The terrifying depths of Donald Trump’s ignorance, in a single quote

Terry Glavin: The president’s recent claim that the Soviets were ‘right’ to invade Afghanistan is worse than idiotic—it’s downright frightening

It’s been two years since a reality-television mogul, billionaire real estate grifter and sleazy beauty-pageant impresario who somehow ended up on the Republican ticket in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, failed to win the popular vote but fluked his way into the White House anyhow by means of an antique back-door anomaly peculiar to the American political system known as the Electoral College.

We’re now at the half-way mark of Donald Trump’s term in the White House, and the relentless hum of his casual imbecilities, obscenities, banalities and outright fabrications has become so routine to the world’s daily dread that it is now just background noise in the ever-louder bedlam of America’s dystopian, freak-show political culture.

And yet, now and again, just when you think the president has scraped his fingers raw in the muck at the bottom of stupidity’s deep barrel, the man somehow manages to out-beclown himself. Such was the case this week, in a ramble of fatuous illiteracy that should drive home the point, to all of us, that the Office of the President of the United States of America is currently occupied by a genuinely dangerous maniac.

At a press briefing at the end of a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Trump sat at a long table with a huge faux Game of Thrones television-series poster, featuring an image of himself taking up the whole thing, splayed out on the table in front of him.

RELATED: The world must finish its job—and protect its legacy—in Afghanistan

In the course of contradicting himself—or maybe not, it’s hard to say—on the matter of if and when he intends to withdraw U.S. troops from the 79-member anti-ISIS coalition (“Syria was lost long ago … we’re talking about sand and death”), Trump muttered something about Iranian forces in Syria being at liberty to do as they please. “They can do what they want there, frankly,” he said. Unsurprisingly, upon hearing the news of what certainly sounded like an abrupt and dramatic shift in U.S. policy, Israeli officials were reported to be in shock.

But then the subject turned to Afghanistan, and Trump’s fervent wish to withdraw American troops from the 39-nation military coalition there—down from 59 nations, at its height—which is currently battling a resurgent Taliban that has been emboldened by American dithering generally, and specifically by Trump’s oft-repeated intent to get shut of Afghanistan and walk away from the place altogether.

Trump mocked India—a highly-valued friend of Afghanistan and contributor of $3 billion in infrastructure and community-development funding—with a weird reference to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan.” Officials in Modi’s office say nobody knows what the hell Trump was talking about. Then Trump complained that Pakistan—a duplicitous enemy of Afghan sovereignty and a notoriously persistent haven-provider and incubator of Taliban terrorism—isn’t making a sufficient military commitment to Afghanistan. Which made absolutely no sense.

But then Trump went right off the deep end with a disquisition on the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and his remarks betrayed a perilous, gawping ignorance of the very reason why Afghanistan became such a lawless hellhole in the first place—which is how it came to pass that al-Qaeda found sanctuary there with the deranged Pakistani subsidiary that came to be called the Taliban, which is how al-Qaeda managed to plan and organize the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001—which is the very reason the American troops that Trump keeps saying he wants to bring home are still there at all.

Soviet M-72 tanks on the highway to Kabul in April 1988 (AP PHOTO/Liu Heung-Shing)

“Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan,” Trump began. “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight. And literally they went bankrupt; they went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot of these places you’re reading about now are no longer part of Russia, because of Afghanistan.”

They were right to be there.

You’ll want to let that sink in for a moment: on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, Donald Trump endorsed a revisionist lunacy that is currently being championed by a bunch of cranks at the outermost neo-Stalinist fringe of Vladimir Putin’s ruling circle of oligarchs. They’ve already managed to cobble together a resolution in Russia’s Potemkin parliament that is to be voted on next month. It’s jointly sponsored by lawmakers from Putin’s United Russia and the still-existing Communist Party.

The resolution would overturn a declaration adopted by the Congress of People’s Deputies at the time of Soviet communism’s unravelling in 1989, 10 years after the Soviets’ catastrophic dismembering of Afghanistan. The 1989 resolution frankly declared that the Soviet invasion and the nine-year war the Soviets prosecuted in Afghanistan deserved “moral and political condemnation.” The 1989 resolution was signed by Mikhail Gorbachev himself, who at the time was chairman of the Supreme Soviet.

RELATED: Can the world recover from Trump, Putin and the collapse of optimism?

The resolution slammed the former Soviet leaders Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, Andrei Gromyko and Dimitri Ustinov for turning Afghanistan into an apocalyptic wasteland of more than a million corpses and forcing a third of the Afghan population to flee the country as refugees, costing as well the lives of 15,000 Soviet soldiers, for good measure.

And now, Donald Trump, the president of the United States, is saying Gorbachev was wrong, and Brezhnev, Andropov, Gromyko and Ustinov were right, and so are Vladimir Putin’s creepy neo-Stalinist revisionists. Further than that, the idea the invasion bankrupted the Soviet Union, leading to its collapse, and that the Soviets rightly invaded Afghanistan “because terrorists were going into Russia,” as Trump claimed, is a whole-cloth fiction.

The USSR’s 40th Army crossed the Amu Darya River into Afghanistan on Dec. 25, 1979 at the invitation of Hafizullah Amin, whose communist-led military regime had overthrown Afghan President Muhammad Daoud in 1978. The communist coup had provoked a democratic uprising, owing largely to the regime’s habit of carrying out mass executions and jailing tens of thousands of people it didn’t like. The regime was initially led by Amin’s co-conspirator, Nur Muhammad Taraki, who had been tied to a bed and suffocated with a cushion on Amin’s orders. Immediately upon arrival in Kabul, the Soviets dispatched a phalanx of Russian Special Forces (the Spetznaz) to Tajbeg Palace, where they murdered Amin and his family.

The next decade was a living hell for the Afghan people. In the broader scheme of things, the Soviet invasion put an end to the U.S.-Soviet detente engineered by former president Richard Nixon. The U.S. boycotted the 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow, President Jimmy Carter started funding Islamist insurgents to wage an anti-Soviet jihad from Pakistan, and Iran joined in with jihadist proxies of its own. These were the years of Afghanistan’s worst years of mayhem and terror, far and away more horrific than anything since.

RELATED: ‘Shithole countries’: Trump uses the rhetoric of dictators

After the Soviets finally pulled out, the “war weary” Americans happily abandoned Afghanistan to civil war and anarchy. The Taliban moved in, al-Qaeda moved in, the twin towers fell in New York, and that’s why all those American soldiers are still in Afghanistan. And Donald Trump doesn’t have a clue.

Trump has now lost Gen. James Mattis, his defence secretary, after Mattis made it plain he simply could not abide service to an idiot president any longer. Trump has lost John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, and H.R, McMaster, his national security adviser. The “adults in the room” are gone.

Following the Republican losses in the mid-term elections, the Democrats are now in the majority in the House of Representatives. They took over this week. That might help matters, but unless something miraculously fortuitous happens, there are two years yet to come in Trump’s term of office.

May God in his mercy look down on us all.


Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.