The Mark Steyn Interview
John Hawkins:: You’re one of the many people (myself included) who have come out and said loud and often that you think Bin Laden is dead. Are you still of that opinion and if so, how do you account for the tape recording from “Bin Laden” that the government says they believe is real?
Mark Steyn:: First, an audio recording is the easiest form of evidence to fake – easier than paper, easier than video. I got my first job in radio from faking an aircheck in my bedroom when I was 17. So if the only recorded evidence of your identity in the last 14 months is an audio tape, that suggests either you’re dead or in too poor condition even for the most artfully edited video appearance.
Secondly, the US Government said they were “almost certain” it was bin Laden. That Swiss institute said they were “almost certain” it wasn’t. In this instance, the Swiss are the disinterested party. With everything that’s come out since 9/11, I have no great confidence in the alleged expertise of Federal agencies. It’s also clear that the Bush Administration is in no great hurry to pronounce bin Laden dead: true, the Dems keep teasing them about the fact that he’s still running around out there, but that’s less of a problem than declaring him deceased and having Chirac, Schroder and the rest of the gang saying, “Congratulations, you got your man. War’s over. Everybody go home.”
Thirdly, he isn’t actually “running around”. Since 9/11, al-Qaeda have been unable to pull off any kind of follow-up in a western country: their only successes have been in more loosely policed environments, such as Tunisia and Bali. That suggests the US was able to accomplish a serious degradation of their infrastructure during the Afghan campaign, and border vigilance is doing a lot of the rest. The way to respond to that would be for al-Qaeda to encourage a few more freelance operations by western Muslims, like the LAX guy and the shoebomber. After all, the ideological supporters of bin Ladenism vastly outnumber the formal card-carriers. But even the shoebomber types have fallen silent. If ever there was a time for a video call to jihad, these last eight or nine months have been it. OBL hasn’t done it because he can’t. Audio cassettes aren’t going to cut it: even al-Jazeera wants better visuals.
John Hawkins:: How likely do you think it is that we’ll see a permanent resolution to the dispute between the Israelis & Palestinians within the next decade?
Mark Steyn:: Not very. Your man: Ken Layne: called the Palestinians “a wrecked people” and that’s right. Whatever the merits of their cause, the decision by the PA’s corrupt and incompetent leadership to infect their youth with this death-cult psychosis has only postponed indefinitely any kind of Palestinian state. They need several years without two things: 1) Arafat and his bespoke apologists (Saeb and Hanan and co), who have nothing to offer; as I’ve said before, give ’em Switzerland to run and they’d turn it into a sewer. And 2) The UN: the UN and its “refugee” “camps” are one of the biggest obstacles to peace and are deeply complicit in both the territory’s culture of corruption and its terrorism. The biggest mistake in this long tragedy was the original British partition of the Palestine Mandate in 1922, for no other reason than to carve out an invented kingdom for a Hashemite prince they thought could save them a few quid in administration costs. Penny wise, pound foolish. Jordan is a Palestinian state and Jordan needs to be involved in the final settlement of this question. If we’re to have a second Palestinian state, it should include some Jordanian territory, too.
John Hawkins:: There is a profound difference in the way that most Americans and most Europeans seem to view the conflict in Israel. What do you think accounts for that difference?
Mark Steyn:: You have to differentiate between the British and the Continent. The British aren’t anti-Semitic, but they’re hot for Arabs. The British ruling class looks at the Arab and sees a desert version of his own most cherished myths: look at the Prince of Wales all togged out in his Lawrence of Arabia get-up just to have dinner with one of bin Laden’s brothers. The Continentals are something else. Some just don’t like Jews and resent having been unable to express that opinion honestly these last 50 years. But with the others the psychology’s a little more complicated. Almost every European country was tainted by the Holocaust and Nazi occupation, but for the sake of the post-war settlement the world agreed to pretend only Germany was to blame. Not so. In France and Holland, the locals eagerly herded Jews onto those eastbound trains. In Belgium, industrial production went up under the Nazis. After half-a-century, the Continentals are sick of this guilt trip. They need to see Israel as the aggressor for their own psychological health. That’s why that wacky Dutch broad who’s married to the big Eurobanker keeps comparing Sharon to Hitler and Likud to the Nazis. It’s a way of evening the score – “Sure, we had Hitler, you have Sharon; we have Auschwitz, you have Jenin.” It’s their way of belatedly taking a moral shower, a way of saying, “See, the score’s one-one now. You’re as bad as us. Let’s just call it a draw and move on.”
John Hawkins:: Do you think we would have been better off if we would have invaded Iraq this summer instead of waiting this long?
