“That is why it is a completely false argument to say, for example, that U.S. support for Afghan mujaheddin against the Red Army in Afghanistan was a bad idea because it eventually created 9/11.” (Adam Garfinkle)
It’s not a “completely” false argument. Even the author of the policy, Zbignew Brzezinski (who takes credit for tricking the Soviets into invading Afghanistan and giving them “their Viet Nam”) admits there was a connection. Here’s the precise quote from Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor,
“Brzezinski: 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: 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 unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire…What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”
The long and short of essay: engagement, militarily or diplomatically, requires both knowing who you’re dealing with and the ending is everything (therefore take into account all possible twist and turns – consequences). Sequence assessment as handmaiden to strategic interaction is also critical component of statecraft.
Additionally, author’s pointing out of predator issue (what goes around comes around) warrants serious concern vis-a-vis technology trickling down – 2nd., 3rd. generation.
Interesting analysis. The flaw seems to be in the complexity of it all, which must discourage politicians from even trying to think beyond the next election.
Modern warfare isn’t as simple as the stark choices – defined by honour – on an 18th century battlefield. The number of globally interconnected moving parts today introduces a range of possible outcomes far greater than when say, Grant allowed Custer to return to the Black Hills in 1874. It’s impossible to imagine Lakota warriors flying aeroplanes into the Brooklyn Bridge as a consequent.
What you seem to be trying to say is not that modern politicians aren’t calculating “sequence assessment” of their military strategies, but Obama, at least, is doing so only in terms of the domestic political chess game.
This kind of cynicism on the part of so-called statesmen seems to be more prevalent among “progressives” than conservatives. A strong case can be made that Clinton’s military forays were prompted by sequence assessment scenarios based on their effect domestically, while achieving the stated goal in battle was of secondary importance.
I’ve long thought it possible that if Obama’s team calculates he’s likely to lose the coming election, then he might suddenly discover America’s vital interests align with Israel’s to see off Iran’s blossoming nuclear threat capacity before the November election.
Of course, doing a sequence assessment of a new Middle Eastern war is fraught with nonlinear complexity involving so many players that the only probable scenarios involve massive economic disruption and at least short term crisis too good to let go to waste, if not extended warfare in possibly more than one theatre.
How could this help Obama win the election? Maybe, that’s the wrong question. If he thinks he going to lose anyway why not kick the whole chess board over? There’s more than one way to sequence events.
Conscience must make cowards of us all.
In the 19th Century the Royal Navy eliminated piracy off the coast of East Africa by hanging pirates when they found them, without delay, without lawyers, and without consequences, other than deluding Westerners into believing that piracy was a thing of the past.
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree; and he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers.”
The Afghanistan problem is even easier. Obama has acted on nothing other than domestic considerations because that is all he cares about. But, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
We must remove our people from Afghanistan ASAP. The Taliban are a wholly owned subsidiary of the Pakistani military establishment. The moment we leave Afghanistan, even if it were a century from now, they would move in and reassert their control. They cannot be stilled without attacking their command and control in Islamabad.
This became obvious to the whole world when we whacked ObL in Abbottabad. The Pakistanis could have ended the whole affair years ago. Clearly, ObL was their guest, and just as clearly, they protected him.
Before the Democrat Party adopted the protection of terrorists from unkind treatment as the main plank of their program, we might have picked up ObL and peeled him like an onion. We might have found out who his real masters were, my guess is that he would have named somebody in the al’Sa’ud family, and would have told us of the involvement of Iraqi and Pakistani intelligence in his operations.
Which brings me to real issue. Our real failure came on 9/12/2001. By the time the sun had set on that day we should have dropped nuclear weapons on Mecca and Medina. Pearl Harbor cost the Japanese 2 cities. The attacks on New York and Washington should have cost the Muslim world just as much.
If we had done that, we would not have had to invade Afghanistan, or Iraq, and we wouldn’t be chasing low rent pirates around the coast of Somalia.
The idea of attacking the American homeland would have been scratched off every bad guys list then and for many years to come.
And had we not had the stomach for Mecca and Medina (which ARE the correct targets), certainly when OBL was in Tora Bora – with NO cities or farms or civilians around, we should have removed the top few hundred feet of the entire range with a few nukes. OBL – Dead. His command structure – Dead. A VERY STRONG line in the sand – dont’ mess with the US – Drawn. And thousands of American lives – Saved.
Here’s how the wrold really needs to get it done… and CAN:
[email protected], the sources I can find for that Zbig quote are somewhat shady and seem to be disputed. Has there been a reasonably definitive conclusion regarding its veracity?
