Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Victor Davis Hanson writes with muscular prose and has been a provocative and successful historian, comfortable in going against the academic grain. I confess to rather liking many of the things he has to say in his books about the ancient world, not that I am any kind of an expert in the classics. On the other hand, as a pundit, Hanson has a tendency to make rhetorical leaps based upon assumptions that I would argue he has not thought through very well.

VDH's comments on new developments in military theory, for example, showed him to be poorly informed about 4GW and NCW, though it would have been simple enough to do some basic reading before going off on a tangent. Similarly, today's pessimistic post "Will the West Stumble?" shows a certain analytical hastiness and factual sketchiness in Hanson's rush to gloom. His heart is in the right place; Hanson worries about all the right things to be worried about in the Terror War but I'm not inclined to believe, even with the extent to which we have bungled Iraq, that everything is going to come out exactly wrong for us in the end.

Hanson reminds me a lot of Jean-Francois Revel, the brilliant, anti-communist, French intellectual who thumbed his nose at European opinion and fearlessly penned How Democracies Perish in 1983, a searing look at the West's faltering confrontation with Soviet Communism. The only problem with Revel's deeply thoughtful but despairing analysis was that he wrote it but two years before Gorbachev would introduce glasnost and perestroika, six years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and eight years before the USSR itself ceased to exist.

The Soviets were not ten feet tall. Our Islamist enemies today are even shorter. We will take knocks along the way but pessemism be damned, America is going to win.
VDH's comments on Mexico are also quite well thought out, if framed in a dismal light.
Hi Dan,

In fairness, Hanson's a lot closer to that problem, geographically speaking.
No, the Soviets weren't ten feet tall, but nor was there anything "inevitable" about Gorbachev and his "reforms" or about how everything turned out in the end.
Right on.

The Soviet Union, now that was a man-sized enemy.

These guys we are up against now are something you scrape off your shoe. They'll murder a bunch more innocent and unsuspecting people, maybe even me. But they are utterly and totally doomed.
While I agree with the post and the comments, imo you have left out an important point. The whole lesson we are supposed to have learned on 9/11 is that we are up against a movement that seeks to, at a minimum, cause our economic collapse and hence lessen our influence in the world. The danger is in WMD attacks on U.S. cities and economic infrastructure. How many dirty bombs (something relatively easy to make) would it take to severely disrupt the economy. How about a real anthrax attack (which by the way you are only going to find out about when people start showing up in hospitals in the 1,000's and it is already to late for treatment...even if you do treat, are you going to prescribe antibotics for an entire city?). Couple this with the fact that the jihadists can still hide behind various states coupled with plausible deniability and we are back to a pre-9/11 state. A bit off the Hanson topic and just my two cents.

No, Gorbachev was not inevitable but the Soviet economic implosion was well on its way by 1982.

It was the technocratic hardliners in the KGB and Ministry of Defense, led by Andropov, who were most deeply concerned about this ( having the closest thing to accurate data) and they pushed hard in the politburo and Secretariat to " do something". Andropov started but immediately became too ill to consider realstructural reforms. By 1985, a sense of crisis and malaise made the politburo desperate enough to jump over more senior and neo-Stalinist figures and pick the " young" and seemingly dynamic Gorbachev.
“The Soviets were not ten feet tall. Our Islamist enemies today are even shorter. We will take knocks along the way but pessemism be damned, America is going to win.”

“These guys we are up against now are something you scrape off your shoe.”

This optimism is good to see. Good, that is, for those of us writing about modern war. With so many Americans sporting views like this, we’re going to have lots of material.

But probably very bad for America.

Who knows, we might even win – despite such hubris.
Not hubris, betting on a different longitudinal dynamic.

Read some Gilles Kepel and Oliver Roy and you'll see what I mean about Islamists not being 10 feet tall.
"Not hubris, betting on a different longitudinal dynamic."

Betting on a diff dynamic IS hubris when we assume that our victory is inevitable. Much bad history follows such beliefs.

"see what I mean about Islamists not being 10 feet tall."

What does that mean? Are we ten feet tall? Eight feet?

Arrogance is one of the weakest weapons.

"They" (whoever that is in this discussion) are people also, with same genes. Tricky, determined often to the point of fanatical, survivors even when the odds are bad, and most of all – never to be underestimated.
"What does that mean? Are we ten feet tall? Eight feet?"

It means the Islamists aren't without problems of their own, which Kepel and Roy have detailed at length.
Sorry about the sarcasm. This hit my “irrational response” hot button.

But really, when has there been a conflict where both sides “aren't without problems of their own”? We might as well comment that they, like us, eat and defecate. No strategic or tactical insights there.

Analysis of one’s opponents, as Kepel and Roy have done, is of high utility. Conflicts are won by making the most of their weaknesses and our strengths. But, as I am sure you know as well as I, assessing relative strengths must be done coldly.

Otherwise it easily becomes another “we’re the greatest” exercise. Nice for rallying support, worst than useless for planning.

We lost one war largely thru hubris, and are well on our way to losing another one. Let's take the cure!
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