Category Archives: V.D.Hanson


We return again briefly to this mistaken application of the term “fascism” to a vast array of groups with different objectives and goals. Here’s the funny thing. Just as some correctly pointed out that you can’t engage in warfare against a technique–the war on terror–you can’t engage in warfare on a misapplied political adjective. V.D.Hanson writes,

>The common denominators are extremist views of the Koran (thus the term Islamic), and the goal of seeing authoritarianism imposed at the state level by force (thus the notion of fascism). The pairing of the two words conveys a precise message: The old fascism is back, but now driven by a radical fundamentalist creed of Islam.

In the first place, as a factual matter, Iran, al-Qaeda, Syria, and sundry terrorists have little common cause outside of their intense dislike for us or some of our friends–Israel for instance and, oddly, Saudi Arabia. Their client terrorist groups are directed at their own local interests. Al qaeda has local interests as well–the overthrow of the corrupt Saudi monarchy (which is supported by our military). Syria is baathist and decidedly secular (like Iraq *was*), with internal islamist enemies (the muslim brotherhood). These are commonly known facts–or they ought to be.

But more fundamentally, you can no more go to war against fascism than you can go to war against terrorism. Fascism is a political ideology (like Hegel on steroids). Military weapons, which islamo-fascist-utterers urge upon various and sundry targets, cannot kill the idea, only the person with the idea. But it’s not the idea that bothers us–otherwise we’d wage war on Jerry Falwell–it’s the violent way of achieving the idea. And that brings us back to the war on terror (a method). War is waged–so people who’ve participated it in have told me–against nation-states. Ignorant of this fact, Hanson argues:

>And appeasement–treating the first World Trade Center bombing as a mere criminal justice matter or virtually ignoring the attack on the USS Cole–only spurred on further aggression.

So the legalistic Clinton administration–what with its parsing of words and all–spurred further aggression! Perhaps someone ought to point out to Hanson that the current enemies (except the new specious ones Hanson is recruiting–Iran and Syria) are *not* nation-states. More basically, however, reacting with our military is just exactly what they want, as endless experts have pointed out. They are waging a war of ideas. The idea is violence. What a wonderful dream Iraq has turned out to be for them. For they know that no amount of blowing someone up with convince him that democracy works. Being blown up can only convince him that blowing people up works; being terrorized that terror works. This is how one loses a war of ideas.

The wrong trousers

Many conservative pundits have begun marching to the steady drumbeat for another war. Who will it be? Syria, or Iran, or both? Whoever it will be, it won’t be places where actual terrorists are and the reasons will be certainly be all wrong. One reason, one dishonestly asserted in the absence of any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, is that democratization of the Middle East will end terrorism. So, Victor Hanson argues that the US should support democracy in the Middle East (by something more forceful than words). A noble goal, but the first reason he offers for it is this:

>First, Islamic terrorism has a global reach. Even just a few operatives are able to destroy the foundations of Western air travel, finance and civic trust.

Whatever this has to do with democracy he does not say. No amount of democracy (say that enjoyed by the citizens of Great Britain) can stop a few crazies from blowing up some trains and buses and planes. Besides, the causes of Islamic terrorism, as far as we have been able to tell, don’t have a whole lot to do with their lack of a representative forms of government. And it’s a gross oversimplification to lump all of Islamic terrorism (read any terrorism in the Middle East) into one category. Consider, for instance, the difference between Sunni and Shiite, for starters, then add the difference between the locally directed terrorist versus the one with global interests.

And to complete the revision of history, he claims that

>In truth, fostering democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq was not our first, but last choice. What the U.S. is trying to do in the Middle East is costly, easily made fun of and unappreciated. But constitutional government is one course that might someday free Middle Easterners from kidnappings, suicide bombers and dictators in sunglasses.

It is easy to make fun of what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially since it has done so little to free *anyone*–least of all the Iraqi and the Afghanis–from kidnappings and suicide bombers.

A game of pong

In today’s Washington Post, Richard Cohen aligns himself with such bellicose pundits as Victor Davis Hanson as he argues for unhinged and indiscriminate violence against any and all associated (if only geographically) with Hezbollah terrorists. To suggest otherwise, as he *imagines* serious people have done, is pernicious anti-semitism:

>It also includes a whole bunch of European newspapers whose editorial pages call for Israel to respond, *it seems*, with only one missile for every one tossed its way. Such neat proportion is a recipe for doom.

>The dire consequences of proportionality are so clear that *it makes you wonder* if it is a fig leaf for anti-Israel sentiment in general. [emphasis mine]

Two points. First, those who have urged restraint have not suggested (and even Cohen admits as much with “it seems”) Israel engage in a game of missile pong–one for one. Proportionality is a principle of just war–of *jus in bello* to be exact. Those who urge it have rightly suggested that Israel not obliterate innocent civilians who are no more capable of controlling Hezbollah than Israel is. This argument is made on two independent grounds. First, it’s morally wrong to kill civilians. Second, as a matter of prudence, Israel cannot achieve its goal of eliminating Hezbollah by advertising for it’s most extravagant claims–that Israel engages in terrorism.

Second, to criticize Isreal’s reaction to the kidnapping of two soldiers (remember that) is not anti-semitic:

>These calls for proportionality rankle. They fall on my ears not as genteel expressions of fairness, some ditsy Marquess of Queensberry idea of war, *but as ugly sentiments pregnant with antipathy toward the only democratic state in the Middle East.* After the Holocaust, after 1,000 years of mayhem and murder, the only proportionality that counts is zero for zero. If Israel’s enemies want that, they can have it in a moment. [emphasis mine].

First, no one seriously urges the kind of silly military policy Cohen suggests; second, sometimes, believe it or not, Israel can be in the wrong–not because it’s *Israel*, but just because, like anyone or anything human, it errs.

So, Cohen, show how Israel is not wrong this time, not how anyone who criticizes them secretly wishes its annihilation.


It’s hard to say the author of the following in today’s Washington Post has in mind a straw man: we have seen in recent days on this site various iterations of the argument he attacks. Read the whole thing, but especially:

>Unfortunately — as the United States itself discovered during World War II and Vietnam, to cite just two examples — strategic bombing has almost never worked. Far from bringing about the intended softening of the opposition, bombing tends to rally people behind their own leaders and cause them to dig in against outsiders who, whatever the justification, are destroying their homeland.

While this point had already been made by Mr.Grey in a comment a few days ago, it’s worth repeating.

Dulce Bellum Inexpertis

V.D.Hanson, professor of ancient history and conservative pundit (and fellow of the conservative Hoover institute) ought to know what the title of this post means–more on that later. Considering our recent history in Iraq and Afghanistan and the amount of terrorism that has inspired (rather than deterred), we were mystified to see such belligerent opining:

What then would be the new Western approach to terrorism? Hard and quick retaliation–but without our past concern for nation-building, or offering a democratic alternative to theocracy and autocracy, or even worrying about whether other Muslims are unfairly lumped in with Islamists who operate freely in their midst.

This reminds me of something I urge upon my students. If the answer feels easy, gratifying, or is strangely in line with how you wanted it to come out, or how you have always thought, then there’s probably something wrong with it. In this case the obvious thing is that terrorism asks us to retaliate massively. Isn’t that just what terrorists–these in particular–want? Since war is politics by other, mostly violent, means, the terrorists means of violence are some of his own, and much of ours in response. That’s why they attack us. Our massive air attacks–however precise–fill their ranks faster than they could ever dream:

Any new policy of retaliation–in light of Sept. 11, 2001, and the messy efforts to birth democracies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and the West Bank–would be something of an exasperated return to the old cruise-missile payback. Yet in the new world of Iranian nukes and Hezbollah missiles, the West would hit back with something far greater than a cruise missile.

They dream about ever more violent war with the US. And clueless hacks like Hanson would give it to them. The most surprising thing, however, is this:

If they are not careful, a Syria or Iran really will earn a conventional war–not more futile diplomacy or limited responses to terrorism. And history shows that massive attacks from the air are something that the West does well.

Massive assaults on Hezbollah from the air have not resolved the crisis as it stands. How would these assaults on other countries change attitudes towards Israel? How have the so far changed attitudes towards the US? Did massive air assaults bring about an end to terrorism in Afghanistan? In Iraq? To repeat the same belligerent opining that has achieved every aim the terrorists had boggles the mind.

It’s easy–pleasing as the Daily Howlermight say–to think these things about our the only weapons we seem to have in our arsenal. And, of course, (warning graphic images): Dulce bellum inexpertis.

Honest Abe made me do it

The art of historical analogy is tricky and as such subject to dishonest manipulation. On that score, historian Victor Davis Hanson writes:

>The Bush administration can also use history to show that, despite what detractors say, its techniques aren’t so unreasonable. It’s worth reminding the American public that Abe Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and shut down newspapers; that Woodrow Wilson imprisoned prominent dissenters like Eugene Debs; and that Franklin Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese-American citizens and secret military tribunals for German saboteurs (six of whom were executed) and allowed the coverup of military catastrophes (such as the hundreds killed during training exercises for the Normandy landings).

>In other words, there’s an advantage to providing historical perspective by engaging one’s critics and answering their charges.

There’s a causal and analogical argument here. While Hanson does not say that the above mentioned things relate causally to the various military victories, he certainly suggests as much. While sorting out the causuality of these various claims might merit more serious attention, I think it’s plain to most mildly historically minded people that these claims are false. Interning Japanese and other Axis-related americans didn’t advance us militarily nor did executing German saboteurs (they were already captured). Covering up military disasters such as the one mentioned were done for purposes of concealing our plans (not our foolishness). Such things are obvious from even the most superficial History Channel surfing.

