Programming note: On Tuesday I'll be joining Rahul Shivshankar (who just won Best Primetime Show at the ENBA Awards) on "India Upfront" at Times Now News, live at 8pm IST. If you're in certain parts of the world, you can watch it live here.
It was over a decade ago that I first quoted that shrewd and insightful Taliban nostrum - that "Americans have all the watches but we have all the time": it's on page 36 or thereabouts of After America. This last fortnight its constant regurgitation on cable news has become a little cheap and shopworn, but it was nevertheless helpful of Joe Biden to act out the proverb yesterday (see photograph at right): Too enfeebled to conceal his boredom with the caskets of US servicemen dead because of him, he glanced at his expensive watch, and still couldn't tell Americans what time it is.
There are not a lot of real conservatives, are there? The most eminent right-side commentators back when I wrote After America - George Will, Bill Kristol, Jennifer Rubin, Max Boot - are now all enthusiastic Biden voters, assuring us he's a "moderate" Democrat. The moderate opens the borders, transgenderizes the laws, and turns a two-decade inconclusive colonial policing operation into a devastating global humiliation. Perhaps we should launch a competition to spot which conservative pundit will be endorsing Miss Ocasio Cortez a decade hence.
G K Chesterton wrote in The Everlasting Man "about the direction in which the world is going. People were so certain about the direction that they differed only about the pace". But America's politics barely musters that profound a conflict: AOC wants radical judges to overturn the remnants of the constitutional order; Lindsey Graham votes to confirm them all anyway. It's not an argument about the pace, only one's publicly stated enthusiasm for it.
As to their certainty about "the direction" we're headed, Chesterton remarks a paragraph or two later:
A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.
There are a lot of "dead things" going with the stream. The United States military is utterly dead, at least in terms of being a force of influence in the world for anyone other than German supermarket managers dependent on the local base's patronage. Thoroughly Modern Milley goes with the flow because he's all ribbons and no chest. Pentagon press releases read like Teen Beat in the Seventies. Last Wednesday, as the chaos at the gates of Hamid Karzai International was beamed around the world, the United States Army stayed on message:
V Corps Hosts 'Don't Date A Jerk' Workshop
FORT KNOX, Kentucky -- V Corps Soldiers took the opportunity to enrich their personal lives during the chaplain-led single Soldiers Strong Bonds retreat in Mason, Ohio, Aug. 20-23.
The retreat, themed "How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk," taught Soldiers relationship enhancement with a focus on the importance of picking a future partner that leads to a healthy, sustainable relationship.
The United States has picked the Taliban as its "future partner". Are you really going to take relationship lessons from Milley & Co?
The following day, as near two hundred poor souls were blown to smithereens, the Pentagon's irredeemably oblivious wankers were Tweeting up a storm about "Women's Equality Day", even as the women they abandoned are being fitted for their Sharia body-bags.
All around the world, people are learning - without benefit of three-day American workshops - how to "focus on the importance of picking a future partner that leads to a healthy, sustainable relationship". Some fellows breeze in, talk a good game, throw thousand-dollar bills around; you're shocked and awed, and enjoy taking a ride on his chopper. And then one day he just hightails it out of there, and some malodorous mullah with a Lee Enfield has the key to the helicopter...
On the other hand, there's that unflamboyant Chinaman: bit stolid and dreary, but less flaky, and he wants to build a state-of-the-art container port at the end of your garden...
To be sure, the high-tech drones are not a "dead thing" - although in their antiseptic lethality they underline the words a relaxed Iraqi said to me at a ruined petrol station in the western desert eighteen years ago, with a gap-toothed smile and an upward finger as a Black Hawk flew over:
Americans only in the sky.
Still and all, after Milley and the other buffoons, I would have backed a drone for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Jen Psaki could surely have sold it as a great breakthrough for diversity and a first for the Drone-American community.
It was a drone which took out an alleged "ISIS-K" plotter on Saturday. On Fox News, Johnny "Joey" Jones said his fellow veterans were almost uniformly cynical at how the same "intelligence community" that thought Kabul would fall in sixty-to-ninety days had somehow identified the unfortunate Mister Big and droned him in nothing flat. I'm inclined to agree, and feel a wee bit sorry for surely the unluckiest goatherd in Afghanistan: "Where are you going, Ahmed?" "O beloved, I am just taking the goat for a walk. I will be back in twenty minutes."
But last night the departing Americans droned some other ISIK-K bigshot a stone's throw from the airport, and by this morning the BBC was interviewing Ramin Yousoufi, who said ten members of his family had been killed in the strike, including six children, the oldest twelve-year-old Farzad, the youngest two-year-old Sumaya. Mr Yousoufi had pictures of the infants - and the much coveted "Special Immigrant Visas" issued to them by the US State Department. Also among the dead was Ahmad Naser, an interpreter for the Americans.
To be sure, in the murky naunces of Kabul life, "US embassy translator" and "ISIS-K member" are by no means mutually exclusive categories. The boob with the dancing eyebrows at the Pentagon presser says they're looking into it, but we already know which version is likely to prevail around the world: a flailing superpower can't do anything right, droning its own even as it exits.
