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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Mark Steyn’s New Year thoughts.

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HH: Some days are busy, and then other days like this, well, they’re slow news days. You know, Ayatollah Khamenei reported dead, General Abizaid and Casey out in Iraq and Central Command, Admiral William Fallon and General David Patreus in, respectively, Ambassador Khalilzad going to the U.N., Negroponte going to State, Harriet Miers has resigned, Denny Hastert is out, John McCain is unplugged, Notre Dame is thumped, and George Herbert Walker Bush has got a new hip. Here to sort it all out for us is Mark Steyn, columnist to the world. Mark, what a buffet of possible things to talk about. Take your pick.

MS: (laughing) Well, maybe we should start with the first President Bush’s hip replacement.

HH: (laughing)

MS: I’m not entirely sure what the political implications of that are (laughing)

HH: (laughing) He may begin to go right. You never know.

MS: (laughing) I feel the entire Republican Party and conservative movement could with a hip replacement.

HH: A couple of them.

MS: It’s…they seem not to be as nimble as they ought to be, and Denny Hastert, in fact, is a very good example of that. There’s a guy who should have had a couple of hip replacements a couple of years ago.

HH: Oh, well, let’s start with Ayatollah Khamenei being reported dead at Pajamas Media by many sources in Iran. That puts Yazdi in the running for supreme leader. How significant the passage from to the next side of Khamenei?

MS: Well, you know, I think the problem with Iran is that the Islamic revolution is really in its final stage. It’s gone from basically Lenin to Brezhnevite stagnation in the space of 25 years, so that it’s a completely exhausted revolution. And the trouble with that is that you then end up with a situation where there’s purely infighting for the sake of it, rather than for any kind of coherent philosophical reasons. You know, there’s been a recent uptick in the number of prominent Iranians dying in suspicious motor accidents in the last few months, and I think that suggests that the power struggle, regardless of whether Khamenei is dead, the power struggle, in a sense, is already under way. I’m not sure it makes any great difference to the scheme of things in terms of loosening this regime before it can go nuclear.

HH: I do have posted at a profile of Yazdi, the ayatollah who is a fanatic among fanatics, and I will send our audience there. How about the changes at Centcom and in Iraq with General Abizaid and General Casey being replaced by…at Centcom, William Fallon, and in Iraq by General David Patreus, who’s been in charge, primarily, of building up the Iraqi army.

MS: Well you know, I think in terms of the military approach to Iraq, you know, I’ve never been one of these people who thinks we need more forces there. You know, I don’t think that this is actually a numbers game, or a money game, or a resources game. What it is, is actually about strategy. And so I assume that at some level, the President and his new defense secretary have concluded that these guys on the ground, charged with the day to day operations, were not handling things correctly. And I would have to say that it’s hard not to conclude there’s a certain amount of truth in that, simply from the fact that you know, the American military has been in control of Baghdad, now, for almost four years, and has not secured the city. That is a great mark of shame upon what is one of the most powerful military in the world. It should be capable…it’s certainly got the money, the men, the equipment to pacify that city, so clearly what’s been lacking is some kind of coherent strategy to do it.

HH: Now yesterday, I was talking with a number of people about the replacement at State of the deputy with Negroponte. And today, the announcement of Khalilzad. And it was offered up to me that perhaps the President is putting in place a tough as nails team, and that would certainly apply to Khalilzad at the U.N., and with Miers resigning the Counsel to the President. We could look for a counsel, because he’s not for turning, and he’s putting around people who can take a few chin blows which will be coming from the Congress. Your assessment of that theory?

MS: Well you know, there is a peculiar aspect to this President. I mean, I don’t have privileged access to him or anything, but what I find interesting is that in the brief exchanges I’ve had with him, he talks tough, he talks very sound, he has a very clear and articulate vision of what the problems are in the world. And then what happens is, the minute you hear some second or third tier official being interviewed on some TV or radio show, they seem to be saying something else entirely. This is a particular problem at State, where State officials, State Department officials just soft peddle, and say things…not just soft peddle, incidentally, but say things that seem to be explicitly at odds with the President’s view of the situation. And I think those of us who admired Condi Rice, for example, when she was National Security Advisor, have to conclude that so far, her tenure at the State Department has been incredibly disappointing, and that she does seem to have been Stateified to some large degree, and that she does, although she has a very fine pair of legs, she, in a sense, is metaphorically wearing the same striped pants as a lot of the career diplomats. So I do hope that this is a toughening of the State Department.

