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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, order discount januvia Texas, order discount januvia 1973-1996) because, order discount januvia for close to twenty years, order discount januvia my representative in the 50th Congressional District of California was Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham, order discount januvia now serving an eight-and-a-half year prison sentence for soliciting and receiving bribes from defense contractors. Order discount januvia 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. Order discount januvia Both men flagrantly abused their positions -- but with radically different consequences. Order discount januvia 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, order discount januvia000 per annum lobbyist for Pakistan. Order discount januvia In a secret ceremony at CIA headquarters on June 9, order discount januvia 1993, order discount januvia James Woolsey, order discount januvia Bill Clinton's first Director of Central Intelligence and one of the agency's least competent chiefs in its checkered history, order discount januvia said: "The defeat and breakup of the Soviet empire is one of the great events of world history. Order discount januvia There were many heroes in this battle, order discount januvia but to Charlie Wilson must go a special recognition." One important part of that recognition, order discount januvia studiously avoided by the CIA and most subsequent American writers on the subject, order discount januvia is that Wilson's activities in Afghanistan led directly to a chain of blowback that culminated in the attacks of September 11, order discount januvia 2001 and led to the United States' current status as the most hated nation on Earth. Order discount januvia On May 25, order discount januvia 2003, order discount januvia (the same month George W. Order discount januvia Bush stood on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Order discount januvia Abraham Lincoln under a White-House-prepared "Mission Accomplished" banner and proclaimed "major combat operations" at an end in Iraq), order discount januvia I published a review in the Los Angeles Times of the book that provides the data for the film Charlie Wilson's War. Order discount januvia The original edition of the book carried the subtitle, order discount januvia "The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History -- the Arming of the Mujahideen." The 2007 paperbound edition was subtitled, order discount januvia "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. Order discount januvia In my review of the book, order discount januvia I wrote, order discount januvia

"The Central Intelligence Agency has an almost unblemished record of screwing up every 'secret' armed intervention it ever undertook. Order discount januvia From the overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953 through the rape of Guatemala in 1954, order discount januvia the Bay of Pigs, order discount januvia the failed attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro of Cuba and Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, order discount januvia the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, order discount januvia the 'secret war' in Laos, order discount januvia aid to the Greek Colonels who seized power in 1967, order discount januvia the 1973 killing of President Allende in Chile, order discount januvia and Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra war against Nicaragua, order discount januvia 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. Order discount januvia Therefore the tale of a purported CIA success story should be of some interest. Order discount januvia "According to the author of Charlie Wilson's War, order discount januvia the exception to CIA incompetence was the arming between 1979 and 1988 of thousands of Afghan mujahideen ("freedom fighters"). Order discount januvia 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, order discount januvia the USSR].' "The author of this glowing account, order discount januvia [the late] George Crile, order discount januvia was a veteran producer for the CBS television news show '60 Minutes' and an exuberant Tom Clancy-type enthusiast for the Afghan caper. Order discount januvia He argues that the U.S.'s clandestine involvement in Afghanistan was 'the largest and most successful CIA operation in history, order discount januvia' 'the one morally unambiguous crusade of our time, order discount januvia' 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, order discount januvia000), order discount januvia which undermined Soviet morale and contributed to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the period 1989 to 1991. Order discount januvia That's the successful part. Order discount januvia "However, order discount januvia 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, order discount januvia Saudi Arabia, order discount januvia bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, order discount januvia blew a hole in the side of the U.S.S. Order discount januvia Cole in Aden Harbor in 2000, order discount januvia and on September 11, order discount januvia 2001, order discount januvia 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, order discount januvia with Julia Roberts as his right-wing Texas girlfriend Joanne Herring, order discount januvia and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos, order discount januvia the thuggish CIA operative who helped pull off this caper. Order discount januvia What to make of the film (which I found rather boring and old-fashioned)? It makes the U.S. Order discount januvia government look like it is populated by a bunch of whoring, order discount januvia drunken sleazebags, order discount januvia so in that sense it's accurate enough. Order discount januvia But there are a number of things both the book and the film are suppressing. Order discount januvia As I noted in 2003, order discount januvia
"For the CIA legally to carry out a covert action, order discount januvia the president must sign off on -- that is, order discount januvia 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, order discount januvia 1979. Order discount januvia The truth of the matter is that Carter signed the finding on July 3, order discount januvia 1979, order discount januvia six months before the Soviet invasion, order discount januvia and he did so on the advice of his national security adviser, order discount januvia Zbigniew Brzezinski, order discount januvia in order to try to provoke a Russian incursion. Order discount januvia Brzezinski has confirmed this sequence of events in an interview with a French newspaper, order discount januvia and former CIA Director [today Secretary of Defense] Robert Gates says so explicitly in his 1996 memoirs. Order discount januvia 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. Order discount januvia The mujahideen did the job but as subsequent events have made clear, order discount januvia they may not be all that grateful to the United States."
