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Mark Steyn on the House of Saud’s new weapons program, and John Mellencamp’s pacifism

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DB: This is an unplanned pleasure, me being here tonight, that because of the vicissitudes of modern air travel, Hugh is somewhere over our great country right now. As soon as he lands, he will find a studio and join the show. But until then, I will do my best to fill Hugh’s enormous shoes. In the meantime, as we do every Thursday nigh when I’m lucky enough to be here, I am able to present another segment of all accent radio, as Columnist to the World, Mark Steyn of is with us. Good evening, Mark, or good afternoon.

MS: I really don’t get this joke of yours, Dean. I understand your accent, and I’m very sympathetic with the radio audience trying to figure out what it is you’re saying, but I don’t quite understand why you keep lumping me in with these wacky accents.

DB: I don’t understand either, Mark, but some people say you talk funny.

MS: Yeah, I don’t know. I’m in Northern New England, and I reckon the first settlers of this part of the world didn’t talk so very different from me.

DB: (laughing) That’s right. That’s probably a good bet. So Mark, we have a lot to discuss today. The first thing that leaps to mind is America has decided, the Bush administration has decided to sell $20 billions dollars worth of arms to the Saudi government. Good move?

MS: I think in the end, you know, just between us, that the Saudi state is unsalvageable, and has to be destroyed. Essentially, every time you keep the present Saudi state, which is this kind of, this enormously wealthy pseudo-royal family who were kind of Bedouins in the desert, no fixed abode, eighty years ago, and have been enriched tremendously by oil wealth, and they use that oil wealth to radicalize Muslim populations on every corner of the planet. I think Saudi Arabia is the source of a lot of our troubles. And simply because they’re now scared by the rise of Iran, and the Bush administration is selling all these weapons, I think you know, in the long run, I don’t think that’s in America’s interest, and it’s not something I would be inclined to support.

DB: Yeah, and the insanity of it, to my mind, is that the House of Saud clings to power tenaciously, because the Wahabists there don’t like them much at all. And the weapons we’re selling them could someday very well fall into the hands of a group that either is al Qaeda or has a philosophy much akin to al Qaeda’s.

MS: Well, the thing is, you talk about the House of Saud. And I think it’s impossible to generalize about that. I mean, in a sense, in the old days of the Cold War, we used to have Kremlinologists who used to look at the May Day parade in Moscow and tell you who on the Politburo was up and who on the Politburo was down. And there were 20 guys in the Politburo, and maybe if you’re an expert, you really did know what was going on. The last time I counted Saudi princes, there were about eight and a half thousand of them.

DB: Yeah.

MS: Basically, there’s a new Saudi prince born every two weeks. It may be up to ten thousand by now. And the fact of the matter is there are different factions among those, that royal house. There were ones that…there are a lot of people like Prince Bandar, the long-time U.S. Saudi Ambassador in the United States, although actually, U.S. Ambassador isn’t a bad way of putting it.

DB: Yeah (laughing).

MS: He swanks around town as if he was America’s viceroy, and he was one of these classic Saudi guys who basically played both ends off against each other. But there’s a lot of other princes who are openly supportive of the jihadists. So I think it’s not even possible to generalize about the House of Saud. And with all these thousands of wacky princes running around, I mean, it’s very difficult to meet anyone from Saudi Arabia who isn’t a prince. I mean, people are either princes or hard core jihadists. They’re either these billionaires buying up all the high priced hookers in London and Paris, or they’re the jihadists flying the planes through the skyscrapers. There’s not a lot of room in between.

HH: You know, someday, Mark Steyn, somebody’s going to have to write a scholarly study on the dearth of a Saudi middle class.

MS: Yes, I think that’s actually a very good way of looking at it. I mean, essentially, I don’t take princes seriously. I’d hate to become the old British subject on you, but in the House of Windsor, once you get past being the grandson of the king, you can’t call yourself prince. In other words, there’s a limited number of princes you can have. And the fact of the matter is, they have all these ones, guys running around, on the take, they’ve been given billions, they spend billions. I mean, basically, we see things like this recent libel case that came up at the high court in London in which they’re essentially able, simply by buying the best lawyers, the best lobbyists, to buy everybody they need to buy in Britain, in America, in Europe, every corner of the planet. And this is not something…in the end, we have to have the courage to stand up to the Saudi subversion of the Western world. And it’s one thing on which I do, you know, I’m afraid, disagree with the Bush administration fairly profoundly on.

