by Victor Davis Hanson
Part III: Question and Answer
MR. SITILIDES: Thank you very much, Dr. Hanson. We appreciate the historical sweep of your presentation. I would like to just open the Q&A with twin democracy questions. The first one regards democratization in Iraq and the Middle East, as a result of wars, and now as part of a programmatic policy by the Bush administration. There seems to be a Western impatience with the pace of democratization, the question of how long this will take, and what is the role of the West in the future of an Iraqi society that, without democratic roots, becomes potentially democratic.
Second, on the notion that democracies do not go to war with one another. You’ve written about this recently. There seems to be a potential paradox coming, that as more Western-style democracies emerge, we could have a situation where war erupts between democracies for reasons that we’re not accustomed to, because of popular emotions, or religion, or similar reasons. Please address that possibility, as well.
DR. HANSON: Well, the first case about Iraq and our impatience, that’s characteristic of all Western societies. Democracies obviously want to vote the people entitlements. They want peace and tranquility and the people in control. We saw that in World War I, we saw that in World War II in America.
That being said, though, once democracy enters a real war they finish it — think about all our worries about body counts — that Americans can’t take casualties — we were told that we had to bomb in Serbia because we couldn’t take body counts, shortly after September 11, I read a column by Miss Toynbee in I think it was the Manchester Guardian, assuring us that the bullies of America could never take one casualty. And after all, we stayed on after most wars, we still have troops in Japan, we still have troops in Korea, we still have troops in Germany, we still have troops all over Europe. And the idea that we might be in Iraq five or six years, or seven years, would be at all burdensome to the United States. And remember also that the American troop build-up in the Middle East was rather late and a consequence of the 1991 Gulf war — in other words, we once had 10,000 troops in Saudi Arabia, which thank God are out of there, and we had beefed up our troop contingents in the Middle East because of Saddam Hussein. With his removal, I don’t think it is hard to envision that we could get down to a level of 50,000 troops. In other words, the reason that we built up in the first place is gone and with a democracy there, we might not need to stay in force — we get to a situation where we have no more troops than we did during the 1990’s. I have this strange idea about wars, that for all the rhetoric that wars are started over material grievances, shortages of natural resources, I rarely find that true in history. In ancient Greece people fought over worthless border land. And Thucydides, the historian, reminds us that phobos, fear is what makes people fight. Sparta had no real legitimate grievances against Athens, yet it crossed the border in 431 because of fear. I don’t think the Falklands were of any material importance to Argentina, except power and status and influence and honor. There are 81 million Germans today in Germany with 10 percent less land than 77 million had in 1939, and nobody is talking about lebensraum. Japan has also more people and less territory, and we’re not talking about a co-prosperity sphere.
In other words, what makes states go to war are what the Greeks callprophasis, a pretext — grievances, wounds that can be exaggerated or developed or hyped by autocratic leaders. The advantages of democracy are simply that with an open press, a transparent government and a voting electorate, people can discuss whether these are legitimate. We did this ourselves in the United States. We had an election and we had a mid-term election about this war. At least critics can vent. I think that’s the hope of having these democratic governments, that when people say that Gibraltar is critical to the Spanish economy, or some rocks in the Mediterranean are critical to Morocco, or one island is critical for Greece and Turkey, that you don’t have the autocratic machinery that turns something that really isn’t critical into a matter of national pride or honor or status worth annihilating each other for.
This is the problem with the Middle East. We have an honor society where if you try to tell people in the Middle East that certain issues can be handled diplomatically and are not the end of the world, you seem weak or without honor — I think that’s the heart of the Israeli conflict, if you say that more Muslims have been killed in any one year by other Muslims than by Israel, it doesn’t matter because Israel is a concrete, reified reflection of Western presence in the Middle East. It’s right next to Palestine and has a larger economy. And for those who disagree violently and say, no, it’s the West Bank — well, it wasn’t the West Bank in ’47 and ’56 and ’67. In other words, we have these ostensible logical concrete reasons to go to war, but I think throughout history it’s more often more salutary to look at the underlying frustrations or grievances that tend to be more emotional than rational. And democracy seems to be an antidote to that.
MR. SITILIDES: Thank you. We’ll open the program to questions from the audience, and we’ll start here on the left and sweep across to try and get as many questions in as possible. Please wait for the microphone, and if we can ask each of you to please identify yourselves, we’d appreciate that. Thank you.
Q: Thank you. Stephen Capp at USAID. I’m curious to know your views on how the term democracy is very casually and imprecisely used and abused both by friends of freedom and the enemies of freedom. The Soviets used to talk about true democracy, the North Koreans and the Cubans do it today. And I think what we in the West mean by democracy is the assortment of principles that you alluded to in the beginning. It’s a lot more than voting. It’s freedom of expression, separation of church and state, gender equality. It’s a very broad range of ideas, and I think out of convenience we keep putting it under the rubric of democracy. I want to know if you think it matters.
DR. HANSON: I don’t. That word democracy is a very late word in the Greek vocabulary. It doesn’t appear until about the 450s I think in a play of Aeschylus. They first use the word isogoria instead of demokratia. But the Greeks themselves were confused; Aristotle in his “Politics” has a whole discussion of what makes a democracy and he has four types of democracies and four types of oligarchies and he says that they overlap in different places. It’s sort of like pornography — we can’t define it but we know it when we see it.
