By Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould
“For the first time in my very long life… we are, and I don’t want to sound alarmist but I am alarmed, closer to the actual possibility of war with Russia than we have ever been since the Cuban missile crisis. That’s how bad it’s been.” Stephen Cohen on the Tom Hartman show April 2, 2015
Retired Russia historian Stephen Cohen along with a small handful of academics, journalists and former government officials (who believed the Cold War had ended and would never return) point their fingers at the Western Neocon establishment for America’s latest outbreak of what can only be referred to as late stage imperial dementia. Neocons Robert Kagan and wife Victoria Nuland have certainly done their share of the heavy lifting to make Ukraine the staging ground for what increasingly appears to be a NATO blitzkrieg on Moscow. As columnist William Pfaff wrote in one of his final articles (April 1, 2015 Putin and the Neo-Conservatives) “The energy behind the coup in Ukraine and the proposals to deploy Western arms and re-launch the crisis is generally and I think correctly, recognized as the work of the neoconservative alliance in Washington to which President Obama seems to have sub-leased his European policy.” But whatever the determination of the neocon plot to forge ahead with a further destabilization of Russia’s borders, they are only the barking dogs of the master imperialist whose grand design has been slowly creeping over the globe since he stepped into the Oval office as National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter in 1977.
Love him or hate him, Zbigniew Brzezinski stands apart as the inspiration for the Ukraine crisis. His 1997 book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives lays out the blueprint for how American primacists should feel towards drawing Ukraine away from Russia. (p. 46) “Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.” He writes. “Without Ukraine, Russia… would then become a predominantly Asian imperial state, more likely to be drawn into debilitating conflicts with aroused Central Asians, who would then be resentful of the loss of their recent independence and would be supported by their fellow Islamic states to the south.”
Brzezinski also makes clear; should the U.S. mishandle the diplomacy and Moscow regains control over Ukraine, “Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia.” He attributes Russia’s hold over Eurasia and its revived expansionist aims to their own closely held mystical beliefs in “Russian orthodoxy and a special mystical ‘Russian idea.’” (p. 110) As proof he cites numerous Russian thinkers who have “embraced Eurasianism’s mystical emphasis on the special spiritual and missionary role of the Russian people…” (p. 111).
For Brzezinski, “the chief geopolitical prize is Eurasia,” but when it comes to mysticism, it might be said that Brzezinski’s impact on the American foreign policy establishment – if not mystical itself – may have infused such a heavy dose of Eurasianism into American policy that it is now proving fatal to the very global primacy Brzezinski himself has fought a lifetime to attain.
Brzezinski’s obsession derives from British geographer Sir Halford Mackinder’s 1904 definition of the Central-Eastern nations of Europe as the “Heartland” or “Pivot Area”, whose geographic position made them “the vital springboards for the attainment of continental domination.” (Grand Chessboard p. 38) Looking forward a hundred years, Brzezinski advances Mackinder’s theories on Eurasian geopolitics from regional to global, with control over the entire Eurasian continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific as central to America’s global primacy. Whether anyone realizes it today or not, the Obama administration’s current campaign against Russia in Ukraine is of Mackinder’s design brought forward by Brzezinski.
To a seasoned expert like Stephen Cohen, the Obama administration’s indictment of Russia for the Ukraine crisis is groundless. “There is a narrative in this country that this entire crisis was created by Putin and Russia, that he sought to take over Ukraine or destabilize Ukraine and that’s just his first step toward taking back Eastern Europe. It’s complete malarkey. It doesn’t correspond to the facts and above all it has no logic.” But a look back forty years reveals that a lot of Cold War thinking wasn’t exactly fact-based either and it may now be instructive to look for answers to Washington’s current dose of illogic in the covert origins of the U.S. supported 1970s war for Afghanistan.
As the first Americans to gain access to Kabul after the Soviet invasion for an American TV crew in 1981 we got a closeup look at the American narrative supporting President Carter’s “greatest threat to peace since the second world war” and it simply didn’t hold up. What had been presented within days of the December 1979 invasion as an open and shut case of Soviet expansion toward the Persian Gulf by Harvard Professor and Team B Project leader Richard Pipes on the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour could just as easily have been defined as a defensive action well within the Soviets’ legitimate sphere of influence. Three years earlier, Pipes’ Team B Strategic Objectives Panel on the CIA’s estimate of the Soviet threat had been accused of subverting the very process of making national security estimates by inventing threats where they didn’t exist and intentionally skewing its findings along ideological lines. Now that ideology was being presented as fact by America’s Public Broadcasting System.
