An indigenous peace process for unifying Afghanistan

Afghanistan has suffered through over 30 years of incessant war which has led to the annihilation of its secular tribal structure, transforming it into one of the most violent and poverty-stricken places on earth. Saving this war-torn country will take more than simply “thinking outside the box” – it requires throwing the entire box away, as was done to create the audacious reconciliation process that we wrote with New World Strategies Coalition. Click here to read: An indigenous peace process for unifying a shattered nation

Have a great day!

Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould

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Ground Truths about the U.S. Operation in Afghanistan; Experts on Afghanistan Elizabeth Gould & Paul Fitzgerald

Listen to the interview here TRT: 29:00

Talk Nation Radio for September 15, 2011
Ground Truths about the U.S. Operation in Afghanistan Experts on Afghanistan Elizabeth Gould & Paul Fitzgerald join us. They are authors of the book,
Crossing Zero, The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire.
We are once again at a turning point for Afghanistan as Kabul falls prey to yet another violent power struggle.

We also discuss the latest report by Gould & Fitzgerald titled, 9/11, Psychological Warfare & the American Narrative. (Continuing series on Although we spoke with them before the US Embassy in Kabul came under fire, Paul Fitzgerald coincidentally bringing up events there in 1979 that heralded a new US policy of supporting Afghan warlords and power brokers in a fight against the Russians in Afghanistan, this perpetuating the US Cold War era.

Produced by Dori Smith, Storrs, CT
Download at Pacifica’s Audioport
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As Americans marked the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, a suicide bomber blew up a truck at a NATO combat outpost in Afghanistan. The base serves US Special Forces, and the Army reported 89 soldiers wounded. Two Afghan civilians were killed including a three-year-old child. In the next 48 hours, Kabul exploded with a series of bombings and ground attacks as gunmen said to be linked to the Taliban’s Haqqani, with suspected Al-Qaeda ties, appear responsible for breaking through to top security zones around NATO and the US Embassy. (See 9/11 in Kabul here on Al Jazeera English). Will Kabul once again be victimized by a power struggle between forces that have battled again and again using money and resources from various occupying forces? Will the ground war become more of an air war? And more costly for civilians? Many questions as the election cycle begins, and the transition for competing war lords also begins.

Nieman Watchdog interviews Gould&Fitzgerald

Missing from 9/11 anniversary coverage: crucial context and history

COMMENTARY | September 16, 2011 By neglecting to mention the key U.S. role in supporting militant jihadists in their war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the press missed an opportunity to raise questions about blowback — and about whether our actions in Afghanistan today will once again produce negative future consequences.


Part of a Nieman Watchdog series, ‘Reporting the Endgame’

By John Hanrahan

The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as other mainstream print and broadcast media, devoted lots of ink and airtime to stories commemorating the September 11, 2001, attacks on America. We looked over the Times’ and Post’s accounts carefully with the thought that they probably were as good as any the press had to offer. What we found was that they were almost totally lacking in context and a sense of history that go to the root of this nation’s interminable war in Afghanistan.

The Times published a 40-page special section (titled “The Reckoning”) on the 9/11 attacks, while The Post concentrated on nine individuals’ stories in a 16-page special section (“Nine Lives Ten Years Later: Recovering from the Attack on Washington”). In that outpouring of thousands of words, both newspapers failed to address some of the basic who-what-when-where-why-and-how (and context) tenets of journalism: Nowhere in those 56 pages is there a hint of the possible motives for the 9/11 attacks, or any mention of why the United States within a month after 9/11 went to war in Afghanistan and then 18 months later invaded Iraq – and why we are still there.

Neither newspaper had even a mention of the secret, multi-billion-dollar U.S. support for the Islamic mujahideen’s successful war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, an event with direct links to 9/11 and its aftermath. This clandestine backing for the rebels intensified after the Soviets invaded that country in December 1979 to support the pro-Soviet Marxist regime that had come to power in a coup but faced attack from anti-communist rebels. Likewise, there was nothing about how the Central Intelligence Agency provided those Islamic fighters with jihad-filled propaganda against the Soviets, training, and weapons – most importantly, in 1986, some 2,000-2,500 hand-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

This history has implications for the war the United States is waging in Afghanistan today. Many Americans would be surprised to learn that some of the same “freedom fighters” to whom the Central Intelligence Agency provided billions of dollars worth of Stinger missiles and other weapons in the 1980s are the same “terrorists” who today are fighting U.S. forces – such as we saw in the Sept. 13th attack on the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul, purportedly carried out by the Haqqani Network, one of the CIA’s favored clients in the 1980s.

This might cause some Americans to wonder: If we couldn’t know the consequences of our actions in cozying up to extremists back in the 1980s, then how can we presume today to determine what is best for Afghanistan’s future? The Obama administration, our military leaders and our ambassador assure us of dubious “progress” in Afghanistan, but we should learn the “blowback” lessons from those earlier days and bear in mind that our actions there today – night raids, drone attacks, support for a corrupt government, internment without charges of a couple thousand Afghans in Bagram prison, etc. – can again produce negative future consequences for both the beleaguered Afghan people and the United States.

Through our seemingly endless and increasingly clandestine military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, etc., we are on course to experience blowback-without-end.

The two newspapers failed to discuss how this covert assistance – “Charlie Wilson’s War”– helped create the conditions that the popular 2007 movie about the Texas congressman’s exploits and secret appropriations in support of the rebels doesn’t mention: Namely, that the U.S.-aided mujahideen’s ouster of the Soviets in 1989 ultimately led to civil war and the ultra-orthodox Islamic Taliban coming to power in 1996, an event that also enabled anti-Soviet fighter Osama bin Laden and his fledgling al Qaeda to set up a base from which to plan the 9/11 attacks.

