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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Mark Steyn reacts to the President’s speech last night.

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HH: Joined now by Mark Steyn. Mark, welcome back, good to talk with you again.

MS: Good to be with you, Hugh.

HH: Now there’s important issues to talk about, but first, I’ve got to tell you at Drudge about an hour ago, he ran the headline, ‘National Radio Talk Host Faces Arrest Over Prostitute.’ And there’s about 500 posts at Free Republic. I think I’m pleased that I’ve not been mentioned.

MS: (laughing) So you weren’t the one? You’re not…

HH: It isn’t me, it isn’t Michael Medved, and it isn’t Paul Harvey. Care to place any bets on that one, Mark Steyn?

MS: (laughing) I don’t know. I could narrow a list of the ones I’ve been interviewed by since America Alone came out that I would have thought were most likely to be on that.

HH: Nothing like a good sex scandal to start the new year with, right? That’s always a keeper. What did you think of the President’s speech last night?

MS: Well, I thought he said some very interesting things, not so much with regard to just the hard numbers of the troops, although I think a lot of the commentary on that has been pretty banal, but some of the interesting stuff rules of engagement, about Syria and Iran, and about embedding American troops with Iraqi units. I thought there were some very interesting things there, things that should have been done a long time ago, and I only hope that the action lives up to the talk.

HH: I speak with Tony Snow after the break…I had caught up with the press secretary last hour and taped a long interview…the ambiguity about the passage concerning Iran and Syria continues in my interview with Tony Snow. What do you think they intended the Iranian mullahs to get from that paragraph, Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, you know, the reality is that the President has a very good line. He says, when he’s asked to justify the war in Iraq, he says we’re fighting the terrorists over there so that we don’t have to fight them over here. Well, why not extend that thought a bit farther, and say instead of fighting them in Iraq, which is perceived as home turf for the United States Military at the moment, why not actually take it to them in Syria and in Iran? I said, you know, when I met with the President a couple of months ago, I said to him well look, Iran and Syria have been subverting Iraq for three years now. Why not subvert them in return? Why not exercise the right of hot pursuit? And he said now you’re thinking, boy, and gave a big laugh, and I didn’t see what was quite such a joke about it, and I’d hope that he’s at least considering it.

HH: They rolled up another half dozen Iranians in, I believe, Mosul today, Mark Steyn. It seems to me that perhaps we are going to focus in on exposing the Iranian connection for all to see. And there were large explosions yesterday at various places in Iran. I suppose we might do things and not say anything about it.

MS: Yes, and I do believe that’s the best thing to do. I’m not…I think one of the lessons, really, of the last five years is that it’s very hard for democracies, multi-cultural democracies in a media age, to fight wars if everything has to be, you have to hold a press conference about everything. And the example I always cite is the so-called action in Indonesia that the British conducted after Malaysian independece, when the Indonesians were trying to subvert Malaysia. British and Australian and Malay troops just crossed the border and started sticking it to the guys in Indonesia causing them all trouble, and they settled that thing, and hardly a word made the papers. And I do think that that’s actually, if anything is done against Iran and Syria, that’s the way it’s going to be. I’d be very surprised, for example, if American forces took action across the border in Syria, I don’t think Bashar Assad would be keen to call a press conference and let CNN film his summer palace with a big hole in it. So I think actually doing it on the quiet is the best way to do it.

HH: Now let’s get some reactions. First, Newt Gingrich last night, talking about the Democrats and the President. Cut number 15:

NG: I think the Democrats who believe the war is wrong should move to cut off funding totally, insist that the U.S. come home now, and accept the fact that they’re the party of defeat. But I don’t think we should play games with the lives of our young men and women. I think that Senator Kennedy’s exactly wrong. If he wants to have a legitimate debate and propose that the Congress not pay for the war, that’s certainly the right of the Congress. But I think to start nickel and diming, and to start second-guessing, will be a disaster. we have to have one unified combat effort, and that has to be led by the Commander-In-Chief.

HH: Mark Steyn, your assessment of Newt Gingrich?

MS: I agree with that. I have more respect for someone like Dennis Kucinich, who thinks that this whole business is wrong, and we need to get out now, than these posturing ninnies in the Senate who are basically just preening in front of the media, and speaking in bad faith every time. You know, half these people who are now saying the surge is wrong were for a surge. Their whole argument for the last couple of years was we need more troops there, that the President didn’t send enough troops. And he says he’s going to send more troops, and suddenly, they oppose that. Then they say they’re going to basically vote for symbolic resolutions that have no meaning, except in terms of kind of weakening the President in the court of public opinion. This is contemptible behavior. And the problem with the Democratic Party is not that it’s anti-war, but that it basically does not have the courage to be honestly anti-war.

