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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, daily best puppies in canada Texas, daily best puppies in canada 1973-1996) because, daily best puppies in canada for close to twenty years, daily best puppies in canada my representative in the 50th Congressional District of California was Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham, daily best puppies in canada now serving an eight-and-a-half year prison sentence for soliciting and receiving bribes from defense contractors. Daily best puppies in canada 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. Daily best puppies in canada Both men flagrantly abused their positions -- but with radically different consequences. Daily best puppies in canada 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, daily best puppies in canada000 per annum lobbyist for Pakistan. Daily best puppies in canada In a secret ceremony at CIA headquarters on June 9, daily best puppies in canada 1993, daily best puppies in canada James Woolsey, daily best puppies in canada Bill Clinton's first Director of Central Intelligence and one of the agency's least competent chiefs in its checkered history, daily best puppies in canada said: "The defeat and breakup of the Soviet empire is one of the great events of world history. Daily best puppies in canada There were many heroes in this battle, daily best puppies in canada but to Charlie Wilson must go a special recognition." One important part of that recognition, daily best puppies in canada studiously avoided by the CIA and most subsequent American writers on the subject, daily best puppies in canada is that Wilson's activities in Afghanistan led directly to a chain of blowback that culminated in the attacks of September 11, daily best puppies in canada 2001 and led to the United States' current status as the most hated nation on Earth. Daily best puppies in canada On May 25, daily best puppies in canada 2003, daily best puppies in canada (the same month George W. Daily best puppies in canada Bush stood on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Daily best puppies in canada Abraham Lincoln under a White-House-prepared "Mission Accomplished" banner and proclaimed "major combat operations" at an end in Iraq), daily best puppies in canada I published a review in the Los Angeles Times of the book that provides the data for the film Charlie Wilson's War. Daily best puppies in canada The original edition of the book carried the subtitle, daily best puppies in canada "The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History -- the Arming of the Mujahideen." The 2007 paperbound edition was subtitled, daily best puppies in canada "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. Daily best puppies in canada In my review of the book, daily best puppies in canada I wrote, daily best puppies in canada

"The Central Intelligence Agency has an almost unblemished record of screwing up every 'secret' armed intervention it ever undertook. Daily best puppies in canada From the overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953 through the rape of Guatemala in 1954, daily best puppies in canada the Bay of Pigs, daily best puppies in canada the failed attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro of Cuba and Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, daily best puppies in canada the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, daily best puppies in canada the 'secret war' in Laos, daily best puppies in canada aid to the Greek Colonels who seized power in 1967, daily best puppies in canada the 1973 killing of President Allende in Chile, daily best puppies in canada and Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra war against Nicaragua, daily best puppies in canada 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. Daily best puppies in canada Therefore the tale of a purported CIA success story should be of some interest. Daily best puppies in canada "According to the author of Charlie Wilson's War, daily best puppies in canada the exception to CIA incompetence was the arming between 1979 and 1988 of thousands of Afghan mujahideen ("freedom fighters"). Daily best puppies in canada 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, daily best puppies in canada the USSR].' "The author of this glowing account, daily best puppies in canada [the late] George Crile, daily best puppies in canada was a veteran producer for the CBS television news show '60 Minutes' and an exuberant Tom Clancy-type enthusiast for the Afghan caper. Daily best puppies in canada He argues that the U.S.'s clandestine involvement in Afghanistan was 'the largest and most successful CIA operation in history, daily best puppies in canada' 'the one morally unambiguous crusade of our time, daily best puppies in canada' 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, daily best puppies in canada000), daily best puppies in canada which undermined Soviet morale and contributed to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the period 1989 to 1991. Daily best puppies in canada That's the successful part. Daily best puppies in canada "However, daily best puppies in canada 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, daily best puppies in canada Saudi Arabia, daily best puppies in canada bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, daily best puppies in canada blew a hole in the side of the U.S.S. Daily best puppies in canada Cole in Aden Harbor in 2000, daily best puppies in canada and on September 11, daily best puppies in canada 2001, daily best puppies in canada 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, daily best puppies in canada with Julia Roberts as his right-wing Texas girlfriend Joanne Herring, daily best puppies in canada and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos, daily best puppies in canada the thuggish CIA operative who helped pull off this caper. Daily best puppies in canada What to make of the film (which I found rather boring and old-fashioned)? It makes the U.S. Daily best puppies in canada government look like it is populated by a bunch of whoring, daily best puppies in canada drunken sleazebags, daily best puppies in canada so in that sense it's accurate enough. Daily best puppies in canada But there are a number of things both the book and the film are suppressing. Daily best puppies in canada As I noted in 2003, daily best puppies in canada
