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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

perestroika in the Cold Warrior set

The National Interest is as central to neoconservatism as the Starship Enterprise is to Star Trek – so the readers of the winter issue might well have wondered if the Borg had invaded the captain’s quarters. In an article entitled, Jihad, Unintended, Dmitri Simes, the president of the Nixon Center, gave a brief, unvarnished account of our “heroic” intervention in Afghanistan in the 80s that could have appeared in Counterpunch. In fact, his notion that the U.S. lured the Soviet’s into Afghanistan has appeared in Counterpunch. It is on short list of fun facts to know and tell that no Chomskyite can leave home without:

“ACCORDING TO former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, now one of
the most acerbic critics of President Bush's handling of both Iraq and radical Islam, the Carter Administration authorized a covert CIA operation, notwithstanding an expectation that it would provoke a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In an interview in Le Nouvel Observateur in 1998, Brzezinski said that clandestine U.S. involvement in Afghanistan began months before the Soviet
invasion; in fact, he added, he wrote a note to President Carter predicting that "this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention." As Brzezinski put it, "we didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would." And even in hindsight, Brzezinski thought "that secret operation was an excellent idea", because "it had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap" and exploited "the opportunity of giving the USSR its Vietnam War."

Of course, this is not what the Carter Administration told Congress or the American people at the time.””

Or, for that matter, the Afghanis – the million or so that died so that Americans and the Soviets could play out their power games.

But Simes has more:

“More recently, Brzezinski has acknowledged that one of his motives in entangling the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was promoting the liberation of Central Europe by diverting Soviet attention from responding more forcefully to Solidarity's challenge. Yet, desirable as this end might have been, one may question whether it justified using means that would provoke an almost decade-long war in Afghanistan that both devastated the country and jump-started a global Islamic jihad against America.

Nevertheless, the Carter Administration was not alone in making mistakes in Afghanistan. The Reagan Administration's decision to "outsource" responsibility for arming and organizing the resistance to Pakistan's intelligence service and Saudi-funded foreign mujaheddin was
insufficiently thought out. Though no one could reasonably have been expected to predict that the same groups would attack New York twenty-some years later, stronger reservations were appropriate in the wake of the Iranian revolution, which showed very clearly how easily Muslim
extremists could turn against the United States. It was also no secret that some of the mujaheddin commanders in Afghanistan were, even during the 1980s, already talking about establishing an Islamic caliphate and about the United States being next on the receiving end of their righteous

This lack of sober evaluation explains why, when the United States had an opportunity to try to put the Islamist genie back into the bottle, we failed to take it.””

Simes even engages in the blame America first game (a favorite here at LI, since, in fact, ot turns out in mulititudinous situations that America is culpable. But, as any parole officer knows, your hard core recidivist has an iron clad excuse: everybody always blames me). He shows, briefly and accurately, how U.S. blindness as the Soviet’s withdrew, combined with the sclerotic idiocy of the Cold Warrior mindset, resulted in Afghanistan being ripe for a Taliban takeover managed by the Pakistanis – the good friends who, even now, are swarming with Al Qaeda friendly political parties and groups, as well as the living dead themselves – those cute and cuddly terrorists who, in the world view of the Bushites, have already been killed so many times that they hardly exist. Save for the fact that they are as large as ever, that Osama bin Laden, their leader, now makes more videos than Michael Jackson, and that Pakistan is a pretty good bet to go Islamicist in the next five years and provide even more aid to the only terrorists who really do threaten the U.S. You know, the blind spot in the war on terrorism – the terrorists.

Simes gets all Richard Clarke-ish about American foreign policy of the 90s:

“One would have thought that the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the simultaneous attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 and the strike on the USS Cole in 2000, among other incidents, would have alerted policymakers that a new major challenge to American interests and American lives was in the making. However, instead of combating this threat, the United States focused on "wars of choice" and haphazard attempts to "nation-build" in the Balkans.”

If I am reading this correctly, Simes is putting in the boot in these lines, comparing our Rebel in Chief with the antichrist himself, Clinton.

However, Simes ends his piece, depressingly, with standard Rumsfelding brummagem. Once again, an old instinct for finding enemies that are proportional to the U.S. – big enemies – blinds this Cold Warrior to the real but pretty minor threat posed by terrorists. So he pulls out the Churchillian stops, the comparison to WWII, and like some blind oracle, seems to have uttered his prophecy in a bout of enthusiasm which even he does not understand.

Simes article is, nevertheless, a small sign. As in the Soviet Union in the 80s, in which some obscure article in one of the official journals seems to obliquely hint that all is not well with the glorious Marxist Leninist machine, so, too, one looks for small hints in the American establishment that the era of delusion is over. Of course, it isn’t. One doesn’t expect the National Interest to come out for complete withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in the next six months, the firing of Rumsfeld and the complete purging of the Pentagon of anyone tainted with his views, the firing of Bolton, a review of the failure of the Bush administration, from August 2001 up until now, to either successfully fight terrorists or even to understand who they are, the immediate cut of about 200 billion dollars from the Pentagon’s budget, to be followed by other cuts next year, etc., etc. Common sense stuff. The dismantling of the Patriot act, the dismantling of the department of Homeland Security (a boondoggle waiting for a disaster). That’s partly because – who wants to risk an uprising of the technostructure welfare recipients? that vast constituency of engineers, economists, think tankers and others who inhabit the structures that have been nourished by trillions of dollars in state funds since 1945. Here, addiction to the largest Keynesian multiplier in history has created character. In one sense, truly comedic character. Probe anywhere among the American engineering set and you will find a firm belief that they are raging individualists, Randians run amuck, opponents of big government of the don’t tread on me variety. Perhaps every kingdom generates needs to generate some group delirium to survive – but the delirium of this group is killing us.


Brian Miller said...

Fascinating, roger. So, that pious smirk hides some pretty darn ansty politics.

Just proves (yet again) one of your ongoing themes: The Politics of Empire is dirty and violent, no matter which political "party" is in power. Maybe the libertarians are right? Break up the concentrations of power (exhibited by the US) into smaller states less able to cause wide-ranging harm?

roger said...

Brian, I doubt that smallness has to do with empire, otherwise the closest thing to the libertarian dream -- the British government from about 1820 to 1880 -- wouldn't have expanded so ferociously, and so viciously, with so many casualties -- the Irish and Indian dead chief among them -- along the way.

Here's what I think about conservative, liberal, socialist, libertarian, etc. -- they can tell us something about goals, and can give us a version of patterns in history and society. And I'm not going to say there are no patterns. In my view, history is a tissue of exceptions, except when it isn't. I'm a liberal basically because I like the liberal goals of social and political opportunity -- the chance to enact self-chosen roles - and because I accept the idea that the state can operate as a countervailing power to thwart private abuse. So I want to find some unstable equilibrium point between anarchy, which I think is unworkable, and communism, which I think is unbearable.

I don't think the libertarian credo that the smaller the government, the freer the people is true. If you want to look at what untramelled private power looks like a good place to start is the asbestos mining companies and asbestos using businesses in the 20th century. On the other hand, it is in the order of things that government will mostly be used by the most powerful. Poverty translated in political terms is disenfranchisement, no matter what the government. Private power is going to find expression in public power. So I think you have to depend on movements in the private sphere to motivate public power to actually work for public good.

The problem with foreign policy is that it rarely creates real progressive movement in the public sphere -- the constituency for caring about the Congo is small. And it doesn't include me, alas. I should care about it, but I really don't pay attention to what is happening there. Nor, in the eighties, did I pay much attention to Afghanistan, even though I was highly motivated to protest about Reagan's moves in Central America. Afghanistan seemed way too far away.

The solution to this is totally ad hoc, I think. I try to write a lot about Iraq at this site because, ironically, so much isn't paid attention to in Iraq. As I pointed out in a post a couple days ago, the NYT's discovery of Sadr's position of power comes about a year after I was able to suss it out with my little magnifying glass and putting together two and two. Dexter Filkins, a true idiot who is one of the NYT's great rah rah supporters, wrote a piece in the magazine this Sunday that admitted the counter-productive effects of U.S. military strategy that were apparent by Novemenber 2003 -- and which I wrote about then. I am no genius about Iraq, but I can make elemental deductions about emotions. For instance, the emotion attendent on watching your father forced on his belly by a soldier who speaks a language you don't understand, while your brother is marched off to prison with a hood on his head.

This is too long, man! Sorry, I'm raving...

Brian Miller said...

No, not a rave at all. We are probably fairly close on the political spectrum, and I find your idea of conten ding balances pretty appealing-and very historic and even "conservative" if you want to look at what the mythical "Founding Fathers" said. I find the libertarian critique interesting (and convincing when it comes to anti-war libertarians), but as a government employee, my sympathy can go only so far. :)

I participate on another forum related to my profession (city planning), and we get a few libertarians. Including one who seems to believe the evils of "sprawl" and bad modernist architecture are somehow imposed on society by outside forces ("government" and "architects") and do not reflect a whole hosat of policies promoted by private economic enterprises. Like you, I am skeptical that a purely privatized world will a. work very well for most people b. represent real increase in "freedom" for most people.

Brian Miller said...

side note: in his paen to the Stateless Dream, my combatant on the other site notes that SOMALIA has a well-developed telecommunications industry. He's convinced me! Eliminate the State! Long Live the Rule of the Clans and Well-Armed 13 year olds.

roger said...

Brian, by an amazing coincidence, I know all about the somali internet network. It was vital to the economy, since somalis outside the country remit money inside via the net. And it was taken down in the post 9/11 days, due to suspicions that the money was terrorist tainted. It totally blew apart the economy. I did an interview with the last U.S. attache there, the guy who was there in the blackhawk down days, for an article that never got published about moneylaundering. I was commissioned to do this article by, well, a Moon financed rag. I definitely wanted the money. Alas, the rag went through several editors and my story got lost.
Still, I'm hip to the hop about Somalia.