Victor Davis Hanson: Interview





Name: John Matel

Thanks for joining us this morning. We have several questions already, so we can start immediately. My name is John Matel and I am your moderator for this chat. To fill the lag time between when Dr. Hanson get and reads the questions and when he can type in the answers, I will post comments with links to sites of related interest to keep the flow going. Other than that, my only role is to pass along questions. The opinions Dr. Hanson expresses are his own.

Name: Richard

Isn't it obvious that our form of democracy also generates a change in society: breaking down the old rigid formats of men, women, marriage, and relationships? Is that something that needs to be analyzed carefully, before we export it to underdeveloped countries? (One more!): Isn't the goal of our foreign policy to turn the whole world into "mass consumers"...? I look forward to your answers...!!

Best regards,
Richard

Name: Victor Hanson

No, I think it may be the policy of the Chinese government to turn the world into mass consumers, give their hyper-export economy (ca.$300 billion dollar trade surplus with the US), a protectionist import policy, and violations of common trade and copywrite agreements. Globalization destroys hierarchies of all types — whether religious or familial — and that has deleterious effects no doubt. But with it comes material improvement and greater freedom, and it is the task of society to add a moral dimension to this process, which is more organic than scripted, given humans' desires to be free and prosperous.

Name: Gurbanbibi

Mr. Hanson, when the war in Iraq started in 2003, president Bush said, “ In a world that is safe, people will be able to make their own lives better. We will defend the peace by fighting terrorists and tyrants.”

With the start of the war in Iraq, the world has actually been more endangered than before; recent bombings in London serve as a good example. So, don’t you think that until that "peaceful" and "safe" moment comes, there will be no people in Iraq to safe and provide peace with?

Name: Victor Hanson

In fact, terrorism is on the decline worldwide, and the U.S. has not been hit since 9/11. Positive changes are underway in Egypt and Libya; the Taliban and Saddam are gone, and elected governments in Afghanistan and Iraq are fighting terrorists. Syrians are out of Lebanon, and Dr. Khan has ceased his nuclear antics. The world was not a safe place before 9/11, but if there is global trend toward democratization it will be. Nothing is easy, and on 9/12 the United States was faced with bad and worse choices, brought on by 25 years of more or less neglect of terrorism, de facto tolerance for tyrants, and a general isolation from world affairs. For all the purported anti-Americanism, I don't see such in the attitudes of democratic governments in India, Japan, eastern Europe, and the English-speaking old commonwealth.

Name: Gurbanbibi

Mr. Hanson, in response to parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, Defence Secretary Rumsfeld said, "The country that hosted Osama bin Laden, that supported training camps for al-Qaida, endured decades of civil war, Soviet occupation, drought, Taliban brutality, is now a democracy that fights terrorists instead of harboring them," do you share his opinion?

I also want to comment here outlining the words "Soviet occupation." Does Mr. Rumsfeld or U.S. officials realize that it was exactly at a time of "Soviet occupation,” during which U.S. government armed Taliban that was brutal with Afghan people and later with U.S.?

Name: Victor Hanson

Mr. Rumsfeld's statement was accurate, and a statement of fact not opinion. The U.S. armed anyone who claimed they were anti-Soviet and would fight the occupation — from the Northern Alliance to radical elements who later claimed to be Taliban — on the old logic of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend', and much the same way we gave nearly 400,000 trucks to Stalin and much more to fight Hitler, and then suddenly were in a 50 year cold war with the very Red Army we have supplied. You forget also the dialectic of the 1980s, when it was something to the effect on both right and left — 'you can't let the Afghan people just be exterminated by the Soviets without helping' as our airways were saturated with stories of Russian bombs disguised as children's toys, and brave Afghans fighting with flintlocks. Again there were no good choices and we were going to be criticized no matter whether we helped or ignored the situation that we did not create. The lapse was not helping more democratic forces in the aftermath rout the Taliban. But we were so happy Gorbachev left Afghanistan I don't think we were ready to send troops in, which is what it would have taken to stop the Taliban. Again, everyone wants the U.S. to be perfect when the choices are usually very bad and far worse.

