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Mark Steyn On Pakistan And The Presidential Race

Thursday, December 27, 2007  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

From my interview with the columnist to the world today (complete transcript here):

HH: The only good aspect of this, and I’m not sure yet it is a good, is that it has brought some seriousness to the presidential campaign. How does it impact the presidential campaign in your view, Mark Steyn? 

MS: Well, I would hope, I would like to think that it renders certain candidacies, for example, you know, the happy face Obama candidacy, or the Mike Huckabee thing, where he did, I don’t know what he was thinking of, and I hope he was tired and not, and it’s not genuinely what he means, when he apologized for the assassination of Bhutto today. But in a sane world, it would render these men utterly implausible as presidential contenders. Now if it seems entirely possible Huckabee and Obama go on to have a baffo night in Iowa in a few days time, then I think it will tell you that regardless of what happens to strange foreigners in strange parts of the world, the American people have decided this is a post-9/11 election, and they’re not going to pay heed to that.

HH: You know, I have been making the argument, and into some pretty heavy wind today, that this also undermines Fred Thompson and John McCain, because Senators don’t run anything, Mark Steyn, except their mouths and committees badly, that it’s not about visiting a country, it’s about managing a war, and that Giuliani and Romney have executive experience, and Hillary can actually be understood to have some executive experience, or at least being close to it for a while. What do you make of the idea that foreign crisis elevates John McCain’s rather sad record of legislative screw-ups because he’s traveled the globe? 

MS: Well, I would generally agree with you that Senators make bad, not just bad presidents, actually, but bad everything. I mean, John Kerry couldn’t even run that donut stand in Boston, which is his only experience in the private sector, as far as one knows. You know, they are the classic examples of kind of rolodex politics, that they think it’s about flying across the world and meeting other A-list names. And I think that is exactly what is not needed at this time. As you say, I think an executive ability, combined, I think, with a grasp of the underlying demographic reality, you know, Pakistan is a young country, it has one of the highest birth rates in the world, and although we can talk about this and that, and I’ve been talking, you know, it’s only 60 years old, this country. But in a sense, to all those young men, 18, 19, 20, that it exports all over the planet, what Pakistan was like in 1947 is utterly foreign and utterly irrelevant to them. And so the sort of, these kind of people who think it’s just about getting on the phone and speaking to some other A-list name in the rolodex on the other side of the world, I think that’s about the least helpful way to approach this thing.

Senator McCain argued today that he has been to Waziristan and knows Musharraf, as though these declarations are themselves evidence of suitability for the presidency.  I ask again: What has he actually run, except two deeply troubled presidential campaigns and the Gang of 14?  A rolodex is no gurantee or even evidence of the capacity to make decisions of enormous consequence in a calm, informed, disciplined way.  Nor is it evidence of the sort of personal energy and temperment the office will require over the next four years.

UPDATEHere’s a transcript of my interview today with Stanley Kurtz.  Be sure to read Kurtz’s “Tribes of Terror” from the December Claremont Review of Books for crucial background on Pakistan’s perils.

UPDATE:  Congressman David Dreier, Rudy supporter, on the presidential race:

HH: Joined now by Congressman David Dreier, ranking member of the House Rules Committee, and not too long ago, a visitor in Pakistan, and a conversant with the now-dead Benazir Bhutto. David Dreier, a sad day for Pakistan and the West. 

DD: It’s a very sad day for anyone who’s interested in prosecuting the war on terror. And I think when I spoke to you right after I was there, Hugh, one of the things I think is important to underscore is the fact that while there is a great deal of division within the country, and no one can really in any way overestimate the struggle and the difficulty and the political battles that have gone on there, from the meetings that I had on the day that General Musharraf resigned as army chief of staff, and met, we met with him that day, and we also met with Benazir Bhutto, the thing that was so important is to recognize that everyone involved in top leadership positions was committed to prosecuting this war against radical extremism. And so I think that that is something that we’ve got to point to. And I also want to say that it is a very sad day, and you know, of course, all these memories come back. I first met Mrs. Bhutto in the mid-1980’s when she came to Washington, met with members of Congress then, and I’ve met her in Pakistan before. And it’s no secret that there was a lot of controversy surrounding her two terms as prime minister. But I do think that you have hit the nail on the head when you’ve talked, Hugh, about the need for us to make sure that we have someone with executive experience. You know, it’s no accident that the last member of Congress, the last Senator to be elected president of the United States was a half a century ago, almost a half a century ago when in 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected. And you know, I feel more strongly today about Rudy Giuliani’s candidacy for president of the United States, and the importance of taking his extraordinary management skills, coupled with his inspiring leadership, in dealing with a crisis like this. And this really is a crisis. There’s no doubt about it.

HH: You know, I do, all the mainstream media’s out there saying this helps John McCain. And I’ve got great admiration, though not particular political love for Senator McCain. But I think it shows how unbelievably complicated the world is in this war, and you want someone who’s run unbelievably complicated things again, and I think we’ve got two of those in Giuliani and Romney, but no more than two. 

DD: Well, I will tell you, I think that you’re right here, and you know, I have the greatest admiration for John McCain as well, and he does have a lot of experience. And you know, the fact that I have spent time in Pakistan, and spent an hour in Benazir Bhutto’s dining room, sitting with her at the table, with the only delegation, only Congressional delegation to meet with her since her return from exile in Dubai, does not qualify me to be president of the United States. And in fact, you know, every member of Congress is often flattered with a lot of people who will say oh, well, you should run for president of the United States. And I regularly say when that happens, it doesn’t happen to me as often as it does to a lot of my colleagues, I’m sure, but when it does happen, I underscore the fact that I don’t have the kind of executive experience that it takes to be president of the United States. And that’s why I say we have members of the House and Senate who are running for president of the United States, in both political parties. And the fact is having people with executive experience is, I think, very important. It doesn’t mean that there can’t be a United States Senator or a member of the House of Representatives to serve as president of the United States, but I do believe that at a time like this, I mean, again, I point specifically to Giuliani, because I mean, this kind of problem that is priority number one, as far as I’m concerned, and I know as far as you’re concerned, Hugh, and the five most important words in the Preamble of the Constitution are provide for the common defense. The most important issue that any president or any Congress face, or the federal government faces, is dealing with this issue, and this just cries out for Rudy Giuliani, as far as I’m concerned.

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