Colleagues: The death of Congressman Charlie Wilson this week marks the end of an era, and the passing of a very flamboyant and influential public figure, particularly on the Mujhadein war against the Soviets. Ironically, when I put out a summation of Charlie’s exploits and the interaction with the Reagan administration, little did I know that the missive I sent out would become the seed that led to the formation of our informal National Security Forum. Most of you have already seen this, so hit the delete key. Those new to this Forum may enjoy looking over one of our first communications. Goodbye, Charlie! — Ty
Many of you have asked me about my thoughts on the great movie, “Charlie Wilson’s War”. I thought the film was terrific, but probably not as good as the book and certainly not as good as Congressman Charlie himself! When I first read the book, despite having been at the core of the formulation of our policy toward the former Soviet Union, I hadn’t really recalled much about the flamboyant Representative.
I thought the movie was fine, but if you liked the film, read the book. The movie was way too short—only 80 minutes—and could have gone another 30-40 minutes and tapped much of the material found in George Crile’s book.
I called some colleagues who were in the intelligence establishment at the time, and they confirmed that much of what you saw or read was quite accurate. As you know the
Central Intelligence Agency was very leery of doing more than simply tweaking the nose of the Sovs—that was how the game was played—as was the State Department.
The book fails to give President Ronald Reagan sufficient credit—indeed, it appears that much of what happened was done in spite of the President, not at his behest. A couple pieces that follow here will rectify that misunderstanding
I also found it interesting that Crile, a well known liberal, and Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts—with similar credentials—wind up making a movie that is essentially an anthem to the Neocon cause!
A final note—the book and the movie make much of Charlie Wilson’s attempts after the Soviet withdrawal to direct significant aid to rebuilding Afghanistan. This is true—it seemed to drop off the radar screen of the first Bush Administration and Congress.
Similarly, in the last month of the Reagan Administration, there was a party in the White House NSC, celebrating the upcoming final exit of Soviet troops under GEN Gromov. During the partying I happened to ask, “Has anybody thought about ‘what next?” The room went silent, and Walt Raymond, a USIA/CIA type, said, “Ty—what are you talking about? We won!”. Unlike Wilson in the movie, who was concerned about US aid to help rebuild Afghanistan, I think I was musing about what we had created with this energized Muslim force having just defeated an infidel power, and with advanced weapons. Alas, I went back to work….and left that world a few weeks later.
What follows are four interesting takes on Charlie Wilson, the Afghan War, Reagan’s role, and the interagency struggle over Afghan policy. It’s a bit long, but very illuminating and enjoyable!
CHARLIE WILSON AND RONALD REAGAN’S WAR
|Written by Dr. Jack Wheeler|
|Thursday, 27 December 2007|
This picture was taken during my wedding on May 25, 1986. The ceremony took place at the villa of a friend of mine in St. Tropez, France. My bride was a gorgeous California redhead named Rebel Holiday (yes, her born name). The dapper gentleman you see between us was serving as my best man. The reason he doesn’t look like Tom Hanks is because he’s the real Charlie Wilson.
When Rebel tossed her garter after the ceremony, it was Charlie who caught it.
He promptly and gallantly put it on the shapely leg of his then-fiancée, Annelise Ilschenko – who was more beautiful and classier than Julia Roberts, having been Miss USA (in 1975 at age 17). Besides, Charlie hadn’t seen Joanne Herring (played by Ms. Roberts) in years.
So it was a strange experience for me to see the movie Charley Wilson’s War, a movie portraying events I participated in, to see how it was both true and not true, magnificent and ludicrous at the same time.
First the truth. Tom Hanks has Charlie spot on. His mannerisms, voice, posture, facial expressions: Hanks is Charlie, and he might get his third Oscar for playing him that he was denied in Cast Away and Saving Private Ryan (he along with six others have won Best Actor twice, no one has won it thrice).
Further, Hanks portrays Charlie as the hero he really was. A larger-than-life America-loving Communist-hating true blue patriot who used his power and influence to the max to stick it to the Soviets big time. That Hollywood would make a major motion picture about a genuine Anti-Communist hero, about a noble Anti-Communist triumph over the Evil Communist Empire of the Soviet Union is morally thrilling. The movie is magnificent.
