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THE FATEFUL PEBBLE: AFGHANISTAN'S ROLE IN THE FALL OF THE SOVIET EMPIRE

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The Fateful Pebble explores the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan as a catalyst that helped trigger the first extraordinary political event of the 20th century, the self-generated collapse of the Soviet empire. At the dawn of the 1980s decade, the Soviet military machine seemed invincible and Moscow's expansionist designs unswervable. Intermediate-range SS-20 missiles were inti The Fateful Pebble explores the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan as a catalyst that helped trigger the first extraordinary political event of the 20th century, the self-generated collapse of the Soviet empire. At the dawn of the 1980s decade, the Soviet military machine seemed invincible and Moscow's expansionist designs unswervable. Intermediate-range SS-20 missiles were intimidating Western Europe, the Soviet ICBM force was at least the equal of America's, and, with the invasion of Afghanistan at the end of 1979, the Kremlin showed its willingness to project its power directly into a neighboring nonaligned country. But nearly ten years later, the last Soviet army regular units withdrew into Central Asia without ever having conquered the elusive Afghan resistance fighters who had spontaneously risen up against them. Less than three years after that retreat, the Soviet Union itself had ceased to exist. The early chapters provide unique perceptions of Russian and Afghan psychology, a historical view of how military defeat had led to earlier Russian domestic upheavals, and a description of how the Communist Party apparat, the Soviet military establishment, and the KGB had successfully defended Moscow's empire in the past. The details of the consecutive failure of each of these institutions to solve Moscow's "Afghanistan problem" show how the authority of each was seriously undermined at home and abroad. Each, as it lost its prestige with the public and its own middle-grade officers. Internally splintered, no longer mutually supportive, and resting on an eroding foundation of war-weakened public confidence, eventually the three institutions collapsed, together with the regime they supported. The book illustrates how the KGB in particular suffered defeat because it came to believe its own disinformation. In the end, the implosion of the vast false-front "Potemkin village" that had been the Soviet Union can be ascribed in large part to the cruel truths of the Afghan war


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The Fateful Pebble explores the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan as a catalyst that helped trigger the first extraordinary political event of the 20th century, the self-generated collapse of the Soviet empire. At the dawn of the 1980s decade, the Soviet military machine seemed invincible and Moscow's expansionist designs unswervable. Intermediate-range SS-20 missiles were inti The Fateful Pebble explores the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan as a catalyst that helped trigger the first extraordinary political event of the 20th century, the self-generated collapse of the Soviet empire. At the dawn of the 1980s decade, the Soviet military machine seemed invincible and Moscow's expansionist designs unswervable. Intermediate-range SS-20 missiles were intimidating Western Europe, the Soviet ICBM force was at least the equal of America's, and, with the invasion of Afghanistan at the end of 1979, the Kremlin showed its willingness to project its power directly into a neighboring nonaligned country. But nearly ten years later, the last Soviet army regular units withdrew into Central Asia without ever having conquered the elusive Afghan resistance fighters who had spontaneously risen up against them. Less than three years after that retreat, the Soviet Union itself had ceased to exist. The early chapters provide unique perceptions of Russian and Afghan psychology, a historical view of how military defeat had led to earlier Russian domestic upheavals, and a description of how the Communist Party apparat, the Soviet military establishment, and the KGB had successfully defended Moscow's empire in the past. The details of the consecutive failure of each of these institutions to solve Moscow's "Afghanistan problem" show how the authority of each was seriously undermined at home and abroad. Each, as it lost its prestige with the public and its own middle-grade officers. Internally splintered, no longer mutually supportive, and resting on an eroding foundation of war-weakened public confidence, eventually the three institutions collapsed, together with the regime they supported. The book illustrates how the KGB in particular suffered defeat because it came to believe its own disinformation. In the end, the implosion of the vast false-front "Potemkin village" that had been the Soviet Union can be ascribed in large part to the cruel truths of the Afghan war

13 review for THE FATEFUL PEBBLE: AFGHANISTAN'S ROLE IN THE FALL OF THE SOVIET EMPIRE

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rhuff

    Like most of the post mortems of the “fall of Communism,” this book is also full of the same tropes and clichés of “collapse” and “implosion.” Written in the early 1990s with crowing cold war triumphalism it adds little – despite the author’s respectable credentials and years of CIA service – to the already-known factors of the Soviet loss in Afghanistan or the dissolution of the USSR. The book offers some good insights: Soviet support for the 1978 Kabul coup was instrumental in its success (as Like most of the post mortems of the “fall of Communism,” this book is also full of the same tropes and clichés of “collapse” and “implosion.” Written in the early 1990s with crowing cold war triumphalism it adds little – despite the author’s respectable credentials and years of CIA service – to the already-known factors of the Soviet loss in Afghanistan or the dissolution of the USSR. The book offers some good insights: Soviet support for the 1978 Kabul coup was instrumental in its success (as US support consolidated Diem in Saigon.) But when Mr. Arnold writes of the “indomitable will of the mujahidin” in “bringing down the USSR” (and slighting the billions of taxpayer-funded weaponry funneled to them) we’re being treated to the same kind of hyperbole that insists the Viet Cong brought down US presidents Johnson and Nixon. The meatgrinder of the Afghan War was undoubtedly one of many factors in bringing about “new thinking” in the Kremlin. It was the final bow of the WW II era old guard: a “last stand” against China and the US, for the prestige of Soviet arms, to gird up the floundering “patriotism and moral character of Soviet youth” as much as rescuing a floundering client. And in this lies the generational rift that made glasnost so timely and Afghanistan only one pebble of many in the Soviet shoe. As even Mr. Arnold writes, Gorbachev’s policy upon assuming office in 1985 was to end the war, coinciding with long-postponed reforms throughout state and society. Unlike Tzar Nicholas in 1917, he was not brought down in order to continue an expensive and unpopular war – he sided with the peace faction himself. His preoccupation was to back out with as little facial loss as possible. The war was no doubt a drain on Soviet society, contributing to the disillusionment of the “Afghan generation” with the out-of-touch thinking of its elders. So was Chernobyl, pervasive corruption, and the glitter of Western consumer culture that had entered via détente. There may be truth when Mr. Arnold stated Russia was bound to repeat its dark past of “despotism or anarchy” unless its people learn “individual inner discipline” and “moral accountability” with a “true social conscience.” But we’ve yet to see these values prevail in post-cold war America any more than Russia. The “final, lethal blow to the world’s last imperial superpower and its supposedly universal dogma” has yet to be struck, but when it does it will land far from Moscow.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bill Mullen

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

  4. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Lueck

  5. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  6. 5 out of 5

    Simon

  7. 4 out of 5

    William

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jerome

  9. 5 out of 5

    Deniz

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Kotkin

  11. 4 out of 5

    Artyom Timeyev

  12. 4 out of 5

    Janick

  13. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

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