Rachel Maddow and Ambassador Michael McFaul explore the pipeline for ideas like the bizarre claim that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a good idea, and wonder aloud who the source for his illusions is.
January 4, 2019

Rachel Maddow's amazing report on Donald Trump's parrot-line repetition of obscure and bizarre claims confounds and concerns all at once. I've put the transcript below (and it's pretty accurate this time), but you should really watch.

TL;DR: Trump's claim that the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is an idea no one has, or as Rachel put it, there is "nowhere in America" where Trump would have picked up this idea. But there IS a place in Russia, because Vladimir Putin is introducing a resolution to rewrite history with regard to that disastrous decision, calling it justified because of the threat of terrorism. And as Rachel notes, Russia and Putin's resolution are the only places in nature where this idea exists.

Here is the Washington Post op-ed from Vladimir Kara-Murza about Putin's plan.

The real historical truth — without quotation marks — was made public with the partial declassification of Soviet archives after 1991. The decision to invade Afghanistan was taken by the Politburo in December 1979; the measure was euphemistically titled “On the situation in ‘A.’ ” The first contingent of the USSR’s 40th Army crossed the Amu Darya River into Afghanistan on Dec. 25. Two days later, the Afghan dictator Hafizullah Amin – whose request for assistance served as the pretext for the invasion — was murdered by Soviet special forces in Tajbeg Palace.

The war lasted for nearly a decade. Among its consequences were 1 million civilian casualties; the rise of Islamist fundamentalist groups (backed by the West as a counterweight to the Soviets); and the collapse of the Soviet economy, which precipitated the end of the Soviet Union, which is now so lamented by both Putin and the Communists. The estimated cost in human lives for the Soviet armed forces was 15,000 dead and 54,000 injured.

Out of the ashes of the wanton destruction, Islamic fundamentalism arose. When the Soviets finally abandoned Afghanistan after carpet-bombing the crap out of it, they left behind a leadership vacuum filled by the Taliban. One could say that their foolish decision actually gave rise to the terrorism which led to 9-11 and the instability in the entire region which exists to this day.

The key question, left unanswered, is this: Who is downloading these ideas to Trump for him to parrot?

The answer is one I suspect we not only want to know, but need to know.

Here is the transcript, along with Ambassador Michael McFaul's discussion with Maddow:

MADDOW: The president yesterday in front of the assembled cameras in the cabinet room, he volunteered to the assembled press and to the somewhat bewildered members of his cabinet that he believed it was a good thing that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan back in 1979. His exact quotes on the subject were, quote, they were right to be there, meaning the Soviet Union was right to invade Afghanistan. He said, quote, the reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. That is what the president said yesterday in the cabinet room.

And you may not care at all why the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. That is fine. But the president randomly volunteering that analytical take on that matter yesterday ought to pique your interest, because that view does not exist in nature in this country. No one, no liberal, no conservative, no contrary out-of-the-box policy foreign thinker, nobody in American politics, American academia, American media, in American fantasy football chat rooms, I spent the day looking, this is not a live issue anywhere in U.S. Politics.

It is not a live issue among weird conservative fringe media figures that you might not know about that the president might love. There is no Fox News Pay-Per-View podcast where Judge Jeanine sits around in the studio with other pals cooking up revisionist history justifications about why Soviet special operators needed to raid the presidential palace in Kabul at Christmas 1979.

Nobody thinks Russia invading Afghanistan in 1979 was a good move. Yeah, they had to do that because of the terrorism. It's not what happened. And there is nowhere in America, nowhere where President Trump might have picked up this idea.

But there is one place not in America. Next month the United Russia party of -- which is the party of Russian president Vladimir Putin, that party will sponsor an official resolution to rehabilitate this infamous part of the history of the Soviet Union. They will introduce a resolution to make the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan retroactively no longer a mistake.

This new resolution on the 30th anniversary of the withdrawal of Afghan troops -- excuse me, of Soviet troops from Afghanistan will call the invasion justified looking back at it now because of the threat of terrorism. I mean, that is the only place in nature where that idea even exists. President Putin's party and the communist party in Russia who are jointly supporting that resolution to rehabilitate the whole idea of the Soviet Union waging a war in Afghanistan.

That's the only place in nature that idea exists -- in the Kremlin. And it just came out of our president's mouth in this country, in the cabinet room where he brought it up unprompted, apropos of nothing. Where is the president getting this stuff?

It is possible that contrary to popular perceptions, he is a wide-reaching reader of what you and I might think of as obscure or even picayune international conflicts and historical inflection points in history. Maybe. Or someone is stovepiping this stuff into the president's ears so it pops out of his mouth at the most unexpected times. What do we do with that?


MADDOW: Happy New Year. You are a Russian expert, and I am not. And it is my perception as I just explained that the view that the Soviet Union had to invade Afghanistan because there was a threat of terrorism and it was actually a good move, it is my perception that that is an idea that doesn't exist in nature in the United States, that there isn't anybody who espouses that view. That true?

MCFAUL: To the best of my knowledge, Rachel, that is correct. But I have to say what an incredible team you have to have found where it does exist in nature, because I didn't know what you just reported about, the United Russia resolution coming. That's an incredible investigative work. Congratulations to your team.

MADDOW: No, it's not me. Actually, let me give credit where credit is due there.

MCFAUL: Okay, where did you find it.

MADDOW: Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine wrote about this because Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Soviet dissident, a guy who almost died for being a dissident in Putin's Russia.


MADDOW: He wrote a piece about it in the first week of December for The Washington Post's World Politics section saying, hey, you should know that Russia is trying to revise this part of history. Kara-Murza reported it. That is the reason i'm able to bring it. That shows you obscurities. It's not the sort of thing the president would stumble upon in his everyday reading.

MCFAUL: Of course. Of course. I mean, it's remarkable. Just to be clear, everything he said was false about what happened and causality here. The Soviets did not invade Afghanistan to stop terrorism. As an educator, it just embarrasses me when I hear the president say things like that. But to your point, it is striking that he does pick up on these very strange ideas in conversations with leaders. Most certainly Vladimir Putin. I know because

I remember an idea that Putin floated to him last July when he said wouldn't it be a great idea to interrogate a bunch of Americans in response to the Mueller indictment. You remember that story. And President Trump came out and said that's a great idea. So there is a pattern here of him picking up these very strange ideas from people like Putin and then stating them as if they are facts.

MADDOW: And you were one of the Americans who President Putin thought he should be allowed to interrogate.

MCFAUL: Yes. That one I caught. That one caught my attention, believe me.

MADDOW: Well, I'm -- does this happen with other presidents? Is this not that unusual? Obviously, world leaders do have conversations. They meet at summits. They have phone conversations maybe that we don't necessarily know about. Presumably there are leader-to-leader communications where these sorts of things might be picked up. To me it is striking because I feel there have been a number of iterations now where the president has volunteered something, sort of injected something into the American bloodstream that no other American would ever articulate, and it seems to only make sense in a sort of Russian mind-set, in a Kremlin mind-set have. You ever seen this with any other president?

MCFAUL: No. I've worked for one president for five years. I worked at the White House for sometimes there were strange things said, but of course somebody like President Obama would then ask his staff. He would ask somebody like me about the validity of this. So there are two things I think are striking here.

One, that other leaders have figured out that this is a way to work with President Trump. The pull-out of Syria is allegedly through a phone call he had with President Erdogan. But secondly, where is the staff? Where is John Bolton? John Bolton knows that that's not true. Why is he not pushing that stuff aside? Why isn't there better staffing for the president so he doesn't say things that are just factually untrue? I think we need to wonder about what kind of process is going on within the White House as well.

MADDOW: And wondering if that staff will ever have to give us the American people any sort of account of the ex- parte communications from others that are stove-piping it to him.

Can you help us out?

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