In the bound galleys of Crile's book, order discount januvia which his publisher sent to reviewers before publication, order discount januvia there was no mention of any qualifications to his portrait of Wilson as a hero and a patriot. Order discount januvia Only in an "epilogue" added to the printed book did Crile quote Wilson as saying, order discount januvia "These things happened. Order discount januvia They were glorious and they changed the world. Order discount januvia And the people who deserved the credit are the ones who made the sacrifice. Order discount januvia And then we fucked up the endgame." That's it. Order discount januvia Full stop. Order discount januvia Director Mike Nichols, order discount januvia too, order discount januvia ends his movie with Wilson's final sentence emblazoned across the screen. Order discount januvia And then the credits roll. Order discount januvia Neither a reader of Crile, order discount januvia nor a viewer of the film based on his book would know that, order discount januvia in talking about the Afghan freedom fighters of the 1980s, order discount januvia we are also talking about the militants of al Qaeda and the Taliban of the 1990s and 2000s. Order discount januvia Amid all the hoopla about Wilson's going out of channels to engineer secret appropriations of millions of dollars to the guerrillas, order discount januvia the reader or viewer would never suspect that, order discount januvia when the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, order discount januvia President George H.W. Order discount januvia Bush promptly lost interest in the place and simply walked away, order discount januvia leaving it to descend into one of the most horrific civil wars of modern times. Order discount januvia Among those supporting the Afghans (in addition to the U.S.) was the rich, order discount januvia pious Saudi Arabian economist and civil engineer, order discount januvia Osama bin Laden, order discount januvia whom we helped by building up his al Qaeda base at Khost. Order discount januvia When bin Laden and his colleagues decided to get even with us for having been used, order discount januvia he had the support of much of the Islamic world. Order discount januvia 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. Order discount januvia government. Order discount januvia 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. Order discount januvia The victors were the military-industrial complex and our massive standing armies. Order discount januvia The billion dollars' worth of weapons Wilson secretly supplied to the guerrillas ended up being turned on ourselves. Order discount januvia An Imperialist Comedy Which brings us back to the movie and its reception here. Order discount januvia (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. Order discount januvia They start believing that they are the bearers of civilization, order discount januvia the bringers of light to "primitives" and "savages" (largely so identified because of their resistance to being "liberated" by us), order discount januvia the carriers of science and modernity to backward peoples, order discount januvia 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. Order discount januvia Innumerable European colonialists saw the hand of God in Darwin's discovery of evolution, order discount januvia so long as it was understood that He had programmed the outcome of evolution in favor of late Victorian Englishmen. Order discount januvia (For an excellent short book on this subject, order discount januvia check out Sven Lindquist's "Exterminate All the Brutes.") When imperialist activities produce unmentionable outcomes, order discount januvia such as those well known to anyone paying attention to Afghanistan since about 1990, order discount januvia then ideological thinking kicks in. Order discount januvia The horror story is suppressed, order discount januvia or reinterpreted as something benign or ridiculous (a "comedy"), order discount januvia or simply curtailed before the denouement becomes obvious. Order discount januvia Thus, order discount januvia for example, order discount januvia Melissa Roddy, order discount januvia a Los Angeles film-maker with inside information from the Charlie Wilson production team, order discount januvia notes that the film's happy ending came about because Tom Hanks, order discount januvia a co-producer as well as the leading actor, order discount januvia "just can't deal with this 9/11 thing." Similarly, order discount januvia we are told by another insider reviewer, order discount januvia James Rocchi, order discount januvia that the scenario, order discount januvia as originally written by Aaron Sorkin of "West Wing" fame, order discount januvia 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. Order discount januvia Today there is ample evidence that, order discount januvia when it comes to the freedom of women, order discount januvia education levels, order discount januvia governmental services, order discount januvia relations among different ethnic groups, order discount januvia and quality of life -- all were infinitely better under the Afghan communists than under the Taliban or the present government of President Hamid Karzai, order discount januvia which evidently controls little beyond the country's capital, order discount januvia Kabul. Order discount januvia But Americans don't want to know that -- and certainly they get no indication of it from Charlie Wilson's War, order discount januvia either the book or the film. Order discount januvia 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. Order discount januvia For reasons not entirely clear, order discount januvia an overwhelming majority of reviewers concluded that Charlie Wilson's War is a "feel-good comedy" (Lou Lumenick in the New York Post), order discount januvia a "high-living, order discount januvia hard-partying jihad" (A.O. Order discount januvia Scott in the New York Times), order discount januvia "a sharp-edged, order discount januvia wickedly funny comedy" (Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times). Order discount januvia 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, order discount januvia in a piece entitled "Sex! Drugs! (and Maybe a Little War), order discount januvia" Richard L. Order discount januvia 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, order discount januvia there was only a guffaw or two from the audience over the raunchy sex and sexism of "good-time Charlie, order discount januvia" but certainly no laff-a-minute. Order discount januvia The root of this approach to the film probably lies with Tom Hanks himself, order discount januvia who, order discount januvia according to Berke, order discount januvia called it "a serious comedy." A few reviews qualified their endorsement of Charlie Wilson's War, order discount januvia but still came down on the side of good old American fun. Order discount januvia Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail, order discount januvia for instance, order discount januvia thought that it was "best to enjoy Charlie Wilson's War as a thoroughly engaging comedy. Order discount januvia 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. Order discount januvia The handful of truly critical reviews have come mostly from blogs and little-known Hollywood fanzines -- with one major exception, order discount januvia Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times. Order discount januvia In an essay subtitled "'Charlie Wilson's War' celebrates events that came back to haunt Americans, order discount januvia" Turan called the film "an unintentionally sobering narrative of American shouldn't-have" and added that it was "glib rather than witty, order discount januvia 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, order discount januvia it's the kind that goes over well with a roomful of louts in a college fraternity house. Order discount januvia Simply put, order discount januvia it is imperialist propaganda and the tragedy is that four-and-a-half years after we invaded Iraq and destroyed it, order discount januvia such dangerously misleading nonsense is still being offered to a gullible public. Order discount januvia 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, order discount januvia like a conscious attempt to induce amnesia." Chalmers Johnson is the author of the Blowback Trilogy -- Blowback (2000), order discount januvia The Sorrows of Empire (2004), order discount januvia and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (paperbound edition, order discount januvia January 2008). link to the article: http://tomdispatch.com/post/174877/chalmers_johnson_an_imperialist_comedy