Not taking anything away from the magnificence, it is also ludicrous.
And not just because I’m not in the movie. After all, I’m the one who explained to him how defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan could win the Cold War, not some socialite in Houston. It’s that no one who had a critical role in helping the Afghans or winning the Cold War is in the movie except Charlie, whose sidekicks are a single CIA lone ranger and a blonde chick in Texas – not Bill Casey, not Ronald Reagan, no one.
In fact, at the movie’s end, a character lauds Charlie as a Democrat for what he has accomplished despite “a Republican president.” That’s the movie’s only reference to Reagan and it is negative, as if Reagan were a hindrance in Charlie’s way. That’s an insult to both men, for Charlie had the highest respect for President Reagan.
I explained the concept of the Reagan Doctrine to George Crile on that balcony, recounting my experiences with the Afghan Mujahaddin to him, as well as those with other anti-Soviet freedom fighters like the Contras in Nicaragua, the UNITA guerrillas in Angola, and the RENAMO guerrillas in Mozambique. It was like talking to a wall.
I remember getting really ticked off at Gust Avrakotos on that balcony. He’s the CIA guy played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
The movie is about providing weapons to Afghans fighting the Soviets, yet only one specific Afghan is named in the film, the legendary “Lion of Panjshir,” Ahmad Shah Massoud.,
Yet the CIA in fact provided little or no aid to Massoud for most of the war. The film never mentions who did get most of the CIA aid instead of Massoud: an America-hating Khomeini-loving Islamofascist named Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and his “Hezbi” Mujahaddin.
One month after 9/11, in October of 2001, I wrote Gulbuddin and the CIA, stating that:
“The CIA’s obsession to support Gulbuddin in vast preference to all other Mujahaddin leaders bordered on the pathological.”
It was Gust Avrakotos in particular I was referring to in that article when I said:
Every CIA agent I ever talked to — especially the armchair analysts at Langley – – was insufferably condescending whenever I would state that Gulbuddin’s people did no fighting, that the other groups were begging for weapons while the Hezbis had an oversupply of weapons they didn’t use. The agents would patronizingly assure me their “intel” contradicted what I and every other independent observer who actually went into Afghanistan saw with our own eyes – – so we all must be wrong.
I ended up inviting Avrakotos on Charlie’s balcony to engage in self-induced carnal knowledge because, surprise, he had never been inside Afghanistan with the Muj himself. At least the movie was honest in not depicting him doing so.
In his book Holy War, Inc., CNN’s terrorism analyst Peter Bergen states that of the $1 billion in US aid to the Muj, at least “$600 million” went to Hekmatyar, who “had the dubious distinction of never winning a significant battle during the war, training a variety of militant Islamists from around the world, killing significant numbers of Mujahaddin from other parties, and taking a virulently anti-Western line.”
Whenever I came back from Afghanistan throughout the 1980s, along with various people in the Reagan White House, the Pentagon, and Congress, I would always brief Charlie. My years of ranting at him about Gulbuddin finally got through to him in early 1987 – because it wasn’t just me.
“Why do you and everyone else who’s been inside [Afghanistan] tell me one thing, and the same thing, about the Hezbis, while the CIA tells me the opposite?” he mused.
“Because the CIA is lying to you, Charlie,” came my reply.
A number of United States Congressmen also had figured out that the CIA was lying about Gulbuddin’s effectiveness, and were well aware of the great danger he was to the future of Afghanistan. I once delivered a personally written note from one such Congressman to Burhanuddin Rabbani. We had met a number of times before, but on this occasion we had a long discussion. The note was an explicit request for Rabbani to have his people spare no effort to assassinate Gulbuddin.
“If you do not do this,” I explained to Rabbani and his chief aide, Abdul Rahim, “any victory the Afghans achieve over the Shuravi [Soviets] will result in chaos and disaster. Gulbuddin has to be killed, killed dead, if Afghanistan is to have any future and any freedom.”
After our discussion, the Congressman’s letter, of which no copies were made, was burned before my eyes. A few days later, Gulbuddin’s Toyota Land Cruiser blew up in Peshawar, Pakistan. Gulbuddin’s driver was killed, but Gulbuddin, although injured, survived. Subsequent attempts also failed.
