I’m not the Horse’s Ass resident film critic, but I want to give a shout out to one of my favorite films of the year, and also to address some of the blogger reaction to the film.
“Charlie Wilson’s War” is about a Texas congressman, a wealthy right-wing socialite, and a CIA agent, and the covert war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. You can get details about the film, the book, and what really happened elsewhere, but after seeing the movie, I want to get a few things out there.
Lynn writes at Evergreen Politics:
The CIA provided money and weapons that enabled the mujahideen to defeat the Soviet Union and the Communist government it was supporting in a humiliating fashion. It also strengthened the role of the warlords who have ruled Afghanistan ever since. The war helped provide a fertile ground that attracted and nurtured radical Islamists and Arabs from all over the Middle East – people like Osama bin Laden of Saudi Arabia and Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri of Eqypt and Abdullah Azzam, born in Palestine. With the defeat of the puppet Communist government of Babrak Karmal, conditions were set to enable the Taliban and al Queda to sweep across Afghanistan into positions of power and influence in Afghanistan and dismantle centuries of culture (as they are again set to do, BTW).
I think Lynn skips a few steps. While it’s true that after the Soviet Union skedaddled in 1989, there was a power vacuum in Afghanistan which was eventually filled by the Taliban. But the relationship isn’t casual. As depicted in the film, Rep. Wilson pushed for money for Afghanistan reconstruction, but he was rebuffed (this is from the film):
Congressman: Nobody gives a shit about Pakistan, Charlie.
It was a great scene. Lynn continues:
We pretty much forgot all about Afghanistan until 9/11. Those who feel they can interfere with impunity in the affairs of other countries tend to be careless.
Well, yes, that’s true. But America has also been at it’s best when interfering in the affairs of other countries. Take the Balkans, a place America was very active during the 90’s. It is a success story. (There is an actual goddamn street named after General Wesley Clark, who was cheered and greeted with flowers by Bosnian-Americans during a recent visit to the Seattle area.)
Ultimately, I have to disagree with both parties, and with both non-interventionist Democrats and neo-conservative Republicans. America’s involvement in the world should be based on America’s national interest. All other considerations are less important. Was the covert war propagated by Wilson in America’s best interest? Yes. Was America’s neglect of the post-Soviet occupation Afghanistan in our best interest? Hell no.
Using this measuring stick is especially important these days. Moron Republicans think that bombing Iran is a good idea. Is it? Of course not, especially considering that most young Iranians are much more pro-American than other countries (like Eqypt, where common folks resent the hell out of the USA for supporting their ruler-for-life). President Bush neglected the reconstruction of Afghanistan in favor of a sexy new war in Iraq. (“That new war smell!”)
Considering the truly awful things the Soviet military did to the Afghan people (booby-trapping children’s toys, cutting open pregnant women, massacring entire villages with helicopter gunship fire), and also the very nature of Soviet communism itself, it’s really hard to think of the intervention there during the 80’s as being on par with such disasters as the Iraq War. After all, the biggest mistake in the whole affair has to be America turning her back on Afghanistan after the occupation ended.
Like Congressman Charlie Wilson said:
“Those things happened and they were glorious, and then we fucked up the end game.”
Interesting Will, now I want to see the movie, the commercials didn’t make it sound particularly interesting to me. The ‘behind the scenes’ info re: CIA involvement explains a lot for questions I had over the years. When the USA went into Afghanistan, I wondered HOW they even figured on winning anything? After the warlords had already sent the Soviets packing, with their tails between their legs, the mountainous terrain is still mountainous and the Afghan fighters are just as determined. U.S. refusing to help with the reconstruction left the Afghans poor and ripe for the plucking when the Taliban came to town. A few dollars spent UPFRONT, sure would have saved millions after the fact.
Piper Scott spews:
Saw the movie the night it opened, and it played to a disappointingly low house.
On this one, I agree with Will, and the Ol’ Piper gives it four crunluaths. Good story, and a movie stolen by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the part of CIA curmudgeon, Gust Avrakotos.
Interesting that Charlie Wilson was the old-fashioned kind of liberal that never saw a Commie he didn’t want dead, and that went especially hard for Russians.
Would that there were such internationalist liberals like that today. Saw in the paper where Norm Dicks was trying to take a little credit for Charlie’s War, but Norm always takes credit for the work of others.