In 1983 we returned to Kabul with Harvard Negotiation Project Director Roger Fisher for ABC’s Nightline. Our aim was to establish once and for all the credibility of the American claims. We discovered first hand from high level Soviet officials that they wanted desperately to abandon the war but the Reagan administration simply refused to take their requests seriously. From the moment they entered office, the Reagan administration had taken a conflicting position, demanding on the one hand that the Soviets withdraw their forces, while at the same time keeping them pinned down through covert action with the intention of holding them there. This hypocritical campaign, though lacking in a foundation of facts and dripping in right wing ideology, was embraced by the entire Washington political spectrum and left willfully-unexamined by America’s mainstream media.
The final blow to Roger Fisher’s efforts came when he offered the New York Times a detailed article describing his belief that a negotiated settlement could be quickly achieved. The Times’ editor responded that Roger could write the article but it wouldn’t necessarily be published.
At a conference conducted by the Nobel Institute in Lysebu Norway in 1995, a high level group of former U.S., European and Soviet officials faced off over the question: Why did the Soviets invade Afghanistan? Former National Security Council staff member Dr. Gary Sick established that the U.S. had resigned Afghanistan to the Soviet sphere of influence years before the invasion. So why did the U.S. choose an ideologically biased position when there were any number of verifiable fact-based explanations for why the Soviets had invaded?
To the veteran CIA Director Stansfield Turner and the former Soviet Chief of Ground Forces General Valentin Varennikov, responsibility could only be located in the personality of one very specific individual who ironically wasn’t present.
(Lysebu p. 216) “Brzezinski’s name comes up here every five minutes; but nobody has as yet mentioned that he is a Pole.” Turner said. “This is an important part of the equation, it seems to me. None of us can escape our individual backgrounds; but in this case, the fact that Brzezinski is a Pole, it seems to me was terribly important.”
Turner was chastised by Dr. Marshall Schulman, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State from 1977-1981 for his lack of political correctness, but Shulman’s efforts to divert attention from Turner’s comment only brought further attention to the ethical hole Brzezinski had punched into U.S. policy by infusing his old world ethnic hatred of Russia, into U.S.-Soviet relations.
U.S. officials were not supposed to hold racist beliefs in public or private let alone bring them into the policy-making-process. According to the accepted doctrine of the day Robert McNamara dropped bombs on Germans and Japanese and later the Vietnamese because he was a mathematical rationalist making war, not because he was a racist who despised Germans, Japanese or Vietnamese. But for Brzezinski, plotting against Russia is a family pastime and for those who’d worked with him in the Carter White House his behavior was anathema to what a professional policy-maker should aspire to.
The late Paul Warnke, Carter’s negotiator for the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II) put Brzezinski’s racial bias this way in an interview we conducted with him in 1993. “It was almost an ethnic thing with Zbig, basically that inbred Polish attitude toward the Russians. And that of course was what frustrated the Carter Administration. [Secretary of State] Vance felt very much the way that I did. Brzezinski felt the opposite. And Carter couldn’t decide which one of them he was going to follow. So it adds up to a recipe for indecision.”
Warnke went on to say that he believed the Soviets would never have invaded Afghanistan in the first place if Carter had not fallen victim to Brzezinski’s hostile attitude toward détente and his undermining of SALT II.
To the Soviet General Valentin Varennikov, Brzezinski’s determination to vilify Russia was a forgone conclusion. (Lysebu p. 168) “Brzezinski was the one who was able to use that step—the introduction of troops into Afghanistan—to the most political benefit, and in the interest of the United States. When some people wanted to play it down in 1980, he resisted them, and said he wanted the Soviet Union to get pulled in and then pay dearly for what happened.”
What these men were saying in a roundabout way in 1995 was that Brzezinski had taken full advantage of the Soviet’s miscalculation and jumped on the opportunity when they became trapped. But it wasn’t until 1998 and the notorious Nouvel Observateur interview that Brzezinski openly boasted that he had provoked the whole incident by getting Carter to authorize a Presidential finding to suck them in six months before the Soviets even considered invading.
Once Brzezinski had the Soviets where he wanted, he then used their occupation to win the Chinese military over to his side. Warren I. Cohen and Nancy Bernkopf Tucker write in Zbig: The Strategy and Statecraft of Zbigniew Brzezinski (p. 96) “In May of 1980, Brzezinski met the head of Beijing’s Military Commission in Washington and explained that the Soviet Union was pursuing a two-pronged offensive strategy: through Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf and through Cambodia to the Strait of Malacca. However questionable the analysis, the Chinese liked it, adopted it as their own, and Deng repeated it to Brzezinski when he visited Beijing in 1981.”
