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Charlie Wilson:

My friend Don Kates e-mailed me this fascinating Washington Post article about Charlie Wilson -- of Charlie Wilson's War -- and I thought it was worth passing along. My wife and I saw the movie a week ago, and quite liked it; not great, but very good.

highway61:
The book on which the movie is based was very good, both in terms of information and entertainment.
1.1.2008 12:20pm
Cornellian (mail):
The WSJ (John Fund I think) had a pretty good story about CW as well, en route to giving a thumbs-up to the movie. Hard to believe a guy like that could get elected today.
1.1.2008 12:47pm
CDU (mail):
I thought the movie was quite good. The book is good to, but it's pretty information dense and covers a lot of ground. In addition to his usual snappy dialog, Aaron Sorkin did a good job compressing almost a decade worth of events into a two hour movie. It manages to hit the important points and to convey the tone of events and the character of the people involved (especially Charlie and Gust Avrakotos). Great acting all around. I particularly liked Phillip Seymour Hoffman's characterization of Avrakotos.

For those who haven't read the book, the surprising thing is that the movie really doesn't take much dramatic license with events. A few things are glossed over or changed around a bit, but it's basically all true, even the most unbelievable parts. For instance, Charlie Wilson really did take a Texas belly dancer to Egypt to entertain their defense minister. Truth is stranger than fiction in this case.
1.1.2008 1:02pm
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):
Wade Phillips' daughter is the belly dancer.
1.1.2008 1:24pm
TerrencePhilip:
The movie was top-notch, and the Post article makes me wish I'd known Charlie Wilson.

As an aside though, what reason is there for the writer to tell us Wilson's aides were known for their "pulchritude and general foxiness" other than to impress us with his big words? It seems especially out of place given the plain-spoken but very sharp subject of the article.
1.1.2008 1:33pm
TaxLawyer:
Enjoyed the movie a great deal (although I think it's one of those movies that's great in the moment, but doesn't stick with you long, the way, say, the Godfather does).

Also enjoyed reading the Post article for the extra detail and the confirmation that the movie played pretty close to the real story.

It's great that this movie avoided the the fatal flaw of many "based on a true story" historical films: radically altering the real facts. Given American's woeful historical/geographical knowledge, it's nice to know the sheep will egt some actual info from the film.

On the other hand, the film does a poor job placing the events it conveys in perspective. For example:

1. The direct connection between our aid to the mujahedeen and the rise of al Qaeda is barely hinted at (no fault, apprently, to Wilson, here, who saw the need to spend money rebuillding Afghanistan).

2. Was the Soviet overreaching in Afghanistan really the sine qua non of the fall of 20th century communism? The movie seems to make that assertion. I don't buy it, just as I don't buy the "Reagan as vanquisher of Communism" line. Soviet communism was a corrupt, immoral, unworkable system that would have died of its own accord by now regardless of Afghanistan or Reagan. Did Afghanistan and reagan speed things up? Perhaps, but it's not quite as simple a relationship as the film would have one believe.
1.1.2008 1:59pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Off topic, but I'm wondering how Don -- a tireless advocate for gun rights -- is doing. He's retired if I'm not mistaken.
1.1.2008 2:59pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Tax, the book is all about how Wilson and Avrokatos brought down the USSR.

What nonsense. The USSR had plenty of problems, but the one that brought it down was its inability to feed itself.
1.1.2008 3:03pm
Soldier's Dad (mail):
A very enjoyable movie, but the suggestion at the end that the Taliban took over because we wouldn't cough up a million bucks for schools is silly. (As it happens, my son is the "education officer" for a province in southern Afghanistan. I don't think he's going to single-handedly reform Afghanistan through education either.)
1.1.2008 3:30pm
CDU (mail):
A very enjoyable movie, but the suggestion at the end that the Taliban took over because we wouldn't cough up a million bucks for schools is silly.


I think you're taking things a bit too literally here. The unwillingness of the appropriations subcommittee to fund schools in the film is a metaphor for America's disinterest in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. Building a few schools wouldn't have done much, but seriously working to end the Afghan civil war and rebuild the country certainly could have.
1.1.2008 3:41pm
Malvolio:
the Post article makes me wish I'd known Charlie Wilson.
Well, it isn't too late. Charlie Wilson isn't dead. He might be a corrupt, egocentric, coke-snorting, alcoholic whoremongerer, but he isn't dead.
1.1.2008 7:22pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
I don't buy it, just as I don't buy the "Reagan as vanquisher of Communism" line.
Reagan's role in the Afghan war is conspicuously absent. It was Reagan who approved supplying the Stinger missiles.
1.1.2008 9:31pm
Thomass (mail):
CDU (mail):

"Building a few schools wouldn't have done much, but seriously working to end the Afghan civil war and rebuild the country certainly could have."