With a little luck, Karzai will grasp that his lifespan will be measured in a single-digit number of days once we leave, and he will move himself and what oney he has not already stashed overseas OUT of country sometime in late summer — BEFORE November, so we can see that even the islamist we have propped-up doesn’t believe in a non-Taliban future in Umbrellastan.
I am almost certain that the quote from Brzezinski is accurate. It appeared in a French Magazine, “Le Nouvel Observateur” in 1998 in the aftermath of the revelation of the then CIA Director, Robert Gates, in his memoir “From the Shadows” that the United States began to arm the Afghan Mujahadeen six months before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. It seems to me that it is hard to claim that the Mujahadeen was not a precursor to the Taliban which gave sanctuary to Al Qaeda. That’s why I disagree with Adam Garfinkle that it is a “completely” false argument to link the arming of the Mujahadeen with the eventual tragedy of 9/11.
In the 1998 interview even the author of the policy, Zbignew Brzezinski, admits that the Mujahadeen morphed into anti-American Islamic radicals.
We can only guess what might have happened but for the Afghan policy of the Carter Administration. But it seems perfectly reasonable to me to speculate that the world might be a better place today if the incompetent communist bozos had remained in power instead of Islamic radicals trained and funded by our Government. Certainly Afghans, especially Afghan women and girls would be better off. My guess is that but for Brzezinski’s trick the Communist Government in Afghanistan would have fallen anyway and probably would have been replaced by a secular state rather than an Islamic theocracy. It also seems absurd to me to suggest that but for the Soviet misadventure in Afghanistan the Soviet Empire would still be with us.
Of course, we will never know.
In case your interested, here is the entire 1998 Brzezinski interview with “Le Nouvel Observateur.”
Question: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs [From the Shadows], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan six months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct? Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, closely guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.
Question: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it? Brzezinski: It isn’t quite that. We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.
Question: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn’t believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don’t regret anything today? Brzezinski: 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, in substance: 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 unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.
Question: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic fundamentalists, having given arms and advice to future terrorists? Brzezinski: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?**
Question: Some stirred-up Moslems? But it has been said and repeated: Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today. Brzezinski: Nonsense! It is said that the West had a global policy in regard to Islam. That is stupid. There isn’t a global Islam. Look at Islam in a rational manner and without demagoguery or emotion. It is the leading religion of the world with 1.5 billion followers. But what is there in common among Saudi Arabian fundamentalism, moderate Morocco, Pakistan militarism, Egyptian pro-Western or Central Asian secularism? Nothing more than what unites the Christian countries
Kris, there is one more irony I would like to bring to your attention. In your comment you mentioned that the sources you had found for the Brzezinski quote were “shady.” I presume you use that term because the sources you found were part and parcel of the radical left. The Brzezinski interview was widely quoted in leftist circles in an attempt to excoriate Brzezinski and even Jimmy Carter. For years the left hated Brzezinski because of his staunch anti-communism. He was widely viewed on the left as a character with “Strangelovian” proclivities. For a time even Carter was disliked by leftists because he had the audacity to be anti-communist enough to cancel American participation in the Olympics to protest the Soviets invasion of Afghanistan.
Of course, now all of that has changed. Instead of being despised by the left, Brzezinski and Cater are adored by leftists. How can we explain this about face?
It’s quite easy actually. Brzezinski and Carter are revered by leftists despite their history of anti-communism because the both share what has become almost a mantra to leftists; they both hate Israel and they both believe American Jews have too much influence when it comes to American foreign policy.
The left has decided that almost any sin committed by Carter and Brzezinski can be forgiven as long as they both continue to criticize Israel loudly and frequently.
By the way, unless I am mistaken the man leftists once mistook for Dr. Strangelove is on the editorial board of the American Interest.
Excellent essay – my only off-topic criticism:
It used to be, I think, that the vast majority of strategists and statesmen played chess, or in non-Western cultures some comparably complex game that required players to anticipate what their opponents might do in an extended sequence of moves.
The origins of chess are shrouded in mystery, but it’s generally agreed that it originated in India. The legendary origins of chess have been
marvelously musick’d by Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Anderson & Tim Rice in the 1984 musical Chess.
It seems, if Chess‘s creators are accurate, that the West’s acquisition of chess was a sort of consolation prize for the collapse of the Byzantium Empire….
Not much is known
Of early days of chess beyond a fairly vague report
That fifteen hundred years ago two princes fought
Though brothers, for a Hindu throne
Their mother cried
For no-one really likes their offspring
fighting to the death
She begged them stop the slaughter
with her every breath
But sure enough one brother died
Sad beyond belief
She told her winning son
You have caused such grief
I can’t forgive this evil thing you’ve done
He tried to explain
How things had really been
But he tried in vain
No words of his could mollify the queen
And so he asked the wisest men he knew
The way to lessen her distress
They told him he’d be pretty certain to impress
By using model soldiers on
A chequered board to show it was his brother’s fault
They thus invented chess
Chess displayed no inertia
Soon spread to Persia, then west
Next the Arabs refined it,
Thus redesigned, it progressed
Still further yet
And when Constantinople fell in 1453
One would have noticed every other refugee
Included in his bags a set
Once in the hands
And in the minds of leading figures of the Renaissance
The spirit and the speed of chess made swift advance
Through all of Europe’s vital lands
Where we must record
The game was further changed
Right across the board
The western touch upon the pieces ranged
King and queen and rook
And bishop, knight and pawn
All took on the look
We know today, the modern game was born
And in the end
We see a game that started by mistake in Hindustan
And boosted in the main by what is now Iran
Become the simplest and most complicated
Pleasure yet devised
For just the kind of mind
Who would appreciate this well-researched and fascinating yarn….
WigWag, thanks for your response. I fully agree with your @8, though I’d suggest that conversely, Brzezinski’s anti-Israel attitudes earned him the opposition of people who would otherwise have strongly supported him for his anti-Communism. Regarding @7, we can quibble, but to little purpose as we are dealing in counter-factuals and classified information. More importantly, a fact’s a fact, regardless of whether we like it or its consequences. My main problem with this quote is that it sets off all of my “too good to be true” alarms, and the fact I can only find it in radical left sources isn’t helping. This very obviously doesn’t prove the quote to be false. I suppose I’ll just have to eventually try to track down the original interview from Le Nouvel Observateur (not on their site), which is a reasonably reliable paper.
“I suppose I’ll just have to eventually try to track down the original interview from Le Nouvel Observateur (not on their site), which is a reasonably reliable paper.” (Kris)
The text of the interview appeared in the issue dated January 15-21, 1998 on page 76. Of course it is in French so you either need to speak French yourself of find someone to translate it for you.
By the way, the number of days between the date when “Le Nouvel Observateur” published the Brzezinski interview in which he said both,
“What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe…”
“Nonsense! [Islamic fundamentalism does not represent a menace]. It is said that the West had a global policy in regard to Islam. That is stupid. There isn’t a global Islam. Look at Islam in a rational manner and without demagoguery or emotion. It is the leading religion of the world with 1.5 billion followers. But what is there in common among Saudi Arabian fundamentalism, moderate Morocco, Pakistan militarism, Egyptian pro-Western or Central Asian secularism? Nothing more than what unites the Christian countries.”
and September 11, 2001 was 3 years, seven months and 27 days or 1,335 days.
While funding and training the Afghan Mujahadeen may not have been a proximate cause of the 9/11 attacks or even an important cause, there can be no doubt that Brzezinski’s inclination to pooh pooh “stirred up Muslims” turned out, in retropsect, to look unwise.
It is also interesting to look at the quote from Brzezinski about the Muslim world and notice that he neglected to mention Iran at all. The reasons are obvious; he and Carter had made a mess out of Iran; no wonder he didn’t want to remind anyone of that fact.
To be fair though, the mess that Carter and Brzezinski made of Iran is no worse than the mess that Obama has made of Egypt. Even Obama deserves a little fairness; truth be told, while he was making a mess of Egypt he had plenty of support from Americn neocons.
Kris there is one final irony to all of this that makes you realize how cynical the world of international relations really is.
Assuming the Le Nouvel Observateur interview is legitimate and assuming that Brzezinski was telling the truth (and not exagerating by tooting his own horn) then President Carter cancelled the American participation in the Olympics to punish the Soviets for invading Afghanistan when he and Brzezinski deliberately tricked the Soviets into invading.
Here’s what Brzezinski said,
“We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would…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, in substance: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war.”
In other words, President Carter made a big public show of punishing the Soviets (it was the American Olympic atheletes who bore the brunt of the punishment), when his Administration deliberately lured the Soviets into the invasion.
Amazing; don’t you think?
While I’m hardly Brzezinski’s biggest fan, I wouldn’t be too quick to criticize him on this particular point. The Islamist threat must be taken very seriously, but I am still not convinced that it is a threat on the order of the USSR (yet). I’ll grant that Zbig was being somewhat too dismissive, probably for rhetorical reasons, but his views were unexceptional in 1998, and dominant in 1979.
