On this day in 1979, President Carter signed a “presidential finding” that authorized funding the Afghani guerrillas who were fighting the Soviet presence (the invasion didn’t happen until later that year). You know: the same people who would be fighting us just two decades later! The enemy of my enemy is usually not my friend. As a matter of fact, at that time, the Soviet Union was bringing to Afghanistan a whole lot of things that we agreed with. The people who we were funding were not good people and in no way supported what we think of as American or western values. This was the true beginning of the decade long Operation Cyclone.
Of course, the CIA made the decision to back the most militant and backwards of the groups in Afghanistan. This is because the CIA usually doesn’t know what it is doing. It still boggles my mind that the most incompetent parts of our government are the parts that Americans think most highly of. In addition to generally being involved in the most vile of activities, the CIA has shown itself to be hopelessly incompetent in most of what it does. Think: “Bay of Pigs.”
But what’s most amazing me about the CIA is that even what they are capable of doing is fairly minor. It is nothing that any group of people couldn’t put together given the time and resources that the agency has been given. But thanks to spy books and movies, people think it has amazing capabilities. Not really. An ex-CIA agent recorded a commentary for the film RED. He noted two things. First, it is very easy to kill anyone you want to. Second, the most important ability to have if you are a field agent overseas is car stealing. I can well imagine: after you manage to destabilize a country, it is often necessary to get out of them ASAP!
Another thing that is interesting about this is that Carter was a very big Cold War politician — much more so than Reagan was. Yet Republicans have created this mythology of Cater being weak in terms of foreign affairs. I’m not too keen on a lot of Cater’s politics. But this is all very typical of Republicans. Reagan was “strong” because he was bellicose; Carter was weak because he wasn’t. Talk is cheap, but it is all that matters to Republicans.
So 36 years ago, the US government started backing the wrong people in Afghanistan. And 22 years later, we started fighting them. This is because as a nation, we are usually clueless and do things for stupid reasons.