Don Williams
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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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As we ponder dropping bombs on Iran and standing up to Pakistan
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   11/11/2007)

Lessons from the past... and our ever-dawning future
by Don Williams

As we ponder dropping bombs on Iranians---and the sad state of affairs in Pakistan--I hope someone steeped in power will take time to remember the many ways we've heaped misery on ourselves and others in recent history, through policies that backfired against bloody and unpredictable enemies.

Maybe you knew we helped create the Taliban, while aiding the rise of Osama bin Laden, maybe you knew we propped up Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, but did you know we helped Pakistan to grab hold of nuclear weapons, even though its stability was always an issue?

Radical as it sounds, it's something we should come to terms with: We created much of our own misery, in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and North Korea, which obtained nuclear know-how from Pakistan.

For those who believe our intentions were good, fair enough. It's not America's decency I'm challenging, rather it's our wisdom.
Beginning in the 1970s, our policies in Afghanistan set in motion events that have brought us and others unspeakable harm and likely will do so for generations unless America drastically rethinks foreign policy.

Even in a rapidly accelerating world, we might learn a thing or three about how we came to the present pass in the Middle East: We're bogged down in Iraq, Afghanistan, and threatening all kinds of dire acts against Iran and others, while Pakistan seethes and elements there threaten to gain control of nukes and spread them around the world.

We're not talking ancient history, so never mind the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which carved up the Middle East to suit Western interests after World War I. Never mind the CIA's involvement in overthrowing the Iranian government in 1953. Sadly, I'm talking about more recent history.

According to a book by Robert Gates written before he became secretary of defense, we deliberately drew the Soviets into Afghanistan in the 1970s-by supporting ambushes, bombings and other violent acts--in a strategy to "give them their Vietnam." Such activity is outlined in "From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War." I've cited the book before. Many experts will tell you the Soviet Union was on its last legs and that our proxy war in Afghanistan was unnecessary. Yet necessary or not, that policy has cost more than a million lives and counting.

Read "The Looming Tower," by Lawrence Wright if you don't believe me. No ideologue, Wright has critics among Bill Clinton supporters. Still, his book gives an epic account of the road to 9/11 based on hundreds of interviews with politicians, spies, diplomats, terrorists, relief workers, historians and others. Several things become clear from that book.

The CIA and other American shadow-groups in the 1980s supported the tribesmen who kicked the Soviets out of Afghanistan, providing Stinger missiles and much else to make their victory possible.

Bin Laden, his ally Ayman al-Zawahiri, Afghani tribesmen and Jihadists from across the Muslim world used Pakistan as a staging ground for the war against
the Soviets, with the approval of the Reagan / Bush administration.

Their successes attracted bored and disaffected Muslims from all across the Middle East to join the Jihad, greatly exaggerating the power and fame of vicious Sunni fundamentalists like Zawahiri and bin Laden, who had nearly zero support among any Arab governments at the time.

Tribal warlords were so bloody and violent during the Afghani civil war and in the aftermath of their victory, that America encouraged the nascent Taliban to take over. The Taliban turned out to be worse, if possible, than the warlords they replaced.

After the civil war in Afghanistan, armed and battle-seasoned Muslims who'd flocked to Afghanistan and Pakistan to help in the Jihad returned to Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Somalia, the Sudan and other countries, creating fundamentalist movements and terror cells there.

Bin Laden made common cause with the Taliban and established terrorist training camps in Afghanistan for his new followers.

Al Qaeda was born.

Cells sprang up in Germany, France, England and, eventually, America.

One result was 9/11.

We may pay an even greater price yet for our shortsighted actions. According to a long, well-sourced story in the Oct. 13 edition of "The Guardian" (UK) we made a devil's bargain with an unstable Pakistan. In exchange for that country's help in our Machiavellian scheme to give the Soviets "their Vietnam" in Afghanistan, we allowed Pakistan to acquire nuclear weapons and the means to use them. When a whistle-blower tried to sound the alarm, he was quickly swift-boated, in the parlance of our times.

"The CIA's expert on Pakistan's nuclear secrets," according to "The Guardian" was one Rich Barlow. "He prepared briefs for Dick Cheney, when Cheney was at the Pentagon, for the upper echelons of the CIA and even for the Oval Office," the paper reported. "But when he uncovered a political scandal---a conspiracy to enable a rogue nation to get the nuclear bomb---he found himself a marked man. He was thrown out and disgraced when he blew the whistle on a US cover-up of Pakistani nuclear technology."

It's as if a secret government seized control and committed foreign policy disasters that most Americans scarcely knew about. They brought about the deaths of hundreds of thousands and might yet bring death to millions more as the unintended consequences of our policies in Afghanistan play themselves out.

Yes, it's fair enough to say hindsight is 20-20. The trick is to use such clarity of vision to look back and then apply lessons learned to an ever dawning future. That's called foresight.

Is there any out there?

I wonder.