“The U.S. covert war in Afghanistan [in the 1980s] was the largest CIA effort since Vietnam, perhaps even bigger,” Afghanistan experts and journalistic husband-and-wife-team Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould told Nieman Watchdog recently. This jarring history is seldom cited in current-day press accounts as a factor in creating the very morass in which the United States finds itself today. Even before the Soviet invasion, Fitzgerald and Gould noted, “The U.S. used psychological warfare techniques to spook the Soviets on their southern border, backed warlords and drug dealers like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar from the early 1970s on, and turned their backs on the largest heroin smuggling operation in history.”

Fitzgerald and Gould, in two recent authoritative books (Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story, and Crossing Zero: The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire), shed light on how the current U.S. war in Afghanistan had its historical origins in the secret plans and actions of Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski in the final two years of the Carter administration, and how the Reagan administration and CIA Director William Casey expanded these actions to give the Soviets their own, earlier version of quagmire in Vietnam.

After all western reporters were expelled by the Afghan government and the Soviets in early 1980, Fitzgerald and Gould said, the major U.S. news outlets provided limited coverage of the war and the U.S.’s clandestine role in it. When the news media did focus on it, they generally bought into the “official narrative” that the war was “a Ramboesque struggle of holy warriors against the evil empire” and presented stories in a manner “to encourage war and to downplay peaceful settlement.”

Given the skimpy and skewed press coverage at the time and in more recent years, one could wager that most Americans, especially those who were not adults during the 1980s, are completely unaware that this is our country’s second war in Afghanistan in the last three decades or, looked at another way, a continuation of that devastated country’s 30-plus-year-war.

The Washington Post’s special section on 9/11 was even more narrowly focused than the Times’s special section. The Times at least made a stab at articles that went beyond the moving profiles of victims, victims’ families and survivors of 9/11 that both newspapers presented in abundance. For example, the Times had articles on the Arab Spring and on “Civil Liberties Today” (which – as did a soothing Post editorial the same day – pushed the dubious line that, really, government abuses of civil liberties aren’t so bad today compared to the World War I “Red scare” and the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798). On the plus side was Scott Shane’s piece, “Al Qaeda’s Outsize Shadow,” which discussed the U.S. overreaction to terrorism over the last 10 years and which pointed out, in putting the issue in perspective, that between 1970 and 1978, “72 people died in terrorist attacks on American soil – five times the number to die in jihadist attacks since 9/11.”

Before it slips completely down the memory hole that our history with Afghanistan didn’t suddenly begin on that tragic September 11th a decade ago, let’s recall a few of the seamier aspects of how the United States in the 1980s used Afghanistan as a Cold War pawn in a proxy war against the Soviets.

Last year, Fitzgerald and Gould, along with Khalil Nouri and Michael Hughes, published a report (“Restoring Afghanistan’s Tribal Balance”) for the New World Strategies Coalition. The NWSC calls itself “a think-tank founded by Afghan expatriates who possess deep tribal connections,” working in partnership with other leading Afghan scholars, experts and non-governmental organizations. The October 2010 report described the U.S. covert support of the mujahideen thusly:

“…during the ‘jihad’ against the Soviets, the Judeo-Christian West teamed up with violent Islamic radicals of the worst sort, against the Soviets, because they shared a common hatred for the godless communists. The same people American leaders once called ‘freedom fighters’ throughout the 80’s are now [in the current war] violent extremist jihadist terrorists who commit immoral acts and heinous human rights violations that all Americans should find deplorable. Of course, before 9/11 when these ‘terrorists’ were fighting against the Soviets, they were ‘our terrorists’ and such human rights violations and war crimes hardly ever made the press. Today, people aren’t really supposed to remember nor point out this interesting historical irony, especially within the media.”

“It is now no secret that the CIA, via Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), funded and supported violent Islamic jihadists called the mujahideen in the Afghan war against the Soviet Union, providing them with billions to procure weapons and recruit and train more jihadists,” the NWSC report continued. After the defeated Soviets completed their withdrawal in early 1990, “these mujahideen ‘freedom fighters’ became the very warlords that divided and terrified Afghanistan as it spiraled into civil war, moral decay and chaos, which led to conditions ripe for the rise of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.”

As the late academic Chalmers Johnson, author of Blowback and other best-selling books on American militarism, wrote about Afghanistan in Dismantling the Empire: “Brutal, incompetent, secret operations of the Central Intelligence Agency, frequently manipulated by the military intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, caused the catastrophic devastation of this poor country.”

With rare exceptions, throughout the 1980s, according to Gould and Fitzgerald, “Without any serious reflection on the consequences of funding and training extremists for the purpose of defeating the Soviet Union, the American media not only missed the deeper story, but ignored numerous instances where the Afghan story had been corrupted for political purposes.”

The aforementioned warlord and drug dealer Gulbuddin Hekmatyar offers a perfect example of a lack of timely press vigilance and the unanticipated result of the U.S. backing for the mujahideen in the 1980s. Alfred McCoy, author of “The Politics of Heroin,” wrote that Hekmatyar – despite his reputation for being violently anti-American, for throwing acid at women who went unveiled during his student days and later for murdering rival resistance leaders – was “the leading recipient of U.S. arms shipments,” funneled through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) during the covert war against the Soviets. During that period in which he netted the lion’s share of an estimated $3 billion worth of U.S. weapons largesse (as well as the bulk of the Saudi intelligence services’ billions in support for the rebels), Hekmatyar received only “positive reports” in the American press despite “his heroin dealing and human rights abuses.”