HH: We will discuss it as well with Senator Mitch McConnell after the break, and with Frank Gaffney at the bottom of the hour. Mark Steyn, let’s turn now to politics. Have you read the Vanity Fair profile of John McCain that came out yesterday?

MS: Yes, I have. (laughing) I think McCain…actually, there’s a lot of truth in what that piece sets up, which is that McCain is deluding himself if he thinks that he is going to get the kind of ride he got in the year 2000. I think if he’s running as the frontrunner, rather than as the insurgent to George W. Bush, I think if he’s the frontrunner, then I think the media are going to point out how old and exhausted and elderly and cranky he seems, and I think he will have a much tougher ride than he did in 2000.

HH: I’ve posted the link, America, at My summary was that the portrait that emerges is of an aging and angry candidate, Mark Steyn. Was that a fair characterization in your view?

MS: Well, I think he’s very thin-skinned. I think that is what was clear to me in 2000. I actually regard him as a very unpleasant man, and I don’t say that lightly. There’s a lot of politicians who are sort of angry and slightly deranged. Al Gore, for example, when you see him campaign, certainly the last couple of years, seems to have pretty much flown the coop. And when I saw Al Gore at close quarters campaigning, one could recognize the sort of human side to him. McCain, I think, is a very different kettle of fish. I think he is someone who is very thin-skinned, very vain, and has a sort of cavalier attitude to big questions, particularly Constitutional questions. So I think he is someone who in fact, the more you know him, the less you warm to the idea of having him…I said rather, I said at one point, you know, he’d be our version of President Ahmadinejad, the crazy guy with his finger on the nuclear button. And I think there’s actually quite a bit of truth in that.

HH: In this interview, he says, “I think the fence is least effective, but I’ll build the God (blanked) fence if they want it.” That’s so tin-eared, Mark Steyn.

MS: Well, you say it’s tin-eared, Hugh, but from McCain’s point of view, that sounds great, because the press liked that kind of talk, because it has a kind of cynicism to it, and a contempt for the conservative base. It’s blunt and plain spoken, but not blunt and plain spoken in the service of important truths, but blunt and plain spoken in the service of putting down and insulting and condescending to the conservative base. And that’s why the press likes him. So that line, you know, when he delivers a line like that, you can more or less hear, see the eyes of the Washington Post and New York Times guys light up. That’s what they like about him. I saw him slap down some poor mill worker in northern New Hampshire, in what I thought was a grotesque and offensive and insulting way, and yet the press thought it was great.

HH: Do you think it has the potential to be sort of a slow-motion Roger Mudd moment?

MS: Yes, I do think so. I think…

HH: The Vanity Fair interview, I mean. Yeah.

MS: Yeah, I think you’re right about that, that in fact, when you look at certain components, the other aspect you mentioned in your post on that interview, the pander on the sort of gay issue, where he had to be kind of pushed in the right direction, and the crowd obviously understood it as a kind of course correction, I think this is a man who is no longer sure…and what…the problem with McCain, I would say, is this. Here is a guy who was in many ways a conventional, mainstream Republican conservative when he started out. Now, his only political bedrock belief seems to be in his own indispensibility. Everything other than that is negotiable. I don’t think that’s someone who necessarily makes a good candidate.

HH: Thirty seconds, Mark Steyn. Rudy Giuliani had his plans leaked, Mitt Romney declared. Is there anyone else in the top tier besides those two?

MS: Well, there’s Newt Gingrich, who everybody says, and I think they’re right, has been making terrific speeches on terror. He gave a terrific appearance in New Hampshire, in which he called, he said that those six imams in Minneapolis causing the trouble on the plane should actually have been arrested. He’s absolutely terrific, but he carries way too much personal baggage. And all four of these candidates, I think, are defective in some ways. Mitt Romney I like, but in many ways, because I think his kind of Mormonism is the least problematic baggage of the major candidates.

HH: Mark Steyn, always a pleasure. We look forward to reading everything at

End of interview.


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