domestic crises. Obama left office after doubling the debt to $20 trillion. Near-zero interest rates over eight years have impoverished an entire generation of seniors — and yet remain key to servicing the costs of such reckless borrowing.
Over the last eight years, GDP never grew at 3 percent annually, the first time we’ve seen such low growth since the Hoover administration. Obamacare spiked health-care premiums and deductibles while restricting access and reducing patient choices. Racial politics are at a nadir and make one nostalgic for the environment before 2009.
Red-blue tensions are at an all-time high, and suddenly there is talk of 1860s-like Confederate nullification of federal laws. It’s now the norm for prominent commentators to call for the murder, forced removal, or resignation of the current president. A New York Times columnist asked the IRS to commit a felony by sending him Trump’s tax returns, and then he boasts by providing his own address.
The Democratic party is nearly ruined, reduced to a shrill coastal party animated not by an agenda but by unhinged hatred of Donald Trump and a new religion of race, class, and gender politics.

Given all that, we sometimes forget the dire situation abroad — or rather ignore that our indecision and misdirection reflect internal chaos and looming fiscal crises. The ramifications of setting faux-redlines, the reset with Russia, and then the reset of reset, radical defense cuts, and nonstop contextualization of and apology for past American behavior — all of which in part grew out of cultural wars at home or were connected to economic uncertainty — have led to a volatile world.
Here are the challenges Obama left behind:
1) The Obama radical reset with Putin, followed by about-face hostility to Russia, followed by near hysterical charges of collusion with the Trump campaign have made relations with the world’s second-largest nuclear power more dangerous than at any time since the height of the Cold War. Russia has received signals that it would face no consequences for its behavior, then that there might be consequences in theory but not in fact, and finally that it went from being a friend to an existential enemy without much pause in between.
The only deterrent in the last few years against further Russian aggression toward its former Soviet states hinged on Russia’s own perceptions of self-interest and its worries over economic anemia. It will be both necessary and nearly impossible to normalize relations with Putin, who senses that the usually pro-Russian Democrats now prefer permanent hostility (not for the sins of annexing Crimea or Eastern Ukraine but for allegedly hurting Hillary Clinton through the Wikileaks revelations). And Putin probably surmises that Trump will be forced to prove his anti-Putin fides by exaggerating the appearance of bellicosity. Tragically, Putin hovers about not just as a carrion to feast on easy scraps, but also in some strange way because he still sees some affinities and areas of mutual concern between Russia and the West.
2) China has grown contemptuous of the United States. By leveraging Asian countries, flagrantly cheating on international trade agreements, expanding its defenses, creating artificial atolls as bases in the Spratly Islands, and cutting the leash on its mad-dog North Korean pit bull, China sought to re-create something akin to the Japanese Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere of the early 1940s, or the earlier New Order in East Asia of the late 1930s. Its policy for the next ten years or so is to sow troubles and create third-party crises for the United States — a respite until it thinks it can achieve military parity by 2025.
China presents unusual challenges, because besides being the most populous country in the world and the second-largest economy, it is surrounded by pro-American, vibrant — and vulnerable — democracies (Australia, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea). It is also the only country to have four nuclear powers on its immediate borders (India, North Korea, Pakistan, and Russia) — and could easily have three more nearby (Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea). It is thus both tempted to bully wealthy but for now weak nonnuclear neighbors, and yet it’s terrified of poor but dangerous nuclear ones.
Over the last eight years, it has developed the orthodoxy that the South China Sea is to China as the Caribbean is to the U.S., a private lake where rival foreign warships and bases are not welcome — as if the Caribbean was ever crowded with Chinese-allied states or was a nexus for half the world’s daily trade. Incrementally, over the last few years, the United States has nearly conceded these Chinese expansions and has reached a point where not to concede them any longer is as dangerous as having done it in the first place.
