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Mark Steyn’s analysis of a tale of two speeches today.

Thursday, May 21, 2009
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HH: Watched the extensive news coverage of President Obama and Dick Cheney hurling thunderbolts at each other. And to discuss that and other matters, joined by Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. You can read all of Mark’s work at www.steynonline.com. Mark, just generally, quite an extraordinary day on the national security front with these battling giants of the national security world.

MS: Yes. I thought the President’s speech was revolting and contemptible, and one that he really should not have given. In a sense, the Vice President, Dick Cheney, all he had to do, really, was say well look, whatever you feel about these policies, for eight years, they worked, whereas during the 90s, we had attacks on American targets routinely throughout the 1990s, leading up to 9/11. Now obviously, there’s an element of luck in that as the IRA famously said to Mrs. Thatcher, you have to be lucky every day, we only have to be lucky once. But when you’ve been lucky for eight years, I think clearly you’re doing something right. And there was no need for Obama to give this speech, and he should not have given it.

HH: He’s clearly feeling very defensive. And Dick Cheney’s speech today was so sober, so detailed, so specific in its rebuttal of the airy claims about what’s going on in the world that I think it leaves a huge mark. But let’s listen to the worst two passages among many from the Obama speech, cut number 12A:

BHO: All too often, our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight. But all too often our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, too often we set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And during this season of fear, too many of us, Democrats and Republicans, politicians, journalists and citizens, fell silent.

HH: Mark Steyn, this is a deeply dishonest statement. It lacks the specificity that would allow people to rebut it, and it is an attempt to give himself credit for that which he does not deserve, the national security success of the last eight years, and to diminish that success.

MS: Yes, I think that’s true. I mean, let me say first of all, I think it’s entirely improper for him to be giving this speech. It’s far more specific, if you look for example at Jimmy Carter’s famous speech, again, saying that, I think in 1977, saying we were all far too hung up about communism, and we had “an inordinate fear” of it, even that speech, as ridiculous as that was, was not a specific assault on the immediate preceding government. Well, what happened on January 20th was not some coup, was not the successful conclusion of a war of liberation. It’s a two party system, and Party A is out of power, and Party B is in power. But the acts taken in the last year, as far as the world were concerned, were the acts of the government of the United States. And given that they were generally successful for the citizens of the United States, I think this would have been a perfectly understandable speech to give last summer when he was campaigning for president. But it’s a very weird speech, and a contemptible speech to give right now.

HH: Let’s get to the second cut, this on interrogation, cut number 14:

BHO: I know some have argued that brutal methods like waterboarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more. As commander in chief, I see the intelligence. I bear the responsibility for keeping this country safe. And I categorically reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation. What’s more, they undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America. They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that Americans will be mistreated if they are captured.

HH: Mark Steyn, there so many falsehoods in this. Go ahead.

MS: Yes, there are, and I think first of all, one thing that is completely absurd is this idea that somehow American interrogation techniques act as a recruitment tool for al Qaeda. This is nonsense. What acts as a recruitment tool for the jihad in general is when it’s seen or perceived to be successful, and the jihadists are seen as the coming men. The idea that some guy in Waziristan or Yemen is encouraged to join the jihad because of waterboarding is preposterous. There’s no evidence for it whatsoever. He’s just concocted that out of his own head, and I think actually betrays either the naïveté of this president, which is one thing, or what’s worse, is the cynicism of him if he knows that this is nonsense and he’s saying it anyway.

HH: Well, the idea that we’re undermining the rule of law as he undermines the rule of law, by making an attack upon the legal conclusions and positions of a previous administration, and adopting what is in essence an ex post facto approach to people who participated in the war on terror. It’s really something I never expected out of someone who purports to have been a scholar of the Constitution. Mark Steyn, the idea also that our methods will increase the degree of bad torture on our troops when they’re caught, it’s absurd. They cut our heads off.

MS: Yes, and I suppose he’s arguing here that well look, if we ease up on the waterboard, then when our troops are captured, they won’t use the rusty scimitar when they’re decapitating them. This is completely preposterous, the idea that somehow what is happening at Guantanamo and other facilities, if we make nice with these fellows, they will suddenly start observing the rules of the Geneva Convention. No, if you’re the kind of target they’re looking for, and they capture you, they will saw your head off and release it as a snuff video on the internet. And nothing that Obama says is going to change that. Now as I said, either he’s a fool who simply cannot understand that not everybody sitting around the world looks at things the way an ACLU lawyer does sitting in Hyde Park, Chicago. But if he’s making that mistake, then he’s actually incapable of the so-called empathy that he prizes as one of his key qualities.

HH: The backdrop to the speech today, Mark Steyn, bad timing for the President, of course, the arrest of four would-be bombers of synagogues and shooter-down of airlines and airplanes in New York. And I don’t believe they converted to radical Islam in prison because of waterboarding being conducted on the jihadists.

MS: No, they didn’t, and in fact if he wanted to make a serious speech, he would have addressed the issue of Islamic recruitment and conversion in American and other Western prisons, which is really the same thing happened to Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. It’s actually by now a tried and tested formula for recruits. It’s a far more effective formula than running around the Middle East saying oh, have you seen, you know, the Americans are waterboarding some of us. This is actually an effective recruiting tool, what they’re doing in Western prisons. It’s sad to see someone with such a September 10th mentality trotting out these old lines.

HH: All right, this will be a watershed speech, and people are going to be reviewing this for years to come, and I think it was a huge mistake on his part. But rather than do just all glum and gloom here, I do have to bring our attention to England, Mark Steyn, because today the latest member of Parliament to get caught up, Ian Gibson is a senior Labour MP, turns out he sold his flat to his daughter at half price after using his Parliamentary expenses to pay for it. And then my favorite one of the latest revelations is that the, Peter Luff, a Tory, bought three lavatory seats, three food mixers, two microwaves, and ten sets of bed linens while kiting out his country house and London flat at taxpayers’ expense, according to the Telegraph.

MS: Right.

HH: This is really a remarkable scandal.

MS: Yes, it is. The speaker of the House of Commons was forced out of office this week, the first speaker to be forced out since 1695. And you know, let’s be bipartisan here, because we’ve been hammering Obama. This is one of these things where hard core socialist class warriors and aristocratic conservative toffs claiming taxpayer money to have their moats dredged, it’s caught everybody.

HH: Yup.

MS: And I think it gets one of the most unattractive features of public life in Britain, America and most other advanced nations, is that if you get elected to office, you expect never to have to pay for anything yourself ever again, and it’s a completely repellent spectacle both there, or whether it’s Chris Dodd & Co. over here.

HH: David Cameron appears to be coming out of this looking a lot better than Gordon Brown. Do you expect the government to fall, or just to muddle through for another year?

MS: Well, I think they’ll muddle through and then be defeated. But you know what’s interesting about this is that already Gordon Brown is saying oh, no, the House of Commons has been a gentlemen’s club for too long. No, it isn’t. If it was a gentlemen’s club, they wouldn’t be doing this. The fact is it’s because it’s not a gentlemen’s club, but it has become a professional club. Neither in the United Kingdom nor the United States should we have a professional political class. Both countries ought to operate on the principle of citizen legislators who do other things, and then serve in the course of their life for one time or another in office. But the permanent political class infects and contaminates your society.

HH: Mark Steyn, always a pleasure, www.steynonline.com, America, for all of Mark’s work.

End of interview.

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