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Mark Steyn on Day Three of the Obama administration, and he’s not impressed

Thursday, January 22, 2009

HH: Joined by Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. You can read everything mark writes at Mark, let’s start with your reaction to the inaugural address, since you’re about the only Republican or conservative pundit I haven’t asked yet.

MS: Yeah, and I, to be honest, I think I ought to steer clear of it. I love the way everybody was saying initially, oh, this is going to be a brilliant, brilliant speech. And then the fact that it was just sort of prosaic and journeyman-like, apparently just illustrates Obama’s even greater brilliance, because that’s his way of tamping down expectations. So the stroke of genius was to deliver this mediocre speech, because only a really brilliant man would have seen that America couldn’t afford to have a truly brilliant speech, because it would have raised even more expectations of all the glorious things that King Barack is going to usher in. So at that level, my head is just spinning at that point, and I think, you said it’s Day Three of the Obama administration?

HH: Yes, yes.

MS: It feels like kind of a year and a half into the second term already. I didn’t think that was such a great first day, to be honest.

HH: You’ve just reminded me of Wallace Shawn in the Princess Bride out-thinking the chess match, but I will leave that for another day. Mark Steyn, if they had champagne in the jihadist world, they’d be uncorking it tonight, because they no longer are going to face harsh interrogation technique, no matter where they end up in American hands, Gitmo or rendition centers somewhere in one of the black sites, or…it doesn’t matter. They’re going to be treated according to the Army manual. What message does this send on Day Three?

MS: Well, I think this further tilts the field in favor of these guys. These guys break every rule. You know, there’s nothing in the Geneva Conventions, for example, about capturing people, sawing their heads off, and then releasing it as a snuff video in every sukh (sp?) throughout the Muslim world. That’s not in the Geneva Conventions. I’ve read them, it isn’t in there. And so this idea that somehow by treating these people as lawful soldiers as the same way it would be in the Second World War if the German Army captures a British officer or whatever, I think a lot of this, to be honest, is not going to make much difference in practice, because I think in practice, the war on terror at a kind of political leadership level is just going to dwindle down into a very minimalist and legalistic approach. I mean I think essentially, the war on terror is over in terms of a war that this country is fighting on offense. I think it’ll be defense insofar as it continues at all.

HH: Up in the Northwest Frontier Province today, Pakistan arrested a whole bunch of jihadis, one of whom is Zabib al-Tayaffi, who they believe was part of the London July, 2005 subway bombings. So the war goes on over there. I mean, we were beginning to make progress over there, as a matter of fact. Do you think that’s going to dwindle as well, Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, I think that as far as the rest of the world is concerned, they found Bush’s war exhausting. And it was interesting to me that in his final interviews, you know, Bush was still very much the war president.

HH: Yup.

MS: He goes to bed with the war, he wakes up with the war. He sees things like this weird story where forty jihadi mysteriously die, and it looks like they might have been experimenting with the Bubonic Plague, which as you may recall in its original form, wiped out a third of Europe’s population. So if they’re experimenting with that to the point that forty of them accidentally keel over and are pushing up daisies, that is a worrying thing. If you are the president of the United States, you go to bed with those stories, and wake up with those stories every morning as Bush did. And I’m not sure, I’m not sure Obama understands that, that you’ve got to, as the IRA famously said to Mrs. Thatcher, we only have to be lucky once, you have to be lucky every day. And I’m not sure that these people who dismiss Bush’s war and all the rest of it really understand that.

HH: What about the first call going to the president of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas, and the appointment of George Mitchell to be a special envoy?

MS: Well you know, this is the…I mean, George Mitchell back in the Middle East, this idea that George Mitchell can speak for any kind of peace in the Middle East is ludicrous. Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t speak for anybody. You know, I’m not a card-carrying member of Hamas or anything, but I am sympathetic to those voters in Gaza who got tired of voting for Abbas and Fatah, and having them do nothing except stuff the money in their Swiss retirement accounts, and said hey, let’s take a flyer on these crazy guys with Hamas, because they’re even more eager to kill Jews, and they don’t want to steal as much money. Fatah and Abbas are not part of any real long term solution to this business in the Palestinian territories, and there’s really no point in kissing up to this guy. He doesn’t, in the end, he doesn’t represent anybody.

