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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, organ version]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! Greetings, listeners, from your honorably genial host John Derbyshire.
This is one of those Radio Derbs that I think of to myself as a tadpole — great big head, little skinny body. Yes, I'm afraid my lead-off topic somewhat ran away with me. There are other things I'll be discussing, but the big one, the head of the tadpole, is: Afghanistan.
02 — Endgame in Afghanistan? News from Afghanistan. It looks as though, after twenty years of futility, two and a half thousand U.S. military deaths and twenty thousand wounded, along with a trillion dollars of spending (give or take a couple hundred billion), we may actually be disengaging.
I say "it looks as though" with a note of skepticism. We have, after all, been here before: I mean, been in the situation where it looks as though we are disengaging.
The Washington Post has been running advance excerpts from veteran reporter Craig Whitlock's forthcoming book The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War, due out at the end of this month. Here is part of their excerpt posted on Thursday this week, quote:
President Barack Obama had promised to end the war, so on December 28th, 2014, U.S. and NATO officials held a ceremony at their headquarters in Kabul to mark the occasion. A multinational color guard paraded around. Music played. A four-star general gave a speech and solemnly furled the green flag of the U.S.-led international force that had flown since the beginning of the conflict.
That statement of Obama's, I should add, was delivered from Hawaii, where he was taking a vacation.
So actually our war in Afghanistan was over almost seven years ago. Bet you didn't know that. It must be true, though: Obama said so, and a four-star general backed him up.
But then … what's this we're hearing about the U.S.A. winding up our Afghanistan mission at the end of this month?
That announcement and ceremony at the end of 2014 were bogus, of course. We had suffered 55 service fatalities that year; in the following year, 2015, we suffered 22. OK, that's fewer than half as many. Obama and General FourStar didn't say we were halving our war effort, though; they said the war was over.
In subsequent years, 2016 through 2020, a further 77 of our servicepeople died. As wars go, that is not a heavy toll; but for a nation that had publicly declared it was no longer at war, it's a disgraceful number.
"Disgraceful" is a word that keeps coming to mind when I look back over these past twenty years in Afghanistan. What a disgrace! It's been an absolute policy failure on the part of three different administrations — four, if you count the current one, which perhaps in fairness you shouldn't.
That little spasm of dishonesty at the end of 2014 wasn't an isolated incident. They've been lying to us for twenty years — lying to us, and lying to each other: the military to the politicians, the politicians to the people, the military and the politicians both to the media, who were willing suckers for it all, at any rate through the eight Obama years. That's what these excerpts from Craig Whitlock's book are all about.
If our political system was fit for purpose there would be impeachments of civilian officials and courts-martial of senior staff officers — dozens of them in both cases — for these twenty years of lies and incompetence.
It's been obvious for most of those years that our war in Afghanistan was of benefit to only a tiny fraction of Americans: defense contractors, the congressvermin who take their campaign donations, and senior military types wanting to put another colored ribbon on their chests and nail down another post-retirement company directorship. For the rest of us it's been money and lives down the toilet — our money, taxpayer money, and the lives and limbs of our loved ones and neighbors.
Setting aside the costs, if the Afghan War were finally a zero for our national honor and prestige, with nothing substantive to show for it, that would be bad enough. It's not a zero on those indices, though, it's a huge negative. Not only has there been nothing to show for it all; we come out of this war — if we are coming out — in humiliation and ignominy.
Here is the military giant of the 20th century, all decked out in the very latest war-making technology — drones, satellites, supersonic planes, laser cannon — brought to its knees by mountain men in medieval robes and sandals, firing bolt-action rifles and rigging up home-made IEDs.
Humiliation? I would say. Ignominy? We are begging for favors from the enemy. In the newspapers today I see stories about our negotiators dangling the promise of future foreign aid in front of the Taliban, if only they will please, please not burn our embassy in Kabul when they take over the city.
Oh, and give us time to evacuate in an orderly way, could you? I mean, if it's not too much trouble. We'd really like to avoid the Saigon scenario, helicopters on the embassy roof and so on. That would be such bad optics. Please, please, pretty please?
