The Power of Nightmares

Directed by Adam Curtis

BBC (2003)

Part 2 The Phantom Victory

Film Review

Part 2 focuses on the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989 – and how the CIA funded and trained the Islamist Mujahideen to combat the occupation.

Both Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and the neoconservatives claim credit for the hare-brained and incredibly short sighted scheme to recruit, fund and train a jihadist army in Afghanistan. In addition to providing sophisticated weaponry, the CIA trained the Mujahideen in terror techniques, such as assassination, car bombs and improvised explosive devices (IDEs).

Abdullah Azzam, the Palestinian who led the Mujahideen, put out a call for all Muslims to join Afghanistan’s holy war. He believed that victory in Afghanistan would inspire foreign fighters to return to their homelands and overthrow corrupt secular dictators the US was propping up.

One Saudi who answered this call was a phenomenally wealthy construction contractor named Osama bin Laden. He, too, provided funding for the Mujahideen.

Arab governments, recognizing a unique opportunity to expel their own jihadist troublemakers, opened their jails and exiled their Islamic extremists to Afhanistan. Egypt released Islamic Jihad founder Dr Zawahiri and his followers.

Gorbachov Orders Soviet Withdrawal

In 1987 when Gorbachov came to power, the Soviet Union was on the brink of economic collapse. Believing he could still save it through political reform, Gorby quickly commenced Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. He also reached out to the Bush senior administration to help install a stable government in Kabul. He warned that failure to do so would allow the Mujahideen to install an Islamic dictatorship. The neoconservatives who ran the Pentagon and State Department refused. With Pakistani support, the Mujahideen (renamed the Taliban) took control of Afghanistan and installed a brutal fundamentalist regime.

Both the neoconservatives and the Taliban/Mujahideen would claim sole credit for victory over the Soviets in Afghanistan. Both groups (and Zbigniew Brzezinski) would also credit US intervention in Afghanistan for the demise of the Soviet Union. In reality the USSR collapsed due to gross economic mismanagement and internal decay.

The Split Between Azzam and Zawahiri

Following the Soviet withdrawal, a major rift occurred between Zawahiri and Azzam. As it turned out, torture also radicalized Zawahiri. Who now proclaimed that politicians who were in bed with the Americans – and their civilian supporters – were legitimate targets for assassination.

Azzam, in contrast, compelled Islamic freedom fighters to swear an oath not to kill innocent civilians. Osama Bin Laden, former deputy to Azzam, joined forces with Zawahiri shortly before the latter’s assassination in 1989.

By the early nineties, powerful movements the Islamic Jihad (and related groups) had built in Egypt and Algeria were on track to win national elections. Aided by the US and France, the Algerian military launched a coup and cancelled the Algerian elections. Egypt, in turn, banned the Muslim Brotherhood and arrested and tortured their leadership.

Islamic Jihad responded by attempting to launch violent jihad in both countries. Owing to their failure to attract a mass following, in May 1998 Zawahuri and Bin Laden would announce a new strategy: taking jihad to their real enemies: the US and Israel.

Meanwhile Back in Washington

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the neoconservatives were more committed than ever to promoting the myth that the US was the sole force for good in a world of evil regimes. Fingering Saddam Hussein as the next satan to be overthrown, in 1990 they put immense pressure on Bush senior to overthrow the Iraqi government during the first Gulf War. Bush wisely took the sage advice of Pentagon advisers who warned that a full scale invasion of Iraq would result in a hopeless quagmire.

Mainstream Republicans Back Clinton

In 1992, mainstream Republicans, frightened by the religious fundamentalism that had overtaken the Republican Party, voted for Clinton in droves. The neocons, in turn, latched onto Clinton as the new evil. They began a vicious propaganda campaign against him, spearheaded by the conservative American Spectator. The campaign widely disseminated spurious allegations that the Clintons had committed financial fraud in Whitewater*, murdered their friend Vince Foster and participated in drug smuggling at the Mena Airport in Arkansas.**

Under immense pressure, Clinton agreed to appoint Kenneth Starr as special prosecutor to investigate these allegations. Starr couldn’t find any evidence of Clinton wrongdoing until he stumbled onto the President’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Following their failure to impeach Clinton, the neocons became as marginalized in the US as Bin Laden, Zawahiri and their ragtag followers in the Arab world.

