“Charlie Wilson’s War”… and the dark legacy of Imperial American Foreign Policy

If you haven’t seen this great movie take the time to check it out!

The film is adapted from George Crile’s 2003 book Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History. It is directed by Mike Nichols, written by Aaron Sorkin, and stars Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Ned Beatty.

Based on the true story of Democratic Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, who along with CIA operative Gust Avrakotos lead a covert operation that helped the Afghan mujahideen resist and ultimately defeat the Soviet Union’s military occupation of the nation.

P.S.Hoffman steals the show with his portrayal of Gust Avrakotos.

The weakest link in the film is Julia Roberts attempt to portray Houston Socialite Joanne Herring.
Herring is quite simply a force of nature all her own, and Roberts was poorly equipped to do Herring justice. Robert’s failed attempt at a genuine southern accent alone is enough to derail the performance.
Herring herself took issue with other aspects of the original screenplay, though she approved of the final product.

“I didn’t like the cursing, the drinking, the blatant sex,” says the 78-year-old thrice-married Houston socialite, philanthropist and former talk show host. “They turned me into a kooky, hypocritical tart.”

Joanne Herring was instrumental in Wilson’s success.

Charlie Wilson, Joanne Herring with John Tower

Joanne Herring with Pakistani president Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1983.

George Crile’s book was the source material for the film.

From CBS:
“Wilson’s story of manipulating Congress and the CIA into arming the Afghan tribes fighting a rebellion against the Soviets was a colorful Cold War yarn. Crile’s book about an elaborate war in Afghanistan that the American public didn’t know it was financing turned into something much more after Sept. 11: The U.S. had inadvertently laid the foundation for Islamic militancy by turning these fighters into heroes whose exploits attracted mujahadeen from all over the world and set the stage for Osama bin Laden.”

With that in mind one can’t help think of the other critical piece in that puzzle—
the 1953 Coup that ousted the elected government of Mohammed Mosaddeq in Iran. That coup resulted in the re-installment of the unpopular Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, leading a pro-Western dictatorship, that would be the spark that led to Islamic radicalization. The Islamic Republic that took control in Iran during the violent revolution of 1979.

Without the radicalization of Iran and Islam in the region, the aftermath of the Soviet occupation would have evolved much differently, and very likely could have precluded numerous disasters of recent US history.

Crile observes
“By the end of 1993, in Afghanistan itself there were no roads, no schools, just a destroyed country—and the United States was washing its hands of any responsibility. It was in this vacuum that the Taliban and Osama bin Laden would emerge as the dominant players. It is ironic that a man who had almost nothing to do with the victory over the Red Army, Osama bin Laden, would come to personify the power of the jihad.”

American Journalist Stephen Kinzer’s book All the Shah’s Men links the over throw of Mosaddeq in Iran in 1953 to the current plague of radicalists and terrorism.

David S. Robarge wrote a very interesting review of the book on the CIA’s website.

Masoud Kazemzadeh, Ph.D wrote this review of Kinzer’s book for the journal of Middle East Policy, vol. XI, no. 4, Winter 2004.
He summarizes: “Kinzer has written a superb book, reconstructing the story of a coup that changed history.”

Along those lines, Alan Richards is coauthor of the book, A Political Economy of the Middle East. sites the roots of radical islam as:
Destabilization. The Muslim world is in crisis as it moves from an illiterate, agrarian society into an industrialized society. Richards compares it to what unfolded in Europe, East Asia, and the United States during their own transitions, and he likens today’s followers of al-Qaeda to utopian fanatics of the past, including fascists, Nazis, Leninists, and Maoists.

Demographics. Half of all Middle Easterners are below the age of 20, and, for the first time in history, many youth have received some education. But higher expectations are thwarted by a sluggish labor market and levels of unemployment in some countries that rival those of the United States during the worst days of the 1930s.

Poverty and discontent. Only sketchy data on poverty in the Middle East are available, but many Middle Easterners feel relatively poor, an impression fueled by global images on television and the Internet. “Poverty provides a fertile recruiting ground for opponents of regimes,” writes Richards, noting that the profile of the rank-and-file of today’s violent radical Islamic groups is a young person with some education who may have recently moved to the city.

Rapid urbanization and government failure. Middle Easterners have streamed into urban areas in the past 35 years, and the number of city residents is projected to rise from 135 million today to more than 350 million by 2025. But public services and infrastructure are overwhelmed. Government failure to provide basic services, including housing, sewerage, utilities, potable water, and garbage collection, strains their legitimacy. Recently arrived rural migrants to cities are prime targets of Islamic militants.”

Beyond the regional influences though American Foreign Polices has contributed to this decline every step of the way. Chalmers Johnson charts the consequences of this in his brilliant Blowback trilogy which includes Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire and Nemesis.

In his own words Chalmers explains:

“In Blowback, I set out to explain why we are hated around the world.The concept “blowback” does not just mean retaliation for things our government has done to and in foreign countries. It refers to retaliation for the numerous illegal operations we have carried out abroad that were kept totally secret from the American public. This means that when the retaliation comes — as it did so spectacularly on September 11, 2001 — the American public is unable to put the events in context. So they tend to support acts intended to lash out against the perpetrators, thereby most commonly preparing the ground for yet another cycle of blowback. In the first book in this trilogy, I tried to provide some of the historical background for understanding the dilemmas we as a nation confront today, although I focused more on Asia — the area of my academic training — than on the Middle East.

The Sorrows of Empire was written during the American preparations for and launching of the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. I began to study our continuous military buildup since World War II and the 737 military bases we currently maintain in other people’s countries. This empire of bases is the concrete manifestation of our ghlobal hegemony, and many of the blowback-inducing wars we have conducted had as their true purpose the sustaining and expanding of this network. We do not think of these overseas deployments as a form of empire; in fact, most Americans do not give them any thought at all until something truly shocking, such as the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, brings them to our attention. But the people living next door to these bases and dealing with the swaggering soldiers who brawl and sometimes rape their women certainly think of them as imperial enclaves, just as the peoples of ancient Iberia or nineteenth-century India knew that they were victims of foreign colonization.

In Nemesis, I have tried to present historical, political, economic, and philosophical evidence of where our current behavior is likely to lead. Specifically, I believe that to maintain our empir eabroad requires resources and commitments that will inevitably undercut our domestic democracy and in the end produce a military dictatorship or its civilian equivalent. The founders of our nation understood this well and tried to create a form of government — a republic — that would prevent this from occurring. But the combination of huge standing armies, almost continuous wars, military Keynesianism, and ruinous military expenses have destroyed our republican structure in favor of an imperial presidency. We are on the cusp of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire. Once a nation is started down that path, the dynamic sthat apply to all empirse come into play — isolation, overstretch, the uniting of forces opposed toimperialism, and bankruptcy. Nemesis stalks our life as a free nation.”

Read Chalmers brilliant essay Wake Up! Washington’s alarming foreign policy at inthesetimes.com< /a>

Comments are closed.