Iran and Nuclear Proliferation with Victor Davis Hanson.
Victor Davis Hanson
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and military historian, professor of classics, and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author of more than a dozen and a half books. His most recent volumes are Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, which Dr. Hanson edited, and The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern, a volume of Dr. Hanson's own essays.
Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007, the Claremont Institute's Statesmanship Award at its annual Churchill Dinner, and the $250,000 Bradley prize from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in 2008.
The following lecture was delivered during a Hillsdale College seminar. HillsdaleCollege is distinguished by its commitment to Liberal Arts, Western Culture and theAmerican Heritage of Freedom. For over 150 years, it has refused federal funding andhas admitted students regardless of race, sex or origin or of government mandates. If youwould like more information about tapes or about Hillsdale College call toll free 1-800-437-2268.Many in this room know Victor Hanson from Hillsdale College Cruises or from visitingcampus when he teaches at Hillsdale, each fall as visiting distinguished fellow; others ofcourse will know him from his terrific writings on farming, classics, immigration andwar. He received his BA from the University of California, Santa Cruz and his Ph.D. inClassics from Stanford. He is currently a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution,professor emeritus at California University, Fresno and a nationally syndicated columnistfor Tribune Media Services. In addition to UC Fresno Victor was also taught at Stanfordand in 2003 and 2004 he was the visiting Shifrin Chair of Military History at the USNaval Academy. In addition to his weekly column for National Review Online he hasalso written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard,Claremont Review of Books and add on infinitum.He has written or edited 16 books of which I will mention about a few, The Soul of Battlein 1999, Carnage and Culture in 2001, Mexifornia A State of Becoming in 2003. Andmost recently A War Like No Other, how the Athenians and Spartans Fought thePeloponnesian War. This afternoon we have assigned in the perplexing topic Iran andnuclear proliferation. Please welcome Dr. Victor Davis Hanson.I don't know quite how to follow (Dinesh), he is a colleague at Hoover with me and I haddeveloped a great respect for his writings and consider my friend although we disagree, Iguess my problem is that I know that the traditional conservative Muslims are offendedby Britney Spears. But they are no more offended then I am by polygamy and Sharia lawand I don't go over and blow them up. And I know that people in the Middle East whobelieve in honor killing pose I think a greater threat to me than my neighbor who swearsthat atrocious "Brokeback Mountain" is a great movie. So I think that the idea of "Americanness"transcends ideology in this case.We are in dark times right now, reminds me what happened to Lincoln in the summer of1864, remember that that great year since Gettysburg and Vicksburg had long beenrelegated with the recesses as a memory and he was faced in with cold harbor in thewilderness. And it wasn't that he wasn't going to be elected that people probably heshould not be nominated. And then William Tecumseh Sherman took Atlanta onSeptember 2nd, Sherman went down the Shenandoah Valley and suddenly you couldn'tfind anybody who was not for Lincoln. Same thing was, Churchill was president aren'tremembers, it wasn't just the uncured, wasn't the failure of the anti-submarine campaignand the real threat that England would be cutoff and starve by the complete failure ofstrategic bombing in 1942. But even worse things that ill adventuring Greece, thenecessity of destroying the Allied French fleet, the terrible and catastrophic surrender atSingapore. The unexpected loss of Tuvaq, so much that Churchill was faced with a rid ofcensure in July 1942.We could go on to remember dark times in the recent history of the west, rememberTrumen, it wasn't just all over the choice and people thought that this man wasincompetent 25% approval rating were told and he left office disgraced. And now we areconfronted with not just chaos in Iran, but dangerous chaos. We have a president incontrol over a third largest oil producing and exporting nation in the world, who believesthat when he talks to the UN people cant blink for 30 minutes. And he also believes thatfor consultation he can go to (Owell)ph and listen to the voice of an Imam. And out of thatnonsense Mr. Ahmadinejad has assured us that he wants to wipeout Israel, not once butbut he said it's 6 times and the United States. And he wants to develop a nuclear device,a bomb this is a man who has 200 years of fossil fuels that would met Iran's domesticenergy needs. Most recently if you peruse Iranian newspapers, translations of such weretold that the Iranians approve of kidnapping Americans soldiers in Iraq that they areproducing extremely lethal weaponry that can nullify the defenses of an armored Humveeor an Abrams tank that threaten to shut the Strait of Hormuz and they threaten toforce or coerce gulf Sheikdoms into curtailing oil production.The question is what do we do about it and we've