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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire March No. 2, fife'n'drum version]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air! Greetings, listeners, from your meekly genial host John Derbyshire.
After my Afghanistan-a-palooza last week, I originally intended this week's podcast to be Afghanistan-free. I didn't think I had anything more to say about it, and I figured listeners would probably be sick of the topic after a whole week of Afghanistan coverage in all the media outlets.
So my plan was to do a podcast inspired by the baptism scene in The Godfather. You know: "Today I settled all family business." A segment on education, one on crime, one on the Green New Deal, one on inflation, one on race, and so on. All domestic issues, nothing foreign, no Afghanistan.
But then I thought: Maybe I should open with something about Afghanistan, something brief, or else listeners will think I'm not keeping up. So I started in on it, and, guess what, it ran away with me again.
Sorry about that. Next week I'll make a more determined effort to summon up the Corleone spirit.
02 — Biden's Saigon? Saigon is nowadays formally known as Ho Chi Minh City. To us Americans, though, it's always going to be Saigon, the scene of our greatest military humiliation. Not a surprise, therefore, to see that for a few days there my breakfast New York Post was running their bulletins about Afghanistan under the general heading BIDEN'S SAIGON.
(At week's end, with the embassy evacuated and the fate of U.S. citizens stuck in Afghanistan coming to the fore, the Post has switched that general heading to BIDEN'S TEHRAN. For the purposes of my argument, though, I shall stick with Saigon.)
There are of course some big and important differences between Kabul 2021 and Saigon 1975. There are also, however, I shall argue, some significant parallels in the way we arrived at these two fiascos, the paths we took.
Just the simple matter of duration, for instance.
The Vietnam War, as a full-scale fighting-shooting-bombing war, is generally dated from the Tonkin Gulf Resolution of August 1964. It didn't actually start that abruptly, though. The first U.S. military advisers, 35 of them, were sent by President Harry Truman. Dwight Eisenhower raised the number to a thousand, then JFK took it to near twenty thousand.
Excuse me a personal digression.
I was acquainted with the Vietnam War when I went up to college as a freshman, in the fall of 1963 — one year before the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. I was a keen reader of science fiction and was enjoying Robert A. Heinlein's novel Glory Road, serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction that summer. The novel's main protagonist, E.C. Gordon, is a Vietnam veteran … in 1963.
Sample quote from Heinlein 1963, slightly edited, quote.
Ever been in Southeast Asia? … The bushes are filled with insects and natives who shoot at you. It wasn't a war — not even a "Police Action." We were "Military Advisers." But a Military Adviser who has been dead four days in that heat smells the same way a corpse does in a real war.
So American servicemen were seeing action in those jungles in the early 1960s, and indeed the late 1950s; and this was so little a secret, even provincial English college freshmen knew about it — at any rate those of us who read sci-fi.
I'm just making the point that if Afghanistan has been America's longest war, it hasn't been by much, depending on your precise definition of "war."
Another parallel has been that the theater of operations in both cases, Vietnam and Afghanistan, was adjacent to a large and populous nation we were wary of engaging with.
In the Vietnam War that nation was China. We did not want a repeat of the Korea experience, with massed waves of Chinese troops pouring in across Vietnam's northern border. Furthermore, China became a nuclear power a few weeks after the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, making us even more reluctant to see them involved.
The large and populous nation adjacent to Afghanistan that we have been wary of is of course Pakistan. Now, there is not anything like the level of hostility with Pakistan that we had with China in the 1960s — relations are actually cordial. Pakistan is a mature nuclear power, though, with a number of warheads usually quoted as 160.
It's also not a very stable place. Sending a U.S. expeditionary force across the border into Pakistan in pursuit of retreating Taliban would have had consequences unpredictable, but probably unpleasant, and possibly catastrophic. This is why you have been hearing about how the Taliban do their fighting in the summer months, spending their winters resting up in Pakistan, whither we do not pursue them.
