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And remember that — in [world's ed] nobody studies history, so nobody knows any of these numbers — the golden age of Athens lasted 90 years. Periclean Athens. Sparta, which had a mixed constitution, lasted 900 years, 800 to 900 years. The Italian Renaissance, arguably the greatest explosion of creativity in world history, lasted maybe two centuries, two and a half. Well, we’re right up there with them now. And we’re not particularly showing signs of slowing down. Ask the anti-Americans around the world how they think about America. They feel oppressed by America, dominated by America.
And read the wonderful books by David Goldman, aka Spengler, who actually pays attention to the real numbers. I mean, people live in dread of the expansion of the Islamic world. The Islamic world is dying and doomed. Iran, my particular obsession, has undergone the greatest drop in fertility rates in the history of fertility rates. It’s a doomed culture.
Just at the beginning of this war, in 2001, Bernard Lewis came out with the most celebrated book of this generation, called “What Went Wrong?” And the question is the question that the Muslims are asking about themselves — where did we go wrong? How did we fail?
We’re facing messianic mass movements that are doomed to fail. They’re not reproducing, they can’t make a country work. Egypt right now cannot feed itself. As David says, Chinese pigs are eating better than Egyptian farmers today. And that is true across the Muslim world. The only thing that keeps them afloat right now is petroleum. And if you look at our numbers on petroleum, the United States — contrary to what almost everybody believes, we are not dependent on Middle East oil. We get 15 or 20 percent of our oil from the Middle East, and we can eliminate that in a matter of months if we wanted to. Most of our oil comes from terrifying countries, like Canada –
– and Mexico, and places like that, which depend on us for their economies and their existence.
Anyway, my last point — and we’ll get to it in the discussion — we are the one, and only one, successful revolution in the world. Nobody else has accomplished what we have accomplished. Our future, as always, depends on creative destruction, on tearing down what we have built in the past and creating something new in the future. And this affects the whole world. People hate that. We shake them up. You know. We undermine whatever they’ve constructed. Tyrants above all hate that. Because they know that we delegitimize them. Our existence delegitimizes them.
And it may drive the people in the White House crazy, but that is as true about America under Obama as it was true of America under Reagan. It’s not our leaders that dictate this to the rest of the world, it’s our very existence.
Michael Wienir: Thank you, Michael.
Our next panelist is Bruce Thornton. It’s a great pleasure to introduce Bruce Thornton. Bruce and his wife, Jackie, are fellow travelers. I don’t mean that in a pejorative way. We’ve had the opportunity to travel with Bruce, as he’s a friend and colleague of Victor Davis Hansen. He’s been a guest lecturer and participant in many of Victor Davis Hansen’s trips that my wife, Adrienne, and I have had an opportunity to participate in.
Bruce is a national fellow of the Hoover Institute, a professor of classics and humanities in the Cal State University system, particularly Cal State University Fresno. He has authored — I think I counted them at nine books, give or take a couple of books — written numerous essays on Western culture and its roots, and is now a regular contributor to FrontPageMag.com. Yet another little ad for FrontPageMag.com.
His latest book, “The Wages of Appeasement,” analyzes and comments on appeasement as it relates to ancient Athens — which has been already mentioned here this morning — Munich, and Obama’s America.
Bruce Thornton: Thank you, Michael. And I get to go last, which means I get to follow these three terrific speakers who’ve already hit most of the main points. So what I’m going to do is act like I’m summing everything up, so that my repetition isn’t as noticeable.
But the first point — and I think Bruce made it — is, would you discriminate between the United States and Europe? Europe is in decline, there’s no question. But it has been for 40 or 50 years. And it’s been propped up, obviously, by the United States, particularly in terms of their security.
And if you look today at the United States, obviously we’re not — from a material perspective, we have not declined. Our military is unprecedented historically in its power and its reach. Many of us — I think this group probably knows this — but a lot of people don’t grasp how powerful our military is.
One thing — example, very quickly, is China is striving mightily to get on the water one aircraft carrier. And we have 11 battle carrier groups, which is astonishing. The EU all together could not put together maybe one. France has the de Gaulle, but I don’t think you want to rely on it to keep the streets of [En Luz] open, although I hear it has a very good wine cellar.
But also, higher education — seven of the 10 best universities in the world are in United States. The United States is still the leader in technological development. All of the products that are changing the world, the ideas that are changing the world — most of them come from the United States.
Another key — and I think, again, Bruce mentioned it, and Michael did, too — is demography. Europe in 2050 — if you look at people between the ages of, I think, 18 and 65 — will decline by 21 percent. China will decline by 10 percent. The United States will increase by 37 percent. So if you believe that demography is destiny, then there’s one, I think, advantage we have.
And then, of course, the unprecedented scope of American popular culture, good or bad — that’s another question — is another obvious apparent sign of vigor. However, if we look again at the question, though, are the conditions of decline in place? And I don’t think there’s any doubt that the conditions of decline are in place.
And we can start with the most obvious evidence for this — money. Why is Europe and the EU going down the drain? It’s because of money. What is the big problem that we face now? A debt that is approaching — and maybe, even as I am speaking — will surpass 100 percent of GDP; an entitlement commitment that by 2050 — if Obamacare is not repealed, by 2050, the big three entitlements — Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security — will devour all federal tax money.
Now, the problem with this — the problems are legion. But the one thing that makes a power a dominant power is its military, is its military reach and effectiveness. And when you look at previous declines — and the ones I cover in my book — Athens — in ancient Athens, on the eve of the battle of Chaeronea, when Philip II of Macedon defeats the Greek coalition and ends Greek political freedom, which had been in existence for several hundred years, an average Athenian could expect money from the state almost every day of the year. You know, the money was no longer going to the military; money was going to the citizens as an entitlement, either for serving on a jury or holding office, or even going to the theater.
You look at England in the ’20s. Its military spending after World War I declined precipitously. And so they were caught unawares. Well, not unawares — there were plenty of people who knew — obviously, Winston Churchill. But they had to spend two or three years just trying to catch up.
And one point about World War II I think we should always remember — despite England’s pluck and endurance in holding up under the battle of Britain, of holding out against Germany; by June of 1941, that war is over. The [EU] today, as we know today, wasn’t in control of Nazi Germany. Hitler made a huge mistake in invading the Soviet Union. Japan, as I think Michael pointed out, made a huge mistake in attacking the United States. Hitler, for some inexplicable reasons, declares war on the United States at the same time as Japan. But if those blunders don’t happen, it’s unlikely that England could’ve held out for very long. So there was a lot of luck involved in England’s survival.
But where was England in 1950, compared to England in 1897 at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee? Think Mark Stein, in his new book, points out — what would a child who attended the celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897 — could he have imagined that within 80 years that the British Empire would’ve disappeared? So when we look at the vigor, the material vigor of a people at any one given moment, we have to look beyond that to see, what are the underlying signs and conditions of decline?
So we face this problem now, with our budget, with our debt, with our entitlement commitments. Remember, if something’s not done in the next 10 years, it is possible that defense spending will be reduced by $1 trillion., by the next 10 years. We can’t afford to do that, any more than England, with a far-flung empire in 1920, could afford to start cutting back on its Navy and its military. And that very definitely — if that problem’s not solved, then we will see a decline. Because as Paul says, it’s the warriors and it’s the military that’s the key. And that requires that we commit to it.
Now, what is the real, most important underlying condition of decline? If you say why did Athens decline in the fourth century, why did Rome ultimately decline, why did England decline in the ’20s — they all forgot what it meant to be a Roman, or an Athenian, or a Brit.
And this is what we’re forgetting today that is, I think, the key to our predicament. We are forgetting what it takes to be an American, and what it means to be an American. And that means that we are free — political freedom — that means self reliance, that means limited government, that means the notion that people are the source of authority and legitimacy, and that they are free not to succeed necessarily, but free to try, to have a system that allows them to escape whatever the previous condition of their family was. And many will succeed, some will fail. But the opportunity will always be there.
That’s what we lost. That’s where we’re losing. And you talk about the — Michael talked about the universities. Everything he said about the universities — multiply it by 10, if you want to get the real picture of just how bad it is.
And don’t forget, when we talk about the corruption of the universities — they teach the people to go and teach our children. Everybody that teaches in a K-through-12 system has been taught by one of these yahoos in the university. And when my kids were — our kids were in public school, I’d go to the classes, spy on them, to see what was going on. And I could see these bad ideas as they trickled down from the elite universities to our professors — Cal State — down to the high school teachers. So this has been going on for 30, 40 years. So it’s become just the received wisdom, the reflexive knowledge, about the world.
So that’s going to be very difficult. That’s going to be very difficult to change.
Somehow, we’ve got to get back to transmitting to our young, to reinforcing in our culture, what it means to be an American — what’s unique about that, what’s exceptional about that, despite what our President thinks. Otherwise, then, not immediately — 20, 30, 50 — England, it took about 60 years — very definitely, we will face decline.
Michael Wienir: Let’s give this panel a big round of applause. I think all of them have been really terrific. Thank you.
I think we have a microphone out here. We have time for questions. So I see a hand over here, if we could move the microphones as quickly as possible, so we get as many questions as possible.
Richard Groun: My name’s [Richard Groun], from Atlanta. One of my concerns is that we are very close to what I call the tipping point, which I’m sure you’ve all read a lot about. And that is that we’re rapidly approaching — if we haven’t already exceeded it — we have over half of Americans that have no stake in our system. For example, there have been some recent studies of IRS data that shows we’ve got at least 50 percent of people that pay no income tax. And then, you put on top of that, you’ve got — and I know there’s a lot of overlap, but you’ve got 47 to 49 million people on food stamps. And it just goes on and on.
And so when you get to the point where people don’t have a stake in the system, you know, how can they any longer have what we consider the American dream, or have the kind of culture that we think is so important to be able to continue what has been a great success, or a great experiment now, over the last 200-plus years?
Michael Wienir: Thank you. Who wants to take that? Bruce?
Bruce Thornton: Yes, thank you. Because again — well, how do people look upon the state, their nation, the government — whatever you want to call it? Is it something that reflects their deep beliefs? Is it something that helps express the meaning they find in life? Is it something they feel that is part of them — that they love it, that they have affection for it?
And when the state stops being that, and it starts being a dispenser of entitlements — as it happened in Athens in the fourth century, in England in the ’20s and ’30s, as [clear] today, as you say — then you do have a huge problem. Because why are you going to want to risk your life or sacrifice, or have your living standard lowered in order to meet the threats? You won’t.
Very quickly — I’m always struck by the fact that in December of 1941, this country, coming out of a Depression, took on the world’s two mightiest military machines simultaneously. Simultaneously, at the same — and we can’t deal with these — what’s the polite way to put it?
Michael Wienir: We don’t have to be polite here.
Bruce Thornton: Yeah! In the Middle East! I mean, a thug regime, as some pointed out, can’t even feed themselves, and we’re sitting over here, you know, trembling in our boots. There’s something that was lost in that — and I think it’s — call it what it is, it’s patriotism.
Bruce Bawer: I was going to say that one thing that has really struck me while living in Europe is that even people who are allies of mine who are concerned about demography, about Islam, about what is happening to Europe — when they speak about what it is that they’re struggling to preserve, they don’t — well, sometimes they do, sometimes they speak about freedom — but very often, they will say — we’re struggling to save our welfare state.
And I — yeah, I’ve never gotten used to it. And that’s not something that — exactly. And that’s decline, baby. I mean, that’s really — that tells you all you need to know. People are not going to mount the barricades for a welfare state. If they’ve lost their sense of these higher values, then all is lost.
Michael Wienir: Think it was [Sinsu] who said — if you’re going to win — in a battle, you got to know who you are, and you have to know who your enemy is.
Next question? Somebody is waving. That pretty lady there who’s waving.
Unidentified Audience Member: Two points — thank you, gentlemen.
One — if people have no stake in our country, and they’re benefitting from welfare, there’s absolutely zero will to change the status quo. They are living on the status quo. So that’s a huge uphill battle. I don’t know where you start.
Two — it seems, as you said, these thug states that we can’t seem to make any headway with — we are financing them to attack us. We all know the Pakistan model, and how it’s all gone wrong. It would seem to me that there is specifically no will to win these battles, these wars. And that’s a very detailed, complex — maybe very obscure — discussion. If the will isn’t there, there must be a reason. And it’s helped to put us in this hideous debt in which we find ourselves.
Michael Wienir: Yeah, the general, I think, wants to take that.
Paul Vallely: That’s a great question.
You know, when we study warfare, we study strategy. The strategy is how we win wars. Tactics are how we win battles. Our soldiers, marines — every day on the battle fields — win battles. They’re victorious. But when you look at the hierarchy now, and you look just at the last 10 years — and we can’t even say “victory” anymore — I cannot understand why the generals and admirals aren’t standing up more. Because I can tell you the feedback I get from the troops is they’re disgusted with the senior leadership. Because they won’t stand up.
Paul Vallely: Now, I’ll go back to answering the question more specifically on strategy. And I’ve written [those] 10 articles on forward strategy and a new strategy for America — and it’s all on our website, or you can contact me, I’ll be happy to provide those things — that have been very well researched and thought out — that we appear not to have people of wisdom in Washington, D.C. who are in charge of our national security. And then it goes down to the leaders in the CIA, DIA — Defense Intelligence Agency — on over to the Department of Defense.
And I can tell you the political appointees are clueless on strategy. We’ve sent all these bright people to schools and educated them. But when it comes down to vision, comes down to wisdom, comes down to strategic thought, there’s only two candidates right now running for President [are] starting to reach for that wisdom and strategic outlook that we saw under Ronald Reagan. But we have to have a forward strategy now that deals with today and tomorrow.
I was told by a Lebanese colonel — good friend of mine, and he’s still a confidant of mine — nine years ago, when I was on Fox, he said — make sure you tell the generals and admirals, do not put bases into the Middle East, and do not put land troops in there. Because it is nothing but a giant sponge that’ll suck all the limited financial resources you can put out there. And don’t think you’re going to change the Islamic thought process over there. Because it’s too powerful in the tribal nature of things, the mosque, the mullahs. And he said — nation-building will not work. Don’t even try it.
And you know, over the years, I’ve thought, and I’ve looked at the strategy, or lack thereof. And I look now at Iraq, I look now at Afghanistan — where is the victory for America? Where is the victory for America? Over 40,000 wounded, over 6,000 now killed? And when I talk to them, the frustration out there — because we have had the wrong strategy.
Now, the strategy we need to do is to deal with today and tomorrow based on the threats I talked about, and what we call [joint strike force] operations using the Lily Pads. We can strike anywhere, anytime, anyone who’s a threat to the United States. And that’s what we have to ask ourselves — every time we commit forces, what is the threat to America or its assets and, in some cases, the interests that we have, which may be economical-based?
I do not think Russia and China are our friends on the chessboard. Because they are enablers of Iran. And like Michael pointed out, we told General Petraeus in 2006, before the surge — why aren’t you taking out the plants and the routes of supply coming into Iraq that are killing and maiming our soldiers each and every day?
And even under the Bush Administration, they would do nothing about Iran — Iran now providing many of the IEDs, many of the advanced systems that are going into the Taliban and killing and wounding our troops in Afghanistan. Because our leaders will not take the action to understand the threat, understand the enemy, and take it out and neutralize it. If I was in charge today, I would be doing covert operations in Iran each and every day — things would disappear at 2 o’clock in the morning. And at 6 o’clock, they’re going to wake up –
– to what the hell happened.
We have over eight now covert actions have taken place [with inside] of Iran, based on a lot of the things that we’ve been pushing — that this is an unconventional war, and we can take them down. If I had the time, if we had the time, I could lay out the chessboard for you for Israel and Iran, and Southern Lebanon and Syria and all that. But maybe if we can fit it in sometime, I’d be happy to do that.
Michael Wienir: Michael?
Michael Ledeen: Well, I’m going to disagree with some of this. I think the advice by the Lebanese tells us why Lebanon is Lebanon, and why it’s a super-failed country.
The question’s a serious question — why is there no will, why is there no strategy? And the answer is, because that’s what America’s all about. We’ve never had — we have never had a government that prepared for these things in advance. When we were getting ready to enter a whole generation of war in the 1840s — first invading Mexico, attacking the Russians in California, then waging war against ourselves in the Civil War — the big debate in Congress in those years was how soon to close West Point. Because why in the world did we need to train military officers, of all things, in a country like ours? Right?
Foreign policy is always the weakest point in democracies. Read Tocqueville. Look at American history. We don’t do it. We’ve never had it. Yes, we have some lousy general officers. But I would wager –
Unidentified Participant: And we have some great ones, too.
Michael Ledeen: That doesn’t count against my time, does it?
Yes, I would say that on balance, we probably have the finest officer core in the history of America, and maybe in the history of anyplace. We certainly have the finest armed forces in the history of anyplace.
What we had wrong — what strikes me — what upsets me a lot about what we’ve done in the Middle East is that they got it wrong from the beginning. We had it wrong from the beginning. We did not understand what kind of war we were in, and we did the whole thing in the wrong sequence. If we were going to do what President Bush said — wage a war against terrorist organizations and the countries that support them — then this war had to start in Iran, not Iraq. Because Iran is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. So that’s number one. So Iraq was wrong. The whole idea of doing Iraq first was wrong.
Secondly, the method was wrong. We didn’t have to, and don’t have to, attack Iran militarily. Iran is a political operation. Iran is subversion. Iran is support for revolution. If we could bring down the Soviet Empire without firing a shot — by going after them with various economic, financial, intellectual, ideological, political weapons — in a country where maybe we had 10 percent of the people willing to risk their lives to bring it down — how can we fail in Iran, where we have 80 or 90 percent of the people willing to risk their lives? We’ve never tried it. We’ve never tried it.
I will be coming out with a story in the next few days recounting in detail what the Iranian opposition has said to American Presidents at moments of crisis. And it’s not at all what the administration says they said. Not at all. But there has been this conversation. And the American government has been told repeatedly — look, you have to choose between continuing to delude yourselves into thinking that someday you’ll be able to make a deal with this regime in Iran, which will never make a deal with you, because they hate you.
And I will just close with my favorite metaphor for all of those, which is the scene from “Goldfinger,” where James Bond is lying on that sheet of gold with his legs spread, and there’s a laser beam slicing through the gold, headed for his reproductive organs.
And he looks up at Goldfinger, who’s on this little balcony. And he says — well, Goldfinger, do you expect me to talk? And Goldfinger looks at him and says — no, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die. And that’s Iran, toward us. And we don’t get that. And we’re probably not going to get it.
But I mean, we’re supposed to be educated Americans. And we’re supposed to know that America has never gotten that. Right? Our soul is split in two. Half the time we think we must not meddle in the internal affairs of foreign countries. We all believe that. On the other hand, we also believe that our system is the best on earth, and we should do whatever we can to advance it elsewhere. And above all, if people are fighting for freedom in tyrannical regimes, we should help them. We all believe that, too. And we believe those two things, which are totally contradictory, with equal passion — all of us. And that’s a clash that goes on inside the American spirit all the time. Don’t be surprised.
Michael Wienir: We’ve only got — go ahead, clap.
We’ve only got about two more minutes. Do either of the Bruces want to comment on this question?
Bruce Thornton: Well, Michael’s last remarks reminded me of what, in Thucydides, a demagogue named Cleon says — democracies are incapable of empire. Because democracies, by definition, prioritize short-term interests over long-term. And I think that the Tocqueville quote that I’m remembering is exactly what he says — we’re great at domestic sorts of issues. But when it comes to long-range planning over time, through different administrations, through election cycles, we’re not so good at.
But the other point is that this schizophrenia that Michael identifies — we are now in the position of being the global hegemon, to use a fancy word. The reason why oil can get from the Middle East to Europe is because the US [fleet]. It’s not because of the de Gaulle. The whole economic system in which we are implicated, whether we like it or not, depends on a global sheriff, as Robert Kagan called it. And so we have to solve this dilemma that comes out of our national character and our national history. I don’t think we can just opt out. We have to somehow find the way forward.
Michael Wienir: Bruce?
All right. Unfortunately, we have hit the bewitching hour. And I wish this could go on longer. I mean, once these guys get warmed up, it just gets better and better and better.
One of the great things about Restoration Weekend, for those of you that are new to this — I know we have a lot of new people — is these panelists, these authors, these speakers, are around the whole weekend. And they’re going to be sitting with you, they’re going to be eating with you, they’re going to be wandering the halls aimlessly.
So grab them, talk with them, ask them those questions. And it’ll be even more exciting for everyone.
So we have only about 10 minutes to hit the facilities, and then the next panel begins at 11:00. That panel’s on the Arab winter, or Arab spring.
So, thank you.
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