Even though they pushed the Soviets out, it was still in their [the Soviet's] sphere of influence. Sending a bunch of aid would be view with suspicion... and become another area of contention.
1.1.2008 9:59pm
Thomass (mail):
TaxLawyer:

"1. The direct connection between our aid to the mujahedeen and the rise of al Qaeda is barely hinted at"

For one, it doesn't exist. Two, Wilson told them to knock it off (they were going to put that myth in).
1.1.2008 10:01pm
TerrencePhilip:
Well, it isn't too late. Charlie Wilson isn't dead. He might be a corrupt, egocentric, coke-snorting, alcoholic whoremongerer, but he isn't dead.

Leaving aside your invective I'm more likely to meet ANY sitting member of congress (not that I have any prestige or importance) than I am to meet a retired congressman recovering from a heart transplant on a homestead in East Texas.

/btw his current wife is a beautiful woman
//and I'd like to see you defend the use of ""pulchritude," big guy
1.1.2008 11:24pm
CDU (mail):
Even though they pushed the Soviets out, it was still in their [the Soviet's] sphere of influence. Sending a bunch of aid would be view with suspicion... and become another area of contention.
I'm afraid you've got the timeline all screwed up here. The period we're talking about is after the collapse of the U.S.S.R.

Even after the Soviets withdrew their troops, the U.S. continued funneling huge amounts of arms and equipment to the mujahideen to fight the Soviet backed puppet government. We didn't seem to care much about their "sphere of influence". This support continued until after the fall of the Soviet Union ($250 million in FY91 and $200 million in FY92). The Soviet backed Afghan government didn't collapse until Spring 1992 (ironically outlasting the Soviet Union itself by a few months). The time when U.S. attention and aid really could have made a difference is in the 1992-1996 period, when the country collapsed into anarchy. If we had stepped in and helped stabilize the country rather than waiting for the Taliban to come along and do it, history could have been quite different.
1.2.2008 12:30am
Soldier's Dad (mail):
My son, who among other things does build schools in
Afghanistan, comments on how much throwing money at the Afghans helps. He is looking forward to seeing the movie, when and if things quiet down at his FOB.


Let me tell you, it takes a lot more than a million bucks to build a school system in this place. About $300K will get you a school, teachers, and some supplies. After the first round of teachers decides it's not worth it and quits, you pay more to get replacements. That's ONE school that educates maybe 400 kids, until their parents pull them out because reading isn't as important as farming while dad smokes the ganj and sits around. The problems out here in the sticks aren't going to be solved by throwing money at them.
1.2.2008 8:01am
annon6:
"The time when U.S. attention and aid really could have made a difference is in the 1992-1996 period, when the country collapsed into anarchy."

Another Clinton mistake? You'd almost think they forgot about foreign policy from 1992-2001. I guess that was the peace dividend....
1.2.2008 9:09am
Carolina:
My favorite anecdote from the book (not sure if it made it into the movie, haven't seen it) is the way Hind helicopter gunship pilots were viewed pre- and post-Stinger missle:

Prior to the US providing Stinger missles, the Hind pilots considered themselves to be an elite force and the most effective weapon against the guerillas, and would swagger around the Russian bases. Following the introduction of the Stinger, the Hind pilots flew so high above the action (to avoid the Stingers) that Russian ground troops began calling them "cosmonauts."
1.2.2008 9:51am
John Burgess (mail) (www):
The History Channel ran (and will be re-running) and excellent, hour-long documentary on Wilson and his efforts. Good interviews with various participants along the way, including the belly dancer!

Check your TV schedules for future broadcasts.

I'd certainly agree that US foreign policy seemed to disappear in the 1990s. US Embassy staffing, both American officers and local employees, was cut by up to 50% in many places, including in S. Asia. There was a rush to staff new embassies in the former USSR, but no money to do it with. Cuts in the staff and budgets of operating embassies took a terrific hit with a consequent drop in effectiveness and capabilities.
1.2.2008 10:44am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
My son, who among other things does build schools in
Afghanistan, comments on how much throwing money at the Afghans helps. He is looking forward to seeing the movie, when and if things quiet down at his FOB.


I think Soldier's Dad has it nailed. Look at the history of Afghanistan and western involvement there. No one has ever successfully tamed that country and many have tried (the Russians, both pre- and post- Revolution, the British). When the British left Kabul for India in 1842 the entire column of 16,500 (including over 12,500 civilians) was slaughtered by Afghan tribesman.

Now we think arrogantly we are going to succeed. When we leave with our tails between our legs in a few years, the lessons will once again be quickly forgotten.
1.2.2008 11:00am
Harry Eagar (mail):
I am amused by complaints about US lack of involvement in Afghanistan in the '90s.

I am old enough to remember when Lyndon Johnson visited there. Johnson met a poor farmer who plowed with a camel. LBJ promised to give him a tractor.

Ah, the good old days, when US foreign policy was broad, deep and attuned to long-range implications.

LBJ, who knew about what appeals to men who plow behind animals, probably had a better idea of what Afghans wanted from America than any of the pointy-headsĀ in Washington today, or all of them put together, though.
1.2.2008 1:35pm