In fact, Hekmatyar, as Fitzgerald and Gould wrote in Invisible History, was viewed “as a hero to congressman Charlie Wilson,” the architect of the secret U.S. funding for the mujahideen, who shrugged off any criticisms of Hekmatyar as somehow motivated by tribal jealousies. Although the press had not examined Hekmatyar’s reputation throughout the 1980s war, the New York Times reported on “the sinister nature of Mr. Hekmatyar“in 1990, a year after the Soviet withdrawal.” The Washington Post weighed in with a bigger story on Hekmatyar’s operation of “a chain of heroin laboratories inside Pakistan under the protection of the ISI,” as McCoy put it.

In the civil war after the Soviets left and northern forces had captured Kabul, Hekmatyar’s artillery forces reportedly bombarded the capital, killing some 50,000 people. Although he was initially supported by the ISI against the northern forces, the Pakistani intelligence agency later turned its support to the Taliban, which took over Kabul in September 1996 even as fighting with the Northern Alliance continued for the next five years.

McCoy, the J.R.W. Small professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, noted the CIA’s “indirect complicity” in Hekmatyar’s and other mujahideen drug operations rather than “direct culpability,” writing: “In most cases, the CIA’s role involved various forms of complicity, tolerance or studied ignorance about the trade, not any direct culpability in the actual trafficking … [t]he CIA did not handle heroin, but it did provide its drug-lord allies with transport, arms, and political protection.”

In the mid-1970s, before the Soviet invasion and the CIA’s covert war, the Afghan-Pakistan borderlands “had zero heroin production,” McCoy wrote in March 2010. But the war served as “the catalyst that transformed the …[area] into the world’s largest heroin producing region” as Afghan guerrillas began collecting a poppy tax from farmers and brought the opium across the border to sell to hundreds of Pakistani heroin labs “operating under the ISI’s protection.”

Between 1981 and 1990, he wrote, this mujahideen-fueled opium boom saw production grow from 250 tons to 2,000 tons, and as early as 1981 Afghanistan and Pakistan were reportedly providing 60 per cent of the heroin that entered the United States. The “benign neglect” policy by the CIA “helped make Afghanistan today the world’s number one narco-state,” with a depleted farming sector where once existed a “diverse agricultural ecosystem – with herding, orchards and over 60 food crops.”

Additionally, when the United States ended its support for the Mujahideen in in 1992, it left behind “a thoroughly ravaged country with over one million dead, five million refugees, 10-20 million landmines still in place, an infrastructure in ruins, an economy in tatters, and well-armed tribal warlords prepared to fight among themselves for control of the capital.”

In the current war, Hekmatyar continues to lead a major insurgent group, Hizb-e-Islami, that controls areas in the north and east of Afghanistan. According to Fitzgerald and Gould, it was the events of 9/11 that “finally turned the American military against Hekmayatar,” and he became “one of the first targets of American missile attacks” when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in late 2001. But the United States may not be done yet with Hekmatyar as a possible future partner. As Gould and Fitzgerald wrote in Crossing Zero, his Hesb-i-Islami supported Hamid Karzai in the August 2009 Afghan presidential election. Four months earlier, they noted, the late Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, “was reported to have met with a Hekmatyar emissary in the hope of luring him into a relationship with the Afghan government.” The authors characterized this as part of a “campaign to rehabilitate Hekmatyar as an Afghan messiah…despite his demonic reputation.”

As a key component of the anti-Soviet effort, the CIA provided some 2,000-2,500 Stinger missiles to the Afghan rebels. The missiles, wrote Lawrence Wright in The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, “proved to be deadly for Russian aircraft” and “tipped the balance in favor of the mujahideen.” As Steve Coll wrote in Ghost Wars, many of these missiles during he 1980s “had gone to commanders associated with anti-American radical Islamist leaders. A few missiles had already been acquired by Iran.”

Fearing lethal blowback from weapons left behind when the United States ceased support for the mujahideen, Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in the early 1990s authorized a secret program to spend tens of millions of dollars “to buy back as many Stingers as it could from anyone who possessed them…. In 1996 the CIA estimated that about six hundred Stingers were still at large,” Coll wrote in his book. Coll, a former Washington Post managing editor who previously was a South Asia correspondent, is now president of the New America Foundation, a nonprofit public policy institute, and is a contributor to The New Yorker.

Brzezinski, in the days following the December 1979 Soviet invasion, outlined what Coll described in his book as “a CIA-led American campaign in Afghanistan whose broad outlines would stand for a decade to come.” In a memorandum to President Carter, Brzezinski called for a secret policy of providing U.S. arms, money and technical advice to the mujahideen. The memo said the United States government “must both reassure Pakistan and encourage it to help the rebels,” and for this give Pakistan “more guarantees…more arms aid, and, alas a decision that our security policy toward Pakistan cannot be dictated by our [nuclear] nonproliferation policy.”

Here was the seed for more blowback: In the current Afghanistan/Pakistan war the United States remains convinced that elements of the ISI continue to assist Afghan rebels against invaders – only now it is the United States, not the Soviet Union, that is targeted. And previous CIA support for extremists seems to haunt U.S. forces daily in Afghanistan.

For example, Ryan Crocker, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, charged that the coordinated Sept. 13th attacks on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul were carried out by the Haqqani Network – led for years by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin Haqqani – which benefited from CIA support in the 1980s war. The Haqqani Network is said to be aligned with the Taliban, Pakistan’s ISI and al Qaeda, while operating independently. The Haqqanis have been blamed for some of the worst insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, including the July 2008 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed 41 people and an October 2009 car-bomb attack outside the Indian embassy that killed 17 and wounded more than 60. Its leadership is reportedly in the Pakistan tribal areas of Waziristan, where they are alleged to have the protection of the ISI, which has “a fixation on Pakistan’s primary enemy – India,” as Fitzgerald and Gould wrote. For what it’s worth, the ISI in July 2008 vehemently denied it had ties to the Haqqani Network and other insurgents.