My view about this is we all know that Saddam’s election was not pure democracy. I would even go so far that my own institution I just retired from, the CSU system, when they sometimes on campuses voted something like 105 to 10 to oppose the Iraqi war, that’s not democratic. Something else is going on because people felt under psychological coercion to vote. So we know that what democracy is. Usually you have to have a free press, absolute right to personal freedom of expression, as you say, gender equality, religious tolerance. And we know that there’s going to be gradations of that. We know in our hearts that Kuwait is better off than Syria. We have to be careful when we lump all these countries in the Middle East and say they’re anti-democratic or they’re democratic. They’re all in these evolutionary processes, but at some critical point we have enough intellectual strength to say that some countries have crossed that magical line and they’re democratic.
You made a good point. I think it’s funny that for all these systems that are anti-democratic — the People’s Republic of Vietnam, the Federal Democratic state of Germany, the Soviet Socialist Republic — why did these anti-Western systems insist on using res publica and demokratia. In other words, they’re parasitical on the West. They use that nomenclature because even in their dark hearts they know that that carries intellectual and moral capital. Otherwise they would just say, this is the Soviet empire, or this is the Soviet workers’ paradise. But no, they always want to use Islamic Republic of Iran. There’s nothing republic about it because the candidates are pre-screened when they have these elections. And yet they feel, they insist on using a Latin word from the hated West because they understand that democracy is not necessarily culturally specific but it appeals to the natural aspirations of everybody. I think that’s really ironic.
So I think we can understand when a country becomes democratic and when it’s not for the people – there’s a lot of criteria, and some cases will have gender equality but not so much freedom of press, and vice versa. Remember, it’s not a static process. I agree with some critics of the administration who were worried here at home about our own possible curtailments. Democracy is never static. It’s a fluid concept and it can be taken away as quickly as granted. It depends on the vigilance and the education of the citizens. There’s nothing — there’s no reason historically or culturally why the United States has to be a democracy in 50 years. It’s the world’s oldest democracy of the modern stripe, but there’s no reason it has to exist in 50 years, unless we insist that it does.
Q: Michael Annan, Americans for an Informed Democracy. I was wondering if you would be willing to comment about America’s relationship with Pakistan and the Musharref dictatorship there, and the realities of realpolitik and the war on al Qaeda.
DR. HANSON: That’s a tough question. I’ve written some about that. We’re backing a dictator who’s one bullet away from Islamic republic and we’re doing that because there’s indications from what he’s said and done and promised that there’s going to be an evolutionary process. But on the other hand, we know that every time we back a dictator to the bitter end, whether it’s the Shah of Iran or whether it’s a Somoza, that we either get an Islamic opposition that comes into power or a leftist socialist. So I think the answer to that, we all know, is even though Pakistan is nuclear, even though it’s the refuge of bin Laden, what we’re trying to do is buy time by pressuring Mr. Musharref for a series of reforms, all the way up to the point where he says, stop it or I’m going to give bombs to this or I’m going to do this. Stop it.
But we’re trying to push him to that imaginary wall so that when he goes — and he will go — there is a democratic opposition that’s an alternative to Islamicists. And that’s very hard to do. Especially it’s hard to do, it seems to me, to ask American soldiers to die in the Sunni triangle for democracy in Iraq when you’re subsidizing and supporting autocracy in Uzbekistan and Pakistan. But all I can say is that a foreign policy that was ossified in the Cold War because of a real threat of the Soviet Union is now in a process of evolution.
And as we evolve, we understand that in some cases if we go whole hog in democracy in the middle of a war, we’re going to have problems. So what we’re trying to do is find out what each particular country, their maximum resistance level is. I’m not saying that the administration is always consistent or can be — I’ve seen things that are not that idealistic because into this equation we have think tanks that are backed by foreign money, we have defense contractors who have foreign contracts, we have former Washington insiders with interests, all of whom like the relationships they have with autocratic leaders.
All that being said, it seems to me that left and right, Democratic and Republican, at least there’s a consensus that we’re moving away fromrealpolitik, not because we’re naïve and idealistic, but because we realize it’s realistic, because it has to create some alternative for these people to vent and some alternative to jihadism, which hates democracy, as we know now from the proclamations of Mr. Zarqawi and Khomeini, the later Khomeini-ites in Iran. The Islamicists say openly they don’t like freedom and democracy.
Q: Will Amatrudich, Catholic University. You just mentioned think tanks funded by foreign money. Could you elaborate on that?
DR. HANSON: Well, I mean — I’m talking about not just think tanks as institutions, but I’m thinking that countries that are not democratic, like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait , who give monies to endow professorships or give monies in ways that were not completely transparent, but we know happens. I think that’s irrefutable without listing which crown prince gave which money to which university, but I know that there are endowed chairs that have money from autocratic Arab governments. And the people who occupy those chairs are put under pressures — I mean, let’s be frank. I’m a member of the Hoover Institution at Stanford. I understand that the motivations of people who give money to the Hoover Institution, even though they don’t have to fit rigid guidelines of a conservative bent. I realize that even though, as I understand it, the political affiliation of the Hoover now is something like 30 percent Democratic, and perhaps 70 percent Republican, those 30 percent people who are Democratic, like myself, face the reality that we are not liberal Democrats, but centrists. We all do. The same with public universities. As a person who went to Stanford and UC Santa Cruz, I can tell you that the culture there was very liberal and the faculty members felt it — that’s just a human phenomenon. So we need transparency to remind us of the nexus between money and opinion.
