The US May Take the Place of the USSR as the Latest Failed Superpower


Consider the following highly-classified report about the situation on the Afghan front:

“Judging by the most recent communications that we have received from Afghanistan in the form of encrypted cables, as well as by telephone conferences with our chief military adviser . . . the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated sharply . . . Bands of saboteurs and terrorists, having infiltrated from the territory of Pakistan . . . are committing atrocities . . .”

This dispatch could have come in the last two weeks from the U.S. Central Command, which is facing a renewed surge in Taliban and Al Qaeda activity in Afghanistan. It is now estimated that the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies now control one-third of the battle-torn nation. The battlefield killing in Afghanistan by Al Qaeda units of former National Football League player Pat Tillman, who volunteered for the U.S. Army Rangers in the aftermath of 9-11, points to the precarious position of the United States in Afghanistan. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are far from out of commission. And to make matters worse, President Bush secretly diverted a $750 million budget supplemental appropriated by Congress for the Afghan operation in order to build up for his pre-911-planned war against Iraq.

The above classified report, however, did not emanate from the U.S. Central Command or the Pentagon. It is a declassified Top Secret [Only Copy] Working Transcript of a meeting of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, dated March 17, 1979. The words are those of Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko to his colleagues, who included General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, his eventual successors Konstantin Chernenko and Yuri Andropov, Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Ustinov, and a junior Politburo member named Mikhail Gorbachev.

In many respects, the Soviet Union’s attempt to suppress an Islamic insurgency in Afghanistan led to the downfall of the world’s “second superpower.” The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan helped to trigger anti-Soviet restlessness in its own Central Asian Soviet Republics, which are now all independent of Moscow. What goes around eventually comes around. The United States, which built up the Islamic guerrilla groups in Afghanistan, eventually was attacked by some of their more radical offshoots. It now faces an Islamic rebellion not only in Afghanistan but also in Iraq. Eventually, if Israel does pull out of the Gaza Strip, Hamas will likely emerge as the governing power in that territory. Hamas has now declared war on the United States for supporting Ariel Sharon’s intention to annex parts of the West Bank in violation of international law.

Other passages from the Soviet archives are almost a carbon copy of what the United States not only faces in Afghanistan but also Iraq. The words of the Soviet military, political, and intelligence leadership are as important for the Bush administration today as they were for the Kremlin political elite in 1979 and throughout the 1980s.

We are constantly told by the Bush administration and its ambassador to Kabul, the Afghan-American neo-conservative Zalmay Khalilzad, that the regime of Hamid Karzai is firmly in control of much of Afghanistan. That is as laughable as the Soviets being told by their clients in Kabul that they, also, were firmly in control. From the March 17, 1979, transcript, the words of Central Committee Secretary Andrei Kirilenko, who saw potential problems for the Red Army in Afghanistan, could easily be applied to U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq today:

“The question arises, whom will our troops be fighting against if we send them there? Against the insurgents? Or have they been joined by a large number of religious fundamentalists, that is, Muslims, and among them large numbers of ordinary people? Thus, we will be required to wage war in significant part against the people.”

Kirilenko also raised the problem of Soviet support for its client in Kabul, Nur Mohammed Taraki, who was committing major human rights violations against Islamic religious leaders:

” . . . Taraki must be instructed to change his tactics. Executions, torture, and so forth cannot be applied on a massive scale. Religious questions, the relationship with religious communities, with religion generally and with religious leaders take on special meaning for them. This is a major policy issue. And here Taraki must ensure, with all decisiveness, that no illicit measures whatsoever are undertaken by them.”

Alexei Kosygin, the Soviet Premier, also raised misgivings about going into Afghanistan.
He said about sending Soviet arms to the Afghan army:

“If [the Afghan army] collapses, then it follows that those arms will be claimed by the insurgents.”