All this would change with 9-11, which would propel both the Islamists and the neocons.


*The Whitewater controversy involved a questionable real estate deal Clinton engaged in while he was attorney general of Arkansas. The Whitewater investigations would result in criminal convictions for several of Clinton’s associates. Although there was insufficient evidence to file criminal charges against the President, his conduct was clearly unethical: see Whitewater Scandal

**While there’s no evidence Governor Clinton was directly involved in cocaine smuggling, he was unresponsive to strong grassroots demand that he investigate the CIA’a drug-gun smuggling operation at the Mena Airport – and to Ross Perot’s (presidential candidate in 1992 and 1996) request that Clinton back the Internal Revenue’s investigation of Menta.

Comments
  1. auntyuta says:

    Thank you for this review, Stuart. It contains much, much information. I think I’d have to read it several times before I could remember all the details. But I do get the drift of it, I think. It seems to be in the human nature to always want to have an enemy to attack. And probably one of the greatest hazards for mankind is fundamentalism. To get rid of fundamentalism for good may take I don’t know how long. Most people are willing to help their fellow human beings if help is needed desperately. Maybe instead of bombing and attacking each other we should just concentrate on helping each other! 🙂

    • Absolutely. Unfortunately the corporate elite and their public relations industry are busy tearing down altruisim and civic engagement to make us into competitive materialistic individuals. When people are lonely and isolated, they are much better consumers.

      • Yes, that is for sure. Look at those giant shopping malls. It is a place designed to consume. They come out from lonely suburbs into the glare of bright shops and soon latch onto shopping trolleys filled with goods on ‘special’ which are being pushed listlessly towards the cashier. A last minute spontanious buy, a Mars snicker bar for the kids or a Women’s Own mag with the latest baby Royal or Evnajelico’s phantom pregnancy. And then…that drive back to the isolation and through the remote till-t-door. Husband puts out yesterday’s bought rickety consumer goods on the nature strip to be collected together with discarded TVs and mattresses lining up from shy neighbours, hardly ever seen.
        It’s pretty tough going.

  2. Gerard, I love your description of suburban life. Somehow we’ve got to get the message out there’s a better way to live.

  3. gerald campeau says:

    “The campaign widely disseminated spurious allegations that the Clintons had committed financial fraud in Whitewater*, murdered their friend Vince Foster and participated in drug smuggling at the Mena Airport in Arkansas.**
    Nothing spurious about allegation. CIA had been running drugs into Arkansaw for years with a number murders going with it

  4. tubularsock says:

    Tubularsock saw this BBC film when it was released and was excited by the information then. I’ll have to dig out my copy and view it again. Thanks for your review. And I know I’ll be just as outraged today as I was then ……… some things never change.

  5. carolahand says:

    The power exerted by the CIA and other “intelligence” agencies (an oxymoron to be sure) is frightening – how does one deal with the sociopathic views and behaviors that are embedded throughout these structures? The pervasive and intractable power of these fear- and control-based views of the world were impossible for me to grasp until I read “Ghost Wars: The secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001 (Steve Coll, 2005). I appreciate the depth of your reviews that link these sociopathic inclinations to executive branch choices and actions.

    • Carol, I believe that the only way to begin organizing against this is at the local level. I have just started a master class called “Awakening Communities.” The resources we have been provided are excellent. What we have been taught so far is about changing the “conversation” to undo the corporate programming that keeps us alienated and isolated. Obviously this is where we have to start. I have to do a 5 min presentation in early November about The Dissent Conversation.