But it seems to me that this war, in the middle of a war, we should be careful when people are profiting from governments that are autocratic that we’re trying to change or influence, because it’s going to be almost impossible for them to be disinterested.
Q: Stephen Shoreham with the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. I agree with what I think is your ultimate thesis, that democracy is the worst form of government except when you consider all the alternatives. But I have a two-part question. The first is, how do you explain the ultimate failure of democracy in the ancient world, the fact that Athenian democracy came to an end, the Roman republic came to an end, and some of the most caustic critics of democracy in Greece were Socrates in The Republic, where he saw democracy, as well as its alternatives, as inherently unstable. And Thucydides wrote the Athenians might not have had the Sicilian expedition but for Athenian democracy. And the paradox of American support for democracy elsewhere in the world, but the United States is the great financial and military power and people gravitate toward the United States — at least those who do, face the paradox of favoring something that is seen as an external import and imposition, and the paradox of how does one who sincerely wants democracy in a country or region that has not known it, escape from the taint of collaboration with the United States in taking American money?
DR. HANSON: That’s a long question, but let me just say that minds greater than I have tried to explain the transition from republicanism to empire, at least at the federal level in Rome, and also that baffling radical change, say in the Greek city states, not just in Athens but other non-Athenian democratic states, say between 350 B.C. and 310, after Chaeronea and the onset of Alexander the Great. It seems to me that if I would correlate literary passages, or I could represent fairly the corpus of literature, there seems worry over excess and license. I’ll just make one point about Plato. Plato was very critical of Athenian democracy, but both he and Aristotle lived in Athens and they lived in Athens because it was vibrant, it was intellectually stimulating, and that was a process of this radical democracy. So they didn’t leave. They could have gone to Macedonia, they could have gone to Sicily and stayed, but they wanted to live in Athens. So they’re products of democracy and yet critiqued it.
The second is if we look at the corpus of Athenian orators and we look at what people like the Roman novelist Petronius talk about, or Tacitus or Suetonius or Juvenal, then we start to see a similar complaint against liberal thinking or at least open affluent society, that it’s very hard — the freer and wealthier each generation gets — to transmit those values of hard work and how precious democracy is and how hard it was to sustain this infrastructure. The Romans created this word for, luxus, license, decadence. And it seems to me that that’s always the rub. Again, I don’t want to evoke the German nihilists, but if you read Hegel or Nietzsche or Spengler, all these people kept saying that you take away courage, you take away strength, you take away idealism, when you have everybody going to Wal-Mart and watching Oprah. That was the traditional critique of democracy. So there is something to that, that people in the United States don’t ever think that we live in a tragic world rather than a therapeutic one.
And it was never a question of going 7,000 miles to Afghanistan, the death place of the British empire and the Russian empires in Afghanistan, fighting in the winter at 7,000 feet during Ramadan with unreliable allies, with people like Iran and Syria in the neighborhood. And taking out that government in seven weeks and then implanting democracy where it hadn’t been for 5,000 years, and doing all that and having people in burkas three years later voting. And in the middle of it, by week four, people were writing off the whole campaign as a disaster. In the West that is. And now some are saying it’s no better than the Taliban. We hear that every day.
Why do they say that? Because the world they live in in New York or Washington or San Francisco is very insulated from this type of struggle. I find when I speak to different people, when I speak to farmers or I see mechanics, or I see anybody who has any immediate contact with nature or struggle or tragedy in their own lives, they tend to be more sympathetic to what the US military has to put up with and do. People who have, either by income or education or sophistication, beat the game, the nature’s old game of getting away from our natural existence, they really do believe the world operates on the premises of the newsroom or an academic meeting. They don’t realize what most people are doing.
I’m all for reform in Guantanamo, but nobody who’s criticizing Guantanamo has ever sat in a room and talked with jihadists, or had to deal with a jihadist, or had the responsibility to stop that man from killing innocent people. And that’s what I think that traditional criticism of democracy is.
As far as the United States, this is a very hard question because as I understand it, more immigrants come to the United States than all other countries in the world. I live in the ground zero of illegal immigration and my hometown once was 6,000 people in 1975 and it’s 25,000 now, and perhaps 75 percent of them came here illegally from Mexico. And I see people come from Mexico, starving from Oaxaca. My kids went to public schools. And after putting up with no running water, no toilets, victims of horrendous prejudice as Mixotec Indians, they are coming up to the United States, working, sometimes being exploited, but finding in many cases a middle class existence. And then their children immediately often in response put Mexican flags on their car, tattooing Mexico on their back, and very critical in the university of the very system that saved them. Yet when they go to Mexico to visit, they come right back.
And I think part of our attraction and dilemma is that the United States is the wealthiest, strongest country in the world. It’s plutocratic. It’s not based any more on race or accent or birth. If you have money, you get instant prestige. It destroys all hierarchy over the world, and so it creates this appetite for this freedom. People want it — the culture — nobody puts a gun to a Frenchman and says, go watch Arnold Schwarzenegger, or go to McDonald’s or go to Disneyland. This was a free choice because this multi-racial dynamic society has one barometer of success, and that’s money. And anybody can participate in it, and it tends to destroy class, privilege, hierarchy, religious, political, and it makes people scared to death, even though they want to participate in it.
