HH: We begin not talking about me and my book, but with Mark Steyn, as always, Columnist to the World joins us on the Thursdays that we are lucky. Mark, good to talk to you as always.
MS: I’d be happy to talk about your book, Hugh. I’ve enjoyed it immensely, and I’m very impressed by some of Mitt Romney’s performances in the last couple of days.
HH: We’re going to talk about his speech in Israel today, but before we get there, I was listening to you on Laura Ingraham this morning, and you guys were having a grand, old time with Rosie. And I am going to explore with you your theory that celebrities are now fungible, and if you run through your patience with the public, they just move on to another one.
MS: Yeah, yeah.
HH: And that’s what happened to Rosie.
MS: Yeah, and I think that is actually true, that there is a need in our world for celebrity, but whichever celebrity occupies that spot, that’s a very transient position. In fact, it’s gotten more transient over the years. There’s not a lot of celebrities now who have been in show business for forty, fifty years, that anybody still cares about, that the shelf life is a lot shorter. I mean, you think about people who, you know, who were exciting a couple of years ago, that first guy, the big, hairy guy who won the first series of Survivor, or whatever, and they’re kind of forgotten 20 minutes later. But it’s not just them. Even the biggest celebrity, you know, like Oprah, for example. That movie she made a couple of years ago, nobody was interested in.
MS: The fact that it was Oprah’s movie made no difference. In the end, it was just as big a flop as if some nobody little nothing filmmaker from some obscure foreign country had released that film. The public, in fact, has, can be absolutely ruthless with celebrities who step out of line.
HH: Enduring fame is also…and appreciate is also very, very…if I’m lucky tomorrow, I’m going to interview Julie Andrews, who’s at the Los Angeles Festival of Books.
MS: Oh, right. Yeah…
HH: And I consider her to be one of the class acts of our last forty, fifty years of entertainment.
MS: Well, it is, it’s getting for her. I think, certainly in British terms, it’s sixty years.
MS: I mean, she was on the radio on the BBC in kind of late 1940’s, 1950’s.
HH: But it’s very hard to find anyone of that kind of stature, because they abuse it, too many of them, and I think that’s what you were getting at today, is that do your job, or what Laura’s book is, Shut Up And Sing, and when you get out of character, boy, get out of it.
MS: Or I think, actually, in this case, Rosie got in character. I mean, if you recall a few years ago, when she was doing her talk show, he whole thesis on that was that people wanted a nice show. They wanted to go back to Merv Griffin and Dinah Shore and Mike Douglass, and she was doing the 1990’s version of that. And somehow, she has kind of metamorphosed into this kind of brutally, nakedly vicious, coarse, unpleasant woman. Whether they talk about the young people who were present at this event, you don’t have to be a young person to be affronted by Rosie’s speech the other day. It was just coarse and vulgar, regardless of whether you are 22 or 107. It was just this sort of grotesque, unfunny spectacle.
HH: We could talk for hours about this, but you said something on Laura’s show which sort of put a cap on my week. We live in terrible times. Now this week, Mark Steyn, I have talked to Melanie Phillips, the Londonistan author, Gerard Baker on al Qaeda’s threat to Britain…
HH: I’ve talked with, three hours with Lawrence Wright of The Looming Tower, I have talked with Gaffney, and yesterday with Frederick Kagan. Today, I’m going to talk to Max Boot, I talked to Michael O’Hanlon yesterday. Generally, we are living in extraordinarily terrible times, and it looks as thought a lot of our political class doesn’t know, or will not pay attention in a serious way to it.
MS: Well, they are paying attention, and they’re doing some truly terrible things for the worst possible reasons, for the most silly and trivial short term political opportunism. And again, I speak here as a foreigner, but I know for example during recent decades, there were many messy, unpleasant colonial struggles, or what were perceived as colonial struggles, that for example, the left wing of the British Labour Party had no enthusiasm for. But they never did what the U.S. Congress has done, which is attempt to cut the legs out of the executive in the middle of a war. It’s well known, for example, that the British Labour Party is basically sympathetic to the Irish nationalist movement, but they never attempted to set a deadline for British troop withdrawal from Northern Ireland, and impose it on the executive. I mean, this is an extraordinary…I think this is an extraordinarily immature opportunist act by the political class in Washington.
HH: And if you read, we had three very serious intellectuals, Fred Kagan, Max Boot and Reuel Marc Gerecht go to Iraq, spend time with Petraeus, spend time in the field, and they all came back, and they all said the same thing, which is it’s bad, it’s getting better, it’s not lost, and it can be won. And that appears not to have any impact whatsoever on Harry Reid and his people.
