HH: I begin this hour with Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. You can read all of Mark’s epic amount of work at www.steynonline.com. Mark, as you look out at what’s going on in Bahrain and Libya, how far is this going to travel, and what is your general assessment of good, bad or indifferent for the United States?
MS: Well, I think it depends obviously on the willingness of the regime to kill people in order to stay in power. In the case of Egypt, which was an unlovely regime, it was what you might call unlovely in an easy listening sense. Like the Shah of Iran, Mubarak and his army were not prepared to fire on the people in Tahrir Square. Now if it had happened in Damascus, I think Assad and his truly ugly dictatorship there would have no compunction about firing on people, and killing and murdering and slaughtering large numbers of people. So I think the vulnerability of the regime depends in a sense on how benign it is. I’ve got no use for Bahrain and the Gulf states, and those ugly Gulf monarchies. But like the Hashemites in Jordan, they’re the most vulnerable, because they’re the least likely to fire on the people.
HH: Now Assad the first, of course, reduced Hama and 10,000-40,000 people, depending on which count you go by, to rubble and bones. So they do not shrink from using violence. But given that it’s likely to be the friendliest to the United States regimes that fall, and given that we don’t know much about who’s going to come thereafter, what is your hope that the Team Obama is thinking through right now or doing?
MS: Well, I don’t think they’re thinking at all, actually. I think…I don’t think that’s something that the Obama team do a lot of. They’re mired in outmoded, polytechnic, Marxist claptrap that’s even before these recent events was the best part of half a century out of date. I think what we’re seeing here is a shift to reflect what has happened on the streets of the Arab world. We used to hear all this talk about the Arab street in the months after 9/11, and then once it was no longer a useful cudgel to beat Bush with, people don’t use the expression anymore. But the Arab street has changed since the 1950s. The fall of the Mubarak regime represents the end of the regime that in 1952 embodied Pan-Arab secular nationalism, the Nasser regime that overthrew the Egyptian monarchy. And whatever replaces it will be more Islamic in its political character, whether it’s a Muslim Brotherhood majority government, or just a government in which Islamist forces have a big say. And I think that reflects what has happened to the population of Egypt, which has grown more Islamic over the last fifty years, as the population of Turkey has. They’ve got exploding populations. In Turkey’s population, basically, the Islamic East has outbred the secular, Kemalist Western part of Turkey. And something similar has happened in Egypt. Its population doubled on Mubarak’s watch. And those young Egyptians are far more Muslim than the young Muslims of the 1950s were, and that’s, apart from anything else, that helps explain why it went bananas when they saw the blond CBS reporter uncovered among them.
HH: Now I’ve got to ask you in terms of not the horrific specifics of that incident, but just generally the violence and the seething sort of anti-Americanism that’s on the street. Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, eight years ago in the New Yorker, eight years ago today, actually, was cataloguing all the arguments for invading Iraq. And he wrote, “Yet another argument for war which has emerged during the last few months is that removing Saddam could help bring about a wholesale change for the better in the political, cultural and economic climate of the Arab Middle East.” I asked John Burns of the New York Times about that yesterday, and he said it is ironic Iraq is the most stable of the Arab region right now, countries in the Arab region. But then I just finished Rumsfeld’s memoir, and he is very explicit that bringing democracy to Iraq had not been among the primary rationales. So I’m not quite sure what the Western attitude has been or ought to be towards these regimes, Mark Steyn. How would you summarize what ought to be the attitude towards these authoritarian but not totalitarian regimes?
MS: Well, I think the United States should stand for liberty, simply because that’s the right thing to do. That’s the idealistic position. The United States should be, have a bias toward liberty. In a real politick sense, I think it’s also good to have a bias toward liberty, because it’s a good way of messing with dictators’ heads. I’m not a great fan of stability in the Middle East. I don’t think the Americans wound up with a lot to show for shoveling all this money at Mubarak for thirty years. So it’s one thing to have a philosophical predisposition toward liberty. And liberty’s the word here rather than democracy, rather than, you know, saying we’re going to have an election on Thursday, and the polling station open at eight, and you can all wave your purple fingers. That’s relatively easy to do. Actually establishing liberty is tough, hard work. And in the Middle East, it’s particularly tough, because all in the heyday of empire, all the great European powers evaded it. They were quite happy to take European ideas about liberty, individual freedom, property rights, the rule of law to darkest Africa, to Far East Asia, to Latin America, and they sailed around the Middle East to get to all those places that are far further away. In other words, they recognized even in the heyday of empire that the Middle East is a tough nut to crack. And I don’t get any sense, George W. Bush was in favor of it, his State Department wasn’t, and you can’t even say under this administration that there is any direction from the top that would lead you to believe that America is interested in even trying to do that.
