»  Radio Derb — Transcript

        Friday, July 13th, 2007

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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches, organ version]

01 — Intro.     And Radio Derb is on the air once again. This is your Radio Derb host John Derbyshire with nothing much good to tell you.

It's hard to say which is worse: the political news from Iraq this week, or the political news here in the U.S.A. related to Iraq. All of it is dismal stuff redeemed only by the courage and professionalism of our troops.

It's politics that's driving affairs now though, and the politics is looking bad, bad, bad.

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02 — Iraq: the interim report.     The White House brought out an interim report on the Iraq war — interim, that is, between the beginning of the surge effort this spring and the dispositive report of General Petraeus scheduled to be delivered in mid-September.

The President held a press conference on this interim report. He said that of eighteen benchmarks for improvement in the political and security situation in Iraq, there had been satisfactory progress on eight, unsatisfactory progress on eight, and mixed progress on two.

Given that this is the White House talking from the end of a long food-chain of military and civilian bureaucrats, each one trying to make things look as good as possible to his superiors, we can fairly surmise that things are pretty dire over there.

Direst of all are the prospects for any kind of consensual government in Iraq — which, let us recall, is supposed to be the object of the exercise, the administration's theory being that democracy in Iraq will inspire democracy all over the Muslim world, leaving terrorists no place to go.

Well, I'll give you just a glimpse here into the deliberations of Iraq's 38-member cabinet. Twelve of those ministers have stopped showing up at cabinet meetings altogether. One cabinet member, Minister of Culture Assad al-Hashimi, is accused of masterminding an assassination attempt against Shiite member of parliament Methal al-Alusi, who survived but whose two sons were killed. Outraged by the allegations, six cabinet ministers are boycotting the cabinet meetings in Mr al-Hashimi's support.

Meanwhile, in the so-called Iraqi parliament, attendance is so poor that the parliament frequently lacks a quorum. Two of the biggest blocs of members, one Sunni bloc and one Shia bloc, have declared their intention not to participate in parliamentary proceedings at all. That's 74 members out of a total 275 — over a quarter — boycotting the whole show.

So it goes in Iraqi politics; and still the President tells us there is light at the end of the tunnel. The Sunnis in Anbar province, he tells us, who last year were with al-Qaeda and against us, are now against al-Qaeda and with us.

Who will they be with and who will they be against six months from now? Who knows?

Republican senators up for reelection next year are bailing out on the President, eight of them so far. The American public is leading the way, as it should in a democracy, with seventy percent of us now wanting out of there on some fairly speedy timetable.

Americans, observed George Will, like their wars to be won quickly rather than lost slowly. The Iraq war is now in its fifth year.

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03 — Iraq's neighbors play up.     As if things weren't bad enough in Iraq itself, the neighbors are playing up.

Take Pakistan. If we don't set up a friendly stable and halfway democratic government in Iraq, says our president, al-Qaeda will entrench themselves in Iraq and use the country as a base for more 9/11-style attacks on us.

Okay, let's see. Pakistan actually does have a friendly, stable and half-way democratic government. Guess what? Al-Qaeda is entrenched in Pakistan. In fact, Osama bin Laden himself has been hiding out there for the past five years since we kicked him out of Afghanistan.

The President would probably give an arm to have an Iraqi government half as stable and reliable as the Musharraf government in Pakistan. Yet if such a thing came about — which, let's face it, looks highly improbable — we could still be looking at al-Qaeda entrenched in Iraq.

It gets worse. The deputy director of U.S. intelligence told Congress yesterday that he fears al-Qaeda entrenching itself in Europe.

So here's the logic. We're fighting in Iraq to get a fairly stable, fairly democratic government established there. That will prevent al-Qaeda from setting up shop in Iraq.

Meanwhile in Pakistan, which does have such a government, al-Qaeda is as snug as a bug in a rug; and in Europe — at least some of whose governments could surely be described as stable, democratic and friendly — our intelligence bosses worry that al-Qaeda may become entrenched.

Are you getting this?

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04 — Iraq: ends and means.     Democratization, even if we could bring it about, wouldn't help destroy al-Qaeda. The way to destroy al-Qaeda is to find them and kill them.

So why don't we just go after al-Qaeda in Pakistan, which is their big base, where in fact Osama bin Laden himself and his Number Two, Iman al-Zawahiri, are domiciled?

Why don't we? Well, I'll give you a theory. First, though, let's just take a look at some other neighbors of Iraq.

Turkey, for example, which has 140,000 troops stationed on the Iraqi border. By coincidence, that's the same number as American troops in Iraq pre-surge. The Turks have said publicly that they will go into Iraq to deal with Kurdish terrorists if they feel it necessary. Al-Qaeda could actually draw them in by attacking the Turcoman minority up in Kurdistan, who are ethnic cousins to the Turks of Turkey.

Then there's Iran, which, according to the President's press conference, is sending car bombers across the border into Iraq, while of course going full stretch to develop nukes so we won't dare attack them.

