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The Decline of the West, and the Rise of the Rest
Posted By Frontpagemag.com On December 5, 2011 @ 12:17 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 9 Comments
The panel discussion below recently took place at David Horowitz’s Restoration Weekend in West Palm Beach, Florida (Nov. 17-20, 2011). The transcript follows. To view the question and answer session, click here.
Michael Wienir: We have a lot of things to talk about. And in particular, we want to have enough time so you can ask questions of the panelists and interact with them, and they can interact with each other. So, I still see stragglers back there. It’s like herding cats trying to do this job. It is not an easy job, for those of you that think it’s an easy job.
Come on, stragglers, pull up a chair. Sit down, the doors are closing. You don’t want to be outside anyway, the weather is not particularly good.
My name is Dr. Michael Wienir. And it is my pleasure as chairman of the Board of Directors of the David Horowitz Freedom Center to welcome you to the 2011 Restoration Weekend. And let me take this moment to simply thank all of you for your support in the past, in the present and, I know, in the future.
As David Horowitz has said, we are an effective battle tank, we’re not just a think tank. And we have a general on the panel. And the key is that the ammunition that this battle tank uses is generated by David and other members of the Center. But the fuel to make this tank go is provided by your generosity and the generosity of over 90,000 people who across the country are contributors large and small to the David Horowitz Freedom Center. We can’t wage this battle — we cannot fight, this tank will not run — without your support and without your help.
The mission of the David Horowitz Freedom Center is quite simply the defense of free society, whose moral and ethical and cultural foundations are under attack by enemies at home and abroad, both secular and religious. And that’s what our mission is. That’s what we do. And we’re a unique organization.
David has defined the values of the Center, and there are a number of them — very similar to what Herman Cain had to say this morning — individual freedom, limited government, the rule of law, capitalism, free markets, and equal opportunity. Not radical egalitarianism; equal opportunity at the starting line, not equal outcome at the finish line. Not redistribution of wealth, but creation of wealth for all our citizens. We work to create these opportunities in the private sector, and we support strong defense to preserve and protect these values. And we reject surrender, appeasement, retreat and defeat.
Dennis Prager, who is not here this weekend but is a friend of the Center, points out what America really is, the trilogy — liberty — not what the Left wants, which is equality, and not individual freedom — E Pluribus Unum — out of many, one — not multiculturalism — and In God We Trust — not secularism.
This panel, then, is defined as the decline of the West — meaning these Western values — and the rise of the rest — secular socialism, Marxism, Islamofascism, and this Chinese model of — I didn’t know how to actually title it, but I guess it’s totalitarian mercantilism.
So the questions for the panel that I’ve asked them all to address is — one, is the West really in decline? Do you accept the premise of the title of the panel? If the West is not in decline, I’ve asked them to defend their position and answer your questions. Number two, if you agree that the West is in decline, what is the specific cause of that decline? And if you agree that the West is in decline, what can be done to reverse the trend? And finally, are you optimistic, or are you pessimistic? Four simple questions.
Now, each panelist gets 10 minutes to do this. It’s better than 30 seconds on that Presidential debate. And then we should have about 20 or 25 minutes for the panelists to interact with each other and for you to ask your questions, which they will answer.
First panelist is Bruce Bawer, who I just had the pleasure of meeting — I’ve read his books. Bruce is an American literary critic and writer and poet. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees, including a PhD in English from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He’s taught courses in literature and composition, in search of a tolerant society. He moved to Amsterdam from New York in 1998, and then to Oslo, Norway — I believe it’s 1999 — only to confront the intolerance of Islam and their tolerance — European tolerance of intolerance.
Among his many books and writings are “While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within,” and, in 2009, “Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom.” Bruce is now a Shillman Fellow — and you’ll hear more about Bob Shillman’s generosity and the Shillman Fellowships later on during this weekend — and as such is a regular contributor to our website, which I hope you’re on every day, FrontPageMag.com.
Bruce Bawer: Thank you, Michael. Thank you, everybody for being here. Thank you to the David Horowitz Center for having me at this wonderful place.
First, I think it’s useful to step back and ask exactly what we mean when we speak of the decline of the West. Do we mean a decline in raw military power, in freedom, in prosperity, standard of living, quality of life; in security, in character, in civic virtue, in art and culture? And when we speak of decline, are we speaking of decline relative to a decade ago, a generation, a century? And if we are in decline, who is rising, and in what ways, and why? And what does their rise say about the West?
For example, the rise of China as an economic power, and India as both an economic power and a fledgling democracy — maybe less a reflection of the innate qualities of Chinese or Indian civilization than of the powerful influence of Western ideas and values in those countries. Indeed, Western civilization has become, in a very real way, world civilization. And Western values have come to be recognized very widely as universal values.
Maybe it’s also useful to remind ourselves that people have been talking about the decline of the West for a long time. Europe, which reached its zenith of power, [self-competence] and much else in the latter part of the 19th century, was traumatized by the First World War and, in a way, never really recovered.
During the Depression, a lot of supposedly smart people in both America and Europe thought democratic capitalism was finished and that they were faced with a choice between communism and fascism. For awhile during World War II, things didn’t look good. And for quite awhile afterwards, many people were betting on the USSR.
I was born into a prosperous, stable, self-confident America. But by the time I was a teenager, the US seemed to be coming apart at the seams, frazzled by a new culture of protest that transformed American cultural values, mocked the idea of America as the arsenal of democracy and undermined American social stability. Similar developments, of course, were going on all over Western Europe.
Then came Watergate, and we were told that American democracy was on the rocks. President Ford reassured us, only to be replaced by Carter, who told us we were afflicted with a deadly malaise that was taking us down the tubes. Reagan brought us Morning in America, though, at the same time, we were warned that Japan was about to leave us in the dust.
The fall of communism in Europe felt at first like a great triumph for the West. But for many, it led to a crisis of identity. We had to find ourselves in opposition to communism — what were we now?
Then came 9/11. And after the initial and very brief feeling of Western unity, confusion and division set in. And that’s something worth puzzling over. After all, 9/11 was followed by attacks elsewhere in the West — Madrid, London. We were all in it together. The West should never have been more united in resolve. But it wasn’t. Why? Because we’d been poisoned by a decadent thing called multiculturalism that made it impossible for many of us — especially our cultural elites — to even name our enemy.
Fear played a part too, of course. Many European countries were already so heavily populated with Muslims, who they knew were sympathetic to jihadists, that the leaders of those countries didn’t dare talk honestly about the subject. Our leaders sent soldiers off to fight but weren’t always honest with them about what they were fighting.
Meanwhile, Europe became increasingly accustomed to Muslim youth crime, so-called no-go zones, and fiery jihadist preachers. But who was put on trial in Europe, in Canada and in Australia? The few people who dared to speak bluntly and honestly about Islam.
No wonder, then, that we were plunged into confusion and division. Not just division among Americans, but division between America and our Western allies. During the Bush years, anti-Americanism in Europe swelled to unprecedented proportions. Respected intellectuals equated Bush with Saddam and [Osama]. Then suddenly, China loomed as the world’s next great power, and the West became gripped by economic crises.
Today, the welfare states of Western Europe face demographic disaster. The EU is a question mark. And America consists increasingly — to quote Charles Murray — of two classes that don’t talk to each other. The Tea Party grasps the importance of freedom to the West’s survival, while Occupy This-That-and-the-Other is ready to sacrifice freedom for an illusion of equality.
But what about the great majority of Americans who belong to neither movement? To what extent do they exhibit what used to be known as civic virtues, and understand and respect the Constitutional values on which this country and the entire free West was built? To what extent, on the other hand, are they the products of a relativist multiculturalism which has taught them that the West’s history is nothing but a litany of evils, colonialism, imperialism, exploitive capitalism; thereby twisting one of the world’s great strengths, constructive self-criticism, into a destructive self-hatred?
Instead of preparing to build on the West’s great heritage, young people are too often taught today to apologize for it. This is no atmosphere in which to hatch new Dantes and Shakespeares, new Beethovens and Mozarts, new Rembrandts and Michelangelos. Europe’s great cities are museums.
And speaking of culture, what about American popular culture? I grew up in a great age of middlebrow culture which was a force for social unity that prepared young and undereducated people for the higher glories of high culture. In the first half of the last century, American films and popular [song], at their best, were not only aesthetically meritorious but embodied admirable, even noble, values.
One of the much-discussed cultural topics in the last couple of weeks has been the disappearing taboo against the F-word in the titles of plays, movies and songs. I don’t really care that much about the F-word. Anybody who’s read Chaucer knows that vulgarity has been a part of English literature from the beginning. But the kind of cultural products that have the F-word in their titles today might well have been created in order to demonstrate definitively that the West is indeed undergoing a profound decline.
Then again, these things may turn around. We’ve faced economic and cultural setbacks before. Plus the fact we must admit that there have been remarkable developments in our own lifetimes that we shouldn’t overlook. Economic crisis or not, most of us are living better than ever. We live longer than ever. In America, many of the prejudices I grew up around have faded to a degree I never imagined possible, although the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and its appearance among the Occupy This-and-That crowd is not too heartening.
But thanks to Western science and technology, we live in a world of marvels. Whenever I’m bored and taking for granted the everyday wonders of contemporary Western life, I look around me and ask what Benjamin Franklin would make of television, cell phones, e-mail, YouTube, Spotify and Skype.
At this point, however, I suppose I should remind you all of the subtitles of my last two books. The subtitle of “While Europe Slept” is “How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within.” The subtitle of “Surrender” is “Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom.”
These subtitles describe not only decline but destruction — the destruction first of the first freedom, freedom of speech, at least speech about Islam — a widespread submission to the tenet that Muslims have a right to see their religion treated with respect, even deference; a tendency for the cultural and intellectual world, the media establishment, political leaders at every level, the police and military, and society at large, to give in to the demands of Sharia law in a variety of ways big and small; a deep-seated reluctance on the part of authorities to face up to social problems caused by Islamization, a readiness to surrender Muslim enclaves to autocratic government by local patriarchs who follow the dictates of Sharia law.
These developments worry me deeply. A house divided against itself cannot stand. And a native culture that doesn’t believe very much in itself and in its own values cannot survive for long against an imported culture whose members believe in their own cultural values so passionately that now a few of them are prepared to commit suicide or murder their own children in the name of those values.
To put it bluntly, I’ve seen what Islamization has done to Europe, and I’ve seen how Europe is responding, and I’ve started to see the same things happening here. And I’m worried.
To answer the four questions with which we began directly, then — is the West in decline? Well, I wouldn’t have written my last couple of books if I weren’t sincerely worried that it is. At the same time, I couldn’t have written them if I didn’t think that there was hope, if we stop responding to Islam with deference and apology and appeasement.
What can be done to reverse the trend? Educate our next generation to know Western history, to cherish Western liberty and appreciate the sacrifices of those who bequeathed it to us to practice Western values of discipline, hard work, economic responsibility, sacrifice, tolerance and intelligent self-criticism; to recognize that they are mere stewards of the treasure that is Western civilization, and to be prepared to defend it with their lives.
Finally, the last question — are you optimistic, or pessimistic? Well, as I think I’ve made it clear, that varies. When I’m attending a political debate in Europe, where everybody sounds as if they’re living on another planet than I am, I’m overcome with despair. When I’m in a place like this, which is itself a reminder of the glories that America and the West are capable of, and where I’m in the company of people who obviously get it, I feel a spark of optimism. So thank you for that.
Michael Wienir: Thank you very much. The worst job trying to moderate is trying to keep people to 10 minutes. But everybody has so many wonderful things to say, and [yeah, that stinks]. Have your questions ready for all these panelists.
Next panelist is Paul Vallely. Paul is a retired United States major-general, a graduate of West Point. His training includes — and you can look at his lapel, because he’s got a whole bunch of these buttons on there — infantry, Rangers, Airborne, jumpmaster, command, general staff schools — he’s been to all those. He’s got experience at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and the Army War College. He was deputy commanding general of the Pacific Command when he retired in 1993.
In 2004, with our friend, retired Lieutenant General Tom McInerney, he wrote a book called “The End Game” — which he presented at one of our sessions — “A Blueprint for Victory in the War on Terror.” He has served as a senior military analyst for Fox News, Military Committee Chairman of the Center for Security Policy — Frank Gaffney is around here someplace to say hello to — he has supported Veteran Defenders of America. And he founded a wonderful organization called Stand Up America, supporting the First and Second Amendments, strong national defense, secure borders, personal responsibility, individual liberty and limited government.
He’s been a contributor to FrontPageMag.com and has been a long-term friend of mine and a long-term friend of the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Paul Vallely: Thank you very much, Michael. Good morning, everybody. We came from Montana two days ago, it was nine degrees.
So even if it’s raining outside, it’s wonderful. And I’ve got my nurse’s assistant here, Muffin, who you’ll get to meet.
Michael Ledeen and I won’t cover with you all of our medical problems last year, but it really put us out of action for a while. But we’re standing, Michael, and we’re here with all of you. Wonderful friends, you know, we’ve known you for so long now. Years. And it’s always a pleasure, and appreciate when Michael and David invite us to be a part of this each and every year.
Stand Up America, just to tell you a little bit — we have 16 research intelligence analysts that work for us around the United States. And that’s what’s the basis of us being able to produce and publish a lot of articles that are pertinent to the subjects that we’ll be discussing this weekend.
But specifically, let me try to address the decline of the West and answer the questions, Michael, as best I can. But certainly, we really want to have a heavy question-and-answer period, where we can get more into the Middle East and more specificity of some of the major issues that we’re looking at today.
But you know, when you look historically back — and I learned as a cadet at West Point, when we studied all the great battles — all the revolutions that had taken place, the tactics and the strategies that were used to restore a society or a culture — we certainly have to look at what were the root causes of the decline. And if you typically look back at revolutions and the demise of empires, the fall of empires over the centuries, you will see it comes back basically — something has happened in that culture with those people, from tyrannical governments, dictatorial governments. And it comes down a lot to the economics, and what kind of pain that is placed on any kind of society.
So when we look at what’s happening around the world — and I’ll talk more specifically about it, and what I call a chessboard, the international global chessboard, to lay out exactly how we see things as the world exists today. But examining the past again, and reflecting — yes, we have been in a decline.
If you track back culturally in America, I can track it back to the ’60s. And then, when we look at the financial — the stability of our markets over a period of time. But mixed in with that was the innovation of America, and the high-technology developments. So as a decline occurred in certain parts of our structure, even the political decline of effective leadership over the years, effective government.
So you tie all of those things in together while you’re trying out there in the private sector, and those that do have common sense and are innovative, to be creating products, activities, corporations and organizations — really still today, that’s the glue that’s holding us together.
We did a strategic study — we completed it two months ago. I’ll be happy to provide you a copy of it. But guess what the four or five major threats to America are, when we look at this decline? Number one, the greatest threat to America is an inept and a dysfunctional government. Okay, think about that. The second major threat in the decline — as we’ve seen, and we’re experiencing right now — is the financial collapse of the United States and the Western countries. Third, the greatest threat was our southern borders and our borders. The fourth was Iran and what’s happening in the Middle East. And fifth was Afghanistan and Pakistan. So when you analyze that, and you talk about the decline politically, when you look at a dysfunctional government that we have so bureaucratized, and we’ve so over legislated, then our hands are almost tied.
So the question is, as we come back — what are the solutions? And I call it the restoration. As we’ve seen a decline now with still a strengthening of the glue within the American society, still with many of us having what I call the warrior spirit, the ability to restore the Constitution, the ability to restore the republic, and get back to the basic values and traditions — that’s how you get after the root cause.
But let me tell you a little bit of difference. As you restore, and as countries, as societies, restore themselves after tremendous upheaval and tremendous pain, it all comes back to superb leadership. But above that — I define it even further — is the warrior. And the difference between warriors and leaders — warriors will fall on their sword. I will die for you, I will die for your children, to restore this country and to make it what it should be today to deal with today and tomorrow.
So we all need to have that warrior spirit. Because, as Herman Cain pointed out, we are in the battle for America. It’s not business as usual. This is a different situation in 2011, going into 2012. And your neighbors, your local communities, have to realize they’ve got to get out of their bubble.
I talked to 60 corporate leaders yesterday. Honest to goodness, I couldn’t believe it. It’s like they’re all in their corporate bubble, except for a few. And I find that amongst many intelligent, educated individuals. So in this restoration, to go from the decline that we’ve seen across the board to restoration now, and coming back up — and Michael Ledeen and I talked earlier this morning — we want to be on a positive note.
Yes, we have to look at the threats out there. We have to understand that we’ve got to have a government, we’ve got to have an organization within this country, that can meet those threats. Because listen, you can talk about unemployment, you can talk about economics, you can talk about all those other issues out there. They mean nothing, unless we can secure you and your families. The security of you and your families is the utmost important thing we can do. Because once we have the security of America, we have strong leadership and we have strong warriors leading our country, we can do anything. And that’s the key to it all.
So within my 10 minutes, that’s it. And very happy to address the Middle East and some other things.
Michael Wienir: That was exciting. That’s less than 10 minutes. So lots of questions.
I’m looking at my introduction to Michael Ledeen, which has just been edited, which is a good thing.
Michael is a noted political analyst. He was Freedom Scholar chair at the American Enterprise Institute, where he worked for over 20 years. He’s now the Freedom Scholar chair at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He was a founding member of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. He is a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal, National Review, Fox News; and was a consultant to the National Security Council, Department of Defense and Department of State.
His books include “Grave New World,” “Tocqueville on American Character,” “Machiavelli on Modern Leadership,” and, in 2007, “The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots’ Quest for Destruction.”
Michael Ledeen: Thank you, Michael. It’s great to be on a panel with another Michael and two Bruces.
When I was a teenager, the Bruce was one of my heroes. There was a radio show in New York that was run by a DJ called Bruce, and I thought it was great.
Good morning. Happy Friday to all of you.
I’m a historian. I have a doctorate in history from the University of Wisconsin, about which you’ve all heard. And it was great to get a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin because there was real debate. We fought with each other every day about almost everything. And I think everybody who came out of that program in those years came out toughened by it.
But I stress to you that I’m a historian, not a prophet. So I will say to you what I say to the young kids that I work with at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies — that we don’t know. We don’t know if America is in decline or on the rise. Nobody knows. Most things that people talk about — that we talk about, that pundits write about, and on which they pronounce all the time — are unknowable. We won’t know for quite awhile whether we’re rising or falling, how our enemies are doing, and so forth.
There have been — if you go back and read cultural history, the conviction that America has been in decline starts the day after Plymouth Rock. Europeans said about Americans from the beginning that America was created by failed people and biological rejects –
– that America — no, really. Scientific essays on how Americans were shorter than Europeans and weaker than Europeans, and more prone to disease than Europeans, and so forth — we’ve always been written off. And there’s a whole strain in American intellectual history that of course rewards this point of view. And intellectuals in particular love it. Because the real secret about American intellectuals is that they’re miserably unhappy because they’re not Europeans.
And European intellectuals are on top of the status heap. They get good salaries, they get high prestige, they’re on television all the time. People bow to them, people respect them, pretty women run after them — or pretty men, depending.
And it’s a great life. And over here, you know, Americans by and large really don’t give a damn about intellectuals. And the way the — the adjectives we applied to them, as in pointy-headed, et cetera –
– show all of this. And when I was in college, there was a very famous book emerge by Professor Hofstadter at Columbia University, called “The Anti-Intellectual Tradition in American Life,” which went through all of this stuff. And that book was obviously intended to show us how terrible all of this was. And it’s only later in life that I came to realize that it was a very good thing, this anti-intellectual tradition.
So I say all this in order to stress — we don’t know. We don’t know how it’s all going to turn out. However, if you look at it from the standpoint of global conflict — us against them — there’s every reason to be not only optimistic, but even wildly optimistic.
The first important point is the basic fact of American history in the world. We have always been [saved] by our enemies. We have never intervened in a global matter because we figured it out, because we thought we were at risk, and we acted to save us, our values, our allies, et cetera. Never.
We were torpedoed into the First World War in the North Atlantic by the Germans. We were providentially bombed into World War II just in the nick of time by the Japanese. We were dragged kicking and screaming into the Cold War by Stalin, who just couldn’t wait to get his fangs into Greece and Turkey at the end of the war, and to gobble up all the satellites in Central and Eastern Europe, at which point we had to do something. So the Cold War — we were a reluctant, very reluctant, participant. And the so-called war against terror — the evil phrase we are not even permitted to pronounce anymore — was famously something that we didn’t choose; they chose us on 11th of September, 2001.
So we rely on our enemies. And on this you can be prophetically sound. Because our enemies will attack us, they have to attack us, they will continue to attack us. And so eventually, some American President will get up one day and say — you know, we really have to do something.
And I will say only one line about that. We are — Barbara and I have three children, all of whom have served in this war, two of whom are male marine officers, one of whom is in Afghanistan today. And on the subject of Iran, where the entire debate involves around nukes — should we let them have nukes, can they be permitted to have nukes, is it acceptable, tolerable, et cetera — the fact of the matter is that the Iranians kill Americans every day. Let me say it again — Iranians kill Americans every day. Nobody cares. Only the military guys care. And for the most part, they’re muzzled by the politicians. So I just want to put that out there.
So what are we facing, and what is the threat to us? We’re facing a corrupt elite here at home, both political and intellectual. The theme of universities, as Bruce Bawer said, is absolutely central to the success of the United States. And success of universities means — the word they use but don’t mean, which is “diversity” — intellectual diversity.
The really great thing about David Horowitz, who I’ve known for very long time — but I mean, the greatest thing about David Horowitz is that he has gone onto university campuses and fought for intellectual diversity. That is to say you have to have debates on campus. Our children have to hear every issue argued out. They have to hear why people believe things that we don’t, and why people believe things that we do. They have to hear the full range of debate. They’re not getting it.
College campuses are boring today. Their monolithic, they’re heteronomic, and they [hand to] the left. And so they don’t hear the range of discussion. That’s stultifying. That’s bad for what America needs most of all, which is creativity, energy, self confidence and so forth.
I have an answer to — was it Paul’s remark — what is China? Totalitarian mercantilism, which is a great phrase that I’m going to steal and plagiarize and use often in the future. I never heard it before, but I love it.
China is the world’s first mature fascist dictatorship. It’s what happens when the ideology burns out, and you’re left with this kind of structure, with the remnants of a kind of traditional racism. That’s what China is today. China now has legitimized private property, certain amount of private business, a lot of what we would call crony capitalism. But China certainly no longer has any vestige of communist state, nor do they talk about revolution anymore, communist or otherwise. It’s now an imperial power trying to expand its outreach.
And I will tell you, without taking any particular pleasure in it, that that system, as all [subsystems], are in a terrible crisis. Because as Machiavelli said, quite rightly — almost everything accurately said was quite right — but one of his central themes is that tyranny is the most unstable of all forms of government. Tyranny is the least likely to last a long time. The most likely to last a long time is what we’ve got — a mixed system, a mixed Constitution.
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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