Haqqani, according to Steve Coll, was highly regarded by the CIA and ISI, who “came to rely on Haqqani for testing and experimentation with new weapons systems and tactics.” In fact, wrote Coll, “Haqqani was so favored with supplies that he was in a position to broker them and to help equip volunteers gathering in his region.” CIA officers in Islamabdad “regarded him as a proven commander who could put a lot of men under arms at short notice.” He had “the CIA’s full support.”

And to get back to Brzezinski’s memo and the proliferation issue: The Pakistanis, under the not-so-watchful U.S. eye, managed to develop nuclear weapons that U.S. officials today say they are concerned may fall into terrorists’ hands – and that they cite as a main reason why we need to keep up military pressures against insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan. One can only think back again to the 1980s when William Casey, Reagan’s CIA director, expanded support for the mujahideen and their reckless, occasional guerrilla raids into adjoining Muslim republics in the Soviet Union, thus creating what Fitzgerald and Gould called a “growing and dangerous institutional surreality of supporting extremist Muslim killers – so long as the Soviets were being targeted.”

And then there is the matter of the U.S. promoting “jihad” in those Cold War days. Consider an eye-opening and little-remembered Washington Post story that appeared six months after 9/11 – headlined “From U.S., the ABC’s of Jihad” – that provides some startling insights into those inflammatory U.S.-aided propaganda efforts against the Soviet occupiers. The efforts were designed to promote a holy war of the same ferocity the United States is facing today as the Taliban seeks to drive out the latest collection of foreign occupiers. It is in situations like this when you realize how true the cliches are – “law of unintended consequences,” “reap what you sow,” “make your own bed,” “chickens coming home to roost,” etc.

As reporters Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway reported in March 2002: “In the twilight of the Cold War, the United States spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation.”

The article reported that the books “were filled with talks of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and [land]mines,” and later were even used by the Taliban when they came to power in 1996 during the bitter civil war – “though the radical movement scratched out human faces in keeping with its strict fundamentalist code.” The textbooks were developed in the early 1980s under a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) grant, which eventually totaled $51 million, to the University of Nebraska-Omaha and its Center for Afghanistan Studies. According to the article, USAID officials “acknowledged that at the time it also suited U.S. interests to stoke hatred of foreign invaders.”

If future conscientious high-school students were assigned to write a term paper about the war in Afghanistan and what 9/11 was all about, they wouldn’t have a clue if they turned to the Times or Post’s recent weekend sections. They might then take a look at the New York Times on-line “World” section where they could find a 3,000-word, encyclopedia-style description of Afghanistan’s recent history. The Times, after all, is still recognized as the nation’s most authoritative newspaper — even after its false and disastrous coverage of the run-up to the war in Iraq, in which it regularly parroted the Bush/Cheney administration line and earned the uncoveted appellation of “stenographers to the government.”

A teacher would be well-advised, though, to tell the students to proceed carefully in relying on this particular Times account, because the newspaper has once again presented a sanitized version of U.S. relations with Afghanistan over the last 30 years. It’s what gets left out of this Times account that is especially troubling: It contains only passing references to the United States’ involvement in the country’s 1980s war on the side of the mujahideen, phrased thusly: “The turmoil and extremism that have dominated its history since then can be traced to the 1979 invasion by the Soviet Union and the reaction both by Afghans and by their allies in the United States and Pakistan.” And in the only fact pertaining to what the United States did there, the account notes that after 1986 the Soviet Air Force was “rendered largely useless by advanced Stinger antiaircraft missiles supplied by the United States to the rebels.” All right, class: Beyond the provision of Stinger missiles, just what was this U.S. “reaction”? What was the United States doing in Afghanistan in the 1980s? And how does that relate to the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings a decade ago? The Times account hardly suffices to answer these questions.

To read this particular Times mini-history – which, after all, is that newspaper’s official summary version of what has been happening in Afghanistan for the last 30-plus years – you would not learn that the CIA back then worked hand-in-glove with Islamic extremists, many of whom subsequently became affiliated with the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Regarding this Times account, Fitzgerald and Gould commented to us: “An apt description of …[this] summary is willful ignorance.”

One can only speculate why much of the mainstream press, even at this late date, doesn’t want to deal with our 1980s history and the “why” of the 9/11 attacks. Perhaps it is because of a misplaced concern that it would suggest some sort of insensitivity to the victims and would provide legitimacy to what Osama bin Laden and other extremists have articulated as their motives for their attacks on U.S. targets – such as the 1990 sanctions imposed on Iraq that reportedly resulted in widespread poverty and malnutrition and the death of half-a-million children; the presence of U.S. military in Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam’s holiest sites; and injustices to the Palestinians and support of Israel by the United States. (The United States in 2003 did pull out most of its troops from Saudi Arabia, leaving behind only trainers.) But news isn’t supposed to make us comfortable, and we’re long past the point when former President Bush’s explanation – “They hate our freedoms” – will fly. Reporters explaining terrorists’ motives is not the same thing as agreeing with those motives or their actions. It’s called journalism.

History and context matter. They are vital to the public’s understanding of how past events influence current events, and offer lessons to enable us to make wiser decisions in the future and avoid the pitfalls and disasters of the past. Yet much of the ethnocentric U.S. news media almost always see history since 9/11 only through the prism of our own horrific, but limited, suffering – and not the suffering, displacement and death we have caused to hundreds of thousands of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in our global war on terrorism. Such an attitude was again on display in much of the mainstream media’s 10th anniversary coverage of 9/11. Is it too much to expect that in retrospectives of this nature the press at least make an effort to try to explain the stated motives for the attacks – and what Afghanistan had to do with them? In striving for history and context, we should pay heed to George Orwell’s chilling narrative in “1984”: “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

Gould and Fitzgerald also pointed out to Nieman Watchdog in a recent interview that, contrary to the impression prevalent today, Afghanistan had been a peaceful and stable country for some 40 years and had been moving in a more progressive fashion until it got swept up in the 1970s Cold War maneuverings of the United States and the Soviet Union. As the NWSC report noted, during that 40-year period Afghanistan “had been self-sufficient in food production, a vivid illustration of what life was like when Afghans were in control of their own fate.” Women had won the right to vote in the 1920s.