Yet, despite Brzezinski’s 1998 admission that he’d intentionally sucked the Soviets into Afghanistan to give them their own Vietnam, many academics and experts refused to believe that he could or would have abused his authority by stooping to such tactics. One man in particular, Dr. Charles Cogan, Chief of the Near East South Asia Division at the Directorate of Operations at the CIA from 1979-1984 defended Brzezinski’s honor to us publicly before an audience upon the publication of our book in 2009 Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story. Cogan came out publicly to insist that Brzezinski’s Nouvel Observateur interview simply couldn’t be right. Cogan changed his tune however when he subsequently encountered Brzezinski in person. He explained to us in a recent interview what had happened.
“I had an exchange with him. This was at the funeral ceremony or reception for Sam Huntington. Brzezinski was there, I’d never met him before and I went up to him and introduced myself and I said I agree with everything you’re doing and saying except for one thing. You gave an interview to the Nouvelle Observateur some years back saying that we sucked the Soviets into Afghanistan. I said I’ve never heard or accepted that idea and he insisted that this was correct. And I still… that was obviously the way he felt about it. But I didn’t get any whiff of that when I was Chief Near East South Asia at the time of the Afghan war against the Soviets.”
The 1995 Lysebu conference concluded that a few senior Soviets on the politburo had made a huge miscalculation by sending in 75,000 troops with the expectation of stabilizing a friendly government and then getting out within 60 days. Thanks to Brzezinski’s covert support for the Mujahideen inaugurated years before, they had quickly become stuck in a Vietnam style quagmire, but despite abundant evidence of their efforts to avoid a militarily engagement and their desire to pack up and go home once they did engage, both the left and right of American politics embraced Brzezinski’s false narrative that the Soviets were embarking on a world conquest.
By training and financing Islamic radicals in Pakistan and China, the U.S. was playing with fire by risking a Soviet invasion of both Pakistan and Iran, not to mention being drawn into a Sino-Soviet war. But for Brzezinski and his mentor Paul Nitze and his neoconservative allies like Richard Pipes, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a gamble that shifted the Washington power balance toward an unrelenting hard line against the Soviet Union and it worked. Once the exaggerations and lies about Soviet intentions became accepted as a means to that end, they found a home in America’s imagination and never left.
To the American right, Afghanistan was an opportunity to avenge the debacle of Vietnam, renew America’s military strength, engage militarily in the Middle East, and tighten its grip on American politics. For the pro-détente moderate-left, the invasion of Afghanistan was a disillusioning disenfranchisement, which they never really understood and from which they never recovered. However, for the global chess player Brzezinski, Afghanistan offered a myriad of possibilities to put his strategic theories to the test while winding back the Soviet Union’s dominion over its neighboring nations, especially his homeland, Poland.
As President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, Brzezinski brought to the White House an activist foreign policy in line with untested ethnic theories developed while working as a professor at Harvard and Columbia in the 1950s and 60s. After taking over as the President’s national security advisor Brzezinski immediately assembled a Nationalities Working Group (NWG) under the assumption that the Soviet Union’s “non-Russian nationalities” would rebel if given the opportunity and support. According to former CIA director Robert Gates’s memoir, From The Shadows (p. 142) Brzezinski turned to “covert actions aimed at the Soviet internal scene as early as March 1977.Throughout that year and the next, CIA was asked to step up activities targeted inside the USSR.”
By using covert action, Brzezinski could secretly create the conditions he needed to provoke a Soviet defensive response which he would then use as evidence for his claims of unrelenting Soviet expansion. According to Gary Sick’s testimony at Lysebu (p. 150) “It is fairly clear to me that their [the Soviets] thinking was primarily oriented toward the domestic situation in Afghanistan. They were trying to salvage a bad situation-trying to rectify it, in terms of Russian interests. But the effects were totally different. The effects were overwhelmingly international. It affected the relationship with the United States at every level. I regard it as a fundamental watershed. All kinds of things that we had simply talked or thought about until that time suddenly became real. It was a tremendous watershed in our entire approach toward that region, and has remained so ever since.”
The Soviet invasion of December 1979 gave Brzezinski control of American foreign policy from that moment on while a defeated Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and a generation of like-minded realists left government soon after. The Brzezinski-drafted Carter Doctrine put the U.S. directly into the Middle East with the Rapid Deployment Force, China became engaged as a U.S. military ally and détente with the Soviet Union was dead. The Reagan administration would soon advance on this agenda with a massive military buildup as well as expanded covert actions inside the Soviet Union by the Nationalities Working Group—now under the direction of Team B’s Professor Richard Pipes who believed that Soviet Moslems could be induced to “explode into genocidal fury.” (Richard Pipes, Survival Is Not Enough: Soviet Realities and America’s Future (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 185.
