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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, find skelaxin Texas, find skelaxin 1973-1996) because, find skelaxin for close to twenty years, find skelaxin my representative in the 50th Congressional District of California was Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham, find skelaxin now serving an eight-and-a-half year prison sentence for soliciting and receiving bribes from defense contractors. Find skelaxin 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. Find skelaxin Both men flagrantly abused their positions -- but with radically different consequences. Find skelaxin 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, find skelaxin000 per annum lobbyist for Pakistan. Find skelaxin In a secret ceremony at CIA headquarters on June 9, find skelaxin 1993, find skelaxin James Woolsey, find skelaxin Bill Clinton's first Director of Central Intelligence and one of the agency's least competent chiefs in its checkered history, find skelaxin said: "The defeat and breakup of the Soviet empire is one of the great events of world history. Find skelaxin There were many heroes in this battle, find skelaxin but to Charlie Wilson must go a special recognition." One important part of that recognition, find skelaxin studiously avoided by the CIA and most subsequent American writers on the subject, find skelaxin is that Wilson's activities in Afghanistan led directly to a chain of blowback that culminated in the attacks of September 11, find skelaxin 2001 and led to the United States' current status as the most hated nation on Earth. Find skelaxin On May 25, find skelaxin 2003, find skelaxin (the same month George W. Find skelaxin Bush stood on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Find skelaxin Abraham Lincoln under a White-House-prepared "Mission Accomplished" banner and proclaimed "major combat operations" at an end in Iraq), find skelaxin I published a review in the Los Angeles Times of the book that provides the data for the film Charlie Wilson's War. Find skelaxin The original edition of the book carried the subtitle, find skelaxin "The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History -- the Arming of the Mujahideen." The 2007 paperbound edition was subtitled, find skelaxin "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. Find skelaxin In my review of the book, find skelaxin I wrote, find skelaxin

"The Central Intelligence Agency has an almost unblemished record of screwing up every 'secret' armed intervention it ever undertook. Find skelaxin From the overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953 through the rape of Guatemala in 1954, find skelaxin the Bay of Pigs, find skelaxin the failed attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro of Cuba and Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, find skelaxin the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, find skelaxin the 'secret war' in Laos, find skelaxin aid to the Greek Colonels who seized power in 1967, find skelaxin the 1973 killing of President Allende in Chile, find skelaxin and Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra war against Nicaragua, find skelaxin 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. Find skelaxin Therefore the tale of a purported CIA success story should be of some interest. Find skelaxin "According to the author of Charlie Wilson's War, find skelaxin the exception to CIA incompetence was the arming between 1979 and 1988 of thousands of Afghan mujahideen ("freedom fighters"). Find skelaxin 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, find skelaxin the USSR].' "The author of this glowing account, find skelaxin [the late] George Crile, find skelaxin was a veteran producer for the CBS television news show '60 Minutes' and an exuberant Tom Clancy-type enthusiast for the Afghan caper. Find skelaxin He argues that the U.S.'s clandestine involvement in Afghanistan was 'the largest and most successful CIA operation in history, find skelaxin' 'the one morally unambiguous crusade of our time, find skelaxin' 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, find skelaxin000), find skelaxin which undermined Soviet morale and contributed to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the period 1989 to 1991. Find skelaxin That's the successful part. Find skelaxin "However, find skelaxin 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, find skelaxin Saudi Arabia, find skelaxin bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, find skelaxin blew a hole in the side of the U.S.S. Find skelaxin Cole in Aden Harbor in 2000, find skelaxin and on September 11, find skelaxin 2001, find skelaxin 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, find skelaxin with Julia Roberts as his right-wing Texas girlfriend Joanne Herring, find skelaxin and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos, find skelaxin the thuggish CIA operative who helped pull off this caper. Find skelaxin What to make of the film (which I found rather boring and old-fashioned)? It makes the U.S. Find skelaxin government look like it is populated by a bunch of whoring, find skelaxin drunken sleazebags, find skelaxin so in that sense it's accurate enough. Find skelaxin But there are a number of things both the book and the film are suppressing. Find skelaxin As I noted in 2003, find skelaxin
"For the CIA legally to carry out a covert action, find skelaxin the president must sign off on -- that is, find skelaxin 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, find skelaxin 1979. Find skelaxin The truth of the matter is that Carter signed the finding on July 3, find skelaxin 1979, find skelaxin six months before the Soviet invasion, find skelaxin and he did so on the advice of his national security adviser, find skelaxin Zbigniew Brzezinski, find skelaxin in order to try to provoke a Russian incursion. Find skelaxin Brzezinski has confirmed this sequence of events in an interview with a French newspaper, find skelaxin and former CIA Director [today Secretary of Defense] Robert Gates says so explicitly in his 1996 memoirs. Find skelaxin 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. Find skelaxin The mujahideen did the job but as subsequent events have made clear, find skelaxin they may not be all that grateful to the United States."