Nice catch re Iran.
On the original point, I’ve found an interview in which Zbig denies what was attributed to him. I’ll try to track down the original Nouvel Obs piece in the next few days, and will post here if I find anything.
[email protected]: Indeed. 🙂 And that’s one of the reasons for my skepticism about the claim: it doesn’t fit into my image of the Carter administration as feckless rather than Machiavellian.
Even better is that the Soviet invasion was widely presented as a further falling domino. By making a big deal of it, Carter made himself look even more ineffectual, with the obvious electoral result.
Kris, as I mentioned, Dr. Brzezinski is on the Editorial Board of the “American Interest.” Someone who works there could simply ask him whether the interview with “Le Nouvel Observateur” took place and, if it did, whether the widely distributed English translation is an accurate account of what he said.
I won’t be holding my breath though.
Here’s an interview Adam Garfinkle did with Dr. Brzezinski a few years back.
[email protected], the interview is interesting, but it doesn’t address my main question: Did the US deliberately intervene in Afghanistan so as to knowingly provoke a Soviet invasion, a fascinating claim attributed to Dr. Brzezinski?
(For the record, I agree with Brzezinski’s claim in the interview that aiding the Afghan “opposition” was the right call, despite the Islamism question.)
I would be grateful If you or Adam could get a clear-cut answer to this question of some historical significance.
Here’s what we know for sure, Kris; the Carter Administration began arming the Afghan Mujahadeen at least six months before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. We know this because Robert Gates who had recently retired as the CIA Director revealed it in his memoirs.
You can find information about the Gates memoir here,
There are many plausible explanations about why the United States would arm radical Afgan Islamists even before the Soviets invaded the country. One of those plausible explanations is that the Carter Administration tricked the Soviets into invading.
Damir, how about being a mensch and emailing Dr. Brzezinski to ask him if the “Le Nouvel Observateur” interview provides an accurate rendition of what he said.
It’s obvious that Adam Garfinkle is smart, thoughtful and eloquent. I downloaded “Jewcentricity” today and so far it is very interesting. With that said, there are critical aspects of Adam’s interview with Dr, Brzezinski that simply strain credulity.
Adam goes on at some length about how a major failure of senior leaders in the Bush Administration was the failure to take into account or even think about the relevance of the Sunni-Shia divide. Specifically he says,
“Here’s another example of your point: One outcome of the Iraq war, so far anyway, has been a significant exacerbation of the Sunni-Shi‘a rivalry throughout the Muslim world. When I was in government, I asked several people in a position to know if anyone had studied this issue before the war as a possible concern. The answer I got was of the yes-and-no variety. Yes, there were people in the intelligence community who had flagged this as an issue, but no, no senior decision-maker had evinced the slightest curiosity about it. Therefore, since nobody asked our experts to study the issue, it was never evaluated in-depth. That’s alarming.”
Brzezinski, always anxious to take a pot shot at Condi Rice readily agrees with Adam. Brzezinski responds,
” It is, yes, and it all pertains to public statements about conditions in the Persian Gulf in the phase preceding the decision to go into Iraq. The President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense rarely referred to the cleavage between the Sunnis and the Shi‘a or the potential implications of these cleavages. I strongly suspect that when the President announced the decision to go into Iraq, he wasn’t intellectually aware of the ramifications of the Sunni-Shi‘a divide.”
Not satisfied with implying that President Bush was a moron, he goes on to suggest that Condi Rice was a moron. Brzezinski says,
“…we may have had a National Security Advisor at the time who wasn’t particularly curious about these things either, and worse, wasn’t determined enough to compel the President to address the ramifications of this issue.”
Are we really supposed to believe that neither Colin Powell or Condi Rice were smart enough, informed enough or curious enough to reflect on the pertinence of the Sunni-Shia divide before the American invasion?
Which other senior officials involved with the Bush Administration do Adam and Brzezinski want us to believe were too dimwitted to think about or even know about the Sunni-Shia divide? Do they expect us to believe that John Negroponte was too oblivious to know about tensions between the Sunni and Shia worlds? Are we supposed to believe that Zalmay Khalilzad who is Muslim himself was blissfully unaware of hostility between the Sunni and Shia communities? Do Adam and Brzezinski and Adam think that General John Abizaid, the CENTCOM Commander whose parents were born in Lebanon didn’t know or care about the pertinence of the Sunni-Shia divide?
