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Where We Stand on Iraq and the Election By: Victor Davis Hanson
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Nationally syndicated columnist, classicist, and military historian Victor Davis Hanson gave the following speech to the Wednesday Morning Club on Thursday, March 20, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Santa Barbara, California. The Wednesday Morning Club regularly invites conservative speakers to speak in the Hollywood area. For more information, visit the WMC website.  -- The Editors.

I saw a startling statistic that said that 24% of all stories in the New York Times until last year were devoted to Iraq, and this year, 3% were.  I saw a column the other day, and it said, "How to resolve the quagmire."  And I looked down, it was about the Democratic race.

What's happened is that the surge has changed things -- not that 30,000 men and a force of 130,000 in a country of 26 million can itself change the pulse of the battlefield, but it came as a culmination of a lot of other things.  We had been fighting for four and a half years when it took hold.  And we've killed over 20,000 insurgents.  In the aggregate, that total is impressive.

Remember, in post-modern war, we're only allowed to talk about how much we suffer, not what we do to the enemy.  For the first time in  history of warfare that's been true.  But we have done enormous damage to the enemy, and it's starting to now take its toll.

I read a column the other day by a really idiotic writer who said, “it’s like the kamikazes, an endless stream of insurgents.”  But there was not an endless stream of them in Japan.  There was about 7,000 of them; that was it.  Finally, at Okinawa, they had to get people inebriated and draft English majors by force out of the university.  And at least 30% of them did not reach the target, because they turned back.

There's only a finite supply of people who want to kill themselves, and we've killed a lot of them, and they kill themselves.  That's helped.  More importantly, we sent a message to the Iraqis.  We've sent a message to the Iraqis and to the insurgents that we're not going to leave.  John McCain is over there, for all of the controversies that surround him -- he does get the image across that he's a little crazy, and he does not want to leave in defeat.  And that sends a powerful message.

We also know that when oil is $108 a barrel, like it or not, that means if you're pumping two and a half million steadily, which they are, that suddenly their revenues are as if you were pumping 10 million at the old price.  And to fly over Iraq today – and I did in October, and traveled all over the country for 10 days -- it's a country awash in money -- plasma TVs in Fallujah, etc. I can remember walking in Ramadi, and having people come up and want to sell sophisticated CD players that are better than the ones I see in Selma, California.  And believe me, I would have rather walked in Ramadi than East L.A. in the evening.

So things are improving.  And we've changed our tactic from – I guess we'd call it counter-terrorism to counter-insurgency, which helps.

What does all this mean? It means that we're in yet another re-evaluation of the war.  I think it's the fifth one.  Now if this were a typical American audience, 75% of it would have been for the war.  And after the statue of Saddam fell, 77% would have said, “Wow, that was my war.  That's what I wanted.  It was conducted brilliantly according to my own deep thinking.”

And then, when the insurgency started in 2003, especially at the end of the year, they would have said, “Wow, my perfect war was screwed up by somebody else's lousy peace.”  And we got down to 55%, 50% approval by mid-2004.  Then we had these unintended consequences from the disbanding of the Iraqi army, the pullback from Fallujah, the reprieve giving Muqtada Sadr free reign, et cetera.  Support fell.

And then we had the Lebanon revolution, Cedar revolution, the Spring of Hope in 2005, the purple fingers, a decline in violence.  And suddenly everybody was back on board; at least, the majority was.

Then we had the outbreak at the Dome of Samara in February of 2006.  I was there then, too, and it was amazing to see the discouragement.  And now everybody said, “No, it's not my war.”  When you added Katrina and everything, Bush never recovered.  And suddenly, it was an albatross; an orphaned war.

And now suddenly, the approval – I just saw the latest polls – 53% do not want a withdrawal, as the Democrats suggest.  That's not unusual.  If we were talking right now in the midst of the U.S. Civil War, it would have been almost exactly the same.

In February of 1862 or March of 1862, after Fort Henry and Fort Donaldson were taken, Ulysses S. Grant, the Petraeus of that era, would have been considered a genius.  And this was a great idea – you could not let a separate Confederate nation exist side-by-side to a free, non-slaveholding North.  Had you had this same conversation April 8th, a day after the Battle of Shiloh – a battle in which the Union and Confederate armies suffered more dead and wounded than every battle in the history of the republic from its inception in 1776, people had turned on the war.  If we had had the conversation nearly a year later, July 5th, 1863, with that brilliant victory of Grant at Vicksburg and Meade at Gettysburg, suddenly you couldn’t find anybody who had not been for that war all along.

If you fast-forward another year to that horrendous summer of 1864, when the North knew that it was one thing to repel a Southern invader and quite another to take and occupy a country the size of Western Europe, especially when that country had  some of the best cavalry officers in the history of civilized warfare, and men like Nathan Bedford Forrest – but anyway, if you'd looked at that summer, think of it – Cold Harbor, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania – in that period of 90 days, the army of the Potomac was essentially wrecked, destroyed – 100,000 casualties.  And you had Horace Greeley and other Northern opportunists saying the problem was not that Lincoln was going to lose to McClellan; it was that he shouldn't even run for reelection.

If you fast-forward to September 2nd, Uncle Billy Sherman took Atlanta, Phil Sheridan said he was going to turn the Shenandoah into a place where even the crows could not land and find food, and he did.  Suddenly the South was humiliated, demoralized.  You couldn't find anybody who was not for Lincoln all along.

That is what happens in wars.  We could do the same thing with the Korean War.  Everybody thought it was a great idea to draw the line against Communism, in June and July of 1950.  By the time we were down to the Pusan Peninsula, they thought it was a terrible idea.  It was not who didn't up-armor the Humvees, and who didn't have enough body armor; but who in his right mind would put an American in a Sherman tank against a T-34 when he had Pershing tanks? And who was responsible? We had four secretary of defenses in a period of 24 months – there was so much recrimination over that war.

And then suddenly, Douglas MacArthur does Inchon that nobody thought would work.  And within two months, we're 100 miles from the Chinese border.  And the question is not saving South Korea but unifying both Koreas, and home for November.  Then suddenly, 750,000 Chinese come.  And whose fault was that? And it's a terrible thing for the next two years, and Harry Truman's going to leave office with 22% approval rating.

And then they send another Petraean figure, General Matthew Ridgway. And suddenly it's restored, and now we think that Truman was the architect of containment and a great man.

And that's what happens in wars.  Our problem is that in our utopian generation, a generation that is the beneficiary of the work of past generations whom we rarely credit, we've achieved a level of affluence and freedom and license that no other generation can even imagine.  And so we feel that if things are not perfect, they're not good – so high are our expectations.

And that's how we've looked at this war.  We've changed as often as we have about Hillary's chances.  Remember she was a shoe-in, then she imploded after Iowa, then she was back, and it was Clinton, Incorporated.  It's sort of like that killer in "No Country for Old Men" – nobody could stop her. And then suddenly, now she's toast.  And now she's just sitting there with that Cheshire grin, knowing that a guy like Obama's going to mess up sometime.  And that's what war is like.

So here we are, then, after the surge, with a renewed consensus that we should not withdraw precipitously, and that we probably can obtain our objectives.  And what are our objectives? It was to create a constitutional state, not like Santa Barbara here, but something analogous to Kurdistan, Turkey.  It may, in fact, have an elected government that doesn't like us but would not transform oil wealth into a base for terrorists, or a promulgate al-Qaeda ideology, or a state that attacked four of its neighbors, as was true in the past; or a state that would require perennial no-fly zones and corruption like Oil for Food.  That's what the goal is.

And I think it's obtainable.  Just look for a second at what has happened.  People say, “Well, WMD weren't found, and therefore the war is illegitimate.”  But we still know that they were killing the Marsh Arabs.  We still know they were paying $25,000 for suicide bounties in Israel.  We still know that Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas, and Zarqawi and Kurdistan had al-Qaeda people there.  We still know that they violated the 91 accords.  We still know that they violated the UN, the $50 billion boondoggle.  We still know all that.

So it achieved that strategic aim of fulfilling almost all of the Senate and House requisites for the war.  We know that even in the case of WMD, whatever you want to say, we established a new barometer.  You don't have to prove that you do have it; you have to prove that you don't have it.

And so what happened was, immediately Libya gave it up.  I know that the Europeans are saying that careful diplomacy resulted in that. (laughter) But Quaddafi gave it up three weeks after Saddam emerged from a spider hole.  And almost the same time – literally, within that six-week window – Pakistan’s Dr. A. Q. Khan shut down that nuclear laboratory and that proliferation business that had given nuclear technology to Libya, to Iran; and in collusion with Syria and North.  That was shut down.

I don't believe the National Intelligence Agency estimate.  But according to what it says, at almost the same time, a third strange phenomenon occurred and Iran foreswore the proliferation arm of their nuclear enterprises.

Now, the funny thing about that is, the Left says, “That can't be true; it was due to diplomacy.”  But what was the diplomacy that was going on? There was none.  The only diplomacy was going on was 160,000 Americans were in Iraq.  And so, even that has proven to be of some advantage.

We could argue all day over what the recent Pentagon evaluation of al-Qaeda and terrorism in Iraq actually means.  I think Steven Hayes has sort of resolved that al-Qaeda was in Iraq.  But nevertheless, think a minute.  Who in their right mind would have said, “You're going to go into the heart of the ancient Caliphate, 7,000 miles from the United States, and you're going to on neutral ground engage al-Qaeda, and you're going to kill 20,000 insurgents, ex-Baathist al-Qaedas -- but more importantly, you're going to establish the principle that Wahabism is not only unpopular, but its natural constituency in Iraq – that is, the Sunnis of Anwar Province--will reject it to such a degree that they will join you in eradicating it.”

But that's where we are today.

That's a phenomenal development.  And it's had a very positive effect on our own security.  Think for a minute – when this war broke out, the Europeans said, “This is stupid, we want no part of it.”  Jacques Chirac toured North Africa to assure everybody of his pro-Arab bona fides, Schroeder in Germany said things that were almost as critical of us as what bin Laden had said.  And the Europeans said, “You're going to pay a big price.”

In the last five years of war, we have not been hit.  The Europeans have been hit from Madrid to London.  Today, they're burning effigies of Europeans; there are protests all across the Middle East over the Danish cartoons.  If you're a European today, the very notion that you can write a novel, you can put on an opera, that you can draw a cartoon, that you can have an honest, free expression in a philosophy class in France, or yes, a Pope, symbol of Christendom – that you can talk about all this without fearing for your life – is all of that suspect? In other words, the whole fruit of the Western enlightenment that so many thousands of Europeans have died for is now put in jeopardy by people who in 2003 said that that onus would fall on us, not them.

Because there's an older law in human nature that says, if you give the impression that you're affluent and you're indulgent, and you're weak, and you don't really want to defend your culture or your civilization, you're more vulnerable, not less.  Whatever we think – this is what gets somebody fired at any university in the United States – the truth is, if you talk to somebody in the Middle East and they see the United States not only believes in something, but is crazy enough to defend it, it is a less likely, not a more likely, target.

It almost refutes the whole engine of modern liberalism that says that the more therapeutic and the more conciliatory, and the more diplomatic you express yourself, the more likely you're going to be safe.  There's an older law that's primordial – I guess it's in the limbic system of our brain – that says that's not true.

I gave a talk not long ago at a university, and somebody said, “Well, look at the cost: 4,000 lives – you got blood on your hands – and a trillion dollars.”  I think that's terrible that we have these costs.  But let's talk about the terrible cost.  And it is terrible.  But we lost as many people in Iraq in five years that this country lost in two weeks at the Battle of Guam in World War II.  We lost as many in five years as we did in 10 days at Sugar Loaf Hill in Okinawa.  I know we spent $1 trillion -- that's a terrible amount of money.  But this economy is a $13 trillion economy per year.  Since the moment we invaded Iraq, we have created $60 trillion in wealth. So we spent one 60th of our national wealth these last five years as an investment to change the entire landscape of the Middle East and to make ourselves safer.  And I think we have.  And the proof of the pudding is we have not been attacked.  The people who said that we would be attacked, and that we would lose popularity in the Middle East, have been wrong, because the people who are the natural constituents of al-Qaeda have rejected them. 

The latest Pew poll in June, 2007 was quite astounding. The countries where we're most unpopular are the countries whose dictators we subsidize the most – Saudi Arabia and Pakistan –not Iraq and Afghanistan, the only two countries in the world where people get up every day and join a constitutional process to kill terrorists.

And more importantly, if you look at the same poll, bin Laden's favorable rating fell – not rose – 30 points.  You don't hear anybody talking about that.  We were told that if we went into the heart of Iraq, we were going to so offend Muslims that they're going to naturally flock to al-Qaeda.  Maybe in the short term, but then why in the Pew poll did the favorable rating across 21 Middle Eastern countries of bin Laden fall from 55% to 31%, and more importantly the approval of suicide bombing fall even more precipitously?  Only in Palestine is there a majority of people who approve of suicide bombing.  You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see why that's true.

So almost every complaint against this war is not accurate.  And this leads us to the domestic political reaction.

It has been the misfortune of the Democrats that despite the support of all of the popular culture – the New York Times, PBS, National Public Radio, Hollywood, the universities, the foundations, the Europeans – they have given us a drumbeat of doom and gloom and defeat, and even more of Michael Moore and Cindy Sheehan and Code Pink.  But despite all of that, they have not been able to translate that into a political movement that says, “You have to get out of Iraq, and here's a timetable, and this is what we're going to do.”

To understand what we're seeing now let's examine the three candidacies.  Hillary Clinton – if you want to support this war, I urge you all to go on YouTube and listen to her first speech.  It was the best comprehensive speech in reason and exegesis about why to go into Iraq.  Really was.  She outlined how she had been in the White House when her husband was there, and the dangers of these weapons of mass destruction, and how we had to show, after 9/11, that we're going to be resolute, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

So then she switched gradually.  And now she wants to be on the left of Obama.  But she wants to be to the left of Obama right when it would be politically expedient to be on the right.  She's a day late and a dollar short.  And it's really hurting her candidacy.

I saw that she had a press conference on Iraq – a monumental, landmark speech – and the room was half empty.  Nobody was listening to her, because it didn't square with reality.  Meanwhile, John McCain is over there, and he's visiting these various regional capitals.  And people are saying, you know, for all the furor, please don't leave; you're trying to achieve something that's starting to work.  And then Clinton's saying, “It's hopeless, we got to get out.”

We all secretly know – we don't suspect; we know – that when she's President, no matter what she says now, she's not going to withdraw precipitously.  There's too many sober minds still in the Democratic Party – there are a few – that will tell her, “You can't do that.”

Go to John McCain – he has a special advantage.  I know a lot of people in this room were suspicious of this candidacy.  I didn't like his position on open borders, I didn't like his position on ANWR, I didn't like his position – I thought it was simplistic – on global warming, I didn't like his position on McCain-Feingold, I don't – stop there. (laughter)

But I did like his position on other areas – and that's why I endorsed him kind of early.  Because you see, I thought of all the candidates, in a bad year for Republicans, he had the best chance of running competitively in 50 states for a variety of reasons.  One, he had been for the war, but then he had been very sharp in his criticisms of the management of it.  I thought he was very cruel and unfair to Donald Rumsfeld.  But nevertheless, politically that worked out to his advantage.  And with the surge that he supported, and the good news of the war, that's what he's running on.

And then he has two other advantages – that he has a long history of animosity with Bush, whom I like.  I know I may be the only person in the United States that does. (laughter)  But he does have a history of antagonism, and that will work to his advantage, especially as we're going to see in a minute -- that's going to help with the Hillary people.  Twenty five to 30% of them will not vote for Obama.

And more importantly, what we're all worried about right now – when we look at the dollar, at 1.56 on the euro and gold at $1,000, and oil at $108, and gas in some places in California $4 a barrel -- $12 trillion held by foreign creditors – we start to ask ourselves, do we need to be taxed more?

I just paid my taxes.  I realize that in California when you pay 10% income tax, and property tax, and 34% federal income tax, and Social Security, you're up to 55% very easily.  And when you hear Obama talk about lifting the Social Security limits off, you're going to be -- that's a $40,000 or $30,000 tax increase for a lot of people.

