Six years after they invaded Afghanistan and were condemned by virtually the entire international community, Soviet troops with their Afghan government allies have slowly begun to win the war.
Most of the reports received in the West over the last six years have come from journalists travelling with the rebels or from Western embassies in Kabul. It has been a mixed picture of heroism and incompetence, determination and disunity, courage and corruption, but the general tone has usually been upbeat. The mujahidin, it is argued, have right on their side and will ultimately prevail, even though no one knows what kind of government—reactionary, progressive, or Islamic fundamentalist—they would put in place.
Baku, the capital of Soviet Azerbaijan, lying on the west coast of the Caspian, embodies many suggestive contrasts with other areas of the Soviet Union and with the neighboring countries of Iran and Turkey. On the esplanade running along the seashore, restaurants sell kebabs, local pancakes (kutab) and Azerbaijani sweets; there are the colored lights, smells and sounds of outdoor eating places further south. The mustachioed young men, the gestures of greeting, the pace of the crowd suggest other Middle Eastern cities. In the icheri sheher, the inner city, glass-paned balconies lean over the first floors of the houses, as they do in Turkey. Three centuries of Persian rule have also left their mark on the literature and art of this region.
Anthony Cordesman, The Gulf and the Search for Strategic Stability: Saudi Arabia, the Military Balance in the Gulf, and Trends in the Arab-Israeli Military Balance (Boulder: Westview Press, 1984).
Occasionally, when an important head of state arrives in Washington for consultation without a previously announced agenda, he is greeted by an embarrassing series of articles and commentaries exposing the cumulative ignorance of American foreign policy analysts. Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd recently visited with President Ronald Reagan and provided just such an example.
Under the Reagan administration, the United States has waged “the second Cold War” with particular forcefulness in the Middle East. Washington has moved combat forces into the region repeatedly since 1981: to engage first Libyan warplanes over the Gulf of Sidra, then Lebanese militias and Syrian forces outside Beirut, and most recently Iranian air and naval patrols in the Persian Gulf. These military operations have accompanied political steps that have moved the US away from an emphasis on close relations with “moderate” Arab regimes in favor of closer strategic ties with Israel. From the administration’s perspective, such policies have provided a coherence to American relations with this part of the world that was lacking during the Carter years.
The “deadly connection” — the link between interventionism, conventional warfare and nuclear war — has now become a major issue for the peace movement. This, in turn, has compelled those working on nuclear disarmament questions to begin to deal with the Middle East and US policy there. The reason for this is simple. When we look at specific regions of the world, it is obvious that the Middle East is the area where the connection arises in its most acute and dangerous form — the area where a nuclear war is most likely to break out.
The latter half of the 1970s witnessed a sustained and geographically diverse series of social upheavals in the Third World which, taken together, constituted a lessening of Western control in the developing areas. In Africa, the Ethiopian revolution of 1974 was followed by a series of changes in the remaining embattled colonies attendant upon the revolution in Portugal: in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau (1975) and, as a consequence of the independence of Mozambique, in Zimbabwe (1980). The Southwest Asian region was transformed by the revolutions in Afghanistan (1978) and Iran (1979). In Central America there was a triumphant revolution in Nicaragua (1979), and continuing unrest in El Salvador and Guatemala.