Classical scholar, historian and conservative columnist Victor Davis Hanson said the Obama administration’s foreign policy has overturned a 70-year “postwar world order” of U.S.-led engagement in peacekeeping and policing around the world.
The result, Hanson told several hundred people Monday at the Fresno Rotary Club’s pre-election luncheon, is a global “crisis period” that has emboldened America’s competitors for economic and political dominance in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Hanson, a senior fellow in military and classical history at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said Republican and Democratic presidents since Harry Truman have, to some degree or other, accepted the postwar order that was developed to counter the aggression of Soviet communism. The only exception, he added, was Jimmy Carter, who espoused a “naive” belief that a focus on human rights would govern international relations.
“But by 1979, the Soviets had crossed into Afghanistan, the Shah fell in Iran and hostages were taken there, and China invaded Vietnam,” Hanson said. “People realized this is not working. We have to be engaged.”
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Similarly, Hanson said mixed messages from President Obama and his administration in dealings with China, Russia, Iran, Syria and other adversaries has increased the uncertainty of traditional U.S. allies about American willingness to shield them against aggression. The lack of U.S. resolve toward Russian president Vladimir Putin served only to encourage incursions into Crimea and Ukraine, “and he’s going to go into the Baltic states next year, probably,” Hanson predicted. “Not because they’re part of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) members ... but because he thinks that will destroy NATO. And it will, because once he goes into Estonia or Latvia and we don’t do anything, then there is no such thing as NATO.”
On the domestic front, Hanson said Tuesday’s election represents the same challenge to President Obama that President Clinton faced midway through his first term, when the Republican Party gained control of both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate in the 1994 mid-term election’s “Republican revolution.”
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, told Rotarians that he believes that by the time the political dust settles nationwide late Tuesday, Republicans will have retaken the U.S. Senate with a two-seat majority and that the GOP will add 12 seats to their majority in the House.
Hanson described Republican control of Congress as an opportunity for the president, but one that he is unlikely to seize.
“I think one of two scenarios could happen. One is that Obama works with the new majorities in the House and Senate, and that would actually do him some good,” Hanson said. “He would go to the center, almost like the reincarnation of Bill Clinton in 1995, and he was re-elected when people said he wouldn’t have a chance. … If he were to go and work with the Republicans on immigration, the budget and entitlement reform, it wouldn’t really matter if the left got mad at Obama or the right got mad at the Republicans; it would be good for Obama.”
More likely, Hanson predicted, is that President Obama will strive for a post-presidential legacy “where he didn’t give an inch, where he withstood this reactionary wave, and will rule by fiat or executive order … on things like immigration amnesty, Obamacare or cap-and-trade (that) would be very popular to the left. He would be looking for a legacy among a particular constituency rather than being a Clinton-like guy who recovered.”
He added that he’s not sure the Republicans will be ready to govern with a majority in both houses, either, given the dichotomy between “the so-called social conservative Tea Party” and the GOP establishment. To make real headway, Hanson said the party needs to take a populist approach similar to the Republican “Contract with America” that catapulted the party to mid-term success in 1994.
“They need to say, ‘We need to look at the budget, we need to address entitlements, we need to look at Social Security and we need to talk about immigration,’ and give a whole litany for the first 100 days and put the onus on Obama,” Hanson said. “I don’t think (the president) would go along with it. But I think they can do that.”
Whether the Republicans will have the appetite to exercise their political muscle on some of those issues — especially immigration and Social Security — before the 2016 presidential election is another matter, he added. “I don’t think so, because it’s the third rail,” Hanson said. “I think they will make some suggestions, but they won’t be specific.”