Twenty seven years ago, in the last days of December, Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan. In response, self-styled mujahadin (holy warriers) took up arms in the name of both their country and Islamto fight off the foreign invaders.
At the time, the United States was concerned about its Cold War rival, the Soviet Union. In a December 26 memo to President Jimmy Carter, U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski wondered, hopefully, whether Afghanistan might prove to be the Soviets' "Vietnam":
However, we should not be too sanguine about Afghanistan becoming a Soviet Vietnam:
A. The guerrillas are badly organized and poorly led;
B. They have no sanctuary, no organized army, and no central government -- all of which North Vietnam had;
C. They have limited foreign support, in contrast to the enormous amount of arms that flowed to the Vietnamese from both the Soviet Union and China….
To shore up the Afghan resistance, Brzezinski suggested that "It is essential that Afghanistani resistance continues. This means more money as well as arms shipments to the rebels, and some technical advice."
The U.S. supported rebels did eventually drive out the Soviets, then descended briefly into a civil war among competing warlords and factions, out of which rose the Taliban. Twenty six years later, the Taliban are still going strong: "The non-Muslims came and occupied our country,"said a Taliban spokesman. "The jihad will be going on until we kick them out of Afghanistan." This time, of course, the invaders are the United States and its allies.
Notwithstanding the real threat of Soviet expansionism at the time, history's odd twists make it difficult to resist wondering where the U.S. might be now—in Iraq as well as Afghanistan--if it didn't so quickly turn to money and weapons as the cure to international ills.