The movie Charlie Wilson's War is good light hearted entertainment which can also trigger a serious discussion about a pivotal and painful event in recent history. It is based on a book which records the true story, a sober, almost unbelievable account of one man's power to earmark billions of dollars with the help of the Speaker of the House whose motivation was to protect a "good buddy" from embarrassment.
Charlie Wilson, described by Molly Ivins as a "pussy hound" is a swashbuckling, heavy drinking, dope sniffing all American Texan that the guys in the bar can admire.
When told stories of the Soviets cutting the throats of children and bayoneting babies in the wombs of Afghan women, Charlie appropriately weeps.
After brief moments of culture at the Kennedy Center he works out sexually in his well placed Washington apartment. We cheer for Charlie and hope that he'll stay sober and score big.
Meanwhile, between his chosen projects of passion, Charlie masters the earmarking game, pinpoints a devastating Soviet military weakness, and launches a "Stinger Missile" manufacturing, distribution, training and deployment movement that turns the tide of the war.
Instead of building a huge embassy in Kabul and digging in, the Soviets pull out. Trained by Charlie's well financed Pakistan Intelligence Service, the Taliban march in. They are fundamentalist idealists who don't cut throats and use bayonets on women. For dressing improperly they stone their women to death.
As a postscript to the obligatory happy ending the movie infers this latter part of the scenario above by shocking the smug audience with a phrase including that FCC forbidden four letter word: "And then we fucked it up."
To explore this last confession further you are invited to play the IF game:
-If the autocratic House leadership had not granted such awesome earmarking appropriation powers to Charlie Wilson, there would have been no covert Czar conducting foreign policy with Pakistan.
-If there had been no federally endowed "money-bags Charlie Wilson" to hand feed the Pakistan Intelligence Service, the Service would have never been able to create the Taliban.
-If Charlie Wilson had not been able to finance the production and target the delivery of a large number of "Stinger" shoulder mounted missiles, the Taliban would have never become an effective modern fighting force.
-If the Taliban had not successfully forced the Russians to withdraw and then defeated all internal foes to overrun Afghanistan, there would have been no anti-western, anti U.S. nation willing to welcome and coddle Osama bin Laden.
-If Osama bin Laden had not been able to establish a protected sanctuary under the umbrella of the Taliban, bin Laden would have had no headquarters for training assassins and planning violent terrorist attacks.
- If bin Laden had had no secure base in Taliban controlled Afghanistan he would not have been able to successfully launch the attack on the World Trade Center.
In conclusion, consider the fact that the U.S. has the most powerful government apparatus the world has ever seen. If any organ of this complex and gigantic machine is treated as a toy or corroded, or distorted or corrupted the consequences can be devastating. Foreign policy left in the hands of one patriot with tunnel vision can spawn decades of conflict and misery. A more traditional process to end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan would certainly have taken more time and been less exciting; however, a wider debate, even if limited to the members of the Intelligence Committee, might have prompted some answers to these questions:
-Who are we training to replace the Soviets in Afghanistan?
-Which factions do we consider to be the best possible allies?
-What is the ideology and outlook of the strongest military faction?
-Would anything more than the national American ego be injured by a continuing Soviet occupation?
-Is it not possible that such an endless occupation of a vast land with a hostile population could bleed the already weak Soviet economy into total bankruptcy?