Notes on a time of crisis

November 02, 2001

The conventional narrative goes like this: the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, leading the U.S. to fund the resistance fighters who would later become the Taliban. In other words, the U.S. only acted in response to Soviet aggression.

There is the official version of history, and then there is the reality. In a 1998 interview, Zbiegniew Brezenski offered a glimpse of the latter:

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Le Nouvel Observateur (France), Jan 15-21, 1998, p. 76,
translation Bill Blum

Q: 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 6 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, secretly 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.

Q: 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?

B: It isn't quite that. We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they [entendaient] to fight against a secret [ingérence] of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn't believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don't regret anything today?

B: 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.

Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic [intégrisme], having given arms and advice to future terrorists?

B: 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?

Q: Some stirred-up Moslems? But it has been said and repeated: Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today.

B: 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.

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The U.S. hoped to draw the Soviets into the Afghan trap--and now, according to a report in the Washington Times (and yes, one should consider the source), the Chinese may be doing the same thing to us.

"A Taliban military commander said in a published interview that China is secretly assisting the ruling militia in Afghanistan. Taliban commander Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani told an
Urdu-language newspaper in Pakistan that the ruling militia's strategy is to conduct a long war aimed at entrapping U.S. forces on the ground. Asked about the Taliban's relations with China, Mr. Haqqani said: "China is a good country. Taliban are in contact with it even now. "China is also extending support and cooperation to the Taliban government, but the shape of this cooperation cannot be disclosed," Mr. Haqqani said in the interview published Oct. 22 in the newspaper Islamabad Pakistan. A day later, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi in Beijing dismissed the commander's statement as "a complete fabrication."

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I just watched two anchors on Fair and Balanced Fox News express their disgust that anyone could bring up the word "quagmire" at this early stage of the game. "The war just started!" they exclaimed. I guess you can't use the word "quagmire" untill you're actually in one. You know: like when you see someone about to get hit by a car. It hasn't actually happened yet, so it would certainly be unseemly to shout, "Hey, you're about to get hit by a car!" Better to wait until it's happened, and then you can usefully exclaim, "Hey, you've just been hit by a car!"

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Yesterday ran a story in which the Pentagon's admission that the Red Cross bombings were deliberate (because the Taliban was "stealing food" from them) was mentioned, if briefly. By the end of the day, the story contained no mention of the Red Cross bombings at all.

Orwell looks more prescient with every passing hour.

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A question: if it turns out, as the FBI and CIA believe probable, that the anthrax letters are the work of home-grown right-wing terrorists, will people get a grip and stop declaring that left-wing commentators such as Noam Chomsky are "just as bad as the terrorists"? Will they finally understand the distinction between a critique of US foreign policy and--well--*terrorism*?

Probably not.

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Speaking of having a wee bit of trouble keeping things in perspective, a correspondent of mine in Kansas forwarded this excerpt from a Creationist website:

"...It was about 10 a.m. in the morning of September 11, 2001 when Barbara Olson called her husband Tom (sic) from a cell phone on board American Airlines flight 77 to tell him, "We've been hijacked!" Tom told her in turn that he saw on TV along with millions of others that airliners already had crashed into the World Trade Center an hour earlier. In one grand wakeup call, America heard the cry for "help" from thousands of civilians victimized by Osama bin Laden's god-squad."

"Only 13 days later on Public Broadcasting Stations, a seven-part, eight-hour event of grave importance was also witnessed by millionsof Americans, but the pall of New York City, the Pentagon, and the Pennsylvania airline crashes overshadowed all other news. PBS with the aid of WGBH in Boston and Clear Blue Sky Productions televised one of the boldest assaults yet against our public schools and the millions of innocent victims - our school children."

"Both events have much in common. The public was unaware of the deliberate preparation that was schemed over the past few years to lead to these events. And while the public now understands from President Bush that "We're at War" with religious fanatics around the world, they don't have a clue that America is being attacked from within through its public schools by a militant religious movement called Darwinists."

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Creationists calling Darwininsm "a militant religious movement." The mind boggles.

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The mind also boggles at the craven insistence of House Republicans that airport security not be "federalized." Excuse me, but aren't the firefighters and police officers who are the heroes of the hour all effectively part of a "federalized" workforce? Along with the men and women of the U.S. military? In the name of anti-government ideology, are we really going to leave airport security in the hands of the private sector--arguably the people who got us into this mess to start with, and who have apparently remained just as incompetent in the days since September 11? Sure, my 85-year-old father in law had his tweezers confiscated at some security checkpoint--a real security threat there, let me tell you--but in other airports around the country, guns, box cutters, meat cleavers and all sorts of things have been slipped past security in the past few weeks.

Boy do I feel reassured about flying.

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Sacramento reporter R.V. Schiede recently flew from Sacto to LA to write a story about airport security.

"As I reached the checkpoint, I saw that the four guardsmen were deployed in exactly the same fashion as in Sacramento, behind the metal detectors. I removed the small digital camera from the right breast pocket of my leather jacket and took several photographs of the armed citizen-soldiers. I had just turned to head back to the gate when a loud voice boomed at me from the direction of the checkpoint.

"Hey you! What are you doing?"

A California National Guardsman, a big guy with a buzz-cut dressed head-to-toe in camouflage army fatigues, was moving rapidly toward me. I froze as he approached. He came so close it seemed impossible he wasn?t touching me.

"Did you take my picture?" he asked angrily. "Did you take my picture?"

"I'm a journalist, working on a story about airport security,?" I told him.

"You can't take pictures here," he said.

"Says who?" I asked.

"Says me!" he barked.

He moved next to me, shoulder-to-shoulder, so he could view the camera?s display screen. ?You are going to show me the pictures you took, you are going to delete the pictures you took, and you are going to show me that they are deleted!? he breathed down my neck.

"This is a public space, I have every right to be here," I said. "There are no signs that say you can't take pictures here."

"Either you delete the photos, or I'm taking you to a room, and you can talk to my superiors. You can talk to the FBI."

There's more:

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There have been several instances of F-16s scrambled to "escort" planes back to airports--which is exactly what should happen, in terms of preventing another September 11-style massacre, don't get me wrong--but this isn't something that should in any way reassure the flying public. Say you're on that plane with an unruly passenger and the captain radios it in and suddenly you've got an F-16 "escort" on your wingtip. You're being "escorted" in the way that a large bouncer "escorts" an unwelcome patron out of a nightclub. You'd better pray to whatever god you believe in that the plane you're on doesn't suffer a sudden altitude loss or lose an engine or have any other sort of mishap that the F-16 pilots might misinterpret.

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I live in Brooklyn, which is probably marginally safer than living in Manhattan these days--in the way that Jackie Kennedy was marginally safer than her husband in Dallas in 1963, if you will allow me the grim comparison--but it does occur to me, as I watch the planes flying over my neighborhood on their way to and from JFK and LaGuardia, that if a plane appears to be on a collision course with a Manhattan skyscraper, the logical triage action would be to shoot it down over the somewhat less-populous borough of Brooklyn.

And while I'm venting my anxieties here, does anyone know why the flight patterns for those two airports have changed since September 11 so that planes now fly low enough in the sky that you can see individual windows and distinct plane markings? What's the logic behind that? Does it make them easier to shoot down?

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The war on information continues unabated. Yesterday it was revealed that the Bush Administration intends to clamp down on the relase of Presidential papers, by Executive Order.

"The proposed order, dated Oct. 29, grew out of a decision by the Bush administration early this year to block the release of 68,000 pages of confidential communications between President Ronald Reagan and his advisers that officials at the National Archives, including the Reagan library, had wanted to make public.

Relying on an obscure executive order that Reagan issued just before leaving office, White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales prescribed a series of delays so that Bush could decide whether to invoke "a constitutionally based privilege or take other appropriate action."

The papers in question, some dealing with Reagan-era officials who now have high posts in the Bush administration, were to have been disclosed last January under the 1978 law, which said that the documents could be restricted at the most for 12 years after Reagan left office."

Not only is this an open admission that the Administration intends to pursue courses of action which it feels necessary to hide from the American people, it also makes it clear that the "Reagan-era officials" now back in the saddle still have some skeletons in their closets.

No surprise there, at least not to anyone who was paying attention back then.

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