I'm just a moderately attentive citizen who gets his news from reading The New York Post over breakfast and then doing a one-hour browse of the internet, my understanding seasoned with only a very occasional dinner-table acquaintance with Washington insiders. Yet I've had no trouble seeing the futility of our Afghan war.
Here I was podcasting in July 2008, thirteen years ago — 646 podcasts ago as the crow flies — a segment I titled "Afghanistan drives me nuts."
Let me ask you this, gentle listeners: Can anyone please tell me what the heck we are doing in Afghanistan? Or what we hope to do? Anyone?
Nobody could, nobody who's honest.
It isn't as if we had no idea what a hard nut Afghanistan is to crack. I have occasionally been in conversation with someone telling me we've been too darn nice; that we should have gone Roman in the place from the start, solitudinem faciunt and so on — "make a desert and call it peace." Yeah, great … except that the Soviets tried that policy for nine years, with precisely as much success as we've had.
Did our military brass strive to improve their understanding of Afghanistan by a close reading of the Soviet military experience there? Nah; they've been too busy implementing federal mandates on transgender bathrooms for the troops and organizing seminars on Critical Race Theory.
Our Afghan war has been a policy disaster of the first magnitude, leaving an impartial observer wondering whether our governmental system, as currently constituted, is capable of accomplishing anything in any sphere, or even of setting realistic goals for us to try accomplishing.
Our governmental system? Tuesday the U.S. Senate passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. They are now working on a $3.5 trillion follow-up bill. That will be $4.7 trillion of extra federal spending if it all goes through.
Will all that spending be well-managed, with clear reasonable goals and well-structured plans for attaining them? Whaddya think, listeners?
Me? I just bought some more bitcoin.
03 — Americans out of Afghanistan, Afghans into America. One consequence of the Afghanistan fiasco is a mighty flood of refugees. This has consequences for U.S. immigration policy.
A key term here is "SIV," which stands for "Special Immigrant Visa." I went to the State Department website with the idea to do a deep dive into this SIV business, but I got lost in the bureaucratic Esperanto and had to give up.
I did at least learn, though, that there are two distinct visa programs in play here:
The State Department website, which is aimed at people applying for these visas, carefully cautions you to know which visa you're applying for. The first category there talks of numbers of visas in the thousands and tens of thousands; the second one, if I haven't mis-read the Esperanto, is limited to fifty visas a year.
The whole issue is further complicated by:
As you can see, the matter of visas for Afghans wanting to settle in the U.S.A. under some claim to having helped our war effort is deep and tangled in both legislation and litigation. You could get a Ph.D. in this stuff, if you had a lot more patience than I have.
Casting around for something I could understand, something giving actual numbers, I found this excellent piece by Daniel Greenfield over at FrontPageMag.com, title: 'Saving Afghan Interpreters' is a Scam That Would Bring 100,000 Afghans to U.S. Sample quote:
When the media claims that we're leaving Afghan interpreters to die, it's lying. There are few actual interpreters actually applying for SIVs. The vast majority of applicants were just making money from the U.S.
On the other side are stories like this one from Chad Robichaux over at American Greatness, August 7th. Robichaux is bylined as "a former Force Recon Marine and Defense Department contractor with eight deployments to Afghanistan as part of a Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) Task Force." He writes very eloquently of combat operations he was engaged in, helped by an Afghan interpreter he calls "Bashir."
This Bashir, Robichaux tells us, saved many American lives and was unfailingly loyal to our troops there. Yet now he's a Taliban target, in peril of his life, quote:
He has been on the move with his wife and kids, relocating daily to stay safe. He has tried multiple times to get out, but for years the special immigrant visa process has been broken and now the U.S. embassy in Kabul is closed "due to Covid."
Robichaux and his former teammates have raised $80,000 to help Bashir move to a safe country with a U.S. embassy where he can apply for asylum.
Has Chad Robichaux made up the Bashir story? Well:
How many of those latter cases, the Bashirs, could there be? Not just Afghans who helped us unload a truck one weekend, but people who provided long spells of meritorious service in our cause, and can be identified and solidly vouched for by our people who worked with them? I would guess a few hundred; certainly not tens of thousands.
So, what to make of all this? Are we handing out SIVs like candy with, by Daniel Greenfield's count, a hundred thousand Afghans on their way to permanent settlement here? Or are we, as Chad Robichaux tells us, stiffing a few hundred Afghans who believed in our mission and put their lives on the line to help us?
My guess would be: both. Our immigration system is so intractably FUBAR, I'm perfectly ready to believe that we are letting in for settlement tens of thousands we shouldn't while denying entry to a few hundred Bashirs to whom, as a matter of national honor, we should be willing to grant settlement.
Sound advice to Bashir, in fact, would be to get the heck out of Afghanistan, take a plane to Ecuador, and hike up through Central America to the U.S. border with all the rest of the Third World, who are chanting as they hike: "We don't need no steenkin' visas."
If we had a competent federal bureaucracy we'd sort out the Bashirs and give them settlement visas, then try to help the other hundred thousand applicants relocate to Muslim countries.
To neighboring stans, in fact, of which there is a good supply: Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and not forgetting Turkmenistan … [Opening bars of the Turkmen national anthem.] … yeah, yeah, thanks, guys. As well as having that friendly "stan" in their names, there is considerable ethnic overlap across the borders.
If we had a competent federal bureaucracy we could sort it all out. And, I was going to add, if my aunt had balls she'd be my uncle; but I'm not sure that's any longer true …
04 — Protective resumption. Here's my Phrase of the Week: "protective resumption."
This also comes from a piece at American Greatness, August 10th. The authors here are John Eastman of the Claremont Institute and Steve Balch, who was the founding president of the National Association of Scholars, amongst other posts at conservative think tanks.
What they are writing about is the balance of powers between, on the one hand, states and localities, and on the other, the federal government.
We've seen an awful lot of state and local power being exercised since this pandemic came up, with stores, restaurants, and other private businesses put under restraints, schools closed, evictions of delinquent tenants suspended, and even restrictions on interstate travel — most of these things imposed by governors and mayors.
Meanwhile, as states and localities have been muscular in exercising their police powers to fight COVID, the federal government has been neglecting its constitutional powers, notably at our southern border, to the detriment of the health, safety, and wages of citizens.
Hence the term "protective resumption." The authors want states to resume their police powers to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens where the federal government has failed to do so.
There are fine lines to be walked here. The article contains, in fact, what I'm going to log as my Understatement of the Week, quote:
Testing the limits of national authority has a long history in American politics.
Indeed it does. We fought a great and terrible war over those limits.
Today's issues are not likely to result in anything that dramatic. They are real and important none the less, and many of them do indeed call for protective resumption of states' police powers.
For example: A state can't, constitutionally, violate federal immigration policy; but when there is dereliction on the part of the feds that imposes dangers and burdens on a state's citizens, the state has powers it can use, like the powers states have been using to keep down COVID transmission.
Eastman and Balch, once they've got their theme well under way, engage in some fascinating flights of fancy about other areas where local authorities might act to protect their citizens against delinquencies on the part of the feds.
Finance, for example: Should the feds destroy the value of the dollar, as they seem intent on doing, quote:
State governments could mitigate the situation by converting their tax receipts into sound digital alternatives or foreign currencies, to be used — for those who prefer it — as payment for state salaries and vendor payments.
Hmm … did I buy enough bitcoin back there?
It's a fascinating article, and it fits in with a sort of rising murmur that I keep spotting in news and opinion commentary. Trust in the federal government has collapsed across recent decades, from 77 percent of the public in 1964 to 24 percent this year. Trust in state and local government has been pretty steady, though — percentages in the sixties and seventies.
Are we heading into a zone where really big proportions of the U.S. public just give up on the federal government as hopelessly corrupt and incompetent, and look to their states and cities as guarantors of their health, safety, money, rights, and liberties? I wouldn't be surprised.
Will the feds, seeing faith in their judgement and capabilities draining away, feel the urge to get more muscular themselves, and assert their authority by bullying states and municipalities? I'm sure they will.
No, I don't believe there is a new Civil War in our near future. I do, however, think there's a high probability, sometime in the next few years, of a similar constitutional confrontation — although, please God, without a similar body count — between Washington, D.C. and the United States of America … plural.
05 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: Following on from that last segment: In the matter of state power rising up against federal power, we in the deep-blue states should be careful what we wish for.
My own state, New York, will shortly lose its governor. That person, Andrew Cuomo, is stepping down following allegations he'd tried to grope, kiss, or fondle various young women — allegations, in other words, that he'd displayed bad manners.
"What he did to me was a crime," whimpered one of these delicate mimosas on the cover of my New York Post the other day. If it was, it shouldn't be.
There are numerous ways a lady can make it clear to a gentleman his advances are unwanted. If you don't employ those ways because you fear losing your well-paid job near the center of power, you are trading favors for money, at one remove. There is a dictionary word for that, which I'll leave you to look up for yourselves.
Be all that as it may, nobody's shedding tears for Cuomo. In the ten years he's been governor I've met a dozen or more people who've worked with him in Albany, people of every political complexion: they all hated him, they all feared him.
Another thing they all agreed on is that New York State politics is a snake pit of back-stabbing, betrayals, and ruthless ambition. That's the context for Cuomo's resignation.
This "harassment" stuff must have been known for years; the fact that so many inmates of the state government all started bleating about it in unison at the same time suggests that the other snakes just got fed up with Cuomo. Right now they are fighting among themselves to see who's going to be top snake.
Whoever it is will likely be even more radical than Cuomo. For all his terrible policies, Cuomo had some traces of the old pragmatic machine politician in him, inherited from his Dad. Down there in the snake pit are way more crazy specimens who might take over. Votes for illegal aliens? Suburbs forced to build public housing? A ban on merit testing in public schools? Stick around.
It's almost enough to make you feel fondly about the federal government. Almost.
Item: Just a procedural point in response to some grumbling from readers.
Yes, readers, not listeners. Last week I praised the, quote, "first-rate deep commentary from a patriotic-conservative viewpoint," end quote, that you get on some other websites. I listed a few of those websites: American Greatness, UnHerd.com, Quillette, and American Conservative. Whoa! some readers protested: What about Unz.com?
Just to recap what happens here. Once I have got the Radio Derb transcript in some kind of shape prior to recording, I ship it to the VDARE.com editors. They distill — that's the verb they've told me to use, distill, a long-form article from the Radio Derb transcript and post it at the website. It's then cross-posted to Unz.com, as are my monthly diaries.
So, commentators at Unz.com were saying, wasn't I dissing one of my own outlets by failing to put Unz in that list?
Not at all. I'm a big Unz fan. Some of the columnists there — Steve Sailer, Fred Reed, Ron Unz himself — I've known in person for more than twenty years. I've enjoyed the kind hospitality of JayMan's home (and he has likewise of mine). James Thompson and Anatoly Karlin do some of the best human-sciences commentary in the internet. And so on. Unz.com is a treasure chest.
So why wasn't it in my list? Because (a) I was working on the fly and just mentioned outlets I'd been talking about that were at the front of my mind, and (b) because my stuff gets cross-posted automatically (so far as I'm concerned) to Unz.com, I take it for granted: it's of a piece, in my mind, with VDARE.com, not really a separate thing.
There are other worthy sites I didn't mention: Taki's Magazine, to whom I shall be for ever grateful for having unapologetically supported me in the 2012 fuss, FrontPageMag, who I quoted just now, Isegoria, AmRen, …
Absolutely no disrespect to anyone — certainly not to Ron Unz, who is a hero of our time. I was working on the fly, that's all.
Item: I just mentioned Unz columnist James Thompson. James has posted a penetrating review of Charles Murray's new book, Facing Reality, which has of course gone deeply un-reviewed by the mainstream press and media.
One of the commenters on Thompson's review opens his comment by saying, quote:
Meritocratic America, to the extent that it existed, is dead.
