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Second Thoughts on Charlie Wilson's War by Chalmers Johnson / Tom's Dispatch I have some personal knowledge of Congressmen like Charlie Wilson (D-2nd District, buy methox 400 Texas, buy methox 400 1973-1996) because, buy methox 400 for close to twenty years, buy methox 400 my representative in the 50th Congressional District of California was Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham, buy methox 400 now serving an eight-and-a-half year prison sentence for soliciting and receiving bribes from defense contractors. Buy methox 400 Wilson and Cunningham held exactly the same plummy committee assignments in the House of Representatives -- the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee plus the Intelligence Oversight Committee -- from which they could dole out large sums of public money with little or no input from their colleagues or constituents. Buy methox 400 Both men flagrantly abused their positions -- but with radically different consequences. Buy methox 400 Cunningham went to jail because he was too stupid to know how to game the system -- retire and become a lobbyist -- whereas Wilson received the Central Intelligence Agency Clandestine Service's first "honored colleague" award ever given to an outsider and went on to become a $360, buy methox 400000 per annum lobbyist for Pakistan. Buy methox 400 In a secret ceremony at CIA headquarters on June 9, buy methox 400 1993, buy methox 400 James Woolsey, buy methox 400 Bill Clinton's first Director of Central Intelligence and one of the agency's least competent chiefs in its checkered history, buy methox 400 said: "The defeat and breakup of the Soviet empire is one of the great events of world history. Buy methox 400 There were many heroes in this battle, buy methox 400 but to Charlie Wilson must go a special recognition." One important part of that recognition, buy methox 400 studiously avoided by the CIA and most subsequent American writers on the subject, buy methox 400 is that Wilson's activities in Afghanistan led directly to a chain of blowback that culminated in the attacks of September 11, buy methox 400 2001 and led to the United States' current status as the most hated nation on Earth. Buy methox 400 On May 25, buy methox 400 2003, buy methox 400 (the same month George W. Buy methox 400 Bush stood on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Buy methox 400 Abraham Lincoln under a White-House-prepared "Mission Accomplished" banner and proclaimed "major combat operations" at an end in Iraq), buy methox 400 I published a review in the Los Angeles Times of the book that provides the data for the film Charlie Wilson's War. Buy methox 400 The original edition of the book carried the subtitle, buy methox 400 "The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History -- the Arming of the Mujahideen." The 2007 paperbound edition was subtitled, buy methox 400 "The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times." Neither the claim that the Afghan operations were covert nor that they changed history is precisely true. Buy methox 400 In my review of the book, buy methox 400 I wrote, buy methox 400

"The Central Intelligence Agency has an almost unblemished record of screwing up every 'secret' armed intervention it ever undertook. Buy methox 400 From the overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953 through the rape of Guatemala in 1954, buy methox 400 the Bay of Pigs, buy methox 400 the failed attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro of Cuba and Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, buy methox 400 the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, buy methox 400 the 'secret war' in Laos, buy methox 400 aid to the Greek Colonels who seized power in 1967, buy methox 400 the 1973 killing of President Allende in Chile, buy methox 400 and Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra war against Nicaragua, buy methox 400 there is not a single instance in which the Agency's activities did not prove acutely embarrassing to the United States and devastating to the people being 'liberated.' The CIA continues to get away with this bungling primarily because its budget and operations have always been