This first appeared in The Libertarian Forum, Volume XIII, NO.I, January-February, 1980
These are grim times for those of us who yearn for a peaceful American foreign policy, for a foreign policy emulating the ideals of Thomas Paine, who exhorted America to interfere with the affairs of no other nations, and to serve instead as a beacon-light of liberty by her example. The lessons of the Vietnam intervention have been shuffled off with obscene haste, by masses and by intellectuals alike, by campus kids and by veterans of the antiwar movement of the 1960’s. It started with Iran, with bloody calls for war, for punishment, for “nuking ’em”, for, as so many graffiti across the land have been putting it: “nuking ’em till they glow”.
But just as we have been whipping ourselves up to nuking Muslims and to declaring war against “fanatical” Islam per se, we are ready to turn on a dime and sing the praises of no-longer fanatical Muslims who are willing to fight Russian tanks with their bare hands: the heroic freedom fighters of Afghanistan. All of a sudden President Carter has gone bananas: declaring himself shocked and stunned by the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan, mobilizing the United Nations in stunned horror, levying embargoes (my how this peanut salesman loves embargoes!), and threatening the Olympics so dear to sports fans around the globe.
It’s all very scary. There is the phony proclamation of personal betrayal—Brezhnev not coming clean on the Hot Line—all too reminiscent of the late unlamented King of Camelot before he almost got us into a nuclear holocaust over a few puny Russian missiles in Cuba. There is the same macho insistence on regarding every foreign affairs crisis as a duel with six-shooters at high noon, and trying to prove that good old Uncle Sam still has the fastest draw.
To set the record straight from the first: Yes, it is deplorable that Russia saw fit to move troops into Afghanistan. It will, we can readily predict, be a disaster for the Soviets themselves, for tens of thousands of troops will be tied down, Vietnam-fashion, in a country where they are universally hated and reviled, and where they will be able to command only the cities and the main roads, and those in the daytime. But deplorable as the Soviet action is, it is neither surprising nor shocking: it is in line with Soviet, indeed with all Russian actions since the late 19th century—an insistence on dominating countries on its borders. While unfortunate, this follows the line of Czarist imperialism; it is old-fashioned Great Power politics, and presages neither the “fall” of Southwest Asia nor an immediate armed strike upon our shores.
Indeed, the righteous horror of the U.S. and the UN at Soviet actions in Afghanistan takes on an ironic perspective when we consider the massive use of military force wielded not very long ago by the United States against Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Dominican Republic. Indeed, the ground for Soviet invasion: the backing of one side in another country’s civil war, was precisely the groundwork for the massive and disastrous U.S. military intervention in Vietnam. In Vietnam, too, we intervened on the side of an unpopular repressive regime in a civil war against a popular revolution; and now the Soviets are doing the exact same thing. So why the selective moral indignation wielded by: Carter, the UN, the war hawk conservatives, the Social Democrats, the liberals, the media, etc? Hypocrisy has become rife in America.
There are two crucial differences between America’s and Russia’s “Vietnam” in Afghanistan. One, that Russia will be slaughtering far fewer Afghans than we did Vietnamese. And two, that Afghanistan is, after all, on Russia’s borders while we launched our intervention in Vietnam half the globe away from our shores. And Afghanistan, of course, is even further away than Vietnam. The whole thing is ludicrous and absurd. Is Afghanistan now supposed to have been part of the “free world”? Afghanistan has no resources, has no treaties with the U.S., no historic ties, there are none of the flimsy but popular excuses that we have used for over a century to throw our weight around across the earth. But here we go, intervening anyway, loudly proclaiming that Russia’s actions in Afghanistan are “unacceptable”, and for which we are ready to scrap SALT, detente, and the feeble past attempts of the Carter administration to shuck off the Cold War and to establish some sort of modus vivendi with Russia. The conservatives, the Pentagon, the Social Democrats, the neo-conservatives, the Coalition for a Democratic Majority—all the worst scoundrels in American life—have been yearning to smash detente, and to accelerate an already swollen arms budget and heat up the Cold War. And now Carter has done it—to such an extent that such conservative organs as Human Events are even finding Carter foreign policy to be better in some respects than that of its hero Reagan.
