On Donald Trump’s Dangerous Ideas about Russia, the Soviets, and the Afghanistan Invasion.
In his first Cabinet meeting of the new year, President Trump used the occasion to publicly talk about a wide range of topics, but one of the things he mentioned flies in the face of historical fact, and undermines a significant event in America’s long twilight struggle against Soviet authoritarianism. We are talking about Mr. Trump’s very incorrect comments regarding why the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.
“We’re going to do something that’s right. We are talking to the Taliban. We’re talking to a lot of different people. But here’s the thing — because mentioned India: India is there. Russia is there. Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan. Russia. So you take a look at other countries. Pakistan is there; they should be fighting. But Russia should be fighting.
The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is it was a tough fight. And literally, they went bankrupt. They went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot these places you’re reading about now are no longer a part of Russia because of Afghanistan.
But why isn’t Russia there? Why isn’t India there? Why isn’t Pakistan there? Why are we there, and we’re 6,000 miles away? But I don’t mind. We want to help our people. We want to help other nations. You do have terrorists, mostly Taliban, but ISIS."
For now, let’s just leave aside President Trump’s very simplistic understanding of why the Soviet Union fell apart for now, and focus on his amazingly irresponsible and incorrect justification on why the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
Here is the background information on what really happened with the Soviets and Afghanistan (from our page on the Afghan Civil War):
A very bloody Communist coup in 1978 overthrew the Afghan government. Almost immediately, a popular uprising began in this strongly Muslim country against the new, secular, atheistic, pro-Soviet government.
The first phases of the long Afghan conflict began with a coup by a Marxist (Communist) political party called the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). On April 27, 1978, this political party (which had influence within the Afghan military), overthrew and executed the country’s first president, Muhammad Daoud, who himself had come to power in a coup that toppled Afghanistan’s long-time monarchy. This new government, led by PDPA founder Nur Muhammad Taraki, began to implement Communist-style policies on a nation with a deep Islamic religious culture and a long history of resistance to any type of strong centralized governmental control. Resistance to the new policies resulted in armed uprisings and harsh, bloody government repression. From the beginning, the PDPA government received significant amounts of aid from the Communist Soviet Union in the form of military equipment and Soviet advisors. The PDPA party itself was divided into two rival factions which actually fought each other for control of the government while simultaneously battling the Islamic rebels. The “Khalq” faction was more militantly Marxist and included men such as presidents Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin. The “Parcham” faction included future presidents Babrak Karmal and Dr. Mohammed Najibullah. In English, Parcham means “Banner.” Khalq means “People.”
Islamic guerrillas in the mountainous countryside harassed the Afghan army to the point where the government of President Hafizullah Amin (who assumed power after he ordered the death of Taraki in October, 1979) turned to the Soviets for increasingly large amounts of aid. With the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, the Soviets decided to occupy Afghanistan in order to maintain Communist power, but were dissatisfied with Amin as the Afghan leader capable of accomplishing this goal. On the night of December 24, 1979, the Soviets invaded the country with a large army, and Amin as one of the first targets. Soviet paratroopers murdered him and installed another Afghan Communist, Babrak Karmal, as a Russian puppet. The Karmal government, with the aid of nearly 110,000 Soviet troops, increased the pressure on the Islamic resistance forces, increasingly relying on airpower and large-scale ground offensives.
From this point onward the United States and other Western and Western-allied countries became involved supplying the Afghan resistance with weapons and other aid, as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan turned that nation into a Cold War battleground.
President Trump blamed “terrorists" as the reason the Soviets invaded and as the reason he said the Russians were “right" to invade. In fact, the rise of Islamic militancy in Afghanistan was a direct result of the Communist coup in 1978 and the Soviet war on the Afghan people that began in 1979. It is well-documented that Osama bin Laden traveled to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Afghans against the Soviets who were already in Afghanistan. From there, bin Laden founded al-Qaida and allied himself with the new Afghan faction called the Taliban. To be clear, the Taliban formed as a resistance group against the Afghan Communists and the Soviets. If anything, President Trump got the cause and effect of the Soviet war in Afghanistan backward. The Soviets did not invade because of terrorists attacking Russia. The terrorists (al-Qaida and the Taliban, among others) in Afghanistan were created in response to the Soviets invading Afghanistan. If the Soviet Russians had never invaded Afghanistan, al-Qaida and the Taliban may never have formed in the first place.
Regardless of whether President Trump was speaking incorrectly due to just not knowing the facts of what he was speaking about, or he said it to make a point about terrorists sneaking into a country (by a southern border?), his blatant justification and excusal of one of the prime acts of aggression by our Cold War enemies and the threat to the world order of that time is inexcusable for any American President. Opposing the Soviets in Afghanistan was a major policy (and a successful one in the end, as the Soviets had to withdraw), of the Republican Reagan-Bush Administrations.
If this grossly untruthful statement by Donald Trump was a solitary incident, it might be chalked up as Trump simply being ignorant of history. But in league with frequent positive comments he makes about Russia and Vladimir Putin (who, remember, was an officer in the Soviet KGB during the Cold War), and the other comment in the Trump quote from the Cabinet meeting about how he thinks Russia should be in Afghanistan again, leads one to the conclusion that an American president has a positive opinion not just about today’s non-Communist (but still authoritarian and anti-democracy) Russia, but also has positive feelings for the old Soviet regime and their oppressive policies. This President is already surrendering hard-won American influence and power in the Middle East (withdrawing troops from Russian-allied Syria), and attempting to ignore and belittle Russia’s victimization of Ukraine, but now he, based on his statements at the January 2 Cabinet meeting, is saying the Russians should return to a place of military prominence and activity in Afghanistan?
What is an American President (of the same party as Reagan and G.H.W. Bush), doing saying these positive things about one of modern history’s most anti-democratic and ruthless regimes (the Soviets), and Putin’s successor government, which is doing its level best to weaken American and Western power worldwide?
We can only hope that his remarkably dangerous comments about the Soviets, modern Russia, and Afghanistan are only the product of a mind that cares little for actual historical facts, and not actually the product of a thought process that implies something more sinister.