HH: Yeah, Rumsfeld strikes very much the same note you just did, which is he was in favor of bringing free institutions like a free press, an independent judiciary, property rights, but democracy was overrated in his view.
HH: …that that ought not to have…it’s a fascinating conversation. I want to take it back home now. In your column yesterday, you said that David Cameron’s recent attack on multiculturalism sounded like a six year old Steyn column, and it did. And I asked John Burns about that as well. But finally, they’re getting into the game, Mark Steyn. What do you think they ought to do following the rhetoric? Because as you say, it’s easy to give a speech. Where’s the muscle?
MS: Yeah, I think if you had to name one institution, which is probably the biggest structural defect in Western societies right now, and the one that places the biggest question mark over the future of Western civilization, if there was one institution you needed to take apart, it would be the education system. The education system in Britain would logically lead any British subject who had been through that system to loathe his cultural inheritance. That’s why huge numbers of British-born Muslims with Yorkshire and West Midland accents have been captured in Afghanistan fighting for the Taliban, because they were told that the society in which they hold nominal citizenship is the font of imperialism, racism, colonialism, all the bad isms on the planet. The question is whether David Cameron or Monsieur Sarkozy, or Angela Merkel in Germany, or any of these people actually have the courage to dismantle the social engineering that goes on in their state education systems. And that’s a question for the United States, too, by the way.
HH: Did you read Dorothy Rabinowitz’ column yesterday on Major Hassan, the killer at Fort Hood?
MS: No, I didn’t, actually, and I’ll go and look that up. I’m a big fan of Dorothy’s.
HH: It’s about the courage to actually confront the terrible burden of multiculturalism. Let me close, Mark, by asking…
MS: Oh, no, but that’s absolutely right. I mean, and the evasiveness of the official report, and if you listen to the way the Army uses these evasive phrases like we need to look out earlier for signs of “workplace violence,” it was nothing to do with that. It was the fact that nobody wanted to call this guy, because they knew they’d be damned as Islamophobic, and be tied up in sensitivity training for the next six months.
MS: All that rubbish has got to be kicked out the door.
HH: Exactly. Let me close by asking you about the Republican majority in the House. I’m not going to call it a conservative majority, because it has been deeply disappointing on many levels. They voted to fund Amtrak today. Yesterday, they defended the Legal Services Corporation. Do you think they’re disappointing more than just some talk show hosts and pundits, Mark Steyn?
MS: Oh, absolutely. I think we won’t need high speed rail funding, for Amtrak or for anybody else, because we’re on a one-way ticket on the Oblivion Express. We’ve got a couple of years before we pass the point of no return on this business. It’s nothing to do with mid-century. We’re witnessing the death of a great nation here. And we’re choosing to die. When you’re spending $4 trillion but raising $2 trillion, and in a two-party system neither party wants to do something about that before 2050, then you’re going to die. And it’s just a question of how soon it happens. And I believe it’ll happen sooner rather than later.
HH: Do they not understand that intellectually? Or do they understand it and say I’ve got my pension, I can do my consulting, I’ll get my job at the hedge fund, I don’t have to worry about it.
MS: Yes, I think there’s a large part of that comes into play. But I also think they think, that like Obama, they think you can tinker at the margins, and it will be enough to reassure the markets. Right now, the United States government spending plans are premised on the idea that the rest of the world, every single year, will be willing to sink the equivalent of the Canadian economy, or the Indian economy twice over, into U.S. Treasury bonds. There’s no evidence the world is going to continue to do that. And when the world decides to pull the rug out from under the dollar, you’re going to be setting up pre-revolutionary conditions here.
HH: Mark Steyn of www.steynonline.com, thank you, Mark.
End of interview.