Failure Of Reagans Afghanistan Policy

The Failure of Reagan’s Afghanistan Policy

The Reagan administration policy in Afghanistan was not a “most successful

departure” but, in my opinion, an absolute disaster that led in many ways

directly to September 11. The Soviet Union was already on its last legs

economically in the 1980s. As the empire collapsed, a Soviet-dominated

Afghanistan would have just become a post-Soviet Uzbekistan or

Kyrgyzstan–hardly a threat to world peace.

Instead, members of the Reagan admistration like Ikle and Wolfowitz

supported the dangerous idea of giving billions of dollars to far

rightwing Muslim militias like that of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and allowing an

Islamic International to grow up of trained terrorists targeting Soviet

boys. The US met some resistance to this idea even from the Pakistanis, so

US officials flew to Beijing to put pressure on Pakistan’s ally, China, to

induce Pakistani intelligence to acquiesce in the arming of these

Islamists with extremely high-tech weaponry. In this they succeeded.

Then, having created this situation, the United States abruptly abandoned

both Pakistan and Afghanistan to the mercies of the band of warring

fanatics it had spawned and armed. In that matrix of hatred al-Qaeda and

the Taliban grew up, and that is how you get September 11. The attacks on

that day are not Reagan’s fault, or Wolfowitz’s, or Ikle’s. They are

al-Qaeda’s fault. But the conditions for them to occur were set up by

policies of actively fostering and massively funding and arming the most

reactionary and wild-eyed elements of the Islamist movement.

It was not Carter who funded the Islamists to the tune of half a billion

dollars a year. It was Reagan.

Wolfowitz has been wrong at almost every point along the way. In the

1980s he authored a report on Soviet military capabilities that we now

know vastly over-estimated them.

Wolfowitz has been the lead man on an Iraq campaign, and started agitating

for it well before September 11. In fact, Wolfowitz wanted the US

response to 9/11 to *be* an immediate Iraq campaign. Leaving al-Qaeda

alone in Afghanistan while pursuing an Iraq adventure last fall would have

been an enormous disaster, in my view.

Wolfowitz’s paranoia has been about states, not terrorist groups. He was

not vindicated by September 11. Rather, he was blindsided because he did

not expect the danger to come from small fringe elements but from places

like the old Soviet Union and from China. He hates China so much that he

even stopped an order for 600,000 berets made in China for the US armed


Whether it is realistic to expect a harmonious and democratic Iraq to

emerge from a US campaign there is still a big question mark. Maybe it

could happen. Maybe it won’t. But the chaos and terrorism that emerged

from Reagan’s Afghanistan effort should be a reminder to us all of the law

of unintended consequences. They haven’t been abrogated just because

Wolfowitz is getting his way on Iraq. And he arguably has caused US

citizens to be significantly less secure by his past actions than they

would otherwise have been.

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