So I mean, is the problem that we don't have enough revenue? No.  We know what the problem is:  we spend 30% more on federal government now than we did when Bush took office.  And the person who's been most vocal about capping that is McCain.  And that helps him as well.

So what that means is that on the war and these other issues, he's about as best as a conservative is going to get with any chance of winning.  I think he has a good chance because of Mr. Obama. That he can speak better, that he's more Ciceronian, is to [Obama’s] advantage.  But it doesn't mean that he necessarily tells the truth any more than Hillary.  He said in 2004 in December that there was not much difference between his position on the war and George Bush's.  In fact, he seemed reasonable, until recently when he had to cater to the Daily Kos and the MoveOn.org constituencies.

But if you look at his problem now – we all know what it is; there's no reason to go over it – he just dropped, I think it was eight points in his favorable ratings.  He's 12 to 15 points behind Hillary in Pennsylvania.  There's a good chance he could lose North Carolina.

I've been in Southern California this last week.  And I said to myself, I'm going to ask 10 people who look like they're from the working classes. I was at a hotel, and I saw a Mexican-American fellow working there, I saw a couple of Asians.  I got in a cab, talked to some whites.  I went out on a construction crew and just talked to people.  And I asked this question – “Did the speech about Obama change anything?” The reaction: “I don't care about his speech; I'd never vote for the SOB anyway.” (laughter)

They all said that.  What they meant was:  I didn't really listen to the speech, but I listened to enough of Reverend Wright that I don't want to vote for him.  And I would imagine that many of these might have earlier.

So what happened? Well, ultimately what happened was that this is a person who was Barry Dunham – half African – not African-American – half African, half white, with a libertine mother who'd married a polygamist from Kenya.

And then, one great thing happened in his life.  Because he did have it rough.  He had grandparents from Kansas who moved to Hawaii.  We all now know one of them – Mrs.  Madeline Dunham who’s 85 and when she dies, she will be known as the racist who snickered and hurt Barack Obama, the messiah, not the person who moved to Hawaii and put him in a high-rise and raised him, and paid a very expensive private tuition so he could go to prep school in Honolulu, that gave him the education to allow everything else that transpired.

But the problem is that from that prep school to his Occidental years, to his Columbia years, to his Harvard Law School years, to his regional Illinois political career, to his landscape of Chicago black political groups – when he gets up on a podium like this, and he talks to everybody here, he's accustomed to say whatever he wants.  And the more anti-American, the more provocative, the better.  Nobody's going to challenge him, nobody's going to say that's insensitive.  His problem was cementing that base, and he did.

And now he is out in a different milieu.  He's going to places like Bakersfield, he's in Ohio.  And he's discovering, apparently for the first time in his life, that America is bigger than, you know, Harvard Yard and South Chicago.  And he doesn't understand that nobody cares about that old constituency.  It's a very small constituency.

So when Michelle Obama was the deer in the headlights, she said it twice – first time I've been proud of America.  The problem wasn't that she said it; she's said that thing her entire life.  She has told white audiences it's a crime that she has a pay back a Harvard Law School loan. And everybody would nod their head, and say, Wow, this is an articulate black woman.  She can say whatever she wants about me or my culture – I could care less; I'm just so happy that I don't feel guilty when she's here.  (laughter)

She gets out of that environment.  And you go talk to somebody, as I said, in Bakersfield, and they look at this woman, they say, “Wait a minute.  This woman makes $350,000; got a $200,000 raise when her husband was elected.  You know, together they make $1.1 million.  They have a beautiful home.  Life's been pretty good for them.  Why are they whining, and why are they saying these things?”

And then she says, Well, this is racist that people are ganging on.  No, it's not.  It's just average Asians and Hispanics and other African Americans and working white that don't believe that whine; they don't feel that they owe them anything.  And that's coming home to roost.

The second thing is that for a long time, there have been ideologies in the university, in the black church, that have been filtered down from what I would call the postmodern pantheon – Foucault, Derrida, Lacan – all of these – Fannon.  We think they’re outrageous.  But people in the universities which the Obamas frequented, and in the church, have filtered the message of these postmodernists down, and take it as gospel.  One of their principles, of course, is moral equivalence – that Sojourner Truth or Harriet Tubman is just as important as Ulysses S. Grant in winning the Civil War, or that Hiroshima is equivalent to the Holocaust.  There's no scrutiny of that fact.  It's just that one bad is always the same as any other bad. And once you believe that, then almost anything becomes possible.

So you announce you're going to give this great speech on race to solve the problems.  And what do you do? You say, Well, Reverend Wright on the one hand was insensitive.  But on the other – then you come up with all the misdemeanors that will balance the felony.  And what are the misdemeanors? My grandmother once muttered something that was racially insensitive to me.  There was a Reagan coalition that once was insensitive.  Ah, talk radio is insensitive.  Ah, Geraldine Ferraro was insensitive.

But the net effect for someone who's not taking an English literature course at Harvard is, “Wait a minute.  I just heard what this guy said.  He's trying to excuse this.  He's trying to throw everything but the kitchen sink to excuse this, when all he had to do was come out and say, It's time for Reverend Wright and myself to part ways.  His view of present- and future-day America is not mine.  I apologize for not being more candid and forceful, but my relationship with him is over.”

He could not or would not do that.  So when he does the moral equivalence, that turns off people.  But that is like his mother's milk in that milieu that he's inhabited, that area that he has frequented for most of his life.

The second postmodern tenet is black liberation theology – that the victim gets a pass; that what is racist or what is incentive has to be constructed or contextualized – in other words, that somebody who's white and privileged is a racist for saying something like Geraldine Ferraro said – that is racist.  But what Reverend Wright said could not be racist, because he's a victim.

