This week's syndicated column:
Robert Conquest, pre-eminent historian of the genocides, purges and terrors of the Soviet Union, has long contemplated the blinders the West wears when looking at -- or, rather, not looking at -- the millions of dead bodies for which the gigantically Evil Empire was responsible.
"Why people didn't, and still don't, understand the communist regimes has to do with their concentration on reputable, or reputable-sounding, phenomena," Conquest wrote in a 2005 essay. "This is what amounts to an attempt to tame the data or, perhaps more correctly, a mental or psychological bent toward blocking the real essentials, the real meaning."
In only rare instances is this block ever exposed. One memorable example came when Jimmy Carter announced to the world that the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan "has made a more dramatic change in my own opinion of what the Soviets' ultimate goals are than anything they have done in the previous time I've been in office." Since this was the president of the United States talking, not Little Bo Peep, such laughable naivete -- evidence of taming the data, or blocking reality -- was subject to ridicule, even at the time.
After all, what could be dramatically opinion-changing about the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan, given that it simply repeated familiar historical patterns of Soviet behavior? But such was the mental or psychological bent that compelled Carter, on meeting the police state's ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, to say: "I've heard great things about you and your service in Washington. I hope to have a great relationship with you and also with Mr. Leonid Brezhnev."
It was great, all right -- at least until Carter finally got the message that Brezhnev was lying to his face, via the detente-era "hot line." Boo hoo: He couldn't trust the Soviet dictator anymore.
Such gullibility has long outlasted the Soviet Union, of course. Indeed, a similar story has been unfolding in official Washington as Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly declared his disappointment with Pakistan's actions in support of jihad terrorism in Afghanistan as "part of their national strategy." Just as Carter took three years to admit what the Soviets were up to, so Mullen has taken three years to face any facts about Pakistan. And that's after no fewer than 27 visits to Islamabad since 2008.
"Each time I go, I learn more," a chastened Mullen told The Wall Street Journal. "But one of the things I learn more is I have a lot more to learn."
He should have stayed home. Maybe then Mullen could have perused a variety of sources documenting official Pakistani policies of complicity with terror networks in Afghanistan and India. As Joint Chiefs chairman, Mullen didn't have to wait for WikiLeaks to release the October 2009 cable from then-U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson, in which she stated that "no amount of money" could convince the Pakistani government to stop supporting Taliban and other jihad groups. Then again, maybe, as Conquest might say, he just preferred "taming the data."
Mullen told a Pakistani military audience in December 2009 he wasn't interested in dwelling on the past: "I am here to write a history for the future. It is really my intent ... to build a future that re-establishes that trust." That's one way to concentrate on "reputable-sounding phenomena" and deny pesky facts.
Such concentration requires ignoring the available record, such as a June 2010 study from the London School of Economics, which found that support for Taliban in Afghanistan was "official policy" of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's CIA. The report further maintained that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met with captured Taliban leaders to assure them of the Pakistan government's "full support."
"I've gone into this with my eyes wide open," Mullen said of Pakistan two weeks after Osama bin Laden was killed and Pakistan was reported to be sharing U.S. stealth helicopter technology with the Chinese. "Trust isn't going to be re-established overnight."
Then when? In a sudden but overdue revelation reminiscent of the 39th president's, Mullen has now, according to the Journal, "concluded that the partnership approach he long had championed had fallen short and would be difficult to revive."
"I have been Pakistan's best friend," Mullen lamented. "What does it say when I am at that point? What does it say about where we are?"
It says that Uncle Sucker's policy -- trust Pakistan but forget about verifying anything -- has been downright Carter-esque.