Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna • John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland
The Two US-Afghan Wars
Lenni Brenner
© Ted Rall, Universal Press Syndicate
Lenni Brenner: Zionism in the Age of the Dictators - A Reappraisal (1983)
Lenni Brenner: The Iron Wall - Zionist Revisionism from Jabotinsky to Shamir (1984)

In every military conflict, it is crucial to study the etiology, the 1st causes & early stages that developed into the contemporary clash. The past is the structural girding of the ever-passing present & future. "War is nothing but the continuation of politics by other means." Karl von Clausewitz's profundity, taught in every serious military academy, must be always in mind, when analyzing terrorism & the establishments it attacks.

Islamic fundamentalism obviously has native roots in Afghanistan. However, it was dramatic political events in neighboring Pakistan & Iran, & even further away in Saudi Arabia & Egypt, that set the stage for the development of fundamentalism as a modern political & military world power.  

After losing Bangladesh in 1972, the prime fear of the Pakistani military was that Pashto-dominated Afghanistan would agitate Pakistan's North-West Frontier province Pashtos on a nationalist basis & bring down the battered regime. After his 1977 coup, General Zia ul-Haq grasped that fundamentalism, in both countries, was the only ideological alternative to the nationalists & Stalinists. He provided funds for Pakistani Koran-thumping schools, & a haven for Afghan fundamentalists, already in conflict with the semi-modernizing government in Kabul, even before the native Stalinists & military seized power in 1978. When Washington pitched intervention into Afghanistan, Zia was in place to play catcher. 

From The Village Voice, USA, December 4th 2001

To Afghanistan's west, the February 1979 downfall of the Shah of Iran, then America's pivotal native satrap in the Persian Gulf, at the hands of Shia Islam, opened Muslim minds, everywhere, to the possibility of doing something similar in their own countries, even tho most Muslims, in Afghanistan & the world, are Sunni, & the 2 groups' theologians see each other as heretics. 

On the East, stood Maoist China, with relentlessly hostility to the Soviet Union governing its policy towards Kabul.  

This was the regional matrix in 1979, when Jimmy Carter & Zbigniew Brzezinski covertly intervened on the side of Afghani Sunni fundamentalists in rebellion against the native Stalinist regime, which came to power via a 1978 coup, in alliance with military elements, without coaching by Moscow. Washington's policy was driven by global cold war considerations, without serious concern for the direct consequences for Afghan society of that strategy.  

Subsequently, in 1988, Ronald Reagan worked a deal whereby Soviet troops withdrew from the country in 1989, & the US stopped arming its mujahedeen holy warriors. In 1992, the fanatics, already armed to the teeth, with stinger rockets that could bring down planes, brought down Muhammad Najibullah's isolated regime.  

Saudi Arabian Wahabbi intervention, personified in Osama bin Laden, was the 3rd crucial ingredient for Reagan's success in driving Moscow out. The guardians of Mecca provided theological respectability to the struggle vs. the "atheist" modernists in Kabul. So constituted, according to Reagan's "Afghanistan Day" proclamation of March 21, 1983, "The resistance of the Afghan freedom fighters is an example to all the world of the invincibility of the ideals we in this country hold most dear, the ideals of freedom and independence." Yes, indeed.  

Bin Laden, then pro-Saudi dynasty, recruited more technologically advanced youthful ultras from Saudia & elsewhere in the Arab & Muslim worlds. Utilization of fundamentalism against secularism, in its nationalist & anti-capitalist forms, was also the policy of Anwar Sadat's Egyptian state bureaucracy, threatened by left-populist currents still strong in that country, with its history of struggles against British imperialism & then Zionism. In 1980, Sadat eagerly contributed Kalashnickov assault rifles, given to Egypt by the USSR, to the gallant "Afghan freedom fighters," against the Soviets. (To make this blowback epic complete, Sadat was later assassinated by - you guessed right - Islamic fundamentalists, tho I could not say, even with a gun to my head, if they did it with a Kalashnickov.) 