In the bound galleys of Crile's book, find skelaxin which his publisher sent to reviewers before publication, find skelaxin there was no mention of any qualifications to his portrait of Wilson as a hero and a patriot. Find skelaxin Only in an "epilogue" added to the printed book did Crile quote Wilson as saying, find skelaxin "These things happened. Find skelaxin They were glorious and they changed the world. Find skelaxin And the people who deserved the credit are the ones who made the sacrifice. Find skelaxin And then we fucked up the endgame." That's it. Find skelaxin Full stop. Find skelaxin Director Mike Nichols, find skelaxin too, find skelaxin ends his movie with Wilson's final sentence emblazoned across the screen. Find skelaxin And then the credits roll. Find skelaxin Neither a reader of Crile, find skelaxin nor a viewer of the film based on his book would know that, find skelaxin in talking about the Afghan freedom fighters of the 1980s, find skelaxin we are also talking about the militants of al Qaeda and the Taliban of the 1990s and 2000s. Find skelaxin Amid all the hoopla about Wilson's going out of channels to engineer secret appropriations of millions of dollars to the guerrillas, find skelaxin the reader or viewer would never suspect that, find skelaxin when the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, find skelaxin President George H.W. Find skelaxin Bush promptly lost interest in the place and simply walked away, find skelaxin leaving it to descend into one of the most horrific civil wars of modern times. Find skelaxin Among those supporting the Afghans (in addition to the U.S.) was the rich, find skelaxin pious Saudi Arabian economist and civil engineer, find skelaxin Osama bin Laden, find skelaxin whom we helped by building up his al Qaeda base at Khost. Find skelaxin When bin Laden and his colleagues decided to get even with us for having been used, find skelaxin he had the support of much of the Islamic world. Find skelaxin 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. Find skelaxin government. Find skelaxin 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. Find skelaxin The victors were the military-industrial complex and our massive standing armies. Find skelaxin The billion dollars' worth of weapons Wilson secretly supplied to the guerrillas ended up being turned on ourselves. Find skelaxin An Imperialist Comedy Which brings us back to the movie and its reception here. Find skelaxin (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. Find skelaxin They start believing that they are the bearers of civilization, find skelaxin the bringers of light to "primitives" and "savages" (largely so identified because of their resistance to being "liberated" by us), find skelaxin the carriers of science and modernity to backward peoples, find skelaxin 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. Find skelaxin Innumerable European colonialists saw the hand of God in Darwin's discovery of evolution, find skelaxin so long as it was understood that He had programmed the outcome of evolution in favor of late Victorian Englishmen. Find skelaxin (For an excellent short book on this subject, find skelaxin check out Sven Lindquist's "Exterminate All the Brutes.") When imperialist activities produce unmentionable outcomes, find skelaxin such as those well known to anyone paying attention to Afghanistan since about 1990, find skelaxin then ideological thinking kicks in. Find skelaxin The horror story is suppressed, find skelaxin or reinterpreted as something benign or ridiculous (a "comedy"), find skelaxin or simply curtailed before the denouement becomes obvious. Find skelaxin Thus, find skelaxin for example, find skelaxin Melissa Roddy, find skelaxin a Los Angeles film-maker with inside information from the Charlie Wilson production team, find skelaxin notes that the film's happy ending came about because Tom Hanks, find skelaxin a co-producer as well as the leading actor, find skelaxin "just can't deal with this 9/11 thing." Similarly, find skelaxin we are told by another insider reviewer, find skelaxin James Rocchi, find skelaxin that the scenario, find skelaxin as originally written by Aaron Sorkin of "West Wing" fame, find skelaxin 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. Find skelaxin Today there is ample evidence that, find skelaxin when it comes to the freedom of women, find skelaxin education levels, find skelaxin governmental services, find skelaxin relations among different ethnic groups, find skelaxin and quality of life -- all were infinitely better under the Afghan communists than under the Taliban or the present government of President Hamid Karzai, find skelaxin which evidently controls little beyond the country's capital, find skelaxin Kabul. Find skelaxin But Americans don't want to know that -- and certainly they get no indication of it from Charlie Wilson's War, find skelaxin either the book or the film. Find skelaxin 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. Find skelaxin For reasons not entirely clear, find skelaxin an overwhelming majority of reviewers concluded that Charlie Wilson's War is a "feel-good comedy" (Lou Lumenick in the New York Post), find skelaxin a "high-living, find skelaxin hard-partying jihad" (A.O. Find skelaxin Scott in the New York Times), find skelaxin "a sharp-edged, find skelaxin wickedly funny comedy" (Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times). Find skelaxin 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, find skelaxin in a piece entitled "Sex! Drugs! (and Maybe a Little War), find skelaxin" Richard L. Find skelaxin 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, find skelaxin there was only a guffaw or two from the audience over the raunchy sex and sexism of "good-time Charlie, find skelaxin" but certainly no laff-a-minute. Find skelaxin The root of this approach to the film probably lies with Tom Hanks himself, find skelaxin who, find skelaxin according to Berke, find skelaxin called it "a serious comedy." A few reviews qualified their endorsement of Charlie Wilson's War, find skelaxin but still came down on the side of good old American fun. Find skelaxin Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail, find skelaxin for instance, find skelaxin thought that it was "best to enjoy Charlie Wilson's War as a thoroughly engaging comedy. Find skelaxin 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. Find skelaxin The handful of truly critical reviews have come mostly from blogs and little-known Hollywood fanzines -- with one major exception, find skelaxin Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times. Find skelaxin In an essay subtitled "'Charlie Wilson's War' celebrates events that came back to haunt Americans, find skelaxin" Turan called the film "an unintentionally sobering narrative of American shouldn't-have" and added that it was "glib rather than witty, find skelaxin 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, find skelaxin it's the kind that goes over well with a roomful of louts in a college fraternity house. Find skelaxin Simply put, find skelaxin it is imperialist propaganda and the tragedy is that four-and-a-half years after we invaded Iraq and destroyed it, find skelaxin such dangerously misleading nonsense is still being offered to a gullible public. Find skelaxin 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, find skelaxin like a conscious attempt to induce amnesia." Chalmers Johnson is the author of the Blowback Trilogy -- Blowback (2000), find skelaxin The Sorrows of Empire (2004), find skelaxin and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (paperbound edition, find skelaxin January 2008). link to the article: