May 4, 2004
MIAMI - One of the grimmer ironies of life is that peoples and nations often find ourselves becoming what we once despised.
Watching American tanks, artillery, fighter bombers, attack helicopters and deadly C-130 gunships relentlessly pounding the Iraqi city Falluja in recent weeks recalled the destruction in 1996 of the Chechen capital, Grozny, by Russian shells and bombs.
In burning Falluja, we saw the United States acting with the same imperial ferocity as did the Soviets in Hungary, Afghanistan, and Chechnya. We saw the same pattern of ruthless collective punishment in reprisal for a single atrocity against occupation forces that may turn the entire nation against the invader. We saw the horrifying spectacle of America, land of liberty, using tanks to crush Iraqi resistance.
In their first act of good sense seen in a long time, late last week, US forces backed off the siege of Falluja, bringing in some American-run Iraqi troops as a buffer force.
Moscow described its 1979 invasion of Afghanistan as `liberation’ from `bandits, terrorists and Islamic fanatics.’ The Kremlin assured the world it was bringing `civilization, democracy, women’s liberation and social justice’ to Afghanistan.
In its 1994 and 1996 invasions of Chechnya, Moscow claimed to be fighting `Islamic terrorists aligned with Osama bin Laden.’
The Bush Administration’s excuses for invading Iraq – weapons of mass destruction threatening the USA, and ties to al-Qaida – were lies every bit as outrageous and cynical as those used by the Soviets to justify their earlier aggressions.
Soviet Chairman Leonid Brezhnev, an unintelligent man certain of his own infallibility, was convinced to invade Afghanistan by a cabal of Kremlin and KGB imperialists determined to re-order the Mideast and bring `socialist democracy’ to the region. Conquering Afghanistan was the first step in bringing the entire oil-producing Mideast under Moscow’s control.
On 27 December, 1979, 85,000 Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan. President Hafizullah Amin, a former close Soviet ally, was assassinated by KGB Alfa Group commandos.
A puppet regime, headed by Babrak Karmal, was installed in Kabul. Attempts were made to raise a Soviet-run Afghan Army and national police. Opponents of the new regime were branded `terrorists’ and either shot or jailed. Towns and villages that resisted were flattened by heavy bombardment, as this writer witnessed. Nearly 2 million Afghans died in their `liberation.’
Twenty-four years later, in 2003, President George W. Bush, another intellectually challenged leader certain of his own divinely ordained mission, was convinced by a cabal of Washington far rightists and pro-Israel hawks to reorder the Mideast and impose `democracy and freedom’ on the region. The US invasion of Iraq would be the first step in bringing the entire oil-producing Mideast under Washington’s control.
US forces captured Iraq’s leader, a former American ally, installed a puppet regime in Baghdad. Washington is trying to form a US-run Iraqi army and police. Towns and villages resisting US occupation are severely punished. Fallujah being the latest example. Talk about déjà vu.
Fallujah has special significance for Arabs. In 1948, during the shameful rout of Arab troops in Palestine by Jewish forces, an isolated Egyptian brigade held out against heavy attacks in the Palestinian village of Fallujah. The so-called `Falluja pocket’ was one of only two honorable Arab military actions during the 1947-49 Arab Israeli War. Its defenders, including young army officer, Gamal Abdel Nasser, became national heroes. At Fallujah, Nasser began writing his book, `Philosophy of the Revolution,’ which shaped pan-Arab politics for a generation to come.
In another historical similarity, the tame Soviet state media initially cheered the invasion of Afghanistan. But after years of aimless fighting, and return of growing numbers of dead soldiers, the state media began to turn on the Kremlin and make at first discreet, then open, criticism of the war.
The same is happening in the US. At first, big national media, particularly TV – which often resembles the old Soviet state media – cheered the war. But now we see cautious, Soviet-style, muted criticism emerging, though the more outspoken media opponents of the Iraq fiasco are still blacklisted.
So far, the US `liberation’ of Iraq is going even worse than the Soviet `liberation’ of Afghanistan. US forces in Iraq, particularly Marines, have too often employed the same brutal overkill that turned Afghans against the Russians. Such is the nature of colonial wars.
History may not repeat itself, but man’s follies do. We don’t recognize them at first because each time they return dressed in different disguises.