So yes, there are parallels to be drawn, Vietnam and Afghanistan. What, in my opinion, is the parallel most worth noting? Next segment.
03 — Systemic Incompetence. If you look at how we arrived at these two fiascos — at the two paths we took, to 1975 Saigon and 2021 Kabul — the biggest parallel of all, it seems to me, is between Washington, D.C. in the couple of decades prior to 1975 and Washington, D.C. in the couple of decades prior to 2021.
In 1972, three years before we choppered off the roof of our Saigon embassy, journalist David Halberstam published a book titled The Best and the Brightest, which described U.S. foreign policy-making relating to Vietnam in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
The title of Halberstam's book refers to the people who made the decisions that eventually ended up on that Saigon embassy roof in 1975: the Kennedys of course — both John and Robert — and Lyndon Johnson, and advisers like Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk, Walt Rostow, George Kennan, and Clark Clifford.
Whatever you think of Johnson and the Kennedys, those advisers were indeed the best and the brightest. Most were Ivy League graduates with résumés glittering with achievements in government, corporate work, the military, and the academy.
Just so with Afghanistan. Swap out Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk, Walt Rostow, and the rest for Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, Susan Rice, David Petraeus, … You get the idea.
Were those latter names really the brightest and the best of early-21st-century America? Well, like the advisers to Kennedy and Johnson that David Halberstam wrote about, they were superbly well-credentialed. You may roll your eyes at the name of Susan Rice, but the lady has a Ph.D. and a long résumé of diplomatic jobs. Paul Wolfowitz didn't just have a Ph.D., he was for seven years a Professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University.
Yeah, yeah, there were some Afghanistan decision-makers you really should roll your eyes at [Hillary cackle], but there was a good solid ballast of smart, credentialed people advising George W. Bush and Barack Obama, just as there was for Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.
(No offense to Gerald Ford, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden; by the time they inherited the wars, defeat was baked in, a foregone conclusion.)
The Afghanistan War was a massive failure on the part of our ruling class and their advisers — the best and the brightest. So, forty-five years earlier, was the Vietnam War.
It's hard to escape the conclusion that there is something deeply, systemically wrong with our ruling class, in particular with the advisers our presidents appoint to guide national policy — the best and the brightest.
We have a problem, citizens, a big ugly systemic problem: Systemic Incompetence in our ruling class.
Vietnam, Afghanistan: Take a close, hard look at the decisions made, the paths taken, the opportunities missed in both cases. David Halberstam's book is a good start. Then ask yourself, about those advisers, the best and the brightest: Would you want these nincompoops running a chicken farm?
I've said it before and I'll say it again, with neither shame nor false modesty: I have no expertise in diplomacy or foreign affairs and have never attended an Ivy League college, sat on a corporate board, or led men in battle. Yet even I could see, way back in the 2000s, that our Afghanistan effort was futile and doomed to failure. I've been saying so, here in these podcasts.
If I could see it, why couldn't the best and the brightest?
04 — The best and the brightest. I shall in fact confess a little bit of shame, if you'll permit another personal digression.
Way back there in the early 2000s when I was a regular at National Review I used to attend the editorial dinners. There was one where Bill Buckley had brought in half a dozen of his more impressive acquaintances: high-level Washington, D.C. types, military and political, to update us on the Iraq War, then in its early stages.
Listening to them, I started to get a strong feeling that they weren't very well-moored in reality. Some of what they were saying on the nation-building side was just fanciful.
Among us National Review writers around the table there was a young man of good family and education, a lawyer by training, who wrote occasional pieces for us on social and political topics. No names, no pack drill: If I say that he soon thereafter married a National Review staffer, those present will know who I mean. For purposes of this segment I shall call him Gordon, which is not his name.
Gordon put up with the neocon bluster for a while, then he couldn't take it any more. He started mocking the D.C. types — George W. Bush's best and brightest. At one point, if I remember correctly, he told them they were nuts. It was done with a laugh and a smile, good-naturedly, but there was no mistaking his scorn.
