Monday, May 29, 2017

Lessons Not Learned

In view of the National Security advisor's Afghan policy, Brian P. McGlinchey argues, "Zbigniew Brzezinski was much like Osama bin Laden. They may well share the same afterlife."

That's a little harsh. Still, McGlinchey is right to point out that the subject of his bin Laden comparison, who died last week at the age of 89, "bears enormous responsibility for the rise of the Taliban, al Qaeda and ISIS."

On July 3, 1979 President Jimmy Carter signed an order to provide covert assistance to the Mujahideen rebels aiming to overthrow the pro-Soviet government in Kabul.  As Brzezinski expected, that effort encouraged the Soviets to invade Afghanistan, prompting him to tell the President "We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.”

One estimate has it that in the nine-year war between the Soviets and the Taliban, approximately one million civilians, 90,000 Mujahideen fighters, 18,000 Afghan troops, and 14, 500 Russian soldiers were killed. (The death of a million civilians was a rather large price to pay for the pyshic satisfaction of seeing 14,500 communists killed.) The Soviet army was forced out in February, 1989 and the communist regime of Mohammad Najibullah was forced from power in 1992.

Although the overrated, dreaded Russians  suffered the direct defeat in Afghanistan, the USA suffered a severe blow from which it has never fully recovered because, McGlinchey recognizes

The CIA and Saudi GID recruited jihadists from all around the Muslim world, creating relationships and networks that would evolve into not only al Qaeda, but also ISIS and many other Salafist terrorist groups across several continents.

Still, the impact of Brzezinski's central Asian policy falls short of meriting him eternal existence in a fiery destination with Osama bin Laden. However, McGlinchey links to a 1998 interview in which Carters's former advisor is asked "When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against secret US involvement in Afghanistan , nobody believed them . However, there was an element of truth in this. You don’t regret any of this today?"  (Video below is from a later interview but which partially pertains to the 1998 discussion.)

Remarkably, Brzezinski responded

Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, essentially: “We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war." Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war that was unsustainable for the regime , a conflict that bought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Worse, asked "do you regret having supported Islamic fundamentalism, which has given arms and advice to future terrorists, Dr. Brzezinski responded "what is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war."

Let me answer. The Soviet Union already was on the road to collapse, which would have occurred even in the absence of its defeat in Afghanistan.  And those "agitated Moslems" arguably have become a bigger threat to world peace- and inarguably to innocent civilians- than the Soviet Union ever was.

Brzezinski went on to ask rhetorically "what is there in common among fundamentalist Saudi Arabia, moderate Morocco, militarist Pakistan, pro-Western Egypt or secularist Central Asia? Nothing more than what unites the Christian countries..."

That betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the threat which has faced the free world for over a quarter century.  Whatever Riyadh's involvement- probably severely minimized by the US government- in the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks, danger now resides less in nation-states than in terrorist organizations.

It's understandable that very few people (nor I) understood that dynamic in 1989, when the governments of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, and Egypt also aided the rebels. Nonetheless, when Brzezinski in the same interview noted Islam "is the leading religion of the  world with 1.5 billion followers," he granted its adherents a favorable spin which would have been lacking had he instead remarked that Islam is "followed by 1.5 billion people."  Properly slamming "demagoguery or emotionalism," Brzezinski himself failed to "look at Islam in a rational manner," as he urged.

Although Donald Trump has less of an understanding of Islam that did the late Dr. Brzezinski- or than most people- there was an echo in the President's recent speech in Riyadh of a misunderstanding of the threat posed by Islamic militants.

Trump chose "to express our gratitude to (Saudi Arabia's) King Salman for this strong demonstration of leadership." Announcing $110 billion in arms sales to the Saudi autocrats, he stated "we are here to offer partnership- based on shared interests and values- to pursue a better future for us all." The Butchers of Riyadh no doubt were pleased to learn that "the land of the free and the home of the brave" shares their "interests and values."

Recollection of Zbigniew Brzezinski's role in facilitating the rise of global terrorism can remind us that in the course of 19 or 37 years, we still have learned so little about the menace confronting the world.

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