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Mark Steyn doesn’t mince words about defeatist Senators

Friday, January 26, 2007
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HH: Joined now by Mark Steyn, columnist to the world, www.steynonline.com, author of America Alone, and headliner at the National Review Conservative Summit, which begins to unfold tomorrow night in Washington, D.C. Mark, are you already in D.C? Or are you going down later?

MS: I’m going down later. I don’t think I’m the headline. I’m the warm-up act for Governor Romney on Saturday night. So there’s lots of people who can claim the top of the bill ahead of me.

HH: Good warm-up act, though. I’m very dismayed this week, I asked my law students, I mentioned The Cowboy And The Farmer Can Be Friends. Out of 60 law students, not one of them understood it, Mark Steyn.

MS: No, that’s very disturbing, when you reach the stage where all your cultural references are completely impenetrable.

HH: (laughing) Yes.

MS: I often feel that way, and think I should get into whatever it’s called, techno-grunge, or whatever the young people are into these days, but then I listened to it for a couple of minutes, and find I’d rather be out of date on that one.

HH: Well, here’s a cultural reference that a lot of GOP Senators don’t seem to understand. It’s the war, stupid. Mark Steyn, I understand Biden and the Democrats cannot be rescued from defeatism, but are you amazed or revolted, or both, at the round heels in the Republican caucus.

MS: Yes, I think in fact, this is far more dangerous than either the hysterical left, or the obviously defeatist Senators such as Ted Kennedy. I think these sort of wise old birds like John Warner on the Republican side, who think that they’re somehow crafting a kind of compromise position that the entire nation can unite around. For a start, I don’t think this is their…I think it’s a Constitutional affront, that this is not what they should be doing, micromanaging the degree of aggression with which you wage a war. I think that’s disgusting, and almost certainly doomed to fail, and people like John Warner should be called on it when they go that route. So I think that’s a disgraceful thing they’re doing.

HH: Now yesterday, I started with the help of N.Z. Bear, a website called www.thenrscpledge.com. It’s linked at Hughhewitt.com. In 24 hours, Mark Steyn, more than 10,000 people signed onto a simple statement that said they will not give any money or time to a Republican voting for the Warner resolution, and if the NRSC endorses and supports with their money and such Republican, the NRSC won’t get any money from these 10,000 people. Is that message, do you think, going to get through? Or are they basically indifferent to the Republican base?

MS: Well, I hope it gets through, because I agree with you and the people who are supporting this pledge, that I think there ought to be…I was…after September 11th, when both parties were kind of vaguely united, at least rhetorically for a while, and I said I sympathize with a lot of people on the hard left, because if there is a two party system, it would be…it’s obviously nice if one of those…if you’re anti-war, if one of those parties is anti-war. Now, we’re in the opposite situation. In a two-party system, if you’re pro-war, it would be nice if one of those parties was pro-war. That’s to say it would be nice if the Republicans in the Senate understood that you need to be waging this war seriously, and not undermining the President’s conduct of it.

HH: Is there an inconsistency…I think there is, Mark Steyn, I’m just setting this up for you to comment on. David Petraeus goes before the Armed Services Committee in the Senate. He testifies he wants the plan Bush has outlined, he needs the plan, and that to vote opposite the plan is to encourage the enemy. He gets out of committee, he passes overwhelmingly in the Senate, and then Senators want to pass the resolution that the commander emphatically denounced. That’s crazy.

MS: I think it’s crazy, and I think it reflects poorly on them. You know, I simply think that John Warner…I mean, I find it very difficult to discuss the United States Senate without expressing total contempt. But I think people like John Warner have an absolutely absurd idea of what their role is. I think the signal they send to the world is that the President is extremely lonely and politically isolated. And then of course, that emboldens all kind of forces in the world who feel that they just have to sit him out, wait him out, and that they no longer…they don’t need to take any change in strategy in Iraq seriously. I think this is a dreadful thing. You know, it’s no way to fight a war, and frankly, the United States Congress actually doesn’t have a terribly good record on foreign policy, compared to the executive, and it certainly doesn’t have a good record on the long term consequences of war and national security issues.

HH: Now what do you expect to find at the National Review summit, because you’ve got Bob Novak, who’s got sackcloth and ashes on, and many other defeatist Republicans are now moping around, and what do you expect is going to be the mood there?

MS: Well, I think there’s going to be a lot of issues that are genuinely being thrashed out. You know, we’re having some kind of no holes barred discussions on small government versus compassionate conservatism. I’m a believer in small government. I think it’s very difficult for big government to maintain the kind of self reliant citizenry that you need to win long existential struggles like the one we’re in. So we’re discussing that, we’re having an immigration debate that’s basically between the sort of economic open borders crowd, who look on everybody spinning across the border, they don’t look on them as a foreigner, they look at them as a potential plumber or sheet rocker, or carpenter, and others who say that no, we need a credible immigration policy, and that if you don’t have borders, you basically don’t have a nation. So I think the great thing is that actually, some of those things are going to be slugged out pretty meanly, I hope in a tone of mutual respect and all the rest of it, but we’re not going to have any kind of soft peddling on these things. We’re talking about all the big issues, and everything’s on the table.

HH: But when you’ve got a group of Baldwin Republicans in the Senate, I mean Stanley Baldwin Republicans…

MS: Yeah.

HH: And you’ve got some of their followers in the media, and you’ve got everybody on the left cheering them on, shouldn’t the whole summit be about that threat? Because that is the one issue upon which you cannot be wrong? Every issue, you can live to fight another day, not a war.

MS: Yes, I think you’re right, and I think this is a…I mean, I never feel more foreign than when we have these slightly surreal debates that are going on at the moment, because a lot of it is retroactive. You know, that fellow who gave the response to the State of the Union, Senator Webb from down in Virginia, who everyone told me he’s a new kind of Democrat, moderate Democrat, and he may very well be. But he spent most of his address whining about what might have been if they’d only listened to him in 2003, essentially. It’s not 2003 now, it’s 2007. And the idea that as a kind of intellectual exercise, you can debate whether or not to wage a war, whether to wage it ineffectually and all the rest of it, no, you can’t. You’re in it, and you have to win it, and you can have an argument about how to win it, but if you’re not even interested in victory, as most of these Democrats, and pathetic people like Susan Collins of Maine are not, then really, you can’t be part of that conversation.

HH: Now let me ask you about Zawahiri, because he, of course, released a message mocking the President and the new plan. He understands, doesn’t he, Mark Steyn, that the country’s on the edge?

MS: Yes, and I think in a sense, al Qaeda haven’t had a lot of good news lately. You know, they’ve had a lot of their senior guys picked off, killed, captured, they’ve been reduced pretty much in Iraq to killing other Muslims. I mean, they’re not killing a lot of infidels these days. Yet his one good bright spot in this otherwise bleak picture for Zawahiri issuing his pathetic audio tape messages from his cave, is the fact that the American media are defeatist, and more and more of the American political class are defeatist. And he feels, he’s in the extraordinary position where your men are getting killed, your men are getting captured, you can’t make anything happen, all you can do is kill your co-religionists, and yet you are in the possibility of having a great victory handed to you by the sheer defeatism of the American media and the American political class. That’s extraordinary.

HH: Well, he’s in the position of General Giap.

MS: Yeah. I mean, this is what I think people don’t understand, that militaries don’t win wars, nations win wars. And nations have to win wars on all fronts by using all elements of national power, including media and diplomatic and political, which means that Senators should not effectively be crafting alternative war strategies. You know, the reality is that this President, I agree with, I think it was Newt Gingrich’s suggestion earlier today, the President should have a war cabinet, small war cabinet of four or five people. That’s the way most countries have traditionally fought wars. And if you’re not in that war cabinet, then you shouldn’t be trying to undermine war policy. Shame on Senator Warner.

HH: Now last question, about 45 seconds, Mark Steyn. Should the Republican Party push out the non-victory Republicans?

MS: Well, I think there are limits to how big a big tent you can have. And it seems to me at the moment that the danger is the Republicans have more ideas about who they don’t want in the tent than who they want in there. And I think there is a real danger that the…because I’m saddened by how many conservative Republicans I respect nevertheless have taken an isolationist position on the war. So I’m not even sure you could find huge numbers of Republicans prepared to expel the defeatists from the ranks.

HH: I think it’s an amazing moment in American politics, and that we may have a shuffling here on victory-defeat lines. But Mark Steyn, good luck at the National Review conservative summit tomorrow night, the book available at Amazon.com, America Alone. I hope Steyn isn’t alone down there.

End of interview.

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