So we have this schizophrenic idea of the United States. Take this latest Mrs. Nooyi, that was the CEO of Pepsi. Here’s somebody who immigrates from India and becomes the CEO of Pepsi-Cola, and lives in upscale Connecticutt and makes $5 million a year, and the people I see every day wouldn’t have a chance of having that opportunity, which was achieved by her own hard work.
And what does she do? She gives a lecture to Columbia school of business and says that of all the fingers in the world, Asia’s this finger, America is the middle finger. Be sure you don’t point it. And you want to say to her, wait a minute. Look at your company –you either carry Coke or Pepsi, or for a small business if you have Coke, you’re not going to have Pepsi. Pepsi-Cola is a cutthroat capitalist conglomerate, and she made her money and her prestige and her lifestyle and her privilege by participating in that cutthroat world, the same way Sean Penn makes it in the movies, the same way that Mr. Kahn, the cricket star in Pakistan made it in England. So these people all of a sudden come back and criticize the West, not in a constructive fashion but sarcastically, it’s very frustrating. But it’s because they’re a part of this elite. We don’t hear these frustrations from more average people.
Mrs. Roy the Indian novelist, she flies on jets all over the world and says the capitalist system is evil, and the West is evil. All you have to say in response is write in an indigenous language, stay in India, fine, we have no problem. But don’t be parasitic and profit from the system you want to critique all the way to the point that you won’t ever quite reject it. Very strange phenomenon that we have with such blessed unhappy people.
MR. SITILIDES: Dr. Hanson, if your optimism about the US and the West in dealing with this jihadist problem is to prevail, we have some internal issues to deal with in the West at the same time, that is, this contradiction of the ability to prevail on the war-fighting and the international front, and the corrosive element within our own societies, if I hear you correctly.
DR. HANSON: I think so, and I think it’s a result of success and splendor — I’m not saying there’s not legitimate grievances against this system. As somebody whose twin brother just lost much of the family farm, it had been in our family for 130 years, I can see capitalism, especially corporate agriculture, is quite cut-throat. But I don’t see my twin brother who lost everything farming, telling me that this is a sick society that has to be destroyed. Or it’s the middle finger of the world. I really resent that, when elite people who have profited, not just by capitalism or democracy, but by cutthroat capitalism and luxury, and then they start to use that privilege to undermine the very system that other less blessed trust in. It’s not salutary — there’s one thing the Greeks knew that we don’t, that the two worst emotions that a person could entertain, I think, and the Greeks tell us that, are envy and ingratitude. Both are words we don’t have in our vocabulary very often, but we should remember that.
Q: Wayne Merry, American Foreign Policy Council. You referred to the dilemma of the transition from republic to empire in the Roman case. The American republic was first founded to preserve and expand the liberties of its citizens. Would you address the dilemma that as the American empire seeks to promote liberty in other parts of the world we compromise the very liberties that we were established to guarantee, and that while we did that during the Cold War because of perceived threat to our very existence, that that’s harder to justify now. Do we not now find ourselves seeking enemies to justify the extraordinary measures that we use rather than preserving the liberties that we have as a higher priority?
DR. HANSON: That’s a good question. Let’s be empirical and look at, say, five or six actions of the US military in recent years. The removal of Mr. Noriega in Panama, the removal of Mr. Milosevic in Serbia, removal of Mullah Omar and removal of Saddam Hussein. What’s odd about it is what followed wasn’t the easy solution of an autocratic shah or a nice Sadat or somebody like that. There was the messy work of trying to create a democratic government. And so whatever the US military is doing, it does seem to be targeting dictators more than socialists, or more than elected leaders, and it seems to be leaving in its wake more democratic leaders.
I was struck by that — I just am reviewing right now Robert Kaplan’s Imperial Grunts. It’s a fascinating account of the famous journalist who’s gone to some of these 140 military bases and looking at what the American military is doing in the Philippines, or in South America, places that we don’t even know, the Horn of Africa. What’s striking about it is that it’s pretty predictable what they’re doing. They’re trying to train indigenous militias to represent a constitutional government and to avoid the excesses of everything from death squads to private armies and promote regional development. And you can critique that by saying they have no business over there. But the rationale behind it, as I understand it, is to promote this global system where people can trade freely, or somebody like Kuwait, who has no military power, won’t have its enormous oil reserves taken. Or to allow Saudi Arabia to pump oil at $3 a barrel and sell it at $50. That’s the system that we work with. And it’s this slow system that emerged after World War II, free trade, safe sea lanes, international financial system, that has enriched most people in the Western world. In response, the U.S. military, when it sees potential problems posed by people, to be frank, who haven’t benefited from this system, it’s trying to do two things — not allow that outrage to become extremist, to destroy this system, but by the same token, understand where that outrage comes from and work with development, in a way that is, I think, different from the old calculus of just giving bloc money and backing a right-wing dictator as the alternative.