3) The Iran deal was always an unspoken pathway to a nuclear bomb. So eager was the Obama administration for a foreign-policy legacy that it institutionalized exemptions for Iranian violations of the spirit and the letter of the agreement of U.N. resolutions. And in Machiavellian fashion, Obama so invested the Europeans in the profiteering from newfound Iranian trade that it will be hard to wean them off — on the argument that the Iranians have chronically cheated on the accord. Does one renounce the deal, or shrug and allow it to proceed, or just ready ourselves to react forcefully when the Iranians commit certain violations? For now, Iran bets that loud hints of a continuing nuclear-weapons program, whose present status is not really known, will be a deterrent to its suffering the fate of Slobodan Milosevic, the Taliban, Moammar Qaddafi, and Saddam Hussein. Any recent even remote idea that Iran/Syria/Hezbollah was some sort of useful foil to the Gulf States, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel was lunatic.
4) North Korea during the last year created a new normal of threatening its enemies, launching missiles, and improving its nuclear capability — all on the pretext that it was unhinged and not subject to classical deterrence, and that the United States was not a reliable guarantor of the security of South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. Correcting that impression is fraught with real dangers and with the surety that whatever the U.S. does, it will be blamed for provoking a lunatic nuclear state.
5) The 2011 U.S. pullout from Iraq, the fake redline in Syria, the promotion of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the demonization of Egyptian head of state (General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi), the Libyan bombing, the failed “special relationship” with an Ottomanizing Turkey, the stalemate in Afghanistan, and the decoupling from Israel and the Gulf States — all have left the U.S. with poor options. Few Americans wish to reenter that quagmire of the Middle East; fewer wish to allow ISIS to continue its global terrorism. All want to destroy it; none believes the task can be done solely with air power. Trump has never squared the circle of demanding an end to ISIS while simultaneously ruling out large interventions on the ground to accomplish such an ambitious mission. The appeal of his Jacksonian punitive foreign policy was never quite explained by his equal reluctance to involve ourselves in other nations’ business. His base, in extremis, wants quick overwhelming wins, but he can achieve them militarily only within very narrow political limits and with no margin of error.
6) Under Obama, the defense budget was slashed and military capability eroded. What the U.S. thinks it can do abroad and what it can really do are now two different matters. And how, at a time of record debt, does the U.S. reformulate its military and reassert its authority — especially in the short term? The usual Republican corrective — in the manner of Reagan in 1981 — is to rely on GDP “growth” to cover the increased cost of defense at a time of record debt, but such supply-side calculus might not fly this time around, when the debt is no longer $1 trillion but $20 trillion.
7) No one has quite calibrated the proper strategic corrective to Obama’s lead-from-behind recessional, in part because it was accompanied by radical reductions in military capability and passed off as a reaction to economic stagnation and unhappiness with past American interventions.
Deterrence is quite easy to forfeit but expensive to reestablish. Rebuilding it usually entails at least some danger because enemies don’t give up easily their hard-won advantages. British prime minister Stanley Baldwin left office in 1937 correctly proclaiming that the world was at peace, but he had lost deterrence and more or less conceded the agendas of the rising Third Reich — and thereby guaranteed a terrible war for his successors.
No one yet has fully digested these challenges, much less offered answers to them.
Is the corrective to Obama’s haphazard and passive-aggressive policies of bombing and droning, decorated with protestations of non-interventionism, something akin to Bill Clinton’s stand-off bombing in the Balkans and Iraq? Or Ronald Reagan’s punitive shelling and bombing of Libya or Lebanon, or his walk-over in Grenada? Both presidents, for different reasons, usually avoided deploying large U.S. ground forces in simultaneous and asymmetrical wars.
No one wishes a Gulf War III ground war or another senseless bombing campaign, but so far no one has articulated the new Trump-Jacksonian moment.
With isolationists, we at least know that they wish to let the world be and concentrate on problems at home.
Neoconservatives were not shy about championing nation-building abroad in the belief that the more constitutional governments in the world, the less likely we’d see anti-Americanism and war.
Realists envisioned a return to a balance of power, triangulation, and promotion of alliances, where American interests, not idealism, govern a muscular U.S. profile.
Lead-from-behind Obamism proved to be little more than allowing the United Nations and the European Union to redefine American interests as something akin to Davos globalization.
What, then, is a Jacksonian Trump approach?

Trump seems none of the above. But he is inheriting a world that is imploding, an electorate that has no belly to fix it, and a military that for the present is in no shape to do so even if it wanted to.

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About victorhanson

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. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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