Goodtime Charlie Wilson cashes his check

Some months back, I attended a convention on behalf of my employer. One of the honored guest speakers was former Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson. Wilson, whose story was Hollywoodized in Charlie Wilson’s War, died today at the age of 76.

Wilson was primarily famous for two things: fucking anything he could catch, and funneling arms to the Afghani mujahedeen during the country’s war against the Soviet Union. Those of us unfortunate enough to be stuck in the room during Wilson’s speech were regaled by tales of how he ignored the law, bullied, end-ran, lied and cheated to get what he wanted, and I mean all this literally. Wilson was as proud of flaunting the law as he was of his lifelong pursuit of women with obvious esteem issues.

I desperately wanted, when the self-aggrandizement ended, to force my way to the microphone. Of course, by this point in time the recession was in full swing and it struck me that getting turfed wasn’t necessarily in my best interests. So I held fire. But here’s the comment I wanted to make:

Congressman Wilson, if I understand your remarks correctly, then I suppose we have you to blame for 9/11.

I neither advocate nor condone grave-dancing, but it is nonetheless true that there are bad human beings in the world. And the world is a better place when these people move on.

Maybe I’m going to Hell for saying so. But if I do, at least I’ll finally get a chance to talk to Charlie Wilson.


  • Interesting film. I was at a conference filled with Afghanistan experts about two years ago, and no one I talked to had anything good to say about him or what he did there. I hope they’re not completely right. The Charlie Wilson in the film was a great guy.

    • JS: As I say, Hollywoodized.

      The sad part is that a review of his record indicates that he supported some decent policies in his tenure. Most humans are more complex than your basic blockbuster is ever going to reveal, one way or another. But regardless of his intentions, Charlie died with a lot of blood on his hands (and the gods only know what on his winky)…..

  • You forgot the cocaine, dude. Charlie loved the blow. (If there’s a federal investigation of your behavior it was not a “sure I’ll try it once” affair.)

    Chop a line now. . .
    Cocaine decisions . . .
    You are a person with a snow-job
    You got a fancy gotta go job
    Where the cocaine decision that you make today
    Will mean that millions somewhere else
    Will do it your way
    Cocaine decisions . . .

    It’s only too bad that he wasn’t exiled to Khandahar in the late 90’s. That would have been far more fitting than speaking at conventions. On the other hand, being played by Tom Hanks is a lot like Satanic punishment so maybe there is justice in the world.

  • Mr. Wilson definitely had his bad points, and helping to fund some of the more militant religious radicals in their nascency is likely the worst of them, but I think its important in considering his life neither to lose sight of the context of the time or the lifetime of action within which his flaws existed. Mr. Wilson represented one of the poorer, most racially divided, and generally backward sections of Texas, and during his tenor it made great strides in gaining wealth, social stability, racial harmony, and social integration with both the state and nation. He had a lot to do with that. Whatever the extravagances of his personal life, he believed in equality, believed in progress, and believed that government existed to help the little guy when he needed it; indeed he might have been the last national Texas politician to champion such views.

    With hindsight, it is easy to condemn a man, and undoubtedly, our late-70’s attempt to play the Great Game with the Russians in Afghanistan ended in tears for all concerned, but at the time he in Washington and his allies in the CIA saw an opportunity to bleed the Russians, support people fighting for the right to govern themselves, and get “pay back” for Vietnam, as many at that time erroneously believed that Russian support for North Vietnam had been the deciding factor in our exhaustion with that war. That the Pakistanis he funneled that funding through chose to enrich easily controlled religious outsiders, fanatics that would eventually become the political boogey men of today, should not be forgotten. But neither should the tension of the times, or Mr. Wilson’s conviction, then as now, that it was wiser to fight by proxy in that region than to face the possibility of open Great Power war near the world’s most important oil shipping lanes, or the sort of open-ended rudderless military occupation that we are currently involved in. Nor should it be forgotten that ending the humanitarian nightmare of mangled children dying slowly in underfunded Pakistani refugee camps was the driving motivation of his involvement in that conflict.

    Bluster and brag were always the public face of Mr. Wilson, but they were never the whole man, and one cannot understand him wholly through the prism of his (entirely normal for the time, if reprehensible) bachelor life of womanizing, partying, and heavy drinking. In a similar way his political legacy is too complex to be summed up with hind-sight denunciations of outcomes he never considered, and aid discontinuances that he never supported. I see him less as an evil man than as a cautionary example of the complex vagaries and unintended consequences of international relations, particularly when undertaken by a pluralistic democracy such as our own.

    • Julian:

      Thanks for a thoughtful reply. I agree with much of what you say in principle, and indicate as much in my earlier comment. In the end, though, I suppose I’d be more forgiving of his well-intentioned failures if the man had spent his final days using his platform to talk about those failures honestly. But when he uses those opportunities not to reflect, teach and learn, but to glorify everything that he ought to instead be ashamed of, it’s hard to be charitable.

      If he’s not asking for forgiveness, I see no reason to extend it. If he wants his legacy to be about whoring and the fuck-ups that led to 9/11, I feel like we should honor his wishes.

  • Well said, Julian, except that the context of the times were a steaming pile of horseshit…i.e. not grounded in any sort of reality. The Soviet Union posed no existential threat to the United States, and the US knew it. As far back as the late ’40’s, military leaders and politicians in the US were purposefully (and admittedly) hyping the Soviet threat when little to no threat actually existed. “We’re going to have to scare the hell out of the American people,” was one famous statement. When JFK ran for the presidency and campaigned on the “missile gap”, the actual missile count was USSR 4, USA 163…and the Soviet missiles all took multiple days to stage for firing. Kennedy may not have known this without doubt, but the US knew it. That’s what the U2’s were taking pictures of.

    There’s also the matter of stated, Soviet ideology. Stalin was not an internationalist like Trotsky, and that was clearly known since the time he took control. “Revolution in one country.” The USSR had its near-abroad buffer, but that had nothing to do with the Cold War. Nor was it given away by FDR and Churchill. The USSR already had it; had effectively defeated Germany already; and that was that.

    Since the 90’s, Soviet archives have brought a lot to light. Like repeated overtures by the Soviets to withdraw from Afghanistan and broker a political settlement. Much – but not all – of the proxy warring was in response to American actions. Cuba was preceded by American installations in Europe. Vietnam was just opportune. Korea, well Stalin rigged Korea beautifully by playing every side against all others.

    My point is that whatever else good Charlie Wilson did, it was far outweighed by either purposefully or unwittingly participating in the whole stinking pile of shit that was the Cold War. And his little adventure had massive repercussions that aren’t over by a long shot. That radical Islamists got the bulk of the funding wasn’t solely the fault of the ISI. Wilson’s hand greatly helped the worst of the worst because the CIA thought that they’d be the best to attack a nation that had never really done anything to the United States.

    Many others are to blame here too, but Wilson stands out because there are young men dying in Afghanistan right now over the shit he stirred. And to him it was just a great big game; made him feel like James Bond and Lawrence of Arabia.

    (For the record, we knew that the Arab volunteers and even big chunks of the Mujaheddin were not “freedom fighters”. The CIA had been running operations with violent Islamists in Afghanistan since the birth of the movement. There were multiple paid assets at Kabul University mentoring and inciting young men like Hekymater and Massoud.)

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