Mark Steyn:: Yes. The time lost has emboldened America’s enemies – I use the term elastically – from the peace movement, which is a little less of a joke today than it was last spring, to Jacques Chirac to Kim Jong-Il. John Podhoretz keeps writing these columns in The New York Post congratulating Bush on one tremendous victory after another – over Tom Daschle, over Kofi Annan, over Dominique de Villepin. But these are not the enemy, they’re just speed-bumps on the way to the enemy, and they should all have been left receding into the distance in the rear-view mirror a long time ago.
John Hawkins:: Hypothetically, let’s say that somehow, someway, George Bush were convinced not to invade Iraq and were to promise not to invade any other nation during the war on terrorism. What do you think the consequences of that would be?
Mark Steyn:: He’d be a one-term President, and the death of the west would be pretty much a certainty. In hard terms, the best reason to hang Saddam is pour encourager les autres. Similarly, if he gets off, the North Koreans and Syrians and the more devious princes in the House of Saud will draw entirely reasonable conclusions about their freedom to operate.
John Hawkins:: If we invade Iraq without getting UN approval, what do you think the consequences will be for the United Nations?
Mark Steyn:: The UN will survive but it will be greatly diminished, which will be a good thing. I don’t want it involved in the war, or in the post-war reconstruction.
John Hawkins:: Let’s say that things go well in Iraq and that we dispose of Saddam in short order with a minimal number of American and Iraqi civilian casualties. What do you think our next step in the war on terrorism should be?
Mark Steyn:: The next step should be to quarantine the Saudis. The US has a moral distaste for imperialism, which is fair enough, but, on the other hand, when it scuppered the British and French over Suez in 1956, all it did was deliver the Middle East out of western influence and into the hands of what it thought were pliable strongmen. That’s no more morally superior than western imperialism and in practical terms it’s been a lot worse. We need to reform the entire region. To those cynical Europeans who say, “Oh, it’s absurd to think Arabs can ever be functioning members of a democrat state”, I’d say, in that case why are you allowing virtually unrestricted Muslim immigration into your own countries? So I’d say: after Iraq, Iran won’t be far behind; we then quarantine Saudi Arabia and explain the realities of life to Egypt and Syria.
John Hawkins:: How do you see the conflict between the United States and North Korea playing out?
Mark Steyn:: I’m relatively relaxed, if only because a while back I made my own peace with the big change in global reality: during the Cold War I was never one of those people living in fear of impending nuclear annihilation – the nukes were in the hands of the Americans, British, French, Russians and Chinese, none of whom are stark staring nuts. Now the nukes have gone freelance, and more or less anyone can grab one and take out, if not New York or London, then one of their less vigilant neighbours – Vancouver or Rotterdam. It’s a horrible vision, and I don’t know why the Give-Peace-A-Chance crowd are so insouciant about it, but I’d be very surprised if we get through the next five years without a terrible catastrophe in a western city.
John Hawkins:: Are you surprised that Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chr’tien is now saying that the US doesn’t need to go back to the UN Security Council again and that Canada will support a US attack on Iraq?
Mark Steyn:: No. I’m never surprised by what M Chretien says because he’ll likely say something just the opposite 24 hours later. In a way, I prefer Herr Schroder’s position. If your people are opposed to war, why not say we’ll have no truck with this? Chretien – with his silly Texan sneers at Liberal fundraisers – has encouraged anti-Americanism. Fair enough – except that 90% of the Canadian economy is dependent on the US. Hence, his ludicrous attempt to ride both horses – to be privately supportive of Washington while hoping no one gets to hear about it back home. He’s an irrelevant old fool.
John Hawkins:: Do you think most Canadians are concerned about the fact that their military has been so drastically underfunded that Canada, a country with a long, proud history of punching above its weight class militarily, wouldn’t be capable of going to war with a third world country anymore?
Mark Steyn:: I’d like to think they were. Canada’s regiments are some of the most distinguished in the Commonwealth, and the world. The Royal Canadian Air Force was at one time the most glamorous air force in the world. The Royal Canadian Navy had the third largest surface fleet in the world. But Pierre Trudeau’s alleged “reinvention” of Canada was actually little more than a demolition job, and among the things to be most comprehensively demolished was our military tradition. A nation that can’t defend itself isn’t a nation anymore. Ottawa and Washington have just announced a so-called “mutual aid” agreement, whereby, in the event of a terrorist strike on a US or Canadian city, each country’s armed forces would be able to respond to the other’s needs. I don’t think this means, if al-Qaeda hit Detroit or Minneapolis, you’re going to be seeing the Princess Pats or Lord Strathcona’s Horse on the streets down there.
John Hawkins:: You’re a regular visitor to Europe so I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of anti-Americanism over there. But, is there any surprise in Europe over the amount of venom directed at Europe from Americans these days? There was very little of that sort of thing before 9/11, but it has certainly picked up since then.
Mark Steyn:: They don’t get it. They insulted America decade in, decade out, and no-one cared because no-one noticed. After 9/11, Americans started noticing.