HH: Now in terms of George Mitchell, and I’m going to talk a little bit later with Juan Williams and pose this question to him, I don’t think anybody from America has anything that they can bring to this table at all. I don’t believe any American can change on the ground in Israel. Am I wrong, Mark Steyn?

MS: No, you’re not. The reality is in Gaza, for example, the median age is 15.8 years. 15.8 years.

HH: Are you going to go off on one of your demographic rants here?

MS: Yeah, I am.

HH: Good, go ahead.

MS: I’m not going to go off on a demographic rant except to this extent, that I think this idea that great men fly around the world…

HH: Exactly.

MS: …flying into presidential palaces and sorting problems out, doesn’t take into account what’s happening on the ground. On the ground in Gaza, there are millions of angry, young men, uneducated, who are no good at doing anything, no good for any kind of employment, and there isn’t any employment anyway. That’s the same problem, and you mentioned the tribal lands in Pakistan a couple of minutes ago…

HH: Yup.

MS: That’s the same problem there. And this idea that one guy flies in on his government jet, and is taken to the presidential palace and has a cup of tea and everything seems nice and hunky dory, that sort of great man view of diplomacy is a failure in Palestine, it’s a failure in Pakistan where it led to nothing except sending poor Benazir Bhutto back to that country to get blown to pieces. That is not good. The young men, median age 15.8 years, is the reality on the ground. And one nice, middle-aged, elderly gentleman from Maine can’t change the reality of all those angry, young men of 15.8 years.

HH: Well, I did welcome, I want more demographic rants, because Tony Blair’s been trying to do this pony trick for a year and a half now, and it just doesn’t matter. And every time I see a new special envoy, Mark Steyn, I wonder if anyone is paying any attention at all. This is…it’s out of the Guns Of August. They think if only someone had gone to see the Kaiser in 1914, we wouldn’t have had a world war, and maybe that would have been the case. But I don’t see how that changes the mullahs of Iran at all.

MS: No, and the reality is they understand that what we’re about is talking. So as long as you can keep the talking going, we’re happy to talk. Hitler figured that out. He was happy to have Lord Halifax swing by and chit-chat about this and that because he understood that it’s very hard to rouse democracies to the really tough business. If you can just say to them it’s all about sitting around the table and chit-chatting for days and months and years on end, that’s all they want to do. You know, as far as Iran is concerned, the European Union talks have provided great cover for them to get on with their nuclear program. It suits everybody. The Europeans get to talk, and the Iranians get to push on with their nuclear program.

HH: The good news about the world is that as we enter into an era of at least palsied foreign policy, we’ve got a bunch of center-right and right wing leaders around the world, including probably soon to their ranks, one in Great Britain, one in Israel. And I want to ask you about Stephen Harper, because Bill Kristol, I talked to him yesterday from Calgary, and he thinks that Harper’s hanging on. What’s your assessment?

MS: I’m a bit worried about that. I personally like Mr. Harper, but he has fought three elections, and not won a majority in the Canadian parliament. And to me, it is getting to the stage where it is perhaps statistically improbable that he can go to the people a fourth time and win a majority up there. You know, and the problem again, I think from a conservative point of view, a lot of conservatives in Canada have been disappointed with what the Tories have done in office up there. And a lot of them make the same point that is worth considering as the Republicans face opposition down here, that sometimes it’s better to be a 40% serious, credible, principled opposition party, that the government is obliged not to offend too much, than it is to get into office without a real mandate for change, and find yourself compromising on everything all the time. You know, if you use opposition well, that can often, you can persuade the opposition, as happened to some degree in the Clinton years. Clinton was happy to co-opt half the Republicans’ policies, and then blame the Republicans for sticking with the ones he didn’t steal.

HH: Mark Steyn, that is perhaps a good word of wisdom to the Republicans in the Senate, where we do have 40%, to stick to the principled. I appreciate, America, for everything that Mark Steyn writes.

End of interview.

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