HH: I wish I could say Happy Thanksgiving Eve to you, but it’s not. There’s a massive terror assault still underway at this hour in Bombay, India. Joining me to discuss this and other matters, Mark Steyn, Columnist To the World. You can find all of Mark’s writings eventually at www.steynonline.com. Mark, evidently the election of Barack Obama did not end the struggle by barbarians against Western civilization.
MS: No, it didn’t, and I think when you look at this attack, which was on, I believe, at least seven different locations, a coordinated attack against luxury hotels and other prestige targets, it’s clear it must have been in the works before the election of November 4th. So in effect, these guys figure it makes no difference who’s in the White House. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Bush or McCain or Obama or Dennis Kucinich. That’s not a factor in their thinking.
HH: Mark Steyn, I have never been to Bombay. Have you?
MS: Yes, I have.
HH: Okay, give us a sense of what this part of town is like. There are many different conflicting reports, but it looks like the posh, poshest of the areas of town.
MS: Yes, it is, and it’s in some ways, when you walk around it, you do get a sense of Edwin Lutyens’ India, with its quite beautiful architecture. But at the same time, you also get a sense of a kind of teeming, bustling, huge population living in great poverty just beyond. And Bombay is, you know, to play demographics bore for a moment, Bombay is typical of a lot of parts of India. As you know, the largest number of Muslims in the world actually live in democratic India. But they’re birth rate is significantly higher than the Hindu population of India. And so remorselessly, cities that once had a relatively constrained Muslim population, that Muslim population is growing in relation to the Hindu population.
HH: Mark Steyn, when I first saw this starting to occur and unfold, I’ve been watching it for about two and a half hours now, my thoughts went back to the SWIFT program, which had previously successfully interdicted Hambali, one of the great sub-continent terrorists, caught him in Thailand. Of course, the news of the SWIFT program leaked by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and others, this is a massive attack involving many, many terrorists at many different locations, the sort of attack where vast amounts of money had to be deployed. And you have to wonder whether or not these security leaks over the years has made it very, very difficult for us to track these people.
MS: Well, I think the New York Times’ view of this situation, and indeed as far as one can tell, Barack Obama’s view, I don’t rule out, by the way, that this might be, insofar as it’s connected to Obama, it might be a preemptive response to his planned invasion of Pakistan, which should be taking place in two or three months time. But that aside, I mean, essentially the view here is, of the New York Times, is that terrorism is a law enforcement matter. Obama feels terrorism is a law enforcement matter. Well, what law enforcement means is you investigate a crime after it’s occurred. You wait until the liquor store’s held up, and then you investigate it and find out who held it up. I don’t think that works with terrorism. At the last count, dozens of people are dead, whatever it is now, 80-90 people are dead. British and American visitors in those luxury hotels like the Taj Mahal Palace have been targeted and singled out and taken hostages. And that is not a law enforcement matter. You don’t want to be investigating that after it happens. You want to stop it before it happens. And that’s where things like leaking the details of the SWIFT program by the New York Times are actually quite disgraceful, and in fact in most societies throughout human history would have been regarded as an act of treason.
HH: In terms of the first appointments that the President-elect has made on his national security team, he does seem to be trending towards realism in this regard with the decision to retain Robert Gates and to bring in General James Jones as the national security advisor.
MS: Well, I think he’s signaling continuity, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that as far, for example, as the Europeans see this, and India, by the way, is slightly different, because one of the great legacies of the Bush presidency has been the strengthening of ties between India and Washington. George W. Bush has phenomenal popularity ratings, by the way, in India. But I think as far as the Europeans are concerned, and also the Saudis and the other Middle Eastern regimes, what happened on November 4th drew a line under the so-called war on terror. They feel that’s Bush’s war, it dies with the Bush administration. And they’re looking forward to Barack Obama not just dialing back the rhetoric, but dialing back the zealous prosecution of this thing. And so as far as the Continent and the Middle East are concerned, I think they’re looking, I think they look on November 4th as a kind of repudiation of the whole concept of the Bush war.