had and I think (Dinesh) as ably outlinedthe reaction of the left in the United States, it's almost been a shrillness it makes us quiteperplexed. As I understand the party line in the democratic congress is almost as if Bushand Ahmadinejad are doppelgangers, they are dual manikins of the same extremist views.Almost as if we were told remember Sharon and Arafat just alike as if the constitutionallyelected democratic leader was same as thug and a terrorist, if we just got rid of both of them,we'd have peace. That was nonsense then and its nonsense now with Mr. Bush andMr. Ahmadinejad.If you look at the latest news week article a secret history of Iran by Michael Hurst it's inthis issue. I think I counted 8 unanimous senior sources not identified assure us that Bushis leading us to war and I could go on and on. What then are some of the things that we allall agree about with this danger posted by theocratic Iran in the age of nuclearproliferation. I think there are 3 things that almost everybody agrees with. Bombing Iranright now to take out its nuclear infrastructure might not be sufficient to stop it and it'sprobably a bad idea. It's a bad choice and there is a worst choice and that is letting Iranhave the bomb. And there is a third thing that we all agree on and that is that if we don'tmake the Iranians think they maybe bombed, they most surely will get the bomb. Whywouldn't we want them to have the bomb and people argue will look at Pakistan, it's notthrough on to the Clinton Administration. Well Pakistan has a one billion population,India next door that provides deterrence. In the case of Iran if it is a nuclear regionalpower in the Middle East it will be at least for a while able to coerce blackmail, the sheikdomsto lower oil production that can still control the access to half the worlds oiland there is simply nobody in the region around it to say much about it and I haven't evenmentioned its threats to wipeout the only stable democracy Israel in the Middle East.What should we do then? What can we possibly do when you are faced with these badand worst choices at the time the United States is deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq with thePresident that has any where between 35% and 40% approval ratings. I think we have tolook at Iran and President Ahmadinejad as a hard boiled egg with a very thin shell. Andrather than look for one answer, we should envision tapping the hard boiled egg everywhere we can until the fissures increase and the shell cracks. And what might these six orseven things we could do in this short window of opportunity that we have before thenext, what it is 18 months, 2 years the Germans say 5, the Europeans say 10 years beforeit becomes nuclear. No one knows and no one wants to say in the age of distrust of intelligence.I think the first one of course is not to take the military option of the table but rather weshould beef up the military option and speak less about it, carry a much bigger stick andbe much quieter. So when we deploy two carrier groups in the Persian Golf and maybe athird in the Mediterranean, we both have to be very quiet about it because Mr.Ahmadinejad and the Iranians know very well that one thing the United States does verywell, very well are aerial assaults. And that we maybe bogged down in Iraq and theAmerican people may have no more stomach for ground troops. But our air force andnavy forces have not even been utilized and they could very quickly if they wanted toprovide a devastating response to Iran. In fact we've already seen some mileage out ofthat threat in recent, in the last five or six days recent efforts on the part of Iran to torndown their weapon. That didn't come from engagement, that didn't come from talking,that didn't come from the UN it came from the presence of American military forces in aslight suspicion on the part of the Iranian that George Bush might be a little bit on hingedand with a 25% to 35% to 40% approval rating rather than thinking that his hands weretied, that his hands were free with nothing left to lose. That's important and we have tokeep that up it seems to me.Second we do not want to make any assurances as to the Iranians that we have anyinfluence or whatsoever with Israel. Remember what the Iranians have done, they puttheir head in the noose by redefining the whole idea of the Holocaust and of the existenceof Israel they had a Holocaust denial symposium with every crack part in the world thatcame out of the corners and the fishers of our dark memories, they met in Tehran. Theypromised to wipeout Israel and they turned the idea of Israel upside down. Remember itwas supposed to be a sanctuary for those who had been slaughtered in Europe. Almosthalf the worlds surviving Jewry was told that they had their own country they would nevernever have to worry about lining up in the gas chambers again. And suddenly Mr. _____and then Mr. Ahmadinejad come back and say wait a minute this is gift to the radicalIslamic mind because it's now a one bomb state. We could hit them all in one bomb andno Israeli Prime Minister, 60 years after the Holocaust can stand in office and tell theIsraeli public that a) radical Islamic theocracy threaten to wipeout Israel and b) took stepsto ensure that that threat could be reified with nuclear weapons. So we have to keepcommunicating that to the Iranians that we don't know what the Israelis will do, theydon't