So it’s a funny sort of empire. It’s not like Rome at all. People keep saying Rome. We don’t charge people for maintaining our troops. And the United States hasn’t taken anybody’s land since I guess 1898 in the Philippines and we have the most immigrants of any nation — I don’t know of any empire that allowed 15 million people to come in through its borders unchecked like we did with Mexico, and it seems to allow billions sent from our shores — and I think it’s good that we do, but we have $50 billion in remittances that leave the economies of the Southwest and go into Central America and Mexico. All these things that we don’t talk about. We run up a $300 billion trade deficit with China, with Japan, with South Korea, in a way that the Europeans would not do. So there’s a lot of insidious ways that the United States promotes things which we don’t talk about.
Q: Lambros Papantoniou, Greek correspondent. Professor, what about democracy in Kosovo, since the U.S. government in recent days supports the idea to create an independent Kosovo.
DR. HANSON: Well, I was in Greece during a lot of the American activity there and it was very strange that anger — I guess there was an Orthodox opposition. I notice also that anger here at home; we had an Armenian studies program at Cal State and the professors in that program were outraged about American interference. Russia was outraged, Greece was outraged. That was a very funny war because Bill Clinton did not get U.S. Senate approval, and he did not go to the United Nations in a way that Mr. Bush did get the Senate to approve 23 writs of complaint against Saddam Hussein, and he did attempt to go to the United Nations.
I guess then the problem was that the utopian E.U. had this vision that they had evolved beyond violence, and within the confines of Europe all matters would be adjudicated by reason and dialogue. And suddenly a man out of their past, Mr. Milosevic, begins to address historical grievances with violence, and suddenly within a decade 250,000 people were dead on both sides, and suddenly the United States comes in and puts a stop to it. And a very messy business. And now we’re trying to stay on with peacekeeping.
But there is a thing worth addressing — America didn’t start that war. America did not want to get involved in that war. America went in late and solved it through military force, and yet my European friends often raise that issue as something that we should not have done. If we had not intervened, I think the situation would be no different today than it was in 1996 in Sbrenica, or 1998 or whatever. It’s an imperfect solution, but I don’t know what the answer should be for the situation between 1991 and 1999 was — I don’t know any way to address it other than what we did.
Q: (Off mike and inaudible.)
DR. HANSON: Yes, I know it. It’s a very difficult question.
Q: Since you wrote your book, Who Killed Homer?, there has been a plethora of books on ancient Greece, and ancient Greek plays seem to be commonplace. There are four productions of Greek plays right now in Washington. Is that a revival of interest in the classics, and why is this happening if that is the case? And also, has the way the classics are being taught at universities changed since you wrote your book?
DR. HANSON: I think there has been. I think in 1998 if a classicist could have shot anybody, it would have been me and John Heath because the theme of Who Killed Homer? was that this important legacy from the ancient world was not being disseminated beyond classics departments, and the old concentration on philology, narrowness, did not lend itself to explication of the ancient world. And people with English degrees or history degrees had taken upon themselves to teach these courses more and more. And as a reaction to that, the field went into hyperreaction — I would call it postmodern. Foucault or Derrida spread theory-minded approaches to the ancient world, which were equally arcane and unhelpful.
And I think now we see that whether it’s teaching Latin in high school or promoting the field of classics beyond the realm of the classics department, everybody is starting to see a consensus on what has to be done. But primarily because if it’s not done, classics itself, which after all is based on the mastery of the Greek and Latin language and culture, is going to go the way of Near Eastern studies or Egyptian or hieroglyphics. The number of people who can read ancient Greek will go down to the number of people who can read hieroglyphics if we don’t do something.
And that would have, I think, a profound effect on classical studies because ultimately all classical studies have to have a nucleus of scholars who understand the ancient languages. If you don’t have those people who read the texts in the original and understand the thought processes and the method of expression then they’re not going to train people well to teach Western Civ or classical art or Greek literature. So I think we understand now that we must disseminate it, but the great problem is we have a value system in classics that says if you’re an endowed professor of philology then you get as many classes off as possible and you let a graduate student teach beginning Greek. You teach a graduate class of six or seven, in theory perhaps.
What we need to do, and I think it’s starting to happen, is our top classical scholars must reawaken love of the classics and say that the most important class that I can teach is beginning Greek or beginning Latin, and my success or failure as a classroom teacher will involve that class to introduce people into the language of Greece and Rome. Or at least introductory classes. It is a wrong idea that success in our field means that I’m an endowed professor, I’m a philologist or a theoretician and I’m not going to teach any undergraduates. I’m just going to teach graduate students in theory, I think that’s bankrupt. Nobody believes it any more. It’s like the emperor has no clothes.
I’m cautiously optimistic that things are changing. I know that’s a controversial explanation, but I’m cautiously optimistic.
Q: Fernando Narama, University of Maryland. I have a quick question. How do you feel about the political struggles going on in Latin America at the moment, what was happening in Ecuador a couple of months ago, what’s happening in Bolivia right now. There is a lot of instability and, you know, brought about by indigenous groups. Do you feel as though these processes strengthen democracy, or do you feel as though these processes …?
DR. HANSON: Especially in Venezuela.
Q: Venezuela as well, yes.
DR. HANSON: I think what’s happened is with the great democratizing movements of the middle and late 1980’s and 90’s, and until the breakdown in Argentina, we saw, especially in Chile, a spectacular rate of growth, openness, and we thought that Latin America was on this so-called Asian model to prosperity. Then whenever that happens the aspirations of people increase geometrically, not arithmetically. So people thought that suddenly in Latin America there was going to be parity with, let’s say, North America or Asia very quickly, and that hasn’t happened.
