But doesn’t this show a split between rhetoric and action ? The politicians and economists of the west had been saying that communism cannot work. Doesn’t the Afghan operation show that they didn’t have confidence in this, and that they thought it could sustain itself long term ?
Or did they envisage that the whole world could go communist, domino by domino, and then collapse on itself ?
I think it was too large of a risk to allow Communism to fall of it’s own weight without actively undermining it on the world stage. What’s more, it would impact US economics and trade for an upredictable length of time. And once again, there was no guarantee that it would fail - just lots of trash talk that it would.
There is nothing in Afganistan that was of interest to the US except that Russia invaded to prop up a nascent communist government and to stem the rise of islamist extermism which was a real threat to the USSR’s national security. Thus, US support of Afghan resistance fighters was an opportunity to hurt Russia under the cloak of “defending Afghan freedom” by the US. In the end, it bit America on the ass.
Even with hindsight, I’d support the U.S. actions in arming the Afghans. The Soviet defeat hastened the fall of their regime, hugely reducing the global risk of a nuclear World War 3. Compared to that, the 9/11 attacks are regrettable but minor.
I think you’re missing a nuance in the “politicians and economists” argument.
I don’t think that you would find a whole lot of anyone in the late '70s or '80s who thought that the mess of a centrally planned enconomy was going to force the fall of th USSR within the next decade.
I think you’d find that criticized the USSR for “not working” would instead say that the broken system leads to poor economic outcomes (empty grocery stores), lack of innovation (no Xerox machines), political repression (gulags etc), and military adventurism (Afghanistan and the arms race). At the time, I think most people who paid attention to this stuff thought that all of these factors would someday be the downfall of the USSR, but most likely the vast majority of them would think that the country was still extremely dangerous and that it could continue ruling through fear and oppression for many years to come - but not forever.
And when Operation Cyclone began, I think the general views of both that Carter and Reagan White Houses were to make the Russians pay with blood in a war that had basically no risk to the United States, along with some satisfaction of revenge for Soviet support of communist Vietnam. I don’t think at the beginning there was a coherent idea of, “If we give weapons to the muj then Eastern Europe will be free in ten years.”
Politicians and economists of the West were not quite so sure communism would not work. At least until the early 1960’s there was a belief amongst many that the USSR was outperforming the West economically; Kruschev, with a straight face would argue as much to Nixon. Ten to fifteen years of economic malaise later and it still wasn’t a given that the USSR was in terminal economic decline.
Even today its obvious North Korea is an absolute basket-case economically. Yet no-one dare predict when that regime will collapse. If we have a chance to undermine NK we most likely would.
Seriously? Do they actually teach history in the U.S anymore? The Russians in Afghanistan meant that they could eventually use hat as a base to attempt to gain a warm water port at Karachi and also threaten the Persian Gulf. Thats why the Getting such a port has been Russian strategic obsession for two centuries and also the attempts of their enemies to stop them.
Having read the declassified documentation of NSC debates on intervention for my graduate studies in Cold War history, as well as some declassified debates of the Politburo Central Committee about the decision on whether to intervene in support of the PDPA, I will have to say that yes, some people do read history.
I don’t recall anything in those documents about the Soviets working to invade Pakistan. Care to share where you got that idea? School in Pakistan, perhaps?
Got me there, I don’t know how far-reaching the effect of the Afghan resistance was meant to be - a serious blow or a critical wound ?
However it is the job of economists and politicians to be able to figure out how long an economic and political set-up is meant to last. if they couldn’t predict the fall, like they couldn’t predict the crash of 2008, then what are their theories for, and why don’t they get some equations that actually work ?
I find the idea that the Soviets would have invaded Pakistan to be highly implausible. An invasion of Pakistan by the Soviets would have antagonized India and been orders of magnitude more difficult than an invasion of Afghanistan.
Unless you can provide a document from the Soviets that says they were seriously planning this (aside from some hypothetical war-gaming scenarios), I’m not inclined to believe this.
Zbigniew Brzezinski has consistently said over the years that his objective was to “make the Soviets bleed.” I think that sort of speaks for itself.
And software engineers are supposed to write code that cannot crash. What good are they if they can’t achieve that?