But the problem with that – besides that it's an esoteric, academic discourse and narrative that no one in their right mind believes – is that most people are not necessarily wealthy and white.  This is an assimilated, integrated, intermarried society, where you have Hispanics and Asians, and one quarter – and people don't really believe – in California especially, there's that monolithic "they" and then a poor underprivileged "us" that can rewrite the rules of the game.

So that backfired when he did that in the speech.  Because remember—and don’t you try this yourselves, - I warn you, do not say, as Barak did, that the black church is giddy, and people dance and laugh.  That's something right out of a movie in the 1930s.  That caricature of happy-go-lucky, singing blacks comes right out of that scene in "Gone with the Wind," or "Birth of the Nation."  Don't try that.

But that's exactly what Barack Obama did in that speech. He said, “You don't understand how the blacks look at the world.”  And he did it in a very caricatured way.  That was a mistake.

And then he tried to, what the university calls, contextualize.  And that means that every time somebody says something, what he says is not what he says.  You have to deconstruct it.  In the case of Reverend Wright, he did a lot of other good.  He helped AIDS patients – not that he said AIDS was a government plot, but he helped AIDS patients. 

And then the person, this typical American who's driving to work when he hears this speech, he says, Well, wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  This is the guy who said Don Imus had to be fired.  So let me get this straight.  The new Barack Obama confronts Don Imus Two.  What's he going to say? He's going to say this -- we have to understand Don.  We have to understand the peculiar genre of the shock-jock radio genre, where this is easy to call somebody "ho."  We have to understand Don Imus and his ranch, and all the good that he's done before.   Oh, you don't understand, the new Barack Obama would have to say, I had a black uncle who once made fun of white people, just like Don Imus made fun of black people.  Therefore, they've cancelled each other's out.

And that's not going to fly.  What essentially Barack Obama has done – he's rewritten the American reaction to racism in the public forum.  What he said was, Don Imus, or whoever the next person who comes out and says something racial, is going to get a pass.  Because we're going to contextualize it, we're going to sum up all the bad and good.  We're going to talk about our own racists in our own family, and we're going to excuse it.  He's created, in other words, the landscape, in a way that no one else could, that he will live to regret.

Where does that leave us on Iraq and the election? Think of it.  I don't think that Hillary is going to win by a 70 or 80% margin, which would be necessary for her to win the delegate count on the delegates that are up for grabs through elections.  She's going to make the argument – and it's not going to be successful, I think, although it's a very persuasive argument – that all of the big states, the purple states, the states that matter – New Jersey, New York, California, even Michigan and Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania – she won.  And how can you nominate a candidate that couldn't carry any of those? But more importantly, she's going to say – and the ones he did carry either aren't going to be in play, or they were done through caucuses, which are not democratic and egalitarian.

But Barak is wounded.  And he's going into the convention losing, losing, losing.  And after this Wright disaster, this catastrophe, he's running behind McCain.  Therefore all you delegates who humiliated yourself – super-delegates – on television, you gave these tearful press releases, where you abase yourself, and you said, “I was for Hillary, but that was then, this is now.  I'm for Obama.”  Now you got to go back and say, “That was then, and this is now, and now I'm back for Hillary again.” (laughter)  But I don't think that's going to quite work.

So what you're left with is somebody that the Democrats are going to find as the election goes on has a problem with racism.  “Typical white person” is something that he probably says every day in a black church, every day in the Harvard Library; nobody would care.  But out in the general public domain, the average American says, Can I call someone “a typical black person”? No.  Why can he say that, and I can't?

And it's going to be very hard for his handlers to say to Barack and Michelle, “Wait a minute.  Erase the first 30, 40 years of your existence.  You can't do this anymore.  You have to censor everything you say.  And the audience is going to suspicious.  And you're now a mainstream candidate.  Because if you keep doing this, you're not just going to lose the election, but you're going to tell every Democratic Senator and House of Representative candidate that when they run in Alabama, and they run in Michigan, they're going to have to tell people at the bar, ‘Yeah, Barack's my man, I'm all for him.  Vote for me and Barack.  That's going to be a hard message.’”

And so, to finish, I think that is going to weaken Obama's message on the war.  I think that the Democrats are faced with a dilemma – they either have to take the election away from the delegates and give it to Hillary, and face a mass defection, or they have to stick with Obama and expect that 25 or 30% of the white working classes are going to vote for McCain.

And then, lo and behold, the thing that nobody in their right mind imagined – if we had this talk just a year ago, everybody would be saying that Giuliani was going to run against Hillary, and Giuliani was going to lose by eight points.  And I think now people understand that the Democratic Party has done the impossible. (laughter)  They have -- they've ensured a way for the Democratic candidate to lose the presidency and damage, in a way that nobody would imagine, Democratic candidates for Congress.  And they have flipped so many times on the war it's going to be this misfortune that the last flip was at exactly the wrong time on Iraq.

Thank you very much.  I'll be happy to answer questions.

Unidentified Audience Member: You've talked about the presidential candidates.  Who do you think will be a vice presidential candidate for McCain, and for the Democrat nominee? Who do you think is going to be kind of that swing person?

Victor Davis Hanson: Yeah.  Well, I don't think you're going to see Obama and Clinton reconcile.  They've crossed the Rubicon on that.