Part of that, I think, is because, as in the Arab world or in the Asian world, there are other traditions that pose a greater challenge for democracy and capitalism and take more time to evolve. And then there is precious time to evolve. It doesn’t do any good for somebody to be poor and told our process is evolving, when they can turn on their television and see people far more affluent, both in their own country — so rising expectations, but increased frustration.
What we need to see in Latin America is somebody to keep reminding people that the economy has to be based on the sanctity of title searches, private property, free presses, open elections, free speech, open markets, and that’s hard to do. In the case of Venezuela you see all of this oil money and hope, even though we know that the solution that Mr. Chavez is following is not going to work because it’s more or less the solution that Mexico took in the 1930’s and 40’s. That is, to take oil revenues, create a state-run oil company and distribute it and have a large government workforce. And yet those systems ossify and that’s not going to be a solution. But in the short term it’s hard to explain to somebody who’s hungry that it’s not. So I don’t know. It’s going to be a very difficult matter.
I think the best attitude at this point for the United States is to gently encourage people to avoid Venezuela and let it find the truth of its own error — I think the World Bank was a little bit too tough on Argentina — but not to go demonize Mr. Chavez. Better to say, if you want to have this paradigm, go ahead but this is where it’s going to lead Mexico, and we’re not going to bail you out, and then hope for the best.
Q: — Venezuela. As you said before, there are so many struggles in Latin America. Latin America is turning to the left.
DR. HANSON: Yes.
Q: Do you think this is maybe a failure of the democracy, or this is something has to do with the way the US is trying to enhance democracy in the country?
DR. HANSON: Partly it is that whatever the United States is for, a lot of people are against because we’re big and proud. Where I live, the number of people in my lifetime who are coming from El Salvador and Nicaragua to California is just amazing, and so we have this strange thing that this supposed anti-Americanism in Latin America that’s rising, but the number of people from Latin America who want to come to the United States is at an all-time high.
My view of it is the long term. It’s like Europe. Europeans were convinced after World War II that the paradigm was there’s not going to be any more need for military defense. Educated, sophisticated people can create a state that’s generous with entitlements. People can have one or two or no children. There’s too many nice things to enjoy and can be missed by child raising or sacrifice. This is where we’re going to go. And bigger government, redistribution of income is the way to go. And now we’re starting to see for various reasons in Holland or France, perhaps in Scandinavia and Britain that people now understand that that’s not going to be the solution of limitless imposed egalitarianism.
I think what I see happening in Latin America is increasing leftism, increasing statism, and increasing falling in the standard of living vis-à-vis the economies of China or Asia or the United States or England or Australia. And then some retooling, re-examination within the democratic auspices like what’s happening in Europe right now. It doesn’t mean that the United States has much to do with the answer since we didn’t cause the problem — I just start with the premise that whatever the United States does, it’s going to be criticized, at the same time American popular culture as manifested in fashion, entertainment, and immigration is going to be on the increase. It’s a very schizophrenic thing.
When I go to Europe, I always tell my European friends, there’s no rule that says you have to wear Levi’s or go to McDonald’s or watch American TV. Don’t do it. Just save your own culture. And I tell my friends from Mexico, there’s no rule that says you have to go into the United States. Just keep out if you don’t like it. I tell my friends from Latin America, there’s no reason you have to visit.
I think this desire for things American is rooted in the idea that we are now a multi-racial society that gives opportunity based on merit and money, and it’s radically democratic. We have never seen a radically democratic society like the United States. I can go down to Wall Street and I can see somebody who’s worth a billion dollars, and he looks and dresses just like somebody who doesn’t. And with the Chinese in the game now, I’ve never seen anything like it in the history of civilization, where people literally come from Mexico, they get a three-bedroom, two-bath house near my farm, they put $1000 down. They’re not legal, they get HUD housing, they go to Wal-Mart, they can get credit with a Visa card, they have a Kia SUV, and they have the simulacrum of somebody in Palo Alto as far as say square-feet in housing. It’s amazing development. And yet I know that some of their children, when I talk to them, because of these increased appetites and expectations will be fashionably anti-American. It’s the strangest thing. It reminds me of Roman elites that, after they went to Gaul, they put white make-up on, lead make-up and wore blonde wigs because they thought that Rome was decadent and the Gauls were natural people, even though none of them wanted to live in Gaul.
Q: Stephen Hayes, U.S. Army. You touched upon Israel and the Middle Eastern perception of American presence related to that. Given the successful establishment of a democracy in Iraq, what do you think will be the impact on the neighboring countries, not only the government but the people as well?
DR. HANSON: Well, I think the problem in the Arab world is that, one, most people understand they do not want to live under a Taliban government or an Iranian government, or an 8th century caliphate, and they don’t want to live under a secular autocratic government, two. And three, they don’t want to acknowledge that a democratic government that gives them parity with the West has anything to do with the West, or is the result of American initiative. It seems to me that’s the three constants. They don’t want Islamicism, they do not want autocracy, and they understand that the model is Western, but they do not want any American association. So that’s what we’re trying to do in Iraq, and that’s what we see in Lebanon and we see the pressure on Mr. Mubarak and some of the reforms are going on in the Gulf.
