THE BLOG

Charlie Wilson's War on Libya

04/05/2011 10:44 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The rebels finally have the resources necessary to fight their oppressors. They are going to get the chance to become a free country. And guess what. It's due, in large part, to the help of the United States. Our relationship with the Middle East will finally be sound.

No, I'm not describing the war in Libya. I'm describing the thoughts of many important and influential Americans after Operation Cyclone was deemed successful and the Soviet Union was forced to leave Afghanistan in early 1989.

To put Operation Cyclone in context, the Soviet Union, a great enemy of the United States, had invaded Afghanistan. Killing thousands, they were slowly gaining power and the Afghan citizens did not have the resources to fight back.

Then, after a push made by a Congressman from Texas, Charlie Wilson (whose story has been chronicled in books and who was played by Tom Hanks in the amazing movie Charlie Wilson's War), the U.S. and key allies including Pakistan gave Afghanistan roughly a billion dollars in aid for weapons and other commodities to use in war against the Soviets. This money helped the citizens defeat the Soviet Union and force them to leave the country.

The U.S. took this as a huge victory. The issue was: they made crucial mistakes ending this covert operation. Among the most detrimental errors was stopping funding in Afghanistan and forcing the young Afghan community to turn to other sources of security. Sadly and predictably, this enabled anti-American terrorist organizations to come in and convince the youth that Americans are evil.

As a result, we are fighting a war in which thousands of American soldiers have died and trillions of U.S. dollars have been spent just to maintain order in Afghanistan.

So, the easy way to look at the situation would be to say it wasn't worth invading in the first place if they ended up hating Americans anyway. As a country, though, we were founded as being moral people who, no matter the cost, stand up for what's right. This is why, as we helped Afghanistan, we must continue helping the Libyan rebels. Our help led to short-term gains in Afghanistan, but the U.S., in the words of Charlie Wilson himself, "f**ked up the endgame". It doesn't seem like we've exactly rocked the endgame in our most recent mission in Afghanistan either...

So, how do we make the endgame work in Libya? How will we ensure the Libyans will remember that we were brave enough to help them? How will the transition to putting NATO in control affect the Libyans' understanding of how we helped? The most honest answer would be to say I don't know. I wasn't alive in 1989. I'm only 15. This is the first time I've had the chance to watch a war unfold as an aware and politically active person. So, my ideas are not from watching these types of events occur, but from studying history and trying to figure out the best ways we can learn from our past. Even though in almost every situation I am an anti-war liberal, what I have determined, through looking at past American wars, is that we can't abruptly leave again, even if the area appears to be stable at the moment, without helping to maintain order after our mission is seemingly complete. Luckily, it seems like the president sees it the same way.

Charlie Wilson and his accomplice in Operation Cyclone, a longtime CIA operative, Gust Avrakotos, realized money needed to be spent on building schools and infrastructure for the Afghan children to understand the U.S. were leaders in helping to free them from the Russians. Spending more money on schools (only about a million dollars), though, did not appear to have any political benefits. So, the government didn't spend any more money in Afghanistan.

I'm aware that, in light of the prolonged periods of time America has spent in Iraq and Afghanistan (largely due to not building the schools) throughout this past decade, staying in Libya may again be a bit of a risky political proposition for the president.

Even if on the surface it seems like a lose-lose situation, helping the Libyan rebels is necessary. They have been oppressed for decades and Gadhafi has been one of the most tyrannical and power hungry leaders of our time. If you don't believe me, ask anyone who attended Syracuse when Gadhafi bombed an airplane full of Syracuse students (in December, 1988).

We cannot afford to "f**k up the endgame" again. So, we must continue helping the rebels by ensuring they are well educated (cross your fingers) after the Gadhafi regime has been defeated. Even if it will be hard, we must try our best to maintain the safety of the Libyans in the short term, as well as the well-being of the U.S. in the distant future.