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At September 1’s press briefing about Afghanistan’s Armageddon Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley stated: “There are many tactical, operational and strategic lessons to be learned.” True – but so far, in their post mortems the Pentagon brass, diplomats, news media, etc., have mostly ignored exactly when, how and why the US became so disastrously embroiled in Afghanistan, and in doing so have completely missed the point.

As the Afghanistan apocalypse unravels, handing US foreign policy and militarism their most crushing, humiliating defeats since Saigon 1975, government officials, generals, journalists and even peace activists erroneously refer to Washington’s intervention in the Central Asian nation as “the 20-year war.” Although it’s correct that (along with the global war on terror) this was indeed America’s longest war, it is at best imprecise plus incomplete and at worst disinformation to cite the US’s Afghan interference as lasting only two decades. To do so is to entirely misinterpret and obfuscate exactly what’s wrong with White House, State and Defense Department realpolitik, and to set the American people up for the next unwinnable debacle abroad with another endless cycle of warfare somewhere in the Third World. For as philosopher George Santayana famously said: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

It’s inaccurate, as amnesiac statesmen, high-ranking officers, commentators and some peaceniks keep repeating, ad nauseum, that the USA’s involvement in Afghanistan began as a response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America. Doing so is another BIG LIE that totally begs the question as to how Afghanistan came to be ruled by medieval Islamist extremists who the US believed provided a base of operations for foreign jihadis in the first place. To understand this, we have to go back 42 years – not 20 – to 1979, not to 2001. In doing so, objective observers can learn precisely what the problem is with Washington’s geopolitics, so we’ll never make these disastrous mistakes again.

The chaos currently unfolding in Afghanistan can be traced directly back to Carter and his Democratic administration.

96-year-old Jimmy Carter is popularly perceived as a peanut farmer-turned-president who pursued human rights, a model ex-prez who served as an election observer and builder of Habitat for Humanity homes after leaving office. But beneath the benevolent persona and toothy smile, the chaos currently unfolding in Afghanistan can be traced directly back to Carter and his Democratic administration. In a Jan. 15-21, 1998 interview headlined “How Jimmy Carter and I Started the Mujahideen” in the weekly French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski confessed: 

“According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahideen began during 1980, that 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,” when “the Red Army rolled into the country on December 24, 1979” (Afghanistan: The Soviet Union’s Vietnam | News | Al Jazeera).

Asked 20 years after this Big Lie was spread and tens of thousands of lives were lost “You don't regret anything today?”, Brzezinski replied: “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.”

When Le Nouvel Observateur pressed the Cold War hawk, asking: “And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic [fundamentalism], having given arms and advice to future terrorists?” Sounding like a Machiavellian grandmaster moving pawns across a geopolitical chess board, Brzezinski responded:“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?” ('How Jimmy Carter and I Started the Mujahideen ' (

Although Washington was thousands of miles away from Kabul, while the USSR shared a border of around 1,000 miles with Afghanistan, under Carter and Brzezinski the US covertly began intervening in Afghan internal affairs before the Soviets invaded – not after, as Moscow had correctly claimed but Washington concealed and lied about for decades. In the Le Nouvel Observateur Q&A Zbig was corroborating what ex-CIA chief Robert Gates admitted in his 1996 memoir, aptly entitled From the Shadows.

The Carter regime opened the floodgates for the most expensive US clandestine operation to date, prophetically codenamed “Operation Cyclone,” whose wild winds are still blowing. As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tim Weiner wrote Jan. 7, 2019 in The Washington Post: “The CIA smuggled billions of dollars in weapons into the hands of the Afghan resistance. That bled the Red Army, leaving at least 15,000 soldiers and commandos dead on the battlefield…

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“A thousand-page trove of just-declassified White House, CIA and State Department documents adds significantly to our knowledge of what happened before and after the Soviet invasion. It shows that in 1980, President Carter’s CIA spent close to $100 million shipping weapons to the Afghan resistance.

“Carter’s global gun-running was more aggressive than we knew. He aimed to oust the Soviets… In the 1980s, it grew to become the biggest American covert action of the Cold War. President Reagan eventually upped the ante to $700 million a year… Soon Afghanistan was awash with billions of dollars in weapons.”