So I think our posture, as I understand it, was to kill the terrorists and discredit them, remove these autocrats — because there was nothing quite comparable to Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. Nothing was comparable to them in that area. And then promote democracies in ways that keep a very, very low American profile. And understand that the more good that we do will not be appreciated but will be constructed as doing bad.
The biggest problem we have in this war, as I understand it, and I’ve spoken at a lot of campuses all over the United States the last three years, is what I would sum up by this sentiment, which I really abhor but I hear it all the time now. Those people are not worth it. Let them be. It’s sort of a mixture of left-wing isolation and right-wing realism. I think that attitude will lead to another 9/11 because we’ve learned that letting them be, or a Cruise missile, or saying that American diplomats are harvested with impunity or that. American soldiers can be killed, as if they knew what they were getting into, leads only to 9/11. Khobar Towers, first World Trade Center, East Africa embassies, Marines blowing up, taking hostages — that’s just part of the game. I think it only encourages them and loses the sense of deterrence and leads to a 9/11.
MR. SITILIDES: We will have time for two more questions. I see a gentleman there, and then an arm up here.
Q: In your book Carnage and Culture you discussed and spent a lot of time on the fact that Western armies seek decisive battle, sort of a singular conflict in the open. And you alluded to this briefly in your chapter on Vietnam, but you mentioned that one of the more effective strategies against that has been guerrilla warfare. Can you comment on how the fact that modern American training still sort of trains people to deal in decisive battle – you know, that their comments that American Marines in Iraq sort of shoot first and ask questions later. Given that mentality, how do you think that a Western military can deal with more of a guerrilla threat? Or also, how do they deal with the task of peace-keeping versus warfare, when it’s the same people who have to do both?
DR. HANSON: It’s very hard because democratic societies or consensual societies or affluent societies are very restless. They want to get over there and get back home. And one of the best ways to do that is to marshal American discipline, technology, as manifested in superior supply and firepower. They can destroy the enemy. We all know that. Rome did that, Greece did that, the Crusaders did that, Cortes did that. And we understand that other paradigms are not as effective in countering that conventional strength.
Hitler or Stalin’s system can cherry-pick elements of Western culture within the Western paradigm, but ultimately will lose. That being said, enemies of the West come up with, as I said, counter-insurgency or encouraging dissidents in the West or inter-Western rivalry, anything to call off this monstrosity they’ve aroused.
That being said, though, there’s also this insurgent, terrorist alternative in the West, seen in two ways. The Sicarri were pretty fearful people that fought the Romans. Remember they would just take a Roman legionnaire and cut his throat and stealthily go to the next — and I don’t want to explain at length the Roman answer, because you all know the solution they came up with to that — how they dealt with the Siccari was destruction of the great temple and selling off the spoils to create the Coliseum. We all know about the great Mahdi. He was a terrific challenge to the British empire. But whether you look at a Jugurtha or Mithridates all of these national liberationists, anti-Western people found out that the West was not weak and had these preferences for war — yes, but it was not solely confined by those protocols, because there was counter-insurgency, there were hearts and minds, there were special operation officers. We learn to fight their battles well it turns out.
And I think that that’s what we’re doing and we’re doing a pretty good job, given the fact that Iraq is 7,000 miles away. It’s the site of the ancient caliphate, it’s got neighbors like Syria, it’s got Saudi Arabia close by. I don’t think that anybody could dream a perfect storm worse than what the American military has to contend with over there. It’s amazing they do so well. I wake up every day and say, how did they do this today?
And then as far as occupation, this is very interesting because historically I guess you could make the adage that the ease of occupation is directly proportional to the degree of punishment, defeat and humiliation on the enemy. In other words, what made the occupation in Germany or Japan tolerable was the enemy knew they were defeated and humiliated. That’s hard for a postmodern, sophisticated society who feels that the use of force is almost antithetical to their own aspirations. So if you take the three-week war, I think Maureen Dowd wrote a column mentioning me, something I wrote that seemed too harsh and Shermaneque, because after the statue fell I was very worried, because I said – I didn’t mean it this way but it came across that way—the we had not, as General Sherman said, made the enemy feel that he is defeated and humiliated, because whether it was the forces that did not come from Turkey, or maybe it was the global spotlight of the postbellum era, I was very worried because in the Sunni triangle, the heart of the Republican Guard, perhaps there was 200,000 people who were never defeated on the battlefield. It would almost be like trying to liberate Italy without defeating any elements or killing any of the Italian army.
And when these who deserted went home and turned on Al Jazeera obviously and saw that the Arab world had mocked them, and they knew that no longer were the rules of engagement war in force, where if you walked out and tried to kill Americans, they were going to blow your whole house up, then it became easier to kill stealthily an American who was trying to build a school or lay electrical cable. And out of that realization then you had an enemy who never felt defeated, never felt humiliated, that would find resonance with a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t support them but it gave a psychological lift to see resistance. As I said, it’s a very tough thing.