MS: No, because in a sense, they are, that’s bad news to them. You know, they prefer the certainty of defeat. And this is what’s so terrible. I mean, Amir Taheri, I think it was, wrote a column today saying, well, you know, if Iraq is lost, as Harry Reid says, who’s won? If someone’s lost a war, then presumably, who’s won? Al Qaeda hasn’t won in Iraq, the rump Baathists haven’t won in Iraq, the Sunni minority hasn’t won in Iraq. If America has lost, someone must have won. Well unfortunately, the way the Democratic Party look at it is if America loses, the Democrats win. In other words, if George W. Bush loses the war in Iraq, the Democrats can be the beneficiaries of it. They will be, in effect, the political winners of the war in Iraq. And I think that’s a complete nonsense. I think not just Islamists, but every other troublemaker on the planet, whether it’s North Korea, whether it’s the Chinese, whether it’s Hugo Chavez, whether it’s the Russians, indeed whether it’s the European Union, will look on America simply as a superpower that has lost all credibility.
HH: Now Mark Steyn, yesterday, I had former Congressman Bob Schaffer on the program. He had just come back from Afghanistan. He was carrying with him a recent edition of the only English daily in Kabul, the Daily Outlook of Afghanistan.
HH: And there above the fold in large caps was the headline, “Iraq War Lost, Says Leader of Democrats.”
HH: It was like a telegram to the Taliban.
MS: Yup, yup. And I think this is the real danger here, that regardless of what the troops are doing on the ground, the enemy understand that the home front is more important, and they’re right. They understand this more clearly than the Democratic Party do, because the Democratic Party, Ted Kennedy, is like one of the extras in Groundhog Day, who does the same thing over and over. He’s now doing exactly the same thing that he did in the Vietnam era, where he assured us that there wouldn’t be any kind of catastrophe if America pulled out of Vietnam. What these guys, the enemy understand more clearly than the Democrats do, is that America loses wars on the home front. You can’t beat them with the tanks and the planes and the battleships, but you can beat them on the TV networks and in Congress, and in demoralizing the home front.
HH: Now earlier today, Mitt Romney, I think it was earlier today, appearing in New York at Yeshiva University, delivered a speech about the threat. And it was very stark, because in it, he made the argument that it’s…it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Hezbollah, it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Hamas, it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Waziristan, it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Shia extremism or Sunni Salafist ideology, they all hate us, and they’re all working together whenever they have to when they’re not killing each other, and that’s the central fact of this war. Do you agree with that assessment to begin with?
MS: Yes, I think I do. I think it’s clear that when people talk about the differences between various forms of Islam, that they’re missing the point, that in fact a lot of these people whatever their ancient differences, have concluded that at the moment, the infidel is weak, and that they have great advantage in coming together to prod and poke at the weak infidel, and find his weak spots in a way…so in a way, I think it’s all nonsense, this talk that we can exploit differences between different strains of Islam. If we were more sophisticated, and if organizations like the CIA actually did any, half the stuff they’re given the money to do, then we would be able to do that. But unfortunately, we’re not that sophisticated, and by contrast, some of these guys are running a relatively sophisticated operation.
HH: The quote from the Romney speech in New York, “What Jimmy Carter fails to understand is what so many fail to understand, whether it is Hamas or Hezbollah or al Qaeda, there’s an overarching goal among the violent jihadist that transcends borders and boundaries. That goal is to replace all modern Islamic states with a caliphate, to destroy Israel, to cause the collapse of the West and the United States, and to conquer the world.” Is he correct, Mark Steyn?
MS: Yes, and you can see, it’s not hard, you can do a couple of minutes Googling, and you’ll find maps of the caliphate that show, for example, Northern Australia as part of the Muslim world. You know, the have a very ambitious agenda, and simply put, if you’re like those Taliban guys, and you’re looking at the English language newspaper in Kabul, it makes sense. It seems achievable. When you watch Harry Reid on CNN International, like these people do, it seems within your grasp.
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HH: Let’s talk a little presidential politics now, Mark Steyn. Reuters…not Reuters, Time Magazine reporting this afternoon that Hillary has shaken up her campaign, they’re stunned by the tie in the Reuters poll that puts them dead heat with Barack Obama. Why is that happening on the Democratic side?
MS: Well, you know, I think the fact of the matter is that you always want to be the exciting person, the one that there’s a bit of buzz around. And maybe, there’s too much buzz around you and you self-destruct, like Howard Dean did last time. But at the moment, Hillary Clinton is a very old and tired politician. In political terms, she’s been on the scene for a very long time, for a generation now, basically. She’s been in America’s national life for fifteen years. And if she’d simply been the first woman running for president, that might have trumped all the other dull, white guys in suits. But then, Barack Obama comes along, who kind of trumps her on the identity politics front, but he’s also fresh, and he’s also, you know, I happen to think he’s not ready for prime time, and he makes one idiotic speech after another. But you know, maybe that’s what you have to do with the Democratic Party base, because he certainly seems to get them fire up in a way that Hillary doesn’t. Hillary is beginning to feel to me like Bob Dole in 1996. When I saw Bob Dole events in New Hampshire, people would applaud loudly as Dole entered the room, and it would be the sound of very wan, perfunctory claps as he left the room. And I think that’s the problem Hillary is in. She’s in danger of becoming the Bob Dole of this electoral cycle.
HH: Or even more relevant, the John McCain of this election cycle? I’ll tell you, Mark Steyn, I’ve been doing Republican events across Colorado for the last three days. At all of them, I asked for a show of hands. I think John McCain had three supporters in four audiences, and the audiences are relatively split evenly between Giuliani, Romney and Thompson. It’s very interesting to me. There is no McCain support.
MS: No, and I think that’s because whatever section of the Republican Party you belong to, McCain has managed to offend you in some way. I mean, I’m astonished by the vehemence of people who are anti-McCain in New Hampshire. In part, that’s just because whether you belong to the gun group or the abortion group, or whatever your particular bugbear is, he said no, we don’t need to hear from you. And people are offended by the whole campaign finance thing, because they think actually, and quite rightly so, that it’s about keeping political speech confined to an elite political class. And I think McCain doesn’t understand that that actually is directly offensive to almost anyone who participates actively in primary politics.
HH: Now the question that I’ve gotten a lot from audiences is how do we, meaning Republicans, talk about the war? Obviously, we didn’t do it the right way in 2006, and that, I think that’s a misinterpretation to some extent, but what’s your counsel to Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, and the Senate candidates and the House candidates? As they come across the country, they run into a hostile media, sometimes dispirited activist bases and fundraising…what do you think they ought to be telling people?
MS: Well, I think you have to say to them that isolationism isn’t an option. You know, I get a lot of mail from people who are on the right, particularly on the libertarian right, who say America shouldn’t be going out into the world and making a lot of trouble. We should hunker down and fortress America. Well, there is no fortress America. You know that in your part of the world, Hugh, Southern California. I mean, basically, if that’s a fortress, you know, it’s basically got a big neon sign saying come on down to the whole land in America on it. You know, this country can’t even hold at bay two relatively benign neighbors. So the idea that America can hunker down and hold the planet at bay is absurd. So the libertarian right, I think, the isolationist right, have to come to understand that you can’t just take your ball home if a war happens to take a little longer than you’d factored it. And I’m in this interminable Conrad Black trial in Chicago at the moment, and the star witness, Richard Bird, the former ambassador to Germany and nuclear arms negotiator, says he’s got a plane to catch at 9:00, and so they’d better hurry up with the cross examination, because he wants to be out of here and on his plane. Well, you can’t say I’ve got a plane to catch when there’s a war on. It’s simply, it’s simply one of those hard, thankless tasks that once you’re in it, you’ve got to play to win. And I like the way Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney talk, I’m less happy with Giuliani, because I don’t think he quite understands a lot of the geopolitical aspects of this thing. But frankly, I think the idea that part of the Republican base essentially wants just to talk about small government and low tax cuts and all the rest of it, yeah, I’m all for those things. But you can’t have those things if you have no credibility around the world as a superpower, and you’re being picked off on all kinds of strategic fronts.
HH: Now Mark Steyn, I also had a caller yesterday, one of the lefties, bitter and angry that so many Iraqis are dying, and they want us to go, they’ll take an unfair and unjust peace just to stop killing them. And I thought during the Battle of Britain, July of ’40 through December of ’40, 23,000 Englishmen died, and 35,000 were seriously wounded. And there was never any…they had five more years of war to go through. There was never any thought of throwing in the towel. Do you think the Iraqis want to throw in the towel?
MS: No, and I think that’s actually vastly overstated, that. I mean, the reality is that there are significant parts of Iraq that have terrible troubles, and appalling murder rates, chiefly around Baghdad and a couple of provinces. And the rest of the country, life is better than it’s ever been. So the idea that there’s a big constituency for leaving Iraq to chaos, I think, is simply false. I think the other point to bear in mind is if you’re objecting to Iraqis being killed, in a sense, what would happen would be settled a lot quicker and a lot more bloodily without America being there. And this idea that if America would withdraw, there would be fewer deaths, I think is the same, pathetic delusion that led to millions dying in Southeast Asia in the 1970’s. We’ve heard all this stuff. You know, they’re the side, the left is the side who claimed to be the big international progressivists who say we are the world, and a guy born in a rice patty on the other side of the world is my brother, and he’s just the same as me. Well, they’re the ones who let millions of those people in those rice patties die from their blinkard, parochial stupidity in the early 1970’s.
HH: And genocide is the word that Robert Kaplan used, it’s the word that Fred Kagan used, and I believe, Mark Steyn, it won’t just be genocide in Iraq. And the region just won’t have a conflict, they would be exporting this, and this is a hard argument to make. I just think, can it be made, that this really is fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here.
MS: Yes, I mean, I think if you’re a superpower, you ought to be able to pick your fronts. Now I slightly disagree with that line, because I think we ought to be fighting them there on their turf, i.e. in Syria and in Iran, rather than in Iraq.
HH: I agree with that as well. Mark Steyn, always a pleasure. www.steynonline.com. He’s paroled from the Black trial, but he’ll be back next week. Thank you, Mark.
End of interview.