The idiocy of the sudden wailing and hand-wringing over Afghanistan may be gauged by the fact that that land-locked and barren land had been a Russian client state since the late nineteenth century, when clashes of British and Russian (Czarist) imperialism came to draw the Afghan-Indian border where it is today. (An unfortunate situation, since northwest and western Pakistan is ethnically Pushtu—the majority ethnic group in Afghanistan, while southwestern Pakistan is ethnically Baluchi: the same group that populates southern Afghanistan and southeastern Iran.) Ever since, the King of Afghanistan has always been a Russian tool, first Czarist then Soviet—to the tune of no bleats of outrage from the United States. Then, in 1973, the King was overthrown by a coup led by Prince Mohammed Daud. After a few years, Daud began to lead the Afghan government into the Western, pro-U.S. camp. More specifically, he came under the financial spell (i.e. the payroll) of the Shah of Iran, the very man much in the news of late. Feeling that they could not tolerate a pro-U.S. anti-Soviet regime on it borders, the Russians then moved to depose Daud and replace him with the Communist Nur Taraki, in April 1978. Ever since then, Afghanistan has been under the heel of one Communist ruler or another; yet nobody complained, and no American president threatened mayhem. The reason for the latest Soviet invasion is simple but ironic in our world of corn-fed slogans. For the problem with Hafizullah Amin, the prime minister before the Soviet incursion, was that he was too Commie for the Russians. As a fanatical left-Communist, Amin carried out a brutal program of nationalizing the peasantry and torturing opponents, a policy of collectivism and repression that fanned the flames of guerrilla war against him. Seeing Afghanistan about to slip under to the West once again, the Soviets felt impelled to go in to depose Amin and replace him with an Afghan Communist, Babrak Karmal, who is much more moderate a Communist and therefore a faithful follower of the Soviet line. There are undoubtedly countless conservatives and Social Democrats who still find it impossible to conceive of Soviet tools who are more moderate than other Communists, but it is high time they caught up with several decades of worldwide experience.
I deplore the Soviet invasion; I hope for victory of the Afghan masses; and I expect that eventually, as in Vietnam, the oppressed masses will triumph over the Soviet invaders and their puppet regime. The Afghans will win. But that is no reason whatever for other nations, including the United States, to leap into the fray. We must not die for Kabul!
The crocodile tears shed for the Afghans point up once again the disastrous concept of “collective security” which has provided the basis for U.S. foreign policy since Woodrow Wilson and is the very heart and soul of the United Nations. Collective security means that any border skirmish anywhere, any territorial rectification, any troubles of any pipsqueak country, necessarily provides the sparkplug for a general holocaust, for a world war “against aggression”. The world does not have one government, and so international war is not a “police action”, despite the successful attempt of the warmonger Harry Truman to place that seemingly innocuous label on his military invasion of Korea. U.S. hysteria over Afghanistan is the bitter fruit of the doctrine of collective security. If we are to avoid nuclear holocaust, if we are to prevent World War III, we must bury the doctrine of collective security once and for all, we must end the idea of the United States as God’s appointed champion of justice throughout the world. We must pursue, in the immortal words of classical liberal Sydney Smith, quoted in this issue, “apathy, selfishness, common sense, arithmetic.” But we can’t be apathetic in this pursuit, because time’s a wastin’. American officials are ominously spreading the word that the Afghan crisis is the most threatening foreign affairs situation since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, or even since World War II. No doubt; but only because the Carter administration and the war hawks have made it so.
Libertarians must mobilize to Stop the War, and to stop it now! We must stop the embargo (Carter’s favorite foreign policy tactic), which is both criminal and counterproductive. Criminal because it aggresses against the rights of private property and free exchange. Criminal because it represses trade and thereby injures both the American public and the innocent civilian public of both Iran and Afghanistan. Counterproductive because, while hurting innocent civilians, embargoes do nothing to injure the power elites of either side. Emborgoes will only unify the people of Iran or Afghanistan behind their regimes, which they will identify as defending them and their food supply against the aggressor Carter. We must stop the war; ever since Kennedy abandoned his feeble attempt to talk sense on Iran because of the war hysteria that poured over him, there is no peace candidate on the American scene. The Libertarian party, if it has the will to do so, and to follow its own clear platform, can be the peace party in this terribly troubled time. If it raises a loud and clear call for peace and for opposition to the war hysteria, it can earn the gratitude of all Americans who cherish peace and freedom, and of future generations of Americans who will, one hopes, emerge from the bloody century-long miasma of nationalist chauvinism to see their way clear at long last for the truly American and the genuinely libertarian policy of nonintervention and peace.