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Mark Steyn on the peril of the Beltway left’s lack of understanding of the world in which we live

Friday, May 29, 2009

HH: I am joined as I am every Thursday when we are lucky by Mark Steyn, Columnist To the World. You can read all of Mark’s material at, the volumes and volumes of it, it’s all wonderful, Mark, it appears as though North Korea, in revoking the Armistice, has declared war on us again.

MS: Yeah, and it’s easy to joke about these guys, because they do seem like a joke. And whenever you see Kim Jung Il on TV, he looks like a joke. But the fact is, they’ve managed to defy the United States for the last several years. They’re actually testing and exploding real devices that if they ever decided they want to hit somebody, they could hit somebody with. And at some point, that has to have consequences. That has to have meaning. The idea that oh, this is just a joke this guy pulls ever time there’s a holiday in the United States, that’s not going to survive that long.

HH: And I don’t think, Mark Steyn, I talked about this with John Bolton yesterday, with Christopher Hitchens yesterday, that it is beyond him to provoke a war. I think we underestimate him in the way that, I know you didn’t, but a lot of people thought al Qaeda’s declaration of war on the United States was absolutely nutty.

MS: Well, it’s a similar thing, in a way. Al Qaeda spent the 1990s trying to catch America’s eye. And America was like the snooty waiter in an upscale restaurant, decided that the guy sitting at the table by the toilet wasn’t worth paying any attention to. So eventually, they did catch our eye, big time, on September 11th. I think that North Korea has two objects here. One is to set itself up as a credible disseminator of nuclear knowhow. So in other words, what it manages to do, it also spreads around the world to other interested parties such as Syria. That in itself is dangerous, but as you say, I don’t rule them actually firing the thing at somebody with the intention of hitting somebody. And they’ll be doing that, I would imagine, pretty soon down the road.

HH: Now Mark, I also wonder whether or not we are looking past, I know that Judge Sotomayor is important, I’m kind of a dissenter on this, because I think we’re going to get rolled in the Senate, about how much time we should spend on it. But I think we’re coming up to a crossroads with Iran, and nobody’s talking about it in the MSM.

MS: No, it’s interesting to me, clearly it suited the President to be talking about his judicial nominee this week, and the judicial nominee is important. But as you say, it’s a fait accompli. She’s going to be confirmed, whether she should be or not. She’s going to be sitting on the Supreme Court of the United States. That in a sense gets him off the hook of having to talk about some of these international developments that he doesn’t actually seem that engaged by. And you can understand that in a way. Obama is essentially a transformative domestic president. And his interest in the rest of the world, as far as I can tell, is that he doesn’t want the rest of the world blowing up Cleveland before he’s managed to turn Cleveland and the rest of the United States into a socialist utopia. And I think that is really the extent of his interest in the rest of the world. He doesn’t want it getting in the way of his domestic transformation.

HH: When do Obama supporters begin to connect the dots that the change that he promised has not taken hold in the Islamic republic of Iran, or in the People’s Democratic Republic of North Korea, or in any of a hundred different hellholes around the world?

MS: Well, I would say that basically, they’ve reached their position on that, which is that North Korea and Iran are just these sort of fringe kooks that only their U.S. equivalent, which is me and John Bolton and Victor Davis Hanson, we’re the only guys who get upset about that. If you look at a lot of the left wing mockery of John Bolton for his, the piece he wrote in the Wall Street Journal on May 20th predicting an imminent North Korean, another nuclear provocation from North Korea, he was mocked as a sort of crazy guy for that. You know, he’s just sort of gibbering away to himself, these crazy, old, leftover, warmongering neocons. My God, are they still here? They’re like wandering around. They don’t know that the war on terror is over. They’re like the Japanese guys in the jungle, it all ended fifty years ago. And the big issues now are transforming the automobile industry and health care and all the rest of it. Well, we’ll see how long that world holds.

HH: You know, I talked to Bolton for a half hour yesterday. He is so lucid.

MS: Yeah.

HH: …and absolutely organized in his thought. And I think he makes a point that Bush Republicans like me have to hear, clearly, is that Bush’s second term didn’t do very good by North Korea. Actually, it was just the Clinton third term, vis-à-vis North Korea.

MS: Yes, and I think that’s a fair point. I think there was a kind of tragedy about the Bush second term, in part because he did a lot of the things that people told him he should have done during the first term. He was multilateral. North Korea was essentially in the hands of the State Department and the six party talks. Iran was left to the Europeans. This is all the stuff they told us he should have been doing, by the way, during the first term. And he was mocked as a unilateralist cowboy for it. I think the world actually might have been looking a lot better by January 20th had the second term been closer to the first Bush term.

HH: Robert Kaplan, a very estimable writer, worries that China doesn’t push it because Korea, if it collapses, will send millions of starving refugees into the northern precincts of China. And I mean, I’m not sure we should worry about regime change, because they’re going to die anyway if this guy starves them to death.

MS: Right. Yes, I don’t think there is…you know, essentially, there isn’t…you can change the regime, but North Korea is a one-man state. It’s not a real state. Whatever one feels about the present gang that’s running Iran, Iran is a real nation with real deep roots. North Korea is really just the sort of construct of a handful of people. And I think that does make it more difficult to deal with. It’s also, but you know, the point not to lose sight of here is that the North Korean crisis is not primarily about North Korea. I mean, it is serious on its own terms, but it’s more serious because when Beijing and Moscow and all kinds of other people look at Obama’s weakness on North Korea, they reach their own conclusions about the shifting balance of power in the world. So I think China is quite content just to let Kim Jung Il flip the finger at Washington for as long as he wants to.

HH: Especially, as John Bolton says, when we’re leaning on them not to control North Korea, but to control global warming. Mark Steyn, I want to switch. I had Larry O’Donnell on yesterday, MSNBC commentator, and I’ve been thinking about this since he was on.

MS: Right.

HH: I asked him if he had read The Nuclear Jihadist, which is a book about A.Q. Khan, and he hadn’t. Then I asked him if he read The Looming Tower, and he hadn’t.

MS: Right.

HH: Then I asked him if he had read any book on terror, and he hadn’t. He hasn’t read any books.

MS: No, and what was interesting to me was that he boasted then in response that he read Bob Woodward’s book.

HH: Oh, so you’ve read this. Okay, yeah.

MS: …which are the most boring…for a start, I’m impressed he can get through them, because they’re unreadable, but they’re that inside the Beltway sludge in which everything is just discussed in terms of the most crummy, parochial, Beltway insider politics. And this is, you know, this is what’s so disappointing about the left thinkers. In the end, North Korea and Iran are out there on the world stage. And they’re not really interesting in whether it’s Democrats or Republicans. They’re happy to blow up all Americans, you know, regardless of whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. They don’t care about that. The only people who care about that are these sort of shriveled, Beltway insiders. And the horrible parochialism of his response, you know, I don’t need to read about the A.Q. Khan network, because I’ve read Bob Woodward’s boring, interminable, dreary, 2,000 page tomes about who said what to which deputy assistant associate secretary of state. Who cares about any of that?

HH: Well Mark Steyn, do you believe, this is what I was driving at, that O’Donnell is representative of most talking heads, left, right and center, or just lefties, or not representative of even them?

MS: Yes, no I think he absolutely is representative of it. And this is what he doesn’t, this is the big failing of the left when they seem to think that the whole war on terror paradigm since 9/11 was some kind of construct of Bush and Cheney to boost the value of Halliburton shares. It’s not. It’s something that’s going on in every corner of the world where Islam butts up against something else. And the idea that it’s just some sort of racket that’s all to do with Beltway politics is pathetic.

HH: Well, when does that change? 9/11 obviously may have dented this, but they pounded the dents out, and they’re back to a 9/10 approach to knowledge. What changes that if anything?

MS: Well, you know, people used to say to me, write to me all the time, well nothing’s going to change until there’s a second 9/11. And this time, it had to be nuclear. And I found that incredibly depressing, and didn’t really want to engage with it. But I think in a sense, it speaks to a sort of reality that you know, we are broadly a reactive political culture. It’s that Katrina mentality. They tell you the hurricane’s coming, you don’t do anything about it, and then the hurricane hits, and you complain about why the government didn’t do more to help you. And I think certainly, that is basically going to be the Democrat line. Terrorism will be irrelevant until Los Angeles is nuked, and then they’ll want to hold a committee investigation and find people to blame for it.

HH: Do you think, 30 seconds, Mark Steyn, I watched a C-SPAN panel from Heritage today on our national security apparatus. Do you think we’ve raised it high enough to keep the barbarians at bay?

MS: No. You never can. You can’t win it by raising the gates. You’ve got to actually go out and throttle the ideology in the wider world.

HH: Mark Steyn from, thank you, Mark.

End of interview.

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