HH: ABC News this afternoon reporting word of an FBI alert with regards to the New York City subway system and the train system in and around the island of Manhattan. I have to think that if terrorists could do anything, they would love to be able to attack the United States before Bush leaves office, just as a sendoff kick in the pants.
MS: Yes, I think that is true. I think they hate him with a particular fury because he destroyed their camps in Afghanistan, and he toppled the leader who most obviously cocked a snook at the entire Western world, Saddam Hussein. So there’s a lot of personal hatred for Bush among those Islamist radicals. But the reality is that whoever’s sitting in the White House, this goes on. Most of these guys, you think about it, most of these guys, they don’t know who the Democrats are or who the Republicans are. They hate America. And this idea that somehow if you strike against America, you’re striking at Bush, and if Bush would just go away, all of this trouble would just go away, that’s not true. This is an existential challenge to Western civilization, and it goes on no matter who’s sitting in the White House.
HH: Mark Steyn, let’s turn to the economic panic of recent weeks, and to the appointment by Barack Obama of a new Treasury secretary, a chief economic advisor in Lawrence Summers, a Council of Economic Advisors chair in Christina Romer. These are very mainstream, not at all radical socialists. How do you tote up the score on his economic team?
MS: Well, Bill Clinton used to like to tell people that he governed as an Eisenhower Republican. And there’s a lot of truth to that. If you imagine an Ike with a serious pants dropping problem, there is a lot of truth to that. And given that what we’re seeing is basically some retro, back to the 90s reconstruction of the Clinton administration, it’s not a big surprise to see Summers and Volker and a lot of very reassuring Eisenhower Republican type names, in effect, coming back. I think in a sense, that reflects Obama’s caution. You know, clearly the entire Western financial system is incredibly vulnerable at the moment. We saw the way Iceland just went belly up a couple of weeks ago. If you look at the numbers, and if you look at the levels of personal credit, in some senses, one could make the case that the United Kingdom is headed the same way. I mean, there could be some major countries whose financial systems take absolutely disastrous hits over this. The last thing you want to do is come up with guys who are either inexperienced or have radical ideas. In a sense, this is Obama’s caution asserting itself.
HH: Does the center-right dare hope that Obama will turn out to be a talk left-govern right kind of figure?
MS: Well, you know, in the sense that…Bush was not a conservative in key respects, and that made it hard for conservative pundits to challenge him, because in effect, you always feel uncomfortable challenging your own guy. If Obama keeps a lot of the Bush personnel, and many of the same Bush policies in place, it’s actually very liberating for conservative intellectuals, because they can challenge them untrammeled. But I would caution against the idea that somehow all this marvelous continuity means that nothing important was really lost on November 4th. I think the ratchet effect in American politics, the drift towards socialized health care, the drift toward a majority of the population who pay no federal income tax, these are all disastrous trends in American life which are not good for American conservatism.
HH: Now I have to conclude our conversation today, Mark Steyn, by asking about the pardon authority you have in your household for any turkeys that might be nearby the Steyn manse in New Hampshire.
MS: Well, it’s actually the opposite. I was, you know, I wasn’t really in a killing frenzy. The whiff of blood had not yet hit my nostrils. But after seeing that Sarah Palin video, I was so fired up with the old bloodlust, we’re slaughtering everything in sight here. Nobody gets pardoned. We’re feasting tomorrow.
HH: And are you turkey eaters or duck eaters or goose eaters up there?
MS: Well, we like to save the goose for Christmas Day. What is it? Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. And that’s what we do. We have a nice goose on Christmas Day, and so we generally do the turkey on Thanksgiving, because turkey, in Britain, everybody has turkey for Christmas, and I find it very boring for Christmas. But somehow it tastes a lot better if you have it at the end of November.
HH: Mark Steyn, a Happy Thanksgiving to you, thank you for gracing the show all this year and for many more, and have a great holiday.
MS: And Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Hugh.
End of interview.