Zbig’s Blowback Outlives Him

Zbigniew Brezezinski passed away today of cancer at the age of 89. My condolences to his family.

I share(d) a birthday with him, and once slept in a room he used during the first cabinet meetings of the Carter Administration. So I’ve always had some curiosity about, if not quite affinity to, him.

Perhaps as a result I’ve always been acutely aware that he is the man who set off the chain of events, 38 years ago, that has led to the war on terror (without even — as he optimistically claimed in 1998 — ending the Cold War). Here’s the 1998 interview where he boasted of the decision.

Q: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs [“From the Shadows”], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?

Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.

Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?

Brzezinski: It isn’t quite that. We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn’t believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don’t regret anything today?

Brzezinski: 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? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic [integrisme], having given arms and advice to future terrorists?

Brzezinski: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

Of course, while the Cold War may have paused, it’s back in full swing now, and Sunni extremists continue to wreak havoc on targets within and outside of the Middle East.

Zbig’s blowback has officially outlived the man. May we remember the soldiers, of every country, who have died as a result this Memorial Day weekend. Rest in Peace.

38 replies
  1. Kim Kaufman says:

    This might otherwise be called the end of Operation Gladio and the beginning of Operation Gladio part B.

  2. sidd says:

    “There is a special dung heap in the low rent section of Hell …,” to quote Hunter Thompson, awaiting him.


  3. bloopie2 says:

    Touché.  On the other hand, what would Afghanistan be (like) today had the US not intervened?  Does anyone really know?  I’m not arguing, just asking out of lack of knowledge, and for context.  Is it, “Likely the same but someone else’s fault” ?

  4. allan says:

    “May we remember the soldiers, of every country, who have died as a result”

    And the civilians.

    Those last words from Zbig in your excerpt are really a quote for the ages.

  5. Kathleen says:

    “Brzezinski: 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? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.”

    So cold and calculated.  Devoid of any consideration or human emotion as to what the outcome for the people of Afghanistan might be.  Had the great honor to get to know a young man from Afghanistan at Ohio University there on a Fulbright scholarship not long after the invasion of Iraq.   His father had been with the Mujahadeen.   He clearly remembered when the Russians bombed his families compound.  He has the horrific memory of his mother howling with pain as she picked up the blown up body parts of his oldest sister.

    He said that his father was in shock when the U.S. invaded Iraq and did not keep their eyes on the situation in Afghanistan with the Taliban.   Many stories.

    Dr. Zbig clearly was not thinking about the people of Afghanistan.  Not at all.

    I kind of hate to admit it I have always liked listening to Dr. Zbig he seemed  to be so measured based on what appeared to be an in depth understanding of foreign policy.

    Was listening to this interview with him last night.  A caller who grew up in Iran really reamed Dr. Zbig…for “ruining his country”   Diane Rehm interrupted the caller



  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    This site continues to filter out comments posted via Tor.  That would seem to be an unwanted outcome.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Does that mean it’s not fixable?  That would be an odd outcome given the priorities of this site.

        • SpaceLifeForm says:

          It is flexible. The problem is BGP hijacking, forcing your traffic through tor before you reach CF and then this website. You do not even have to be using tor at all. It is also important to keep in mind that CF is a MITM/CDN. You have no control.
          Marcy can Whitelist tor but then back to the old ddos problems potentially, albeit less before she decided to use CF. Having experienced the captcha hell without using tor, I know there is some stuff happening. Can not trust CF. Others here I am sure can confirm this unexpected behaviour, especially weekdays.

          Just G(cloudflare tor).


          The options for Tor are:

          Whitelist (trust)

          CAPTCHA (visible challenge which the visitor must interact with to pass)

          JavaScript Challenge (visible challenge with less friction, testing the browser)

          Block (blacklist — available only to Cloudflare Enterprise customers)

    • emptywheel says:

      It doesn’t. Lots of people come in thru Tor. There may be some IPs it is filtering though.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        That’s what I thought.  My access through Tor was fine until about a week ago.  As of five minutes ago, comments are still lost in ether.  Last exit node was via Netherlands.

  7. Jeff Kaye says:

    Come you masters of war
    You that build all the guns
    You that build the death planes
    You that build all the bombs
    You that hide behind walls
    You that hide behind desks
    I just want you to know
    I can see through your masks

    You that never done nothin’
    But build to destroy
    You play with my world
    Like it’s your little toy
    You put a gun in my hand
    And you hide from my eyes
    And you turn and run farther
    When the fast bullets fly

    Like Judas of old
    You lie and deceive
    A world war can be won
    You want me to believe
    But I see through your eyes
    And I see through your brain
    Like I see through the water
    That runs down my drain

    You fasten all the triggers
    For the others to fire
    Then you set back and watch
    When the death count gets higher
    You hide in your mansion’
    As young people’s blood
    Flows out of their bodies
    And is buried in the mud

    You’ve thrown the worst fear
    That can ever be hurled
    Fear to bring children
    Into the world
    For threatening my baby
    Unborn and unnamed
    You ain’t worth the blood
    That runs in your veins

    How much do I know
    To talk out of turn
    You might say that I’m young
    You might say I’m unlearned
    But there’s one thing I know
    Though I’m younger than you
    That even Jesus would never
    Forgive what you do

    Let me ask you one question
    Is your money that good
    Will it buy you forgiveness
    Do you think that it could
    I think you will find
    When your death takes its toll
    All the money you made
    Will never buy back your soul

    And I hope that you die
    And your death’ll come soon
    I will follow your casket
    In the pale afternoon
    And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
    Down to your deathbed
    And I’ll stand over your grave
    ‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead

  8. Garrett says:

    Zbigniew Brezezinski’s idea that he had personally set a trap, helping to draw the Soviet Union into Afghanistan, doesn’t strike me as all that historical.

    The Politburo documents available at GWU show the Soviets having concerns mostly unrelated to Brezezinski’s plot, and to some extent the opposite of it.

    They were worried about the March 1979 Herat uprising, where Russians were killed, and which had nothing to do with Americans.

    They were worried about the September 1979 assassination of Taraki by Amin, and similar factional purges, which had nothing to do with Americans.

    And they were worried about a conspiracy theory involving Amin’s associations with the CIA, and the possibility of him turning in an American direction. That’d be the anti-Brezezinski faction in the U.S. government, drawing the Soviets into Afghanistan, if we want to stress the U.S. role.

    See, for example, an October 1979 report to the Central Committee  of the Communist Party, combining talk of Amin’s repressions, with talk of his potentially turning to the U.S.


    • Desider says:

      So even if Zbig didn’t sucker them in, they went in, and we helped keep them in stitches for 10 long years.

      By the time Gorby left office, the Soviet Union was spending $200 billion on defense, roughly 15% of GDP. Without Brzezinski and the quagmire in Afghanistan, they would have been messing with Europe, doing more in Central America, or tromping through Africa. Instead, the Russians got sick of Russians dying and more, getting sick – the real danger in the Afghan experience.

      Hussein and ISIS and bin Laden, et al are absolutely nothing compared to the old Soviet threat. The only reason we had such a problem in Iraq was Bush overtly doing everything wrong he could – besides giving government a bad name, he gave military organization a permanent black eye as well – not that the military isn’t known for inefficiencies, but the weird lack of priorities and bizarre execution of Gulf War II & the followup failed occupation certainly shouldn’t be dropped at Zbigniew’s feet.

      Have a look at his record – he argued hard against invading Iraq, for all the right reasons. He was no easy interventionist, as the article notes his different approaches to different regions, including resistance to attacking Iran as well. And to presume the utter demolition of Poland, split between 2 major powers by sordid agreement, leaving him unable to return home, had no effect on him in his dealing with Russia and Afghanistan? well, he understood the bigger threat. The Russians were already dismantling Afghanistan through puppets. But they were quite able to destroy a much larger part of the world. Osama bin Laden not so much, especially if we hadn’t been so bloody foolish, jingoist and reactionary.

      Give Zbiggy his due – he twisted the Bear’s tail, and brought it to a standstill, with just a few weapons and no American boots on the ground. Had we listened to his advice later, we would have been much better off.

  9. SpaceLifeForm says:

    Re-arranging deck chairs.


    In recent weeks, the White House also brought on Josh Raffel as a spokesman to handle many of the issues in Kushner’s broad portfolio; Raffel works out of a shared office in the West Wing, though he also has space in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

    [Ring a bell? SCIF]

  10. cwolf says:

    I’ve always admired Carter and fondly recall his almost warless administration.

    But I never liked that smug Zbig SOB.

    His slur about “<i>…Some stirred-up Moslems…”</i> reminds me that I won’t miss Zbig one bit.

  11. RexFlex says:

    I can’t recommend it enough for some great historical insights involving Poland during the Second World War:

    Black Earth by Timothy Snyder

  12. Watson says:

    As Garret notes above, Zbig is probably taking too much credit for ‘giving the USSR its Vietnam war’. And although it was extremely traumatic for soviet society, the Afghan war wasn’t the defeat that the USA suffered in Vietnam.
    Approximately 15K Soviet soldiers died in Afghanistan and 35K were wounded (versus 58K US dead and 153K wounded in Vietnam), but the Soviet forces were not defeated in Afghanistan.
    The ‘Soviets’ morphed into ‘Russians’, and then switched sides and withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988-89. Until then, the major cities were controlled by the Soviet-backed Najibullah government, which survived until 1992.
    Zbig should nonetheless be remembered as the godfather of the ongoing policy of using barbaric, homicidal, crackpot, Stone-Age, Wahhabi/takfiris as foot soldiers for US foreign policy.

  13. GKJames says:

    It’s what happens when people with an axe to grind come into key positions to drive policy. Zbig’s (and, years later, Albright’s) was the Russians. The question for President Carter is whether, looking back, he regrets deferring to Brzezinski.

  14. CTuttle says:

    McClatchy just dropped a bombshell on the NSA…

    U.S. intelligence agencies conducted illegal surveillance on American citizens over a five-year period, a practice that earned them a sharp rebuke from a secret court that called the matter a “very serious” constitutional issue.

    The criticism is in a lengthy secret ruling that lays bare some of the frictions between the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and U.S. intelligence agencies obligated to obtain the court’s approval for surveillance activities.

    The ruling, dated April 26 and bearing the label “top secret,” was obtained and published Thursday by the news site Circa.

    It is rare that such rulings see the light of day, and the lengthy unraveling of issues in the 99-page document opens a window on how the secret federal court oversees surveillance activities and seeks to curtail those that it deems overstep legal authority.

    The document, signed by Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, said the court had learned in a notice filed Oct. 26, 2016, that National Security Agency analysts had been conducting prohibited queries of databases “with much greater frequency than had previously been disclosed to the court.”

    Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/national-security/article152947909.html#storylink=cpy

    • emptywheel says:

      No. Actually McClatchy is doing a shitty report based off a shitty report based off stuff I reported on weeks ago. And, frankly, based off stuff I reported on last August (so it’s not that the court didn’t know because I did).

  15. Evangelista says:

    One of the main characteristics of history that makes reading of history interesting and fun is captured in what could be a line in a song:

    “Dat ol’ Blowin’ of Blowback, It jus’ keeps Blowin’ and Blowin’, An’ Blowin’ On and On…”

    History, meaning the study, reding and writing of histories, plays a significant part in keeping blowbacks blowing on and on.  We are still today resuscitating and re-energizing ‘winds’ the Caesars, Alexander and predecessors to them stirred.

  16. M says:

    Were one to care enough to date when the Dems went off the rails by switching from the New Deal/Great Society party to GOP-lite, it was with Brezezinski’s appointment and implementation of what became neocon policies — and you can see how they made the world so much better a place.

    Brezezinski, Ailes — makes one hope that there is a hell and they’re getting what they deserve.

    • Watson says:

      I agree about the Dems going off the rails with neocon policies, and I think that our current era of aggressive ignorance can be traced to 1981 when President Reagan removed Jimmy Carter’s solar panels from the White House roof.

  17. perris says:

    Hey guys, perris here, still can’t join but at least I can participate;

    I have a question off topic, hope you don’t mind;

    I understand Flynn won’t enjoy his 5th amendment once he’s pardoned, thus, no pardon, Trump can’t have Flynn testifying, congress is going to have to issue immunity.

    What happens if congress issues immunity, Trump issues pardon, and promises a pardon over any obstruction of justice charges, thereby giving Flynn license to ignore questions under oath?

    Sure, there might be repercussions, congress won’t be helpless if they don’t want, for instance, they can keep jailing Flynn each time he refuses testimony, but it does look like a loophole Trump is brazen enough to exploit


    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      You have a cart and horse problem.

      In order for a pardon to even occur, there must be a conviction.

      A pardon is not a ‘get out of court free’ card.

        • SpaceLifeForm says:

          Technically, Nixon was ‘convicted’.


          After Ford left the White House in 1977, he privately justified his pardon of Nixon by carrying in his wallet a portion of the text of Burdick v. United States, a 1915 U.S. Supreme Court decision that suggested that a pardon carried an imputation of guilt and that acceptance carried a confession of guilt.


          A grand jury was investigating whether any Treasury Department employee was leaking information to the press. George Burdick, city editor of the New York Tribune, took the fifth and refused to reveal the source of his information. He was handed a pardon by President Woodrow Wilson but he refused to accept it or testify. He was fined $500 and jailed until he complied. The Supreme Court ruled that Burdick did not have to testify because he had the right to reject the pardon. Thus, the government did not have the ability to cause him to lose his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination through the maneuver of granting him a pardon. The Court declined to answer the question of whether the pardoning power may be exercised before conviction.

          [Back to perris scenario]

          “What happens if congress issues immunity, Trump issues pardon, and promises a pardon over any obstruction of justice charges, thereby giving Flynn license to ignore questions under oath? ”

          The first pardon is problematic if Flynn has not been charged yet or even if hints of possible charges are not public. Suppose the president were to attempt to grant such a pardon. How would he know what he is pardoning Flynn for? He would either have been told or obtained leaked info. Or he already knows plenty because he is complicit.

          So, that step is very dangerous for the president.

          A promise of a pardon is even more problematic. It implies obstruction of justice and conspiracy. The president can not pardon someone for a crime that has not ocurred yet. Certain impeachment in a sane world.

          Comparing Ford’s pardon of Nixon to the perris scenario in Trumpland is not a good comparison yet. We do not have a Woodward and Bernstein that have made it clear to the public that high crimes and misdemeanors have been comitted. Yet.

          Maybe to avoid a lot of constitutional issues regarding the perris scenario (which will drag things out and allow more damage to occur), Congress preempts the possible mess by starting impeachment proceedings. Against Flynn in this particular scenario. (and others)

          the words of the Constitution, Article II, § 2: “The President . . . shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”

          Note that Nixon resigned *before* impeachment proceedings started in the House. If Nixon had not resigned, and the House started impeachment, Ford would not have been able to pardon Nixon.

          • SpaceLifeForm says:


            Actually the impeachment process started before Nixon resigned, but before it was totally formalized and sent to Senate.

            The Constitution is not clear on the point in the timeline when the blocking of a pardon due to impeachment becomes effective. My reading is that SCOTUS has never resolved this question. To me, it should apply as soon as proceedings start in the House. I.E., when Ford pardoned Nixon, it was unconstitutional.
            But, since impeachment is really political more than criminal, I think that is why SCOTUS never really addressed this question.

            Allowing a pardon to short-circuit a pre-trial investigation seems contrary to the intent of the founders.

            That may change in a couple of years.

  18. lefty665 says:

    nil nisi non boni, is the way I recall my old latin textbook putting it. Thank you for your reminder of just how arrogant and profoundly short sighted our national security policies have been, and that the consequences keep coming. I fear for my grandchildren who will be reaping what we have sown in the dawn of the millennium.

    My flag is flying today for those who have died in the service of the country. May they be resting in peace indeed.


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