Then there is Syria, which the President says is sending in Sunni terrorists.

Could our military — the world's greatest military, President Bush correctly said — could our military deal with these multiple threats and annoyances and acts of war?

Of course they could. They could go after al-Qaeda in the bases up there in Pakistani tribal areas. They could deter the Turks from an incursion into northern Iraq. They could teach sharp lessons to Syria and Iran.

So why don't we do these things? Well, because that would be a really big war needing hundreds of thousands of troops in the theater, including conscripts for sure, and costing trillions of dollars and suffering casualties in the tens of thousands.

The U.S.A. doesn't want that. I don't want it. You don't want it. Congress doesn't want it. The administration doesn't want it. That's what it would take to pacify Iraq and defeat al-Qaeda, and we don't want it.

We're fighting the Iraq war for certain stated goals. It's becoming ever more clear that to attain those goals, we need to fight a much bigger, more determined, more costly war. The small, cheap war we had in mind isn't going to do the trick.

It's going to take a big, expensive war and we don't want one. We will the ends, but not the means,

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05 — Iraq: brace for the end game.     So all that remains to be played out is some kind of Iraq end game. For Republicans and patriots, it's going to be miserable, so we might as well brace ourselves for it.

Our President's authority will drain away and he will eventually be brushed aside contemptuously by Congress. The jihadis will crow at having driven the hated Crusaders out of the House of Islam. Leftists abroad will crow at the humiliation of Le Cowboy Boosh. Leftists at home will be energized for the 2008 elections.

The Iraqi civil war will go into full gear with unrestrained meddling by all interested neighbors. There will be battles, massacres, and floods of refugees; though those floods will not, if we have any sense, come flooding into the U.S.A.

When all the dust has settled, I doubt the Middle East would look much different from what it would've looked anyway. Al-Qaeda will still be holed up in north Pakistan. Iran will get its bomb. Oil will still flow — they have to sell it to someone.

Israel will still have neighbors that are hostile to it, but too weak and quarrelsome to do much with their hostility. Turkey will still have a Kurdish problem. Iraq will have a dictator of some sort, probably an Iranian puppet; or it will have broken up Yugoslavia-style into a Sunni state ruled by a Saudi puppet, a Shiite state ruled by an Iranian puppet, and a Kurdish state proud and independent, or possibly ruled by a Turkish puppet.

We'll still have a terrorism problem; but the notion of dealing with it by bringing democracy to the Middle East will have been killed stone dead for all time — along of course with close to 4,000 brave American soldiers.

What a disaster, what a terrible disaster! The best that can be said for the administration and for those of us who supported it to any degree, was that Iraq was an honest mistake: the belief that we could comprehensively defeat terrorism once and for all with a small, cheap war, when in fact only a big, expensive war will actually do the job.

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06 — Live Earth floperoo.     After all that pessimism, I'm casting around here for something to cheer us up a bit.

Well, I guess the Live Earth concert is worth half a smile, at least. This 24-hour pop music extravaganza with over-the-hill acts like Madonna, Bon Jovi, and Metallica creaking into action at venues in seven continents — yes, there was one in Antarctica, too — the point was supposed to be to raise our consciousness about global warming.

Did you feel your consciousness needed raising listener? Or did you feel, as I did, that you're sick and tired of hearing about global warming and just wish everyone would shut up about it for a while?

Assuming you did feel the need to have your consciousness raised, did you want it raised by pop stars who own air-conditioned chateaus and fleets of limousines, flying around the world with their entourages to raise your consciousness by blaring crappy music through gigawatt speakers under blazing stage lights?

No, I thought not. It's not as if the Live Earth enterprise was free of any self-interest. Al Gore, one of the main supporters of the thing, is widely suspected to be contemplating a run for President. Daimler Chrysler, a big backer of the concerts is using them to promote its new hybrid car. The wrinkly old rockers figure that Live Earth publicity is just as good as any other kind.

All things considered, it was nice to see that Live Earth was a bit of a flop, with one venue, Istanbul, backing out altogether for lack of interest, and figures for attendance and TV viewing that the promoters, smiling through clenched teeth, described as "disappointing."

Anything that disappoints Al Gore, Madonna, and a legion of middle-aged rock fans with gray hairs showing in their ponytails, is cheering to me.

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07 — No good choices on healthcare.     Michael Moore's new movie Sicko is in theaters if you're inclined.

I'm not. I've never seen any of his movies and I don't plan to break my record. The man's just an adolescent lefty who hates any kind of private enterprise — except his own, of course — and who figures that government bureaucrats would do everything so much better. You have to wonder if this guy has ever dealt with a government agency.

It's no concession to Moore and his socialist fantasies is to say that our healthcare system really, really does need an overhaul. I speak with some feeling here as a person who pays ten thousand dollars a year out of my own pocket for health coverage.

Americans who have more sense than to work freelance get coverage through their employers, but of course they pay for that too and they get involved in endless paperwork and telephone wrangles with their insurers over what's covered and what isn't.

Pegging health coverage to employment seems to me to be a seriously dumb idea. I believe it's a leftover from the price and wage controls of World War Two when employers weren't allow to give raises, so they started giving benefits in lieu.

Memo to policymakers: World War Two ended 62 years ago.

What's the solution here? Well, consumer-driven health care really should be the way to go: private plans with high deductibles and tax breaks.

Acceptance isn't yet anywhere near to what it needs to be for us to take the key step though: unhooking health coverage from employment. And the paperwork burden on both doctors and patients under all reforms just grows and grows. Try reading through the Wikipedia article on health savings accounts. Then hire an accountant and a tax lawyer to explain it all to you.

This is not even to mention the nightmare of medical-malpractice litigation, which is driving some medical specialties, notably obstetrics, out of entire states.

My reluctant guess is that after another Democratic administration or two we'll end up with single-payer federal healthcare just because voters will have been driven to the edge of madness by all the proliferating paperwork.

You can hand over healthcare to lawyers and accountants or you can hand it over to government bureaucrats. I can't say I'm happy with either solution, but those seem to be the alternatives actually on offer.

Well, Michael Moore will be pleased, anyway.

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08 — Miscellany.     Here's our closing miscellany of short items.

Imprimis:  I was sorry to hear of the death of Lady Bird Johnson, widow of President Lyndon Johnson. Setting aside the pros and cons — which were mostly cons, as I recall — of LBJ's presidency, they seemed like a nice first family.

My favorite was the younger daughter, Lucy Baines Johnson. She married while her dad was in the White House. When she announced beforehand that the date of the marriage would be August 6th, some Japanese commentators protested, pointing out that August 6th was the date the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

When these complaints were brought to Lucy's attention, she said brightly: "Okay, how about December 7th?"

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Item:  The big news story in Japan is about a mysterious man — and they're pretty sure it's a man for reasons inherent in the story — who has been leaving bundles of money in men's rooms all over the country.

Each bundle is ten thousand yen, which is about $82. Each one comes with a little note saying that the mystery giver hopes the money will be, quote, "useful for your pursuit of knowledge."

There have been hundreds of these deposits amounting to over four million yen so far, yet no one knows who's doing it.

This is what passes for excitement in Japan, a nation with a gently declining population, very little in the way of foreign policy, low crime, and close to zero immigration. Eat your hearts out.

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Item:  Here is a bit of good news. You know about the Northern Ireland troubles, of course. One recurring feature of them was those Orange Men parades, the militant Protestants marching along every July 12th in bowler hats behind great big Lambeg drums, defiantly holding up banners celebrating ancient victories against the Catholics.

Well, things have calmed down so much in Ulster nowadays that these parades have become a tourist spectacle, with people flying in from abroad to watch the marches. At the Belfast Welcome Center, it says here in this BBC report, staff are coping with a constant stream of tourists.

Now, there's a thing I never thought I'd be reading.

The only snag is that the city's small businesses, including pubs and restaurants, traditionally shut down for the festival, so that tourists can't buy anything to eat or drink — except in hotels, which are booming.

My guess is that the Belfasters will get a handle on this problem real soon.

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Item:  Alistair Campbell, senior aide to Britain's now-ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, has published his diaries. There were some interesting revelations.

Here's a nice little bit of George W. Bush humor. At a Camp David summit in late 2002, after the President agreed to try for a new United Nations mandate over Iraq, Campbell writes, quote:

As we left Bush joked to me: "I suppose you can tell the story of how Tony Blair flew in and pulled the crazed unilateralist back from the brink."

Blair turns out to have been even more religious than I'd thought, too. Campbell, who's an atheist himself, says that Blair talked to God regularly. After a crazy gunman killed sixteen schoolchildren in Scotland in 1996 Campbell asked his boss how he could still believe after seeing the blood of children on the floor.

Replied Tony: "Just because the killer is bad does not mean that God is not good." Well, that's good basic theology.

All in all, to judge from the reports I've read, Blair comes out of these diaries looking pretty good.

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Item:  Speaking of God, there's a piece in Time magazine on the efforts by Democratic candidates to peel off religious voters.

As Time points out, it shouldn't be that hard. We hear so much about the religious right, we tend to forget how strong the religious left is in America.

Here's a reminder from the Time magazine article, quote:

An alliance of religious activists that runs from the crunchy left across to the National Association of Evangelicals has called for action to address global warming. Mainline Evangelical and Roman Catholic organizations have united to push for immigration reform.

End quote. Could it be that God is a Democrat, after all?

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09 — Signoff.     Well, there wasn't much cheer there, was there, listeners? It's the best I could do in a pretty dismal week, though.

Try Radio Derb again next week when things could hardly be much worse and might just possibly be better.

Until then, cultivate your garden, cherish your loved ones, count your blessings and try not to think about politics. It'll only depress you.

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[Music clip: More Derbyshire Marches.]