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Mark Steyn on the do-nothing, leisurely, credentialed, slacker-in-chief

Friday, October 28, 2011

HH: My guest is Mark Steyn, as he is every Thursday when we are lucky, Mark, normally, I start with a light-hearted subject with you. But this week, a week ago, after you finished talking to me, the very next day, President Obama came out and announced that the United States was bugging out of Iraq. The Status of Force Agreement talks collapsed. And here we are a week later, and it’s as though it didn’t happen, when in fact it’s a major strategic defeat for the United States. Maybe you don’t agree with it, but that’s how I see it.

MS: No, I think the reality is that we have been in Iraq since 2003. We had the surge. Things kind of slipped. We had the surge, we mastered the military situation on the ground, we defeated the insurgency. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that strategically, we kind of lost sight of some of the bigger picture there. For example, what’s happened to the Christian community in Baghdad is really quite disgraceful, disgraceful that it happened on America’s watch. And I think the reality of the situation is that without American troops on the ground, and other aspects of the lack of will in the broader sense that was shown by America over there, is going to accelerate. So I think you’re right. It is, in that sense, certainly a huge, strategic setback for America.

HH: Now I described it as sort of America’s East of Suez moment, and very few people knew what I was talking about. You do, but do you think it’s that order of a retreat for America?

MS: No, I wouldn’t put it on that scale. That’s still to come. By East of Suez, you’re referring to the Labour government’s…

HH: Yes.

MS: …review in the late 1960s…

HH: Yup.

MS: …when in effect, they decided to shrink Britain’s presence in the world very considerably. And Denis Healey, I believe, was, if memory serves…

HH: It was Mac, and Healey was the foreign minister.

MS: He was, Denis Healey was the Defence minister.

HH: Defence, that’s it.

MS: And the reality here, the reality here is that moment, the East of Suez moment, is still to come for the United States. The U.S. currently accounts for 43% of global military expenditure, more than most other major powers combined – Britain, China, Russia, whoever, all wrapped up. The American presence abroad will shrink. It will shrink because we have taken on domestic entitlements that combined with our overseas commitments, are unsustainable. And we will discover, as the British government discovered in 1968, that if it’s the choice between unsustainable domestic spending, or retreating from global power, it’s always easiest in a democratic society to retreat from global power. So I believe the real East of Suez moments will be hitting us in mid-decade, and certainly by 2020. And they’re going to leave the world a far more dangerous place.

HH: In the Washington Post this afternoon is a big story that’s been getting a lot of splash called U.S. Drone Base In Ethiopia Is Operations. It begins, “The Air Force has been secretly flying armed Reaper Drones on counterterrorism missions from a remote civilian airport in Southern Ethiopia, to which I respond, well of course we are. We’d better be. But that passes for news in a post-confident America, Mark Steyn.

MS: I think we’re kind of pinning a lot on the unmanned drones these days.

HH: Yes, we are.

MS: Rick Perry wants them on the southern border. They’re already on the northern border. Janet Napolitano announced that she’s secured the northern border with unmanned drones shortly after taking office, which was fascinating to me, because the border crossing near me at Derby Line, Vermont, the frontier runs through the middle of the town library. I think non-fiction’s in Canada, and fiction’s in the United States. I don’t know whether…I always like to think of Janet Napolitano’s unmanned drone hovering over the fiction shelves alert for anybody stepping into the American half of the library. But you can’t do it all with unmanned drones. Their sheer source of unamannedness is attractive to Obama, particularly, because you can send these things over and kill larges numbers of Waziristani villages, and you don’t have to worry about putting them in Gitmo or trying them in the heart of Manhattan, or any of the other peculiar problems he’s saddled himself with. And I think the danger of the dependency on unmanned drones is that it encourages that Obama shrinking from the world, that you can hunker down in a kind of fortress America, and send high-tech drones out around the planet to zap this guy or zap that guy. And I don’t think it quite works like that. In the end, you need eyes and ears on the ground to spot big geopolitical trends. Just reacting by dispatching unmanned drones isn’t quite enough.

HH: Speaking of the President, he was speaking on Tuesday in San Francisco, and he said this, Mark Steyn, and he begins with the word we. Give a listen.

BHO: We’ve lost our ambition and our imagination, and our willingness to do the things that built the Golden Gate Bridge.

