The Power of Nightmares
Directed by Adam Curtis
Part 2 The Phantom Victory
Part 2 focuses on the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989 – and how the CIA funded and trained the Islamist Mujahideen to combat the occupation.
Both Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and the neoconservatives claim credit for the hare-brained and incredibly short sighted scheme to recruit, fund and train a jihadist army in Afghanistan. In addition to providing sophisticated weaponry, the CIA trained the Mujahideen in terror techniques, such as assassination, car bombs and improvised explosive devices (IDEs).
Abdullah Azzam, the Palestinian who led the Mujahideen, put out a call for all Muslims to join Afghanistan’s holy war. He believed that victory in Afghanistan would inspire foreign fighters to return to their homelands and overthrow corrupt secular dictators the US was propping up.
One Saudi who answered this call was a phenomenally wealthy construction contractor named Osama bin Laden. He, too, provided funding for the Mujahideen.
Arab governments, recognizing a unique opportunity to expel their own jihadist troublemakers, opened their jails and exiled their Islamic extremists to Afhanistan. Egypt released Islamic Jihad founder Dr Zawahiri and his followers.
Gorbachov Orders Soviet Withdrawal
In 1987 when Gorbachov came to power, the Soviet Union was on the brink of economic collapse. Believing he could still save it through political reform, Gorby quickly commenced Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. He also reached out to the Bush senior administration to help install a stable government in Kabul. He warned that failure to do so would allow the Mujahideen to install an Islamic dictatorship. The neoconservatives who ran the Pentagon and State Department refused. With Pakistani support, the Mujahideen (renamed the Taliban) took control of Afghanistan and installed a brutal fundamentalist regime.
Both the neoconservatives and the Taliban/Mujahideen would claim sole credit for victory over the Soviets in Afghanistan. Both groups (and Zbigniew Brzezinski) would also credit US intervention in Afghanistan for the demise of the Soviet Union. In reality the USSR collapsed due to gross economic mismanagement and internal decay.
The Split Between Azzam and Zawahiri
Following the Soviet withdrawal, a major rift occurred between Zawahiri and Azzam. As it turned out, torture also radicalized Zawahiri. Who now proclaimed that politicians who were in bed with the Americans – and their civilian supporters – were legitimate targets for assassination.
Azzam, in contrast, compelled Islamic freedom fighters to swear an oath not to kill innocent civilians. Osama Bin Laden, former deputy to Azzam, joined forces with Zawahiri shortly before the latter’s assassination in 1989.
By the early nineties, powerful movements the Islamic Jihad (and related groups) had built in Egypt and Algeria were on track to win national elections. Aided by the US and France, the Algerian military launched a coup and cancelled the Algerian elections. Egypt, in turn, banned the Muslim Brotherhood and arrested and tortured their leadership.
Islamic Jihad responded by attempting to launch violent jihad in both countries. Owing to their failure to attract a mass following, in May 1998 Zawahuri and Bin Laden would announce a new strategy: taking jihad to their real enemies: the US and Israel.
Meanwhile Back in Washington
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the neoconservatives were more committed than ever to promoting the myth that the US was the sole force for good in a world of evil regimes. Fingering Saddam Hussein as the next satan to be overthrown, in 1990 they put immense pressure on Bush senior to overthrow the Iraqi government during the first Gulf War. Bush wisely took the sage advice of Pentagon advisers who warned that a full scale invasion of Iraq would result in a hopeless quagmire.
Mainstream Republicans Back Clinton
In 1992, mainstream Republicans, frightened by the religious fundamentalism that had overtaken the Republican Party, voted for Clinton in droves. The neocons, in turn, latched onto Clinton as the new evil. They began a vicious propaganda campaign against him, spearheaded by the conservative American Spectator. The campaign widely disseminated spurious allegations that the Clintons had committed financial fraud in Whitewater*, murdered their friend Vince Foster and participated in drug smuggling at the Mena Airport in Arkansas.**
Under immense pressure, Clinton agreed to appoint Kenneth Starr as special prosecutor to investigate these allegations. Starr couldn’t find any evidence of Clinton wrongdoing until he stumbled onto the President’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.
Following their failure to impeach Clinton, the neocons became as marginalized in the US as Bin Laden, Zawahiri and their ragtag followers in the Arab world.
All this would change with 9-11, which would propel both the Islamists and the neocons.
*The Whitewater controversy involved a questionable real estate deal Clinton engaged in while he was attorney general of Arkansas. The Whitewater investigations would result in criminal convictions for several of Clinton’s associates. Although there was insufficient evidence to file criminal charges against the President, his conduct was clearly unethical: see Whitewater Scandal
**While there’s no evidence Governor Clinton was directly involved in cocaine smuggling, he was unresponsive to strong grassroots demand that he investigate the CIA’a drug-gun smuggling operation at the Mena Airport – and to Ross Perot’s (presidential candidate in 1992 and 1996) request that Clinton back the Internal Revenue’s investigation of Menta.