The company took it in silence, then went on with their bluster. I think Gordon left early. Right then, or soon afterwards, he stopped contributing to the magazine. I believe he has had a very successful legal career.
Whence my shame? Well, while Gordon was mocking those advisers out loud, I was agreeing with him, but silently. I'll admit, I felt out of my depth among all that credentialed expertise. One part of me knew Gordon was right; another part was protesting: Surely these high-level insiders can't all be wrong? Surely they can't be as dumb as he's telling them they are? I sat mute, afraid of making a fool of myself.
Hence my shame. I should have spoken up in support of that lone dissenter, instead of nodding along respectfully like the other NR people at the wisdom being imparted to us by the neocon gentry.
At this distance in time I doubt that Gordon even remembers the event; but for what it's worth, just to clear the books, I offer him an apology for my cowardice.
05 — The Fantasy-Based Community. So what's wrong? What's wrong with these very smart people we hire to guide national policy — the best and the brightest? What's wrong with them that was wrong the same way, just as wrong, sixty years ago? What is it that's systemically wrong?
I don't know, but there are clues — strange, tantalizing little clues — scattered through the historical record.
Here's one of those clues from the early George W. Bush years — the early years of the War on Terror: the phrase "the reality-based community."
Now, you'd naturally assume, when you heard that, that it would be complimentary. It refers, you might reasonably suppose, to some group of people who base their plans and actions on true facts — on reality. Those are pretty sensible people, right? The kind of people you'd want advising a president.
In fact the phrase as originally used was derogatory. It was intended as an insult.
This phrase "the reality-based community" originated in a long-form article about the George W. Bush presidency in the October 17th, 2004 issue of The New York Times magazine, an article written by journalist and author Ron Suskind. Here is the relevant passage, somewhat edited, quote:
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
All right, that was an adviser to George W. Bush. Bush was a man quite exceptionally confident of his own power to shape the world by force of will, to create new realities.
Further, the nation he was in charge of, the U.S.A., had just a few years previously won the Cold War — a titanic forty-year struggle against a nuclear power with a messianic ideology. How was that for creating a new reality!
Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson were all smarter than Bush and more receptive to unwelcome advice; but like him they were in charge of a nation, the U.S.A., which just a few years before had won a titanic victory, crushing both Nazi Germany and the empire of Japan. They were not short on confidence that American power could accomplish anything.
Is that it? Has post-WW2 America, or perhaps just the ruling class, have we or they been getting high on our own supply … of confidence? Does that explain the Systemic Incompetence? Do our rulers all belong to the fantasy-based community? And are they in fact proud of their membership in that community?
I don't know. I'm an old-style English empiricist, though, with a deep respect — I'll go so far as to say a reverence — a reverence for reality, for the world of facts and truths that don't give a damn whether or not we like them.
Here are realities that somehow got misplaced.
It's a reality that Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan were different in important ways from Nazi Germany, imperial Japan, and the U.S.S.R.
Some more realities: The 1960s U.S.A. was different in important ways from the 1940s U.S.A.; and the early 21st-century U.S.A. was different all over again.
Sometimes things are possible there but not here, then but not now. That's a feature of reality.
A person like that senior adviser to George W. Bush who used the phrase "reality-based community" to mock and belittle us empiricists … A person like that should not be advising our president. He should not, in fact, be permitted within a fifty-mile radius of Washington, D.C. Heck, I'll go the distance: He most properly belongs in a lunatic asylum.
That might spare us more Systemic Incompetence.
06 — Air security is leaky. Here's one big difference between Vietnam 1975 and Afghanistan 2021: North Vietnam in 1975 did not have sleeper cells of terrorists all over the Western world — nor, so far as I can recall, any record of terrorist attacks on targets in the West.
Here's a fun statistic. This is from August last year, when civilian air traffic in the U.S.A. was already much reduced by the covid pandemic. The data here is from the TSA, the Transportation Security Administration.
