I, for one, don’t believe that history is rewritten. I believe that history is told, either truthfully or not, and told again and again. Everyone who writes history does so with the facts at their disposal, and distance allows for wider views. It is for this reason that I believe Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile may be the best Afghan War history to date. This is the Afghan War pitting the Freedom Fighters against the Red Army and the 80’s occupation. This is the Afghan War, financed by joint funds from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, with weapon arrangements and tactical training as well as strategic planning from the C.I.A.
There were many factors that brought the Soviet Union to its knees, not the least of which was the bleeding campaign in Afghanistan. That defeat broke the will of many in the military and many more in the civilian population. It was a striking failure at all levels for the Communist country.
That this campaign was successful at all, in light of the Americans skepticism with the C.I.A. and foreign military operations is surprising. That it happened while the Iran-Contra affair was blowing up throughout all levels of government was even more surprising. What’s the most surprising of all is that it was done with very little (almost none) involvement from the administration and in spite of decades-old operational standards within the Agency itself, and driven and funded by a stubborn, communist-hating liberal Democrat from East Texas with a penchant for wild women, wilder parties, and scandals that rocked the capital at always the worst possible moments. Charlie Wilson is a character that only reality can create and his C.I.A.-side operations officer, Gust Avrokotos - a second generation Greek with street smarts and an immigrant’s toughness, a poor-man’s spy - was the only type of man who could get respect from the tribal Afghans in order to pull off the deals that brought weapon’s system after weapon’s system to the beleagured and battered nation.
Charlie Wilson was all that was wrong with Congress combined with all that’s right with Americans. He wanted to help the Afghans, simple as that. From the first time he went to a Pakastani hospital and saw the young soldiers, wounded and/or dying from Soviet gunship attacks, he swore that he’d give them a weapon to take those beasts out of the sky. He’d move heaven and hell both in order to get it done - and he was just the man to do it - a member of the House’s Defense Department Appropriation’s Subcommittee, he had the clout to divert funds to the Afghans and hide the money so deep that no one would find it. He cajoled, arm-twisted, traded favors, and got money to the C.I.A. for this program and this one alone. Problem was, the C.I.A. didn’t want it. They were afraid that if the Soviets found out that the agency was involved in the Afghan war that the escalation could bring the whole region into a shooting war and precipitate the big one.
Wilson and Avrokotos wheeled and dealed with nations from Israel to Egypt for weapons that couldn’t be tied to America, and from Saudi Arabia to England for additional funds and support.
And the war raged on.
As things started to steamroll, and as time went on, the Afghans eventually got their magic bullet - the Stinger Shoulder-fired Missile. They turned the tables on the Soviets and started hunting gunships rather than being hunted by them. And they, and the Pakastanis honored Charlie Wilson time and time again as the man who’d brought God’s Weapon to their hands. While relatively obscure in Washington and in the rest of America, this tall, alcoholic Congressman was treated like royalty throughout the Middle-East.
It’s a hero’s tale. It reads like a thriller and fills the pages with characters and places that leap from the page . . .
Charlie Wilson did everything he thought was possible to do to defeat our greatest enemy, the enemy of freedom, the enemy of civilization, the godless enemy. He did it for the Freedom Fighters because they were so noble and they had God and they knew right and wrong. And Charlie Wilson was in Washington on 9/11 and saw, with horror, the devastating five-day fire at the Pentagon and watched with the rest of us as the towers collapsed and knew that his “friends” had turned their attention from one superpower to another.
And now they’re the big enemy - the last greatest threat - the one’s who’ll destroy our lives and our lifestyles, and I wonder as I listen to the rhetoric, which of the “friends,” foreign or domestic, that we’re arming, supplying, and training, will turn against us and produce the next threat to our lives and lifestyles.