HH: We’ve lost our ambition and imagination, Mark Steyn. No more bridges for us.

MS: No, but you can’t built a Golden Gate Bridge anymore, because you’d be tied up in 20 years of environmental impact studies. I mean, that’s why America can’t do anything. There’s a big chunk of that in my book, After America, about how it’s disgraceful that we’ve still got a hole in the ground in Lower Manhattan ten years on. But big government makes it impossible. At the same that he’s saying we can’t build the Golden Gate Bridge, they’re destroying dams in that same corner of the world.

HH: Yes.

MS: In the northwest of the United States, a nation that once built dams is now destroying dams. He embodies this decline. This is a man who was hailed by the media as brimming with accomplishments compared to, say, Sarah Palin, who hadn’t done anything except run a state and a town, and a commercial fishing operation. This guy had a million dollars’ worth of elite education, elite private school, then Occidental, then Columbia, then Harvard Law, and he becomes a, I can’t even remember what was he…a community organizer?

HH: Yes.

MS: Then he becomes a lifetime legislator. He embodies, in that sense, he embodies the kind of do-nothing, leisurely, credentialed slacker America.

HH: Yes, he does.

MS: And so he is not the antidote to decline. He is the personification of it.

HH: And then speaking of decline, Nile Gardiner, who is a pretty good columnist for the Telegraph in London, has a column today, the title of which is Why Barack Obama Is The Decline And Despair President. Do you agree with that, Mark Steyn?

MS: Yes, I think he is. I mean, I think he’s trying to have it both ways here. There isn’t a day that he doesn’t throw…you know, I love the can do spirit of America, the can do nation. But you can try to do it now, and the Obamas of this world, and the Harry Reids of this world, and the Nancy Pelosis of this world, toss a ton of obstacles in your path. And they’re micro-regulating every aspect of life. And you can’t be a building society, you can’t be an innovative society, if every aspect of your life is micro-regulated by this crazy government.

HH: Now I want to lighten up, Mark Steyn, because over at, you’ve had a redesign. It’s a complete overhaul. But I do not see the Christmas CD for 2011. When does it launch?

MS: (laughing) Oh, Hugh, I respect the traditions of the calendar. And you cannot have, you can’t, nobody launches a Christmas CD until whatever it is, two weeks after Ramadan or whatever it is. So there’s a whole protocol about these things. But you don’t have to worry about it, Hugh. It’s coming. It may take you a little by surprise this year, maybe our most ambitious Christmas release yet.

HH: All right, now After America is the perfect Christmas gift, and you can get autographed copies if we can keep you in New Hampshire long enough to sign them. How’s the backorder list up at New Hampshire Hamlet 101?

MS: Well, I’m getting pretty exhausted by that. I’ve got a special trade order for 200 copies, and all of which had to be signed.

HH: Oh, dear.

MS: So my arm is a bleeding stump. The great thing, though, is that After America and the Christmas CD go together, because after however many, 300 pages of apocalyptic doom and despair on a scale unknown even to Obama speeches at California fundraisers, you’re going to need a good sing-along after that.

HH: Last question, in Arizona, they had an independent redistricting commission. This is a great story, Mark.

MS: Yeah.

HH: Jan Brewer has initiated what appear to be impeachment proceedings against them, hoping to get 20 of 30 Arizona Senators to remove them, because the so-called independent redistricting commission is in fact full of hackery. And they’ve taken a Republican state and turned it Democratic. And Jan Brewer is throwing down, and saying this is an abuse of office. What do you think of this? This is going to be great fun.

MS: I sort of think we need…one of the things, the great things about living in a small state is that generally speaking, you can’t gerrymander Congressional districts. Like New Hampshire’s only got two…

HH: Yes.

MS: Although according to the Obama Recovery Act, I think we have 23. There was all kinds of funding going to the 6th Congressional district of New Hampshire, which doesn’t actually exist. So I would love it, I would love it if the integrity of American districting could somehow be magically restored. But my goodness, if you think it’s difficult nation building in Afghanistan, trying to restore this country to honest, straightforward representative constituency delineation is going to take way longer than nation building in the Hindu Kush.

HH: When we come back, thank you, Mark Steyn, I’ll tell you more about this Arizona story., the one man global content provider, Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. You’d better order After America before his fingers fall off. You can do that at

End of interview.

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