The idea that one of the key failings of the Bush Administration’s Iraq policy was a dearth of senior leaders who knew about and cared about the hostility between Sunni and Shia is simply silly.
There are other aspects of Adam’s 2008 interview with Dr. Brzezinski that also fail to pass the smell test. Brzezinski makes the absurd argument that the Taliban insurgency had it’s roots in the Soviet pulverization of Afghanistan. Specifically Dr. Brzezinski tells Adam,
“The fact of the matter is that the Taliban came into the region after ten years of sustained Soviet pulverization of Afghan society, and after at least half a decade of American indifference to Afghanistan after the Soviets left. That’s the backdrop against which to view the Taliban’s rise.”
It’s hard to understand precisely what the former National Security Advisor meant when he said the “Taliban came into the region…” Al Qaeda may have eventually come into the region, but the insurgents who became the Taliban were already in the region; they were Afghan natives; many were Pashtuns and many had been trained, armed and paid by the Americans. The fact that some of the Mujahadeen eventually affiliated with the Northern Alliance because of their ethnicity changes nothing.
When Brzezinski blames the rise of the Taliban on the Soviet pulverization of the country, he neglects to mention what he inadvertently admitted in the Le Nouvel Observateur” interview; the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and pulverized it because they were tricked into invading by Brzezinski’s policy of arming the Mujahadeen at least (according to the Gates memoir) six months before the Soviet tanks rolled in.
Brzezinski wanted to weaken the Soviets by giving them “their Viet Nam.” Maybe it was a good idea, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was an important factor in the eventual collapse of the Soviet Empire, maybe it wasn’t.
But if the pulverization of Afghanistan gave rise to the Taliban and if the proximate cause of that pulverization was the American trick that lured the Soviets to invade (as Brzezinski claimed), then the Carter Administration is ultimately responsible for the pulverization of Afghanistan and thus according to Brzezinski himself, the rise of the Taliban.
The only logical conclusion is that Adam’s interview with Brzezinski read in combination with the “Le Nouvel Observateur” interview destroys Brzezinski’s credibility and proves exactly the opposite point that Brzezinski (and Adam) were trying to make.
The other thing that comes out in Adam’s interview with Brzezinski is the sheer hubris of the former National Security Advisor; could he be more arrogant?
” I think you’re putting your finger on a major weakness of contemporary America. The weakness is that we’re more democratic than we’ve ever been before, in the sense that popular pressures translate into policy pressures very quickly.”
Got it; that’s the problem we simply have too much democracy. If only we would leave all the really hard problems to the Mandarins; that is to the brilliant experts like him everything would be just fine. Especially when it comes to foreign policy, if the American public would just stick it’s nose out of all the affairs that are none of it’s business, the world would be a much better place. I wonder if Brzezinski has the Middle East in mind? I wonder if he thinks that if those damn Jews and evangelical Protestants would mind their own business the likes of him would have the Israel-Palestine problem solved lickity split.
One thing you’ve got to give Zbig is that he doesn’t mince words. He’s happy to tell Adam’s audience what he thinks of them,
“The public really has no grasp of complexities, no sense of intellectual refinement in judging them…”
Yep Americans are just way too stupid to grasp complexities. Thank goodness we have a tiny cadre of intellectually well endowed geniuses like Zbignew Brzezinski to keep us dopes on the straight and narrow. If only we could muster up the wisdom to let Zbig and his fellow experts call all the shots.
According to Zbig the future doesn’t look bright. After all, he is sad to inform us that our society is ” increasingly imbecilized.”
My question to Adam Garfinkle is simple; do you agree with the drivel Brzezinski provided to you in this interview?
[email protected]: “There are many plausible explanations about why the United States would arm radical Afgan Islamists even before the Soviets invaded the country. One of those plausible explanations is that the Carter Administration tricked the Soviets into invading. ”
Whereas I consider the most plausible explanation by far to be that this was just another standard Cold War proxy battle, susch as support for the Contras in Nicaragua. The “trick” explanation strikes me as too clever by far, as demonstrated by the actual short-term results. (Then again, given your not incorrect comment @21, a “too clever” explanation might be the best fit. 🙂 )
Anyhow, my own interest is not in judging Brzezinski, but merely in knowing whether he acknowledges or denies the Nouvel Observateur interview. He has seemed to deny it, but I’d like a clear-cut statement. (In fact, given that the Nouvel Obs is generally considered trustworthy, if this interview was indeed published as quoted here, it would help if such a statement by Brzezinski was made immediately following the interview itself, or at least before 9/11.)