The next day, March 18, 1979, Kosygin reported an amazing revelation from his phone conversation with Taraki, “almost without realizing it, Comrade Taraki responded that almost nobody supports the government.” According to a formerly Top Secret phone transcript, Taraki told Kosygin, “there is no active support on the part of the population [in Herat] . It is almost wholly under the influence of Shi’ite slogans — follow not the heathens, but follow us. The propaganda is underpinned by this.”

Kirilenko then reported that the 17th Afghan Army Division in Herat, numbering 9000 men, had gone over to the side of the insurgents. Kosygin added that an anti-aircraft battalion had also joind the rebels. Compare what the Soviets discussed with what George W. Bush must be hearing from his Iraqi viceroy, Paul Bremer, about Iraqi support for the U.S. occupation, what the Iraqi people think about the neo-conservative stooge Ahmad Chalabi, the Shi’ite uprising in southern and central Iraq, the U.S. winning the “hearts and minds” of the Iraqi people, and mass defections by U.S.-trained Iraqi army and police personnel to the insurgents. The old Soviet Politburo members must be spinning in their graves about the U.S. predicament in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The head of the Soviet KGB, Yuri Andropov, presented a stark warning to his colleagues about what the Soviets would encounter in their Afghan occupation,

“Comrades, I have considered all the these issues in depth and arrived at the conclusion that we must consider very, very seriously, the question of whose cause we will be supporting if we deploy forces into Afghanistan. It’s completely clear to me us that Afghanistan is not ready at this time to resolve all the issues it faces through socialism. The economy is backward, the Islamic religion predominates, and nearly all the rural population is illiterate. We know Lenin’s teachings about a revolutionary situation. Whatever situation we are talking about in Afghanistan, it is not that type of situation. Therefore, I believe that we can suppress a revolution in Afghanistan only with the aid of our bayonets, and that is entirely inadmissible. We cannot take such a risk.”

Gromyko supported Andropov,

“I completely support Comrade Andropov’s proposal to rule out such a measure as the deployment of our troops into Afghanistan. The army there is unreliable. Thus our army, when it arrives, will be the aggressor. Against whom will it fight? Against the Afghan people first of all, and it will have to shoot at them . . . we must keep in mind that from a legal point of view too we would not be justified in sending troops. According to the UN Charter a country can appeal for assistance, and we could send troops, in case it is subject to external aggression. Afghanistan has not been subject to any aggression. This is its internal affair . . . a battle of one group of the population against another.”

Kirilenko added, “. . . there is no basis whatsoever for the deployment of troops.”

The following day, March 19, Gromyko laid on the table, with Brezhnev present, what the Soviets would lose by an invasion of Afghanistan, “we would be throwing away everything we achieved with such difficulty, particularly détente, the SALT-II negotiations would fly by the wayside, there would be no signing of an agreement (and however you look at it that is for us the greatest political priority), there would be no meeting between of Leonid Ilyich with Carter, and it would be very doubtful that Giscard d’Estaing would come to visit us, and our relations with Western countries, particularly the Federal Republic of Germany, would be spoiled.”

After Taraki was killed by his deputy, Hafizullah Amin, in October 1979, Brezhnev pushed for his doctrine that no socialist country could revert to capitalism. The Soviet military prevailed and a decision was made to launch an invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. All the protestations of some of the leading members of the Soviet old guard were swept aside. The Soviets faced a 10-year costly battle in terms of lives and money and were eventually forced to withdraw, leaving Afghanistan in the hands of radicals who would one day launch and nurture the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

It is noteworthy what an October 2, 1980 formerly Secret Soviet Communist Party report said about U.S. support for the mujaheddin. “American instructors are taking an active part in the training of the rebels on the territory of Pakistan. These instructors have come mainly from the Washington-based “International Police Academy” and the Texas-based school of subversion.” And in what would help lay the groundwork for the establishment of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the Soviet leadership was warned, “The American CIA has devised special recommendations ‘for the use of religious movements and groups in the struggle against the spread of Communist influence.’ In accordance with these recommendations, agents from the American special services in Pakistan are carrying out various work among the Pushtun and Baluchi tribes . . .”

By 1986, it was clear to the new Soviet leader, Gorbachev, that the occupation of Afghanistan was a disaster. In talking about the Soviet client in Kabul, Babrak Karmal, Gorbachev stated in a Top Secret Draft transcript, “B. Karmal is very much down in terms of health and in terms of psychological disposition. He began to pit leaders against each other.” (Take note of what Ahmad Chalabi is now doing in Iraq now that Bremer has given a green light to restoring former Baathist leaders to power. Chalabi is talking about conspiracies by Iraqi Sunnis and Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN chief envoy. Chalabi refers to Brahimi being in league with Arab nationalists and socialists because he is an Algerian and a Sunni). In 1986, Babrak Karmal was replaced by the Soviets by Mohammed Najibullah. Karmal fled to Moscow where he remained in exile until his death in 1996 (take note Mr. Chalabi). Eventually, after the Taliban government captured Kabul, they grabbed Najibullah and tortured and hanged him. (An event that Chalabi and Karzai should both take note of. In fact, Karzai has announced his willingness to allow middle and low-ranking Taliban members back into the government — Baathists back in power in Iraq and Taliban back in government in Afghanistan! What the hell was the purpose of these wars anyway?).

From the Soviet archives we may see the future for the United States. Like Brezhnev and the hard line Soviet military leaders, Bush ignored his Secretary of State, geographical area experts, and Republican “grey beards” and launched an invasion of Iraq. Bush also failed to understand that no invader has ever been able to make Afghanistan into a version of itself. Alexander the Great failed (even though the Afghan city of Kandahar is named for him in a phonetically corrupt fashion); the Russians and their successors, the Soviets, failed; Britain failed; and most assuredly, the United States will never be able to turn Afghanistan into a democracy.

The Soviet Union believed it could transform Afghanistan into a secular-oriented socialist state (not a bad goal when considering the alternative: that Afghanistan instead became a radical Islamist breeding ground for the people who would fly airliners into the World Trade Center and Pentagon).

The Soviet defeat in Afghanistan eventually helped create the climate for its ultimate collapse. We now read Top Secret transcripts and cables from the Soviet archives. Most members of the old Soviet Politburo, many of whom warned against the Afghan adventure, are now dead. Nothing remains of the Soviet Union, which once boasted the largest nuclear Navy in the world, a huge Army, a huge space program, and a worldwide political ideology for which it was the nominal head.

As the neo-conservatives lead the United States into deeper involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, possible future military forays into Iran, Gaza, Syria, and North Korea, withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations system, and a policy of ruthless assassination of its enemies, how long will it take for future historians to be scanning documents from the CIA, National Security Council, and the Republican Party documenting the in-fighting within the last American presidency ­ a second term — of George W. Bush? The Soviet Union collapsed practically overnight. The Roman Empire took a number of years to fall, but it was inevitable. Nazi Germany’s fate became known in a matter of a few years. The United States will not last forever, but the Bush administration may be speeding up the process for its ultimate fall. How long will it be before U.S. twenty and fifty dollar bills are sold as cheap souvenirs at street bazaars in the former United States like Soviet ruble notes are sold today on the streets of Moscow? The Soviet leaders were unable to stop their country’s march to war in Afghanistan. Recent revelations from Bush administration officials show that several key players were unable to stop Bush and Cheney’s determined march to war in Iraq. One world superpower went down in flames in 1990. Will the other last until 2010?

WAYNE MADSEN is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and columnist. He served in the National Security Agency (NSA) during the Reagan administration and wrote the introduction to Forbidden Truth. He is the co-author, with John Stanton, of “America’s Nightmare: The Presidency of George Bush II.” His forthcoming book is titled: “Jaded Tasks: Big Oil, Black Ops, and Brass Plates.”

Madsen can be reached at: