I am fortunate to have as friends lots of folks who worked in one form or fashion on the Afghan Task Force or in support of the mission to help the Afghan people fight the Russian invasion of 1979. As part of the continuing discussion about the movie and the Congressman, I want to share a couple of these and also direct you to an excellent article in the American Thinker that puts the movie in a different context.
First the American Thinker piece. Paul Kengor provides a very valid criticism:
I’m an historian, not a film critic. My objective here is to show where the movie is inaccurate — at times, woefully so. Simply put, the movie vastly exaggerates the influence of Charlie Wilson at the expense of individuals who were equally or even far more influential, and who somehow are not mentioned whatsoever — a gross, intentional, and rather shameless oversight. (read the rest)
I also received a note from Vince Cannistraro, who was a senior CIA officer and was working at the National Security Council during these events:
Known and very popular cialis coupon which gives all the chance to receive a discount for a preparation which has to be available and exactly cialis coupons has been found in the distant room of this big house about which wood-grouses in the houses tell.
Having had some close views from the NSC of the development of the Afghan policy during the Reagan years, it is dismaying to see the bowdlerized account in “Charlie Wilson’s War.” Primarily in the film, but also in Crile’s book, which is partly based on Gust’s Avrakatos’ prejudices. Gust was, as described by others, crass, crude and thuggish- a perfect foil for Charlie whose resemblance to another congressman currently serving a prison sentence is uncanny. Charlie was deservedly credited with the large CIA appropriations for the war (along with a large bipartisan group on the Hill) but Charlie forced on the CIA the purchase of significant amounts of anti-aircraft weapons (the Oerlikan), a gun that was totally unsuited for use by the Afghan Mujahadin in mountain warfare. Charlie was an agent for Oerlikan and reputedly received a kickback on the sale. The weapon was not widely distributed by the Pakistanis, who administered the (US, French, Egyptian and even Chinese) arms supply to the Afghans. There is a long, convoluted and fascinating story to be told, but it is not contained in the movie or book.Mr. “Retired” (a regular commenter at No Quarter and a retired CIA officer and friend) added this note:
Long and convoluted is absolutely correct. Which makes for interesting history, but not a very entertaining movie, so Hanks chose the Oscar nomination path.
I was in Egypt at the time schlepping arms “downrange” and watched the Oerlikon and Blowpipe phases with fascination. How, I wondered, are the Afghans going to learn the Blowpipe when even the OTS guy that we sent to the Blowpipe Platoon Leaders’ course screwed up the final live exercise? I used to have dinner with Peter and Gust when the latter blew into town and I thought that Hoffman portrayed Gust about as accurately as a blond guy is going to portray a Greek.Then there is the nonsense of Chalmers Johnson. I am always fascinated by folks who write about the CIA and never served on the inside but presume to know what actually happened. Chalmer’s critiques Crile’s book and the movie with this cannard:
For those who were involved, I guess the movie serves the purpose of seeing our op up in lights in an entertaining way during a time when our Organization has become a political whipping boy of choice for both Congress and the White House. Not exactly what I was expecting out of retirement when I EoD’d (entered on duty), but I guess times do change.
“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 U.S.’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.If Chalmers expects to be taken seriously then he should get his goddamn facts right. They are not the “same” fucking people! The people implicated in the attack in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia had direct ties to Iran. Iran was not involved in the 9-11 attacks. The attacks on U.S. targets in Kenya, Tanzania, Yemen, New York City, and Washington, D.C. were carried out by people in league with Osama Bin Laden. Neither Iran nor Bin Laden (and the Arab fighters for that matter) were given surface to air missiles or covert financial support by the United States during the secret war to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan.
“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 nineteen American airmen at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, blew a hole in the side of the U.S.S. Cole in Aden Harbor in 2000, and on September 11, 2001, flew hijacked airliners into New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon.”
If he had said, “the people we are now fighting in Afghanistan are the same folks we armed to fight off the Soviets,” then that would be accurate. We did arm Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Abdul Haq, Rahim Wardak, and Jalaluddin Haqqani. But none of those gentlemen were involved with the planning or execution of any of the terrorist attacks carried out by Bin Laden’s minions. But irony of ironies, we now find ourselves fighting those same folks. If you want to debate that, fine. But Chalmers Johnson takes chutzpah to a new level in accusing George Crile of sanitizing and rewriting history. He needs to move out of his glass house before he continues throwing rocks.
These simplistic, conspiratorial explanations of events like the 1980-89 war in Afghanistan can be entertaining fodder for Hollywood, but are not useful for helping us formulate new policies. The “truth” of that era is complex and nuanced. There are people who did heroic things and others who acted in disgraceful ways. And sometimes people were both hero and goat at the same time.
The point about Charlie Wilson is that despite being a rogue and reprobate he was genuinely concerned about helping the Afghan people fight off the Soviets. And it looks like Charlie took advantage of the situation to line his own pockets. More importantly, Charlie did not start the covert program and was not the only one involved. The truth of the matter is that the U.S. Government–Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan–directed that a covert effort be mounted. The CIA was not carrying out its own policy. The CIA was carrying out the policy of an elected commnader-in-chief. Keep that in mind as you look backwards.
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