Lenni Brenner on the Comeback
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.
of the Taliban
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
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
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