Saturday, September 27, 2008

Reviewing the war

Jim Miles reviews Stein and Lang's Unexpected War. His summary of the book's themes is apt:

The Unexpected War - Canada in Kandahar. Janice Gross Stein and Eugene Lang. Viking Canada (Penguin), Toronto, 2007.

... In The Unexpected War the authors Stein and Lang continually highlight two motifs: first, the degree of appeasement towards Americans by the Canadian government for its lack of commitment to Iraq and its lack of commitment to missile defence; second the obsequious manner in which the Canadian military tried to ingratiate itself to its American counterpart, wanting to prove itself with the big boys...

The authors do provide a reasonable if brief background to the situation in Afghanistan, starting with the Russian invasion - perhaps one could call it assistance as the Americans tend to do for their client states. No mention is made however of the Brzezinski comments about having the CIA operate within Afghanistan prior to this date to create a more destabilized situation that would draw the Soviets in. ... (link)
Alas, even critical leftists are taken in by the self-promoting fantasies of the likes of Brzezinski. Miles is not alone, as Brzezinski's claim to have "knowingly increased the probability" of Soviet intervention appears to have been wholesaled by the entire internet.

Specialists, however, are skeptical of Brzezinski's claims. He is, after all, a major political actor (expected to get a plum position in an Obama administration) and with the Nouvel Observateur interview managed to take credit for the downfall of the Soviet empire. So his claims merit some fact-checking.

Some background: Nur Muhammad Taraki's Afghan communist regime was highly unpopular, at least in rural areas where a heavy modernizing hand, which included forced education and land reform, induced strong reactions. By March of 1979, less than a year after Taraki took power, a revolt led by current government minister Ismail Khan broke out in Herat province, a province next to Iran, which was then in the throes of an Islamist revolution. At this point, the Russians had not yet committed to defend Taraki's regime with significant troops and were reluctant to do so. Instead, the Soviets advised Taraki to soften his stance on Islam to curb the revolt, to no avail.

At that point, the Carter administration at least twice considered the possibility of providing military support to the rebels, who were then receiving low-level aid from the Zia government of Pakistan. Finally, on July 3, 1979 the US opted to provide supplies and money via Pakistan for the rebels, but no arms.

In his book Ghost Wars, Washinton Post reporter Steve Coll takes a serious look at Brzezinski's claims:
[In the 1998 French interview] Brzezinski implied that the had slyly lured the Soviets into a trap in Afghanistan. But his contemporary memos... show no hint of satisfaction that the Soviets had taken some sort of bait... [A]ny claim that Brzezinski lured the Soviets into Afghanistan warrants deep skepticism. (Ghost Wars, p. 581, n17.)

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