INTERVIEWER: I mean it is only 82, 83 that Andropov hinted about a possible withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the UN attempted to follow that up. I mean what views were there within the administration about how the US should respond and why wasn't that opportunity taken up?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well I think that first of all there was some considerable doubt as to the sincerity of Mr. Andropov's views and whether he really intended a full-scale withdrawal or whether he wanted some kind of a token withdrawal that would reduce the opposition to their invasion and allow them at the same time to pursue their goals. There was a lot of world opinion against the Soviets going into Afghanistan, there was a lot of boycotts there were a lot of things that sanctions and various things that were troubling them and I think that many people felt that when they began to talk vaguely about how they might get out, we wanted to sort of see the proof of that before reacting immediately to that. And I don't think it was ever really taken terribly seriously by anybody because I don't know how seriously it was intended or even what degree of control Andropov had to enable him to carry out such a policy assuming he had one. But I think that there was a lot of skepticism, certainly I was very skeptical about it until something more happened than a UN speech.
INTERVIEWER: The Yakub Khan of the Pakistanis seemed to have been keen to follow it up, I know that's come from the Soviet side as well, but I mean and they were quite surprised that Khan later backtracked, I mean he seemed to suggest that the US was pressurizing him not to proceed. How would you answer that?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: No I don't recall anything of that I don't know what year that would have been I don't recall that we ever pressured the Paks to reject any overtures of peace or to anything of that kind. I think that, my own memory of it, my own feeling is basically this is simply a kind of a trial balloon which Andropov was setting up and I wanted to see a little more proof of what he actually had in mind and taking the Soviet troops out and reducing the pressure they were putting on the Afghans in the cities and the supply runs.
INTERVIEWER: And do you not think that there was a sort of attitude within the US that really they wanted to continue the war.
CASPAR WEINBERGER: No, no, no, nobody wanted to continue any war in the United States. What we didn't want was to be tricked or trapped into withdrawing and making a premature withdrawal of assistance in allowing the Soviets then to proceed unhindered with their basic goal, but we, for a genuine offer to withdraw we wanted to see it, we wanted to verify it and we wanted to be sure it was happening. When that did happen why we obviously accepted it. We didn't try to hinder the Soviets when they really withdrew.
INTERVIEWER: I mean how did the US respond to Gorbachev's announcement that he was gonna withdraw?
CASPAR WEINBERGER : Well again, I think very much the same way. When he first did it there was a again a curious charade in which the Soviets held a major ceremony built reviewing stands, marched the troops back out across a couple of bridges, but at the same time they were reinserting more troops through the South and that led to a lot of us to a rather dark suspicion that they didn't really mean it. And when they finally did do it, I think everybody was pleased about it. The Afghans were able to prevent an invasion domination by the Soviets and that was our goal.
INTERVIEWER: I mean Gorbachev has since said that one of the biggest problems was trying to sort of convince Reagan that he was serious and do you really, I'm more interested in a way your attitude about Gorbachev at the time.
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well Gorbachev was beginning to, first of all he had a very bad record, he was KGB and he was all the old school and he had a very dubious associations and all the rest. But he seemed to be trying very hard to convince the West and people who would listen to him that he was new and different. And he was more forthcoming, he was more outgoing, he dressed better, he didn't have one of those floor length overcoats that they always used in fact he didn't look like an old school Soviet apparatchik and he was trying to court the West. And a lot of people were of course absolutely delighted they thought that this was wonderful. I always wanted to see a little more proof before I did, he never resigned from the Communist party, he never repudiated communism, these are things that Yeltsin did later, and why I believe that Yeltsin has was far more effective, far more courageous than Gorbachev, but Gorbachev captured the intention of the westand he excited a lot of people because they assumed right away that everything he said was true and the whole Soviet Union was going to change overnight. I wantto see a change before I accepted that. Within our administration there was the same kind of position, people believe what they want to believe, and most people very much wanted to believe that the Cold War was ending and here was a nice man who needed some economic assistance and was saying the right thing, but what they didn't seem to recognize was that he was still doing a lot of the wrong things. He used Soviet troops against people in Georgia in very ambitious attacks. He said many times that he was not there to destroy communism he was there to strengthen it, and at the same time he talked about perstroika and all of these various things that he was going to do, but none of them seemed to me to reach the fundamental problem which was what Yeltsin did later, and that was repudiate communism, move to a market economy and be willing to take a great deal of personal risk to end what was the policy that had driven the Cold War.
