Thursday, October 2, 2014

A spite to remember

Dost Mohammad Khan, via Wikipedia.
Commenter Blueskies at Booman notes on my happy birthday President Carter post:
While Carter was a better president than many give him credit for, we should not forget, in addition to his efforts for middle east peace, his efforts against middle east peace. We are still living (and dying) with the consequences of some of these acts.
1. Not to be too pedantic, the story linked to is about Afghanistan, which is not in the Middle East. Nah, that really is too pedantic, sorry. Also, Googling around, I find there's an aspect missing from the story, which is the correct apportionment of the blame between Carter and the CIA.

2. The link is to text from an interview of 1998 with Carter's National Security Director, Zbigniew Brzezinski (the original French text is here), on the subject of how Carter is to blame for the growth of the Salafist jihadi movement and Osama Bin Laden because of the $500 million in nonlethal aid to Afghan insurgents he signed off on in July 1979 (which had been a secret until Bob Gates, who had been serving under Brzezinski at the time in the NSC staff, leaked it in his retired-celebrity memoir in 1996).

Brzezinski (at the time hawking his own 1997 book, The Grand Chessboard, in which he notably pushed the idea of rushing Ukraine into NATO as fast as possible, and I think we all know now what a terrific idea that was) makes a crucial error, in agreeing with the interviewer that the aid package was approved six months before the Soviet invasion took place, and could thus be said to have brought the invasion on. In fact, bits of invasion were already ongoing: a detachment of tanks, BMP vehicles, and troops to guard the official buildings and the major Kabul-area airports who arrived on June 17, and an airborne battalion on July 7 (four days after Carter signed that finding).

And rather than worrying about the Americans supplying insurgents far from the capital, the Soviets were especially afraid of a local civil war between their allies, prime minister Noor Taraki and his deputy Hafizullah Amin (whom they suspected, probably wrongly, of being in collusion with the US). So it was the Russian activities that brought on the US aid action, not the other way around: as the official State Department history sums it up,
By mid-1979 Moscow was searching to replace Taraki and Amin, and dispatched combat troops to Bagram Air Base outside of Kabul. This move prompted the Carter administration to begin supplying non-lethal aid to Afghan mujahedeen, or Islamic insurgents.
You need to understand that Brzezinski is jealous of the Reagan people who claim to have engineered the destruction of the USSR by luring them into an Afghanistan war; he's not thinking about exposing wickedness in the Carter administration, he's trying to claim some of the "credit". But this was a war that was likely to happen regardless of what the US did.

Also, per that same State Department document, he likely doesn't love Carter much—in internal administration squabbles, Carter tended to side with State against NSC in favor of working with the USSR rather than confronting it as Brzezinski always wished to do:
The Carter administration recognized that Taraki would undo Daoud’s attempt to steer Afghanistan away from Moscow, and it debated whether to cut ties with Afghanistan or recognize Taraki in the hopes that Soviet influence could be contained. Although the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Zbigniew Brzezinski advocated the former course, Carter supported the Department of State’s advocacy of recognition.
3. Speculatively, that is not as if I have any proper evidence, it looks as if the Carter policy, whatever Brzezinski may have thought, was simply to have a client through whom to exercise influence on the completely chaotic situation, all the more after Amin overthrew Taraki and had him murdered in October. And I imagine what State and Carter would have had in mind would be a client of the usual kind, that is a pre-certified "moderate" in the form of the beloved Tajik hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of Panjshir, whose murder in 2001 (probably at the hands of Qa'eda fighters) may have been the worst blow of all to hopes for a unified Afghanistan. And the money would not have had anything like a decisive military influence.

But whatever Carter's and the State Department's idea may have been, the CIA definitely had a different one, according to the later ambassador Peter Tomsen, whose book on the subject, The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers, came out in 2011. According to Tomsen, the CIA, in cahoots with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, favored instead a fundamentalist Pashtun warlord, the unspeakable Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, concentrating the US aid on him, in direct contravention of official US policy, and helping in this way to create the original Salafist legions including "Arab Afghans" such as Osama Bin Laden.

The CIA quickly sent out an old spook, Charles Cogan, to deny Tomsen's hypothesis in a book review in Foreign Policy (Cogan's review is where I get my information about the book)—or rather to explain it away, because it couldn't exactly be denied—which of course makes me morally certain it's true. And it is true, anyway, as one Wikipedian writes.
The United States provided Massoud with close to no support. Part of the reason was that it permitted its funding and arms distribution to be administered by Pakistan, which favored the rival mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In an interview, Massoud said, "We thought the CIA knew everything. But they didn't. They supported some bad people [meaning Hekmatyar]."
Carter won't say it, even now, and it's possible he can't even think it, but the horrors in Afghanistan happened, literally, in spite of him, with the Carter-despising Agency playing a key role in the damage.

Cross-posted at Booman Tribune.

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