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Lenni Brenner on the Comeback
of the Taliban

In mid-June 2008 Stanley Heller interviewed Lenni Brenner about Afghanistan. The telephone connection was poor so rather than post the audio we publish the transcript here. In view of the National Assembly decision to call for withdrawal from Afghanistan the article has become even more useful and timely.

Interviewer's introduction:

Recently it was announced that over the last few months allied military deaths in Afghanistan were greater than that of Iraq and recently, in a massive prison break in Khadahar, 800 prisoners escaped, including 400 Taliban. I'll be speaking about Afghanistan with historian and activist Lenni Brenner who is in New York City. Brenner is the author of a number of books on Zionism during the 30's and 40's. He's also the author of an article, "The Two US Afghan Wars."

Q. After Afghanistan went through years of rule by this most severe Islamic fundamentalist regime how is it possible that these Taliban are making a resurgence?

A. Well, a lot of people are answering that question. The pro-American Karzai government is riddled with corruption and doesn't really represent any progressive force. According to the New York Times, 92% of the world's heroin comes from Afghan poppies and what the Times explains is that a lot of the people don't like the Taliban's extreme politics, their ultra-male chauvinism and so f orth, but the fact remains that they're producing the poppies and they're able to pay the people more for working for them than the Afghan government pays them to work for the Afghan government. The Taliban is noted for its honesty, they're honest fanatics whereas the government is seen by everybody as corrupt. The United States every so often makes a gesture, we're building a school here or a school there, but they're not doing it in any systematic way and the result is that the people see the pro-American government's corruption and support the Taliban's attitude that foreigners are trying to take over our country again, just like the British and Russians before them.

Q. If people in the US know anything about Afghan history it's from the Tom Hanks movie, "Charlie Wilson's War" which glorified the US role in arming the fundamentalist who overthrew the Russians. So where should we start when we talk about Afghan history?

A. Afghanistan is situated on what was then the Soviet Union's border. So during the 20's, 30's, 40's and on, progressive elements in Afghanistan saw the Soviet Union as a sort of model, an ideal of the modern world. Plus the Soviet Union, to compete with America within the Afghan kingdom, would put up a hospital in Kabul, a social service here or something like that there and provide arms for the military. So a lot of people supported the Soviets.

Finally the king was overthrown and a government of liberals and communists took over and then the communists took over from the liberals and then one wing of the communists ultimately overthrew another. We're talking about pro-Russian Stalinists who became increasingly fanatical. Finally the Soviet Union directly intervened in 1979 because they were worried that the communist regime was losing ground to the Islamic fundamentalists. The Soviets wanted a moderate regime, you know, 'we're for land reform but we're not crazy. We're atheists, but we're not anti-Muslim.' The Americans under Jimmy Carter - and I emphasize Democrat Jimmy Carter - and his National Security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brzezinski's advisor Madeleine Albright, the three of them became convinced the Soviet Union entering Afghanistan was a step on the way for the Soviet Union to go to the Persian Gulf.

Iran had just fallen to Khomeini, so the United States began, under Jimmy Carter, to arm Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan. This continued under Ronald Reagan and ultimately triumphed under Reagan, but I emphasize that it was Carter and Brzezinski who started arming the fundamentalists.

I just read an article by Brzezinski where he says a lot of people are accusing him of being responsible for 9/11. His answer is, 'How can I be blamed for what I did in 1979 re what happened in 2001?' But he can be blamed for it because it was his policy of relying on the Islamic fundamentalists against the Stalinists that ultimately gave them not only a base to operate from in Afghanistan but a triumphalist feeling. They had defeated the Soviet Union, a superpower.

Now in politics if someone doesn't like someone they start equating them with Hitler. You've heard Bush compared to Hitler. But there is in fact a real analogy to Hitler in the Afghan story. When the United States supported the Islamic fundamentalists they weren't male chauvinists trying to take away the rights of Afghan women or anything like that. They were looking for a Commie-basher and their Commie-bashers won. Now the analogy is to the German capitalists in 1929 during the depression. They weren't looking to kill any Jews or anything like that. They were looking for a Commie-basher. The capitalist economy had collapsed. The German Communist Party had the support of one out of 8 voters. There was also a big Social-Democratic party. So the capitalists there decided to back Hitler to beat the communists. But when you put some crazy Commie-bashers into power, you think you're using them, but they think they are using you. So what happened in Afghanistan is that Carter and Reagan put the Islamic fundamentalists into power and they said, 'Thank you, but no thank you." When the United States jumped into Saudi Arabia after Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait, the Americans assumed his next step was to go into Saudi Arabia, so they sent in thousands of American troops into Saudi Arabia. Whereupon the forces that are now al-Qaeda said, "Aha, Saudi Arabia is now a puppet regime, so now we're coming after Saudi Arabia and the United States."

Q. So we fattened the fundamentalists and then enraged them by putting these bases in Saudi Arabia and oppressing the Palestinians and then the fundamentalists go after the World Trade Center. By the way, is there any doubt in your mind that it was Islamic fundamentalists?

A. No, there's no doubt, for two reasons. I do traffic surveys for a living and I did many surveys in the World Trade Center before the first bombing of the WTC and afterwards between 1993 and 2001 and, even though there is no longer a World Trade Center, the New Jersey Transit system rebuilt their station that was under it, so I'm back in that area doing traffic surveys, and I closely followed the trial of the guys were convicted of the 1993 bombing. There's no doubt in my mind that they did that. They literally used a van which they brought into the garage under the WTC, and then, after the bombing, called into the rental company and said the van had been stolen! In prison slang that's called "breaking into jail." So they did it. And after 2001, al-Qaeda said 'Who are all these people who are saying Bush did it or the Iranians did it? We did it. We're proud of it."

Now, before I get off Carter and Brzezinski, I just want to point out something else about them and what they were doing at that same time that puts what they did in Afghanistan in perspective. At that same time, the Pol Pot regime was overthrown in Cambodia by the Vietnamese and the pro-Vietnamese present government of Cambodia. So the minute Pol Pot was overthrown and went hiding in the jungle, the Soviets said, "Let's turn over Cambodia's UN seat to the new government" and Jimmy Carter said, "No, no, no, we still recognize the Pol Pot government" (because his concern at the time was that Communist Vietnam would be an attractive poll for revolutionaries in Southeast Asia and they didn't want that). Therefore they supported Pol Pot hiding in the jungle. In other words the guys who supported Pol Pot were the guys supporting the Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan. The Pol Pot regime was one of the worst regimes ever to appear on the planet Earth. So you get the picture. The United States, the armed fortress of world capitalism and world imperialism, which talks the talk of democracy and so on, in the real world it fought in Afghanistan with an element worse than the Communists.

Q. OK, it's September 12, 2001 and what are the choices then. I recall you spoke in Middletown, CT in 2002 about the US war in Afghanistan and I believe you opposed it and I believe your phrase was, "You don't usually send the arsonists in to put out the fire." Do you stand by that analysis?

A. Absolutely, the US armed the fundamentalists in the first place in Afghanistan and then they walked away from it. Anyone thinking that the United States, Democrat or Republican, with that kind of record in Afghanistan, is going to do anything in the interests of the people of Afghanistan is kidding themselves. Let me put it this way. Obama, who more or less is running on "I voted against the Iraq war", is 100% for the war in Afghanistan. He even has Brzezinski in and around his camp. Obama distanced himself from Brzezinski after he made some comments about Israel, but he has yet to criticize Brzezinski, or Carter for that matter, for what they did in Afghanistan. As far as I'm concerned, Jimmy Carter committed murder in Afghanistan. But, like a lot of politicians, he's an elder statesman now, he no longer is running the ship, and now he every so often looks over the side and says we're heading towards a waterfall and wants to give advice.

Q. But back on September 12th what was the alternative to a US or allied invasion of Afghanistan?

A. You can't drop yourself into the White House on the 12th if you weren't there on the 11th. What we have to do at all times is explain what's going on to the public because a very big piece of the American public is very concerned with what is going on in Afghanistan because they don't see the Americans as winning there. As you say, hundreds of prisoners just escaped because the Taliban took over the prison. What we have to do is to give the public a picture of what went on, how we got to where we are, and who are the forces in there. There's a Chinese proverb, "It's the height of hypocrisy to look for the sacred emperor in low class tea shops." You won't find an emperor in those shops. Similarly, it's the height of hypocrisy to think you're going to get any progressive solution to Afghanistan's problems from Obama, the candidate of the party that put the Islamic fundamentalists into power, and who has yet to criticize his own party or Carter or Reagan for that. So specialists are saying these are the guys who got America into trouble and they don't know how to get out.

Q. So, what should the anti-war movement be saying, pull the troops out?

A. Well, I find it odd that 92% of the heroin in the world comes from Afghanistan and none of the Left talks about the opium trade. Similarly, everyone in America knows where Guantanamo Bay is, but very few people in the anti-war movement or the liberal movement are talking out why America is in Guantanamo in the first place. It's part of Cuba! I'm sure Obama is for fair trials for the guys in Guantanamo, but I haven't heard him say one word about closing the base, getting all the troops out of Cuba. Let me put it this way: American politicians have got us into a major world crisis in the Middle East: Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, etc. These problems are not going to be solved by the guys who created the problems.

Obama in terms of Afghanistan is already talking about sending troops into Pakistan to pursue the Taliban. All he can think of is a military solution, but the problem with a "military solution" is that, as the German military theoretician Karl von Clausewitz put it so famously, "War is nothing but the continuation of politics by other means." The US will continue to lose control of the situation in Afghanistan because it has no legitimate contender for power in Afghanistan. All it does is support the Karzai regime, its puppet regime which is noted for its corruption. The left, right and center, everyone in the newspaper world, agree that the Karzai regime is corrupt, not that Karzai personally steals, but everyone else in his regime steals.

Q. To sum it up what should the anti-war movement call for, pulling the troops out of Afghanistan?

A. I say either pull the troops out or call for an entirely new government. We know they're not going to do that, so I might as well say pull the troops out. They're not going to win, they'll be there forever as long as they support the Karzai regime. For example if you're going to win they have to take care of the poppy growers, a major element in the economy. You can try to burn down their fields or you can say we'll buy your opium. The United States, because of its fanaticism, is trying to burn down the fields and that just ends up supplying troops and a source of income to the Taliban.

There just isn't any sense being there unless you have a winning strategy and none of these politicians have a winning strategy. I find this particularly ironic in the case of Obama, a former coke head. He's not talking about the heroin situation in Afghanistan. If you're not going to do that, how are you going to win the war?

I hate to end on a sour note, but that's all there is, a lot bad news out there.