DB: We couldn’t agree more, and I’m very happy that you brought up Great Britain and English tradition, because that leads me to a subject I wanted to bring up, which I know is near and dear to your heart. My fellow Bostonian, fellow…well, he didn’t graduate Harvard, but he attended Harvard, Matt Damon who stars as the world’s most boring action hero, Jason Bourne, said in an interview that James Bond is an anachronism, and that Jason Bourne is the real action hero for the 21st Century.

MS: Yes…

DB: And I find this an outrage. And I know you feel the same.

MS: I know. He basically…he attacked James Bond for being this imperialist, misogynist, martini-swilling sex addict.

DB: But those are his good points.

MS: Exactly. You take that out, and there’s just a lot of kind of boring stuff where he’s kind of rappelling down the side of the bad guy’s lair, and then there’s all that boring stuff where he’s running around firing at anonymous extras, as their running around the corridors, and then deciding which wire he has to untangle to defuse the nuclear bomb. That’s all boring. The last forty minutes, the last half hour of the Bond film, all the tedious running around of the underground lair, with things exploding, is the boring bit. All the good bit is all the innuendo with the dolly birds, and all the shaken not stirred, and all the stuff that Matt Damon doesn’t like. And you’re right. His guy is the world’s most boring spy. And I’ll take James Bond over Jason Bourne any day. Even the worst…people argue about who’s the best Bond actor, whether it’s Sean Connery or one of the others, but I’ll take the worst Bond actor ever over Matt Damon as my spy role model. And things would have gone a lot better, by the way, if they’d sent in James Bond rather than Joseph C. Wilson IV to investigate whether Saddam Hussein was buying yellowcake from Niger.

DB: 007 instead of 004, eh?

MS: That’s right.

DB: Now Mark, last week, Mark Steyn, last week I heard you sitting in for Laura Ingraham, when every radio talk show host in America was summoned to the Oval Office except me and except you.

MS: Right. That’s right. You and I didn’t make the cut.

DB: Yeah, I know.

MS: And that was a no accent radio convention.

DB: That’s right. Everybody in the Oval Office spoke with a nice, flat, mid-western accent. It is true, and I notice these things.

MS: That’s right.

DB: But I noticed you having a lot of fun with John Mellencamp’s appearance on the Daily Show, where he had a particularly muscular response he had in mind to al Qaeda and 9/11, didn’t he?

MS: Yes, actually. He offered to, he got rather annoyed at the idea that being a pacifist means you’re a wimp. And he challenged Stephen Colbert to I think it was an arm wrestling match as evidence that in fact real men are pacifists. He’d argued that the proper response to 9/11 would have been to do nothing, to have said okay, look, man, you’ve blown a huge smoking hole in the center of New York. But we’re bigger than that, so we’re not going to do anything. And he argued, he was in effect attempting to argue that that was really the manly response. And a lot of these rockers get very twitchy when, as Stephen Colbert did, that you put it to them that this is a rather kind of feeble response when somebody does that to you. And his response, his rather curious attitude then was to offer to arm wrestle Stephen Colbert into the ground. I would have liked to have seen how that would have gone. I can’t see John Cougar Mellencamp…I mean, he’s like all these rockers. They have these incredibly butch names, named after…I don’t think he uses the cougar anymore.

DB: No, you don’t call him cougar. You get on the fighting side of him.

MS: Yeah, and I gather the cougar has since become a term for a kind of predatory divorcee in her late 40’s and 50’s, so perhaps it doesn’t have the same resonance.

DB: Yeah, it doesn’t sound nearly as…

MS: It’s basically Demi Moore coming onto that little guy from the boy band, or whatever.

DB: (laughing) It doesn’t sound nearly as frightening. It was funny, because Colbert does what I think is a very funny shtick, doing O’Reilly…

MS: Right.

DB: And I think he’s funny. And when Mellencamp said he wouldn’t respond to al Qaeda, suddenly you saw Colbert’s mask drop. He’s like really?

MS: Yeah. I think it’s true that there’s a certain…in amongst all the kind of postmodern and kind of archly ironic games, that the thing about comedy is I don’t think it’s possible to do comedy unless you have a kind of certain detector for the point at which people just kind of fly the coop. And I think at that point, when John Mellencamp said he didn’t get too exercised by the al Qaeda business because he happened to be in Montreal, I think that’s when Stephen Colbert flew the coop.

DB: Correction…Toronto…just for the record.

MS: That’s right.

DB: Mark Steyn, thank you very much. You can read his stuff on, one of the best columnists in the world, a great writer. Thanks for joining us.

End of interview.


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