Mark Steyn and Hugh on the White House losing the message war on the war.
HH: Joined now by columnist to the world, Mark Steyn. You can read all of his work assembled at www.steynonline.com, as well as his book, America Alone, a good link to order it there, still high up on the charts on the New York Times bestseller’s list, Amazon.com. Mark, good to talk to you.
MS: Good to be with you, Hugh.
HH: Mark, next week you’re going to go and help bring the conservative movement together at the National Review Conservative Summit down in Washington, D.C. I see you’re on the program there. That’s a great thing.
HH: Why couldn’t the RNC have borrowed anyone from that? They’re having perhaps the most mealy-mouthed gathering under the term recommitment to reform. It’s boring to look at, I’m sure it’s putting people to sleep. What’s wrong with these people?
MS: Yeah, well, I don’t think the conservative base wants to be put to sleep at the moment. They would like some inspiring leadership, and Congressional Republicans, and the Republican establishment do seem determined not to provide it. You know, I think there’s a big load of wishful thinking going on amongst the Republican leadership that in a sense, the pendulum will swing back in 2008, and things will go their way. I don’t think so. I think in my own state, for example, which was one of those red states with bluish inclinations, and transformed wholly blue, I think Senator Sununu would certainly be swept away if 2008 was like 2006. And they’re not going to hold those kind of seats with this kind of complacent establishment think that is represented by that RNC gathering.
HH: Now today, it’s been announced on the wires that U.S. and Iraqi forces conducted a nine-day operation north of Baghdad. They killed 100 insurgents. It was led by the 3rd Brigade Combat team, the 1st Cavalry Division. No one has told our army not to fight. They continue to fight. But evidently, Chuck Hagel, Olympia Snowe, and what my colleague Dean Barnett has deemed the 11/7 Republicans, want to quit, Mark Steyn. Are they representative of a broader collapse in support for the war?
MS: Well, I think there are problems on the Republican side of the ledger in terms of the war. I think there is a kind of Chuck Hagel-Olympia Snowe, finger in the wind, squishy kind of Republican, who just feels that the war is a loser, and that they don’t want to be stuck with it in two years time. And then I think there’s an equally bigger problem, a disaffected segment on the right, that takes the view that if you’re going to fight a war, you fight it mean, tough, full-out, and you win it. And that’s the way, if the war’s a political problem for you, the best way to make it stop being a political problem for you is to win it decisively, and then it’s over, and then people can go back to all the squishy, Nancy-boy, pantywaist issues like prescription drugs for seniors, or whatever. And I think the Republican support for the war is in danger of crumbling in all directions. But certainly, I think the Chuck Hagel-Olympia Snowe moves are completely contemptible when 150,000 American fighting men and women are in Iraq, and doing very dangerous work on behalf of this nation.
HH: I agree with that, 100%. And the question is whether or not that message will get through. I had one political calculation which I made yesterday, which I do not believe a single Republican Senator in a purple or blue state will win reelection if they join the Hagel and Snowe effort. Do you agree with that?
MS: I would agree with that, actually, because I think the thing about it is that it is politically contemptible. And I think the people recognize that for what it is. I think one of the reasons why Hillary Clinton is in trouble on her side of the field is that the people who are against the war are against the war. In other words, there’s not a lot of takers for the well, I’m sort of opposed to the war, but I’m for it a little bit, and I’m trimming here, and I’m trimming there, and I’m drifting back and forth. I think in the end, these guys have to be either for it or against it. And unfortunately, that kind of clarity is something that Olympia Snowe and similar kinds of Republicans have built an entire career on just not being clear on.
HH: In the aftermath of the President’s speech, Tony Snow appeared on a few radio shows, including this one, Dick Cheney showed up on Fox News Sunday, Stephen Hadley, and that was it, the media offensive that wasn’t. Has the White House lost the instinct, Mark Steyn, to communicate the seriousness of this war? Or am I missing that they’re out there doing a fine job of it?
MS: No, they’re not doing a fine job, and you know, it’s very despairing to me. I’ve had conversations…I don’t think I’m giving anything away…I had a conversation with Victor Davis Hanson a couple of months ago. We were looking at the way, really, even people who were full-throated supporters of it have fallen silent. And as that has happened, in other words, as the President has been abandoned by a lot of his sort of fair-weather hawks, it’s fallen more and more heavily on him and the official spokesmen to make the case for the war, and it is true that they have been unable to communicate a rationale that resonates with the American people. Now I think there are particular problems with this, in that a lot of the way the war talk is framed is simply immature. I don’t think grown-up countries talk about exit strategies. Iran doesn’t talk about exit strategies. Syria doesn’t talk about exit strategies. Our enemies do not use that phrase. And so there’s something self-indulgent, even in the way the media framed the discussion. But you can’t just let it sit out there, week in, week out, month in, month out, and for it not to damage, and eventually grind down the public. I mean, they give the impression, a lot of these polls, give the impression that people just find it a bit of a downer, they don’t want to hear about it anymore, that there’s all kinds of other things that cheer them up a bit more. Well, sorry, but you know, there come times in history when you have to confront the unpleasantness, and the President hasn’t found a way of really making it an all-embracing kind of inspirational cause. The old pitch just doesn’t seem to resonate anymore.
HH: Now a couple of days ago, Harvard historian Niall Ferguson wrote in the L.A. Times that the decisive ideological struggle of our time, that George Bush call is, that “hardly anyone can now share George Bush’s view that the war in Iraq is in fact the decisive ideological struggle of our time.” I called him on that, because I think it’s the decisive ideological struggle of our time, I think you do as well, as does Victor Davis Hanson. How do they get away with this?
MS: Well, in fairness, Niall Ferguson, God bless him, is a prime example of what I meant. Just before September 11th, 2001, he wrote a book arguing, taking as his model, little things from a couple of years ago, like when the British sent a small detachment of Royal Marines into Sierra Leone, a failed state that had fallen apart…I forget what it was, only 200 Marines or whatever. They stopped all these crazy gangs running around, and they basically stabilized that society. And he said…he says, he was arguing for a kind of, you know, enlightened imperialism. He was saying then, that is what the great superpower needs to do. Well, George W. Bush, I don’t know whether he’s ever read Niall Ferguson, he took him at his word. He basically implemented the Ferguson plan in the Middle East. And immediately, Ferguson suddenly decides oh, this is ridiculous, you know, George Bush never studied history, absurd to try and do this in Iraq, and basically abandoned what had been his own whole philosophy before September the 11th. So I’m afraid I regard…he’s a very nice chap, he was a colleague of mine at the Telegraph in London, awfully decent fellow, but I’m afraid on this, he’s shown some of the same tendencies as some of the other wobblers.
HH: But assuming that the wobblers are out there, how does the White House…do they have to go head-on against them, Mark Steyn?
MS: I think they do.
HH: So do I.
MS: I think they do. I think you can be…I think basically, the President needs to actually reframe the debate, I think he should use more Australian-style rhetoric. When Ted Kennedy bemoans the fact that the White House, as in Vietnam, has become obsessed with victory, he should simply say well, if you’re in a war, you should be obsessed with victory. And if you’re not obsessed with victory, you’re part of the problem. You’re basically arguing the best shade of white flag to hold up. That’s not an argument that the President and responsible Americans should be getting into.
HH: I also have to ask your opinion, I was talking with Professor Eastman today about the fact that out of nowhere comes an announcement from the administration that they’ve secured FISA court approval of the warrantless wiretaps of al Qaeda contacting the United States operatives, which is fine. But they didn’t tell anyone. They didn’t explain it. It makes it look as though they’re caving. Mark Steyn, no one is thinking through messaging here.
MS: Yes, and I think…I was very struck by a comment Michelle Malkin made. She’s just back from Iraq, and she said to this…she said the Bush administration is Lucy, and those of us who support it are looking like Charlie Brown, that basically, you go out, you spend your whole time…I’ve been in discussions on radio shows and what not, where you’re defending this thing, defending it, you’re whacking down in column after column these guys who are claiming that it’s treason and a police state, and the Bush-Hitler, and you defend, defend, defend, defend, and then it turns out, you know, that they quietly cave, or as you say, give that impression, and you’re left feeling what the hell did I write those last fifteen columns for?
HH: Exactly. I don’t think they caved, but their communication policy is abysmal.
HH: And so…well, Mark Steyn, always a pleasure in these despairing days. Luckily, there’s nothing that a victory won’t turn around in a hurry, and maybe David Petraeus will go get it. www.steynonline.com, America.
End of interview.