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Oh, No: Not Another ‘CIA Solution’ for Afghanistan


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National Review:

Oh, No: Not Another ‘CIA Solution’ for Afghanistan
We’re still reeling from the last one.

It has been over 20 years since the American-sponsored Afghan mujahideen stunned the world by forcing the invading Red Army to withdraw, a major falling domino in the Soviet collapse. Now Jack Devine, a former top CIA official who was instrumental in that effort, argues that, in today’s war, there will be no U.S. victory in Afghanistan.

If he is proven right, it will not be for the reasons that he posits. In truth, the lack of a strategy for winning the broader war against Islamists guarantees that the battle can’t be won in any individual theater. Imagine trying to win World War II in France while ignoring the rest of Europe, North Africa, and the Far East. Even if we indulge the pretense that Afghanistan is a one-off, Devine’s suggested “CIA solution” to our Afghan conundrum — i.e., pulling out combat forces and putting the agency in charge of an Eighties-style approach — makes about as much sense as solving the financial meltdown by putting ol’ fuel and fire, Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, in charge. We ought to say, “Been there, done that.”

It would be an overstatement bordering on slander to say the CIA caused the catastrophe we are dealing with today. The cause of Islamist terror is Islamist ideology. But the agency made things considerably worse: The overwrought allegation that the CIA “created al-Qaeda” did not get started out of nowhere.

Even before we knew much about Osama bin Laden and his network, I had to deal — as a prosecutor in the early Nineties — with whispers that Omar Abdel Rahman, the “blind sheikh” who built the jihadist cell that eventually bombed the World Trade Center, was a covert CIA operative. The speculation was understandable. Abdel Rahman was a strong recruiter and fundraiser for the mujahideen. Combine that with the intelligence community’s astonishing ineptitude in allowing him to enter the U.S. repeatedly (and finally to settle here), and there is plenty of grist for suspicion. But Abdel Rahman was no American spy. Not only did the CIA deny any relationship with him (credibly, as later investigations showed), the blind sheikh also never claimed such a relationship, even when it might have helped him fight off a prosecution that landed him in jail for the rest of his life.

The real reason it seems plausible that the likes of Abdel Rahman and bin Laden could have had CIA ties is that today’s violent Islamist movement came to life as a global phenomenon due in large part to the agency’s lavish investment in Afghanistan. The CIA can continue to pretend otherwise until hell freezes over, but the unrelenting fact is: We weren’t careful enough about whom we were helping.

State Department cant still underscores our burning desire to “support the Afghans fighting for their country’s freedom.” In the Eighties, however, our government was preoccupied with the Soviets: We sought to mire the U.S.S.R. in as draining a guerrilla war as possible while maintaining some deniability of our involvement. As Steve Coll recounts in Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, it was only days after the Soviets’ 1979 invasion that national-security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski told Pres. Jimmy Carter, “Our ultimate goal is the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. . . . Even if this is not attainable, we should make Soviet involvement as costly as possible.” snip
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