HH: And Dennis Kucinich isn’t really inspiring either, Mark. We had him on yesterday. He did not know who the supreme religious leader of Iran was, or what the Quds forces were.

MS: No, but that’s an interesting point in itself. You know, basically, Dennis Kucinich, and much of the left, exist in a cocoon of ignorance. And the rest, they have no interest in the rest of the planet. They can’t tell you the names of foreign leaders, they can’t tell you the names of the various forces, the various factions of Islam. They’ve no interest in it. The rest of the planet is basically just a vast supporting cast for them to get at President Bush at. It’s pathetic and parochial, but at least Dennis Kucinich is reasonably honest in his ignorance of the entire world.

HH: That’s true. Now Mark Steyn, the President warned that there will be many images of carnage coming up, and I think in that warning was an implicit rebuke to the mainstream media in America, that they can either be with us or they’re going to be against us. And if they fall for the style of Hezbollah-engineered atrocities, they will be against us.

MS: Yes, I think that’s true as well. But I would say something else on that, that I think it would be useful for us to know what carnage we’re inflicting on the enemy. And again, this was something that came up when I saw the President, because people were wondering why we don’t release casualty figures for the other side. In other words, we only hear about the American troops who die, and Iraqi civilians who die, and he pulled a piece of paper from his side, and said that in some little bit of action that very morning, that I think it was something like 1,000 terrorists had been killed. Well, I think Americans would be quite heartened at the number of bad guys being killed by coalition forces in Iraq, and that it would be worth, actually, getting that side of the equation. There’s no point in releasing a score if you’re only giving one team’s score.

HH: You know, I asked Tony Snow about that, and he said well, for example, in a recent month, 103 Americans had died, and more than 5,000 terrorists died. And he said we tend…the Pentagon doesn’t like to put that out there. I don’t know why not, Mark Steyn.

MS: No, I don’t know why not, and I think it does make a big difference, because I think that actually tells you the scale of things. I mean, these people, they have no strategic goals other than demoralizing America out of the war, and out of the Middle East in general. And to do that, they’re throwing huge numbers of men, basically they’re adopting the sort of First World War trench warfare strategy, where you just send them over the top of the trench, and they get mown down, and they get mown down, and they get mown down, every day of the week. And I think it would actually be very demoralizing for the jihadist cause in the Middle East and beyond if the number of them who are just getting killed was actually out there.

HH: Now Mark Steyn as well, Tony was talking about the idea of prereleasing the speech. I quarrel with that. I don’t think it’s a good idea, I think it drains audience and interest. But he had some arguments why it is a good, and we’ll play that after the break. What do you think about putting the whole thing out there, and briefing everyone so that there’s no element at all of audience build up?

MS: Well you know, I think it’s a kind of slightly post-modern thing. You know, a speech isn’t a speech until it’s given. And I think if you keep releasing it beforehand, it tends to sort of emphasize the artificiality of the occasion. And I would prefer it if they didn’t release it. Having said that, I think actually, if you’re going to release it, you release it to everyone, and that’s one of the better things about today’s media environment, where it’s sort of sent out on the internet, and everyone who’s interested gets to see it, rather than before, when they just sent it to Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings. And in a sense, rather than cover the speech, those guys would basically have already decided on their interpretation before it happened.

HH: Exactly. Last question. Sam Brownback and Chuck Hagel, two Republicans who think the might want to be president, are both opposed to the President’s plan. McCain, Giuliani and Romney all endorsed it. Is there a winning strategy in the Brownback-Hagel opposition, Mark Steyn?

MS: No, I don’t think so. I think Chuck Hagel is a Republican who would find it very difficult to get any serious support in a Republican primary. And Sam Brownback is a slightly less offensive figure, but he’s wrong on this issue. Great nations cannot choose to lose wars simply because they’ve lost interest in them, and it’s pathetic position. It’s not a mature position. It’s a position that’s worthy of the playground, rather than of great powers.

HH: Mark Steyn, author of America Alone, still available at, still on the best seller’s list, thank you. We talk to you always, columnist to the world,, America.

End of interview.


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