Well, political leaders, economists, and software engineers produce value even if they don’t perform to standards that normal humans could not possibly achieve. And in this case, the political leaders and economists were generally correct: the Soviet Union fell for more or less the reasons that people said the reasons it was weak. But blaming them for not predicting when it would happen? Come on. A doctor can tell you you’re going to die of heart disease, cancer, heroin addiction, or whatever, but you think the doctor needs to provide a pretty precise timeline of when that’s going to happen? Totally unrealistic.
As it is, Pakistan Government documents reveal that they did not believe that the Russians intended (then) to invade, the number of troops committed to Afghanistan and Soviet C Asia was insufficient to do so.
Let me jump in and add one thing in AK84’s defense, sort of. The Carter Doctrine announced in early 1980 did indeed threaten U.S. military retaliation against countries that would threaten access to the Persian Gulf. Sure, there’s a relation to Afghanistan there… but also to the Iranian revolution, the Soviet intervention in the Horn of Africa, the oil crisis that was just in existence anyway, and other factors.
But we know now for a fact that the Soviets had no intention of trying to invade Pakistan. And since U.S. aid to Afghan rebels began before the Soviet invasion, well, the timeline just doesn’t add up. Brzezinski has been quoted (arguably out of context) as saying that the whole point of beginning aid to the mujaheddin was to draw the Soviets into Afghanistan and get get them bogged down, like a Soviet Vietnam.
But I agree, the idea that U.S. policy toward Afghanistan was fixated on blunting a Soviet invasion of Pakistan is just not plausible. It was clearly about addressing a failure of containment and moving into a strategic national policy of limited rollback of Communist influence, and doing so in the least risky way to the US, with the thought that pushing back against the Soviets would cause all sorts of problems with the USSR to come to the forefront.
But the parallels to Syria here are interesting. It took Operation Cyclone five-plus years to get rolling, and another few years after that to really weaken the USSR into a humiliating withdrawal. Does the United States have the same sort of patience with respect to a Syria policy? Doesn’t seem like it. Training the Syrian rebels was a total failure, to be sure, but quite a few people (especially on this board) have already jumped to the conclusion that Putin has won because two years have gone by and the US hasn’t ousted Assad yet.
My thought is that the fat lady has not yet sung, and won’t for several years.
This isn’t the 1950s. By 1980, the risk of World War 3 was pretty low, and the global system did a decent job of containing non-state actors. Now we have to worry about non-state actors and loose nukes and all of that. The collapse of the Soviets changed a very manageable (and low) thread to a very difficult to manage one.
We should have just stayed out of Afghanistan. But the interference with Afghanistan is typical of the “cutting of your nose to spite your face” foreign policy beloved by a significant chunk of the American population.
I’m familiar with the Brzezinski quote but I’m not sure whether he meant bleed to death. It may have been what he wanted, but maybe not what he thought was possible.
Would the SU have maintained itself without the external attacks ? It was at war and under attack from the beginning so it’s not a question of whether it is self sustaining but whether it can win a war. Given that the communist world was vastly outnumbered, even if you count the Chinese, can we say how sustainable it was ?
Doctors can be bought every bit as much as economists, and we’ve all seen how vested interest works - smoking isn’t bad for you etc.
I would think one reason for antipathy to getting those equations right is that they may paint a future which isn’t as rosy as the wrong equations paint, and that’s not good for public confidence.
Better for who? The Russians? The Afghan puppet government? Maybe. Probably, in fact, since I’m not sure the rebels could have fought on without major supplies and funding from the US, at least no to the extent they did.
Because they were doing some fairly horrible things in Afghanistan and there were a number of political and voting factions in the US that didn’t like that? We weren’t supplying the Afghan rebels because we magically knew this would be the straw that broke the USSR’s back, we were doing it because a number of US politicians and press had gone to Afghanistan, saw what was going on, felt the appeal of the rebels was something we should and could do to make the Russian’s occupation more miserable, and did it. None of the people who supported sending aid to the Afghan rebels did so because they had a crystal ball and knew the USSR was going to collapse.
And I don’t see that they had the capability either. Maintaining a logistical train through Afghanistan to subdue a population the size of Pakistan simply wasn’t in the cards. And on top of that, the US would have certainly responded to a Soviet invasion of Pakistan far more directly than Afghanistan, and the Chinese probably would have indirectly come into the action as well. Maybe if they had Indian support, they could maintain the logistical train, but the Indians would have likely been completely opposed to a Soviet invasion of Pakistan.
In the US, though, this fanciful notion of a Soviet invasion of Pakistan was used to drum up support for the US intervention. So, no, I’m not buying this at all.