I guess this game, as we all know the profile for Obama – it's going to have to be somebody with executive experience, who is white and conservative.  And what that means in the Democratic Party – probably a governor of a state.  And there's six or seven names that come up.  In the case of McCain – remember, I'm not going to whitewash things -- we're going to elect a person – if McCain gets elected – who would be the oldest President inaugurated; be 71 years old.  We've never done that before, we've never done it with somebody's who's recovering from malignant melanoma.

I was reading about the McCain medical history.  It's pretty considerable.  So he's going to have to pick somebody who also have executive experience, especially economic experience; who's younger, who's vigorous and who's more conservative.  When you talked to Laura Ingraham or Hugh Hewitt or Dennis Prager just six weeks ago, you ended in despair that there was no way that they were going to endorse McCain, or that their rhetoric had been so sharp that they would have put themselves in a position where they could not, in all fairness, go back and support somebody.  But they stopped, I think, right before that.

And so even Rush Limbaugh will – I think when they saw the Obama and the Wright tapes, they realized the truth – that McCain is light years ahead of the two Democratic candidates.  So I think that we're going to have to have a younger governor who – I don't know if it'll be Romney or not.  I think -- I kind of doubt that.  It'll be some Southern governor probably.

Somebody else have a question?

Unidentified Audience Member: I was interested in your description of the pathetic state of Europe, and wondering if you agree with the Mark Steyn-Bruce Thornton idea that Europe is basically finished.

Victor Davis Hanson: I do, if we realize that there are short-term advantages to what Europe is doing.  Remember, they're not spending 4% GDP on defense.  They have a complete guarantee of their safety from the United States.  They will do business with anybody.  They don't have restrictions on the Sudan or, you know Swiss businessmen were in Iran yesterday.

So they have certain advantages.  They're trying to integrate and make more efficient that economy, and that's given short-term benefits.  Therefore, the euro is high, et cetera, et cetera.

But the problem with Europe is what Steyn and Thornton have talked about – that they are not able to assimilate, intermarry or integrate people as we are.  They define success by birth, accent, education, in a way that we do just by ability to make money.  Plutocracy's always a better barometer of success than aristocracy.  You can come from Mexico and, you know, have a landscaping business.  But believe me, if you make $5 million a year, Cal State Fresno will want you on the Board of Directors. You could not have a Condoleezza Rice – anybody like her – in France as a foreign minister.

So they have these impediments that are not only socially problematic, but economically as well.  So they're going to be – I think, as we know about Europe in the 20th Century, any time they're at the crossroads, they always take a hard right.  I mean, they all profess Marxism and Communism and socialism, but then when the rubber hits the road, bam.  And we're already seeing that.

If you look right now, and you collate European immigration law and rules of jurisprudence, and antiterrorism legislation against the so-called shredding of our Constitution, it's not even close.  The Europeans have suspended things like habeas corpus and rules of evidence.  They wiretap.  They investigate in ways that we just couldn't imagine.  And they're going to do more and more on that.  They have to.  I hate to say that, but when you have a Turkish prime minister who goes into Germany and says to Turks inside Germany that assimilation is equivalent to annihilation, then you have a problem.

Unidentified Audience Member: Two very quick questions -- considering how problematic both Democratic candidates are, could they decide on Gore? And also, being a big Bush fan myself – George W. Bush fan – how do you see him being looked at in the next five, 10, 20 years?

Victor Davis Hanson: To your first question – I don't think so.  I know that that's been popular among op-eds writers – that Gore will be the candidate that steps in.  But after all of the rhetoric about Florida and stealing the election, and they're the egalitarian party, I really don't think they can broker a convention and give it to an outside candidate, especially when you read these stories on global warming.  I was listening to a story on NPR that said that scientists went out to confirm global warming and the temperature of the oceans had increased by two degrees, and they found that it had gone down. (laughter)

People might be convinced that there is global warming, but they're not convinced it's completely human-induced.  And that's basically what you get with Gore, so I don't see that happening. 

As far as George Bush – I've had three or four meetings with him, along with other historians.  And it seems to me that he's convinced that he's Trumanesque – that by being unpopular, that that works to his advantage, because he reminded America that he'd set a particular agenda – that he was not just a realist, balance-of-power, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, Larry Eagleburger guy – that he was idealistic, and that he just didn't go over there and defeat a dictator, as we had done in '91; but he stayed for the tough work of offering some type of constitutional alternative to theocracy on the one hand, and dictatorship on the other – and that that will be ultimately – for all the slurs about neoconservatism – that'll be ultimately to our advantage.  And we have not been attacked, God willing, since 9/11.

And so I think he will feel that in the long term, he will be judged favorably.  I think he will.  The tragedy of George Bush was that we're all given certain skills.  And the skills of a Roosevelt or a Lincoln or Churchill come across once in a century.  And unfortunately, I mean, he had a lot of really good skills.  He was forceful – and one of the best things is he just didn't listen to the last guy he talked to, which so many politicians do.

So he was willing to be unpopular and disliked.  Nobody could have got up every morning and be hated to the same degree he was and have it not affect him.  But he didn't have the eloquence, and he didn't have a lot of the advisors that we've had in the past that could have advised him, I think, a little better.  And he could have articulated a little bit better the problem—winning a war that was postmodern, surrealistic, Orwellian, and needed careful explanation.  So he suffered for that reason.

But historians will sort it out, and I think they'll look favorably on him.

Unidentified Audience Member: Victor, you realize that the people who are interested in immigration reduction, and very much against amnesty, are quite upset with the McCain President candidacy. Now, there's been some idea that if he is the President, our allies in the Congress, in the Senate and in the House, are going to want to be supportive of him and will back off on some of the strong positions that they have taken during the Bush Administration.  And that is very worrisome, because we have kept amnesty at bay, at least, in the last several years.

