January 10, 2012
The question is a simple one. Why aren’t those who claim to be “realists” when it comes to foreign policy actually realists? [George Orwell knew.]
The question stems from my reading of a book, Ghost Wars, by Steve Coll, which claims to be “the secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001.” It is an excellent book, one well worth a read or two. In large part, it is excellent because it illuminates how the United States, belied by its obsession with sticking it to the Soviet Union, followed policies that in the end caused “blowback” in the form of the attacks of 9/11. Basically, the United States chose to support radical Islamists in Afghanistan [and Pakistan] in order, first, to prolong the USSR’s war in Afghanistan and, second, to try to “win” there. Of course, by conventional accounts we did “win” in Afghanistan, helping to force the Soviets out and perhaps even leading to the demise of the Soviet Union. We had also made the same choice in Egypt after our politicians decided that Nasser was going to go communist, supporting there even the Muslim Brotherhood in order to “offset” Nasser’s power – and of course the MB were trying to assassinate Nasser. This according to another book I am reading entitled Castles Made of Sand, a recent publication about the history of Anglo-American involvement in the Middle East.
Here is a quote and see if you can figure out which realist made it: “We have a common task – Afghanistan, the U.S., and the civilized world – to launch a joint struggle against fundamentalism. If fundamentalism comes to Afghanistan, war will continue for many years. Afghanistan will turn into a center of world smuggling for narcotic drugs. Afghanistan will be turned into a center for terrorism.” Well, if you thought “Reagan” you would be wrong. If you thought the CIA, you would be wrong. If you thought Dick Cheney, you would be wrong. If you thought George H.W. Bush, you would be wrong. Ah, but if you thought Najibullah, who was the Soviets’ man in Kabul in the early 90s, you would be correct. And note should be taken that Najibullan was correct: fundamentalism came to Afghanistan, with the help of the U.S.A., and it served corruption, it was a center for drugs, and it turned into a center for terrorism, with dire consequences for the United States.
So, why didn’t our “realists” know this? Generally, because what the “realists” take to be “reality” isn’t. That is, it isn’t “real reality” as I like to put it. Our “realists” don’t see “real reality” because they are obsessed with power. They think that they can manipulate “things” by cunning and the vigorous use of power and achieve “success,” whatever that might mean at any given time. They are, in fact, blinded by their “realism” because their “realism” offers a skewed view of the human situation, of the human condition. They are not, in fact, “realists.” Rather, they are delusional. In point of fact, you might even say they are “mad.” Don’t believe it? Think about this aphorism from the Vietnam War: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” This was policy. And it was and is madness.