Sunday, December 23, 2007

Good Time Charlie's War

I never gave too much thought to Charlie Wilson, all those years growing up with him as my Congressman, even though it was about the same time I was doing all that partying of my own. My parties were good, just not as good as his:

In the summer of 1980, Wilson traveled to Las Vegas with a girlfriend, who happened to be a Playboy cover girl, and he somehow ended up in a hot tub at Caesars Palace with two naked showgirls.

"The girls had cocaine, and the music was loud," Wilson told the late George Crile, author of the 2003 book "Charlie Wilson's War," which inspired the movie. "It was total happiness. And both of them had 10 long, red fingernails with an endless supply of beautiful white powder. . . . The feds spent a million bucks trying to figure out whether, when those fingernails passed under my nose, did I inhale or exhale, and I ain't telling."

Those "feds" were led by Rudolph Giuliani, then a young Justice Department attorney, heading an investigation into drug use on Capitol Hill. When news of the probe leaked, Wilson denied that he'd used cocaine. Then he added a promise that was pure Wilson: "I won't blame booze and I won't suddenly find Jesus." ...

But his troubles weren't over. A month later, driving in a condition he later described as "drunker than [bleep]," Wilson lost control of his Lincoln Continental on the Key Bridge, smacked into a Mazda, then drove away. A witness reported his license number to the police, and he was busted for hit-and-run driving.

Divorce, dope, drunk driving: As the 1984 election approached, the experts figured the voters of East Texas might decide to replace Wilson with someone a bit less, um, colorful.

But the experts were wrong, as they often are, and the God-fearing people of East Texas reelected Wilson in 1984 -- and five times after that.

Yeah, ol' Good Time Charlie didn't leave Congress until 1996, after the Newties came into power. Hollywood has made a pretty good movie about him, a satirical comedy mostly. As such it's still too bad the movie is missing -- as with most Hollywood productions -- a couple of elements of accuracy:

In the latter half of the movie, there is one big lie and one item of anti-Afghan propaganda. The lie is that U.S. support to the mujahiddin went only to the faction led by Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Afghan leader who was assassinated on Sept. 9, 2001. I spoke with Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Texas, in 2002, at which time he called Massoud "a Russian collaborator." I find it disingenuous that Wilson and his Hollywood biographers now want to throw their arms around him. (Note: George Crile's book does not make this false claim.) Moreover, if this movie succeeds in convincing Americans that the U.S. support went to Ahmad Shah Massoud alone, it will have effectively let the CIA and Wilson off the hook for their contribution to the circumstances leading up to 9/11. During the 1980s, Wilson engineered the appropriation of approximately $3.5 billion to help the Afghans fight the Soviets. According to Milt Bearden, CIA chief of station to Pakistan, Massoud received less than 1 percent of it.

More explanation here. Continuing:

In the same scene in the movie as the misinformation about Massoud is a propagandistic joke deeply offensive to Afghans. This joke (coupled with the Massoud "inaccuracy") is the reason that the Afghan Embassy is boycotting Charlie Wilson's War.

The joke is: "When a Tajik man wants to make love to a woman, his first choice is a Pashtun man."

Why is this propagandistic? Because it supports the idea that Afghans are just too tribal to get along. They've always fought each other. As Wilson once said to me, "You put two Afghans in a room, you end up with seven factions." The trouble with this idea is that Afghanistan has been a cohesive nation for several hundred years.

So who wants the world to believe that Afghans can't get along? Pakistan. The reason for this is the Durrand Line. The Durrand Line is the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it is not very stable. There are Pashtun tribal regions on both sides of the border, and at some point since the establishment of Pakistan (about 60 years ago), it was suggested that the Pashtuns on both sides of the border should unite to create Pashtunistan. This idea makes the government of Pakistan very nervous. In response, they threw their support to Gulbaddin Hekmatyar in the 1980s, because he agreed not to dispute the border, but also because he was deeply feared and disliked by Afghans, and would thus continue to be reliant on Pakistan as his source of power. Pakistan then convinced the CIA, to the cumulative tune of about $1.5 billion, that Gulbaddin was the guy best suited to whoop-ass against the Soviet Union. Later, during the mid 1990s, when he failed to control Afghanistan on their behalf, Pakistan nurtured the Taliban into power.

So why were these two offenses included in this movie?

1. The Massoud "inaccuracy" was included because Tom Hanks "just can't deal with this 9/11 thing"; and because Wilson and Joanne Herring (played by Julia Roberts in the movie) threatened legal action after reading an earlier, more honest, draft of the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin. Herring was Pakistan's honorary consul to the United States in the 1980s, and as such, enlisted Wilson into supporting the cause of the Afghans. Neither Wilson nor Herring wants history to remember them for their contribution to the events that culminated in 9/11.

2. The really bad joke was included because, when Wilson retired from the House of Representatives, he was so copasetic to Pakistani views that he went to work for Pakistan as their lobbyist -- at the rate of $360,000 per year. Not bad for an old skirt-chasin' boozer.

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