March 27, 2013
The Endless Loop

One thing about living in a country with amnesia is that the old becomes new over and over again, as we repeat our forgotten idiocies. Here is a post I put up on Bad Attitudes on September 12, 2002, still fresh as a daisy:

Looking up something else in the files I just came across a four-year-old article from the New York Times, written as the Taliban were about to take over Afghanistan.

It’s easy to forget, and most of us conveniently have, that the Taliban was Made in the USA. What if, for just that once, we had managed to mind our own business?

From the Times of August 13, 1998, speaking of the likelihood that the mullahs would soon seize power:

“If so, the outcome is full of tragic irony for a nation that seemed set on a completely opposite course in 1973, when King Zahir Shah, the last representative of the Durrani Dynasty that had ruled the country for 250 years, was ousted in a coup mounted by his cousin, Mohammed Daoud.

“As President, Mohammed Daoud proclaimed himself a modernizer but lasted barely five years before he was killed in April 1978 in a coup staged by the Soviet-backed Communist Party, which proclaimed a still more radical modernization program.

“The Communists’ program aimed at uprooting the pervasive influence of Muslim clerics, whose support of the Durranis had consigned Afghanistan to a social and economic backwardness.

“Within hours of seizing the Arg Palace in Kabul, the Afghan capital, the Communists vowed to emancipate Afghan women, achieve universal literacy, and move the country beyond its bullock-cart economy.

“But the bid to force compliance with the Communist program, especially in the arch-conservative world of the Afghan village, triggered a civil war that drew in Soviet forces in December 1979.

“This in turn prompted President Jimmy Carter and later Ronald Reagan to commit the United States to backing the Afghan Mujahedeen, the self-styled Muslim holy warriors who drove out the Russians in February 1989.”

To put the matter clearly, the Russians were the nearest thing there was to good guys in the Afghanistan of the late seventies. The nearest thing to bad guys, then and now, were the ignorant village clerics…

As so often happened during the Cold War, we jumped eagerly into bed with the worst guys in sight. Even worse than the Russian alternative? Well, figure it out. Our exciting fling with the primitive, lawless Mujahedeen created the conditions for the Taliban takeover that the Russians had feared. And the takeover created the kind of country an Osama Bin Laden could get comfortable in.

Well, okay, but still.. We couldn’t very well have left this tiny land in the terrible claws of godless Russia, could we? Of course we could. We did it all the time, before and during the Cold War. And in this case, so what? Three and a half years later the Soviet Union collapsed anyway, giving everybody a get-out-of-jail card.

But wasn’t that collapse precisely because we had armed and financed those brave Afghan freedom fighters? Pretty doubtful. The Soviet Union had been a basket case for decades. It might have stayed on its feet for a year or two longer if Cold War cowboys like Zbigniew Brzezinski and William J. Casey hadn’t been gnawing at its crutches in Afghanistan, that’s true. But the aging invalid was about to topple in any case..

Suppose those few years had been spent under the Russians rather than the warlords and the Taliban? A number of things would have happened, all of them good. Afghanistan wouldn’t have been devastated in a pointless civil war, hundreds of thousands of Russians and Afghans would still be alive, and the country would be independent today just like the other ’Stans in the neighborhood. No better off, but no worse either.

And yesterday — September 11th of 2002 — could have been just another lovely day in early autumn.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at March 27, 2013 08:46 PM
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But, I'm sure we'll totally get it right this time in Korea.

Posted by: Tim on April 1, 2013 6:06 PM

I think it was in the New Yorker that I was reading during the Reagan years about the people we were backing: the ones with all the family women shut off back in one room and not allowed to go outside by themselves, and the ones with the anti-American slogans plastered all over. The US was obviously making a dumb move, obvious even to me.

But I didn't know Carter had been involved.

Posted by: JoyfulA on April 2, 2013 8:59 PM
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