WRITE for ATol ADVERTISE MEDIA KIT GET ATol BY EMAIL ABOUT ATol CONTACT US
Asia Time Online - Daily News
             
Asia Times Chinese
AT Chinese



    South Asia
     Jan 8, 2008
Page 1 of 2
Second thoughts on Charlie Wilson's War
By Chalmers Johnson

I have some personal knowledge of Congressmen like Charlie Wilson (Democrat - 2nd District, Texas, 1973-1996) because, for close to 20 years, my representative in the 50th Congressional District of California was Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham, now serving an eight-and-a-half year prison sentence for soliciting and receiving bribes from defense contractors.

Wilson and Cunningham held exactly the same plummy committee assignments in the House of Representatives - the Defense Appropriations Sub-committee 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.

Both men flagrantly abused their positions - but with radically different consequences. 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 (CIA) Clandestine Service's first "honored colleague" award ever given to an outsider and went on to become a US$360,000 per annum lobbyist for Pakistan.

In a secret ceremony at CIA headquarters on June 9, 1993, James Woolsey, Bill Clinton's first Director of Central Intelligence and one of the agency's least competent chiefs in its checkered history, said: "The defeat and breakup of the Soviet empire is one of the great events of world history. There were many heroes in this battle, but to Charlie Wilson must go a special recognition." One important part of that recognition, studiously avoided by the CIA and most subsequent American writers on the subject, is that Wilson's activities in Afghanistan led directly to a chain of blowback that culminated in the attacks of September 11, 2001, and led to the United States' current status as the most hated nation on Earth.

On May 25, 2003, (the same month George W Bush stood on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln under a White-House-prepared "Mission Accomplished" banner and proclaimed "major combat operations" at an end in Iraq), I published a review in the Los Angeles Times of the book that provides the data for the film Charlie Wilson's War. The original edition of the book carried the subtitle, "The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History - the Arming of the Mujahideen." [1] The 2007 paperbound edition was subtitled, "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.

In my review of the book, I wrote,
The Central Intelligence Agency has an almost unblemished record of screwing up every "secret" armed intervention it ever undertook. From the overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953 through the rape of Guatemala in 1954, the Bay of Pigs, the failed attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro of Cuba and Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, the "secret war" in Laos, aid to the Greek colonels who seized power in 1967, the 1973 killing of president Allende in Chile, and Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra war against Nicaragua, 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. Therefore the tale of a purported CIA success story should be of some interest.

According to the author of Charlie Wilson's War, the exception to CIA incompetence was the arming between 1979 and 1988 of thousands of Afghan mujahideen ("freedom fighters"). 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, the USSR].

The author of this glowing account, [the late] George Crile, was a veteran producer for the CBS television news show 60 Minutes and an exuberant Tom Clancy-type enthusiast for the Afghan caper. He argues that the US's clandestine involvement in Afghanistan was "the largest and most successful CIA operation in history", "the one morally unambiguous crusade of our time", 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 15,000), which undermined Soviet morale and contributed to the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the period 1989 to 1991. That's the successful part.

However, he never once mentions that the "tens of thousands of fanatical Muslim fundamentalists" the CIA armed are the same people who in 1996 killed 19 American airmen at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, blew a hole in the side of the USS Cole in Aden Harbor in 2000, and on September 11, 2001, 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, with Julia Roberts as his right-wing Texas girlfriend Joanne Herring, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos, the thuggish CIA operative who helped pull off this caper.

What to make of the film (which I found rather boring and old-fashioned)? It makes the US government look like it is populated by a bunch of whoring, drunken sleazebags, so in that sense it's accurate enough. But there are a number of things both the book and the film are suppressing. As I noted in 2003:
For the CIA legally to carry out a covert action, the president must sign off on - that is, authorize - a document called a "finding". Crile repeatedly says that president Jimmy Carter signed such a finding ordering the CIA to provide covert backing to the mujahideen after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. The truth of the matter is that Carter signed the finding on July 3, 1979, six months before the Soviet invasion, and he did so on the advice of his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in order to try to provoke a Russian incursion. Brzezinski has confirmed this sequence of events in an interview with a French newspaper, and former CIA director [today Secretary of Defense] Robert Gates says so explicitly in his 1996 memoirs. 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. The mujahideen did the job but as subsequent events have made clear, they may not be all that grateful to the United States.
In the bound galleys of Crile's book, which his publisher sent to reviewers before publication, there was no mention of any qualifications to his portrait of Wilson as a hero and a patriot. Only in an "epilogue" added to the printed book did Crile quote Wilson as saying, "These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world. And the people who deserved the credit are the ones who made the sacrifice. And then we fucked up the endgame." That's it. Full stop. Director Mike Nichols, too, ends his movie with Wilson's final sentence emblazoned across the screen. And then the credits roll.

Neither a reader of Crile, nor a viewer of the film based on his book would know that, in talking about the Afghan freedom

Continued 1 2  

 


 1. Well worth the 20 bucks

2. The clock ticks for Iraq's time bomb
3. Storm warning for Asia

4. Sneak peek at a desert Armageddon
5. Quiet on one Pakistani front

6. Journey to the dark side

7. A look into Pakistan's political future

8. US shopping 'zombies' hold out hope

9. Bhutto's death a blow to 'war on terror'

10. Closer to the brink in 2007

11. The political gap narrows in Malaysia

(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, Jan 3, 2008)

 
 



All material on this website is copyright and may not be republished in any form without written permission.
Copyright 1999 - 2008 Asia Times Online (Holdings), Ltd.
Head Office: Unit B, 16/F, Li Dong Building, No. 9 Li Yuen Street East, Central, Hong Kong
Thailand Bureau: 11/13 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin, Prachuab Kirikhan, Thailand 77110