Spengler on Afghanistan
When David P. Goldman is in the mood to write grimly realistic assessments of our present difficulties, he adopts “Spengler” as his pen name, a hat tip to the German author of the early-twentieth-century apocalyptic best-seller The Decline of the West. And when Goldman feels the situation especially dire, Spengler consults the ghost of Cardinal Richelieu, one of history’s most thoroughgoing realists. Here is what the shrewd cardinal had to say about the Taliban’s triumph in Afghanistan:
America set out to create a modern democracy out of a tribal society, an enterprise as likely to succeed as the attempt to breed a griffin by mating a lion with an eagle. It poured US$2 trillion into Afghanistan, or one hundred times the country’s gross domestic product. It paid Afghani politicians, generals and warlords to play-act at democracy in a revolting, silly masquerade.
Whatever was not corrupt before America came in became corrupt in the maelstrom of American money. Meanwhile, American soldiers and bureaucrats made fortunes as consultants, contractors, sutlers and armorers to the dream palace of Afghan democracy.
Because the entire project was a monstrous hoax to begin with, everyone associated with the project lied—lied about the state of Afghan government forces, lied about the disposition of the Taliban, lied about the robustness of supplies to Afghan troops, lied about their dependence on airpower.
Afghan officials lied to their American paymasters, American commanders on the ground lied to their superiors and American generals lied to the politicians. The key to promotion, and to wealth, lay in perpetuating the ridiculous fiction that motivated the occupation of the country in the first place.
Where did $2 trillion go? The Taliban offensive began in April after the Americans announced their intent to depart. No one fought for Afghanistan because there was no Afghanistan to fight for. Within weeks the Afghan army had no ammunition, no food and no air support. Whoever could steal from the Americans did so. The Afghanistan government collapsed in a matter of days because it was never there to begin with.
The ghost of Richelieu gets it pretty much right.
Manchin and Sinema, designated drivers
Dear Senators Manchin and Sinema,
Whether the occasion is social or political, the hero of the party is the person who’ll grab the keys before the drunks can get behind their wheels.
This week, it falls to the two of you to be that person. The progressives in your party think you’re all that stands in the way of their expensive utopia, and they’re willing to hold a popular infrastructure bill as hostage in order to get their wish …
This is dumb. The likeliest way for President Biden to fail — and for Democrats to lose their congressional majorities next year and for Donald Trump to return to the White House next term — is for the spending bills to pass mostly as they are. A Democratic Party that abandons its center (where many congressional seats are vulnerable) for the sake of its left (where the seats are usually safe) is heading straight for the minority come November 2022.
Let them call you names now so that they can thank you for your sobriety later ….
Bret Stephens, Manchin and Sinema Should Just Say No to Big Spending Plans (emphasis added)
What matters in our democracy
The only people in America who didn’t seem to understand that making Trump president was the equivalent of handing a gun to a chimpanzee were the people who voted for him.
And in our democracy, that’s all that matters. Yay people!
Jonathan V. Last, Why Didn’t They Say Something?
I diss Trump a lot, but relatively rarely say "I told you so." But my major, overarching, distilled objection to Trump before the 2016 election was that his epic narcissism would one day dangerously distort his apprehension of reality.
I didn’t foresee just how and when the distortion would come. Indeed, as the 2020 election approached, I was in the camp that said he would turn over power peacefully as had all his predecessors. That’s what most of the "experts" and pundits I trust were confidently predicting, but frankly, the alternative was so ghastly that I probably would have believed it all by my lonesome, unbidden.
So offensive I’m tempted to become antivax-adjacent
[L]iberal elites continue to call anyone who is unvaccinated "stupid,” ignorant and immoral. On Sunday, New York’s Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul, when announcing her intent to use National Guard soldiers to replace health care workers fired for refusing the vaccine, told her audience: “yes, I know you’re vaccinated, you’re the smart ones.” She then said those who refuse to get the vaccine are not just stupid but have turned their back on God: “there’s people out there who aren’t listening to God and what God wants.” Gov. Hochul added that the vaccine “is from God to us and we must say, thank you, God,” and said to her "smart” vaccinated supporters: “I need you to be my apostles.”
Her statement was offensive because (1) it’s cringe-worthily condescending (as if she reasoned "the stupid ones, the ones who aren’t vaccinated, are probably religious so I’ll try a faux-religious approach") and (2) I thought God-talk was forbidden in the public square.
Gov. Hochul’s rhetoric has little of his hectoring tone, but her substance is maybe even more condescending and insulting than was Al Gore’s during the 2000 Election season.
Democratic contempt for the demos
When they were young, these leaders were believed to be the architects of the new world that was to emerge as a result of the revolution; now, being old, they claim to be the authors of the institutional system they think is the greatest political success in history. The attitude in both cases is the same: a hasty and arrogant dismissal of what stands in their way and what they readily qualify as prejudice and anachronism. In this respect, the EU leaders and bureaucrats are no different from other enlightened governments of the past, except perhaps that they manage to conceal their contempt for the demos.
Ryszard Legutko, The Demon In Democracy
The very premise for relying on the mass and crass forms of Christianity that flourish in the United States runs on the fuel that the spiritual crisis of our age is so great that it demands genetically engineered spiritual nourishment.
Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry.
I’m not so sure I’m cool with "premise … runs on the fuel …", but "genetically engineered spiritual nourishment" gets two thumb up as a formulation, two thumbs down as actually nourishing.
The Orthodox Church has no GMOs, by the way.
For the flourishing of all
Kurt Vonnegut’s classic 1961 short story “Harrison Bergeron” pictures a supposedly utopian version of the United States in which strict equality is enforced through the use of mandated handicaps such as earpieces that transmit piercing sounds to disrupt thought for those with above-average intelligence. Few of us would take our commitment to equality to such lengths. Yet many of us do view equality – of opportunity and outcome – as something worth approximating as a benchmark for justice in our society. But is such equality achievable, and is it even necessary for the well-being and flourishing of all?
… DeBoer asserts that if we are serious about justice, we need to take seriously the fact that natural intelligence is not equally distributed. Given this inequality, one’s degree of natural intelligence is not an appropriate basis for assigning value or determining who gets to live the good life any more than race or some other contingent factor of human existence.
Anthony M. Barr, reviewing The Cult of Smart in Plough.
- Harrison Bergeron is one of my all-time favorite short stories.
- I have maintained for 50+ years that human equality does not require fictive interchangeability or blinders about differences.
Epic political malpractice
Tyler Cowen pointed something interesting out in his Bloomberg column on Wednesday: Democrats aren’t really making a proactive policy argument in favor of their $3.5 trillion reconciliation plan. “Crazy as my hypothesis may seem, given all the stuff about Biden’s agenda on the internet, there has been remarkably little policy debate about it, and remarkably little attempt to persuade the American public that this spending is a good idea,” he writes. “My colleague Arnold Kling put it well: ‘With the reconciliation bill, there is no attempt to convince the public that it is desirable to enact an enormous child tax credit or to mandate ending use of fossil fuels in a decade. Instead, what we read is that if you’re on the blue team you want the number to be 3.5, but a few Democrats are holding out for something lower.’”
Peter Suderman took the Biden administration’s reconciliation sleight of hand to task in his latest for Reason. “The simplest way to understand economics is that it is a reckoning with unavoidable tradeoffs. If you spend money on something, you may obtain something in return—but you lose the ability to use those resources on something else,” he writes. “Under President Joe Biden, however, Democrats in Washington have decided that they can simply wish those tradeoffs away by declaring that they do not exist. Over and over again, they have argued that their policies do not or should not have any costs whatsoever.” The reconciliation package, for example, “is a plan that, in its broadest form, calls for spending $3.5 trillion. Even in the unlikely event that such a plan turns out to be truly fully paid for, it would still spend $3.5 trillion. Those economic resources would be used to do some specific things, which in turn would reduce the ability to do other things. In other words, there would be costs and tradeoffs.”
Adjacent items in Thursday’s Morning Dispatch
Biden does seem to be doing his best to re-elect Donald Trump in 2024. One can be pretty confident that’s not his intention. I’ll leave it at that and let you draw your own conclusions (or theories, or hypotheses) about why he subverts himself.
On Orange Man back-handedly endorsing Democrat Stacey Abrams over Republican Brian Kemp:
A former Republican president, one who appears eager to run again in 2024, attempting to torpedo a Republican and endorsing a progressive Democrat in his place? That Abrams is best known for combatting the very forms of voter suppression that Trump’s constantly champions only makes the gesture more absurd — a form of political madness bred by spite and stupidity.
What if instead of trying to win the most votes, Trump’s goal is to remake the GOP into a party that doesn’t particularly care about being declared the official winner because those who oversee the official count are untrustworthy, and because a Republican, by definition, can never legitimately lose?
In that case, Brian Kemp and others in the Republican Party who follow the democratic rules even when they deliver a loss — like, for instance, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, and the other members of the House and Senate who voted to impeach and convict Trump after the insurrection of Jan. 6 — are a two-fold problem. They are a problem, first, because they stand in the way of delivering the party’s inevitable victory in particular cases; and second, because, in displaying such recalcitrance, they deny the definitional principle that losing is impossible for a Republican.
That’s why Kemp and everyone else who stood in the way of Trump’s strenuous effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election must be defeated and eliminated, even if it is accomplished in some cases by endorsing Democrats. Because that’s the path to inevitable victory: the creation of a party that, from top to bottom, believes it is always and everywhere destined to win power and that the denial of this principle in all cases is irrefutable evidence of cheating, fraud, and illegitimacy.
If a government is to have a category of "undesirable organizations," then Scientology should be a shoo-in.