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Mark Steyn on Iran and North Korea growing crises.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

HH: Joining me to discuss that is Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. You can read all of Mark’s work at Hello, Mark, what do you think of the events unfolding in Iran?

MS: Well, this is very similar in many ways to what happened thirty years ago where inept putdowns of relatively small demonstrations led to even bigger demonstrations. And eventually, a bandwagon got rolling that the Shah and his government weren’t able to stop. It’s difficult for me to see quite whether it can go that far this time around, if only because I would say that the Islamic Republic is prepared to be a lot bloodier in terms of its survival than the Shah’s regime ever was.

HH: Before we talk about those specifics, let me ask you what you think of the Obama administration’s response to date, both from the State Department, where Hillary Clinton is nursing a broken elbow this afternoon, or from the White House, where President Obama and Vice President Biden have tried now on three occasions to say something coherent.

MS: Yes, and they haven’t succeeded. And I think that’s because they don’t really know what to think. If you compare it, for example, with President Sarkozy’s relatively straightforward expression of support for the demonstrators, and his relatively straightforward denunciation of the election as a fraud, and his objection to the violence being perpetrated on the crowds, President Obama, who is supposed to be the most eloquent man in American history, has been unable to say anything. And I think that’s because in a sense, his whole approach to the Middle East has been the opposite of George Bush’s. It’s about doing business with the existing regimes. And it assumes the permanence of those regimes. So in that sense, internal instability in Iran is not helpful to President Obama, because he’s bet on these unlovely fellows being around in perpetuity.

HH: The Washington Post, Glen Kessler wrote this morning, “The political unrest in Iran presents the Obama administration with a dilemma – keep quiet to pursue a nuclear deal with the Ayatollah Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, or heed calls to respond more supportively to the protestors there and risk alienating the Shiite cleric. President Obama and his advisors have struggled to strike the right tone, carefully calibrating positive message about the protest in an effort to avoid giving the government in Tehran an excuse to portray the demonstrators as pro-American.” There have been no positive messages. It is a complete abandonment of this effort.

MS: No, you know, the interesting thing is that this is the death of Obama’s big speech to the Muslim world in Cairo. You remember during the campaign when he gave his big speech on racism and on race, which was supposed to be the greatest thing since Henry V at Agincourt, the greatest address ever, and that was like dead and inoperative within a few weeks. The same thing has happened to the Cairo speech. In a sense, they concluded, I think the regime in Tehran concluded from the speech that in effect, they had carte blanche to do what they want, because Obama was so desperate to schmooze them on the nuclear issue. Now they’re going to go nuclear anyway. This idea that somehow there is this fine calibration that he has to just get the particular poison balance on the high wire act just right, and he’ll achieve all his goals, this is inside the Beltway mumbo-jumbo. In Tehran, they’re doing what they want for internal and regional considerations. And the idea that this has anything to do with Obama getting a nuclear deal is pathetic and irrelevant.

HH: What’s interesting to me today, Mark Steyn, among many things is that Rafsanjani’s, the oligarch’s, son and daughter were prevented from leaving the country by security forces today. And that always raises the specter of the elites quarreling and battling as happened behind the scenes when the Shah was toppled as well. I think it’s a long shot, but I do believe there is a chance of basically all hell breaking loose among the ruling elites, because it’s such a byzantine structure there.

MS: Yes, and I think that’s…there are really two questions here. The first question, which would be very damaging to Iran, is if elements of the Iranian security forces were to decide to side with the demonstrators. Now in fairness, the Iranian soccer players who must be among the bravest Iranians on the planet…

HH: Yes.

MS: They’ve expressed their solidarity with the protestors. That’s interesting. What would be more interesting is whether in this or that town, certain members of the security forces break away and join the protestors, and the regime actually starts to lose control in parts of the country. The other question, I think, is whether the regime actually loses its nerve. Is it still prepared to fire on children and kill children? If you look at what happened twenty years ago in Eastern Europe, in the end, nobody believed in communism anymore in sufficient numbers to kill civilians for it. And so those regimes crumbled to dust very quickly. In a sense, they were a sort of Potemkin dictatorship. And I’m not sure that’s quite the case in Tehran.

HH: Sadly, I don’t think it is, but we will be finding out soon, because I don’t think any regime can allow, well, some people are saying three million people. Tehran’s mayor yesterday, according to the New York Times, said three million people were there yesterday. Today’s crowds are even larger. No regime can allow that to go on, Mark Steyn, and expect its legitimacy to remain intact.

MS: No, and you have to wonder at some point, you made a reference to the byzantine palace structure in Iran. And the big question for which we don’t yet have an answer is why the religious establishment, as represented by the so-called supreme leader and the other big shot mullahs, why they decided to bet the farm on Ahmadinejad, if that is indeed what they did, because that suggests they’re making some calculations of their own about where Iran’s future is headed. I mean ostensibly, you would think it would make no difference to them which of these guys won. The opposition leader, the one who by some accounts legitimately won the election, served for eight or nine years as prime minister under Khomeini. So he’s not exactly like the early supporters of the revolution who figured out that it was rubbish with a year, eighteen months, and were either dead or had fled back to Paris. So it’s not clear to me why they were so eager, the mullahs were so eager to bet the farm on Ahmadinejad.

HH: Victor Davis Hanson said on this program Wednesday that it puts the lie to the idea that Ahmadinejad is a powerless nutter, when in fact what you’re raising the specter of is perhaps he called his own shot here, much to the chagrin of some and the surprise of others.

MS: Yes, I mean we read a lot of rubbish, particularly from so-called Washington experts, arguing that the Iranian presidency is a weak presidency, he doesn’t have any real decision-making power, nobody liked him in Tehran. You used to read all these things about how he has very low standards of personal hygiene, and the ayatollahs used to make jokes about what a hick he was. That thesis has been knocked out of the water by what happened at the election. So I think it’s clear that this idea that he was some sort of nuclear eccentric, that’s totally gone, and I think it’s clear that whatever happens, the march toward a full-blown nuclear status will if anything accelerate.

HH: Now let me play for you an extraordinary, historic bit of tape, Mark Steyn. Earlier today, Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense:

RG: We do have some concerns of they were to launch a missile to the West in the direction of Hawaii. I’ve directed the deployment again of THAD missiles to Hawaii, and the SBX radar has deployed away from Hawaii to provide support.

HH: Mark Steyn, he’s talking about North Korea shooting missiles in the general direction of Hawaii.

MS: Yeah, and this has been a slow-motion train wreck, I think, for American credibility in the world. Ostensibly, they’re not supposed to have the capability to do this. Again, the Washington bigwigs used to mock the rumors that were, going back now to I think 1998-1999. There was a rumor that the North Koreans were planning on firing a nuke at Vancouver or Montreal because it would demonstrate to the Americans that they were serious, but without inviting their own nuclear retaliation. And the State Department mocked it as preposterous. Now flash forward ten years later, and we have the Secretary of Defense of the United States making a serious, sober statement about protecting Hawaii from a nuclear attack by a state that has a lower GDP per capita than Zimbabwe. This is deeply damaging to American credibility in the world today.

HH: Mark Steyn, always bracing, thank you. And I remind everyone, to get everything from Mark.

End of interview.

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