For our weekly radio conversation, Hugh Hewitt opened up the show with "Lola" by the Kinks, for reasons he explains here. I said I'm more of a "Waterloo Sunset" man, which as I think about it would not have been an inappropriate theme for the discussion - not in the romance-at-a-London-rail-terminus sense, but in that it's twilight and we're meeting our Waterloo. Anyway, Hugh was interested in various Republican candidates sniping at each other over which American president is responsible for "creating" ISIS: Was it Obama? Was it Bush? I responded:
MARK STEYN: I think the only thing you could say that we had anything to do with was that in keeping Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda leadership holed up in Abbottabad and various other places, what emerged free from al Qaeda control was next generation al Qaeda. And there will eventually be a next generation ISIS that will even be more barbaric and evil and want to ratchet up an even higher death toll. But it's nothing, even if we did nothing, even if we just behaved like Sweden, it would still be there. And to blame it on Obama or Bush or Coolidge or Chester Arthur is completely a waste of time.
HUGH HEWITT: Well, the reason I used Lola is because in The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright wrote in that Pulitzer Prize winning book that Qutb was radicalized by his time in America, where Baptist pastors would encourage cheek to cheek dancing among boys and girls at Sunday School dances, and that, you know, Western culture has done but accelerate the Qutbists' dismay at what's going on. And I'm not declaiming against Western culture. It simply is, if you're going to be provoked by people's lifestyles that are different than yours, you're going to be at war with the West regardless of whether or not we do anything with you.
MS: Well, it's worth remembering that Sayyid Qutb was at a church dance in Greeley, Colorado, and Greeley, Colorado was a dry town in 1948. Everyone thinks he was revolted because he was in Haight-Ashbury in the Summer of Love or Studio 54 in the disco era. He was in Greeley, Colorado at a church social in 1948, and the music they were dancing to was 'Baby, It's Cold Outside', which is a great song by Frank Loesser... You know, when you talk about the decadent sewer of Western culture, I'm with you on that. But I draw the line at tossing Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban into the decadent sewer of Western culture, because that's what he was revolted by. And he would have been revolted by two people dancing to the Merry Widow Waltz in 1907. He would have been revolted by 19th Century line dancing or dancing at the court at Versailles. He doesn't want any men and women to dance, because in Islam, the guys all dance together. It's like beards night at some downtown club in Greenwich Village. The guys all dance together.
That's not a small distinction: The west is decadent. But, even when we weren't decadent, Qutb and his pals thought we were - and hated us anyway. I think the Rand Paul view - that Bush interventionism is responsible for the metastasizing of ISIS - will gain some traction with Republican voters (certainly more than, say, the Lindsay Graham view), mainly because, after the last 15 years, many Americans would like the world just to screw off. "Make The World Go Away," to toss a little Eddy Arnold into our "Lola"/Loesser medley. I don't think that's an option:
MS: A great power can't sit out world events and expect to remain a great power. And people like Rand Paul ...not so much Rand Paul compared with his father, but Ron Paul certainly had this vision, an idealistic vision of a 19th century isolationist republic. America could be a 19th century isolationist republic, because in the 19th century, the sea lanes and the oceans were under the Pax Britannica of the Royal Navy. Somebody has to do it. Now what's changed since the 19th century is that everything in Rand Paul's house is made elsewhere... If it's the cheap junk you get from Wal-Mart, it's made in China. And if it's the upscale electronic gizmos, it's made at Bangalore in India. And you have to have free sea lanes and a reasonably stable planet for the stuff to get from there into Rand Paul's house. So the idea that America can sit out world affairs in the way that Rand Paul wants, I think, is not credible. Now he's got a point to this, in that the superpower, despite spending over 40% of the world's military budget, has been unable to impress its will on a bunch of incendiary goat herds in Afghanistan.
HH: Yeah... Tom Cotton actually came down in the middle. He said we did put our will on them, and then ...we took the boot off of the neck of the fanatics. And 45 seconds, Mark Steyn, is Cotton right, because I think he is.
MS: Yeah, I think there's a point to that. But a non-imperial power has to find non-imperial ways of impressing its will upon the world, or it will cease to be a great power. And then you won't be able to afford all those cute electronic gizmos made in India.
You can find the full interview with Hugh here.