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Mark Steyn On The Middle East And America’s Time For Choosing

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HH: On a day of a lot of breaking news, I’m joined by Mark Steyn, Columnist To the World. Read everything Mark writes at www.steynonline.com. Hello, Mark, how are you?

MS: Hey, I’m good, thanks, Hugh, how’s things with you?

HH: Terrific. I’ll get to the brimming war in the Middle East in just a moment, but I want to start with the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 by Andreas Lubitz, 27 years old. They believe he intentionally crashed it, and in one of the more interesting sentences I’ve ever read in the New York Times, it says the investigation focused on the co-pilot, a 27 year old German with no obvious reason to commit mass murder. What is that saying, Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, I don’t really know. None of us knows what it means at this stage. The salient point here, I think, is had he attempted to do this on September the 10th, 2001, the pilot would have, the captain would have been just able to open the door, get in and wrest control of the airplane, or he would have had a sporting chance of doing it. And I think in that sense, it does, it should cause us to reflect on whether we have spent too much time in the last 14 years controlling things – doors, items you take on the plane, and not enough time looking at psychological motivations. But that is, unfortunately, the tragic reality that had he tried to pull this at any time up to September the 10th, 2001, the pilot would simply have stormed in through the door and taken control back of the plane. I well remember when I used to take the little puddle jumpers from my corner of New Hampshire down to Boston and New York, that they were 12 seaters. I’d usually be in row two. They distribute the four passengers for weight, and the guys would keep the doors open for the whole flight. And the lesson since 2001 is that generally, going back to the shoe bomber who got on the plane, and it was the passengers who beat the hell out of him and stopped him from lighting up his shoe. That’s also true when you look at the panty bomber over Detroit and all the other things. And what happened here is that the good guys were unable to take back control of the plane from the bad guy, and that’s very disturbing.

HH: And it does not appear to me to be a jihadist terror, because he just killed 150 people as opposed to trying to maneuver the plane somewhere where he might be able to take down more. Now that’s not conclusive. It looks like psychological. We’ll figure this out, but I think you know, with no obvious reason to commit mass murder, who ever does? Now let’s turn to the other major story of the afternoon, which is al-Sisi, the president of the Egypt, whom our president does not much like, has decided with the new king of Saudi Arabia that they’re not waiting around for their American pals. They’re going to go stop the Shiia, the Iranian-backed Shiia in Yemen. Jeffrey Goldberg, who’s pretty good on this stuff, writes, “Negotiating with the Iranians in Switzerland, bombing their allies in Yemen, bombing their enemies in Syria and Iraq. Makes sense. We are, actually, Mark Steyn, in an incoherent, cataclysmic, incoherent moment.

MS: Yes, it’s very weird. At the moment, we just started lending air support to our allies, the Iranians, in the fight to take back Tikrit in Iraq. That operation is being directed by an Iranian general, and the United States Air Force is basically serving as Iran’s air force for the purposes of that operation. Meanwhile, down south in Yemen, we’re providing support to our other allies, the Saudis, as they go into Yemen to take on the allies of our first allies, the Iranians. You know, I said you can’t tell the players even with a scorecard. I mean, this is like foreign policy Mad Libs, you know, the enemy of my ally is my ally, the ally of my ally is my enemy. This doesn’t make sense any which way you do it, unless you look at it this way, that generally speaking, if you look at what the President is doing, and you figure that it generally all serves the long term interest of Iran, funnily enough, it seems to. Whether that’s something the president of the United States should be doing is a different matter.

HH: Mark Steyn, yesterday on this program, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said this reminded him of the old and funny, but old movie Trading Places, only Israel and Iran have traded places in American foreign policy.

MS: Yes, I think that’s generally true, that long term allies of the United States, particularly Israel, we’ve talked about this before. I don’t think there’s any doubt that he actually, that this administration actually has a visceral dislike of Israel. This chaos, by the way, the entire region is aflame now from West Africa to the Hindu Kush. Four capitals are currently controlled by Tehran. We don’t know how many capital cities will be controlled by them by the end. And other states have completely imploded, like Libya, and meanwhile all these various franchises of the jihad are all bulked up and getting along fine. And the idiocy of this administration is that somehow, they think this would all go away if Israel would stop building settlements.

