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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, vanadyl free sample Texas, vanadyl free sample 1973-1996) because, vanadyl free sample for close to twenty years, vanadyl free sample my representative in the 50th Congressional District of California was Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham, vanadyl free sample now serving an eight-and-a-half year prison sentence for soliciting and receiving bribes from defense contractors. Vanadyl free sample 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. Vanadyl free sample Both men flagrantly abused their positions -- but with radically different consequences. Vanadyl free sample 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, vanadyl free sample000 per annum lobbyist for Pakistan. Vanadyl free sample In a secret ceremony at CIA headquarters on June 9, vanadyl free sample 1993, vanadyl free sample James Woolsey, vanadyl free sample Bill Clinton's first Director of Central Intelligence and one of the agency's least competent chiefs in its checkered history, vanadyl free sample said: "The defeat and breakup of the Soviet empire is one of the great events of world history. Vanadyl free sample There were many heroes in this battle, vanadyl free sample but to Charlie Wilson must go a special recognition." One important part of that recognition, vanadyl free sample studiously avoided by the CIA and most subsequent American writers on the subject, vanadyl free sample is that Wilson's activities in Afghanistan led directly to a chain of blowback that culminated in the attacks of September 11, vanadyl free sample 2001 and led to the United States' current status as the most hated nation on Earth. Vanadyl free sample On May 25, vanadyl free sample 2003, vanadyl free sample (the same month George W. Vanadyl free sample Bush stood on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Vanadyl free sample Abraham Lincoln under a White-House-prepared "Mission Accomplished" banner and proclaimed "major combat operations" at an end in Iraq), vanadyl free sample I published a review in the Los Angeles Times of the book that provides the data for the film Charlie Wilson's War. Vanadyl free sample The original edition of the book carried the subtitle, vanadyl free sample "The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History -- the Arming of the Mujahideen." The 2007 paperbound edition was subtitled, vanadyl free sample "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. Vanadyl free sample In my review of the book, vanadyl free sample I wrote, vanadyl free sample

"The Central Intelligence Agency has an almost unblemished record of screwing up every 'secret' armed intervention it ever undertook. Vanadyl free sample From the overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953 through the rape of Guatemala in 1954, vanadyl free sample the Bay of Pigs, vanadyl free sample the failed attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro of Cuba and Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, vanadyl free sample the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, vanadyl free sample the 'secret war' in Laos, vanadyl free sample aid to the Greek Colonels who seized power in 1967, vanadyl free sample the 1973 killing of President Allende in Chile, vanadyl free sample and Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra war against Nicaragua, vanadyl free sample 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. Vanadyl free sample Therefore the tale of a purported CIA success story should be of some interest. Vanadyl free sample "According to the author of Charlie Wilson's War, vanadyl free sample the exception to CIA incompetence was the arming between 1979 and 1988 of thousands of Afghan mujahideen ("freedom fighters"). Vanadyl free sample 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, vanadyl free sample the USSR].' "The author of this glowing account, vanadyl free sample [the late] George Crile, vanadyl free sample was a veteran producer for the CBS television news show '60 Minutes' and an exuberant Tom Clancy-type enthusiast for the Afghan caper. Vanadyl free sample He argues that the U.S.'s clandestine involvement in Afghanistan was 'the largest and most successful CIA operation in history, vanadyl free sample' 'the one morally unambiguous crusade of our time, vanadyl free sample' 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, vanadyl free sample000), vanadyl free sample which undermined Soviet morale and contributed to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the period 1989 to 1991. Vanadyl free sample That's the successful part. Vanadyl free sample "However, vanadyl free sample 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, vanadyl free sample Saudi Arabia, vanadyl free sample bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, vanadyl free sample blew a hole in the side of the U.S.S. Vanadyl free sample Cole in Aden Harbor in 2000, vanadyl free sample and on September 11, vanadyl free sample 2001, vanadyl free sample 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, vanadyl free sample with Julia Roberts as his right-wing Texas girlfriend Joanne Herring, vanadyl free sample and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos, vanadyl free sample the thuggish CIA operative who helped pull off this caper. Vanadyl free sample What to make of the film (which I found rather boring and old-fashioned)? It makes the U.S. Vanadyl free sample government look like it is populated by a bunch of whoring, vanadyl free sample drunken sleazebags, vanadyl free sample so in that sense it's accurate enough. Vanadyl free sample But there are a number of things both the book and the film are suppressing. Vanadyl free sample As I noted in 2003, vanadyl free sample
