I come not to praise Zbigniew Brzezinski, but to bury him beneath a damning fact omitted from his New York Times and Washington Post obituaries: He bears enormous responsibility for the rise of the Taliban, al Qaeda and ISIS.
In 1979, serving as national security advisor, Brzezinski convinced President Jimmy Carter to approve a plan to provide covert CIA aid to opponents of the pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan.
Carter signed the secret and deeply fateful directive on July 3 of that year. In launching the effort, “we knowingly increased the probability” of a Soviet invasion, said Brzezinski in a 1998 interview.
When that invasion occurred months later, Brzezinski told Carter, “We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.”
To accomplish that goal, the Carter and Reagan administrations, along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, funded, organized, transported, armed and trained Salafist extremists to fight the Red Army in a holy war on behalf of Islam. Among those who joined the cause were future al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.
The enduring global impact of this 10-year program bears emphasis: The CIA and Saudi GID recruited jihadists from all around the Muslim world, creating relationships and networks that would evolve into not only into al Qaeda, but also ISIS and many other Salafist terrorist groups across several continents.
In 1998, Brzezinski was asked if had any regrets about launching the program. He replied, “Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it?”
By some estimates, one million Afghan civilians were killed in the conflict.
The same journalist asked Brzezinski if he regretted arming and training future terrorists. He countered with his own questions: “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”
That response came three years before 9/11. However, in 2006, even after “stirred-up Muslims” had hijacked four U.S. passenger jets, destroyed the World Trade Center and killed nearly 3,000 people, Brzezinski was still unrepentant. In an interview for the documentary “Our Own Private Bin Laden,” he deflected blame for the rise of organized international jihadism to the Soviet invasion—the one he knowingly made more probable—and said those who link him to the phenomenon “live in a world of paranoia.”
Brzezinski’s Afghan strategy is a case study in the unintended consequences of U.S. interventionism, one that exposes the cold conceit of those who contentedly sacrifice the lives of innocents to the pursuit of grand geopolitical objectives.
In his willingness to make that trade, Zbigniew Brzezinski was much like Osama bin Laden. They may well share the same afterlife.