Mark Steyn on the ISG report
HH: What better way to celebrate than with Mark Steyn, author of America Alone, one of the books designed to prevent yet another Pearl Harbor in the future. Mark Steyn, I’m getting to you late. It seems to me most of serious America has already vomited back the ISG report. What say you about the Baker-Hamilton commission?
MS: I think it’s a joke. Most of it is platitudinous generalities that any half-informed person could come up with. But when it gets specific, I think it gets us into very dark and dangerous territory indeed, because it basically signs onto the pathologies of our enemies. You know, it basically…Jim Baker and his pals take the view of the Saudi Royal Family, that somehow this needs…nothing can be done without a resolution of the so-called Palestinian question, which I think is just preposterous. This idea that somehow Iraq’s future is conditional on things like the Palestinian right to return, I think is not just ludicrous, but very dangerous.
HH: Scott Johnson at Powerline has pointed out to me that this mention of the right of return, endorsement, really, is the first ever in any even semi official American document.
HH: And it is typically Palestinian propaganda that not any serious scholar signs onto.
MS: No, and I think that is what is most disgusting about this report, that when you actually look at the language, they frame the issues in the same language that the Arab League does. I’m sorry, but I think that is a disgrace, and these ten so-called wise men are either dupes or something worse.
HH: But I must remark, I am heartened by the fact it was almost instantly rejected, and in very stark terms, by serious people ranging from Victor Davis Hanson to Christopher Hitchens, from Bennett to Kagans, of both Bob and other varieties, Fred. People just saw in it silliness. And that is somewhat heartening, Mark Steyn.
MS: Well, except I am a bit worried that if you simply read your daily newspaper in most American capitals, you know, Washington, New York, Boston, San Francisco, wherever, you would read that this is somehow a bipartisan consensus on Iraq, that this is what the wise elders of our society…I believe, in fact, the San Francisco Chronicle actually use the headline, The Elders Have Spoken, as if we are some primitive tribe in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, and the wise men have consulted the ruins, and pronounced for the rest of us. It’s so depressing, this.
HH: Did you watch the Gates hearings this week?
MS: Yes, I did.
HH: And were they depressing as well? Or did you think it was a head fake by Dr. Gates to get confirmed?
MS: I would like to think it was a head fake. You know, a lot of us on the right, when things appear to be rhetorically a little depressing, tell ourselves it’s a head fake, that it’s rope-a-dope, that it’s all these other phrases. But I’m afraid that even if that is the case, I disagree with it. I think we need to be able to actually rhetorically find a language that is honest and forthright, and works with the American people on this issue. And so even if it was an effective head fake, I don’t really think that senior figures in the Bush administration should be in the rope-a-dope, head fake business in that way.
HH: Agreed. Agreed. Now I want to go to the silver lining, and I’m working pretty hard here, because Robert Kaplan’s coming up next hour. He’s working hard to find a silver lining as well. And it may be the unintentional focus the ISG has given to the nature of our enemies, particularly in Iran. A lot of people have paused and said you know what is wrong with this report is that they spoke to no one from Lebanon, that what is wrong with this report is they sealed themselves off from serious people. But what’s really wrong is that they just don’t get Iran as Ralph Peters will say after the break when we talk with the New York Post columnist. And I think, Mark Steyn, that may be bringing some attention to Iran, that that regime will not want.
MS: Well, I do think…I’m always happy to look for a silver lining, but these days, every silver lining contains several clouds, and that is when you look at their approach to Iran, it is almost beyond parody. It is basically saying that we should mortgage the future of Iraq to our explicit and declared enemies. And the idea of inviting Iran and Syria and other parties onto a support group, in which…I would be in favor, I would be in favor of actual direct negotiations between the United States and Iran, rather than having us all together on a support group that also includes all five permanent members of the Security Council, also includes the European Union, also includes the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I mean, this is basically a recipe for delivering a key, national security of the United States to the same process that has left everybody dead in Darfur. It is a terrible, terrible thing that these ten people have done. I mean, I feel like Oliver Cromwell. Do you remember his famous words to the…
HH: Yes, be gone, you’ve done enough damage, right?
MS: Yeah, you’ve sat here too long for any good you might have done. In the name of God, go. That’s the way I feel about Lee Hamilton. I’m sick of him chairing commissions. There’s 300 million people in this country. Why is it he gets to chair, co-chair the two most important commissions, the 9/11 and the Iraq war one?
HH: Well, that’s because you have to be over the age of 65 to sit on a commission. It’s the only job in America for which there is not only no age disqualification, but a certain age qualifier. And I do think that there is something to that, Mark Steyn. As I looked at their press conference…did you watch their press conference?
MS: Yes, I did, yeah.
HH: It was horribly decrepit. And I don’t mean in a physical sense, but in an intellectual sense. It was worn out.
MS: Absolutely, and you know Allen Simpson? I mean, he would be my favorite uncle if he came around for lunch on Thanksgiving.
MS: But during this oh, you know, in my day, Sonny, we didn’t have this here internet thing, either, that all the kids are crazy over. I mean, I think this is just unworthy of a serious panel. You know, I’ve got nothing, I’m not an age discriminationist guy. I just was on the National Review cruise with Bernard Lewis, who’s 90, and I followed him up the corridor one day. He was tired of waiting for the steward to deliver his bags, and he strolled off after them himself. I couldn’t keep up with the guy. He’s vigorous, and he’s sharp, and he understands the situation. Allen Simpson is a perfectly pleasant fellow, but he has absolutely no serious contribution to make to this debate.
HH: It’s interesting. Not a single…I just heard Bernard Lewis lecture for an hour and a half at Temple Bat Yam in Orange County without sitting down or taking a breath. And you’re right. There was not a Bernard Lewis on this panel. There wasn’t a general on this panel. Obviously, Chuck Robb had military service. It was almost predestined by Baker to come to the conclusion that Israel was at the bottom of this problem.
HH: I want to go to the Lebanon irony, or it’s really much more of a tragedy. Here they are, they’re fighting for their life, and no one is consulted in their government, as the Baker commission goes forward and suggests that we deal with Syria.
MS: No, and that’s the worst thing about this, the horrible parochialism. You would have no idea from the composition of this group that this, that they represent a nation seriously engaged with the world. You look at the range of people they took testimony from, you know, people like John Kerry, for example. Sorry, John Kerry is on TV giving speeches all the time. Everyone knows what he thinks about Iraq. I said in my column last week, why not go talk to Goh Chok Tong, the former prime minister of Singapore, who said that the issue here is American credibility. This former prime minister of Singapore understands the situation in a way that these former secretaries of state, and Senators, and Congressmen, and all the rest of them, apparently don’t.
HH: Now the President had a sharp exchange with a BBC reporter today, in which he came out swinging in a pretty good press conference with Blair. Do you see him buckling under this assault from the conventional wisdom of the Beltway elite?
MS: He’s looking very lonely these days. I’m not impressed with what Tony Blair has been saying in recent weeks about this issue, because Tony Blair has essentially been moving towards a kind of Bakerite view of this thing. I really do not believe there is anything to be gained from sitting down to Iran and Syria. The whole basis of this report proceeds from a false assumption.
MS: That these are people who negotiate in good faith. They don’t. They negotiate, in a sense, as part of a racket. They understand it as such. They understand it as a kind of little bit of Vaudeville you go through, that often buys you time to put your men and your missiles and all the other things in place. They’re not negotiating in good faith. And the idea…you know, this idiot report talks about Syria and Iran as if negotiating with them is like negotiating with New Zealand and Denmark. it’s so preposterous.
HH: There is a report that Khatami, the maximum leader of Iran, is deathly ill at this point, meaning that it’s at a moment of great vulnerability for the Iranian regime. Should we be doing just the opposite than cozying up to them right now? They had 2,000 Iranian students in the streets yesterday.
MS: Yes, I think we should. I think the idea that Syria and Iran, having read this report, are now making demands of the United States. Who’s the superpower here? If the superpower can’t make demands of a basket case state like Syria, and an exhausted revolution like Iran, then it is not a superpower, but it is a fraud. And the trouble with this Baker report is that it tends to confirm that view.
HH: Last 30 seconds, Mark Steyn. Do you expect the Pentagon’s report to be serious?
MS: I hope so. Everyone I’ve spoken to at the Pentagon, even when you disagree with them, actually take a more serious view of this thing. And we should remember that these guys made one trip to Baghdad. They didn’t go outside the Green Zone. They took a lot of what we in the journalism trade regard as sort of anecdotal taxi driver evidence. I hope the Pentagon’s report is better than that.
End of interview.