If Crile had written more of the truth, it would have made a better book and movie. The same goes for the crux of the plot, providing the Muj with Stinger missiles.
The movie has Charlie demanding the Muj be given anti-aircraft weapons against the Soviet Hind helicopter gunships right from the start. It whiplashes from 1980 to 1987, shows a schematic of the European Milan anti-tank missile, then in the very next scene two Afghans use a US Stinger against a Hind. This is a farce.
How the Afghans got the Stingers that won the war is a fascinating story never fully told and can only be abbreviated here. The very condensed version is this:
All the massive weapons flow organized by Charlie and the CIA had, by mid-1986, done no good as it was mostly going to Gulbuddin. When I was in Afghanistan in August, the war was over. The Soviets had won, most of the Muj had retreated back to the refugee camps in Pakistan. Soviet Spetsnaz teams were hunting down and killing the Muj who were left.
McMahon was determined that the Afghans not get Stingers, and used every bureaucratic trick in the book in a constant stream of excuses to prevent their delivery, despite the demands of Reagan, Senator Gordon Humphrey (R-NH), Charlie, and many others in Congress such as Don Ritter (R-PA).
By late 1985, the entire conservative movement was demanding military aid to anti-Soviet freedom fighters, so we decided to make an end run around McMahon. A visit by UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi was arranged to Washington, where he met President Reagan in the Oval Office on January 30, 1986.
Savimbi told Reagan about the coming Soviet-Cuban offensive scheduled at the end of the rainy season in April, that UNITA would be destroyed without Stingers against the Hinds. Reagan gave Savimbi his word that the Stingers would be provided.
The President then called Bill Casey and said he just didn’t care what the excuses were anymore. Any reason given by McMahon was to be disregarded. He signed an EO to that effect on February 18. Two weeks later, McMahon resigned. I was in Angola at UNITA’s Jamba headquarters in April when the Stingers arrived. The Soviet-Cuban offensive was stopped thanks to them.
Now the way was cleared for Stingers to the Afghans. The Paks (Pakistanis, particularly the ISI Inter-Service Intelligence boys who controlled all Muj arms shipments and led the CIA around with a ring through its nose) got in the way and delayed things – so much so that in August I saw the Muj on the ropes with my own eyes.
Finally, on September 26, 1986, the first Stinger missile was fired by an Afghan freedom fighter – and it shot down a Hind just like in the movie. The launcher of that first Stinger ended up proudly displayed in Charlie Wilson’s office.
The CIA/ISI vainly tried to see that Stingers were only given to Gulbuddin, but now Charlie, Reagan, Humphrey, Casey et al were on to the scam, so the entire weapons flow along with the Stingers was redirected to Jamiat and other groups actually fighting. The Muj erupted out of the refugee camps, poured back into Afghanistan, and the war was back on.
It was the Stingers that won the war, just like the movie shows, just as I told Charlie my conclusion after my first travels with the Muj in 1983, “Take the Soviets out of the air, and the Muj will defeat them on the ground.”
After the loss of hundreds of Soviet warcraft and pilots from late ’86 through ‘88, the Soviets retreated in defeat. Less than nine months after final retreat from Afghanistan on February 15, 1989, the Berlin Wall was down, Eastern Europe liberated, and the Cold War won.
It was a victory of many people, chief among them of course being Ronald Reagan, for implementing the entire strategy of the Reagan Doctrine targeting Soviet vulnerabilities. Support for anti-Soviet guerrillas in Afghanistan and Nicaragua, for democracy movements in Eastern Europe, was a critical part of that strategy but only a part.
And in that part, Charlie Wilson played a critical role. It is silly for the movie to pretend that Charlie did it by himself without Ronald Reagan, and it is sad for the movie to end on a sour note of blame for the Taliban and Al Qaeda. .
Yet caveats aside, I am so glad this movie was made. It is so much better than the book, which is hopelessly permeated with hyper-liberal prejudice. It is wonderful that the world knows about this extraordinary man, knows what a hero Charlie Wilson is.