John Hawkins:: Why did the Conservative party in Britain, the Tories, turn into such a total and complete mess after Thatcher left office?
Mark Steyn:: Because British Conservatism is even more of an incompatible coalition than American conservatism. In the US, you have fiscal conservatives, and the religious right, and the gun nuts, and they don’t all rub along, but they’re not explicitly opposed to each other. In the UK, there’s no social conservatism to speak of and not much libertarianism either. What you have are Atlanticist Conservatives, like Mrs Thatcher, and a numerically smaller but vastly more influential group of essentially defeatist patrician Conservatives who think that Britain’s a lost cause unless it’s folded in to a European superstate whose legal systems, parliamentary structures and political culture are completely at odds with a thousand years of British history. Mrs Thatcher was able to hold the defeatist patricians at bay for 11 years. John Major wasn’t.
John Hawkins:: I’m hearing all sorts of horror stories about law enforcement in Britain. People are being locked up for defending their homes, the police are no longer even investigating burglaries that aren’t easy to solve, & the crime rate is exploding. What is causing British law enforcement to fall apart like this?
Mark Steyn:: Crime in Britain is terrible, and the worse it gets the more adamant the police are that you should be able to do nothing about it yourself. The British are different from the French and the Russians and almost every other European power in that their revolution – the British Revolution – took place overseas, in the American colonies. The British subjects who were interested in liberty won the day in the American colonies. At home, the view that “public order” should take precedence prevails to this day. When I bought my home in New Hampshire, I asked the local police chief (it’s a one-man department) about what I should do in the event of an attempted break-in. He said, “Well, you could call me at home. But it’d be better if you dealt with it. You’re there and I’m not.” The British police would rather die than admit that. So, instead of prosecuting the burglar, they prosecute the homeowner for “disproportionate response”. You’re supposed to wait until the burglar has revealed his weapon before picking yours. “Ah, forgive me, old boy, for reaching for the kitchen knife. I see you’ve brought not a machete but a blunt instrument. Be a good sport and allow me a moment to retrieve my cricket bat from under the bed, there’s a good egg.” This is insane, but, despite the visible deterioration of civic life in even the leafiest suburbs and villages, the British show no sign of rousing themselves to do anything about it.
John Hawkins:: Who do you see winning the Democratic primary and taking on George Bush in 2004?
Mark Steyn:: Not the newly Jewish John Kerry, or whatever his original name is. There’s an Irish butter called Kerrygold, which seems vaguely apt. John Kerry is this season’s Al Gore: he’s being defined by the jokes about him. Not Howard Dean: he’s a lightweight already way out of his league, and his “pro-choice” pandering was pathetic even by Dem standards; he all but called for audience volunteers so he could demonstrate his bona fides by performing a partial-birth abortion on them. Right now, I’d say Lieberman and Edwards look best, and, in that game, you’d have to give the advantage to Edwards, as he’s closer to where the base is on the war. It’s true Clinton was comparatively a “right-wing” Democrat but, to the dopey peacenik base, he had his street cred with his Grosvenor Square demos and the draft-dodging. This year it’s harder to be a right-wing Dem because the measure of that is the war, on which the base demands total frivolity. My one hope is that Al Sharpton stays in a long time.
John Hawkins:: Since you cover movies for the Spectator, how about giving us you top 5 movies from 2002/2003 along with perhaps one sentence on what made each movie so exceptional.
Mark Steyn:: Well, not sure how many I can remember but here goes…
Pauline et Paulette – If you only see one film about a mentally subnormal Flemish geriatric in a small Belgian town, make it this one. Really.
The Closet – This was one of my favourite comedies of the year. A French movie about a dull accountant who hears he’s about to be fired and so comes out as gay (he’s not at all) so that they won’t be able to get rid of him. Funny take on political correctness.
We Were Soldiers – In a way I preferred this to Black Hawk Down because it’s so square. It’s a film about soldiering in Vietnam that could have been made in 1965. The bit at the end with the mocking of the dopey press corps is priceless.
Unfaithful – the French lover’s a joke, but Diane Lane is awfully good
Spider-Man – I would have liked a swingier theme tune, and the Green Goblin was never the most interesting villain, but everything else works very well.
John Hawkins:: Tell us a little bit about your newest book,: The Face Of The Tiger.
Mark Steyn:: Well, it’s a collection of columns and essays on 9/11 in the broadest sense – from my instant reaction on the day itself to a review of Black Hawk Down to longer essays on rebuilding the Middle East. I started getting requests for a collection and round about the G8 summit in Alberta I thought well, why not? I think most of the stuff stands up well, and some of my predictions made on the day itself – like the end of Nato – look better every week.
John Hawkins:: Can you recommend three non-fiction books that you think everyone should read?
