In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded neighboring Afghanistan. The American interpretation of this invasion, shared by both parties, is that the Soviets were propping up a faltering communist client state, following the “Brezhnev Doctrine,” which held that any country that had gone socialist could not be allowed to revert. President Trump bizarrely interjected a different interpretation of this episode.
“The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia,” he told reporters today. “They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight.” And because it was so tough, he explained, the Soviet Union became Russia.
The part about the fight being tough, and resulting in the collapse of the Soviet Union is true. The strange bits in Trump’s explanation are his claim that the Soviets were “right” to invade and that it’s a “problem” that the fight was tough. Americans don’t agree about the U.S. response to the invasion — a grain embargo by the Carter administration, and then arming anti-Soviet guerrillas, many of whom had radical Islamist views. But there has been little disagreement that the Soviets did something bad by invading. Until now.
Meanwhile, the Russian government is moving an official resolution defending the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. (The approval is scheduled to take place next month.) Russians have previously called the invasion a tragic error, but Vladimir Putin’s regime — which regards the collapse of the Soviet Union as a world-historical tragedy — is systematically rehabilitating various Soviet crimes.
Trump is almost certainly not carrying out some kind of favor for Putin by weirdly defending the invasion of Afghanistan and lamenting its harmful consequences for the Soviet empire. (Putin doesn’t gain much from Trump launching a weirdly Russophilic historical riff.) Still, it raises the question of just where Trump is hearing this stuff. He’s not getting pro-Soviet revisionist history from Fox & Friends. He’s also probably not reading alternative histories of central Asia. So who planted this idea in Trump’s head, anyway?