"For the CIA legally to carry out a covert action, vanadyl free sample the president must sign off on -- that is, vanadyl free sample 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, vanadyl free sample 1979. Vanadyl free sample The truth of the matter is that Carter signed the finding on July 3, vanadyl free sample 1979, vanadyl free sample six months before the Soviet invasion, vanadyl free sample and he did so on the advice of his national security adviser, vanadyl free sample Zbigniew Brzezinski, vanadyl free sample in order to try to provoke a Russian incursion. Vanadyl free sample Brzezinski has confirmed this sequence of events in an interview with a French newspaper, vanadyl free sample and former CIA Director [today Secretary of Defense] Robert Gates says so explicitly in his 1996 memoirs. Vanadyl free sample 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. Vanadyl free sample The mujahideen did the job but as subsequent events have made clear, vanadyl free sample they may not be all that grateful to the United States."
In the bound galleys of Crile's book, vanadyl free sample which his publisher sent to reviewers before publication, vanadyl free sample there was no mention of any qualifications to his portrait of Wilson as a hero and a patriot. Vanadyl free sample Only in an "epilogue" added to the printed book did Crile quote Wilson as saying, vanadyl free sample "These things happened. Vanadyl free sample They were glorious and they changed the world. Vanadyl free sample And the people who deserved the credit are the ones who made the sacrifice. Vanadyl free sample And then we fucked up the endgame." That's it. Vanadyl free sample Full stop. Vanadyl free sample Director Mike Nichols, vanadyl free sample too, vanadyl free sample ends his movie with Wilson's final sentence emblazoned across the screen. Vanadyl free sample And then the credits roll. Vanadyl free sample Neither a reader of Crile, vanadyl free sample nor a viewer of the film based on his book would know that, vanadyl free sample in talking about the Afghan freedom fighters of the 1980s, vanadyl free sample we are also talking about the militants of al Qaeda and the Taliban of the 1990s and 2000s. Vanadyl free sample Amid all the hoopla about Wilson's going out of channels to engineer secret appropriations of millions of dollars to the guerrillas, vanadyl free sample the reader or viewer would never suspect that, vanadyl free sample when the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, vanadyl free sample President George H.W. Vanadyl free sample Bush promptly lost interest in the place and simply walked away, vanadyl free sample leaving it to descend into one of the most horrific civil wars of modern times. Vanadyl free sample Among those supporting the Afghans (in addition to the U.S.) was the rich, vanadyl free sample pious Saudi Arabian economist and civil engineer, vanadyl free sample Osama bin Laden, vanadyl free sample whom we helped by building up his al Qaeda base at Khost. Vanadyl free sample When bin Laden and his colleagues decided to get even with us for having been used, vanadyl free sample he had the support of much of the Islamic world. Vanadyl free sample 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. Vanadyl free sample government. Vanadyl free sample 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. Vanadyl free sample The victors were the military-industrial complex and our massive standing armies. Vanadyl free sample The billion dollars' worth of weapons Wilson secretly supplied to the guerrillas ended up being turned on ourselves. Vanadyl free sample An Imperialist Comedy Which brings us back to the movie and its reception here. Vanadyl free sample (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. Vanadyl free sample They start believing that they are the bearers of civilization, vanadyl free sample the bringers of light to "primitives" and "savages" (largely so identified because of their resistance to being "liberated" by us), vanadyl free sample the carriers of science and modernity to backward peoples, vanadyl free sample 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. Vanadyl free sample Innumerable European colonialists saw the hand of God in Darwin's discovery of evolution, vanadyl free sample so long as it was understood that He