That stopped my eye because I was just reading an article in the August 7th issue of The Economist arguing that whereas the U.S.A. was once more meritocratic than Britain, the reverse is now the case. Partly, the article argues, this is because Britain has shed some of its old class obsessions, but partly it's because America has simultaneously, and quite deliberately, made itself less meritocratic in pursuit of, yes, equity.
Here is a longish extract from that article, slightly edited. Quote:
Harvard, like other elite American universities, practises plutocracy modified by affirmative action … The intention is to compensate for the terrible injustice of slavery and, more broadly, to find merit where it was once overlooked. But it is undermined by an almost wilful blindness to disadvantage that stems from class, not race. Harvard recruits more students from the richest one percent than the poorest sixty percent, discriminating in favour of relatives of faculty and alumni (known as "legacies"), star athletes and the "dean's list," which mysteriously tends to feature the offspring of politicians, celebrities and donors. "Holistic assessment" of candidates encourages CVs that bristle with boasts about pricey trips to Africa to help the poor. It boosts the well-connected, who can get supporting letters from impressive names. Peter Arcidiacono of Duke University calculates that three-quarters of successful white applicants in these favoured categories would have been rejected if they had been treated the regular way.
That sounds right to me. America used to be the nation of the common man, while Britain was the land of snobbery and class privilege. Now we're changing places. So the wheel turns.
Item: On very approximately the same theme, of Britain pulling ahead of the U.S.A., I note with interest this story from the Daily Mail, July 19th. Apparently an increasing number of American children are speaking with British accents after binge-watching a TV show called Peppa Pig during the pandemic.
I have never seen an episode of Peppa Pig, no longer having any kids in the house, but the Daily Mail tells me it is currently the world's second-most in-demand children's cartoon, right behind SpongeBob SquarePants — which I have seen; in fact I can sing the signature tune.
Peppa Pig is a British production, though; so millions of American tots are now baffling their parents by calling jelly "jam," potato chips "crisps," (and french fries "chips"), Santa Claus "Father Christmas," the TV the "telly," tomatoes "tomatoes," cookies "biscuits," and so on. Crikey!
I'd have more to say about this, but the Missus just told me the car bonnet's sprung open again. It's been doing that ever since some bloke backed into me in the car park behind the chemist's a fortnight ago. I really have to go to the local garage and get it fixed before we go on holiday. I'll fill up with petrol too, while I'm down there, and perhaps treat myself to a packet of fags …
06 — Signoff. That's it, ladies and gents. Thank you for listening, and particular thanks to those of you who emailed in with congratulations on the Derbs' Coral Wedding anniversary.
Thaks too for your comments and criticisms. My rule for email is, as always: Everything non-abusive gets read and pondered and, when suitable, plagiarized. If I use your email in any way, however, I shall always keep you anonymous unless you explicitly request otherwise.
It's very common nowadays to hear or read someone saying how rancorous our politics has gotten, and how we are more divided than ever before. Well, possibly so; but I'm going to add a little perspective on all that, in the hope of perhaps making some tiny contribution to our national harmony.
It's no news to regular listeners that I have a weakness for the silly and / or sentimental songs of my grandfathers' time, songs that were hits on the vaudeville circuit — what in England we called the music halls — or in the early days of recording.
Here's one from the late 1880s, recorded here — later, of course — by the performer who made it famous, a Cockney named Charles Coborn. Name of the song: "Two Lovely Black Eyes."
It's an old recording, the words not easy to follow, so I'll give you a synopsis.
First verse: Coborn is strolling happily down Bethnal Green, in London's East End, with a chap named Tomkins and Tomkins' lady. Coborn praised the Conservative Party; that made Tomkins angry, and Coborn ended up with two black eyes.
Second verse: Next time he argued, Coborn praised the Liberals; but it turned out the chap he had met was a Tory true. Once again, two black eyes.
Third verse: Advice to the audience. Don't rave and shout about politics, leave it to others … unless you're willing and anxious to get two lovely black eyes.
In defiance of Charles Coborn's advice, there will be more raving and shouting from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: Charles Coborn, "Two Lovely Black Eyes."]