Now, “after more than 30 years of incessant war,” Afghanistan is “one of the most violent, corrupt and poverty-stricken places on earth.” The historical contrast is between an Afghanistan that had been free from outside interventions to a country “occupied and manipulated by foreign powers that have marginalized, weakened and corrupted centuries-old indigenous institutions and value systems.”

Gould told Nieman Watchdog that most of the major news media “have turned the whole practice of journalism inside out” by identifying with the political and military leaders and “turning into cheerleaders,” rather than serving as the watchdogs over government. By not framing an issue properly – by distorting or omitting facts – the press helps create a “false narrative” that distorts the policy debate and allows ill-conceived and dangerous government decisions to go unexamined until it is too late.

Fitzgerald and Gould also had sharp words for the “triumphalist narrative” of the 2007 movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” which, for many of those who viewed it, will become the official version of that earlier proxy war in Afghanistan. The movie presents flamboyant womanizer and heavy-drinking Wilson’s successful efforts to covertly fund the mujahideen against the Soviets, but fails to deal with the “blowback” issue of “our freedom fighters” morphing into “our terrorist enemies.”

The U.K.’s Guardian newspaper gave the film a “C” for entertainment value, and a “D” for historical accuracy. The reviewer noted: “The original draft of the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing, is said to have been harder-hitting and to have ended by explicitly linking American support for the mujahideen to 9/11. Reportedly, Tom Hanks found this too “political”. Instead of 9/11, then, Charlie Wilson’s War ends with Wilson failing to persuade Congress to invest positively in Afghanistan…”

Wilson, who died in 2010, said in a 2001 interview that he was proud of his efforts in Afghanistan to oust the Soviets, but was also concerned about blowback. “I always, always, whenever a [U.S.] plane goes down, I always fear it is one of our missiles,” he said, adding, regarding weapons falling into the wrong hands in wartime: “I feel guilty about it…I really do.” But, he added: “Those things happen…How are you going to defeat the Red Army without a gun? You can’t blame the Marines for teaching Lee Harvey Oswald how to shoot.”

John Hanrahan is a former executive director of The Fund for Investigative Journalism and reporter for The Washington Post, The Washington Star, UPI, and other news organizations. He is now on special assignment for Nieman Watchdog. E-mail:



The Perils of Military Expansionism

America’s Financial Armageddon and Afghanistan


As the U.S. economy grinds down to a finish, it becomes increasingly difficult to measure whether Washington understands the importance of how to deal realistically with the worsening crisis in Afghanistan. Left off the front pages during the recent obsession with the debt crisis, Afghanistan has lurched back onto the scene in ways that are reminiscent of the Soviet collapse of two decades ago. After ten years of war, it seems Washington not only continues to lack a comprehensive understanding of Afghanistan, but it lacks an understanding of its own role in creating both the economic and political catastrophe it now faces.

Even less understood is how the political decisions of the late 1970s are tied to the current simultaneous financial and foreign policy crisis. Nor is it understood how Washington and Wall Street set the stage for America’s financial downfall by using Afghanistan as an investment bank throughout the 1980s to renew the Cold War instead of reinvesting in America’s civilian economy.

Much like today, the America of 1979 faced a crossroads. Vietnam, two oil shocks, a disintegrating infrastructure, a beleaguered manufacturing base and the loss of strategic ally Iran had shown that America was a vulnerable colossus. Thirty five years of economic Cold War against the Soviet Union and China had produced a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons that were proving as useless as they were unusable. World War II had set the stage for the happy marriage of war production to business — pulling the U.S. out of the depression by doubling the Gross National Product in one year (1940). The Cold War ushered the financial benefits of the 1940s into the 1950s and 1960s. But these expenditures came at a massive expense to the civilian economy and not just in terms of tax dollars. Weapons development of the post World War II years lured America’s best and brightest away from the civilian economy and even the real world of guns, tanks and armies into a world detached from time, space and money. While Germany and Japan rebuilt their civilian industries free from defense spending, the U.S. moved into ever higher levels of technology, glorifying and expanding the influence of the defense industry into every fabric of American life.

Originally termed Military Keynesianism to describe the buildup of the German defense industry prior to World War II, America’s military Keynesianism of the Cold War was the unseen hand of government supporting the American economy, balancing the cyclical ups and downs of the market by providing 16 percent of the Gross Domestic Product in 1950s and 9 percent in the 1960s. By 1963 defense spending accounted for 52 percent of all the research and development done in the United States. But by the mid-1970s, a stagnant American economy combined with the Arab oil embargo and inflation brought on by the Vietnam War exposed the weakness in the system. As German and Japanese manufacturers battered their American competition in the marketplace, the defense-heavy American economy faltered.

Born of necessity, diplomatic overtures to China and détente with the Soviets offered the first chance since World War II to get off the wartime treadmill. To that end, for most of the decade the U.S. and Soviet Union pursued Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.

Endorsed by President Nixon in 1972, it was hoped that the agreement signed by President Carter and General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev would enable the United States to back away from weapons manufacturing and reinvest those resources in the civilian economy. But the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan changed all that.