Mark Steyn:: Not really. These days, I find myself reading more fiction than non-fiction. After 9/11, I read John Buchan’s: Greenmantle, which is set during the Great War and is about a Messianic Muslim leader – a lot of people think Buchan is racist; what they really mean is that he’s very sharp on particular national characteristics. His view of the Germans and the Arabs stands up very well. Along the same lines, just before Die Another Day came out, I re-read Ian Fleming’s: From Russia With Love: the section set in Turkey is very pertinent and well observed. Ghazi Algosaibi, the Saudi Minister of Water, was kind enough to send me his latest novel,: A Love Story, with the warm personal inscription “To Mark, Ambivalently, Ghazi”. It’s very erotic in a sublimated kind of way. Ghazi’s a classic example of the problem with a lot of Middle Eastern and Asian countries: they’ve got a ruling class that’s charming, witty, amusing, intelligent, but is hopeless at actually ruling. Finally, let me put in a plug for Ken Layne’s: Dot.Con, which I read in a single sitting and is hilarious.
John Hawkins:: Do you have any tips for all of us bloggers who are hoping to one day live the “life of Steyn” and jet around the world making scads of cash for cranking out editorials?
Mark Steyn:: I never know how to answer this. Most of my work is for Hollinger Inc, a Canadian media group whose principal assets are in the United States and the United Kingdom. Well, I’m a Canadian whose principal assets are in the United States and the United Kingdom, so I’m never going to find a better fit than that. My advice is: you shouldn’t become so ideological you can’t see the comedy in your own side. That’s one of the differences between Fleet Street and the American press. My other advice is that almost any other English-speaking country, from Australia to Pakistan, has a livelier press than the US big-city monodailies.: Colby Cosh: says (and I think it’s true) that one reason why there are fewer Brit bloggers than you might expect is because many of those people are already writing for British newspapers. I think that’s why when conservative US bloggers need a bit of red meat they can tear to pieces they go to The Guardian rather than The Boston Globe or The San Francisco Chronicle. Idiocy-wise, there’s no difference, but the boys at The Guardian can write.
John Hawkins:: I noticed that you defended Little Green Footballs when it was attacked by MSNBC’s weblog Central and I also noticed a mention of Bill Quick’s Daily Pundit in one of your columns as well. Do you regularly read both of those blogs? What other blogs do you read regularly?
Mark Steyn:: Actually, I’m not very computer-minded. I never had one until 1999, when the Telegraph and the National Post sent me off to cover the impeachment trial and, because of the time differences and other factors, they demanded I get a laptop. Before then, I had a stenographer, and I suppose she had a typewriter or some such, though I never checked. She definitely had a dictation pad. Actually, she still does, and I still like to work that way.
I only discovered blogs – or “blogs”, as we old-media types say – after Sept 11, when I started getting feedback from people who’d come across me viaInstapundit: and so on. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that blogs have been strongest in the US, where the dozy monodailies are so excruciatingly boring and where incredibly dull columnists seem able to hold down prime op-ed real estate for decade after decade. America’s torpid j-school culture is killing American newspapers, both in style and content. Why, for example, does no print columnist have the curiosity to do what: Charles Johnson: does and make a specialty of finding out what the Muslim world is saying about the west? If this war ever ends, I figure I’ll lose a lot of my blog admirers, because on the whole I’m a tad more socially conservative than they are. But I don’t really care about that: you don’t have to agree with Ken Layne to appreciate that the guy can write.
I credited: Megan McArdle: in some column after some expert Europhile commentators in the English-speaking world were trying to play down Le Pen’s performance in the French Presidential election – Le Pen only got a little more than he usually gets, pure fluke he came second, nothing to see here, move along. Megan said: “They’re completely missing the point, which is that it’s hilarious.” I couldn’t put it any better than that, so why not give her the credit? It’s the pomposity of American print guys that’s so breathtaking: I’m often quoted disapprovingly in American papers by columnists who go “someone by the name of Mark Steyn”, “one Mark Steyn”, “a Mark Steyn”. What’s up with that? Lewis Lapham did it a while back. I’ll bet my weekly readership over his any day of the week. All he has to do is do a Nexis search and in ten minutes he’ll know who I am. But these fellows are so status conscious that the effortless superiority is essential to their sense of themselves. The Internet doesn’t have those kind of Kay Graham dinner-party seating hang-ups. I was going to write about Liza’s new reality show when I saw: Bill Quick: had an item announcing it had gone into production. He headlined it: “The terrorists have won.” Well, there’s nothing to say after that, is there?
John Hawkins:: Is there anything else you’d like to say or promote?
Mark Steyn:: No, I’m all tuckered out now.
John Hawkins:: Thank you for your time.
If you’d like to read more of Mark Steyn’s work, you can do it at: SteynOnline.