HH: Yup.

MS: They think a tiny, little strip of land barely wider at its narrowest point than my New Hampshire township is at the root of this regional conflagration.

HH: Now Mark, 47 United States Senators have sent an open letter, basically an op-ed saying this is not a deal that you want to do, Iran. On this show this week, two presidential candidates, assumed presidential candidates, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker both said I’m walking away from a deal that doesn’t go through the Congress on the first day of my presidency. You would think that Iran would get the message that John Kerry is not carrying the full faith and credit of the United States forward. But I actually think what they think they’re doing is getting 20 months in which they don’t care that the deal’s going to be repudiated, because they’ll get enough in those 20 months to get what they need.

MS: Well, alternatively, they’ve made a bet that if, say, the so-called P5+1, the five Security Council members plus Germany are on board with some deal, the deal is signed with some big, fancy ceremony with the U.N. Secretary-General whether an incoming Republican president will have the guts simply to toss that in the garbage can of history. And generally speaking, Obama, when he’s bet against the Republicans having the guts to undo this stuff, he’s generally been right. It remains to be seen whether they’ll undo Obamacare, whether they’ll undo executive order amnesty. Given what he’s been able to get away with so far, why wouldn’t you say hey, come on, let’s shoot for it and see whether these guys have the guts to undo it.

HH: Well, that’s why I’m methodically asking every Republican presidential candidate who comes close to the studio or the microphone whether or not they’ll repudiate a deal that leaves enrichment capacity, which has always been the American standard – no enrichment left.

MS: Right.

HH: That’s the deal. And inspections like the South African inspection regime. So against that backdrop, I just think that they know this deal will not survive, but they think it’s such a feckless administration, they can steal enough of a march on bomb building with no inspections that they’re going to go forward.

MS: I think that’s true, and I think also, if you, if you look at the time they need, they don’t need a lot of time. I mean, we’re talking now a year and a half until the election, just under two years until a new president takes over. And if you wind the clock back two years, and you think of what has happened in that region since then, Iran is certainly, Iran has long terms goals that they see, they’re very good at seizing short term opportunity as they have in Yemen, as they have in Iraq, as they have in Syria. And the idea that they won’t use this next 20 months or however long it is to do exactly the same thing, is betting on the Islamic Republic behaving in a way that it hasn’t done since those guys took over 35 years ago.

HH: Now what about the hopeful sign that we have cooperation? I know you’re not the Saudis’ favorite global columnist, but our Jordanian King Abdullah is an ally of our country, and al-Sisi appears to be an ally of our country, though we have some human rights objections to his way of governing. Nevertheless, it seems like this tripartite alliance is getting serious in Yemen. They’re also getting serious versus the Islamic State, and I assume they’re going to get serious about the Shiia. I actually think we’re sitting on a tinderbox, Mark Steyn, in the Middle East. And I know the airplane story is tragic and riveting, but this is, you know, a world on the edge right now.

MS: Well, the thing is it’s nothing to do with the United States. They can’t wait for the United States as much as Israel, General Sisi in Egypt and the Sunni monarchies, the Saudis and the Gulf Emirates, face an existential threat. And the respectable Sunni monarchies, and I’m not the biggest fan of the House of Saud. That’s true. And they certainly shouldn’t have the power and money that they do today. But the fact is they’re caught in a Pincer movement between Iranian regional hegemony on the one hand, and ISIS waiting for an opportunity to start picking away at the biggest prize of all. These guys are not, it’s not a question of whether they’re American allies. It’s not a question of whether they’re good guys in the end. They’re simply doing what prudent leaders of sovereign nations have to do, and that is to pay attention to their survival.

HH: 30 seconds, Mark. The United States…

MS: And Saudi survival is at stake, and so is General Sisi’s.

HH: But the United States has to choose, don’t they, between Iran and the Sunni monarchies. Don’t they have to choose?

MS: They do have to choose, but I would bet that this administration, if it comes to that choice, will side with Iran, as they’ve sided with Iran over Israel.

HH: I think you’re right about that, and that should alarm everyone. Mark Steyn, Columnist To the World, thank you.

End of interview.

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