Our involvement in this story began in the summer of 1979 when we began production of a documentary we called Arms Race and the Economy: A Delicate Balance. During the next months numerous experts including economist John Kenneth Galbraith lent their experience to our understanding of the unseen damage that a massive new diversion of tax dollars and capital investment would represent to the civilian economy. The arms race wasn’t just about defending the United States. The arms race was also about jobs and money in a dark world of business, science, and politics ruled over by a self-described “priesthood” of experts. Galbraith insisted that accelerated defense spending and renewing the Cold War, which the neoconservative right was lobbying hard for at the time, would ultimately destroy the civilian economy. He was convinced that the Cold War had already helped rigidify the capitalist system by bureaucratizing a large part of production for non-productive uses. He saw American industry becoming more and more like the Soviet Union, ruled by a military-industrial-academic establishment immune from reality, living in a planned economy designed to suit its own needs at the expense of society.

Galbraith jokingly referred to his “First Law of Executive Talent” that he had formulated to describe the thinking of America’s military-industrial leadership. “It was that all great executives come to resemble intellectually the products they manufacture. Until you had done business with top officers of the steel industry, you didn’t really appreciate the intellectual qualities of a billet of steel.” So it was with the defense department. America’s militarized economy was already in essence a Soviet-style “planned economy,” to make it an even larger part of the economy would only lock the U.S. into the same dismal fate.

That fall, in Washington, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency was one of the last holdouts of sanity in a rolling sea of hysterical accusations about American security. Was the Soviet Union really planning a sneak attack on the United States with nuclear weapons as the right wing claimed? Was SALT II really just a public relations scheme by Moscow to put the U.S. off its guard?

In hindsight we know that these claims were absurd. The Soviet Union was dying, driven to SALT by its weakness, not its strength. But when the Soviets crossed their southern border into Afghanistan that December of 1979 it played out on America’s TV screens like a World War II Hollywood B movie. Afghanistan was a far off South Asian country of no particular interest to the United States. A half dozen administrations had refused Afghan requests for military assistance. Eisenhower’s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’s callous and careless diplomacy drove Afghanistan towards Moscow in the mid 1950s and its politics followed close behind. A low priority remnant from Britain’s colonial empire, President Carter labeled the invasion, “the greatest threat to peace since the second World War.” But the script had already been written long before the Soviet’s crossed their southern border on December 27, 1979.

A trap had been set to give the Soviets their own Vietnam and the Soviets had taken the bait. But no one outside a handful of policy experts and Wall Street wizards were supposed to know that. Instead, a crop of neoconservative experts appeared on the scene claiming the Soviets were running out of oil and using Afghanistan as a staging ground for Middle East conquest.

By the time our program aired that winter, the argument was no longer whether our government should call a halt to the nuclear arms race and reinvest in the civilian economy. The U.S. had stepped into the mirror with the media echoing a return to 1947 style Cold War rhetoric, and the debate refocused not on whether, but on how much was to be spent to counter Soviet aggression.

In the planning stages for most of the decade, the new right’s military stimulus program regained for them a strategic hold over the economy, raising American investment in new weapons systems to a new high, while setting in motion a series of changes to the fundamental economic order endemic to the previous iteration of the Cold War.

As it had in the 1950s and 1960s, military spending once again drove the American economy, accounting for up to 6.2 percent of GDP by 1984. But where previous defense spending had been carefully balanced against America’s industrial output as a percentage of GNP, the so-called Reagan agenda or Reaganomics required massive borrowing to finance the military budget while reducing regulation and oversight of where it was spent. This change would transform American thinking about the economy, sending it into a star wars unreality and more importantly from a creditor to a debtor economy.

Always detached from the real economy, the Reagan budgets lifted the arms race and its Wall Street backers into the stratosphere, focusing the nation’s attention away from the depression era roads, bridges, dams, schools and industry that were in desperate need of attention. Instead, America became transfixed by the phantom of an ever present danger of Soviet troops in Afghanistan and a stock market driven by the military’s expansion. Copyright © 2011 Gould & Fitzgerald All rights reserved

Part IV – 9/11, Psychological Warfare and the American Narrative Series

Willie Wonka & the National Security State

By Elizabeth Gould & Paul Fitzgerald

TT9/11. New York’s twin trade towers exploded and vaporized in a hypnotic Old Testament moment. It was as if some invisible dark force had reached out and in one swift strike brought on a biblical, primeval Apocalypse. The destruction seemed to defy gravity itself as 200,000 tons of steel and 425,000 cubic yards of concrete fell so freely and effortlessly to the street below, it resembled a controlled demolition. This was no simple Pearl Harbor that could be avenged with a counterstrike of air and sea power. This was a poisonous wound to the American psyche, a more devastating act of psychological warfare than any military strike could ever have accomplished. From ten years on, everything about 9/11 feels otherworldly and irrational, the reasons for it, the apparent helplessness in the face of it, the curious identities of the people involved and the American government’s response to it. It defied logic then and it still does. The World Trade Towers were proud symbols of who we were as early 21st century Americans, at least who we thought we were. After all, wasn’t the spiritual motto of the original 1939 Flushing, NY World’s Fair “World trade center” pavilion dedicated to “world peace through trade?”

There would be no peace after 9/11. The destruction loosed a demon that had been struggling for America’s soul since the creation of the Cold War in 1947. The U.S. would now be freed to pursue “evil” wherever it could be found and there would be no turning back. The creation of the World Trade Towers by Rockefeller brothers Nelson and David had been steeped in psychological symbolism from their start in the early 1960s. As the most well known scions of American business, the Rockefeller family brought more than just money to their endeavors, they brought a vision for the future of the planet and a philosophy to guide it.

Begun as a massive undertaking to revitalize lower Manhattan, Chase Manhattan Bank Chairman David and New York Governor Nelson pushed hard for the project and each tower stood as a symbol of their respective power. As metaphor, the towers were more than just two of the tallest buildings in the world. It might be said they were as important as the two pillars Joachim and Boaz which stood at the entrance to Solomon’s Temple; mystical gates to a Cathedral of wisdom in which all could worship under one religion; the religion of business, Capitalism.

rockThe Rockefellers were no strangers to the power of psychological warfare and its impact on American opinion. During World War II Nelson had headed the U.S. government’s intelligence agency for Latin America, the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA). CIAA’s film division guided the 1942 production of Walt Disney’s Saludos Amigos to promote pro-American sentiment in South America. In 1954 Nelson was appointed as President Eisenhower’s White House special assistant on Cold War tactics and psychological warfare. Nelson Rockefeller played a central role in formulating domestic propaganda programs throughout the 1950s as chairman of the Planning Coordination Group which, in addition to its propaganda work, oversaw all CIA covert operations. His 1956 Special Studies Project directed by Rockefeller protégé Henry Kissinger produced many of the domestic policy recommendations that came to be known as President Kennedy’s New Frontier. His family’s philanthropic support of the arts had been carefully coordinated with the CIA and was both overtly and covertly propagandistic.

As a committed Anglophile, Rockefeller had aided British intelligence during World War II when he rented space in New York’s Rockefeller Center at a steep discount to a number of British propaganda agencies including their secret intelligence service for the Americas, the British Security Coordination (BSC). The BSC’s chief, Sir William Stephenson (Intrepid) set up shop in New York City with the help of some of New York’s wealthiest families with one main objective in mind: Get the United States into the war in Europe on Britain’s behalf.

One key agent in the psychological war for American public opinion was young RAF pilot Roald Dahl who along with James Bond creator Ian Fleming, playwright Noel Coward and Gallup pollster David Ogilvy were given free rein to commit sabotage, political subversion and propagandize “the natives” (Americans) through whatever means possible.

Dahl’s creative fiction earned him praise from the New York Times and publishing contracts from Random House as well as entrée to Hollywood where he would collaborate with Walt and Roy Disney in their studio’s transformation into an arsenal of animation while inspiring numerous imitators. Dahl would go on to marry a movie star and become a Hollywood icon with perennial successes, most notably “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” The cult of intelligence would ultimately become so seamlessly blended into every aspect of publishing, television and film, the CIA would jokingly be referred to as “the Chocolate Factory.” Along with Fleming, Ogilvy and Coward, Dahl would help to get the United States into the war with Germany and craft an enduring Anglo-centric cultural narrative in the public’s mind whose main objective was the promotion of a British agenda for the United States. That agenda would quickly shift from anti-fascist to aggressive Cold War anti-communist (read anti-Russian) as World War II ended, with Britain playing a seminal role in the creation of America’s national security state.

trumanPresident Harry Truman’s March 12, 1947 proclamation laying out the rationale for the Cold War (Truman Doctrine), fundamentally altered America’s identity by embedding a permanent psychology of fear. But a hidden aspect of this conflict was the slow, grinding corruption that its unreality fostered in America’s leadership. That unreality was finally revealed in the catastrophe of Vietnam.

In a remarkably self-effacing (especially by today’s standards) January 8, 1972 New Yorker article tracing the origins of the devastation caused by Vietnam titled “Reflections: In Thrall To Fear,” Senator J. William Fulbright bemoaned the mental corruption caused by the Truman Doctrine during the 1940s, 50s and 60s, whereby “Our leaders became liberated from the normal rules of evidence and inference when it came to dealing with Communism… The effect of the anti-Communist ideology was to spare us the task of taking cognizance of the specific facts of specific situations. Our ‘faith’ liberated us, like the believers of old, from the requirements of empirical thinking… Like medieval theologians, we had a philosophy that explained everything to us in advance, and everything that did not fit could be readily identified as a fraud or a lie or an illusion.”

fulbrightWhat Fulbright’s brilliant but tragic reflections fail to include is that America’s assumptions about the Cold War were never empirical. In fact the assumptions weren’t even necessarily American but had been crafted by America’s Anglo-centric intelligence bureaucracy and rooted in messianic 19th century British designs for control of the Eurasian landmass. A recent release of classified documents reveals that Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill was so obsessed with Eurasian conquest, he’d envisioned rearming Germany and attacking the Soviet Union right up to the end of World War II in a plan named Operation Unthinkable. Faced with the absurdity of confronting an overwhelmingly superior Soviet force and starting World War III, Churchill’s operation was shelved, but his famous Iron Curtain speech of 1946 would animate the idea while establishing the ideological narrative by which all future U.S./Soviet relations would be defined.

The inspiration for Churchill’s speech and its warning of the growing Communist threat to “Christian civilization” was the American child of British immigrants, James Burnham. As the godfather of neoconservatism, Burnham would work his way from Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky in the 1930s, to authoring a book that would forge the foundations of a new kind of planned, centralized society, to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. His much critiqued landmark 1940 The Managerial Revolution would be read and admired by Hitler’s general staff and viewed as the blueprint for George Orwell’s 1984 in which a new class of business executives, technicians, bureaucrats and soldiers would destroy the old capitalist order, crush the working class and seize all of society’s wealth for themselves.

eurasiaIn a 1945 Partisan Review article titled “Lenin’s Heir” Burnham, while still at the OSS, infused his apocalyptic political views with mystical allusions to the Eurasian heartland as “the magnetic core” of Soviet power, comparing it to the mystical “reality of the One of Neo-Platonism,” whose inexorable and unstoppable “emanative progression… descends through the stages of Mind, Soul, and Matter” towards its ultimate destination beyond the Eurasian boundaries and through “Appeasement and Infiltration (England, the United States).” Burnham was a keen advocate of dirty tricks. He would play an important role in the overthrow of Iran’s Mohammed Mosaddeq and the installation of the Shah. His book The Machiavellians would become a handbook for CIA planners.

As an “anti-Communist ideology” Burnham’s apocalyptic warnings about the inevitability of Soviet expansion from Eurasia’s magnetic core ring like a medieval theologian’s incantation throughout Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech. George Orwell even makes clear in his 1946 “Second Thoughts on James Burnham” that Burnham’s words read like a mystical invocation and were most likely intended to hypnotize.

Twenty six years later, Senator Fulbright would realize that only because of the disastrous outcome of Vietnam was there any willingness at all to reexamine the basic assumptions of American postwar policy toward the Soviet Union and what had brought the United States to such a sorry state. The 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Talks SALT would spring from this realization, as would the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty ABM and eventually SALT II, until in January of 1980 President Jimmy Carter would ask the Senate to delay consideration of the Treaty on the Senate floor because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. That treaty would never be passed.

Our involvement in the Afghanistan story began in the summer of 1979 when we began production of a documentary titled Arms Race and the Economy: A Delicate Balance. During the next months numerous experts including economist John Kenneth Galbraith lent their experience to our understanding of the unseen damage that a massive new diversion of tax dollars and investment capital would represent to the civilian economy. Galbraith insisted that accelerated defense spending and renewing the Cold War – as the neoconservative right was demanding at that critical moment – would ultimately destroy the civilian economy. He was convinced that the Cold War had already made America more and more like the Soviet Union, ruled by a military-industrial-academic establishment suspended from reality.

But by the time our program aired that winter, the argument was no longer whether our government should call a halt to the nuclear arms race and reinvest in the civilian economy. The December 27, 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had rolled back the narrative to 1947, the Truman Doctrine, to Churchill and Burnham’s mystical, medieval enchantment and the psychological warfare campaign necessary to bring it back to life was about to begin.

J. William Fulbright’s 1972 “Reflections: In Thrall To Fear” represented an awakening from the deep hypnotic trance imposed upon Americans by Cold War ideology. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan brought about its re-emersion, but this time to a deeper and totally detached level of unreality.

reaganWith the election of Ronald Reagan in the fall of 1980, the United States not only rejected Fulbright’s concerns for the intellectual dishonesty represented by the continuation of the Cold War, but willfully embraced the fraud, the lie and the illusion as its own and was willing to take it one step further.

The U.S. had silently, almost imperceptibly crossed through a mirror in 1947 with the creation of a second and covert national-security-government. But few in Washington understood at the time, the Faustian bargain they were signing onto. Now that secret government would take the U.S. on a fairytale journey into a mirrored image of itself from the 1940s, interweaving its own delusion with a remanufactured, two dimensional Hollywood invention named Ronald Reagan as the host. America would never be the same.

As an actor, Reagan had been implanted into America’s subconscious as a hero during the 1940s and his militaristic campaign of Peace through Strength was sold to Americans as the Reagan revolution. It was in fact a counter-revolution engineered by a reactionary gang of consummate insiders headed by former Research Industry of America employee, OSS veteran and Wall Street lawyer William J. Casey with the intention of restoring America’s militarist Cold War thinking.

caseyAs Reagan’s intelligence chief, Casey had key access to the concentric circles of international power necessary to carry off the tectonic shift of wealth from Main Street to Wall Street that would transfer power to an already wealthy globalist elite. As one of OSS chief Wild Bill Donovan’s Knights Templar during World War II, Casey took his “Crusade for Freedom” and a one world religion of Capitalism as creed, and as Director of Central Intelligence was perfectly positioned to put James Burnham’s dirty tricks and Machiavellian philosophy to work in the heartland of Eurasia.

Casey’s passion for the Afghan jihad was messianic. An ultra-conservative Catholic, Casey saw little difference in the antimodernist beliefs of the Wahhabist House of Saud and the anti-enlightenment views of the newly installed Polish Pope, John Paul II. Disguised as a war to liberate Afghanistan from Soviet aggression, Casey’s campaign was intended to infiltrate covert teams beyond Afghanistan into the Soviet Union’s Muslim provinces and provoke an insurrection. Backed by neoconservatives, the Saudis and secretive organizations like the Safari Club, Le Cercle, the Bilderberg Group and the 6I, it would play out in propaganda from Rambo to Charlie Wilson’s War as the greatest American victory of the Cold War.

In reality, Casey’s team would so tear down the wall between fact and fiction, legal and illegal, truth and the lie, it would make 9/11 inevitable.

But if anyone deserves the prize for the culture of triumphalist self-deception which lives on today in the endless war on terror and the Homeland Security State-culture-of-fear, it is James Burnham. On February 23, 1983 James Burnham was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan culminating his fifty years of service as one of the “guiding lights in mankind’s quest for truth.” Burnham’s 1940 prediction that Nazi Germany would win the war had actually been wrong as was his prediction that the Soviet Union would lose. His subsequent revised prediction that the Soviets would win and expand beyond the Eurasian heartland followed only after a Soviet victory appeared obvious in 1944.

In George Orwell’s 1946, “Second Thoughts on James Burnham,” Orwell clinically diagnosed Burnham’s convenient powers of revisionist prophecy as the product of a “mental disease” whose “roots lie partly in cowardice and partly in the worship of power, which is not fully separable from cowardice.”

Ten years after the events of September 11, 2001, thirty two years after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and sixty four years after the creation of the Cold War, James Burnham lives on as an icon to a deeply corrupted Homeland Security-culture “In Thrall to Fear.” We have no one to blame but ourselves for allowing that culture’s acolytes, their lies and their fabrications to continue to hypnotize us. Copyright © 2011 Gould & Fitzgerald All rights reserved

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