© Rob Rogers, (from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, USA), Universal Press Syndicate

The combined interveners defeated the mighty Soviet army, producing a triumphalist mentality in bin Laden & cothinkers in the Islamic world. When the US sent Christian & Jewish troops into Saudia in 1990-91, to protect the dynasty against Saddam Hussein, bin Laden saw them as puppets of infidels, & ideologically took off from Saudi-loyalty to land ultimately in Afghanistan & theological-political madness. The sword of Allah, who helped bring down the mighty Soviet army, confident in his sectarian triumphalism, turned on the power that provided his Sunni fundamentalists with the sinews of modern militarism, without which his medievalism couldn't have come to power. 

The best analogy to the relationship between Washington & bin Laden is that of Germany's capitalists to Adolf Hitler in 1929-33. They were looking for an anti-Marxist kickass as Germany entered the world Depression. They weren't thinking about killing almost 6 million Jews. But that's what happened when they looked to a right-wing militarized fanatic for the solution to their problems.  

Carter & Reagan needed a homicidal holy warrior against the Soviet Union. While neither was exactly a feminist, domestically, they weren't motivated by personal anti-feminism in backing Afghanistan's world class male-chauvinists. But, in arming those women-haters, they set in train a chain of political forces that produced one of history's major disasters, for America, Afghanistan & the world.  

Be certain that the bulk of voters, in 1980-88, never gave a thought to what the Democrats & Republicans they voted for were doing in Afghanistan. For decades, polls have shown that only a small minority of Americans follow US foreign policy, if Americans aren't being killed. Most Americans, then & up to 9/11, knew nothing or next to nothing about Afghanistan.  

No mincing words, no evasions, no hypocrisy: The best argument against the possibility of democracy in Afghanistan, & in the larger Islamic world, is its utter failure here, & no better example of that miscarriage could be imagined than the easy time that the White House had, getting military aid to Islamic fundamentalism passed by a Congress full of Christian & Jewish cynics. 

No political crisis in modern times has better illustrated the massive gap between the informed, regardless of their politics, & the vast majority of unpolitical Americans, than 9/11. The quality media, the NY Times & Co., constantly referred to the previous US involvement with the fundamentalists. Many commentators saw the situation as a prime example of "blowback," i.e., the belated consequences of opportunist CIA involvement with anti-Stalinist criminals, mad-dogs off the leash. With that in mind, they documented the sordid history of America's present "white hats," & gave us an unprecedented low-blow-by-low-blow account of their present crimes. 

In general, the informed understand that the US is now confronted with severe problems in establishing a stable regime in Afghanistan, to say nothing about & the larger questions involved in Washington's spiraling entanglement with the wider Muslim world. On the other hand, the masses alternate between childlike patriotism & paranoia. We have all seen street peddlers selling red, white & blue baby socks. But, at the same time, many of many of their customers are afraid to go into tall buildings, & air travel is massively off, even months later. 

What unites the 2 contrasting attitudes is the traumatic quality of the public reaction. I remember Pearl Harbor, & every war since. The Japanese attack was a surprise, but the country then matter of factly went to war. Within days, fear of a direct air attack on California was replaced with mature concern for German U-boat attacks on coastal shipping, etc. Presently, there is a free floating anxiety further generated by anthrax mail, copycat terrorism, as with the kid in Florida who crashed his plane into a building, false bomb threats & the like. The ignorant are looking for a savior. In some cases literal theological intervention, in others, they are making heroes out of cops, firemen, even Rudy Giuliani. But the informed, especially in New York, are also deeply effected. They can't go back readily to politics as usual, try as they will. For them, now, its, for example, in NYC, politics as she has been effected by 9/11 & its consequences.

© Kal (fromThe Baltimore Sun, USA), Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate

This provides the crucial avenue for the anti-war movement to reach both the sophisticated & the great politically unwashed. But only if it cleans up its act.  

Millions of Muslims around the world believed that "the Zionists did it," that thousands of Israelis were told to stay away from the WTC on 9/11, etc. But even here in the US we heard such nonsense, in some Arab political circles, & even, to a lesser degree, in the general American anti-war movement. Certainly there was a widespread conviction, at least in the early days of the crisis, that "Bush hasn't made his case that bin Laden did it."