That month, in fact, August 2020, the TSA reported that the number of air passengers screened the previous month, July 2020, was down 75 percent from the number screened in July 2019. Down 75 percent because of the pandemic. That's not the fun statistic, although it's highly relevant. Here's the fun statistic.
That month the TSA is reporting on, July 2020, their agents detected 15.3 guns per million passengers. For the year before, July 2019, the number was only 5.1 guns per million people screened.
So while there was a huge drop in the number of air passengers, the per capita figure for guns found was three times what it was a year before.
If you stop and think about that, it's not very surprising. With so many fewer passengers to screen, the TSA could spend more time screening each passenger; so guns that went undetected on a hasty screening with a long line of passengers waiting to be screened, those guns were now getting detected.
Easy to understand, but somewhat scary. With the normal air passenger volume in July 2019, at least two out of three guns were missed in the airport screening. I say "at least" because presumably there were a few missed even in the more thorough screening of 2020.
Wait: Isn't that a major felony, to try taking a gun on a plane? Well, it's not treated as one. Here is someone identified by the New York Post only as a high-ranking TSA official. Quote:
They say there will be a $10,000 fine if you get caught bringing a weapon through security but that's BS. You get fined $500 tops.
I know, the TSA is kind of a joke. You take off your belt and your shoes, turn in your four-ounce bottle of skin lotion, and stand there with your arms up while some low-IQ numpty who's 200 lbs overweight vaguely waves a detector wand in your direction while talking to his Mom on the phone. We've all got stories about airport security theater. The TSA is a joke.
Some credit is due somewhere, though. We haven't lost a plane to hijackers since 9/11. We for sure haven't had anything like 9/11 since … well, 9/11.
I can mock the TSA as well as the next citizen, and I'm as mad about the politicization of our nation's intelligence agencies as you are; but someone must have been doing something right.
Or have we just had a long spell of good luck? Next segment.
07 — Another 9/11? Islamic terrorism is still around, and you have to think it's gotten a mighty morale boost from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. With the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 coming up and civilian air travel rebounding from that covid drop-off, we should give some thought to airline security.
Whatever our security agencies have been doing to detect and nullify threats, planes are just as fragile now as they were twenty years ago. Meanwhile, the technology of terrorist offense has advanced mightily. Box-cutters and shoe-bombs are horse-and-buggy stuff. Nowadays there are drones, lasers, EMP weapons, non-metallic firearms … all sorts of tech marvels.
And security services, like armies, train for the last war. Quote from aviation consultant Mike Boyd, quote:
There may be another 9/11 but it won't necessarily look like 9/11. You need to be looking at cargo, the catering trucks, where the fuel is coming from.
And then there are nukes. No, you likely won't get a working nuke past the TSA screeners, even at maximum passenger volume. You could smuggle one into the country another way, though, if you could get your hands on one.
Where would Islamic terrorists get their hands on one? Pakistan! The place is corrupt as hell, everything's for sale, and they cheerfully played host to Osama bin Laden once we'd pushed him out of Afghanistan.
Wait, though. If the Pakis were inclined to let slip a nuke, why would they be more so inclined in 2021 than they were in 2011 or 2001? Because (a) after this week's debacle they are, like the rest of the world, much less in awe of the U.S.A. than they were last week; and (b) because we, no longer being in Afghanistan, no longer have any ability to monitor the Pakis' communications traffic from close by.
So, probability of Islamic terrorism making a comeback in the near future? High. No, I wasn't greeting you there, I was saying the probability is high.
But of course, the real threat to our peace and security is from white supremacists, right? That's what we should be concentrating on!
08 — The World of Null-T (cont.) I'm not much of a Donald Trump fan. Two years with his party controlling Congress, and all we got was a lousy tax cut? No action on birthright citizenship, foot-dragging on the border wall, a couple of squishy Supreme Court justices, no disentangling of Cold War alliances, … Too many wasted opportunities.