I was just mentioning, I was on the airplane. I had a long day, I was trying to get from Fresno here about 20 hours in the airport, just delays, and I was sitting next to a person who commented on the plane on something I’d written, and he said – he was a World War II veteran — that we did this right in World War II and got it wrong now. And I said to him, just wait a minute before you criticize the military. What if Hitler in 1934 or 1935 had said, I’m not going to have a conventional war. I’m going to get 200 or 300 or 400 party members, SS operatives, send them all throughout the democracies of Western Europe, commit acts of terror, and then hand-in-glove with that I’m going to have communiqués that say that Versailles was unfair, the German people were victimized, Western democracies were weak and decadent, the ancestral Germanic volk were always on the other side of the Rhine, they’d never been contaminated by the disease of the West or of Rome. And always have the ability to deny that the Nazi Party in Germany was responsible for this. And then pretty soon I think you’d see that the West would probably have said, what did we do to deserve this? The Rhineland, all these things in some way go back to Versailles. This actually in some ways happened.
And then we would almost have to go for intercession with Italy and Franco — Mussolini and Franco as honest brokers who were trying to bridge the gap from the democracies and Germany. And then the United States would say to the German people, you’re not an enemy. You have to be liberated from Nazism. And yet at the same time they would have a certain resonance with the terrorist acts of the SS because it’s about pride and the defeat of WWI. All those factors would be very, very difficult to deal with, and yet all of them in some ways are brought to bear in this current conflict.
This is the most surreal war that I can think of in our history, where we don’t really know whether the enemy should be liberated or conquered. We really don’t know whether we want to fight this war or create utopia over there. We don’t know how it’s going to be fought from day to day. And the effort butts up against cultural relativism, political correctness, moral equivalence, all of these doctrines of the last 30 years. It’s very, very difficult to fight this war.
MR. SITILIDES: I very much regret that this is going to have to be our last question. Please sir, and we can keep this concise and then we’ll have to close.
Q: Right. Randy Litton, George Mason University. I’m interested in your thoughts on the economic foundation of spreading democracies, especially through military means. In other words, there’s a great cost. Wars are expensive. And the ability of the United States to maintain these military actions in order to spread democracy, and also what economic benefit do we get from militarily spreading democracy.
DR. HANSON: Well, as I understand it, we have been spending somewhere, depending on who issues the figures, somewhere between 3.5 to 4 to 5 percent GDP on defense and historically if we look at what the United States itself has spent, or what other societies have spent, it seems to be tolerable. I am worried about these larger issues, but I’m not sure to what degree they’re connected with these military operations because after all, in 1950-53, 70 percent of federal budget dollars went to defense and 30 percent went to social programs and I don’t think anybody was really hurting in America. Today 70 percent of budget dollars go to social programs and 30 percent go to defense and we are hysterical. So I think it’s sustainable, especially as the economy grows.
As for what do we get out of it, as I said I think it’s this abstract idea that when a China starts to run up big deficits with the United States, at least it’s not returning to a cultural revolution. Or it’s less likely to be an adversary in Korea, or if Vietnam is starting to Westernize then it’s not going to be the same problem that we saw maybe in Cambodia. The same with Thailand. Or in the Arab world — in other words, we’re trying to promote a system that encourages global trade, freedom, individual rights worldwide because we think that replicates our own values and we have less adversaries in the process.
Now you can make a real argument that there’s going to be a lot of people who are beneficiaries of this system, who will not have to have the intellectual, moral, psychological burdens of carrying it, especially in Europe, who are the ultimate beneficiaries of it, but find it’s convenient to attack or to criticize or to caricature. And I think we see that in Europe, which was a beneficiary all during the Cold War and was not at all upset about American troop protection from 300 Soviet divisions. And when they disappeared suddenly, the United States became a real problem in the world. And yet when we try to tell our European friends, maybe it’s time we came home, as I tell my German friends from the left, they get very upset about that.
So a lot of people want the United States to pay the cost to create and maintain this global system that doesn’t like a Saddam or doesn’t like the Taliban, or doesn’t like a bin Laden, doesn’t like a Zarqawi, all of these similar challenges to it. But they find it convenient to nuance, to nitpick the people who have the unwelcome task of sort of maintaining the system. It’s all predicated on one thing, that the American people can be told and our leaders can articulate to them, that there’s a long-term benefit, and psychologically they’re not to pay any attention to the vehement anti-Americanism that comes out of South America, Asia, the Arab world. And as long as they can do that and maintain that balance, it will work. Whether it’s a Noam Chomsky on the left or a Pat Buchanan on the right, those people will be able to make an argument that we should go back to the way it was in 1914 or 1933. That’s the American people’s prerogative if they want to do that.
I know that people I grew up with in the San Joaquin Valley who kept going to wars and getting killed in my family all had that viewpoint, that America had no business in Japan, they had no business in Europe. Let those people be. Get out of Latin America. Just America for America. That’s what I was brought up with. But I don’t think that’s a solution to a sophisticated world, and their own lives were in fact pledged to engagement abroad.
Thank you very much. I enjoyed it.
MR. SITILIDES: Dr. Hanson, I thank you for one of the more unusual and riveting presentations we’ve had here, where we discussed ancient culture, modern warfare, political democratization, and political and cultural contradictions, domestic and foreign. Thank you very much for joining us.
I’d like to let everyone here know that in October of 2005 Random House will publish Dr. Hanson’s next book, titled A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans fought in the Peloponnesian War. We would like to invite you back to the Wilson Center for a book launch in the fall of 2005.