Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 17, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

REALITY vs. FANTASY....I just finished reading Charlie Wilson's War, a terrific book about the covert CIA war against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s that I'll have more to say about later. For now, though, I just want to share an excerpt from the book that's both timely and enlightening.

First some background. Richard Perle is one of the most hawkish neocons around, part of the group that seemed to think that we could waltz into Iraq, be greeted as liberators, and then turn the whole thing over to their favorite exiles within a few months.

It's a crazy idea on its face, and it makes you wonder what kind of people could believe something so transparently out of touch with reality. Well, here's a hint: they believe stuff like this because they are out of touch with reality.

As you read this anecdote, keep in mind that it's being told by a guy who is a very hardline, hardass anti-communist. His idea of fun is to figure out new and better ways to kill Russians, and at the time this is happening he's in charge of an incredibly creative, brutal, and effective buildup of arms to kill those Russians in ever greater numbers. But even he thinks Perle and his pals are loons.

Here's the story:

Their idea was to encourage Soviet officers and soldiers to defect to the mujahideen. As [CIA chief Gust] Avrakotos derisively describes it, "The muj were supposed to set up loudspeakers in the mountains announcing such things as 'Lay down your arms, there is a passage to the West and to freedom.'" Once news of the program made its way through the Red Army, it was argued, there would be a flood of defectors.

....Avrakotos thought [Oliver] North and Perle were "cuckoos of the Far Right"...."What Russian in his right mind would defect to those fuckers all armed to the teeth?" Avrakotos said in frustration. "To begin with, anyone defecting to the Dushman would have to be a crook, a thief, or someone who wanted to get cornholed every day, because nine out of ten prisoners were dead within twenty-four hours and they were always turned into concubines by the mujahideen. I felt so sorry for them I wanted to have them all shot."

The meeting went very badly indeed. Gust accused North and Perle of being idiots....Avrakotos thought that would be the end of the...idea, but he greatly underestimated the political power and determination of this group, who went directly to Bill Casey.

....In spite of the angry complaints, Clair George and everyone else on the seventh floor agreed with Avrakotos' position. He says that Director Casey even privately told him, "I think your point is quite valid. What asshole would want to defect to these animals?"

But the issue wouldn't go away. Perle, [Walt] Raymond, and the others continued to insist that the Agency find and send back to the United States the many Russian defectors they seemed to believe...the mujahideen were harboring. They had visions of a great publicity campaign once these men reached America.

....Avrakotos describes what happened next with the kind of pleasure he feels only upon achieving revenge. It had been almost impossible to locate two prisoners, much less two defectors. The CIA found itself in the preposterous position of having to pony up $50,000 to bribe the Afghans to deliver two live ones. "These two guys were basket cases," says Avrakotos. "One had been fucked so many times he didn't know what was going on. The other was an alcoholic."

....At that point, Avrakotos says, he went to Perle to announce the good news that the Agency had twelve more willing to come over. "I turned the tables on them and demanded they take them all. And they didn't want to....In all I think we brought three or four more over. One guy ended up robbing a 7-Eleven in Vienna, Virgina."

How can you trust the judgment of someone who not only proposed an idea like this, but fought long and hard for it in the face of massive ground level evidence that it was absurd? Is it any surprise that someone who thought Russian soldiers would defect if we just set up loudspeakers in the mountains of Afghanistan might also think that governing postwar Iraq would be simple and easy?

Remember this the next time you hear Richard Perle say anything. And then give his opinions all the consideration they deserve.

Kevin Drum 4:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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