Former President Jimmy Carter was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize for his Middle East peace efforts. Yet Carter's Central Asian policies were directly responsible for the spawning of international terrorism as we know it now. On Juy 3, 1979, Carter, acting on the recommendation of his National Security Advisor, cold-warrior Zbigniew Brzezinski, began clandestinely supporting Islamic insurgents in Afghanistan. Carter may rue this now. But at the time, he believed Afghani Islamist rebels were simply fellow Believers denied their religious freedom by the "godless" Marxist government in Kabul. Brzezinski knew better. But as he stated in a 1998 interview: "This secret operation was an excellent idea. Its effect was to draw the Russians into the Afghan trap." When the Soviet Army entered Afghanistan in late December 1979, Brzezinski gloated, "Now we can give the USSR its own Vietnam War!" Brzezinski and Carter's CIA Director Adm. Stansfield Turner freely acknowledged that "possible adverse consequences of the anti-communist alliance with Afghan Islamists (and shortly afterward with their radical Muslim allies around the world) -- the growth of a new international terrorist movement and global outreach of Central Asian drug-trafficking -- did not weigh heavily, if at all" in their calculations. Brzezinski, asked later whether he regretted arming and training future terrorists, retorted: "What was more important in world history? The Taliban or the fall of the Soviet empire? A few over-excited Islamists, or the liberation of eastern Europe?" Brzezinski's native Poland was, of course, in eastern Europe... Carter encouraged Islamist incursions into the Central Asian republics of the USSR, ostensibly to foment religious rebellion in those secular Islamic states. As Brzezinski admitted, the US intended to "build bridges to states having a strong Muslim identity." However, the insurgents frequently committed small-scale terrorist acts by planting bombs in crowded markets, bus depots, apartment and government buildings, and through kidnappings and executions. Carter's sincere but misguided religious naivety regarding Islamism was rewarded with the Iranian hostage crisis which ended his chances of a second term.
The Reagan regime continued Carter's Central Asian policy, and began to deploy an army of Muslim zealots from geographically strategic Pakistan and wealthy Saudi Arabia. Jihadists from every corner of the Muslim world were recruited and trained by the CIA and US military Special Forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and even at US military bases. Reagan vastly increased funding of mujahedin "holy warriors" who established their own facilities -- later to become terrorist training camps -- in Afghanistan. There, exiled Saudi billionaire Usama bin Laden started his ascent from mujahed commander to international terrorist mastermind. Following the death of Leonid Brezhnev, Mikhail Gorbachev implored the UN to intervene and help negociate an end to the Soviet Afghan quagmire. At this, Reagan responded with his infamous exhortation to the mujahedin "Declare holy jihad and go for the victory!" After the Soviet withdrawal, the government of Afghanistan collapsed. The various mujahedin factions began to fight amongst themselves for political supremacy, territory, and opium. The fundamentalist Wahabist Taliban emerged victorious. The so-called northern alliance was (and still is) a loose coalition of warlords and bandits with the motive of personal power, tribal bigotry, and drug profits for its opposition to the Saudi-sponsored Taliban. Moscow regarded the Northern Alliance as the sole barrier between Wahabist extremism and the vulnerable bordering Central Asian states. Russia committed ongoing support to the northern forces, whose leader was, ironically, one of the most notorious CIA-trained rebel operatives during the Soviet Afghan War.
Normally, I am not impressed by right-of-center interpretations of history, because they so frequently attempt to absolve the US of responsibility for disasterous policy. But Cooley has written an honest, unbiased account of the birth and rise of a world-threatening evil. And "Unholy Wars" does not spare recriminations toward any country whose actions contributed to the empowerment of international terrorism. It is a frighteningly eye-opening and timely book. All I can say is, read it now!