Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and historian at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is a columnist for National Review and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.
FP: Victor Davis Hanson, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
First things first, let me ask you this.
If our government was serious about fighting Islamic terrorism and saving lives, wouldn’t Abdul Mutallab be getting water-boarded just about now?
We know that the use of “enhanced techniques” of interrogation on al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheik Mohammed – which included waterboarding – forced KSM to give up crucial information that ended up preventing countless terrorist attacks and saving an infinite amount of innocent lives. It allowed, for instance, the U.S. to capture key al- Qaeda terrorists and to thwart a planned 9⁄11-style attack on Los Angeles.
But now, thanks to the Obama administration and its approach to the terror war, Abdul Mutallab will probably be getting a lawyer and not have to say anything. This, naturally, drastically increases, rather than minimizes, the possibilities of a future terror attack on our soil and against our citizens.
Hanson: I don’t think right now the question is over interrogation techniques, but rather not giving this foreign national would-be mass murderer full rights, as if he were a common criminal rather than a non-uniformed soldier at war.
Mutallab apparently, has been happy to tell all he knows without even being interrogated formally, which makes the entire foiled attack even more absurd: a Nigerian radical Muslim buys with cash a one-way ticket, carries no check-in luggage, was previously reported by his own father as a threat to America, and boards a plane to America after previous stays in Yemen?
Before we even get to questions of interrogation, how about first some sanity? And in reaction to all this, Secretary Napolitano nonchalantly talks about the system working like “clockwork”? I think very soon we will hear of no more “overseas contingency operations” and “man-made disasters”—and no more Janet Napolitano as head of our homeland security.
And when the next official struts and says “Bush did it”, the public will sigh “Thank God, he did”, since in comparison with the seriousness with which the prior administration dealt with terrorism, the Obama team seems to consider radical Islam an interesting catalyst for a civil liberties debate. “Reset” button probably won’t be used any more either—the phrase is too ironic now, and would mean going back to our anti-terrorism policies from 2001-9, which are preferable to the present mess. In political terms, one cannot ask millions of Americans to take off their belts and shoes, and then not put someone like Mutallab on a no-fly list.
FP: The fate of Gitmo?
Hanson: With over 100 Yemenis in Guantanamo, I doubt the facility will be closed; perhaps it will be virtually closed like the Iranian deadlines to stop building a bomb, or the health-care deadlines. I doubt too that Khalid Sheik Mohammed is ever tried in New York; that partisan gambit will be quietly Guatanamoized.
The present Obama diffidence—trash the Bush anti-terrorism protocols, bow, and apologize abroad, contextualize the US in the Al Arabiya interview and Cairo speech, promise to try KSM in New York, shut down Guantanamo—does not quite work in the context of a new series of human IEDs being unleashed against the US. Surely there are one or two astute advisors who will take the President aside and quietly say, “Your present rhetoric and policy are nuts! And you will destroy the Democratic Party for 30 years if you continue!”
FP: Abdul Mutallab doesn’t seem to come from the ranks of the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden. What does this do to the Left’s belief that the devil made them do it when it comes to our enemies?
Hanson: Well that debate was over long ago, when we learned of the past profiles of the 9⁄11 killers, the West Bank suicide monsters, and many of the human bombs who went off in Iraq.
The angriest at the West are those with enough money, and education to have developed a full sense of inferiority, self-disappointment, envy, and jealousy. A Major Hasan or Mutallab or Atta inside the West sees the prosperity, liberality, informality, and success around him, begins to figure that no such thing exists in the world of the Middle East and Islamic world, and, presto, believes America and the Jews ensured that there is no resurgent majestic caliphate. We excite the appetites in these characters faster than radical Islam can repress them. That we too often apologize and convey a sense of shame about our own culture only emboldens these killers in their fantasies.
Every bit as important as our military response and vigilance, is our moral tone, which should be along the following lines: “Dear radical Muslims, you, not us, created your present misery through religious intolerance, gender apartheid, statism, corruption, tribalism, anti-scientific fundamentalism, and autocracy, and we have neither regrets about our own success nor responsibilities for your own self-induced miseries, unfortunate as they are.” Until they get that message, we will have the sort of image conveyed by Obama in Cairo and his Al Arabiya interviews: pleasing to the world, but a signal to those who despise the US that we really do not believe in our own exceptional history and institutions.
FP: You mentioned Napolitano, her moronic statements, and how she might not be around much longer. What’s the psychology here of this administration and its overall dance with denial?
Hanson: They seem very naive and inexperienced, almost as if to say: “This is not supposed to be happening to me; I was elected to undo George Bush’s anti-constitutional, so-called war against terror, not actually fight real life terrorists.” In this administration everything is “isolated” and “allegedly”, unless you’re the Cambridge police, and then we really can snap to instantaneous judgement.
Again, I think the Obama administration felt that it would prance in, and end the bad war in Iraq, finish off the good war in Afghanistan, and dismantle the unnecessary Bush crusade against mythical dragons. Instead, they learned that Iraq was essentially won by Bush, Afghanistan is heating up, and there are thousands of al Qaeda terrorists who hate us for who we are, and don’t give a damn that our President’s middle name is Hussein. We are no longer dealing here with college deans and TV pundits who are wowed by split-the-difference, hope-and-change soaring rhetoric.
FP: Two of the four leaders behind the Northwest Airlines passenger jet appear now to have been released by the U.S. from the Guantanamo prison in November, 2007. Significance?
Hanson: It reminds us of what happens when the Bush administration caved to the popular slur that Guantanamo was a veritable Gulag, and also reminds us that those in Guantanamo were there for a reason.
We have this la-la land fantasy that there are perfectly good and bad choices. But there are no such things. We are targeted by premodern killers, out of uniform, who are keen students of Western doubt and guilt. And in dealing with them, there are no easy solutions, as is always true when the postmodern meets the premodern.
Guantanamo was a bad solution amid far worse alternatives. Candidate Obama demogogued the issue, as he did tribunals, renditions, and the Patriot Act, and now, invested with responsibility rather than mere rhetoric, can’t close it when he promised. ‘Guantanamoize’ is a good verb for incessant rhetorical deadlines that are never met. Ask Ahmadinejad.
FP: Concluding thoughts? What most worries you about the threat we face and the people who are supposedly overseeing our protection?
Hanson: Our well intentioned leaders see radical Islam more as an alternative world view that has grievances, rather than a sick, perverted Nazi-like creed that wants to take the world back to a 7th century theocracy, where freedom is denied, heretics and gays stoned, and women relegated to servile status–all overseen by rather creepy autocrats that destroy almost any modern institution they encounter.
Too often Obama, Biden, Holder, Napolitano, etc. see terrorists in terms of domestic criminals, not as enemy combatants. But once one wades into that legalistic mess of war being a judicial circus, nothing good comes from it: is it a supposed sin to water-board the confessed architect of 9⁄11 to find out about future mass murdering, but OK in legal terms to be district attorney, judge, jury, and executioner in a nanno-second when sending Predator drone hellfire missiles into the mud-brick compounds of suspect terrorists and their families in Waziristan?
We are in a race between sober people around Obama trying to apprise him of the danger, and his natural Carter-like take on America’s partial culpability for world tensions. Let us hope that the serious people win.
FP: Victor Davis Hanson, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.