When it comes to blithe assertions that Russia managed to “fix” the 2016 election, reasonable doubt abounds. Still, it jolted many Americans last week to hear President Donald Trump recite the type of propaganda from the defunct Soviet Union that is making something of a comeback in President Vladimir Putin's Russia.
“The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there," Trump said last week of the 1979 Soviet invasion and its failed 10-year effort to wrest control of the region.
"The problem is, it was a tough fight."
As is typical, Trump offered no factual elaboration or sources to suggest how he arrived at this widely disputed narrative.
The statement fit two Trumpian themes. One is to give verbal credit to the current-day Kremlin's point of view — even if his administration's policy goes in a different direction.
The other is to act as if no previous American leader's actions or positions mattered.
In recent weeks, lawmakers in the Russian Duma approved a draft resolution that retroactively seeks to justify the Soviet Union’s Afghan war.
This measure seeks to void a "moral and political condemnation" of the Afghan invasion signed in 1989 by Mikhail Gorbachev, acting as chairman of the Supreme Soviet. The resolution says Soviet military action was conducted “in full accordance with the norms of international law.” It adds that troops were sent " taking into account multiple requests of Afghanistan's leadership for direct Soviet intervention into the conflict."
Consciously or not, Trump's odd homily on the issue explodes the core of President Ronald Reagan's narrative justifying American acts and gestures of support for rebel jihadis against the Soviet troops. The CIA's Special Activities Division paramilitary officers were sent to assist the Mujahideen forces Reagan called "freedom fighters."
Retroactively, Trump now calls the Reagan-glorified fighters "terrorists."
Just imagine if a prominent Democrat extolled the Soviet empire's Afghan presence as having been the correct thing to do.
Republicans still idolize Reagan at national conventions and hail the "Reagan doctrine" of confronting global Soviet influence. They undoubtedly would accuse Democrats of romanticizing failed Marxism and waving a white flag in the face of terrorism.
Trump is seeking to promote his call for reducing military presence in Afghanistan. That may well be a very popular choice but it remains to be seen how soon the White House carries it out given the president’s clear lack of coherence and discipline.