secret and Congress is normally too indifferent to its Constitutional functions to rein in a rogue bureaucracy. Buy methox 400 Therefore the tale of a purported CIA success story should be of some interest. Buy methox 400 "According to the author of Charlie Wilson's War, buy methox 400 the exception to CIA incompetence was the arming between 1979 and 1988 of thousands of Afghan mujahideen ("freedom fighters"). Buy methox 400 The Agency flooded Afghanistan with an incredible array of extremely dangerous weapons and 'unapologetically mov[ed] to equip and train cadres of high tech holy warriors in the art of waging a war of urban terror against a modern superpower [in this case, buy methox 400 the USSR].' "The author of this glowing account, buy methox 400 [the late] George Crile, buy methox 400 was a veteran producer for the CBS television news show '60 Minutes' and an exuberant Tom Clancy-type enthusiast for the Afghan caper. Buy methox 400 He argues that the U.S.'s clandestine involvement in Afghanistan was 'the largest and most successful CIA operation in history, buy methox 400' 'the one morally unambiguous crusade of our time, buy methox 400' and that 'there was nothing so romantic and exciting as this war against the Evil Empire.' Crile's sole measure of success is killed Soviet soldiers (about 15, buy methox 400000), buy methox 400 which undermined Soviet morale and contributed to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the period 1989 to 1991. Buy methox 400 That's the successful part. Buy methox 400 "However, buy methox 400 he never once mentions that the 'tens of thousands of fanatical Muslim fundamentalists' the CIA armed are the same people who in 1996 killed nineteen American airmen at Dhahran, buy methox 400 Saudi Arabia, buy methox 400 bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, buy methox 400 blew a hole in the side of the U.S.S. Buy methox 400 Cole in Aden Harbor in 2000, buy methox 400 and on September 11, buy methox 400 2001, buy methox 400 flew hijacked airliners into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon."
Where Did the "Freedom Fighters" Go? When I wrote those words I did not know (and could not have imagined) that the actor Tom Hanks had already purchased the rights to the book to make into a film in which he would star as Charlie Wilson, buy methox 400 with Julia Roberts as his right-wing Texas girlfriend Joanne Herring, buy methox 400 and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos, buy methox 400 the thuggish CIA operative who helped pull off this caper. Buy methox 400 What to make of the film (which I found rather boring and old-fashioned)? It makes the U.S. Buy methox 400 government look like it is populated by a bunch of whoring, buy methox 400 drunken sleazebags, buy methox 400 so in that sense it's accurate enough. Buy methox 400 But there are a number of things both the book and the film are suppressing. Buy methox 400 As I noted in 2003, buy methox 400
"For the CIA legally to carry out a covert action, buy methox 400 the president must sign off on -- that is, buy methox 400 authorize -- a document called a 'finding.' Crile repeatedly says that President Carter signed such a finding ordering the CIA to provide covert backing to the mujahideen after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on December 24, buy methox 400 1979. Buy methox 400 The truth of the matter is that Carter signed the finding on July 3, buy methox 400 1979, buy methox 400 six months before the Soviet invasion, buy methox 400 and he did so on the advice of his national security adviser, buy methox 400 Zbigniew Brzezinski, buy methox 400 in order to try to provoke a Russian incursion. Buy methox 400 Brzezinski has confirmed this sequence of events in an interview with a French newspaper, buy methox 400 and former CIA Director [today Secretary of Defense] Robert Gates says so explicitly in his 1996 memoirs. Buy methox 400 It may surprise Charlie Wilson to learn that his heroic mujahideen were manipulated by Washington like so much cannon fodder in order to give the USSR its own Vietnam. Buy methox 400 The mujahideen did the job but as subsequent events have made clear, buy methox 400 they may not be all that grateful to the United States."
In the bound galleys of Crile's book, buy methox 400 which his publisher sent to reviewers before publication, buy methox 400 there was no mention of any qualifications to his portrait of Wilson as a hero and a patriot. Buy methox 400 Only in an "epilogue" added to the printed book did Crile quote Wilson as saying, buy methox 400 "These things happened. Buy methox 400 They were glorious and they changed the world. Buy methox 400 And the people who deserved the credit are the ones who made the sacrifice. Buy methox 400 And then we fucked up the endgame." That's it. Buy methox 400 Full stop. Buy methox 400 Director Mike Nichols, buy methox 400 too, buy methox 400 ends his movie with Wilson's final sentence emblazoned across the screen. Buy methox 400 And then the credits roll. Buy methox 400 Neither a reader of Crile, buy methox 400 nor a viewer of the film based on his book would know that, buy methox 400 in talking about the Afghan freedom fighters of the 1980s, buy methox 400 we are also talking about the militants of al Qaeda and the Taliban of the 1990s and 2000s. Buy methox 400 Amid all the hoopla about Wilson's going out of channels to engineer secret appropriations of millions of dollars to the guerrillas, buy methox 400 the reader or viewer would never suspect that, buy methox 400 when the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, buy methox 400 President George H.W. Buy methox 400 Bush promptly lost interest in the place and simply walked away, buy methox 400 leaving it to descend into one of the most horrific civil wars of modern times. Buy methox 400 Among those supporting the Afghans (in addition to the U.S.) was the rich, buy methox 400 pious Saudi Arabian economist and civil engineer, buy methox 400 Osama bin Laden, buy methox 400 whom we helped by building up his al Qaeda base at Khost. Buy methox 400 When bin Laden and his colleagues decided to get even with us for having been used, buy methox 400 he had the support of much of the Islamic world. Buy methox 400 This disaster was brought about by Wilson's and the CIA's incompetence as well as their subversion of all the normal channels of political oversight and democratic accountability within the U.S. Buy methox 400 government. Buy methox 400 Charlie Wilson's war thus turned out to have been just another bloody skirmish in the expansion and consolidation of the American empire -- and an imperial presidency. Buy methox 400 The victors were the military-industrial complex and our massive standing armies. Buy methox 400 The billion dollars' worth of weapons Wilson secretly supplied to the guerrillas ended up being turned on ourselves. Buy methox 400 An Imperialist Comedy Which brings us back to the movie and its reception here. Buy methox 400 (It has been banned in Afghanistan.) One of the severe side effects of imperialism in its advanced stages seems to be that it rots the brains of the imperialists. Buy methox 400 They start believing that they are the bearers of civilization, buy methox 400 the bringers of light to "primitives" and "savages" (largely so identified because of their resistance to being "liberated" by us), buy methox 400 the carriers of science and modernity to backward peoples, buy methox 400 beacons and guides for citizens of the "underdeveloped world." Such attitudes are normally accompanied by a racist ideology that proclaims the intrinsic superiority and right to rule of "white" Caucasians. Buy methox 400 Innumerable European colonialists saw the hand of God in Darwin's discovery of evolution, buy methox 400 so long as it was understood that He had programmed the outcome of evolution in favor of late Victorian Englishmen. Buy methox 400 (For an excellent short book on this subject, buy methox 400 check out Sven Lindquist's "Exterminate All the Brutes.") When imperialist activities produce unmentionable outcomes, buy methox 400 such as those well known to anyone paying attention to Afghanistan since about 1990, buy methox 400 then ideological thinking kicks in. Buy methox 400 The horror story is suppressed, buy methox 400 or reinterpreted as something benign or ridiculous (a "comedy"), buy methox 400 or simply curtailed before the denouement becomes obvious. Buy methox 400 Thus, buy methox 400 for example, buy methox 400 Melissa Roddy, buy methox 400 a Los Angeles film-maker with inside information from the Charlie Wilson production team, buy methox 400 notes that the film's happy ending came about because Tom Hanks, buy methox 400 a co-producer as well as the leading actor, buy methox 400 "just can't deal with this 9/11 thing." Similarly, buy methox 400 we are told by another insider reviewer, buy methox 400 James Rocchi, buy methox 400 that the scenario, buy methox 400 as originally written by Aaron Sorkin of "West Wing" fame, buy methox 400 included the following line for Avrakotos: "Remember I said this: There's going to be a day when we're gonna look back and say 'I'd give anything if [Afghanistan] were overrun with Godless communists'." This line is nowhere to be found in the final film. Buy methox 400 Today there is ample evidence that, buy methox 400 when it comes to the freedom of women, buy methox 400 education levels, buy methox 400 governmental services, buy methox 400 relations among different ethnic groups, buy methox 400 and quality of life -- all were infinitely better under the Afghan communists than under the Taliban or the present government of President Hamid Karzai, buy methox 400 which evidently controls little beyond the country's capital, buy methox 400 Kabul. Buy methox 400 But Americans don't want to know that -- and certainly they get no indication of it from Charlie Wilson's War, buy methox 400 either the book or the film. Buy methox 400 The tendency of imperialism to rot the brains of imperialists is particularly on display in the recent spate of articles and reviews in mainstream American newspapers about the film. Buy methox 400 For reasons not entirely clear, buy methox 400 an overwhelming majority of reviewers concluded that Charlie Wilson's War is a "feel-good comedy" (Lou Lumenick in the New York Post), buy methox 400 a "high-living, buy methox 400 hard-partying jihad" (A.O. Buy methox 400 Scott in the New York Times), buy methox 400 "a sharp-edged, buy methox 400 wickedly funny comedy" (Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times). Buy methox 400 Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post wrote of "Mike Nichols's laff-a-minute chronicle of the congressman's crusade to ram funding through the House Appropriations Committee to supply arms to the Afghan mujahideen"; while, buy methox 400 in a piece entitled "Sex! Drugs! (and Maybe a Little War), buy methox 400" Richard L. Buy methox 400 Berke in the New York Times offered this stamp of approval: "You can make a movie that is relevant and intelligent -- and palatable to a mass audience -- if its political pills are sugar-coated." When I saw the film, buy methox 400 there was only a guffaw or two from the audience over the raunchy sex and sexism of "good-time Charlie, buy methox 400" but certainly no laff-a-minute. Buy methox 400 The root of this approach to the film probably lies with Tom Hanks himself, buy methox 400 who, buy methox 400 according to Berke, buy methox 400 called it "a serious comedy." A few reviews qualified their endorsement of Charlie Wilson's War, buy methox 400 but still came down on the side of good old American fun. Buy methox 400 Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail, buy methox 400 for instance, buy methox 400 thought that it was "best to enjoy Charlie Wilson's War as a thoroughly engaging comedy. Buy methox 400 Just don't think about it too much or you may choke on your popcorn." Peter Rainer noted in the Christian Science Monitor that the "Comedic Charlie Wilson's War has a tragic punch line." These reviewers were thundering along with the herd while still trying to maintain a bit of self-respect. Buy methox 400 The handful of truly critical reviews have come mostly from blogs and little-known Hollywood fanzines -- with one major exception, buy methox 400 Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times. Buy methox 400 In an essay subtitled "'Charlie Wilson's War' celebrates events that came back to haunt Americans, buy methox 400" Turan called the film "an unintentionally sobering narrative of American shouldn't-have" and added that it was "glib rather than witty, buy methox 400 one of those films that comes off as being more pleased with itself than it has a right to be." My own view is that if Charlie Wilson's War is a comedy, buy methox 400 it's the kind that goes over well with a roomful of louts in a college fraternity house. Buy methox 400 Simply put, buy methox 400 it is imperialist propaganda and the tragedy is that four-and-a-half years after we invaded Iraq and destroyed it, buy methox 400 such dangerously misleading nonsense is still being offered to a gullible public. Buy methox 400 The most accurate review so far is James Rocchi's summing-up for Cinematical: "Charlie Wilson's War isn't just bad history; it feels even more malign, buy methox 400 like a conscious attempt to induce amnesia." Chalmers Johnson is the author of the Blowback Trilogy -- Blowback (2000), buy methox 400 The Sorrows of Empire (2004), buy methox 400 and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (paperbound edition, buy methox 400 January 2008). link to the article: http://tomdispatch.com/post/174877/chalmers_johnson_an_imperialist_comedy