Victor Davis Hanson: Yes, well, that's a worry.  And that's why I mentioned it specifically at the beginning of my remarks.  But we live in a world of the practical and the pragmatic, not of the utopian.

The problem is, look at the alternatives.  We know that Obama and Clinton are basically for open borders.  We know that Rudy Giuliani had sanctuary cities.  We know that George Bush was even further to the left on this issue than McCain was, in the comprehensive immigration proposals that he submitted.  We know that Ronald Reagan signed the 1986 amnesty and immigration legislation that caused a lot of the problems that we have today.  We know that Romney, before his incarnation to a more conservative candidate, was very weak on immigration.

All I can do is take McCain at his word – that he said he's learned, he's been chastised, and he will close the borders first.  What does that mean? That means if he were to ensure that 700 miles of the border were fortified, that with a biometric ID, it would be possible to fine employers for hiring illegals.  That would mean that he would try to evolve us to an integrated policy – English-only and people assimilate, rather than this separatism.

And all of that combined would – once the border were closed – mean that the people here illegally – while we argued over all of these issues – whether a person can have earned citizenship, and if he did have earned citizenship, would that be amnesty; whether you could have guest workers – all of these things, while you're arguing – the pool is finite; it's static.

And the formidable powers of popular culture and assimilation – if we went back to the melting pot – would mean that some people would want to go back, because they wouldn't like that.  They would – the people who wanted to live in Mexico in the United States – they wanted to live as a Mexican national, but with all the benefits of an American – they saw that that wasn't possible anymore, that they had to learn English and assimilate – they would go back.  The felons could be deported.  But the people who, say, wanted to acquire citizenship – then we could argue over whether they had to go back, how long it would be, how much of a fine.  But all of that could transpire when the pool was not getting larger.

You cut off the borders and that one million people per year, and then the art of the possible starts to become a reality.  Right now it's impossible.  Because whatever you can do, it doesn't matter; it's going to be canceled.

The problem with illegal immigration is that when you have nine to 10 illegal aliens for each new arrival in the immediate vicinity, they're not going to be exposed to American values or protocols or language, and they're not going to assimilate.  So we need to stop that influx.

And then every good thing happens – wages raised, people can unionize, people can organize; they're the only game in town.  More people start to learn English.  Mexican nationalist politicians don't come up here to try to campaign for expatriate communities.  Mexico doesn't have a safety valve anymore that dumps a million people a year, so they have to reform their economy.  We get rid of this identity-separatist politics that's destroying our cohesiveness.  Just shut the borders.

And I think McCain finally got that message – shut the borders.  He may have some unpalatable ideas down the road.  But for now, I think conservatives – if anybody can just shut the borders, they'll be happy.  That's a lot better than the alternative.

Unidentified Audience Member: One of the reasons why I enjoy reading you – and I'm sure everyone else here – is I think you take a lot of the things that we sort of feel,  you sort of bring it into relief.  Given all that, and everything you're going over, and especially on this, are you optimistic in general?

Victor Davis Hanson: You know, I just wrote a column today; it should come out this morning in the Chicago Tribune.  It was called, "Hope and Change Amid Despair."  Because I looked at the paper the other day, and this is what the headlines were.  Over here on the left -- $1.56 of euros, gold $1,000, oil $108, gasoline $4, $12 trillion in foreign debt held by Bear Stearns collapse.  And then Eliot Spitzer (laughter), crusading moralist, paying for call girls – Eliot Spitzer's successor, each hour it seems, confessing to yet another new girlfriend.  Barack Obama's, I thought, disingenuous and racialist speech being praised as the next Gettysburg address by everybody from Andrew Sullivan to David Brooke.  I thought, Jeez – mortgage crisis – then I thought, Take a deep breath, and don't look at the symptoms, the cold or flu of the patient; look at the Constitution.  Are we a 90-year-old person that has heart congestive – no.  Why? Because we're still – even with the dollar, we're still the largest economy, we have [as I said] $12 trillion to $13 trillion in goods and services.  We could make up that debt within a year.  We're the third-largest oil producer in the world.  We have the largest coal reserves.  We're the people who created the nuclear power industry.  If we needed to, we could build coal and nuclear power within 10 years, and people could have a second plug-in flex-fuel thing that would save us the $600 billion that we send overseas to these rogues.

We have the largest, best, most experienced, creative military in the entire world; larger than the next 26 militaries combined.   The top 17 universities in the world are in the United States, and they're not just Harvard, Yale, Princeton – places like University of Texas, U.C.L.A., U.S.C., Michigan.

And the demography – 2.1 – 2.3 with immigration – but among the native-born, thanks for Utah -- (laughter) 2.1 on the reproductive rate.  Church attendance 65%, that's a positive. So almost everything that we look at – the types of innovation, the new industries, the new discoveries, the new theories – all of these things are happening in United States, because we are still a meritocracy.

What would make me be less optimistic? If we would get a socialistic candidate who would increase taxes, increase spending, increase what I would call equality of result, not of opportunity legislation; and adopt a pacifistic foreign policy and confiscatory government policy on land income.  I think that would destroy what we've seen.  I don't see that happening.  I don't think that Barack Obama, A, will be elected; and B, if he were to be elected and try to implement such an agenda, that he'd be successful.