The movie overplays his flamboyance as much as the décolletage of his staff. The ladies who worked for him, such as Molly Hamilton, were beautiful but serious and professional. Charlie was a consummate pro who knew just what he was doing, including the “Good Time Charlie” act. I never saw him drink to excess or act inappropriately. He was always the true gentleman, treating Annelise, for example, like the true lady she was.
The Democrat Party – indeed, America – needs more Charlie Wilsons. I will always have the greatest respect for what he did for our country, and I will always treasure his friendship.
When Principle Trumped Partisanship
Why Charlie Wilson’s war couldn’t happen today.
BY JOHN FUND Wall Street Journal Dec. 29,2007
“Charlie Wilson’s War,” the film treatment of how a party-hearty Texas congressman teamed up with other Cold Warriors to humiliate the Soviet Empire and hasten its end, is a box-office success. After the failure of preachy political films, like “Lions for Lambs” and “Rendition,” Hollywood will credit the movie’s appeal, in part, to its witty dialogue and biting humor. Fair enough. But the film offers another lesson, for both Hollywood and Washington: Good things can happen when principle trumps partisanship.
I met Charlie Wilson in his heyday in the 1980s. He was an operator and a carousing libertine. But he was honest about it, promising constituents that, if he were caught in a scandal, “I won’t blame booze and I won’t suddenly find Jesus.” He called himself a Scoop Jackson Democrat, after the hawkish senator from Washington state. Mr. Wilson was fiercely anticommunist.
In 1981, two years after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Mr. Wilson visited refugee camps in Pakistan at the prodding of Joanne Herring, a conservative Houston socialite he’d been dating. There he saw starving families and Afghan children whose arms had been blown off by explosives disguised as toys. “I decided to grab the commie sons o’bitches by the throat,” he told me in a recent interview.
About the same time, President Ronald Reagan was signing top-secret directives to use covert action and economic warfare to weaken the Soviets. These allowed a maverick CIA agent named Gust Avrakotos to team up with Mr. Wilson. Mr. Avrakotos picked a team of agency outcasts to funnel weapons to the Afghans while Mr. Wilson made sure they had the means to do so.
The film tells this story and offers up a series of foils for Mr. Wilson. The CIA station chief in Pakistan is a bureaucratic weasel who doesn’t want to upset the Soviets. When Ms. Herring asks Mr. Wilson, “Why is Congress saying one thing and doing nothing?” he responds: “Well, tradition, mostly.”
In the end, Mr. Wilson used his perch on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to expand covert aid to the Afghans to $1 billion a year from $5 million. House Speaker Tip O’Neill gave him a long leash. Other Democrats, intent on blocking White House support for the Nicaraguan Contras, happily let Mr. Wilson have his way to bolster their own anticommunist credentials.
Gradually the operation wore down Soviet morale. On the first day that shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles reached the mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan, in September 1986, three Soviet helicopter gunships were downed. “They flew, they died” is how Mr. Wilson puts it. In early 1989, the last Soviet troops pulled out, and the experience persuaded the Politburo to think twice about putting down rebellions in Eastern Europe. Within months, the Berlin Wall fell.
As the film notes, the U.S. failed to follow up in Afghanistan and allowed chaos to develop. Years later, the Taliban took over, eventually giving safe haven to Osama bin Laden. But the film stops well short of blaming the U.S. for creating conditions that led to 9/11. As Mr. Wilson says, not a single Afghan has participated in any attack against the U.S.
Mr. Wilson, 74, is now mending nicely from a heart transplant. He is generous with praise for his comrades-in-skulduggery. “We won because there was no partisanship or damaging leaks,” he emphasizes. But he believes that nothing like the Afghan operation could survive today’s poisonous Washington atmosphere.
Tom Hanks, who plays Mr. Wilson in the film, has fretted that he, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director Mike Nichols will be attacked by the right as “a bunch of Democrats who are taking potshots at the war in Iraq.” He needn’t worry. Mr. Hanks and his fellow filmmakers have produced a rousing paean to America’s can-do spirit. They have resisted the temptation to comment on any current U.S. foreign policy missteps and highlighted how, not so long ago, one ornery congressman and a few friends helped change the world.