know what they will do but if they keep talking and that they keep proliferating is agood chance that we can imagine what that would be.Three, talk a lot about democracy but of course we don't envision democracy asplebiscites. We are trying as we did in Iraq to have the whole array of constitutional andconsensual government. Protection for minority rights, economic reforms, sanctity ofprivate property, some encouragement of the middle class, some basic idea of humanrights all of this was entailed in our efforts to redraw the Iraqi constitution as same as intrue in Afghanistan and rather than we cannot, therefore we should strengthen it. So that ifif there is really a mythical, if that mythical Iranian movement exists then its going to bebe everyday reminded that there are constitutional mechanisms at work in nearbyAfghanistan and nearby Kurdistan on the boarder in Iraq, in Lebanon. And the more thatwe can put pressure on Iran, the less they will be putting pressure on us to undermineIraq. We think that we are being destabilized by the Iranians and we are but we coulddestabilize them as well as by this effort to promote constitutional values.Four, none of us know what's going on in Iran, we are told ad nauseam that there is thislarge group of Iranian youth, it's perhaps the most favorable group of constituentsAmerica has overseas. It sort of supports Bernard Lewis' dictum that the more agovernment in the Middle East hates us, the more its people like us. And we are told thatunder no circumstances are we to alienate these. It's a great bit of disagreement, many inthe Pentagon say that they may not like the theocracy but they are more Persian than antiIslamic and they will be quite happy to see Iran have increased stature in the region.Others say, well if you take the Iranian nuclear facilities out analogous to the Falklandsituation where we, were the Britain destroyed all of the pretense of the Argentinedictatorship, it has humiliated the eyes of its on people who were just weeks earlier saidwe are all Argentines now, we want them out be in his back suddenly we had ademocratic revolution. So we don't really know the nature of this dissident group, wedon't know what its reaction would be to a military strike. But all we can agree on is wemust encourage it. Here is where the liberal European and American left should be onour side, because after all we are told that there is female novelist, there is gay activist,there is liberals and Iran, excuse me that want the help and this should be a concentratedmove on the part of the United States to encourage these people and to point outconsistently how illiberal Iran is. I am not naive and I am not suggesting that either thatand itself would work but it's another fisher and addition to an, to keeping our optionsopen militarily and not pressuring Israel one way or the other that would make a Iran vulnerable.A fourth is to get the Europeans onboard. Now I know that some of you are going say,well we tried that the EU3 was a complete failure. And it wasn't for that reason it hadsome modest success, because the Europeans are starting to realize that the recentacquisition of North Korean missile technology puts Frankfort in the same boat as Tel Aviv.And they are going to be, they are going to be set were the specter of having a 7thcentury theocracy willing to blackmail or house a sophisticated country like Germany orFrance. Ultimately that, I think that will be untenable to the Europeans. Remember theEuropean Union is the largest trading partner today with around; it's developing thelargest natural gas fuel in the world, $10 billion in Iran. It provides sophisticated machinetools and technology that even the Indians and the Chinese and the Russians cannotprovide to the Iranians. And only recently with their much heralded multilateral approachthe EU3 under Britain and Germany and France who were told that this was the antithesis ofof unilateral preemptive American cowboys and Bush, why is he let it play its course, itfailed. And now the Europeans for the first time this month are starting to imposesanctions. And if we could get them onboard and if they could increase that not becausethey like us but because it's in their own self interest. Then I think that would also beanother fisher on this thin shelled egg that we want to tapping.Fourth United Nations, well, United Nations has never stopped a war, they only beeninvolved in two in its history. In Timor and Korea and only in Korea it's rememberedbecause of the Chinese boycott. So the United Nations has no power to stop, start andprevent wars. But it has enormous prestige in the constituency that the Iranians frequentand that is the third world. And, that the UN and it has now for the first time issued verysalt water down resolution denying some key elements to the Iranian nuclear programing.If we could continue down that track it too develops fissure, a propaganda fissure. It hasno future of any utility of efficacy in stopping the program but it has enormous value andpealing off at more allies from this Iranian cause. I think it's also important and this isthe key issue, it is oil. At $60, $65 a barrel, there is about $500 billion petrol moneyfloating on accounted for in the Middle East. And that explains why, explains by the waywhy we have all of our problems seem to be concentrated recently on people like UgoChavez, The Iranian Theocracy, Vladimir Putin, some times the Saudi royal family all peoplewho have petrodollar wealth. But otherwise have not done anything to achieve theeconomic prosperity which they currently enjoy through money's that have beentransferred for to them by places that have created economic achievement such as Europe,India, China and the United States and Japan.And so what we want to do is to try to curtail that. At $60 a barrel the Iranians can supplyshoulder fired missiles, they can supply RPG's, they can acquire nuclear technologypretty much as they want. At $30 a barrel they cannot. Half of their gross nationalproduct is based on oil revenues that are coming in, their own domestic consumption isincreasing, they are subsidizing their own food and gasoline and they are running chronicbudget deficits. At $30 a barrel something has to give and the Iranian people who havebeen rather docile now in their opposition to that regime was start increasingly resentingmoney's that are seen going to Hamas and has below and not to their own gasoline andfood subsidies. Something will have to give.The question is how do we lower that price? I think all of us are free market advocates;we are very reluctant about imposing gasoline tax. But I think we need to understand thisis a national security issue, that if we were to stop the importation 2 or 3 million barrelsalone in the United States but that would have a decisive affect on a very fragile oilmarket and we would start to see oil almost immediately go down to $40 a barrel and thatwould start to strangle the Iranian regime. What we have in other words is the element ofa grand bargain in the United States, where we cannot opt any one particular solution, butadopt the entire ray, well its ethanol or diverse fuels, I am not confident that that's thesolution but it might have a couple of 100,000 barrels that would not be imported in theUnited States. We could gasify coal, we could increase the fleet mileage standards, wecould try to go back and increase our reliance on nuclear power on the grid hoping thatsome of our transportation needs could be met with small electric cars. We could keepinvesting in, we can knew all of these things as well drilling anwar and on our coast saysin the side nothing was funnier for me, not longer to speak up in the hills of SantaBarbara to very afluent audience, who made it very clear that they did not want anydrilling off the Santa Barbara Coast and I pointed out to the audience that although therewere no Tahoes or Ucons in the parking lot. They sure was a lot of Volvo and LexusSUVs there. And so it seems to me that there is a lot of solutions we could do to lowerthat price of oil.Let me just recap, everybody talks about the bad and worst choices facing us, nobodywants to bomb right now given Bush's approval ratings, the American people want not tobe more in the Middle East but to be less in it. Nobody wants Iran to get the bombbecause unlike Saudi Arabia or Russia or China or any of these other wild card regimeswe have this sinking suspicion that this regime might use it. That its not subject to theconventional and classical laws of deterrence, in other words, we had the suspicion thatthere are people in a Iran who believe that once in for all a Persian Shiite strain of Islamcan recapture age old honor and prestige long denied by being the people and the secwere finally willing to end the scientist entity. And would be willing as the Iraniansthemselves have pointed out to lose several million people which they feel they couldafford with the assurance that Israel would be gone.So we don't want that to happen and we know again that if we talk about restrictingpresident Bush's ability to strike militarily when we feel the bomb is ready to becomeusable then we are going to ensure that it does. And so rather than get trapped in thateither or in the next 18 to 2 years I don't see any intelligence agency estimates Israeli,European, Russian or American suggest that it will have a bomb within 2 years. We havea brief window and we need to start tapping, tapping, tapping encourage Iraq to stabilize,spend or do not get all Iraq. Encourage the Afghans, encourage the Lebanese, encouragethe Kurds, talk about consensual government as much as we can. Subsidize dissidence,lower the price of oil, work with the EU, work with the UN, bring even another carriergroup, do not say anything to Israel that might suggest to the Iranians that they won'tstrike and out of that sort of labyrinth approaches, we hope that we can lower theand derail this nuclear problem, are we hopeful about any of these by themselves willwork, none of them by themselves will work. In the aggregate will they, actually therewas a 50-50 chance if we keep tapping and tapping harder now.Let me just finish and I like to hear questions on the matter of the Iran by remindingeverybody that just because there is a bad choice and a worst choice, the bad choice ofhitting Iran and a worst choice of letting them get the bomb does mean that there isn't anychoice. And at these other avenues don't work, I think everybody in the room will agreewith President Bush that he will go out of the office not with Iran having a bomb. So theway to look at the problem is simply that we will hit it and we will take it out unless wecan do these other thing, so the more we can do these other things, the more pressure wecould put on and more rapidly we can achieve those goals. And again oil restriction is Ithink the best way of doing it then the less likely I guess we will have to do the one optionthat nobody wants and everybody understands secretly we will have to be done if there isno other alternative.Let me just finish on the wider question of Islamic radicalism fundamentalism, the war inIraq and how this involves or stature in Iran. We are now 5 years from 9/11 and we are inthe fourth year in the very unpopular war in Iran. But what we don't realize in our year ofdiscontent, there are some positive things. Nobody talks anymore that Pakistan's nuclearenterprise has been exposed for all the problems with Hamas has, there is no more Hamasmilitary wing, nobody believes that any more. We've seen Hamas for what it is and thepeople in Hamas now are exposed and the people in the West Bank have voted and nowwe have the willing situation, I think healthy were Hamas is coming to us to beg us formore handouts. This is a hated United States; they wanted nothing to do with. Thesewere some of the contradictions of plebiscites if not the beginnings of a constitutionalframework. Libya, all places has recognized as Mr. Kadhafi said he didn't want to end uplike Mr. Hussein and they had a larger weapons of mass destruction program than Iraqdid. Nobody says well we got this, a Libyan told me 6 months ago, I don't understandyou Americans. He said you went looking for what weapons of mass destruction in Iraqand you didn't find them in the span of fortune and you don't have to spend anything, wehave more than they did. And that's been an unintentional positive result as well, so therehad been ripples, nobody though 5 years ago that Syria would ever be out of Lebanonthey are. And we should remember also how Syria got in Lebanon. Syria got in Lebanonbecause in the Gulf war under the old policy of realism that is we sort of deal with theworld only as it is more rubble, less trouble, we are in a jam. We were told that to get acoalition and the first Gulf war we had to get the Syrians on board to get the Syriansonboard they wanted free hand in Lebanon. That's no longer valid anymore. And ofcourse we don't have a 9 or 11; this is the 5th year we have in hand. So there are positive things.One last thing to be remembered is about the criticism of the current policy. Criticism ofthe current policy I find is predicated on one constant, whatever Bush is for most peopleseeing now to be against and I will just leave you with a starlting irony. I recently rereadbooks on the first gulf war. And these were by authors of best selling books in the secondgulf war. Tom Ricks, the author of Fiasco, Trainor and Gordon the author of Cobra II.Tom, Rick Atkinson the pulitzer price winner who has written a number of stinging upeds about the current Iraqi war, Bob Woodward. All of these have written about both thefirst war and the second war. If you go back and read the first gulf war, there is a themethat emerged in the unhappy years of the no fly zones, in 1990. Remember 12 years of nofly zones, $20 billion, Saddam is still in power. Hillary Clinton and Bill in the WhiteHouse warning us that Saddam should be taken out. 1998 resolution to that effect and whatwhat were those officers who were criticizing us now saying then and here is what I couldthink of fair correlation that it would be. 1991 George Bush senior was a captive to acoalition that hampered his range of movement; he mortgaged our range of option tothe Saudis and the Syrians and others. He shipped down the Japanese and looked at warsmoney making enterprise and tried to make a profit of. He called for a resurrection,excuse me a will revolt of Shia and Kurds and then when they took him at his wordslet them be slaughtered. We were cynical and despite the worst part of real politic, bycozying up to the House of Saud and the restoring the Kuwaiti dynasty. We had no idealismand we trusted the Pentagon that always over inflates the needs for troops andsent over half a million troops when our 100,000 would have been find.And we didn't listen to one person and he is the hero Rick Rick Atkinson's crusade, the GeneralWars by Michael Gordon and General Trainor, we didn't listen to one voice in the wildernessand that was Paul Wolfowitz. If you fast forward 10 years you will see theexact opposite, the Shia incurred can be trust these people were not ready for democracyrather than under, over applying the threat of the Iranians which we maybe mistake in thefirst, now we underestimated the real danger of their pose, cant trust the pentagon, theydon't know how many troops since they sent too little, we should have got our allies tocontribute more money, the coalition should have been larger and we should never have listenedto Paul Wolfowitz. I think we need to keep that context in mind when we look at Iranand we are in a situation in the west now that we have a utopian mentality that if we andthe United States are not perfect then we are not good. And we do the best we can and inthe care of Iran keep this in mind. There is a bad choice. There is a worst choice. Wedid not create the Iranian theocracy. We don't want to bomb it. We are trying to do all ofthese other avenues, these tappings on this thin egg. All of them can be caricatured .None of them alone will bring our salvation, but we were trying to do something beforewe reach Armageddon, which is only about two years away.