What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Contrasting quotes of the day

Quote from an interview in the May-June edition of the American Interest:

"... we were dealing with a powerful Soviet Union that was on a roll. The Soviet Union maintained terrorist training camps all over their country."
That is Zbigniew Brzeziński - formerly President Carter's National Security Advisor, currently one of Obama's foreign policy advisors - saying why "he would do it again." Meaning giving support to the Afghan resistance.
To clarify my views a little, I think that asking Brzeziński about this doesn't make that much sense. What he agreed to in 1979 against the Afghan communist regime, when the CIA came up with an "initial options" paper in the wake of the Herat revolt, and what he later proposed doing when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, was on a much smaller scale than what Afghan operations turned into later on, under Reagan, Bill Casey and all the others, including Charlie Wilson. And he of course didn't have the post-9/11 retrospective wisdom of what starting the indirect cooperation with Islamists would lead to, when making his decisions.
His Polish origin (Brzeziński moved to Canada as a child still before World War Two with his family - his father was a Polish diplomat) surely also had an impact. Though not so strong I would think, since Brzeziński's Afghanistan-related decisions were more a result of the application of a Realism-based doctrine of foreign policy-making. (And back in the 1950s he was against the idea of roll-back in East-Central Europe, saying it could be counterproductive.) But he has seen in his life a number of insurgencies put down by the Soviet Union, like the Polish Armija Krajowa's, the UPA's (the Ukrainian Insurgent Army's) or the Forest Brethren's, all in the historical area of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (the Rzeczpospolita). All those insurgents received only minimal assistance from outside, even while some of them were expressedly hoping for an active Third World War instead of a Cold War. By the time communists took power in Afghanistan, the Cold War superpowers already had the experience of fighting proxy wars mixed with covert operations that they could keep under control. So even if the overly enthusiastic views of a worldwide conflagration held by some of the insurgents with local agendas weren't shared by the superpowers' policy-makers who came across them in some corner of the world while playing their game - being, as they were, interested in efficient statecraft with global implications to mind rather - that could only affect calculations inasmuch as some caution was advised.
So Brzeziński's statement that he would do it again is understandable in that sense, if one is not taking a retrospective point of view, even if the above statement about the Soviet terrorist training camps is itself a very post-9/11'ish justification.
But the local perspective is always there to consider as well. So here are the words of the caretaker of Afghanistan's new Jihad Museum, written of at Heart of Asia (check out some new blogs I'm soon linking to on the right btw):
" The caretaker of the museum said, “If I had known what the future held, I wouldn’t have helped in the Inqalab (revolt against the communists in Herat). We fought so we wouldn’t be the servants of the Soviets but now we’re the servants of everyone.” "
So, there you have it. The contrast! Brzeziński tells you he would do it again. And the Jihad Museum's caretaker says he wouldn't.
I think that nowadays global and local interests shouldn't diverge that much even in the long run regarding Afghanistan, depending of course on how you conceptualise those... Oh, but this post is spilling over into another topic, which I won't go into a discussion of right now.

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