had programmed the outcome of evolution in favor of late Victorian Englishmen. Vanadyl free sample (For an excellent short book on this subject, vanadyl free sample check out Sven Lindquist's "Exterminate All the Brutes.") When imperialist activities produce unmentionable outcomes, vanadyl free sample such as those well known to anyone paying attention to Afghanistan since about 1990, vanadyl free sample then ideological thinking kicks in. Vanadyl free sample The horror story is suppressed, vanadyl free sample or reinterpreted as something benign or ridiculous (a "comedy"), vanadyl free sample or simply curtailed before the denouement becomes obvious. Vanadyl free sample Thus, vanadyl free sample for example, vanadyl free sample Melissa Roddy, vanadyl free sample a Los Angeles film-maker with inside information from the Charlie Wilson production team, vanadyl free sample notes that the film's happy ending came about because Tom Hanks, vanadyl free sample a co-producer as well as the leading actor, vanadyl free sample "just can't deal with this 9/11 thing." Similarly, vanadyl free sample we are told by another insider reviewer, vanadyl free sample James Rocchi, vanadyl free sample that the scenario, vanadyl free sample as originally written by Aaron Sorkin of "West Wing" fame, vanadyl free sample 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. Vanadyl free sample Today there is ample evidence that, vanadyl free sample when it comes to the freedom of women, vanadyl free sample education levels, vanadyl free sample governmental services, vanadyl free sample relations among different ethnic groups, vanadyl free sample and quality of life -- all were infinitely better under the Afghan communists than under the Taliban or the present government of President Hamid Karzai, vanadyl free sample which evidently controls little beyond the country's capital, vanadyl free sample Kabul. Vanadyl free sample But Americans don't want to know that -- and certainly they get no indication of it from Charlie Wilson's War, vanadyl free sample either the book or the film. Vanadyl free sample 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. Vanadyl free sample For reasons not entirely clear, vanadyl free sample an overwhelming majority of reviewers concluded that Charlie Wilson's War is a "feel-good comedy" (Lou Lumenick in the New York Post), vanadyl free sample a "high-living, vanadyl free sample hard-partying jihad" (A.O. Vanadyl free sample Scott in the New York Times), vanadyl free sample "a sharp-edged, vanadyl free sample wickedly funny comedy" (Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times). Vanadyl free sample 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, vanadyl free sample in a piece entitled "Sex! Drugs! (and Maybe a Little War), vanadyl free sample" Richard L. Vanadyl free sample 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, vanadyl free sample there was only a guffaw or two from the audience over the raunchy sex and sexism of "good-time Charlie, vanadyl free sample" but certainly no laff-a-minute. Vanadyl free sample The root of this approach to the film probably lies with Tom Hanks himself, vanadyl free sample who, vanadyl free sample according to Berke, vanadyl free sample called it "a serious comedy." A few reviews qualified their endorsement of Charlie Wilson's War, vanadyl free sample but still came down on the side of good old American fun. Vanadyl free sample Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail, vanadyl free sample for instance, vanadyl free sample thought that it was "best to enjoy Charlie Wilson's War as a thoroughly engaging comedy. Vanadyl free sample 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. Vanadyl free sample The handful of truly critical reviews have come mostly from blogs and little-known Hollywood fanzines -- with one major exception, vanadyl free sample Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times. Vanadyl free sample In an essay subtitled "'Charlie Wilson's War' celebrates events that came back to haunt Americans, vanadyl free sample" Turan called the film "an unintentionally sobering narrative of American shouldn't-have" and added that it was "glib rather than witty, vanadyl free sample 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, vanadyl free sample it's the kind that goes over well with a roomful of louts in a college fraternity house. Vanadyl free sample Simply put, vanadyl free sample it is imperialist propaganda and the tragedy is that four-and-a-half years after we invaded Iraq and destroyed it, vanadyl free sample such dangerously misleading nonsense is still being offered to a gullible public. Vanadyl free sample 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, vanadyl free sample like a conscious attempt to induce amnesia." Chalmers Johnson is the author of the Blowback Trilogy -- Blowback (2000), vanadyl free sample The Sorrows of Empire (2004), vanadyl free sample and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (paperbound edition, vanadyl free sample January 2008). link to the article: