DB: As we do every Thursday night when I am lucky enough to sit in, we have a segment of grown men talking funny as we are joined by Mark Steyn. Good evening, Mark Steyn, good afternoon.
MS: Hey, good to talk to you, Chowder guy. I’m in Maine at the moment, and had some chowder just yesterday evening in anticipation of your appearance.
DB: You’re pronouncing it wrong. It’s chowdah.
MS: (laughing) Look, I don’t do any funny accents apart from my own. That one, I’m barely on top of.
DB: Well, you do your own extremely well.
MS: That’s right.
DB: Now Mark, I want to get right into substance. The President gave a very important speech yesterday. I want to play a clip from it, and get your reaction if we can. Duane, we got that clip?
GWB: We’ve overthrown two of the most brutal tyrannies in the world, and liberated more than 50 million citizens. In Iraq, our troops are taking the fight to the extremists and radicals and murderers all throughout the country. Our troops have killed or captures an average of more than one thousand five hundred al Qaeda terrorists and other extremists every month since January of this year.
DB: Now Mark, your reaction to that clip from the President speaking at the VFW?
MS: Well, I thought it was a very interesting speech, and a very thoughtful speech. And I thought it was important because it laid down a challenge, not just to Democrats, but to those Republicans who are going wobbly, which is this, that as the President said, what happened in Vietnam was not just the question of America deciding to take its ball and go home, but something that was deeply damaging to American credibility. And a lot of people died because of that. A lot of people died in Southeast Asia, and a lot of interesting real estate fell to the Soviet Union in the years afterwards. The 70’s was the decade when America almost managed to wind up losing the Cold War. If you look at little itsy bitsy things, say a nothing type coup like Grenada happened in part because America had no credibility. America had no friends. If you were an opposition leader in the world in the 1970’s, and you were considering becoming a friend of the United States, what happened to all those friends of the United States in Cambodia and Vietnam was a cautionary tale. And he laid down, I think, a challenge to the opponents in this. Stop being frivolous, because you should at least know the consequences of what you will do, and that will make you complicit in mass murder.
DB: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting you use the word frivolous. Another word that leaps to mind, to my mind, is amoral, that Tom Barnett…are you familiar with Tom Barnett?
MS: Yes, I know him, and I know Hugh’s great series that he did with him.
DB: Okay, so he did a great series with him, and Tom also has, he had a blog post a couple of days ago, and he’s calling for, he’s critiquing what’s going on in Iraq as a Bosnia in reverse, that we’re trying to make sense out of there before the ethnic cleansing…
DB: …happens. So he’s suggesting that political leaders don’t tell generals how to fight, but they should in our system tell them when our fight has logically concluded. We should withdraw from Iraq and go to Kurdistan where we are small, and Kuwait where we are already large. By releasing the Sunni-Shiia dogs of war, we force Saudi Arabia and Iran to fish or cut bait. Whatever they choose, we save our troops’ lives, and our political will to remain engaged. I find that a shocking passage. Do you agree?
MS: Well, that would be the sort of thing that you’d have expected to come from the so-called racist right. You know, when I write about Muslims, I’m often accused of being racist. I think there’s something worrying about that argument that Tom Barnett is making, because it sounds awfully much as if well, if it’s Sunni killing Shiia, or it’s Shiia killing Sunni, who cares, as long as it’s Muslims killing Muslims. And I think it’s actually more complicated than that. I think America would wind up getting the blame for that, and I think America would suffer fatally for credibility on that issue. And I think even the question of then whether you can ring fence Kurdistan becomes an issue. I certainly think that once you…I’m in favor, generally, of destroying the political settlement of the Middle East as it emerged in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. But just to say we don’t care as long as it’s one group of Muslims killing one other group of wacky Muslims, who cares? I do find that amoral.
DB: Exactly, and what especially shocks me about that is he uses the phrase by releasing the Sunni-Shiia dogs of war, which is a very glib and facile way of essentially writing off the potential deaths of millions of people.
MS: Yes, and I think in fact, if you want to actually engage in that kind of creative instability, you should at least think about which horse you want to win in that fight. I think a lot of people, realists in Washington, think for example that essentially, the Sunni dictatorships like the House of Saud are a good, long term bet, because they need America more than the Shiia in Iran do. I think you can make the other argument that in fact the Shiia, Shiia Islam is a more compatible form of Islam with what we regard as pluralist democracy. You can make those arguments. And you could pick a dog in that fight. But just to say okay, we’re done, let the mass murder and the genocide start, and we’ll, our side is whoever wins, I think that goes a little beyond real politick, and actually is a relatively disgusting argument.
DB: Well, it’s something close to that. Hugh’s going to be having Tom on sometime next week, and they’ll hash it out. Now Mark Steyn, another thing I want to talk to you about is that there was this piece in the New Republic yesterday by Jonathan Chait, where he accused Bill Kristol of being a thug. And I’ve spoken to Bill Kristol, and I think he enjoys his thug street credibility and his new villain status. I believe you also enjoy being a villain. Am I correct in that?
MS: I find Bill Kristol, I’ve only, you know, I’ve only run into him a couple of times, but I find him like a charming and urbane and erudite and thoughtful man. And the idea of him as a kind of bruiser, I mean, I often get called a bruiser and a thug, and I’m happy to take that. But in fact, I think that in Bill’s case, it’s unearned, and he should, you know, he needs to get into the wrestling ring and earn that title. I mean, he, in fact, his magazine pointed out some very obvious flaws with that piece in the New Republic. The New Republic conceded that the very initial opening anecdote that set the tone for the piece, and in fact was the entire premise for the piece, was utterly false. Now what we need to know from Jonathan Chait, who is one of the editors of the New Republic, is whether they have been in contact with their so-called Baghdad Diarist, or whether in fact he’s refused, as the Army appears to suggest, he’s refusing to speak to them. But at the moment, they’re standing by his piece, and it’s not entirely clear whether he still stands by his piece.
DB: Well, all we know today is that they’ve all donned their Columbo-like trench coats, and are doggedly investigating this matter as they have been for the past six weeks.
MS: Yes, and one can’t help feeling that it’s beginning to take on a bit of a whiff of O.J. looking for the real murderers.
DB: Yes, well put.
MS: I think this idea of calling Humvee experts to find out whether it’s possible for a vehicle whose tire treads are as wide as the Humvee is to slice a dog cleanly in two…
DB: Yes, thirty inches wide, and sliced a dog in tow. Yes, the dog was the size…
MS: That is right. I wonder what…that would have to be like the world’s longest dachshund or something, because I don’t know…
MS: I don’t know what dog that…you know, I get a ton of interesting mail about these things. You know, for a start, that anecdote is presented a bit disingenuously, because of course, to keep domestic dogs is forbidden under most interpretations of Islam. And as I understand it from, certainly when I was in Iraq, the only dogs you see are these kind of wild predatory dogs that sort of emerge from out of nowhere, who are just kind of running around, snuffling in all of the garbage they have lying around in the street there. So I’m not, this idea that you know, some poor little lady’s French poodle is being sawn in half by a Humvee is slightly misleading in any case.
DB: So Iraq doesn’t have any mastodon-sized dachshunds running around, from your experience?
MS: No, and that, what’s that big Westminster Kennel Show? I don’t believe there are any Iraqi entrants in that, generally.
DB: Well, maybe next year. We can all hope.
MS: Yeah, maybe when we solve the Sunni-Shiia split, whatever regime emerges will ask to enter a couple of teams next year.
DB: Now Mark Steyn, I have to say that I do think you revel in your villain status, because I have in front of me a copy of your book From Head To Toe. And the word of praise that blurbs the top is Dangerous Idiot of the Week from The New Statesman.
MS: Yeah, I think I won that three or four weeks in a row, and then they retired the trophy.
DB: Congratulations. Mark Steyn, as always, a pleasure to have you on. www.steynonline.com. One of the finest columnists in America, certainly the most entertaining.
End of interview.