In DC’s anti-Soviet zeal, one of the Jihadis armed and funded by the CIA was named Osama bin Laden, whom ex-CIA consultant Chalmers Johnson called in his 2000 book Blowback, The Costs and Consequences of American Empire “a former protégé of the United States.” When the Cold War was winding down, Pres. George H.W. Bush decided to squander our “Peace Dividend” on yet another military misadventure, this time getting embroiled in disputes between Iraq and Kuwait. According to Blowback, bin Laden “turned against the United States in 1991 because he regarded the stationing of American troops in his native Saudi Arabia [where Mecca is located] during and after the Persian Gulf War as a violation of his religious beliefs.” 

In a circa 2003 piece entitled “The Largest Covert Operation in CIA History,” Johnson went on to write: “the ‘tens of thousands of fanatical Muslim fundamentalists’ the CIA armed are some of the same people who in 1996 killed 19 American airmen at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia; bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 [eight years to the day of US troops being deployed to Saudi Arabia]; blew a hole in the side of the U.S. destroyer Cole in Aden harbor in 2000…” (The Largest Covert Operation in CIA History | History News Network)

UBL is believed to have executed these escalating terrorist attacks, and according to the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief entitled “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US.”: “Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate Bin Ladin since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US. Bin Ladin implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and ‘bring the fighting to America.’” Despite his track record of successfully striking US assets and threats, Washington turned a deaf ear to UBL’s demand that the US withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia.

In his 2002 Oscar-winner Bowling for Columbine Michael Moore brilliantly, incisively, sums up US foreign policy and covert actions in the “What a Wonderful World” montage sequence (Bowling for Columbine-What a Wonderful World - video Dailymotion) that culminates with jets smashing into the World Trade Center, accompanied by text reading: “Sept. 11, 2001: Osama bin Laden uses his expert C.I.A. training to murder 3,000 people,” carried out by what Brzezinski dismissed as just “Some stirred-up Moslems” – that he and Carter had supported. America’s shifting alliances in Afghanistan would give George Orwell whiplash.

On April 29, 2003, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld announced the US would withdraw all of its troops from Saudi Arabia and by August 26, 2003 they were gone. Could 9/11 have been avoided if the Yankees had just gone home two years earlier, removing a major irritant for Jihadis? If so, could the entire US-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan – the longest war in US history – have been completely avoided??? Let’s ask the survivors of loved ones lost at the Twin Towers or of soldiers killed or wounded in the Afghan War if stationing troops to protect the Saudi Kingdom – who were eventually withdrawn anyway – was worth the loss and heartache they suffered?

Likewise, let’s ask those now desperately caught up in the chaos in Afghanistan what they think of Carter and Brzezinski’s subterfuge and subversion in Central Asia? Were all these imperialist escapades worth it to those suffering now from US realpolitik? Do ordinary people from Manhattan to Kabul who suffered from US foreign policy’s unintended consequences have the “regrets” that pitiless, heartless fanatics like Brzezinski – that scion of Polish aristocracy – only mocked? 

What’s unraveling now in the Afghanistan Armageddon is a case study in exactly what’s wrong with global busybody Washington’s post-WWII geopolitics. It shows how obsessions with anti-communism and containing Russia and China, combined with US meddling as policeman of the world, have sowed the seeds of disaster now roiling Afghanistan. If Americans want to stop getting their asses kicked, they must stop sticking their noses where they don’t belong, into others’ internal affairs, especially when cloaked in secrecy while fighting dirty wars with dirtier tricks that usually end up causing blowback. Foreign policy executed via sneaky covert actions is deeply undemocratic – and certainly no way to spread democracy. Nobody likes meddlers and liars, and what’s true for individuals is likewise true on the national scale.

These are “lessons” decisionmakers like General Milley, commentators and the general public must learn from America’s 42-YEAR WAR. President Biden correctly pointed out that the Afghan misadventure cost $300 million a day, a squandering of our limited resources that could be far better spent now on pandemic, hurricane and wildfire relief, infrastructure and other pressing needs of Americans. As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 is observed, we also must pay attention to what led up to it back in 1979.

ed rampell

Washington, mind your own business and take care of your people. This isn’t isolationism; it’s anti-interventionism and simple common sense and decency. America: Heal thyself.

Ed Rampell