A review of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character by Diana West
Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Conference, 1945.
Stumbling into a barroom brawl was the last thing I’d intended. Lined up on one side: sculptors of a hagiography that is now conventional wisdom crow about a noble conquest over totalitarian dictators. The other side bellows: “Nonsense! In defeating one monster, your heroes merely helped create another, sullying us with their atrocities and burdening us for decades with a global security nightmare.” The first side spews that its critics are deranged, defamatory conspiracy-mongers. The critics fire back that these “court historians” are in denial; their heroes did not really “win” the war, they just helped a different set of anti-American savages win—in the process striking a deal with the devil that blurred the lines between good and evil, rendering the world more dangerous and our nation more vulnerable.
To readers of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character, this heated debate will sound familiar. American Betrayal is the bestselling author and syndicated columnist Diana West’s cri de coeur against Anglo-American collusion with Stalin’s hideous Soviet Union in the war that vanquished Hitler’s hideous Nazi Germany. The controversy swirling around the book exposes a chasm on the political Right: on one side, admirers of Franklin Roosevelt’s World War II leadership; on the other, detractors who blame FDR’s indifference to Communism (and, particularly, Communist infiltration of the U.S. government) for the rise of what Ronald Reagan dubbed “the evil empire.” The resulting acrimony is what put me in the mind of the aforementioned brawl I wandered into twenty years ago, involving a different, albeit related, episode: the Central Intelligence Agency’s collusion with the Afghan mujahideen, which hastened the Soviet death throes.
I was a federal prosecutor in 1993 when the World Trade Center was bombed. We indicted the offending jihadist cell for levying a terrorist war against the United States. Several of the terrorists had been major mujahideen figures. Their lawyers thus thought it exculpatory to claim that they could not have conspired to wage jihad against America; after all, they had actually been allied with America in the jihad against the Soviets. The provocative claim was implausible as a defense, the Soviets having left Afghanistan (and the USSR having collapsed) years before the Twin Towers bombing. Still, it is standard procedure to investigate even dubious defense claims. Hence, my unwitting stumble into a heated controversy.
The cia and Reagan administration veterans passionately proclaimed that the $3 billion in aid and armaments funneled to the mujahideen—matched dollar-for-dollar by Saudi Arabia, with Pakistani intelligence as our “cut-out” for deniability purposes—was an unvarnished triumph. The war became the Soviets’ Vietnam, bleeding the Red Army to death even as a humiliated Kremlin buckled under the pressure of Reagan’s arms build-up. In sum, I was told, “Look, we liberated half the world from Communist tyranny. Case closed.”
Yet, it wasn’t that simple. The mujahideen begot al Qaeda. A fifth of the U.S. aid, plus most of the Saudi contribution (real money in those days), was channeled to virulently anti-American terrorists. They proceeded to take their jihad global . . . eventually to Manhattan. The rest is history—the history we’ve been struggling with for two decades.
So, was al Qaeda a Frankenstein’s monster of America’s own making? Government officials bristled at the suggestion—just as West’s detractors erupt at the suggestion of a Soviet tyranny stamped “Made in the USA.” Indignation, however, is not an answer. The answers that I did finally elicit, through clenched teeth, were the stuff of fable: We only helped the “good” Afghan fundamentalist Muslims, you see; the “bad” fundamentalists—mostly Arabs who flocked to the jihad—were really ne’er-do-wells who barely left their tents during the fighting. When this did not wash, the officials got down to brass tacks: “Look, once the decision to fight the Soviets covertly was made, the battlefield reality required arming jihadists.”