      I plan do do a post about my oral presentation – and related topics – as soon as I get my head around it all.

      • carolahand says:

        I look forward to hearing your ideas, Stuart. I agree that change needs to happen at the local level. I would love to see the syllabus and reading list, and any online resources.

        I have mentioned an idea to a couple friends who live elsewhere (professors who love to teach but are fed up with academia). I suggested that they consider moving to my neighborhood in Duluth, ideally to houses on my block so we could begin collaborating on going “green.” We also talked about starting a book store in one of the vacant storefronts where people could hang out and share ideas about going green and transforming the community. They were excited, but we’ll see…

        My house (on the working class side of town) is half a block from the grade school, and two blocks away from the high school. When I’m working outside in my front yard, people stop by to visit and talk about gardening, classes walk by during their outings and comment on the gardens. I wonder if by transforming a few of the houses, we might be able to begin to build a venue for dialogue and sharing. This morning, I mentioned the idea to the neighbor who is renting the house next door, and she got excited about the possibility…

        • Liam52 says:

          .. .“Awakening Communities.” The resources we have been provided are excellent. What we have been taught so far is about changing the “conversation” to undo the corporate programming that keeps us alienated and isolated. Obviously this is where we have to start. I have to do a 5 min presentation in early November about The Dissent Conversation”.

          This is fascinating and of interest to me too, Stuart. Try as I do I find it difficult to imagine that those who were most able to frit their resources on consumerism will adopt strategies that require a true sharing of what remains of their wealth/energy, as they awaken to the reality of how they’ve been hoodwinked and brainwashed. I fear instead the inclination to store up seeds and build fences to care for ‘their own’.

          While what remains of middle class America is increasingly alienated from their neighbors, they downright fear the poor and lower classes, those who have (already) lost or were never permitted home ownership, social stability or an equal playing field.

          I am now witnessing this in action in over 55 communities of condos and apt complexes..retirees selling the family home, moving to these mostly white enclaves, while removing the poor and/or dependent, (by hook or by crook). These folks are deliberately moved further and further to the margins of society. It seems to me a function of long term social engineering, and it is chilling to witness.

          Even some of the most well-meaning and seemingly ‘enlightened’ folks seem to hold fast to a belief that they ‘deserved’ their elevated status through being somehow ‘fitter’ than those forced to the margins. When they give, they still think of it mostly as ‘charity’ to those less deserving than themselves. The receivers of this ‘charity’ play their part in this game, shuckin’ and grinnin’, while privately acknowledging that survival still requires pandering to this hierarchical structure, while their own lives/energy are increasingly consumed with absurd and life-threatening nonsense created for the sole purpose of keeping them subjugated, and maintaining the system still in place.

          In some respects I’ve been on both sides of this game. So I would dearly love to be able to imagine that a revolution in consciousness, across the board, will bring us all to a oneness where we were can all genuinely work, live and love together. If anyone can conjure a model of this in action, I suspect it is you, Stuart. (Should that we all had your strength of character and generous spirit :). All guidance gratefully received. Om

          • Well, thank you for your kind compliment, Liam, but what you call my strength of character and generous spirit isn’t something I can really claim for myself – it’s always felt like a product of the community that surrounds and supports me. It was very difficult for me to find people who wanted to live in community in the US – a big part of the reason I decided to leave the US. Now I think I was perhaps looking in the wrong places. My daughter seems to have found people who want to live in community in Portland. I have never felt very effective or authentic as a human being when I was living in isolation – but perhaps it’s different for women than for men.

  6. Carol, some of my friends have done exactly that here in New Plymouth. When homes become vacant on their street, they try to recruit friends and likeminded community members to buy them. They call themselves the Huatoki Superhood: http://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily-news/lifestyle/9929913/Share-your-seeds

  7. matangala says:

    That’s amazing, after nurturing their ass they hunt and kill US service men…

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