I’m also about 2/3’s of the way through George Crile’s book of the same name, which offers 10-twists for every one mentioned in the film.
Yet I disagree with Will on his aftermath analysis. Consider that the regime of Saddam Hussein was just as reprehensible to the people of Iraq as the Soviets were to Afghans. Saddam may not have placed booby-trapped toys out for children to maim themselves with, he just had their arms lopped off while their parents watched.
Should more be done in Afghanistan today? Yes…No question. But what set Charlie Wilson apart from many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle – apart from hot-tubbing with Vegas hookers and his occassional drunken hit-and-run accidents on the eve of Congressional junkets – was that he went there and saw for himself and was moved by what he saw such that he wanted to kill Russians.
Good for Charlie!
As far as Iran is concerned, Will is too quick to judge. While there may be Iranians sympathetic to the U.S., they don’t call the shots, nor can they be expected to any time soon. Iranian Prexy Ahmadineedofajob and the Ayatollahs above him are cut from a bolt of cloth eerily similar to the one that just offed Benazir Bhutto and foment discontent between Sunni and Shia in Iraq.
If you want to hear someone talk about trashing Iran, listen to French President Nicholas Sarkozy and the Israelis, who are pretty good at realistically understanding this stuff.
America has always done a lousy job of hanging around after the shooting stops. How quick were we to go home after WW I and WW II? It was only Soviet ham-handedness by trying to blockade Berlin and overrun Greece (resulting in the Marshall Plan) that stirred America to act, and then it wasn’t to re-build Europe for its own sake, but, rather, to counter the real threat of those same Communists Will correctly condemns.
Need we mention Korea?
As an aside…Will cracked one of the best light bulb jokes I’ve ever heard over at Crosscut, so my hat’s off to him for that, too.
Go see the movie…and read the book.
Jane Balough's Dog spews:
Now they are masquerading liberals as conservatives in movies so people will watch them. Typical.
Piper Scott spews:
No, not masquerading libs as right thinkers. Instead, reminding us of the time when the left and the right jointly hated Communists such that they joined arms in using every trick at their disposal – including dirty ones, when necessary – to beat them.
If you read the book, a lot of the stuff Charlie Wilson and Gust Avrakotos did, were they to do it today, would earn them the ire and persecution of the Harry Reid’s and Nancy Pelosi’s and probably every Demo Prexy candidate slogging through frozen Iowa cornfields this very night.
Charlie and then-CIA Director, William Casey, a Reagan appointee, were on the same page.
The movie is a good reminder of a time today’s left would just as soon we forget.
Thanks for the shout out even if you found conflict where I don’t think there was any.
I have since seen the film and I enjoyed it tremendously and it reminded me of how really awful the Soviets had been. I’m not sure I’d say we shouldn’t have gone in, just that we have such a history of begin careless in what we do during and after our interference.
I actually wish we’d gone into Bosnia earlier and into Ruanda and maybe stayed in Somalia longer. And I’m outraged that we are enmeshed in Iraq and unable to really deal with Afghanistan or assist in Darfur.
However, one of my main points was that we may have to endure the Russians paying us back for the humiliation we inflicted upon them. It could be this year as they sell Iran parts for their reactor or in ten years on another front. But it will come.
and a happy new year spews:
Russian communists trying to take over Afghanistan: Expansionists
Americans in Iraq: Expansionists (supported, nurtured and drummed up by the right wing (including the selective intelligence), opposed by the left and the rest of the thinking world (except for the few nations that had their arms twisted to go in with us (and Britain))
Americans in Afghanistan: Self-defense against the Taliban sheltering Al Qaida (supported by right and left and by the world)
American actions in Bosnia: Humanitarian – leading the world to do the right thing (opposed by: US right wingers, supported by the left and the world)
Right wing hypocrisy in trying to justify Iraq: Priceless
Loss of worldwide US prestige by Bush/Cheney: Priceless
Now we couldn’t lead a coalition of anything and our military is stretched to the breaking point. We are less secure and no one else in the world will listen the US because of Iraq.
Roger Rabbit spews:
“Ultimately, I have to disagree with both parties, and with both non-interventionist Democrats and neo-conservative Republicans. America’s involvement in the world should be based on America’s national interest.”
Maybe there are isolationist Democrats, but I’ve never met any. In any case, I disagree with your premise that selfish interest should drive our foreign policy, Will. There are humanitarian crises we should intervene in, and others we should stay out of, depending on the cost and whether we can be effective. These have to be judged on a case by case basis. But whether the U.S. has some sort of national interest at stake should not be the only criterion for deciding whether to intervene — or not. We can’t police the entire world, but we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to everything that happens outside our own borders, either.
and a happy new year spews:
Well said, I agree that “national interest” should not be the only criteria.
Roger Rabbit spews:
The main things to understand about the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan are:
A quarter of all Afghanis were killed or wounded;
Half the country’s surviving population became refugees;
Afghanistan’s irrigation systems, vital to agricultural, were destroyed;
The Soviets sowed Afghanistan with millions of mines, and today there is no safe place to travel by vehicle or foot.
Irv Kupcinet spews:
If the claque in power happen to be oil industry pimps, the U.S. national interest seems to be what’s good for big oil — this quarter.
Not a good strategerie.
Irv Kupcinet spews:
re 4: As soon as you say “right thinkers”, we know that you are no more than ventriloquist’s dummy for the extreme right.
“Right thinking” — like you know. You can’t even think with clarity, let alone be right.
I completely agree that our intervention in Kosovo was a dramatic success, and I’m glad we went in. Will – you wrote that we should make foreign policy decisions based primarily on our national interest. I think I agree with that as well, but I’m curious how you would connect the intervention in Bosnia to our national interest. Care to expand on this a bit?
Thanks! – JP
proud leftist spews:
Rabbit @ 7: “Maybe there are isolationist Democrats, but I’ve never met any. In any case, I disagree with your premise that selfish interest should drive our foreign policy, Will. There are humanitarian crises we should intervene in, and others we should stay out of, depending on the cost and whether we can be effective. These have to be judged on a case by case basis. But whether the U.S. has some sort of national interest at stake should not be the only criterion for deciding whether to intervene — or not. We can’t police the entire world, but we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to everything that happens outside our own borders, either.”
I copied your whole post in the hope, likely vain, that anyone who failed to read it above would read it here. My father, who sometimes claims to be the only Democrat in Idaho, still says that Woodrow Wilson was a great president. Your post has Wilsonian elements. Wilson did have visions that were beautiful. I’m just not sure they comported much with Realpolitik.
Well, it doesn’t really, for the most part. That said, it’s worth noting that the US waited years before getting involved in Bosnia (the conflict flared in 1993; we didn’t involve ourselves until the shooting stopped). We sent troops as a part of NATO, and we had the support of all of our allies.
Republicans whined and wailed about how Bosnia wasn’t in our immediate nat’l interest. Funny how they all signed off on Iraq.
Michael J. Bond spews:
Actually, Will, according to Samantha Power in “A Problem from Hell” we went into Bosnia only after Bill Clinton concluded that Bob Dole’s argument that we had to do something to stop the genocide of Muslims was killing him at the polls.
Roger Rabbit spews:
@13 The devil is always in the details. That’s why I said we have to evaluate situations on a case-by-case basis.
As for Wilson, you can still argue that his position of non-intervention in a European war that had degenerated into unproductive slaughter was tenable, until the Germans decided on a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare (that targeted, among others, American ships). That decision made U.S. entry in the war inevitable. But that decision was not inevitable. In fact, it was hotly debated within the German government, with some of their leading politicians opposing it as the disastrous policy it turned out to be.
Perhaps it was fortuitous that the proponents of this blunder carried the day, bringing the U.S. into the war. Because without American intervention, Germany might have won the war, and in any case the Allies surely would not have been in a position to dictate the terms that led to the rise of Hitler and another world war.
Who can say how the world might have been different if Wilson hadn’t been dragged into the war by stupid German military leaders … we can only know that it would have been different. Was Wilson right to try to stay out? You can build a strong argument in his favor on top of the heaps of rotting bodies in the stench-filled trenches of the Western Front.
“Yet I disagree with Will on his aftermath analysis. Consider that the regime of Saddam Hussein was just as reprehensible to the people of Iraq as the Soviets were to Afghans. Saddam may not have placed booby-trapped toys out for children to maim themselves with, he just had their arms lopped off while their parents watched.”
That’s a typical thoughtless, defensive and deceptive right-wing argument–not to mention completely wrong. It implies that we went into Iraq as a humanitarian effort. That’s so far from the truth it’s laughable. It pretends that violence on two completely different scales is the same thing. It also fails to admit that some of Saddam’s worst atrocities, atrocities consistently cited by the godless Hawks as justification for this godless war, were committed a decade before, back when we were shaking hands with the bastard.
At the time we invaded Iraq, there were other hot spots in the world where atrocities were being committed RIGHT THEN at FAR greater scale than anything happening in Iraq. So, this whole masquerade that we invaded Iraq because we cared is so much bullshit.
15. You’re wrong. There was no public groundswell of support to go to Bosnia; and Clinton, slick politician as he was, did not go because the “people” pushed him into it. Most Americans couldn’t even find Bosnia on a map, and could care less about what was happening there. In addition, the Republicans (and lots of their friends in the press) criticized Clinton loud and hard for going into Bosnia. Do you think they would have done that if going into Bosnia was such a winner in the polls?
Nope, the notion that Clinton gave in to Dole on this due to pressure in the polls is pure revisionist history.
P. S. Given the Republicans’ sad track record in the past few years, I can certainly see their attraction to revisionist history.
@2 “America has always done a lousy job of hanging around after the shooting stops. How quick were we to go home after WW I and WW II?”-
Did “WE” leave? Aren’t USAF officers still playing golf in Avicenna on the Adriatic coast? Isn’t the staging area for wounded out of Iraq still somewhere in the German heartland? Don’t we maintain a base in Turkey? Aren’t there in excess of 700 military bases around the world that report to the Pentagon? I know… a volcano drove us out of the Philippines… but mostly we’re still here & there…
@4 “reminding us of the time when the left and the right jointly hated Communists such that they joined arms in using every trick at their disposal – including dirty ones, when necessary – to beat them..”-
Sure, I remember the Joe McCarthy years… when any socialist influence in the labor movement was branded “Commie”- and the neo-fascists who became the AIFLD (etc) labor envoys into the 3rd world worked hand-in-hand with the CIA. Pretty sorry stuff, really… assassinations from Guatemala to the Belgian Congo, and a modern U.S. labor “movement” resembling molasses- because it was eviscerated of its principles in the great capitalist war on socialism, in order not to appear “RED”- and now is the Labor wing of the Business Party… if that. ^..^
[Deleted – See comment #106 in this thread]
Roger Maggot spews:
Checked comment #106. Verrrry interesting.
Did read Crile’s sloppy but amazing book. Have not seen the movie. Remember no pseudo-prescient mots from the book about effing the endgame, about dropping the ball of reconstruction. That sounds like post-Charlie Sorkin spin.
Was awed by Crile’s story of Cold War Democrats who understood that the Evil Empire was them, not us. Figured that Democrats with balls and brains had all been killed off by McGovern in 1972. Was troubled, tho, by a secret foreign policy being run from the back benches of Congress. It (Charlie’s secret war) quickly became a billion-dollar baby that was kicking while Reagan’s modest, low-cost response to the Soviet proxy take-over of Nicaragua was being kicked in the teeth by Congressional Democrats. What’s with that?
And let’s be clear about the Afghan endgame: If the US had stayed around to build the hospitals and day-care centers that Patty Murray talked about (in her backhanded tribute to Osama bin Laden), be assured that the Left’s liberal fringe of lunacy would have been shrieking that we were doing a stealth occupation, a hostile neo-imperialist takeover.
Bosnia: Clinton rushed to war because Tony Lewis and the New Tork Times told him to. Benjamin Schwartz of The Atlantic wrote 2 or 3 years ago that Lewis and the left lied about ethnic cleansing; they — you — esaggerated reality by inflating body counts and cherry-picking intel.
Roger Maggot spews:
20: Think what we’re alluding to are post-VE riots that became widespread after VJ. America didn’t do a complete bail, of course, but the Truman/Stimson/Forrestal response to rioting draftees, from Europe to the South Pacific, was emphatic in its haste. The rioters weren’t emphatically and hastily suppressed; they were sent home.
The Other Wilson spews:
Woodrow: A crashing disaster as a war president (leaving aside the pious peacenik lies with which he stole re-election in 1916). An unmitigated disaster as a “peace” president after the war.
If you think you can present mitigations for the serial disaster of 1918 – March 1921, bring ’em on.
But convenient amnesia is what the left’s all about, so I expect no thoughtful attempts to defend the indefensible Woodrow from #20-types who think another roiled era is better defined by Joe McCarthy than by Joe Stalin.