There’s been no shortage of right-wing criticism of Barack Obama’s policy towards Russia. But some are advising he be more like…. Jimmy Carter?
Obama is not the first president to conduct a weak foreign policy. Jimmy Carter was similarly inclined–until Russia invaded Afghanistan, at which point the scales fell from Carter’s eyes.
From that moment on, he writes, Carter “responded boldly,” winding up with
the massive military aid we began sending the mujaheddin, whose insurgency so bled the Russians over the next decade that they not only lost Afghanistan but were fatally weakened as a global imperial power.
Invasion woke Carter from his illusions. Will it wake Obama?
Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson (3/17/14) seemed to crib from Krauthammer’s analysis a few days later, explaining that “in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan,” Carter “began aid to Afghan insurgents.” Gerson closed with this:
This is now the state of Obama’s foreign policy: He must rise to Carter-era levels of resolve.
There are at least two points that deserve clarification. Carter’s support for the anti-Soviet mujaheddin did not actually begin after the 1980 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In 1998, Carter national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski gave a revealing interview to the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur (cited in CounterPunch, 1/15/98), where he explained what really happened:
Brzezinski: 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 December 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?
Brzezinski: It isn’t quite that. We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.
He added: “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 interview became more prominent after the September 11 attacks, which drew considerable media attention to this history, since Al-Qaeda’s origin is linked to Osama bin Laden’s experience in Afghanistan. As the Nation‘s Eric Alterman (11/12/01) noted: “The truth is that the United States began a program of covert aid to the Afghan guerrillas six months before the Soviets invaded.”
So it’s inaccurate to describe Carter’s support for Afghan insurgents as a consequence of the Soviet invasion; to hear Brzezinski tell it, the reality was more the other way around.
But a more fundamental question might be: Do Krauthammer and Gerson really believe that what transpired in Afghanistan in the 1980s is something to be emulated now? The war killed thousands of Soviet forces; the Afghan death toll could have topped a million. But from the perspective of US Cold Warriors, the loss of life is secondary to the real goal of humiliating the Soviet Union.
Does anyone want that kind of war over Ukraine? Krauthammer seems to. His most recent column (3/20/14) mocks the US offer of military rations:
Putin mobilizes thousands of troops, artillery and attack helicopters on Ukraine’s borders and Washington counters with baguettes, American-style. One thing we can say for sure in these uncertain times: The invasion of Ukraine will be catered by the United States.
Why did we deny Ukraine weapons? Because in the Barack Obama/John Kerry worldview, arming the victim might be taken as a provocation.
Krauthammer offered Obama some advice: “Send the secretary of Defense to Kiev tomorrow to negotiate military assistance…. Putin is deciding whether to go beyond Crimea and take eastern Ukraine. Show him some seriousness, Mr. President.”
For people who think of the Soviet/Afghan war as some kind of model, it is not hard to figure out what these words mean. One has to wonder how many Ukrainians they believe need to die in order to send Putin the right message.