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Is President Trump praising the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan?

Written By | Jan 6, 2019
Afghanistan invasion, Russia, Trump, Putin Summit, history of misunderstanding Russia

President Donald J. Trump and President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation hold a joint press conference | July 16, 2018 (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

WASHINGTON: In a meeting with cabinet officials early in January, President Trump made a startling declaration.  He said that the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979 came about because “terrorists were going into Russia.”

This is a historic position being promoted by Russian leader Vladimir Putin, himself a Communist at the time of the invasion.

President Trump went on to say that,

“They were right to be there.  The problem is it was a tough fight.”

The Soviet Union Invasion of Afghanistan

In fact, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 after it fell into civil war. The Soviets continued to occupy Afghanistan until 1989, propping up “a friendly and socialist government on its border,” says the State Department’s Office of the Historian.

The U.S. and its allies condemned the brutal, long-running war.  Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan supplied aid to the Afghan governments to aid in fighting the Soviet Army.

The office of President Ghani of Afghanistan recalls,

“After the invasion by the Soviet Union, all Presidents of America not only denounced the invasion but remained supporters  of this holy  jihad of the Afghans.”

During this war, the statement says, Afghans did not threaten other countries but rather “started a national uprising to earn liberation of their holy soil.”

Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani declaring,

“The Soviet occupation was a grave violation of Afghanistan’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty.”

Any other depictions, he says, defy historical fact.

Did Afghanistan destroy the Soviet Union

Mr. Trump also suggested that the war and occupation caused the downfall of the Soviet Union.  President Trump says:

“Russia used to be the Soviet Union.  Afghanistan made it Russia because they were bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan.”

While the war was costly for the Soviet Union, other significant factors leading to its demise were economic mismanagement, an expensive arms race with the United States and liberalizing reforms in the late 1980s, according to the Center for European Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The invasion and occupation have led to a profound effect on Afghanistan. Millions continue to flee the country. Hundreds of thousands are dead.  A civil war followed the Soviet withdrawal.

Is Trump Splitting from Reagan Conservatives?

President Trump’s remarks represent a dramatic split with American conservatives going back to President Ronald Reagan. Reagan saw the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as an attempt to spread communism and sent aid to insurgent forces fighting Soviet troops.

Editorially, The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 4, 2019) sharply criticized Trump’s “reprehensible” recollection of the conflict and his “slander” of U.S. allies.  Calling his narrative “utterly false” and saying,

“We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President.”

While the statements of President Trump bears no relationship to historical reality, it is consistent with the historical revisionism now under way in Moscow.  It fits the narrative of Vladimir Putin, who served the Soviet Union faithfully for many years. Putin continues to be in mourning over the collapse of communism.

Putin’s attempt to erase history

Before the upcoming 30th anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the Russian legislature is to vote on a Putin-promoted resolution that states the invasion of Afghanistan was conducted “according to international law.”

This would nullify a resolution passed in 1989 that condemned the invasion.

In recent days, President Trump has made other casual statements which make U.S. policy unclear.  At the same Cabinet meeting in January at which he embraced the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he, in effect, stuck a dagger in a major initiative advanced by his foreign policy team.

He told the Cabinet that Iran’s leaders “can do what they want in Syria.”

Trump in Syria

He seemingly reversed a vow by national security adviser John Bolton that the U.S. would not leave Syria “as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders.”

American foreign policy cannot serve our long-term interests if it is based on a misunderstanding of history.  Why would President Trump embrace the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan?  There is no rational explanation.

Clearly, something is awry.

Perhaps Mr. Putin, in his two-hour private meeting with President Trump in Helsinki last year, made a convincing case for the Soviet Union’s role in Afghanistan and the world.

Whatever the cause for this embrace of aggression, it must not be permitted to stand as an expression of U. S. policy.  What would Ronald Reagan say about such an embrace of Soviet aggression and the silence of most Republicans in response?


Allan C. Brownfeld

Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.