Not content with the American moderates’ pragmatic Cold War acceptance of coexistence with the Soviet state, the Polish born Brzezinski represented the ascendency of a radical new breed of xenophobic Eastern and Central European intellectual bent on holding Soviet/American policy hostage to their pre-World War II world view. According to Brzezinski biographer Patrick Vaughan, Brzezinski rejected the very legitimacy of the Soviet Union itself, calling it “a cauldron of conquered nationalities brutally consolidated over centuries of Russian expansion.” (Zbig p. 128) Accordingly, “With the Polish pope in the Vatican a more vibrant and autonomous Poland could shake Soviet control over Lithuania and the Ukraine, where Polish religious and historical ties were firm and deeply rooted.” (Zbig p. 128)
Brzezinski’s methodology for Eastern Europe was simple. 1. Choose a country with close historical ties to Russia. 2. Destabilize it along racial or religious lines. 3. Subvert its government with bribery, lies and intrigue and then… 4. Spin the ensuing chaos as a struggle for individual freedom by a captured people against an alien philosophy; (communism) or if that failed, ethnic Russian expansionism. He told Zbig interviewer Charles Gati, “We engage them. We deal with the regimes. We penetrate the societies. We begin to exploit the fissures between the Central Europeans and the Russians. We eventually break up the Soviet Union from within.” (Zbig pp. 232-233).
Regardless of whether Brzezinski can be given the credit for breaking up the Soviet Union, his current status as the almost mystical “wise-elder” of American foreign policy should be viewed with extreme caution given the means by which he achieved it. At the 1995 Lysebu conference numerous scholars pondered Brzezinski’s decision-making process before, during and after the Soviet invasion. Dr. Carol Saivetz of Harvard University testified (Lysebu pp. 252-253), “Whether or not Zbig was from Poland or from someplace else, he had a world view, and he tended to interpret events as they unfolded in light of it. To some extent, his fears became self-fulfilling prophecies… Afghanistan came at the end of a period in which everybody saw exactly what he or she wanted to see… Nobody looked at Afghanistan and what was happening there all by itself.”
Dr. David Welch of Toronto University questioned the entire process by which the U.S. made judgments about Soviet motives (Lysebu p. 256). “The scholarly community was also charged with the task of trying to understand the Soviet Union in the absence of hard information about how people were actually making decisions in Moscow. They used a dubious deductive apparatus to do that… The very powerful effect of so-called ‘rational deterrence theory’ on American foreign policy led to decisions that provoked as often as they deterred.”
The 1995 Lysebu conference on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan revealed that “self-fulfilling prophecies,” “a dubious deductive apparatus,” and “decisions that provoked as often as they deterred” provided the operating system for more than a decade of Cold War policy under Presidents Carter and Reagan. Yet, within two years of the conference it could be said this very same operating system, established by Zbigniew Brzezinski during the Carter administration, was leading the U.S. back into the same fundamental errors of judgement, only this time to an even deeper and dangerous level of confrontation with Russia.
Zbigniew Brzezinski’s early support for expanding NATO into Eastern Europe and Ukraine expressed in his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard (pp. 84, 121) was opposed by Paul Nitze, the father of the Cold War as well as a crop of 46 senior foreign policy advisors who referred to it in a letter to President Clinton as “a policy error of historic proportions.” Fellow Pole, Team B leader and virulent proponent of Brzezinski’s Nationalities Working Group, Richard Pipes signed the letter opposing expansion on the grounds that it would provide humiliated Russian nationalists exactly the excuse they needed to justify restoring the Kremlin’s empire. Even George F. Kennan, author of the Cold War policy of “containment” warned in a separate letter to the New York Times in February 1997 that NATO expansion into Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic would be “the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era… have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy… restore the atmosphere of cold war to East-West relations… and impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”
Yet, despite an inability to even explain exactly what military threat a NATO expansion was designed to counter, in 1999 the Clinton administration, urged on by what Time Magazine described in 1997 as “Ethnic lobbying groups such as the Polish American Congress” began the process of implementing the plan.
By 2009 the new post–Cold War NATO included 12 former Warsaw Pact countries plus Eastern Germany with future plans to add both Georgia and Ukraine – despite the certainty that Moscow would view the moves in exactly the way the wise-elders had warned against.
