Saturday, March 21, 2015


Many Americans saw and applauded the Tom Hanks movie, Charlie Wilson's War, in which an American congressman, in conjunction with the CIA, was able to funnel billions of dollars of military and financial aid to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, to assist the radical Islamic rebel groups overthrow the existing government that was then in power.  To western eyes, the purpose of the assistance was to defeat and terminate the Soviet support and influence that the Afghan government had sought in its attempt to reform the nation and remain in power. The long-established Islamic king had been overthrown in 1973 by more secular, reform-oriented leaders, who had begun a process of initiating significant changes, increased voting rights, more rights for women, moderate changes by western standards, but radical ones for a traditional Muslim nation. Muslim nations were quick to see the threat, rapidly backing rebel Muslim groups fighting to overthrow the reformist government. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia especially provided support and manpower, also Iran. Osama bin Laden was among the jihadists answering the call. The US and UK were the primary western powers to back the rebel groups, their motivation of course was fear of a Soviet takeover of Afghanistan, they called the mujahideen groups "freedom fighters", downplayed the fact that by definition they are "jihadists", and considered the presence of Soviet troops in the country as "the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan", although the existing Afghan government had in 1979 formally requested the assistance of the Soviet Union and the presence of their troops. Whether our involvement, as a part of the Cold War, was right or wrong, is not the issue here. Rather, the purpose is to underscore the extreme dangers to the western powers in continuing to try to play a major role, and determine outcomes, in the myriad complex and interwoven battles that have tormented the Middle East for centuries. Our successful involvement in Afghanistan in the late 1970's and throughout the 1980's involved spawning the very jihadist groups that have wrecked havoc on the Middle East, and on the western powers themselves. The Taliban gained control of Afghanistan in the 1990's, gave safe haven to Osama bin Laden as he trained al Qaeda recruits to become a deadly force with world-wide reach.  The 9-11 attacks gave the Bush-Cheney administration the opening it apparently wanted to find reasons to attack and overthrow the Saddam Hussein government in Iraq, driving Sunnis from power there, installing Shiites in their stead, leaving Sunnis disaffected and ripe for joining with rebellious Sunni forces who were fighting against the Assad government of Syria, Assad being an Alawite Shi'a, although Sunnis are much more prevalent in the population than Alawites.  ISIS, of late, has developed into an organized fighting force, well-funded, a threatening force in both Syria and Iraq, and a major problem for western powers. So a relatively innocuous beginning, providing support to mujahideen groups overthrowing a government in Afghanistan decades ago, has inadvertently played a significant role in creating the main radical Islamic jihadist groups that have been mushrooming in the Middle East ever since. Tread with care, Western nations, in trying to be a power broker when dealing with regions that are well outside your own domain.  You may be unleashing forces that will end up  haunting you for decades to come!