More pernicious is the suggestion that these situations are analogous to the present day. They’re not. Since they didn’t advance the cause then, analogous actions don’t advance it now.

One final point. Coming from a professor, such straw man arguments are shameful:

>The public, for example, should be informed that the accusation that the U.S. went into Iraq for oil (“no blood for oil,” as the slogan goes) is not merely inaccurate, but crazy. For starters, gas prices skyrocketed once we induced risky change in the Middle East. How does that benefit the American people? Meanwhile, because of the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s energy sector has been purged of corruption (such as the UN’s scandal-plagued oil-for-food program).

Such sloganeering inflames the passions but doesn’t constitute argument. Everyone knows that. The real arguments against attacking Iraq (not the protest march slogans) at the time were legion. It turns out, in fact, that many of those arguments were correct.

But while we’re on the subject of oil, at least one administration official (but certainly more) suggested–I think it was Paul Wolfowitz–that Iraqi oil revenues would pay for the reconstruction. How are we to have interpreted that? The consequences to the Iraqi oil industry which Hanson mentions were clearly not the ones offered to the American public when the administration rolled out its new September 2003 product line. It is false to suggest otherwise.


Yesterday I almost wrote a post on E.J.Dionne’s column. Outside of Paul Krugman (whose locked up behind the wall of Times Select), it was the first vigorously argumentative piece by a “progressive” commentator in recent memory. And of course by that I mean it advanced an argumentative thesis rather than a blandly centrist explanatory one. For all of their faults–and those are many–conservative commentators at least give the appearance of an argument.

Today, for instance, in the Chicago Tribune, we find the following in the context of an argument on appeasing Iran from Hoover Institute fellow Victor Davis Hanson:

> Likewise, the moral high ground today supposedly was to refer both the Iraqi and Iranian problems to the UN. But considering the oil-for-food scandals and Saddam Hussein’s constant violations of UN resolutions, it is unlikely that the Iranian theocracy has much fear that the UN Security Council will thwart its uranium enrichment.

This is a factual and a logical morass. In the first place, despite Saddam’s earnest desires, the UN successfully thwarted his plans for weapons of mass destruction. We know this because there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There were “program related activities”, perhaps meetings whose subject was how neat it would have been to have had purchased more of them or hid them better. But there were no weapons. All courtesy of the United Nations.

The oil-for-food program, however shameful, concerns another matter altogether; it did not have to do in the first instance with the successful containment and inspection regime. It had to do with mitigating the consequences of a severe embargo. Corrupt it was, but it did not have as its goal, as Hanson confusedly suggests, the removal from power or the domestic weakening of Saddam (and so by analogy here creating fear in the hearts of the Iranian theocrats). Rather, it was well known that all such activities merely strengthened Saddam and enriched corrupt UN officials as well as others (Americans included).

So, dear Professor, if you’re going to make fun of the UN for a being corrupt and ineffective entity, make sure not to pick out one of their successes as evidence of that fact.

Film criticism

Those crazy Hollywood liberals are at it again, argues Victor Davis Hanson, historian and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution (one of National Public Radio’s many underrepresented conservative institutions). For in Hollywood, Hanson argues, “the politically correct impulse now overrides all else.” Such a conclusion is as hyperbolic as it is unsupported by evidence–in this case, three recent and fairly successful films involving discussion of terrorism of the fictional or historical kind (*Flightplan*, *Syriana*, and *Munich*). Hanson obviously neglects the existence of a whole subgenre of television shows and movies featuring cartoonish Islamic super-villains as well as ideologically pure American super heroes.

The spectacular boneheadedness of his argument doesn’t consist only in his willful neglect of countervailing evidence, but in his implicit claim that, one, the three films may be read as a consistent policy statement of a single group (“Hollywood producers”), and more dumbly, terrorism exists in only one form (so *Munich* and *Syriana* and *Flightplan* are about the same thing). Only in light of these two assumptions would it make any sense for Hanson to counter what he takes to be the argument of, for instance, *Syrianna* with an argument of his own:

>”Syriana” also perverts historical reality. Everything connected with the oil industry is portrayed as corrupt and exploitive, with no hint that petroleum fuels civilization. Hollywood producers might not see many oil rigs off the Malibu coast, but someone finds and delivers them gas each morning for their luxury cars.

Hanson should be reminded that *Syriana* is a fictional film, the product of one director and a handful of producers (not “Hollywood producers” in general). He should also be told that some Hollywood producer’s Malibu home and luxury car does not invalidate the argument of another Hollywood producer (even if he has a luxury car and a Malibu home). That’s what you call *ad hominem*.

The fine fellows at the Hoover institution should do as we do: look in the op-ed pages of our nations major national publications for silly arguments and leave the movies to Roger Ebert.