Name: Gurbanbibi

My last question Mr. Hanson:

Everyone in U.S. who is interested in political science knows about Samuel Huntington's book "Clash of Civilizations," which contains the following lines: “ So long as Islam remains Islam (which it will) and the West remains West (which is more dubious), this fundamental conflict [who is right and who is wrong] between two great civilizations and ways of life will continue to define their relations in the future even as it has defined them for the past fourteen centuries… Nineteen of twenty-eight fault line conflicts in the mid-1990s between Muslims and non-Muslims were between Muslims and Christians.”

The question is, would you call events happening in our world after 9/11 clashes of civilizations/cultures? And can we say that what is going on in Iraq right now is the war among Christians and Muslims?

Thank you Mr. Hanson for taking time and answering my questions today.

Name: Victor Hanson

You make a good point. The West cannot get much more liberal without simple collapse; in most Western countries there is religious tolerance — Saudis can open mosques in the West anywhere; no Christians or Jews could open houses of worship in the kingdom. So in all candor, Islam is going to have to develop a wider tolerance for other religions or risk becoming a garrison religion always under perceived threats. Muslims in India, Turkey, and Indochina show that Islam is not inherently incompatible with democracy and if fact there are few Turkish or Indian suicide bombers for that reason. So we need democracy and liberal voices to emerge to demand open societies, until then the Islamicists, for better or worse, will be the megaphones who define the religion abroad.

Name: Zubedah

Freedom in Uganda is on a relatively low scale especially when it comes to freedom of expression, which makes me wonder, how big is the role of freedom of expression in furthering democracy in a less developed country like Uganda?

Name: Victor Hanson

Very important. Democracy is not just majority rule through voting, but an entire protocol — free expression, property rights, protection of minority rights, economic liberality, civilian control of the military. Otherwise we simply have a "demonocracy" when a tyrant rigs one election and claims legitimacy.

Name: Richard

In view of our recent problems with proper voting ballot counts, and questions about who is our actual elected leader, aren't you a little apprehensive about exporting our brand of democracy to less developed countries? (I admit that this is a somewhat hypothetical question, open to interpretation, but still...I'm curious as to your response).

Sincerely,
Richard

Name: Victor Hanson

I see no problem whatsoever. Our electoral system has had such anomalies before where a President did not receive the majority of votes. In 2000 a court adjudicated the electoral vote of Florida. Subsequent investigations by major newspapers showed that the popular vote did in fact go to George Bush in Florida. Germany now has the same dilemma of a candidate who got more votes but may not govern. We don't stress one system or the other of democracy — there are many — but simply the general idea of legitimate voting, independent courts, free expression, and the infrastructure of constitutional government.

Name: Gurbanbibi

Good day Mr. Hanson,
My name is Bibi and I am from Turkmenistan. Here are my questions:

1) Do you think that freedom is given or earned?

2) What is your personal opinion about the war in Iraq?

Name: Victor Hanson

Freedom is both given and earned. Preferably the latter — but not always as we have seen in Italy, German, Japan, and South Korea. Iraq is slowly emerging from a 30-year nightmare. As long as the majority of the population and the elected Parliament wish us to stay to protect the nascent democracy, then we should. 3/4ths of the country are relatively stable; Kurdistan has proved that Middle Eastern Islam is not antithetical to democracy. Unfortunately Iraq both here and abroad has metamophorphosized into a political cachet for either anti-Bush or anti-American sentiment, when in fact it was hardly imperial: oil skyrocketed after we in; Iraqis not us control petroleum in Iraqi; it cost us billions at a time of deficits; we promoted democracy not a petrodollar yes-man. I find the entire critique of Iraq surreal, since there is only one legitimate case of complaint: at a time of deficits and worry at home, we are risking and spending too much abroad on an area that does not appreciate our efforts and blames us for what we do and do not do. I do not agree with the complaint, but I understand why many Americans voice it.

Name: Gurbanbibi

Mr. Hanson,
In 2003, while presenting his speech at the State of the Union, President G.W. Bush said “The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.”

My questions are:

1) How can the president of a secular state such as United States, use "God" as a justification of the country's foreign policy?

2) How does the U.S. presidential administration know which country needs freedom and liberty the most? There seem to be double standards in the U.S. foreign policy, please correct me if I am wrong in my judgment.

Name: Victor Hanson

We are secular, but we have a long religious tradition as well. Did you object when Martin Luther King daily evoked God, or Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter? None were able to create a theocracy. I think we have achieved a good balance between the nihilistic atheism that is on the rise in secular Europe and the theocratic intolerance found often in the Middle East. Obviously we don't know which exact country needs freedom, but in the case of the Taliban and Saddam it was apparent to a blind man. Remember, the dialectic of the Arab intellectual world: in the 1970s-1990s the mantra was that the U.S. was cynical in backing dictators who kept communists out and pumped oil; now it is the opposite: Americans are naive and hopelessly idealistic who barge in and push democracy down the throats of indigenous cultures. Again, the effect is that millions of Americans are turning isolationist, and want little to do with others. I never heard any thanks for stopping Milosevic from killing Muslims, or Saddam from butchering Kuwaitis, or pressuring the Soviets to leave Afghanistan, or trying to feed the starving in Somalia, or helping the Tsunami victims; instead we hear only that we support Israel and thus are anti-Islam. Someone in the Middle East should stop and contemplate the effect on American public opinion of this constant whine. We hear of anti-Americanism, but few realize that the United States is growing weary itself of its critics.

Name: Gurbanbibi

Mr. Hanson, unfortunately I haven't had a chance to read your book, but prior to this chat, I’ve read some book reviews and as far as I could understand, your book makes the same point that Machiavelli made, “… anyone wishing to see what is to be must consider what has been: all the things of this world in every era have their counterparts in ancient times… since these actions are carried out by men who have and have always had the same passions, which of necessity, must give rise to the same result,” is that so?

Also, Mr. Hanson is there any online version of your book that one can download free of charge?

Name: Victor Hanson

Well, I am a Thucydidean who believes that human nature is unchanging and only culture and civilization save us from our savage selves. When a hurricane or war overwhelms us suddenly looting, rape, and murder follow, almost like rust after a rain. I think Amazon might have excerpts from a War Like No Other, I hope they do at least.

Name: Anonymous

What should U.S. policy be in places like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan?

Name: Victor Hanson

Whether we like it or not, due to the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq we are moving toward a uniform policy of supporting democracy that is consistent with asking Americans to die for it. And that will cause problems with strongmen who claim they are fighting "terrorists" as we see as well in Pakistan and Egypt. But in the long-term the only way is to support the democratic aspirations of those living under autocracies.

Name: Supryia

Where do you see Iraq going in the next 5-10 years?

Name: Victor Hanson

I think the model is something like Turkey. A democracy with a strong Islamic flavor. Not especially pro-U.S., but not overtly hostile to us either, that stays within its borders and is able to protect itself from Iran and Syria without starting a war with either. That would be a huge improvement. I don't see a large U.S. presence in the region, but hopefully returning to the pre-1991 situation before the first Gulf War. We don't have troops in Saudi Arabia and should Iraq become democratic I don't think we would need to be based there all that long, with the proviso we would offer air power should it request help from aggressive neighbors.

Name: Jacek

People who talk about U.S. mistakes in Iraq don’t ask what would have happened otherwise. What do you think we would be facing if Bush had not acted?

Name: Victor Hanson

Oh, it's pretty clear. We were in year 12 of some 350,00 sorties over the no-fly zones. France had bailed, and along with Russia was carving up oil concessions at deals unheard of in the Middle East. The U.N. was not enforcing its inspections, and we know now involved in a $30 billion scandal as Oil-for-Food dwarfed Enron. Iraqis were starving and the U.S. was receiving all the blame, not Saddam who siphoned cash off for a Baathist elite. And the day the American and British ceased flying over 2/3s of his airspace, the Kurds were facing another genocide to stop their experiment in federated rule. The old calculus — petrodollars recycled into arms — would resume; and the terrorists, whether the planners of World Trade Center 1993, Abu Abbas, Abu Nidal, and al Zarqawi would have sanctuary with the proviso they deny all contact with Saddam. It was an untenable situation and would have led to our final neglect and the Hussein kleptocracy eventually on the rebound with frightful weapons and millions more dead.

Name: Anonymous

What is your definition of freedom? Do you know any free countries that aren't democratic? Or do they go hand in hand?

Name: Victor Hanson

Freedom is of two sorts: one a sort of personal liberality that allows one to go one with his business with safety, order, and free intercourse with associates — as long as citizens don't question the political order that delivers prosperity. We see this for example in Singapore, and perhaps China as well. But real freedom is more messy, and allow the individual to gripe about anything he wishes, from the local to national, and is integral to democracy. That is real freedom, and hopefully follows from economic liberalization. Democracy is easier in prosperous countries with educated populations, but it is not impossible in emerging societies, and in fact may be a catalyst to material improvement itself.

Name: John Matel

Thank you, Dr. Hanson. As a person who also studied Greek and Latin and read Thucydides, I particularly appreciate your perspective. So since even moderators get to ask questions, could you say a little more about how your study of the classics influences your thinking about the modern world?

Name: Victor Hanson

Classics is the formal study of ancient Athens and Rome. Because they were the fonts of Western civilization, we see all our current dilemmas fully vented by very brilliant people who, in a pretechnological age, were entirely empirical and unabashedly candid. So they are good sources in these troubled times for answers to our very old problems. But they also produced great beauty in literature and art, so much so that the classical Greeks and Romans are the benchmarks of the Renaissance and all subsequent reactions to classicism from modernism to postmodernism. I learned how to write and think from reading Greek and Latin, and it gave me a certain humility and tragic vision that is at odds with the modern, gadget-driven utopianism that is defined best as something like "if we can't be perfect right now! then we are simply no good."

Name: Hasnaoui

In the Arab Muslim world I note that it is difficult for the man to be free. He is still unaware of the freedom's notion.

Is there a cooperation program as regards the studies which develop the mechanism to fight against the integrism?

Name: Victor Hanson

I think the U.S. seeks a variety of non-governmental ways to bring Western notions of freedom to the Middle East. But remember that while we are the beneficiaries of this system, in our affluence and leisure many of our elites have become cynical and sarcastic, full of self -doubt and occasional self -loathing: thus they are not sure that "freedom" is any better than the alternative although they themselves would always prefer to live freely. So when we remove a Saddam or pressure a Mubarak we hear "who are you to say that our system is better than theirs" — as if Afghans wanted to live under the Taliban or Iraqis under the Husseins. So we try to offer freedom, but not dictate the actual reification of it, and suggest that it is natural to the Arab world as it is natural to man. If we do not, we are branded as cynical; if we do, we are condemned as cultural imperialists. So we plod on, encouraging freedom, but in ways that we ourselves are often confused and conflicted over.

Thank you all very much for your questions that were all perceptive and fascinating as well. Sincerely, Victor Davis Hanson

Name: Anonymous

Dear Mr. Hanson,

The United States through its officials, including President Bush, and non-state activists, including U.S. Helsinki Commission, repeatedly urged the Kazakh authorities to hold "good" — free and fair — presidential elections in December this year. However, this call seems to be not accurately perceived by Astana. What will be the reaction of the U.S.A. in case if these election will be again forged, as all previous votes in Kazakhstan?

With kind regards,

Adil

Name: Victor Hanson

I don't know, and most have no clue either. If we press further, then we are told we are interfering; if not, we are backing a strongman in hopes of fighting terrorism in that part of the world. Those who claim to fight radical Islam hope for a reprieve from democratic reform, using the old model of the Soviet Cold War realpolitik. In your case, I hope we can be firm in our efforts to support liberalization and galvanize allies to do the same. I note, whether in the case of Saddam or China, Europe is far more cynical than the U.S. and will trade with anyone, reliant on their huge politically-correct public relations industry that allows them to pose the E.U. on the side of the environment and the underprivileged even as France profits from Saddam or invades the Ivory Coast or Dutch and German companies sell anything to the old Iraq. Quite strange this European cynicism masqued as utopianism, but it works while the U.S. clumsily tries to promote democracy, opens its markets, runs deficits — and is branded imperialistic.


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