"For the CIA legally to carry out a covert action, daily best puppies in canada the president must sign off on -- that is, daily best puppies in canada 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, daily best puppies in canada 1979. Daily best puppies in canada The truth of the matter is that Carter signed the finding on July 3, daily best puppies in canada 1979, daily best puppies in canada six months before the Soviet invasion, daily best puppies in canada and he did so on the advice of his national security adviser, daily best puppies in canada Zbigniew Brzezinski, daily best puppies in canada in order to try to provoke a Russian incursion. Daily best puppies in canada Brzezinski has confirmed this sequence of events in an interview with a French newspaper, daily best puppies in canada and former CIA Director [today Secretary of Defense] Robert Gates says so explicitly in his 1996 memoirs. Daily best puppies in canada 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. Daily best puppies in canada The mujahideen did the job but as subsequent events have made clear, daily best puppies in canada they may not be all that grateful to the United States."
In the bound galleys of Crile's book, daily best puppies in canada which his publisher sent to reviewers before publication, daily best puppies in canada there was no mention of any qualifications to his portrait of Wilson as a hero and a patriot. Daily best puppies in canada Only in an "epilogue" added to the printed book did Crile quote Wilson as saying, daily best puppies in canada "These things happened. Daily best puppies in canada They were glorious and they changed the world. Daily best puppies in canada And the people who deserved the credit are the ones who made the sacrifice. Daily best puppies in canada And then we fucked up the endgame." That's it. Daily best puppies in canada Full stop. Daily best puppies in canada Director Mike Nichols, daily best puppies in canada too, daily best puppies in canada ends his movie with Wilson's final sentence emblazoned across the screen. Daily best puppies in canada And then the credits roll. Daily best puppies in canada Neither a reader of Crile, daily best puppies in canada nor a viewer of the film based on his book would know that, daily best puppies in canada in talking about the Afghan freedom fighters of the 1980s, daily best puppies in canada we are also talking about the militants of al Qaeda and the Taliban of the 1990s and 2000s. Daily best puppies in canada Amid all the hoopla about Wilson's going out of channels to engineer secret appropriations of millions of dollars to the guerrillas, daily best puppies in canada the reader or viewer would never suspect that, daily best puppies in canada when the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, daily best puppies in canada President George H.W. Daily best puppies in canada Bush promptly lost interest in the place and simply walked away, daily best puppies in canada leaving it to descend into one of the most horrific civil wars of modern times. Daily best puppies in canada Among those supporting the Afghans (in addition to the U.S.) was the rich, daily best puppies in canada pious Saudi Arabian economist and civil engineer, daily best puppies in canada Osama bin Laden, daily best puppies in canada whom we helped by building up his al Qaeda base at Khost. Daily best puppies in canada When bin Laden and his colleagues decided to get even with us for having been used, daily best puppies in canada he had the support of much of the Islamic world. Daily best puppies in canada 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. Daily best puppies in canada government. Daily best puppies in canada 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. Daily best puppies in canada The victors were the military-industrial complex and our massive standing armies. Daily best puppies in canada The billion dollars' worth of weapons Wilson secretly supplied to the guerrillas ended up being turned on ourselves. Daily best puppies in canada An Imperialist Comedy Which brings us back to the movie and its reception here. Daily best puppies in canada (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. Daily best puppies in canada They start believing that they are the bearers of civilization, daily best puppies in canada the bringers of light to "primitives" and "savages" (largely so identified because of their resistance to being "liberated" by us), daily best puppies in canada the carriers of science and modernity to backward peoples, daily best puppies in canada 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. Daily best puppies in canada Innumerable European colonialists saw the hand of God in Darwin's discovery of evolution, daily best puppies in canada so long as it was understood that He had programmed the outcome of evolution in favor of late Victorian Englishmen. Daily best puppies in canada (For an excellent short book on this subject, daily best puppies in canada check out Sven Lindquist's "Exterminate All the Brutes.") When imperialist activities produce unmentionable outcomes, daily best puppies in canada such as those well known to anyone paying attention to Afghanistan since about 1990, daily best puppies in canada then ideological thinking kicks in. Daily best puppies in canada The horror story is suppressed, daily best puppies in canada or reinterpreted as something benign or ridiculous (a "comedy"), daily best puppies in canada or simply curtailed before the denouement becomes obvious. Daily best puppies in canada Thus, daily best puppies in canada for example, daily best puppies in canada Melissa Roddy, daily best puppies in canada a Los Angeles film-maker with inside information from the Charlie Wilson production team, daily best puppies in canada notes that the film's happy ending came about because Tom Hanks, daily best puppies in canada a co-producer as well as the leading actor, daily best puppies in canada "just can't deal with this 9/11 thing." Similarly, daily best puppies in canada we are told by another insider reviewer, daily best puppies in canada James Rocchi, daily best puppies in canada that the scenario, daily best puppies in canada as originally written by Aaron Sorkin of "West Wing" fame, daily best puppies in canada 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. Daily best puppies in canada Today there is ample evidence that, daily best puppies in canada when it comes to the freedom of women, daily best puppies in canada education levels, daily best puppies in canada governmental services, daily best puppies in canada relations among different ethnic groups, daily best puppies in canada and quality of life -- all were infinitely better under the Afghan communists than under the Taliban or the present government of President Hamid Karzai, daily best puppies in canada which evidently controls little beyond the country's capital, daily best puppies in canada Kabul. Daily best puppies in canada But Americans don't want to know that -- and certainly they get no indication of it from Charlie Wilson's War, daily best puppies in canada either the book or the film. Daily best puppies in canada 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. Daily best puppies in canada For reasons not entirely clear, daily best puppies in canada an overwhelming majority of reviewers concluded that Charlie Wilson's War is a "feel-good comedy" (Lou Lumenick in the New York Post), daily best puppies in canada a "high-living, daily best puppies in canada hard-partying jihad" (A.O. Daily best puppies in canada Scott in the New York Times), daily best puppies in canada "a sharp-edged, daily best puppies in canada wickedly funny comedy" (Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times). Daily best puppies in canada 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, daily best puppies in canada in a piece entitled "Sex! Drugs! (and Maybe a Little War), daily best puppies in canada" Richard L. Daily best puppies in canada 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, daily best puppies in canada there was only a guffaw or two from the audience over the raunchy sex and sexism of "good-time Charlie, daily best puppies in canada" but certainly no laff-a-minute. Daily best puppies in canada The root of this approach to the film probably lies with Tom Hanks himself, daily best puppies in canada who, daily best puppies in canada according to Berke, daily best puppies in canada called it "a serious comedy." A few reviews qualified their endorsement of Charlie Wilson's War, daily best puppies in canada but still came down on the side of good old American fun. Daily best puppies in canada Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail, daily best puppies in canada for instance, daily best puppies in canada thought that it was "best to enjoy Charlie Wilson's War as a thoroughly engaging comedy. Daily best puppies in canada 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. Daily best puppies in canada The handful of truly critical reviews have come mostly from blogs and little-known Hollywood fanzines -- with one major exception, daily best puppies in canada Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times. Daily best puppies in canada In an essay subtitled "'Charlie Wilson's War' celebrates events that came back to haunt Americans, daily best puppies in canada" Turan called the film "an unintentionally sobering narrative of American shouldn't-have" and added that it was "glib rather than witty, daily best puppies in canada 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, daily best puppies in canada it's the kind that goes over well with a roomful of louts in a college fraternity house. Daily best puppies in canada Simply put, daily best puppies in canada it is imperialist propaganda and the tragedy is that four-and-a-half years after we invaded Iraq and destroyed it, daily best puppies in canada such dangerously misleading nonsense is still being offered to a gullible public. Daily best puppies in canada 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, daily best puppies in canada like a conscious attempt to induce amnesia." Chalmers Johnson is the author of the Blowback Trilogy -- Blowback (2000), daily best puppies in canada The Sorrows of Empire (2004), daily best puppies in canada and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (paperbound edition, daily best puppies in canada January 2008). link to the article: http://tomdispatch.com/post/174877/chalmers_johnson_an_imperialist_comedy