by Janie Glazov
FP: Victor Davis Hanson, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I’d like to talk to you today about radical Islam and the Obama administration’s ability and inclination, or lack thereof, to confront it.
What’s the best way to begin this discussion?
Hanson: Thanks Jamie.
The paradigm of discussing radical Islam is entirely different after January 20. Jihad has been institutionalized now as a benign personal odyssey rather than explicatory of the sort of murderous attacks we have seen since 1979 directed at the West, most recently with the four Islamic plots to kill Americans by radical Islamists since Obama has taken office.
Obama’s interview with Al Arabiya and his Cairo speech had two clear themes: his own personal heritage makes him uniquely qualified to undo the Bush damage; and we in the West have been equally culpable for the strained relations.
This sort of moral equivalence is little concerned with any redress of pathologies that in fact led to 9/11: Western appeasement of, or indifference to, radical Islam, whose extremism was the natural dividend of a region torn by enormous oil wealth, and age old statism, tribalism, gender intolerance, and dictatorship. In the era of Obama, radical Islam and the West merely have different narratives, rather than a fascistic creed trying to destroy the notion of Western freedom and tolerance.
Abroad as both sides refocus on the Afghanistan theater, somehow Obama is more demoralized by our victory in Iraq than the Islamists are by their defeat; and we have forgotten in the Bush ‘reset’ button rhetoric that support for bin Laden and suicide bombing — given the terrible dividends they earned — had plummeted in polls in the Middle East. In addition, in the “Bush did it” Obama narrative there was no mention of the arrest of Dr. Khan, the Syrian exit from Lebanon, the surrender of the Libyan WMD stockpiles, or the absence of another 9/11.
The result is that many in the radical Islamic world — especially after Obama’s serial trashing of the Bush-era security protocols like retaps, intercepts, and Guantanamo — may well be emboldened to think that either America questions its successful efforts at thwarting another attack since 9/11, or in some strange way sympathizes with some of the writs against itself.
FP: What explains the Obama administration’s behavior and viewpoint in this context?
Hanson: a) Obama is a product of his education and early life, in which America being culpable for a variety of sins was the gospel , as we see from his associates like Ayers, to his minister like Wright, to the general force of his community organizing in Chicago, to his most partisan voting record in the Senate;
b) Obama, like many elites on the left who thrived in the academic and organizing/grant-giving world, understood that his exotic name, his mixed heritage, his father’s Muslim roots could all be combined to present some sort of revolutionary aura within the confines of the university that would pay career dividends, and then among the general public, if packaged with a charismatic and conciliatory persona, could make one feel comfortable and good about one’s supposed liberality; he thrived on being a ‘revolutionary’ lite figure in a non-threatening manner, and it’s hard to give up a winning hand at this late stage;
c) Obama has almost no real experience with an America outside the victim politics of Chicago and the melodramas of the university. He has never run a business, never worked hard with his hands, never had to meet a budget, never understood how money is made, but instead essentially pleaded his cause to win fellowships and grants, dispensed someone else’s money as a board member, made claims against government (”organizing”), and written his autobiographies at a young age.
Life, in other words, was pretty easy, as the path from Harvard Review to Nobel Prize Winner was characterized by soothing rhetoric and a host of people who, for a host of psychological reasons of their own, wished to give him something for something he didn’t earn. Now he oddly seems surprised that not all those abroad are as wowed as the 2008 American electorate.
FP: What is at stake if Obama continues along this path?
Hanson: We have an eerie resemblance to Carterism circa 1977: the sermons, the apologies, the trashing of predecessors, the moralizing, the transnational utopianism — all manifested in naiveté about Khomeini, the selling out of the Shah, the downplaying of a communist threat, which, in 1-2 year’s time (it takes a while for others to size up an American president), earned communist expansion in Central America, the Soviets in Afghanistan, the hostage taking in Teheran, uncertainty in Korea, the rise of radical Islam and a weakened U.S. military.
In Obama’s terms that would mean earning a nuclear Iran, a Russia convinced that we will not object to corrections in its regional map, a China eyeing opportunities everywhere, South America reverting back to a sixties credo, Europe oddly remorseful that it got what it wanted (a soft-power, Europeanized America), Israel without an ally, and many in the Mideast convinced that America is now sympathetic to its expansive and non-ending grievances. We may well see a new era of nuclear proliferation as never before.
FP: How would you compare Obama to Clinton and Carter in terms of damaging American and Western security?
Hanson: It is still early, but the two are instructive. Carter’s self-righteousness ended in disaster and was corrected by Reagan. Clinton, for all his appeasement of radical Islam, the defense cuts, Mogadishu, Haiti, and dithering in the Balkans, at the end became finally somewhat Trumanesque: he removed Milosevic without a lot of bipartisan support, he enforced the no-fly-zones and called for regime change in Iraq, and he tried to project a centrist bipartisan foreign policy, albeit replete with the normal apologies and liberal flourishes. But he was not Jimmy Carter.
Obama? He has a choice; he can correct as Clinton did domestically in 1995 and save his presidency, or he can go the finger-wagging, sanctimonious route blaming the public and the “right” for not appreciating his moral genius. That will lead to political oblivion in 2012. It’s his choice at this point, and predicated on how large the midterm correction and what will be his attitude to political rebuke.
FP: And the American people stand where?
Hanson: Us in the meantime? The people will have to go through a period of national uncertainty and hope that the prior strength of the United States still offers a deterrent to would-be aggressors. I omit the foreign policy effects of borrowing $2 trillion per year to dispense on constituents, but when we hit $20 trillion in aggregate debt at a 8-10% service fee, the U.S. then will have very few options at home or abroad. So, let us hope that either Obama or the voters, get wisdom in the meantime.
FP: Victor Davis Hanson, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
©2009 Victor Davis Hanson