U.S. policy since that time has operated in a delusion of triumphalism that both provokes international incidents and then capitalizes on the chaos. A destabilizing strategy of crippling financial sanctions against Russia, the American military’s training of the Ukrainian National Guard, U.S. troops parading armored vehicles within 300 yards of Russia’s border and warlike statements by NATO leaders can only mean the U.S. is deeply committed to Brzezinski’s strategy of seizing the “Pivot Area” and holding it. To paraphrase Brzezinski’s formula, the U.S. has engaged Ukraine, dealt with its pro-Russian regime, and penetrated its society by exploiting the religious and political fissures between its ethnic Russian and Ukrainian citizens. Over an extended period, it eventually succeeded in breaking up Ukraine from within and is moving now to its ultimate target-Russia itself through destabilization and the demonization of its leader Vladimir Putin.
If America’s post 9/11 misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan hadn’t demonstrated beyond doubt that the U.S. government’s system for making foreign policy decisions is broken, the current crisis in Ukraine should demonstrate that it is broken beyond repair. Those who remain of yesterday’s wise-elders decry the sheer folly emanating from Washington’s foreign policy circles which has already made an economic shambles of Ukraine, led to a new Cold War and may very well lead to a real war between the United States and Russia. Stephen Cohen, Ambassador Jack Matlock, Paul Craig Roberts, Noam Chomsky and Henry Kissinger to name a few, bemoan the fact that the once highly praised and experienced members of America’s foreign policy establishment are now left out in the cold. Yet, given their capitulation to Brzezinski’s ethnic world-view following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, it should come as no surprise that their opinions in the foreign policy marketplace would hold no currency now.
With the exception of a handful of experts, the 1995 Lysebu conference concluded that the whole period leading up to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan “was a big disaster,” resulting from a series of miscalculations, misunderstandings and miscommunications. Brzezinski himself wrote in his 1983 memoir Power and Principle that he generally believed the same (p. 432). “Had we been tougher sooner, had we drawn the line more clearly, had we engaged in the kind of consultation that I had so many times advocated, maybe the Soviets would not have engaged in this act of miscalculation… What was done had to be done, but it would have been better if the Soviets had been deterred first through a better understanding of our determination.” But evidence that has been unearthed since and admissions by Brzezinski himself reveal his “determination” was never to deter the Soviets at all but to encourage them to invade.
In his 1997 book, The Grand Chessboard (p. 122) Brzezinski made clear his desire to eventually bring Ukraine into NATO while admitting that such a move “could be a turning point for Russia itself.” Given the recent events surrounding the overthrow of Ukraine’s Russia-friendly President Victor Yanukovich, he has since backed away from the proposal. However, this should not be viewed as a moderation of his ideas.
Today it’s Zbigniew’s son Ian who carries forward on the Brzezinski family’s vendetta against the Kremlin. As a member of the Atlantic Council, Ian Brzezinski dwells in that special place established by his father during the Carter years that finds Moscow at the root of America’s problems regardless of the facts. In language painfully reminiscent of two World Wars he recently outlined the war in eastern Ukraine to the Senate Armed Services Committee as the “Eastern Front” as if the Third World War had already begun. He then offered a wide range of recommendations that went so far as to take the authority to make war on Russia out of President Obama’s hands and give it to NATO’s top commander, General Phillip Breedlove; a man accused by the German government of exaggerating the Russian threat by spreading “dangerous propaganda”.
In a September 3, 2014 interview in the Huffington World Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski referred to the Russian leadership under Vladimir Putin as irrational, emotional, erratic, and dangerous.
It might be said of Brzezinski himself that a grand strategy to surround nuclear-armed Russia with hostile European armies and roaming bands of inflamed Muslims bent on genocide might itself be considered irrational. The World Trade Towers were bombed not once but twice by fanatics financed, trained and motivated by Brzezinski’s war on Russia in Afghanistan. From its origins in 1977 as a covert program to destabilize the Soviet Union through ethnic violence and radical Islam in Soviet Georgia, Azerbaijan and Chechnya, a straight line can be drawn to the Taliban, 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Syrian war on Bashar al-Assad and especially to Ukraine from theories, practices and policies implemented by Brzezinski prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Both Napoleon and Adolph Hitler, an avid practitioner of Mackinder’s geopolitics, sought to conquer the “Pivot Area” now famous to geo-politicians as “The Heartland.” Those endeavors brought devastation to Russia and ruin to Europe but in the end did nothing but enliven Russia to its own mystical destiny.
The time has come for the American public to be let in on what U.S. foreign policy has become and to decide whether the Brzezinski family’s personal obsession with fulfilling Mackinder’s directive for conquering the heartland of Russia at any cost, should be America’s goal as well.
Copyright © 2015 Fitzgerald & Gould All rights reserved
Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are the authors of Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story , Crossing Zero The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire and The Voice. For more information visit their websites at invisiblehistory and grailwerk. They can be reached at email@example.com.