The other thing that gets me really encouraged is that I think – despite the optimism of the Democratic Party -- we're coming to the end of what I would call the throat-clearing, pompous, over-judicious, left-wing monopoly on the news.  The real grassroots is talk radio, the Internet, cable TV.  It reminds me of the Athenian Agora or Aristophanes.  It's loud, it's boisterous, it's creative, and it represents people.  And that expression is not only a counterweight to that left-wing, old-style monopoly, but it's more democratic.  It's more energized.

Unidentified Audience Member: My question is two-part.  Did I hear you correctly that Barack Obama used to be named Barry Wright?

Victor Davis Hanson: Dunham.

Unidentified Audience Member: Barry Dunham, excuse me.

Victor Davis Hanson: Yeah, I didn't think – that was Reverend Wright – I don't think they were quite that close. (laughter) I should say – let me clarify that – his grandparents – I think her name was Madeline Payne, his grandmother, and she married a fellow named [Wright].  They produced a very smart, creative daughter, who was an anthropology graduate student, who met Barack Obama Sr., the father, who left her.  I think he had another wife in Kenya.  Then she married a second person, who was an Indonesian; he went to Indonesia.  And then they sent Barak back when they separated.  And he was raised, I think, from age 10 to 18 by the grandmother that he suggested was insensitive.  But whatever he suggests, from his own words, she and her husband came out to Honolulu and bought a condominium, and raised him.  And he was known as Barry Obama – or Barry Dunham, I guess, because he lived with the Dunhams.  I think legally his name was still Obama, but I know that he was called Barry by all – I mean, he was raised as Barry Dunham, absolutely.  And then the Barack came back at Occidental.

And anybody who knows what undergraduate liberal education is like today could imagine the opportunities that open up for someone who can claim that his name is Barack Hussein Obama. (laughter) Because – no, I'm being serious now – he was very angry when people repeat “Hussein” to scare us about Islam, but by the same token, when he was in graduate school, that was a badge of honor; that was a multicultural medal of honor to have that name.  That name could get almost what you needed; it was perfect.

I've been on too many faculty meetings where we discuss things like that.  I have too many Chilean aristocrats who we hired as Chicanos because they had too many accents on their first name.

Unidentified Audience Member: The second question is, what do you think, A, the possibility would be, and B, the effectiveness would be, of eliminating birthright citizenship as a way to cutting down on illegal immigration and alien issue?

Victor Davis Hanson: Yeah, the idea that we have anchor babies – I talked to a surgeon in the Selma Hospital, and I talked to other people in Selma, where they are known in Juahaca, Mexico.  In other words, people far, far away in Mexico by mileage, but maybe only 10 hours by distance in car travel, will say, Go to Dr. X in Selma, and she will treat you, like she has all my other patients I refer, even though Dr. X doesn't know who she is.

Or, I saw a sticker once on a pole, a telephone pole near my home, in Spanish, made in Juahaca, advertising a housing project right next to my house, which said, “Come to Selma, California and buy a house with HUD financing.”

I broke my arm, went in the Selma emergency room, I saw a doctor after three hours.  And he said, “This is a wonderful country.”  I said, “Why is that?” And he said, “It's the only country in the world you can come in your third trimester from Juahaca, get free, top-flight medical care as good as anybody in San Francisco or New York, and you can be an illegal alien, and your son or daughter can be a citizen that can then sponsor you and your whole family.”

Will that change? I'm not a lawyer.  I researched it a couple of times, and I've ended in despair, because it requires, some people think, a Constitutional amendment; some reinterpretation of a Constitutional amendment.  And I think that most European countries don't do that.  I know Mexico doesn't.  So, I think if we just had the same immigration policy as Mexico does, we wouldn't have a problem. (laughter)

One final question, then.

Unidentified Audience Member: There is a bill right now in Congress that addresses birthright citizenship. So if we all look around, there are always bills.  For instance, there's a package of bills in Sacramento in the legislature that would address employment sanctions, and criminals that – for easier deportation. Senator McCain says that he listened, and he learned, but what about amnesty?

Victor Davis Hanson: The problem with that is, look, we have 11 – when I wrote "Mexifornia," we had 11 million.  Nobody knows how many.  But if the aggregate number of people who are coming across illegally is any indication, we may have 17 million now.  And if you were to sort out those who had committed felonies – even misdemeanors – those who are on public assistance, those who wanted to go back to Mexico, those who just arrived two years ago – you might be able to deport four or five million.

But what are you going to do with 11 to 12 to 13 million who, A, have been here longer than five years, many of whom are working among us today – have been here five years, have not committed a crime, have paid taxes? If you were going to deport all of them, we're going to have the biggest separation of population since the creation of India and Pakistan.  And it's going to be a gift for the Left.  You'll see on CBS every night, you know, people being yanked out by the hair and put in a green van.

So what we're saying is that you have to have some mechanism where you have a quid pro quo.  You say to the person who's here illegally, “Do you really want to stay in the United States? Because if you do, you're going to have to learn English.  And there's not going to be separate court reporters, there's not going to be separate instruction in Spanish.  But since you've been here x number of years, and you have not committed a felony, and you have paid taxes, you are different than the other people who have not qualified.  And here's a mechanism for you to apply for citizenship.”

Then the $64,000 question that will be fought over is, A, to what degree are they in the back of the line, front of the line – we have to sort that out.  And there's no answer I've seen that would sort it out.  And B, how much are you going to have to pay for breaking the law? Because we have to respect the sanctity of the law.  And C, do you have to go back to Mexico to do that, or can you stay here as a resident and get a green card? Those three issues, I think, can be adjudicated once the border's closed.  I think McCain understands that now.

Thank you very much.


Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and the author of "A War Like No Other" (Random House).


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