INTERVIEWER: I mean the US had a lot of inside information about actually how much control Gorbachev had over the military and with regard to Gorbachev's real intentions in Afghanistan, the escalation of the war, can you tell me about that?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well Gorbachev in his position that he had in the Soviet Union he had complete control over the, we always used to say that the real problem of the Soviet Union was that they had not public opinion. They had four or five men sitting around a table in the Kremlin, they could decide how much they wanted to spend, they could increase it overnight. You had none of this tiresome business about debates with Congress or editorials that were adverse or pubic meetings, or demonstrations, none of those things were allowed. And with Gorbachev he had the power over the Soviet military until they actually did withdraw from Afghanistan and not a kind of a ceremonial transfer of troops some out and some in I didn't think that we had a basic reason to believe it. But people wanted to believe it, a lot of people felt he needed encouragement by help from the West and that would have enabled him to prevail. He did, his principle contribution I think was to recognize he couldn't win a war and when he recognized that, then when he knew how much .... he needed then he changed his record. Very drastically. And then he changed a few policies and let a few people move out through Hungary and Austria and became a flow tide, he couldn't stop it. He unleashed forces of people who had been under the Soviet domination for two or three generations who hated it, but who had no way of expressing that hatred or doing anything about it. When he offered this idea to please the west that a few people would be allowed to come out, it became a flood tide and he couldn't stop it. And it got from his point of view way beyond what he wanted. It's interesting to recall that all the people which were part of that coup against him later on every one of him he had appointed. Everyone of him were people that he was trying to please on all sides, and in all sides and in politics or in government when you try to please everybody you end up pleasing nobody. And he was trying to please the west and get Western aid and convey the impression that this was a new vigorous democratically inclined leader who was going to change the whole country, and at home he was trying to persuade the old line communists that he was with them and he would appoint them to various positions and he would not make major changes in the economy or in the economic policies or in the military policy.
INTERVIEWER: It seems to be a sort of suggestion that in a way he gave into military pressure and the fact that you know Afghanistan saw a major escalation.
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well I don't know the military pressure as a result of Afghanistan was all the other way. The military pressure in Russia was to get out. They were fighting an enemy that they had a great deal of difficulty seeing or trapping, they could no longer use their helicopters to advantage and they were a great many people who were strongly in favor of simply leaving. "Lebed" was one of them and two or three of the others who wanted to save the troops and get them out.
INTERVIEWER: Well with all the reading and research we've done there seems to be in a way some doubt sometimes that the US was actually serious about trying to end the war in Afghanistan even when Gorbachev...
CASPAR WEINBERGER : That I'd be very surprised about that, I know absolutely nothing that would ever lead me to conclude that that was the case. What we wanted was to have the Afghans winning. We wanted them not to be dominated, we didn't want to accept any thing that would add to their troubles, we were not going to go in and put ground troops to fight with them or anything of that kind and we were not going to fly our air force in to fight with them, but we were going to help them as much as we could. And when the Soviets actually withdrew everybody I know of was delighted and then they started worrying a little bit about what the internal structure of Afghanistan would be later on, but I know of nobody that had the slightest interest in prolonging that war, or doing anything except helping the Afghans win it.
INTERVIEWER: I am just wondering if you could tell us the sort of key events of the whole Geneva Accords peace process, what was being proposed and how did the US respond?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well there were all kinds of standard diplomatic things being suggested and I think our only reservations were would this be premature, would this be in effect falling into a Soviet trap of trying to help them pull back and get rid of the Western support not just the United States but other countries, as many of the NATO countries and all the others that were trying to help. Was it a genuine withdrawal, were we really talking about something that involved their getting out and getting out permanently? Or were we talking about that enabled them to make a show of taking some troops out, at the same time keeping agents in who would influence the future government of Afghanistan, whatever it was to be, to be supportive of the Soviets. But there was no desire to prolong the war. What we wanted to do was to get the objectives secured that we had in mind from the beginning and they were to make sure that Soviet influence was removed from Afghanistan.
INTERVIEWER: I mean there seems to have been some policy differences between the State department and the Pentagon about how to proceed.
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well I think there are always going to be those, sort of institutional and they would revolve around the state department's desire and hopes for a diplomatic settlement and their eagerness to seize anything that looked like a diplomatic opening. And the Pentagon was rather skeptical and more hard-headed approach if you like, wanting to see performance before we change positions in a way that would make it very difficult to continue to support the Afghans if they needed it.
INTERVIEWER: But didn't that sort of defense, slightly hard line view end up winning out in regard to the Geneva accords?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well I, we could phrase it anyway you want the end result was the Soviets did get out, Afghanistan was saved from Soviet domination and allowed to make whatever efforts they could to choose their own government. That was the view that finally, that was the result, and whether that would have happened if we had been more eager to see the first Russian indication that they wanted to leave or not, I don't know, I don't think so, they were elements in the Soviet Union that were reluctant to give up. They did not want to admit a defeat and did not want to lose the original objective of going into Afghanistan, which was to dominate the region and lay open the routes to the Gulf and to the oil fields.
INTERVIEWER: People like "Cordoves" would say that in a way the US you know really refused to be a part of the peprocess and in fact that when the Geneva accords were signed it was a failing really, because both sides continued to want to supply ....
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well the I don't think the Geneva Accords took Soviets out of Afghanistan and we wanted to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan. We were not trying to sabotage or undermine the Geneva Accords or refuse to participate in a diplomatic approach, we just wanted to be effective, and our basic feeling was what the Russians were talking about was a way to get the resistance and the opposition of the West off their backs so to speak and they then would be free to pursue other methods of dominating Afghanistan and that's what we did not want to have done.
INTERVIEWER: Some people say that continuing aid all it did was stoke the fires really. Some people would say that the continuing aid from America and the Soviet Union all it did was just stoke the fires in Afghanistan.
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well I don't think so, you have a situation in which a, a very large military power, the Soviet Union, invaded Afghanistan with clear intentions an announced intention of trying to dominate it and have a puppet government that would be completely responsive to Soviet advance so it would be in effect the quality of the Soviet Union and you had freedom fighters, citizens whatever you want to call them of Afghanistan, we didn't want that to happen and we wanted to support that, but I think that if we had not supported them, the Soviets would have run right through and I don't think the fires were stoked I think the resistance and the will to resist of the Afghans was encouraged, because by doing that we prevented Soviet domination of this very important, key strategically located country.
INTERVIEWER: Then why was there a reluctance to sign the Geneva Accords for that peace process?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well I think that there wasn't any feeling that it was effective enough to get the Soviets out, or to make sure that they would leave, or not continue through perhaps less obvious military means of trying to dominate the country.
INTERVIEWER: From an American point of view, what was wrong with regard to the coalition and "Najibuller" and the king, how did you feel about that, suggestions that the UN...
CASPAR WEINBERGER : Well it was some problems with trying to get a ruler for the future Afghanistan, who would be truly independent and would be allowed to be independent. And there was discussions of bringing back the king, there was discussions with various other leaders. But again I don't think we had any kind of assurance that there would be any full freedom in the future from Soviet attempts to dominate them and that was our goal and that was the Afghans goal, and when that was achieved when they did leave, we were delighted, we didn't have any further worries, when they did get out they stayed out.
INTERVIEWER: I mean ultimately, what do you think was really responsible for Afghanistan?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: I think they were defeated militarily in the sense that they as in Czekia that they were not able to achieve their objectives and whilst a bitter pill for them to swallow Gorbachev attempted to turn it into a demonstration to the West of how much they had changed and all the rest and perhaps to bolster his argument for more aid from the west for him, but I think, I think if they felt they could win militarily they would still be there.
INTERVIEWER: I was just wondering, looking back at the 10 years of the war, and all the death and destruction and the suffering and the fact that the conflict is still going on, do you not think that the United States should take a large part of responsibility for it?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: No I don't think we had responsibility for it at all, I don't think that we had any goal except to preserve the freedom and independence and self-determination of the people in Afghanistan and if you take the position that anything is better than a war, then Soviet domination and acceding to Soviet domination would have eliminated a certain amount of the killing, not all by any means because the Afghans are very tough people. Other countries have tried to pacify Afghanistan over the years and not able to do so and I don't think that there is anything about our help to the Mujaheddin, except preserve the independence of Afghanistan, it did not prolong the war.