Gary Schmitt: My War With Charlie Wilson and Bill Casey’s Victory
My War with Charlie Wilson
And Bill Casey’s victory.
by Gary Schmitt
12/28/2007 10:43:00 AM
THERE ARE A LOT of words one could use to describe former congressman Charles Wilson–drunkard, sleazy, womanizer, patriot–but the one that most comes to mind in my dealings with him was simply “persistent.”
Wilson, whose role in supporting the Afghan mujahedin in their war against the Soviets in the 1980s has become the stuff of a best selling book (Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile, a long-time CBS news producer) and now a ticket-selling movie success of the same name, was a tall, lanky populist Democrat from East Texas. Wilson had first been elected to Congress in 1973 and, by the time the Afghan war had broken out, by hook and by crook, he had made his way well up the seniority ladder of the all-powerful House appropriations committee. It was there he could protect aid to Israel, keep money flowing to Somoza in Nicaragua, and–eventually–pour money into the “covert war” the CIA was quasi-supporting and quasi-directing in Afghanistan.
I say “quasi” because the Agency, especially in the early 80s, was letting the Pakistanis call many of the shots when it came to running the war and was as often as not applying the brake to folks who wanted to up the ante when it came to fighting the Soviets. CIA’s analysts were insisting that the Soviets could not possibly lose the war, and the folks from the operational side at Langley were saying: “Let’s bleed ’em, but let’s not start World War III either.”
Before I had ever met Congressman Wilson, I had of course heard of him. I was from Texas, and Wilson was already a legend there for partying and his ability to bring home federal money to his East Texas constituents. He had helped pull Rep. John Murtha’s bacon out of the fire during the ABSCAM investigation while a member of the House ethics committee and had been rewarded by the Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, with even more of a free hand on the defense appropriations subcommittee.
As Crile and others tell the story, Wilson first got involved in the Afghan war through a girlfriend and Houston socialite Joanne Herring, who had been named an honorary consul for Pakistan. After a visit to Pakistan, the Afghan border, and a meeting with Mohammed Zia, Pakistan’s dictator, Wilson returned to Washington and began to turn on the spigots for both Zia and the mujahedin.
Initially, with support from the outside increasing, the Afghan rebels were eating up the Soviet forces: thousands had been killed or wounded, hundreds of aircraft lost, and thousands of tanks and other vehicles destroyed. But, not willing to go down easily, Moscow ratcheted up the fight by deploying elite special forces (Spetsnatz) to Afghanistan and adding the Mi-24D (Hind) attack helicopter to the fight. The Hinds in particular were devastating, and the fight seemed to be turning in the Soviets favor.
Back in Washington, the issue for those of us who wanted to increase support for the rebels was what could be added to their arsenal to help defeat the Hinds. The older, out of storage, surface-to-air missiles that the CIA and others had been providing them were, at best, only marginal effective. Eventually, through the efforts of officials in Weinberger’s Pentagon–especially Fred Ikle, the then undersecretary for policy–modern American surface-to-air missiles (Stingers) were sent, providing a devastating and ultimately critical counter to the Soviet military machine in Afghanistan.
Before that decision was taken, however, Wilson had decided all on his own that the mujahedin needed the portable anti-aircraft weapon made by Oerlikon, the Swiss arms manufacturer.
But, before that money could be turned over, the budget rules required in this case that both the chairmen and ranking members of the two relevant Senate committees (armed services and intelligence) literally sign off on the reprogramming. And it is here that I first ran into Charlie Wilson, the persistent Charlie Wilson, in early spring of 1984.
As the minority staff director of the Senate’s intelligence committee at the time, Wilson needed my boss, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), to ok the deal. He also needed the approval of Sen. Sam Nunn, then the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, whom I also served as an advisor on issues that crossed over our two committees’ jurisdictions. His first step was to call me and ask me to get their signatures for the reprogramming.
Thinking it mattered, and wanting to give my bosses the best advice I could, I then asked both the Pentagon and CIA what they thought about Wilson’s effort to supply the Afghans with 22-mm Oerlikon cannons. Both were adamant that it was one of the dumbest ideas they had ever heard of. The Oerlikon was portable, but definitely not mobile. It would take teams of mules and horses to move the gun, and even larger teams to move the ammo to keep the gun supplied. Once in place, it wasn’t going anywhere, and it would be a target as much as a weapon once actually used. And to top things off, each round for the weapon would cost somewhere on the order of $50, with the Oerlikon eating through each 60-round magazine in just a few seconds.
Virtually everyone agreed that the Oerlikons would be a waste of money and resources. And if there was going to be a solution to the Hinds, this was not it. The Oerlikons were so obviously impractical that it didn’t take long before Wilson’s own sketchy history was combined with his push to buy the weapon into pretty loud whispers that there were kickbacks involved. Or, as the then deputy director of CIA John McMahon later more politely said: “We use to make comments like, it must be Charlie’s uncle who owns Oerlikon.”
I passed this all along to Sen. Moynihan, who instructed me to stall Wilson’s efforts. So, for the next while, I “missed” Wilson’s calls or “returned” them when I knew he had probably left for the day. But Wilson was persistent and, sure enough, he started making his way over to the Senate side to track me down in person. For a few days, I avoided him and even found myself asking my secretary to see whether the hallways were clear before heading out to lunch. When he finally got hold of me–literally–the 6’4″ Wilson was adamant that I get Moynihan’s ok for the reprogramming. Angered by Wilson’s attempt to intimidate me, I told him that, if my boss were to listen to me, he wouldn’t give the ok. After a few rhetorical rounds of “who was I?” and “who was the congressman here?” Wilson then went into his more soothing East Texas routine and said he would take this matter up with the senator directly.
It was then Moynihan’s turn to scan the hallways, which he quite ably did for a few days. But then Wilson struck. He waited until the senator was in an important finance committee hearing, came in through the back door directly behind the senator and the committee members’ dais, and publicly accosted the senator from the back. Sitting in my office, I got a panicked call from one of the senator’s other aides telling me that Moynihan had said for me to do whatever I had to do to get this “mad man” away from him, including having him ok the reprogramming.
I then called Langley asked them to send a team from the Afghan program down to meet with Sen. Nunn to brief him on the Agency’s position. In a day or so, we all met in the senator’s office. And sure enough, the CIA caved. Officers who had been constantly calling me over the past month to tell me what a ludicrous idea the Oerlikons were and that Afghan rebels were going to lose their lives carting and protecting these weapons, were now benignly telling Sen. Nunn that the Agency had “no objections” to the reprogramming. Sen. Nunn turned to me, shrugged his shoulders and gave me the old “welcome to Washington” look.
The assumption was that Wilson had gotten to Bill Casey, Reagan’s director of central intelligence. And, no doubt, from Casey’s point of view, wasting a few tens of millions on the Oerlikons was worth it if it kept this powerful democrat on the side of the angels, especially given all the problems the administration was having getting similar support for its programs in Central America at the time. Plus, in the end, it didn’t matter much once the decision to ship Stingers to the Afghan rebels was made a year or so later. So the mujahedin got the Oerlikons. But, as predicted, once they had moved them to a spot, that is where they stayed; and also as predicted, they were of marginal use in the war against the Hinds, at best. But if buying them kept “Good Time” Charlie Wilson happy, that was good enough for Bill Casey–and Casey was probably right.
Crucial Cold War secret
January 13, 2008
By Paul Kengor – It was 25 years ago, on Jan. 17, 1983, that the blueprint for American victory in the Cold War was quietly formalized by President Ronald Reagan. It came with the roar of winter, by the name of NSDD-75, probably the most important foreign-policy document by the Reagan administration, institutionalizing the president’s intention to undermine the Soviet communist empire.
The production of NSDD-75 was overseen by Reagan’s closest aide, National Security Adviser Bill Clark. Among Mr. Clark’s lieutenants at the National Security Council, staffer Norm Bailey dubbed NSDD-75, “the strategic plan that won the Cold War.”
Another NSC colleague, Tom Reed, called it “the blueprint for the endgame” and “a confidential declaration of economic and political war.” The Soviets, who somehow learned about the highly classified directive, were even more dramatic. An article on NSDD-75 in the Soviet press was titled: “New directive… threatens history.”
One of the longest of the 300-plus Reagan NSDDs, the chief author of NSDD-75 was Richard Pipes, the Harvard professor of Russian history on leave to serve Reagan’s NSC. Mr. Pipes defined NSDD-75 as “a clear break from the past. [NSDD-75] said our goal was no longer to coexist with the Soviet Union but to change the Soviet system. At its root was the belief that we had it in our power to alter the Soviet system through the use of external pressure.”
Secretary of State George Shultz described NSDD-75 as an effort to move beyond containment and detente, which is why it alarmed so many in the State Department. Indeed, it was revolutionary, turning on its head the doctrine of containment that had formed the cornerstone of American foreign policy since George Kennan sent his famous “Long Telegram” from Moscow in February 1946.
The new policy, said Bill Clark, would “turn the Soviet Union inside itself,” encouraging “anti-totalitarian changes within the U.S.S.R.” America, said Mr. Clark, would “seek to weaken Moscow’s hold on its empire.”
Tamely titled, “U.S. Relations with the U.S.S.R.,” the opening to NSDD-75 established two core “U.S. tasks:” First, “To contain and over time reverse Soviet expansionism … . This will remain the primary focus of U.S. policy toward the U.S.S.R.” And, second, “To promote, within the narrow limits available to us, the process of change in the Soviet Union toward a more pluralistic political and economic system in which the power of the privileged ruling elite is gradually reduced.”
Mr. Pipes fought for this language, insisting the document articulate the central aim of reforming the Soviet Union. “The State Department vehemently objected to that,” recalls Mr. Pipes today. “They saw it as meddling in Soviet internal affairs, as dangerous and futile in any event. We persisted and we got that in.”
That bears repeating: those extraordinary lines, at once impossible but prophetic, whose historical significance cannot be overstated, were nearly removed by the State Department. Mr. Pipes points to the backing of Ronald Reagan, who he says “insisted” on the language, as well as the support of Bill Clark.
Here are a few other notables from NSDD-75:
In regard to Eastern Europe, the directive declared: “The primary U.S. objective in Eastern Europe is to loosen Moscow’s hold on the region.” Poland would be central to this strategy.
As for the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, the directive affirmed that, “The U.S. objective is to keep maximum pressure on Moscow for withdrawal and to ensure that the Soviets’ political, military, and other costs remain high while the occupation continues.”
The directive even addressed Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev’s successor. The administration would “try to create incentives (positive and negative) for the new leadership to adopt policies less detrimental to U.S. interests.” NSDD-75 endeavored to “change” the Marxist system within the U.S.S.R. By seeking political pluralism, it hoped to repudiate the Communist Party monopoly. Precisely that would be done by Mikhail Gorbachev.
There was much more to the directive, too much to cover here — especially on the economic-warfare front. In short, NSDD-75 was an extraordinarily ambitious, across-the-board assault on the Soviet Union, a reality that was crystal clear to the Kremlin when it somehow managed to procure a copy of the document.
Obviously alarmed, the Soviets went public with the goals of NSDD-75. The Moscow Domestic Service released two statements on the directive on March 17 and 18, 1983 — not coincidentally, shortly after Reagan declared the U.S.S.R. an “Evil Empire” — dubbing it a “subversive” attempt “to try to influence the internal situation” within the U.S.S.R. “[T]he task,” said Moscow, was “to exhaust the Soviet economy.” The Reagan administration had “drawn up aggressive plans” for “mass political, economic and ideological pressure against the Soviet Union in an attempt to undermine the socioeconomic system.”
The directive resonated through the Soviet media. A piece by Grigori Dadyants in Sotsialisticheskaya Industriya stated, “Directive 75 speaks of changing the Soviet Union’s domestic policy. In other words, the powers that be in Washington are threatening the course of world history, neither more nor less.” Mr. Dadyants confidently assured his comrades that the grandiose “ideas of Reagan and Pipes” were “staggeringly naive.”
Well, it looks like the communists were staggeringly naive. As Reagan might have said, “There you go again … .”
Thanks to Ronald Reagan, Bill Clark, Richard Pipes and a few others, history was threatened 25 years ago this month — so much so that history was changed, and quite dramatically for the better.
Paul Kengor is author of “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism” (HarperPerennial, 2007) and professor of political science at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. His latest book is “The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand” (Ignatius Press, 2007).