These absurdities reflected the changes in the internal character of the Middle East anti-war movement over the last 20 years. In 1982, when the Israelis let the Lebanese Phalangists enter Sabra & Shatilla to slaughter hundreds of Palestinians, no one doubted that the Phalangists did it. Indeed, even before that atrocity, the movement here was against "Zionism, US imperialism & Arab reaction."  

Focus on the Arab right diminished sharply after the Oslo accords. When a basically new movement evolved, after the obvious failure of that pact, it rested, primarily, on a new stratum of young Palestinians, who were born or raised here. The new cadre had little or no 1st hand experience of life in the larger Arab world, & not much sustained concern for the internal politics of that milieu, except in so far as it touched directly on the Palestine issue. Generic Palestinian nationalism replaced Arab nationalism as the broad ideology of the movement here.  

Thus there was virtually no discussion of the gigantic Berber demonstrations in Algeria, & no discussion of the chronic civil war in the Sudan. There was a degree of solidarity work against the ongoing monstrous social carnage in Iraq, caused by the US stranglehold on its economy, but no discussion of the internal politics of the country, ruled by a once secular despot, who, his regime announced, then gave 50 pints of his own blood as ink for a Koran.

Given inattention to the broader Arab nation, there was no discussion of fundamentalism, except within the Palestinian movement, re Hamas & Islamic Jihad, & not much discussion of them. The focus was on Zionist oppression, & Arafat's reaction to it, not the internal quality of Palestinian & Arab politics. Therefore, when the towers & the Pentagon were hit by suicide bombers, the broad movement here was as shocked by those profound events, as the general public, & likewise reacted emotionally.  

Many Arab-Americans feared they would be rounded up, as Arabs &/or as politicals. When TV showed Palestinians cheering the destruction, many convinced themselves that the photos were staged. Some may have been, in the age-old way of photographers everywhere. But, for certain, many did cheer. But soon we saw emails about Israelis arrested cheering the destruction in NY, Israelis with boxcutters on the George Washington Bridge, & Co.  

The professional psychological terms for this are simple enough: Denial & projection.

Most American lefts were not ethnically fearful of retaliation for suicide bombers, so few, beyond congenital Kennedy conspiracy buffs like Ralph Schoenman, are into "the Zionists did it." But we saw a subtle form of "Bush did it." There were demonstration planning meetings in NY, which began with a minute of silence for the victims at the WTC, & then the focus of attention was on stopping Bush's war, not bin Laden's.  

In this matrix, emails flew about, re gas in &/or pipelines through Afghanistan. There is gas in Afghanistan. But neither the Soviets nor Carter nor Reagan nor his successors based their politics on this. There is more accessible gas elsewhere. And the oil industry knows that the cheapest & quickest way to get Caspian oil & gas to the world market is with a pipeline through Iran, not Afghanistan.  

Forgive the expression, but Marxist fundamentalists reduce a complex event to familiar terms, in this case, imperialism. However Bush didn't bomb the Pentagon. Bin Laden did. Bush reacted to that. In so doing, he was America, the political-military conjurer, trying to get his monster, armed religious fanaticism, back into the magician's top hat. He wasn't looking for gas, any more than he is looking to get in the middle between Pakistan & India. 

These & other substitutes for reality take attention away from studying the undisputed facts of the situation. But if we look clinically at the history of US-Afghan politics we immediately see the primordial flaw built into Washington's position, post-1979, which must be confronted by everyone, in our post 9/11 here & now.  

© Chip Bok (from the Akron Beacon Journel, USA), Creators Syndicate

Two things are unmistakable:  

  • Arming male chauvinist religious fanatics against the pro-Soviet, but also feminist, Kabul regime was criminal. It can't be defended, as such, today.
  • Establishing now a "reformed" remake of the pre-Taliban male chauvinist regime, where women are "almost" equal, will also be a criminal act.

Carter got away with his war crime because the vast majority of feminist leaders then looked to the Democratic Party for defense & extension of female equality here. They weren't peeking very hard at any aspect of his foreign policy, much less his Afghan policies. Later, they knew the Democrats defended the Saudi male-chauvinists, straight through Clinton's affair with Monica. But we are discussing identity-politicians, narcissists, essentially, whose politics reflected that syndrome. For them, the political stage is local & national, at most, because governmental policies at those levels effect them. Feminism as an international cause, refusing to vote for a domestically pro-abortion party, because it arms male chauvinists abroad, was beyond them. Ignoring Democratic male chauvinist foreign policy, they were in no great haste to go after it under Republicans.  

Now, after 9/11, Afghanistan & Saudi Arabia will be the news for a long time to come. They can't be ignored. Gloria Steinem, an ex-CIA collaborator, then a mindless celebrity member of Democratic Socialists of America, a Democratic Party outrider, has been on TV, talking about Afghan women's rights. How far will she go in the struggle for those rights? Given her morbid history, we have to wait & see. But, if we make international women's rights a litmus test issue for the public, we expose both parties in the "bipartisan" system in front of millions of young women here, who don't come with her baggage.  

Now, after the traumatic effect of 9/11, they can't ever go back to the parochial narcissism of their older sisters. Military women are stationed in Saudia & the Middle East. Every woman's tax money will go to building a new Afghan state. If they say no money to any regime that denies basic American style rights to women, you wouldn't want to get in their way if you were running for election.

If we step on that pedal, equality for women is the issue that will force the informed to think through their politics to a profoundly anti-establishment position. At the same time, it is the road to the ignorant, those who knew nothing about Afghanistan before hand, & who have little understanding of it now, but who now at least know that it is important that they should. 

Underneath their present patriotism, they are practical feminists. In their language, "let's go guys, we're eating out tonight," or whatever, means all the boys & girls in their family. Its our duty & pleasure to show them that the US dumped on that great truth in the past in Afghanistan, & is doing it again. 

To be sure, there are many other facets to the Afghan situation. But the issue of women's rights is singularly central to its past, present & future. Now, after 9/11, Afghan women's rights, & Saudi women's rights, indeed women's rights everywhere, will become distinctly crucial in America's present &, be sure, its future.

© Tom Tomorrow

Washington has varying relationships with the host of "Islamic" governments, more properly, states whose populations are majority Muslim, from the Saudi guardians of Mecca, Shia Iran, through to rigidly separatist Turkey, & Malaysia, where ethnicity, not religion, are the basis for statehood, & their relationship to the outside world. There is even Surinam in South America, with its immigrant Muslim history. Therefore, any generality about America's future relationship with all of them is bound to be wrong. All but one: Neither official Washington nor official Islam will come out of their present relationships well.  

The proverb has it that fools outnumber the wise in every country in the world. As I write, that world's attention is focused on Islamic fanaticism, & correctly so. But there are 284 million Americans, 207 million adults, 18+, with the right to vote. Our natural history museums are complete with dinosaurs bones, scientifically certified to be millions of years old. Yet 46% of Americans, mostly Christians, believe that God created the world about ten thousand years ago.  

In 1969, Billy Graham, the most famous Protestant preacher of his time, told 20,000 people in Madison Square Garden that he believed that, after you die, if you are a Christian, God sends you, via extra-sensory perception, to other planets in the universe, to convert their heathen populations. When me & my ace photographer buddy asked each other if we were hearing right, our neighbors shushed us. We were in top row, side seats for the view of the audience. Trust me: We were the only skeptics in the crowd.  

Those folks were black & white. They voted for Hubert Humphrey, Vice President during the Vietnam war, or Nixon, later impeached for burglarizing the Democrats. In 2000, their contemporary Christian cothinkers, black & white, voted for Al Bore or George W. Mush, who recently told the world, including its 19.1% Muslims, that he was in a "crusade" against terrorism, i.e., their terrorism. Smart he ain't & smart isn't a word easily applied to American voters.  

We have entered a harrowing epoch, full of fanatic terrorists fighting wannabe Machiavellis, in front of political children of all ages. No one needs a prophet to know that many innocent names shall be stricken from the book of life before the world crisis is resolved. But those all too real facts can be humanity's political salvation. The knowledgeable, & those now open to knowledge, now have no choice but to confront those grotesque facts, dead on, as it were, and can rise to the occasion, and defeat both the holy warriors & the crusaders.