I saw on Twitter some veterans objecting to Tucker Carlson's ongoing mockery of a military that boasts of new flight suits for pregnant fighter pilots: Yeah, right, they scoffed at Tucker, let us know when you've been through boot camp. The only point of boot camp is to assist in the winning of wars. If you can't win a war, boot camp is bollocks: it does not fulfill its purpose. How can you be so tone-deaf, so self-unaware that you don't realize that it's not just some Faux News blowhard but near the entirety of the planet that's laughing at you? You've just given the guys who pulled off 9/11 a victory bonus of 22,174 humvees to ride around in, and you're so bloody out of it you want to talk about boot camp? Every veteran should be joining that poor shmuck who got fired the other day and demanding mass resignations at the Pentagon. And, if you're not, carry on with the boot-camp braggadocio for the next seven decades of unwon wars, and see what things are like by then. The US military needs to be much smaller, leaner, meaner, and way savvier about the world.
I find most of the US news coverage of what's happening somewhat narrow: on the right, it's all about leaving no American behind; on the left, it's about leaving none of the 4.7 million (at the time of writing) Afghan interpreters behind. Everywhere else, it's about a world leaving America behind.
China is not going to invade Afghanistan; it doesn't need to. The Taliban's patrons are the Pakistanis, and the Pakistanis' patron is Chairman Xi. Yours truly a zillion years ago:
On September 12th 2001, General Musharraf was in a meeting 'when my military secretary told me that the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, was on the phone. I said I would call back later.'
The milquetoasts of the State Department were in no mood for Musharraf's I'm-washing-my-hair routine, and, when he'd been dragged to the phone, he was informed that the Bush administration would bomb Pakistan 'back to the Stone Age' if they didn't get everything they wanted.
Musharraf concluded that America meant it.
Which was weird. Because to Musharraf and Putin (who permitted Bush to use old Soviet bases in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan for the Afghan campaign) the whole point of the Americans was that they had all the hardware of "power" (just look at what they left for the Taliban) but no idea how to use it to advance their national interest. And now here they were threatening to nuke Islamabad!
But it was a so-called "unipolar world" back then, wasn't it?
To Bush's threat - "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists" - Musharaff's honest answer would have been: "Where's the both-of-the-above box?" Instead, he bided his time, and, within a remarkably short time, it became clear that a Washington that could drone goatherds had no appetite for the subtler challenges of persuading the Pakistani ISI to straighten up and fly right. And then Islamabad noticed the world wasn't quite so unipolar after all, and the Chinese were doing a nice job of gobbling up all Britain's old Indian Ocean ports. To the ISI, the Taliban were useful to outsource the hardcore stuff the Pakistanis don't want their fingerprints on; to the Chinese, Pakistan is similarly useful.
It's the same all over the map, even unto the Five Eyes: Australia, New Zealand, Canada are all more Sino-craven than they were two decades ago. If you assume everyone is in the pay of Beijing, including key elements of the misnamed American government, the day's developments make perfect sense.
So, it would be one thing if the Afghan skedaddle were simply setting the clock back twenty years, but it's not; this is an America far weaker and broker and more dysfunctional than it was on 9/11, and no latterday Musharraf would take the threats of such a clapped-out power seriously.
But so what? Most Americans have little appetite for the tedious chores of global hegemon; they're already shrugging off Afghanistan for the exciting victories closer to home: Harvard's new "chaplain" is an atheist; DC's most elite private schools have decided that "physics classes will include discussions of social justice such as kneeling during the national anthem"; in California, high-schoolers now place their hands on their hearts before the LGBTQWERTY flag and teacher Kristin Pitzen declares, "I pledge allegiance to the queers." There is nothing progressive or edgy or groovy about these weary provocations: American education is merely another dead thing, inert and decayed and drifting with the stream. The contempt in which it is held by Xi and Macron alike is entirely deserved.
Out there, in towns you've never heard of, among people you've never heard of, there is still life in America, but to survive they will have to give up reflex veneration for institutions that despise them. The urgent objective is to throw off this awful diseased albatross of a self-enriching know-nothing Sino-suck-up elite whose chosen frontman's decrepitude was designed to teach voters that electoral politics is entirely irrelevant as a mechanism of change. Any meaningful course correction will not come from McConnell and McCarthy: You have to shift the direction, and the dead thing of Conservatism Inc will drift along with the flow.
To the rest of the planet, the last fortnight has made the legendary "moderate" a too perfect embodiment of the superpower as rotting cadaver. Oh, but the corpse knows who his enemies are: After British cabinet ministers were quoted in the Washington press as calling Biden "senile" and "doolally", the Telegraph reports that Joe is bent on revenge.
Yeah, sure, whatever...
The world is moving on.
~It was a very busy weekend at SteynOnline, starting with my Friday column on the repulsive fakery of politics. Saturday saw a new episode of Mark Steyn's Passing Parade, looking at an old-school copper and a snore-school playwright. Later, for our weekend movie date, Rick McGinnis considered a film by a director in exile about a president in exile. Our Sunday presentation was the latest monthly anthology of The Hundred Years Ago Show, and our Song of the Week offered a medley for the beleaguered burghers of New Orleans.
If you were too busy raving with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster this weekend, we hope you'll want to check out one or three of the foregoing as a new week begins.