I have to say, though, Joe Biden's making Trump look good. Trump took a firm line with the Taliban. We'll be out by May First, he told them, just when your fighting season starts. We'll have all our people moved out. If you interfere with that, we'll hit you with major force. Got it? They got it.
Why didn't Biden's people just stick with that plan? Why? Because it was Trump's!
Back in January, right after Biden's inauguration, I opined that we were about to pass into the World of Null-T. That was another old sci-fi reference. Back in the 1940s novelist A.E. van Vogt published a serious of books about a world that had discarded the logic of Aristotle: the World of Null-A. In the era we were entering, I opined, we would discard, repudiate, cancel, and destroy everything Trump had said or done: the World of Null-T.
I was of course right. With the eager assistance of their stooges in the software industry, Biden's people have been un-personing Donald Trump and all his works. It has been the basic — well-nigh the only — operating principle of this administration.
Don't tell them that even people they find personally obnoxious can sometimes be correct. Don't tell them that stopped clocks are right twice a day. They're not listening. If Trump did it, it's bad and must be undone.
Remember those pictures from back then in January of Biden at his desk in the Oval Office, working through a big stack of Trump's executive orders, canceling every one? Do you think he paused to read them? Do you think that now and then he thought: "Wait a minute: this one makes sense … maybe we should keep it"? Nope: He just plowed through canceling every one. If Trump did it, it's bad: Cancel it! The World of Null-T.
Trump Derangement Syndrome is a mighty force indeed. Present tense there: TDS still rages. Our ruling classes, and the gentry liberals who worship at their altars, will never, never forgive Donald Trump for having usurped their God-given right to manage the nation's affairs. Nor will they ever forgive the brutish, unwashed peasant rabble who elected him in 2016 — with help of course from America's enemies, the serfs being too dull-witted to make up their own minds.
And yes, it still rages on. Not only must everything Trump did be undone, the man himself must be hounded to the grave, and any who stood with him likewise.
That is the backstory to the arrest this week of 53-year-old Ken Kurson, a close friend of Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner. Kurson appeared in court Wednesday for the arraignment in handcuffs — plainly a dangerous character. He was, however, released without bail, ordered to return to court in September.
What is Kurson's crime? Six years ago he used spyware to snoop on his wife, who he suspected was having an affair. She made a complaint, but the authorities took no action until Trump nominated Kurson for a position on the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities last October. The FBI did the usual background check, found out about the snooping, and promptly filed a federal criminal complaint. Before there could be an indictment, though, Trump issued a pardon.
That killed the federal case, but the Lords of Null-T were determined to get Kurson anyway. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, a major witch-hunter of Trump and of anyone who ever had anything to do with Trump, had Kurson arrested on a state charge of felony electronic eavesdropping.
This, just to remind you, is a nonviolent domestic-relations case from six years ago. The victim, Kurson's wife, now ex-wife, does not want a prosecution. Quote from her last year, concerning the federal case, quote:
My disgust with this arrest and the subsequent articles is bottomless.
Also bottomless are the depths of Trump Derangement Syndrome in which dwell ruling-class reptiles like this D.A. Cy Vance, whose Dad was Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State — there's glory for you. They will not rest until the nation has been purged of Trump and all things and persons Trumpish: until they have brought us fully into the pure, clean, spotless World of Null-T.
09 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: Just to return to Vietnam, very briefly: We took in a lot of refugees from that country after it fell. They have assimilated very well to our national culture.
Case in point: Miranda Du. That's D-u, Du. Ms Du was born in Vietnam either 51 or 52 years ago, Wikipedia isn't sure. Her Dad had supported our side in that war, so he fled with the family. They ended up in the U.S.A. where Ms Du got her education, the latter part of it at the University of California in the early 1990s.
University … California … 1990s … you can see where this is going, assimilation-wise. Yes, Ms Du is as woke as woke can be — thoroughly assimilated into our sick, poisonous, anti-white, nation-destroying elite culture. That's unfortunate as she is now a federal judge: Barack Obama appointed her to the District Court of Nevada.
Judge Du, as I should properly call her, is in the news this week — the immigration news. There is a section of federal law saying that if an illegal alien is deported but then later re-enters illegally, he's committed a felony and can be jailed for up to two years — up to twenty years if his deportation followed conviction for an aggravated felony.
Sounds fair to me. Not to Judge Du, though. She has dismissed a case against a Mexican who had twice been deported but re-entered. What were the grounds for her dismissal? Disparate impact: that longstanding law, she wrote, quote: "was enacted with a discriminatory purpose and … has a disparate impact on Latinx persons." End quote.
How dumb is that? Words fail me; I refer you to the comment threads.
The Justice Department could appeal the dismissal; but of course that department is now in the hands of Biden's people and much too busy hunting down white supremacists to bother with trivia like illegal entry. Congress could impeach Judge Du; but that would involve congressional Republicans growing a collective spine, of which I see no sign.
So game, set, and match to Judge Du, and another triumph of assimilation.
Item: And here's another person present in our country as a result of that Southeast Asian adventure: Tou Thao, a Hmong-American, born here 1986, presumably to parents who arrived under asylum rules. Hmong live all over Southeast Asia and China, but those in the U.S.A. descend mainly from the Hmong of Laos, many of whom helped us in the war over there.
Tou Thao is one of the three cops who helped Derek Chauvin subdue junkie street thug George Floyd in Minneapolis last year. He didn't actually do much, just kept the crowd of onlookers at bay while the cops waited for the EMS. Just for that, though, he's looking at a forty-year sentence on state charges, along of course with the usual double-jeopardy federal charges.
The trial of these three cops was originally set to begin next week, but it has been pushed back to next March, partly so that the federal double-jeopardy trial can go ahead first. Officer Thao is the main figure of the three. He's an eight-year veteran of the Minneapolis force, while the other two officers are both rookies.
Jack Cashill at The American Spectator has been doing some great reporting on this. Thao's attorneys have been arguing for a while that the autopsy report on Floyd was changed under pressure from Roger Mitchell, a white-hating black former deputy Mayor of Washington, D.C. who wields great power in the world of violent black activism.
The original autopsy report by county medical examiner Andrew Baker, a mild-mannered white man, showed no physical evidence suggesting that Floyd died of asphyxiation. Learning of this, Roger Mitchell called Baker and said he should change the report if he knew what was good for him. Baker accordingly changed the report.
This was all recorded in the memo of a meeting between Mitchell and local prosecutors. Mitchell seems to have been boasting of having coerced Baker into changing his autopsy report. July 29th Judge Cahill, who had presided over the Derek Chauvin trial, ordered that the memo be made publicly accessible.
That's good, and means that the trial next March of Thao and the other two will be somewhat less of a farce than it otherwise would have been. Perhaps Officer Thao will only get twenty years on the state charge instead of forty. Of course, he'll be in jail on the federal charge by then …
Justice in America.
Item: Finally, just a comment by a friend from earlier this week. Could I, he asked, could I hear that hammering, clanking sound in the far distance? No, I said, I couldn't. What was it?
"That," he explained, "is the sound of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan assembling their nukes."
10 — Signoff. That's all I have, ladies and gents. Thank you for listening; and forgive me, please, for having failed to note an important anniversary just seven weeks ago. Yes: July 2nd, 2021 marked the centenary of President Warren Harding signing the Knox-Porter Resolution which officially ended our country's participation in World War One.
I shall try to be more diligent about noting these historical anniversaries, I promise.
For sign-off music, something silly. This is quite seriously silly; but it's by request from an old friend, and I don't have the heart to refuse her. So blame her for the silliness, blame me for my meekness.
There will be more from Radio Derb next week.
[Music clip: Louis Prima, Baciagaloop (Makes Love On the Stoop).]